The fountain gurgled serenely and the sun felt delicious—not too hot, not too cold. I rested in the public courtyard scribbling the last of my grocery list. Rat-ta-ta-ta, rat-ta-ta-ta. Around the corner of the tall hedge I heard an unusual sound—a very rhythmic sound. Pondering the unfamiliar noise, I became increasingly uneasy as the more I listened, the more it seemed there was a pattern to the rhythmic clatter on the cobblestones. Under normal conditions, I don’t think I would have noticed the noise, and if I had, it certainly would have been perceived as innocuous; however; due to recent events, this sound began to take on ominous possibilities. Was there a strategic pattern in the rhythm? My mind flew to an extreme place, “Could that be the sound of men’s boots, men intent on quickly and stealthily surrounding the courtyard? Men with guns?! I immediately assessed my surroundings, evaluating whether my middle-aged body could hurdle the concrete wall next to me to dive for cover. WHAT?! This spiraling internal dialogue took me by surprise; an unusual sound leaving me, a woman living in Santa Barbara utopia, vigilantly weighing my survival options. As two caterers rounded the hedge, the wheels on their cart clacking in the grooves of the cobblestones, their cart loaded with white Styrofoam-boxed goodies, my heart-rate returned to normal and I grieved my lost sense of safety. I acknowledged my hyper vigilant state--a result of the May 23 tragic shooting spree in next door Isla Vista. I consoled myself with the reality that with time, and no additional terror, my security would return. I sent up some prayers for those more directly exposed to the trauma of the shooting, who wouldn’t so easily find peace.
As I suited up for my hockey game, two fellow players, both professors from UCSB (University of California, Santa Barbara), approached me and asked me if I had any advice for how they might interact with their students, all deeply affected by the Isla Vista shooting spree. A hurting community, indeed.
What motivated me to write this blog was the frantic text messages I began receiving today from my 9th grade daughter. “Near our high school, a man killed his wife and children and they haven’t caught the man. I’m scared! Why isn’t our school on lockdown?” While frantically checking online sources to get the facts and discovering the SWAT team and a helicopter had been deployed, as best I could, I tried to reassure my precious child that she was safe. “Mom! My friend didn’t come to school today. Her dad is kind of crazy and they are going through a divorce. I’m scared he killed them!” My heart broke. More terror, a terror we discovered later was a cruel hoax, someone rubbing salt into the fresh wound just inflicted on our community by the deranged Isla Vista shooter. And now, a 14-year-old’s sense of safety, gone.
Months ago, before knowing that my own community would experience such trauma, I planned to spend June on Guam and Palau, providing counseling, groups, and seminars on healing the wounds of trauma. Dr. Diane Langberg, author, expert on trauma counseling, and faculty member of Westminster Theological Seminary states:
If we think carefully about the extensive natural disasters in our time such as earthquakes, hurricanes and tsunamis and combine those victims with the many manmade disasters – the violent inner cities, wars, genocides, trafficking, rapes, and child abuse we would have a staggering number. I believe that if we would stop and look out on suffering humanity we would begin to realize that trauma is perhaps the greatest mission field of the 21st century.
Sadly, my personal and work experiences validate her assertion.