Each day I awaken wary of the new bad news that day will bring. I know I am not the only one who feels like we are living in apocalyptic times. Fires are ravaging California; Harvey, Irma and Maria made landfall and decimated parts of Texas, Florida and much of Puerto Rico; then came the earthquake in Mexico; the Las Vegas shooting was horrifying; the threat of a confrontation with North Korea is ever present; the unpredictability of the leadership of our nation unnerves (and disgusts) me to my bones; the behavior of Harvey Weinstein after Weiner is appalling.
How is a parent supposed to be a strong, confident, safe house for her children when the sky is falling? How can you help but leak your feelings of anguish when a tsunami of bad news accompanies each day? How can I feel up when so much around me feels down?
My answer came in the form of a Facebook message, an inquiry as to whether I am woman’s past sixth grade teacher, one for whom she had been searching for more than 40 years.
“Hello, I am looking for my 6th grade teacher, Betsy Braun. I am wondering if you might be her? It was in 1972 or 3 at Westwood Elementary SchooI. I was sharing a story about that year with my partner and remembering what a wonderful teacher she was. So, this morning I did a search and I found your site. Your features and kind face make me think it could be you. Is it you?…
…But, if it was you, I want you to know you really made a difference in my life. Things were very tough at home and my self-confidence was pretty low and you really lifted me. You came in mid-year with a guitar and wonderful songs. Your class was my safety zone. Thank you.”
Needless to say, I answered right away, “Yes, I am THAT Betsy Braun.” And here’s what came next:
“Hello! Wow, it’s really you. I’m glad I was able to find you and let you know how much you touched me so many years ago. I don’t know if you remember me, I wasn’t living at home at the time …
I have never forgotten sitting in your class, listening to Stevie Wonder’s song ” Livin’ for the City” and you facilitating a discussion on the depths of the lyrics.
I had to leave Westwood before the end of the year and you gave me a going away party…that really touched me. You gave me a plant, I tried so hard to keep it alive, that didn’t work out. But the memories never died.
I’d like you to know that even though I was in your class for a short period of time, YOU are that teacher that profoundly touched my life. In turn I work hard to touch the young lives I work with. “
You can probably imagine how that message took my breath away, to say nothing of leaving me in tears.
And then, as when a thin beam of light pierces a rain cloud, on that morning of gloom, I felt better, not so despondent, even hopeful. Look what I had done for someone else.
The message from my old student spoke to me about how we can feel better in times of pain, our own pain and that of others who are suffering hardships. I am talking about both helping yourself and helping your child to feel better. As in the airplane “oxygen mask theory” when you must prepare yourself before you can take care of your child, it is imperative that you deal with your own feelings of despair first. This is especially true in apocalyptic times.
In the many blogs I have previously written about how parents can respond to their children in the face of bad news (disasters, shootings, emergencies, tragedies of all kinds), among the things I have talked about are looking for the helpers and being a helper.
Looking for the helpers which includes “circling the wagons,” is not only, literally, seeking the people who can help you; it is also about family as helpers. In times of trouble, we need to reach for our loved ones and gather together—cancel the nights out, the vacations away from the kids, even stay home. This is one of those times. With all the difficulty in the world, we need to absorb the support, closeness, and ease that comes with being together, doing things as a family, laughing together, loving together. It buoys us, and it buoys our children. It fills all our tanks and it reminds us that we are okay.
Mental health professionals often point to the value of doing for others as curative in difficult times. Times like these feel especially bad because we feel helpless. Inaction adds to that feeling. Being a helper is being proactive, and that feels good. Doing something for others reminds us that we can and we do make a difference. Focusing outward takes us out of ourselves.
That Facebook message, it turns out, was more than a deeply touching communication between a student and her long lost teacher. It was a reminder to me that being a helper, being proactive is good medicine. And that medicine has a really long shelf life.