Yesterday was a tragic day for the community of Chattanooga, TN. After leaving Woodmore Elementary School around 3:30, a school bus with over 30 students crashed on the route home in a single vehicle wreck. Over 20 children in grades kindergarten through fifth grade were taken to local hospitals. Tragically, six children died as a result of the wreck.
The prayers and support for the community has been comforting. Yet, as “the day after” is upon us, it is important that we are prayerful and mindful as we reach out to support, heal and even bear the burdens of others.
As an educator at Howard Elementary, I remember pulling up to the Poss Homes Community over 10 years ago on cold that morning while the emergency response team was putting out the fire. We loss students in that fire and some of the kids lost their friends and family. The Poss Home community was a tight knit community in Chattanooga and we, as a school, had all become family. I will always remember Tiffany, who stayed heroically trying to help out her granny and brother. She was a student. She was a hero. She will always be remembered.
Then I remember that after the 9/11 attacks, the pain of seeing the pictures of the site posted over and over as we were grieving the loss of my aunt.
So as we go to support the grieving Woodmore and Chattanooga communities, I encourage you to…
1. Be mindful of reposting pics of the bus and the scene, even with well-meaning “prayer for” titles, because those often trigger further trauma. Yes, I know the news has posted pics, but be mindful as you share and repost them.
2. Be mindful of using lingo that may “seem” comforting, but is often not helpful at the time of grief…
· God needed another angel.
· It’s all working together for our good.
· God knew what he was doing.
· I know how you feel.
This is not to say that any of these phrases or your belief system isn’t true, but our goal is to offer love and comfort to those in pain. Hold space for them and allow your presence to speak louder than your words.
3. Be open, understanding that everyone grieves in different ways. For some, although they may not have known a child in this community, they do feel valid grief and/or are triggered as they reflect on a loss in their own lives. For others, they were connected by more than six degrees of separation and are torn with so many emotions. Still others may seem to be moving right along, focusing on their own lives and trying to do the best they can. At any rate, our role is to love, not judge; to heal, not harm; to restore, not tear down. Honor the healing paths of each person and choose to respond in love.
4. Be willing to move beyond comfort ― as I mentioned in the post yesterday, we heal our community by choosing to show up in love, to respond in love, to give in love, and to be love at all times. This may mean offering a hug, giving a generous tip to a server, holding the door and giving a compliment, or just offering a meal to those in pain. There is no gesture too small and when we do it for the least, we do for to all. Be PRAYER IN ACTION by reaching out, meeting resource needs, volunteering, and being there for others that may not look like you. Be willing to move beyond comfort in order to love and heal our community.
5. Finally, choose to embrace. Let this and all other tragedies remind us of the fragility of life. Let it remind us to honor, kiss, hold, affirm, and acknowledge those we hold so dear. Let it remind us to embrace every day with hope and gratitude, whether we are tirelessly teaching a class, or resiliently cleaning a home, or diplomatically serving others, or whatever you find yourself doing. Embrace your children and talk to them about life, love, and memories. Embrace the community by volunteering, giving, and offering support in your own way. Embrace your neighbor. We are all “thy neighbor.” We are all in this together, in love, in hope, in grace.
Chattanooga is no stranger to tragedy and one thing we know is that we know how to come together as a community to support and heal. Our hearts are broken for those six children, their families, and the many other children on the bus and in the community. We are #noogastrong and our community needs our embrace.
Looking for ways to practically help?
1) Give blood ― There is a desperate need for blood and platelets
2) Honor space -- Families are grieving and need prayer and space to process this
3) Give practically ― Once the other resource needs are announced, we can join together to give money, supplies, meals, and whatever is needed
4) Give each day ― Whether it is a hug to a stranger, or embracing your own kids, or your time as a volunteer, we heal our communities as we give of ourselves.
We are #woodmorestrong
We are #noogastrong