Blow and Brooks

Mr. Blow has a question in “A Year Without Tamir:”  What has America become if we must have a sisterhood of mourning?  Bobo has extruded an extraordinary turd called “Tales of the Super Survivors” in which he gurgles that many people bounce back from traumatic events to be even stronger than before, and that there are reasons.  In the comments “gemli” from Boston had this to say:  “Conservatives are always looking for ways to sell war to the general public, but this pep talk borders on the bizarre. To say that we emerge from attacks better than before makes it sound as though we’re embarking on a kind of cleansing ritual that weeds out the weak. We clean up the mess with parables and bandages, and soldier on.  We should recall that more U.S. soldiers died from suicide in the waning years of the Bush wars than from combat, and the toll continues to mount. Such wars began with a flagrant exercise of storytelling infused with moral purpose, but it’s the moral hazards that ultimately left their mark.”  Here’s Mr. Blow, writing from Cleveland:

On a cold, dreary Sunday morning, grayness envelops the city. Tiny pellets of snow and ice fall like crumbs of Styrofoam.

I enter through the back of Mt. Zion Congregational Church in East Cleveland, and there she sits, wearing combat boots and jeans, long braids framing her face. A pin commemorating her dead son is attached to her jacket. This is Samaria Rice, the mother of Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old boy who was shot to death by a police officer last year while playing with a toy gun in a park.

Samaria sits with a friend — another mother who lost a child following an interaction with the police — while her son, Tavon, towers over her like a sentinel. She had agreed to allow me to accompany her this somber day, the anniversary of Tamir’s shooting.

I ask her how she’s holding up. “I’m tired and I’m overwhelmed,” she says, “and I just want to go to bed.”

The church service seems to cheer her up a bit, as she claps and nods and rocks her body to the songs and the message. That is, until the pastor asks the mothers who have lost children to come to the altar. Nearly 10 of them stand before it, all black. Then he invites the congregation to come forward, to lay hands on them, to “touch and agree” as they pray.

The tears begin to flow. I pass Samaria a tissue as she takes her seat.

This emotional vacillation is quite familiar to me now, this sadness periodically breaking the surface before submerging again.

Since the killing of Trayvon Martin, I have interviewed many — too many! — of these mothers with holes in their hearts. There is an eerie sameness to the arc and articulation of their sorrow.

On top of this, these mothers are forced to share their children with the world, to suppress some of their own grief so that they can be a composed instrument to serve a message. There is also the disconcerting feeling of being famous because of another’s infamy, of being exalted for extreme loss, of having your voice amplified while your personal space feels invaded.

The impulse of people wanting to express their sympathy is understandable, but constant reminders of these mothers’ losses, particularly from strangers, can sometimes make them feel as if they’re drowning under continuously crashing waves.

I would meet more of these mothers through the course of this day.

There was Deanna Joseph, who said that last year her 14-year-old son, Andrew, was wrongfully arrested at the Florida State Fair, illegally transported — “kidnapped” was the word she used — then released in a strange area with only directions for how to walk back to the fair. Deanna said he was not allowed to call a parent to come get him. Andrew was killed when he was struck trying to cross Interstate 4.

According to Deanna, no one was charged in Andrew’s death.

There was Mertilla Jones, the grandmother of 7-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones of Detroit, who was killed in 2010 by a single gunshot as she slept at home on a sofa. Officers had targeted the home for an arrest by mistake. With an A&E crew filming outside, they launched a flash-bang grenade into the house, and Aiyana’s blanket caught fire. Seconds after the entering the home, Officer Joseph Weekley fired the fatal shot. As The Guardian put it, “It went straight through the child’s head.”

After juries twice failed to reach a verdict in the case, criminal charges against Weekley were dropped.

Meanwhile, even after a year, the officers involved in Tamir’s killing havenot been charged.

These women have become a sort of sisterhood of traveling pain. They support each other and commiserate in their shared grief, a grief that only they can truly know. But as a country we must ask ourselves if we can call this a decent society if such a morbid sorority is necessary.

Still, of all the cases that shake my soul, Tamir’s case shakes it the most. It is an American tragedy of epic proportions.

After church, we travel to the gazebo near the Cudell Recreation Center where Tamir was gunned down. Samaria shows me how far it was from her front door, “about 100 yards.” She shows me the path that the police cruiser took when approaching Tamir across the grassy park, steering clear of a tree and a swing set — “like the Dukes of Hazzard,” as she puts it — not using the paved parking lot that we used.

Samaria freely discusses her own troubled past. She had a drug-addicted mother who killed a man with whom she was in an abusive relationship. Samaria had to testify at the trial. She was 12. (Her mother served 15 years in the penitentiary for manslaughter, Samaria says.) From 12 on, Samaria bounced around among caregivers, some of whom didn’t seem to know what the term meant. She discusses her strained relationship with her father and her own run-ins with the law. Through it all, she endured. She points to a tattoo on her forearm that reads, “Only the Strong Survive.”

It was because of her own troubled past, she says, that she tried desperately to protect her own children from trouble.

But the woman who experienced so much trauma at 12 couldn’t protect her son from an even worse fate at 12.

