I’ve been thinking a lot about healing in the last week. Last weekend I was at my Alma Mater, Earlham College, to speak at New Student Orientation, and I realized that many people are just beginning to move past grief and into healing after two students were lost to a tragic car accident this summer.
I’ve also been present with the sad anniversary that approaches for me, the 5-year anniversary of my close friend’s suicide and the healing that I have been able to do in my life as well as the healing that I must still do.
I also had the incredible fortune of speaking at the 3rd Annual Tennessee Rape Prevention and Education Institute this week, and it was great to take some time to focus on the healing survivors experience that we rarely see in the work of primary intervention, as most of the participants were police officers, advocates, shelter operators, and agency staff.
In the midst of hustle and bustle like in the new school year at Earlham, in my busy life, and in the midst of a focus on the hurt and pain that often comes with the work of those at the conference, Healing is Vital.
When I first arrived at Earlham College as a student many years ago, I was not necessarily in need of direct healing, but I was in need of a home. Grand Junction, CO where I grew up never quite felt like home, and I was transferring to Earlham from the University of Denver, which felt in many ways like the opposite of a safe, warm home. In Earlham, I found the home I was not sure existed.
Whenever I am asked what makes Earlham so special, the often cliché “C-word” comes to mind: Community. Through many of its intentional processes rooted in the Quaker tradition of equality, respect for persons, and peace and social justice, Earlham has a way of creating a space that is challenging yet safe for most community members to feel vulnerable and to grow. This unique intentionality helps Earlham to create a sense of community that is different than any place I have ever been. As such, Earlham has become a home for me that I have not found anywhere else.
Upon visiting last weekend, I had many of the feelings resurface that I struggled with right after graduation. “There is no place like Earlham, and I am not going to find this kind of healing community anywhere else . . . I feel defeated, so maybe I need to just find a way to live and work in the Earlham bubble!” While the feeling was negative and in many ways fleeting, it is rooted in a place of healing.
While at Earlham, I experienced an incredible amount of joy, making life-long bonds and learning an incredible amount about myself and our world. I also struggled with some intense hurt, though. I lost two friends to suicide, and I struggled to make sense of that pain. In the community of Earlham, I found a place to grieve, and I found a place to heal. There were incredible people who wrapped me in love and helped me make whatever sense can be made of the tragedy of suicide, and community kept me from the depths of depression that leads so many who are hurt by suicide to consider the same horrible act. I found healing, and I was able to transition back to a place of love and hope.
Upon leaving college, I physically ached for the community of Earlham. I was lonely in Chicago, and the city seemed too big and too impersonal to every hope to create such a community. I was a bit depressed, hating my job and wishing I could somehow return to the safety and security of the Earlham bubble.
Now, I know this blog entry is starting to sound like a cheesy, teary-eyed commercial for my Alma Mater, so let me get to the point. Countless times since graduating, I have fantasized about retreating to the insular community of Earlham, to the safety, security, and healing that this place represents for me. While reflecting in Meeting for Worship at Earlham last weekend, though, I came to a profound realization about the mission of Earlham and the point of its community! I had it all backwards.
I have spent so much time and energy wanting to retreat into the Earlham community, but what I should be doing was working to realize the community I experienced at Earlham in each and every place that I go. My mission should be to work with those around me to inspire the kind of trust and intentionality in all of my community that I have found at Earlham.
In All About Love, bell hooks perfectly describes the healing potential of community: “Rarely, if ever, are any of us healed in isolation. Healing is an act of communion.” I saw that potential at Earlham, but I also see that potential all the time in the communities around me when I allow myself to open my eyes to their power. I saw the reality of the healing in community in the work of those attending the Rape Prevention and Education Institute this weekend, those who are working every day to not only support survivors and help them find healing but are working to help our society find the healing that we need to end sexual and intimate partner violence.
I am proud to say that I can finally change my mindset from one of searching for the community that will fulfill and heal in the way I found in college to one of building such a community. And that is an incredible difference.