I was just finishing up an errand on the way home from work when I noticed an unread text on my phone. A friend was asking if Seattle Pacific University (SPU) is the college where I recently taught as an adjunct instructor. I answered affirmatively, asking why. Frozen, I stared at her next message: “shooting on campus.” My heart rate quickened, and I felt like my mouth was suddenly filled with sand. I couldn’t breathe. While I was no longer teaching there, a friend of mine was. I knew some of the students. My mind began to race. Within minutes, I had texts from multiple friends and family asking if I knew about the shooting, and inquiring about my well-being. Assuring everyone that I was fine, I immediately called my husband, who was at home, and asked him to turn on the news and tell me what was unfolding. But I didn’t feel “fine”. I felt sick to my stomach.
Our country has seen 74 school shootings in the past 18 months, since the devastating Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in December, 2012. I empathize for the families of the victims in my living room, while silently wondering why?, with the rest of the country each time one of these acts of violence occurs. There is never a simple explanation for such horrific events. Sometimes, because of my training in the psychology of human behavior, I can logically understand “why” – simply put, hurting people hurt other people. Sometimes it’s the untimely convergence of specific psychological underpinnings, emotional turbulence, neurobiological wiring, and relational trauma. Time plus increased social isolation and life stressors, create a snowball like effect. One too many emotional triggers, combined with one too few incidents of feeling supported, and the individual falls off the edge of an emotional cliff, beginning an avalanche that leaves a trail of devastation in its wake. And then sometimes, there is no comprehending it, no matter what psychological explanation one offers.
Sometimes I wonder if our culture will become desensitized to such violence, because of the regularity with which it seems to be taking place in our country lately. Despite the rash of shootings, the SPU shooting this month impacted me differently. Hitting close to home, it felt more personal. So, I followed the details more closely. What struck me, and what I want to focus on for the sake of this blog post, is the inspiring response by the SPU community. As I followed media coverage for days after the shooting, I observed responses both by those immediately involved in the incident at Otto Miller Hall, as well as the wider SPU community, both students and faculty. The overarching theme of response was not one of outrage, fear, or despondency, as would be the typical human response to such tragedy. While I’m certain some people are experiencing those feelings in varying degrees, words and phrases like grace, forgiveness, and courage poured from the mouths of those interviewed. If a picture truly is worth a thousand words, the photo taken and posted immediately following the shooting, of students gathered hand-in-hand in prayer on campus, speaks clearly. In a word, what I witnessed is: resiliency.
Hope whispers, you will bounce back from this.
Resiliency is the ability to rebound from adversity. Rubber bands are a good example of resiliency. You can stretch, pull and twist them and they typically don’t break easily. They may change shape due to wear and time, but they are flexible. Psychological flexibility is a term used to describe people who are able to withstand the pressures, difficulties, and stressors in the present, without decompensating into a dysfunctional state that causes harm to themselves, or others. Instead, they press forward into the future while acting in congruence with their personal values in the present. If people were rubber bands, we would stretch in tandem with the trials we face, as opposed to snapping under stress. That flexibility would allow us to heal and become stronger from the difficulties, stressors, hurts, disappointments, and tragedies we experience. Healed people help others heal, and hope is the bridge that closes the gap between the hurt and the healing.
Life is hard, and filled with pain. While we can’t choose what circumstances befall us, we can choose our response. The SPU community beautifully modeled a resilient response in the face of fear and pain. I find that inspiring.
“Rubber band people” bounce back. They come in all shapes and sizes. And most importantly, they ban together for increased strength, like a rubber band ball. It takes a lot to unwind one of those! There are many factors that contribute to increased resiliency in people. A sense of community is one. Faith is another. Just ask the SPU community. They haven’t given up one another. They haven’t given up on God. They haven’t given up on the hope that bridges the hurt and the healer.