She recounted the events of the fateful day Tamir was shot. Two teenage boys she didn’t recognize ran from the rec center to her house to tell her that Tamir had been shot in the park. She says that she was initially in denial. “I was like, ‘no, my kids are at the park playing.’” But Tavon didn’t share her denial. He bolted from the house, racing to the park.

Samaria says that she put on her shoes and jacket and walked over to the park only to find out that the boys had told the truth. She arrived on the scene at the same time as the ambulance. “At that point, I went into shock, because at that point I’m trying to figure out: ‘What is going on? What happened? What did he do?’ In my head it’s like: ‘What did he do bad enough for you guys to shoot him?’”

She also realized that Tavon and her daughter Tajai, both of whom had raced to Tamir’s aid, had been detained by the police.

Then she had to make a nearly impossible decision: stay with the two children who had been detained, or travel to the hospital with the child who had a bullet in his belly. She went to the hospital, where Tamir died of his wound the next day.

Soon the vigil for Tamir begins in the park. I stand near the family. I try to imagine what it must be like to lose a child in that way, but I shake the thought loose before it sinks in. It’s too much to contemplate. Yet, as I glance over at Samaria, I realize that the unfathomable is her everyday companion.

Now the world waits along with Samaria to see what, if anything, will be done to the officers who killed her son, both the one who fired the fatal shot and the one who drove the car.

As Samaria put it, “I just want them to tell me what happened.”

And now, God help us, comes Bobo who I’m sure never read Mr. Blow’s piece.  Otherwise he never could have created this appalling POS:

The age of terror is an age of shocks. Individuals, families and whole societies get torn apart by unexpected stabbings, shootings and bombings.

It’s horrible, of course, but over the past few years the findings of academic research into the effects of these traumas have shifted in a more positive direction. Human beings are more resilient than we’d earlier thought. Many people bounce back from hard knocks and experience surges of post-traumatic growth.

In the first place, post-traumatic stress disorder rates are lower than many of us imagine. According to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only about 13 percent of the first responders on 9/11 had symptoms that would qualify as a stress disorder. Only about 13 percent of the people who saw the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in person experienced PTSDin the next six months. The best general rule for all of society seems to be that at least 75 percent of the people who experience a life-threatening or violent event emerge without a stress disorder.

Even many of those who are unlucky enough to fall victim to the horrific pain of PTSD are able to recover and rebuild better lives. These are people you sometimes meet who have experienced the worst in life but still radiate love and joy. They get to live a second life and correct the mistakes they made before the earthquake shook everything loose.

As Philip A. Fisher, a University of Oregon psychology professor, noted in an email, the big background factor that nurtures resilience is unconditional love. The people who survive and rebound from trauma frequently had an early caregiver who pumped unshakable love into them, and that built a rock of inner security they could stand on for the rest of their lives.

There are some foreground factors, too, traits super survivors tend to have that enable them to come back stronger then ever. These people are often deluded in good ways about their own abilities, but completely realistic about their situations. That is to say, they have positive illusions about their own talents, and an optimist’s faith in their own abilities to control the future. But they have no illusions about the world around them. They accept what they have lost quickly. They see problems clearly. They work hard. Work is the reliable cure for sorrow.

Recovering from trauma is mainly an exercise in storytelling. As Richard Tedeschi, a psychology professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, has pointed out, trauma is a shock that ruptures the central story that you thought was your life. The recurring patterns that make up life are disrupted. The sense of safety is lost. Having faced death, people in these circumstances are forced to confront the elemental questions of life.

But some people are able to write a new story. As Tedeschi writes, post-traumatic growth comes not from the event but from the struggle afterward to write a new story that imagines a life better than before. Researchers have found that people who thrive after a shock are able to tell clear, forward-looking stories about themselves, while those who don’t thrive get stuck ruminating darkly about the past.

Book 1 is life before the event. Book 2 is the event that shattered the old story. But Book 3 is reintegration, a reframing new story that incorporates what happened and then points to a more virtuous and meaningful life than the one before.

These are intensely moral narratives that describe a life of higher purpose. Viktor Frankl survived the Holocaust and concluded that those who could best survive the camps were those who could satisfy their hunger for lives of meaning. Even if they were suffering, they could direct their attention toward those they loved and those they would serve in their future lives.

Frankl, who went on to become a professor of neurology and psychiatry, cited Nietzsche’s dictum that he who has a why to live for can endure almost any how. The stories super survivors tell have two big themes: optimism and altruism.

It’s interesting that this age of terrorism calls forth certain practical skills — the ability to tell stories, the ability to philosophize and define a meaning to your life. Just as individuals need moral stories if they are going to recover, so probably do nations. France will most likely need a parable to make sense of what happened, just as the United States still has competing parables about the meaning of 9/11.

This is why foreign policies that pursue amoral realpolitik are always impractical. If a country can’t discern a moral purpose in its foreign policy, it will lack resilience. It will lack the capacity to bounce back from an attack. It will lack a satisfying narrative and lose the ability to thrive in terror’s wake.

The good news is there is no reason to be pessimistic during the war on terrorism. Individuals and societies are tough and resilient, and usually emerge from attacks better than before.

He should be horsewhipped in Macy’s window on Thanksgiving day.  By Santa…

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