Reevaluating Communal Health in the Wake of Tragedy

What can I do to make my community healthier? How can I inspire others to do so as well? Do we care for our sick and our wounded? Do we nurture our environment and food sources that take care of us?

I was going to write a piece about something. I hardly remember now because any time I tried to write something meaningful about my athletic life, I kept thinking about the news out of Sandy Hook Elementary School. It’s hard to avoid the news and the devastation of the event, but as a parent especially, it’s difficult to think of anything else.

Like most people, I can’t make sense of shooting children and teachers. It may never be sorted out in our minds and hearts, leaving only a near-unrecoverable sorrow. Yet beyond the sadness and fear and anger – and the plethora of other emotions – this unspeakable tragedy also becomes an opportunity for me to reevaluate health as a whole beyond physical preparedness, mental toughness, or an ever-tweaking nutritional plan. This becomes a time to reflect on communal health, which I believe is as much a part of overall health as any other obvious facet.

I am far from having a political answer or agenda in all of this. I don’t even have the energy to debate my way through any part of the complicated issues. But within the swirl of confusion and deep sympathy, I am most comforted by watching the community of Newtown and the country’s reaction to them. When we are stripped of everything and we are given a dose of the illogical and unthinkable, our most basic human traits become our most powerful. It becomes what heals us. The community of Newtown and the strangers around the country who try to nurture them without prompting or pretense are examples that during devastation our human instinct is to be loving and supportive. When we are left with nothing else, kindness and love trump.

I am not one who believes it takes a tragedy for us to come together as a community. We simply witness communal health at its most powerful when it plays the part of healer. We tuck those suffering into the fold of our care because we recognize them in us. We are not so foolish to think that something so senseless couldn’t happen to any of our children or friends and family. And we see this type of support during every terrible event. The impact of this type of extended kindness can linger and seep into our everyday lives. It has to. Eleven years after 9/11, the images still most memorable to me are of people taking care of one another. Though I never want another of these types of events to happen again, I cannot help but draw on the examples of answering extreme tragedy with extreme kindness as I revaluate the role I play in my own community.

communal health, community health, sandy hook elementary thoughtsWhat can I do to make my community healthier? What can I do to inspire others to do so as well? Do we care for our sick and our wounded? Our elderly? Do we nurture enough our environment and food sources that take care of us? Usually, I find the greatest impact on health starts with the smallest of details: do I appreciate enough what surrounds me? My answer is always a resounding yes, but do I answer it every day? Do I answer it loud enough? The lesson out of Newtown is that we can contribute to a healthy community and still terrible and senseless things happen. This unfairness hurts so deeply. And knowing there is a random possibility of the unknown, it all has to count then. It all must matter and be told that it matters and be shown that it matters. We can’t honor those poor people lost or their suffering families unless we do what they wish they could still do.

I can’t express my condolences enough for the victims of Newtown – or any other victim of violence – but I can express gratitude daily. I can extend kindness daily. I can recognize good. I can shout from the tree tops that I love my girls, my husband, and my friends who are so caring and supportive of me, too. I can appreciate my personal health, and I can use my health for the betterment of other’s health and the health of my immediate community and community at large. Just like with any other facet of health, starting with the basics builds a strong and powerful foundation even if we have to rebuild.

Photos courtesy of Shutterstock.