Is it any wonder why I spent the pandemic writing my second book on trauma? In the valley where I live in Southern Oregon the pandemic was especially brutal. Vaccine resistance was high, which fit our culture of skepticism about western medicine and governmental authority. A medical provider attended a workshop with alternative care providers who were largely unmasked and asked participants to hug each other at the end of the day. She wore her mask and exited before the hugging began.
And then, what we just call, “the fire,” came through town. It started with a human being on fire, either murdered or suicidal. The brush took this tragedy up the creek and into housing areas with wind driven furry. Alert systems failed, neighbors knocked on doors and people ran from their burning homes on foot. Fire hydrants ran out of water. When the interstate was closed along the flame route, Google maps alerted trucks on the freeway to exit and routed them right down the main north-south evacuation corridor. Fire fighters were forced to make rapid decisions about which homes to save and which to let go. Evacuees were routed into shelters with unmasked, unvaccinated neighbors. Some rode it out — breathing toxic air in the parking lot.
A clergy colleague who was evacuated reached out to me for help. He was supporting parishioners while uncertain about the fate of his own home, and he knew that nothing he had learned previously had fully prepared him for this much trauma. He wisely recognized his own trauma responses to the fire during its aftermath. “Every time the wind blows through here wild and hot, I get shaky and scared all over again.” I know how that feels because it hits me too, having packed up my household into my car to await evacuation. Very few people in the area escaped this post-trauma response.
And then, just over a mile away from my house, a young Black man was killed. The police chief said that Aidan Ellison had done nothing to provoke the fatal assault. The trial is still pending. Aidan’s likeness is now painted on the side of the local high school where he graduated. The community is still grappling with its racial history (once the home of the KKK) and the enduring legacy of racial harassment BIPOC people experience here.
The three trauma experiences I have just described, became focal points for my book, Trauma-Informed Pastoral Care: How to respond when things fall apart, and launched me into teaching clergy and congregations the essential healing skills involved in trauma-informed care. This week I flipped through an old file folder and noticed that in 2022 I had signed up for a trauma workshop for psychologists led by pioneer author and teacher Bessel Van Der Kolk, MD. It was based on his amazing book, The Body Keeps the Score. I became too busy thinking about, writing about, teaching about, and relieving my secondary trauma, to take the course. The company has very graciously refunded my tuition!