When I was a beginning chaplaincy student, there was a horrible accident at a nearby farmer's market where many were injured and killed. We student chaplains went down to the ER lobby to just try and be there for people and be available to talk. I was surprised to hear people tell me tales not of this accident they had just experienced, but of past traumas -- sometimes from decades before.
I've since learned that this is a very common response -- current traumas spark memories of past traumas. And sometimes it is those past traumas that people really need to talk about. It's a way people use to recall how they were able to make meaning from loss in the past -- and how they were able to cope and heal from losses like the one that just happened.
For me, personally, all the current images of destruction in New York City have reminded me of September 11, 2001, and of how deep that loss was for me. One way that process of recalling benefits me is that it helps me to realize that my emotional response to this disaster -- the very deep loss I feel even though I, and my loved ones, have hardly been impacted directly -- is a normal one for me, and says something about who I am at my core. The physical spaces of New York City -- especially lower Manhattan and the beaches of Coney Island, etc. -- are sources of deep meaning for me, and are places where many of the most formative experiences of my life happened. Like other sources of deep meaning, these spaces help ground me -- they help me know what I care about most, what I think beauty is and what I think right and wrong are. When these sources of meaning are disrupted, I am disrupted. It helps me, at this time of disorientation in the wake of disaster, to be able to recall how those places oriented me -- to be able to recall how they came to be meaningful to me and to be reminded about who I really am.
Tomorrow is Election Day. As we search for hope in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, perhaps we can also find hope in our action at the ballot box. I know I feel trepidation about what will come tomorrow, but mostly I am hopeful -- hopeful for four more years of a president who I think is best prepared to lead us towards becoming the nation of mutual caring we need to be, whether in response to mass disasters or just the everyday, normal struggles of the people of America and the world at large.