Comfort and affirmation in the Ordinary

BY MARK BYERS

Large scale, traumatic events in which we have not been directly involved leave most of us in a nearly dissociated state. That dissociation serves a purpose. We have been saturated with news and repetitive images to the point of virtual victimization, and are overwhelmed with empathy while feeling powerless to participate or help. The sheer size and significance of this terrorist attack threatens to reduce our daily purposes and actions to the absurd. For a community that feels obligated to think a lot, the problem becomes what to think about. At a time when the rule of law is a paramount issue, law may seem nothing but anemic rules, inadequate in the face of so much bloodshed. It is hard to know how to carry on, although we do.

One of the great deprivations we suffer in extreme events is a rootedness in the ordinary, and our “animal faith” in the significance of our ordinary actions. Yet, the impulse to do one’s laundry, or the attempt to read a casebook, are the psyche’s ways of keeping equilibrium. However distracted and unreal those activities feel, “going through the motions” is critical to reaffirm our commitment to stable existence. We walk a fine line between denial and total immersion in tragedy, and the accompanying sense of unreality is the natural price we pay to keep our balance. Many of us will feel like sleepwalkers in the coming weeks, and the feeling will be wholly normal. No need to fight it — it will wear off of its own accord. Where we can connect with reality, whether by giving blood or comforting a friend who is waiting for news of family, we will.

In time, this law school community will find a way to react and contribute consistent with its values. I don’t refer to a bloodless intellectualization of deeply felt divisions. After all, many students have been personally touched by the world’s ills and feel passionately about the issues that arise from this event.

For just this reason, each of us may make some contribution to what will surely be an agonizing discussion of an effective and just international response to this tragedy.

All of us in the Office of Student Life Counseling are available to meet with anyone who feels it might be helpful to process the feelings and thoughts that may arise in the coming weeks and months.

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