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The terror of loneliness and the call of community

I awoke with a start.  My phone was buzzing with its usual mixture of Facebook posts and notifications of news events.  I looked at my emails as is my wont at awakening (how predictable!) and saw that only a few miles from where I slept a massacre had occurred.

I was in Aurora, Colorado attending a business meeting, staying at the house of a good friend and in the company of another.  As horrific as the news was, as close as it was, somehow it didn’t touch me deeply at that moment. The armor of denial and safety.  I replied to the texts of my friends: “of course, I’m safe.” Of course.

As the day unfolded and the horrific images unfurled, I was deeply grieved.  I was horrified at those who made use of this atrocity to further their political goals.  Again, the fantasy of safety.  The cries of those who believe we should do something, anything, to close the flow of weapons and ammunition to anyone and everyone who can make an order online seemed to be bleatings in the wilderness of political exigency.

My thoughts could go in a million directions about public policy about guns and the inadequacy of our mental health system.  I will leave these essential issues to the experts.

For now I want to talk about loneliness.  The image of the sweet faced 13 year-old, intellectually gifted and perhaps a bit nerdy, but with long lashes framing his eyes and a shy smile haunts me.  Isolation.  No place to turn, no one to turn to.  The obsessive compiling of that which he thought could protect him, make him noticed, make him somebody.

This, among the other images and horrific stories of the innocent young and old paying the terrible consequences of his quest for significance in a world in which he clearly felt like no-one.  These haunt me.

I, whose life goal is to help nurture people’s ability to find positive meaning in the world, have failed.  We, as a society, schooled mostly in achievement and acquisition, have failed.  Perhaps we could not have prevented the obvious deterioration into madness this young man descended into.  But perhaps we could have created some refuge to which he could bring his terrors.  Would community have made a difference? I have to believe so.

Our quest for meaning in the face of someone so desperate, so oblivious of human collateral, the detritus of lives rendered forever shattered, offers only fragmentary images of what I believe to be worthy of the dignity of human beings.  And yet human being he was and is, no matter how delusionary he might be,  What is the salvific story here?

The ways in which community was created in an instant in the midst of assault can only in small part assuage us.  The heroism of those who literally laid their bodies on the line to protect those who loved.  The images of unlikely pairings of people comforting one another tell me that at our heart most of us find ways to connect deeply to even the stranger who offers us a hand and a hug.

There remains a call.  How can we be present to those in extremis?  How can we find ways to pierce the deep loneliness of people who feel left behind, who feel themselves to be failures, who need a loving hand, a welcoming touch, an interest in who they might deeply and caringly be seen?  How do we reach out in this disconnected world?  How do we prove to those completely bereft that meaning, light and love still exist?

God loves us, no exceptions.  I have to believe it.  I have to teach it.  I have to live it.  God give me strength to awaken to this call.

8 Comments Post a comment
  1. Amen.

    July 22, 2012
  2. Thank you for writing these words. Thank you for turning to the salvific hope that community offers. Thank you for reminding that we are all part of one if we only open our eyes and hearts and look around. I will be sharing your post.

    July 22, 2012
  3. Martha niebanck #

    Thanks Terasa!

    July 23, 2012
  4. Arlene Teed #

    Thanks, Terasa. Your message is so meaningful. I’ll pass this on in the hope that everyone reading it will benefit from your wisdom and compassion.

    Arlene Teed – My husband Bob and I were members of 1st UU, Detroit, when you were there. We’re now in East Lansing, still fighting the good fight for justice and Standing on the Side of Love.

    July 23, 2012
  5. My husband and I were talking about this story yesterday morning as we read the morning paper. I felt, as you do, that this man’s loneliness had a lot to do with what happened. In California he had the community he grew up in, but in Colorado he was alone. He may have had some inability to create friends (we know many people like that) and in a strange place living in his own mind for so long who knows where that led him.

    We’ve all known people like him – awkward and shy, living in their own worlds. Who knows what could have been done if people weren’t so wrapped up in themselves and actually talked to him instead of ignoring him and walking by.

