Restorative Justice: Re-storying What Happened in Boston

I still go to sleep wondering whether more bombs will appear in the city, whether my family will be okay, whether the sounds of sirens and the choppers of helicopters will bring memories of unease. I know I'm not alone.
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I have been reflecting much on last week's events: the shattering impact of the bombs on Monday, the shootings at MIT and the manhunt that followed. In the aftermath of tragedy, life never returns to yesterday. University officials might send emails to their students, staff and faculty indicating that 'Business is back to normal,' and we may hear our mayor, governor and president say that it is all over. Nothing is over; nothing returns to normal. While we can now venture outside and walk through more crowded streets and avoid hurried cars, the shadow of the aftermath looms almost eerily over our city.

Unfortunately, few spaces and places exist in which trauma can be confronted, processed and transformed. Few spaces allow us the time to reflect on the bombs planted in our city, on the military tanks marching through Cambridge and Watertown, on the helicopters and sirens disrupting every silent moment of the day. We must return to work and draft another statement, orchestrate another event, or compute another spreadsheet. Children go back to the times table and cirrus clouds; the House and the Senate return to business as usual, but now with new ammunition to attack gun control and immigration reform -- if only those liberal Bostonians had had more guns.

But tragedy invites us to pause, to take a moment of communal silence and reflection. In the wake of shattering events, we find an invitation to re-understand and re-imagine how we are connected with one another, how we fit in a wide web of existence, and how we can transform our communities. And this is where restorative justice practices can provide that space we lack in our schools, jobs, and sometimes even home.

We have seen some coverage of restorative practices as an alternative model to responding to conflict, particularly in the criminal justice system and with students who misbehave. In essence, the restorative process invites us to sit in circle, and, as a community affected by crime, determine how to best meet the needs of those involved. Restorative justice rejects one-size-fits-all models and prefers creative processes to conflict resolution.

However, restorative practices also help us deal with trauma, as these practices call us to sit in circle to process and connect with each other through the common thread of our experiences. This is an invitation, then, for principals, managers, and parents to find a talking piece -- any object, really -- and sit in small circles with their respective communities. Teachers can pose questions for sharing: What did you do on Friday during the lock-down? Pass the talking piece around the circle, remembering that the person who holds it has the privilege of speaking while everyone else has the privilege of listening. How are things different for you now? Pass the talking piece. What are you most afraid of today? Pass the talking piece again. These questions might strike some as superficial, but if allowed to sink in, one sees how people begin to share deeply affective moments and experiences.

Author Joan Didion once wrote, "We tell ourselves stories in order to live." She couldn't be more right. We also tell stories in order to degrade pain. Through the restorative approach, we can sit in circle and 're-story' our lives, our experiences of shock, and our understandings of the bombings.

Life does not return to normal. Life becomes surreal and altered; recalibrated is our sense of the world around us. I still go to sleep wondering whether more bombs will appear in the city, whether my family will be okay, whether the sounds of sirens and the choppers of helicopters will bring memories of unease. I know I'm not alone. In fact, our friends in Israel and Palestine, Syria and West Texas, China and Newtown have nightmares, too. Restorative practices--the circle--can help us determine what our needs are, and how we, as a community, can better meet them.

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