Responding to Colchester’s Traumatic Pain

We are reeling.  The unimaginable has happened.  We are learning the names and hearing the stories of people just like us gunned down in their home or on the street.  We are learning that wonderful people – family, friends, neighbors, care givers, people who were loved – have succumbed to a wave of evil acts by someone who was clearly deranged. The wave of evil washed over us.  Then a different wave began building.  Hearts are being posted on trees, candles in windows, e-mails have come from around the world, tears are running down cheeks of strangers.  A wave of what is best in humanity is washing over us.  This is not something we are responsible for but we feel responsible for responding somehow.  We also feel bereft that we cannot do more, especially when weighed down by the pandemic.

One of my ideals that I struggle with is the belief that, if we believe in God, we should judge actions and structures and not people.  That is a profound challenge.  Scott Peck, in his book People of the Lie, writes about people who seem to have given their lives over to evil.  They live among us, often appearing normal, and when they commit an evil act we are often caught by surprise.  This is not a reality we can control.  A wave of evil acts leaves us feeling out of control.   In time, we will want to know as much as we can about from where this explosion of evil came, but that is for a bit later.

In Man’s Search for Meaning, concentration camp survivor Viktor Frankl tells us we can always control what we choose to think about, and unlike Dr. Frankl, we are free to choose to act on what we choose to think about.  It is reassuring that the overwhelming choices of people are to respond with honesty, openness, caring for others, sharing, social responsibility, fairness.  These are people centered responses.   Evolution has gifted the human brain with altruism that inclines us to help others and work together.  When confronted with natural disasters, from storms to wild fires, to pandemics to floods, people work together in an explosion of altruism that seeks to dwarf the explosion of evil.

What is the most appropriated way to honor and remember and care for the victims of this tragedy and their families and friends?  As we think about the stories we have heard about the victims – nurses, a teacher, a police officer, a fire fighter, fathers, mothers – one guide as to how to respond is how they might like us to respond.  All were caregivers in one way or another.  Our response should be a caregiver’s response.  Our response should be focused on the best of human nature.  The pain they feel will not go away tomorrow.  Children of victims will grow up with the pain and the absence of support and love of a missing parent or parents.  Our response needs to be enduring. 

In a few weeks or months this terrible tragedy will be out of the headlines.  Most of will move ahead in our lives not knowing much more than the names of survivors or their struggle with the aftermath of these evil acts.   What can we put in place today that will respond to the needs of the victims of this tragedy in the weeks, months, and years to come.  One possible response would be a trust fund, one that is responsive to what families and friends want and need.  One that is guided by caregivers. 

An important question is how to structure it.  It should be people based rather than government based to be close to the people it serves.  A community based co-operative drawing on the ideas of solidarity co-operation offers many strengths.  Adopting a co-operative organizational structure brings with it acceptance of a shared purpose, meeting member and community need, and a set of values and principles shaped by more than 150 years of people working together.  Those values, honesty, openness, social responsibility, caring for others, equality, equity, mutual self-help, self-responsibility, solidarity and democracy are the kinds of values that the victims of this tragedy showed.  They are also, once adopted, become the signposts of accountability for the organization.

Membership should be open to the families and friends and people from the communities directly impacted.  It could be open to caregivers either as individuals or through their organizations.   Members should choose who will direct the organization.  Families and friends of victims should be assured strong participation in governance, as should caregivers.  Those they choose might appoint community and or government representatives to be part of the governance.

It might be tentatively called the Colchester Memorial Co-operative Trust.   It could be funded by individual donations from the thousands of people moved by compassion for the victims and their families.  It could be funded as well by governments as a memorial to those who lost their lives and the spontaneous community response. 

The Trust should have as its primary focus staying in touch with the families to ensure that they have the care and support that we all feel but cannot deliver.  The care and support needs will change over time.  Social and psychological support and just ensuring people do not feel alone would clearly be early priorities.  Education assistance and funding needs may grow over time.  It might also look at a suitable memorial or memorials so that we never forget those we lost, and that, while people are fundamentally good, frailty lives among us as does a capacity for evil.  It might also look at increasing our understanding of how this event happened and what if anything might lessen the chance of it happening again.  It might look with caring judgement at the decisions of emergency first responders caught up in the horror of events beyond any reasonable expectation.

Finally, let me cautiously express a final hope.  Let us judge the evil of the actions but leave to the Creator the judgement of him whom we will not name.  Let us also leave room in our hearts for the family and friends of him whom we will not name.  I do not know even who they are, but heaven alone knows what agonizing thoughts and guilt and rejection they are experiencing.  If they were in any way complicit they need to have deep courage to come forward.  If they were not complicit, they too are victims.  Let the Trust respond to them as appropriate as its most difficult task. 

Let us remember Lisa Mcully, Heidi Stevenson, Tom Bagley, Sean McLeod, Alanna Jenkins, Jamie and Greg Blair, Emily and Aaron Tuck, Jolene Oliver, Kristen Beaton, Heather O’Brien, Corrie Ellison, Gina Goulet, Joey Webber, Dawn Madson, Frank Gulenchyn, Joy and Peter Bond, Elizabeth Joanne Thomas, John Joseph Zahl, Lillian Hyslop and any further victims yet to be found, with love and caring.  Let us never forget that those left behind need to be surrounded by our love and caring, not just today, but for as long as they need us.

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