    July 23, 2012
  6. Rev. Linnea Pearson #

    Dear Teresa, I love and honor you and the work you have done and continue to do on behalf of our UU extended family/community, so I hesitate to write a response to your blog—which is beautiful & I value—though I do not agree with the opinions you express & so, really in deference to you, offer this response.
    You write that you will leave “public policy about guns and mental health advocacy to the experts,” & you’ll just deal with ministry to troubled individuals, such as the perpetrator of the Aurora massacre.
    But, Teresa, the so-called, wanna-be or even possibly real ” experts” in gun control are most ALL under the control of the nefarious NRA (except for the few continuing to work for the Brady-law reforms–& we see how far that’s gotten us!). Where are those speaking out against the Supreme Court’s stupid interpretation of citizens’ “right to bear arms” which was intended to provide defense against governmental tyranny but has been usurped by the NRA’s obvious profit motive. (Do you KNOW the profit in gun commerce? Do we REMEMBER that, as Dr. King noted, “America is the biggest purveyor of violence in the world today?”? Do we remember Dick Cheney’s shot-gun “accident’ & of how it was trivialized by the media?)
    And, at least here in Florida, the NRA “owns” the state government & most public access to the media. And the same is true here for the “experts in mental health.” The ones who offer opposition to the status quo, are quickly eliminated.
    And we have penal institutions coming under private ownership–those who benefit from arrests/convictions being made on the basis of “insanity.” (I just saw “Bat Man I” last night & saw that was also a problem identified in Gotham.)
    Trayvon Martin’s brother was in my college class this last semester. We held a memorial service for him. I got criticism from those who favor the “Stand Your Ground” law & noted that Florida courts consistently uphold that law which favors the murderer over the murdered; that’s how most of the registered , VOCAL Florida voters identify.
    So, what do I do? I write; I lecture; I lead groups….I work with Move On and People of Faith for Obama and Code Pink and the League of Women Voters…..& I also work with troubled youths at & on the outskirts of my University. Some of my students have returned from Iraq having had to TORTURE POWs at TREMENDOUS cost to their own sanity. And I’ve been meeting with Women Iraqi Vets who have “double PTSD” –from battle and from RAPE.
    On another note, I witnessed the MOVING Aurora community vigil held last night, saw the role many played as “saviours” of other’s lives, and the powerful bonding that was created by caring governmental officials (including the beautiful message from Pres. Obama at the hospital last night).
    So, dear Teresa, yes, I agree, our ministry is to the lost & forsaken. AND I would argue that it is ALSO to the corrupt political/commercial/ media forces that align to continue to allow the PROFITS of the NRA to out-speak the PROPHETS of not only our UU movement, but of all those who are truly dedicated to AN END TO WAR AND VIOLENCE IN OUR TIME>
    Hey, we never thot we’d get the right to vote for women, right?
    Or an end to smoking in public? So this is POSSIBLE, if we BELIEVE it is!
    No more gun trafficking in the U S of A! “Si, se puede!” Ama Linnea/MIami

    July 23, 2012
  7. van #

    religion at it’s best intentionally creates healthy communities. Research shows that extended periods of isolation induces mental illness. What can we do starting with our own congregations?

    July 26, 2012
  8. Sharon #

    I find it very interesting that UUA would send out a link to this blog. Three years ago, I was having mental health problems. I admit that as a result, I exhibited some strange behavior. I felt all alone, and needed support. I didn’t need money or anything like that. I just needed a few kind faces, maybe someone to talk to once in awhile.

    But instead, my UU minister told me to leave the congregation and never come back. Apparently someone in the congregation found my behavior frightening, and was afraid I was going to turn violent. This was a complete overreaction. I’ve never threatened anyone and have never been physicallly violent. I don’t own any weapons. I thought the minister knew me fairly well. I’d been very open with her about my troubles. But she turned her back on me. When I needed support, she made sure I was locked out. This made my mental illness worse. How horrible a person am I that I was kicked out of a Unitarian Universalist church, of all things?

    Recovery was/is a struggle. But with time, therapy, and medication, I’ve made a lot of progress. This is no thanks to my former UU minister and congregation, who just succeeded in making things 100 times worse.

    I wanted to inform UUA of how I’d been treated. UUA referred me to the interim director of my region’s district, who ignored me. And do you know how I find out she was going to ignore me? She had become Facebook friends with the minister who froze me out when I needed help and companionship so badly. Nice, huh?

    I challenge UUA not to censor my post. It’s too late to help me, but what about the next person?? That is who I am worried about.

    August 17, 2012

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