I see her hands trembling.
Amongst all of the reporting and video of the shooting yesterday at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland Florida, that is the image that has shaken me the most. The footage, taken of course on one of the students’ omnipresent cell phones, captures the moment when a SWAT team enters a class room of young boys and girls who have hunkered down for safety during the horrific events. The students, no older than 17 at most (in fact, probably younger), audibly cry out in fear upon the sight of the officers entering the room with weapons drawn and pointed in their direction, and, as they are told by the authorities to put their hands in the air, you can quite visibly see one child’s hands trembling wildly. The terror is palpable. And will be long lasting.
And that is exactly the point of this piece. While the shooting may have stopped, and fortunately the perpetrator has been apprehended, the vision of that trembling must be the clarion sign of the trauma that these young survivors have now been through. Trauma that will be felt long after the funerals for their schoolmates and teachers have been held and the camera crews have all moved on. Trauma that, if left undealt with, can have long-term life changing debilitating effects.
So what can we do? How do we help?
I’ve often said that the only benefit of Israel having to have dealt with existential threat and the trauma of violence and terror for so long is the fact that there now exists, with my organization, NATAL, a body of expertise on how to cope with trauma related to such acts of violence. In a time where so many feel helpless, NATAL can help provide healing. We know the obligation we hold to share the lessons Israel has learned in the immediate and longer term aftermath of tragedy. When the time is right, we would be honored to work with community groups in South Florida to convey these lessons and utilize our hands-on expertise to help them recover however possible.
In the broader context, we at NATAL have learned the benefits of building individual and communal “resilience” prior to the occurrence of such traumatic events. This term- resilience- refers to the capacity to handle adverse situations, and the processes of coping with challenges and recovery from catastrophe, and posttraumatic growth. An individual’s resiliency can be greatly strengthened through mastery of stress related coping mechanisms and personal resources. Additionally, communal resilience is a group based asset in which individuals contribute to the larger unit’s resilience and vice versa. The power of the community, the network of individuals, and the sense of belonging, all create “a whole, greater than the sum of its parts” in dealing with adversities, and the aspect of community is more important than ever in the wake of these acts of mass violence. Just as we have already done across Israel and with other at-risk or traumatized populations around the world, NATAL stands ready to work with American communities to provide trainings and programs to build communal and individual resiliency prior to traumatic events, as a means of mitigating the long term impacts.
Also, it must be noted that it is not only the students and staff who went through yesterday’s school shootings who will struggle with the long-term impact of experiencing what they’ve gone through. We must be mindful of the police, emergency medical technicians (EMTs), and all of the first responders who so bravely surged forward to help during the emergency. The stress of taking such risk and seeing such carnage first hand cannot be understated. While first responders are often viewed as the strong of the strong, they too will need help in processing what they’ve been through, if only to ensure their continued ability to professionally respond to future crises with the same level of commitment, valor and service. Here too, Israel has learned this lesson all to well and NATAL is proud to have worked with thousands of Israeli first responders and police to help them too find peace in the wake of such horror. While we have already begun working with first responders around the world, sadly the need is great and growing and we stand ready to “help the helpers” stay as strong and healthy as possible.
Finally, those of us around the world who watched yesterday’s events unfold in “real time” from afar on tv and the internet, even at such a distance, may feel traumatized by the awfulness of it all. We should be mindful of our own mental and emotional health in the wake of events and should not be deterred from speaking to someone to help them process.
Or they can write a blog to try and feel of help in a helpless situation.
I see her hands trembling. I won’t be able to forget them any time soon.
If you are interested in more information about NATAL for you or your community please contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about how to speak with children about tragedies and violence please visit https://www.afnatal.org/supporting-your-children-in-times-of-stress/