Almost exactly ten years ago I embarked on an ambitious academic project to interview feminist female poets from Guatemala. Given the country’s fractured and violent past, and its extremes of wealth and opportunity, I expected that many of the women originally became authors in an attempt to shift gendered attitudes and push for social change.
I was wrong. Instead, I learned that many of the women wrote as a form of liberating self-expression, and as a way to preserve a sense of self in a world innately stacked against them. Although their work was shaped by a larger social and political context, most of the women I interviewed wrote for themselves above all else. At the time, as an idealistic study abroad student, I could not understand why authors would not use their words intentionally as a vehicle for social change. In the past decade, my understanding of the purpose and nature of writing shifted, as I too turned to written expression in understanding personal transformations brought on by travel, loss, time, and growth.
The horrific events at Monday’s marathon have sparked rage, sorrow, despair, and even pride throughout Boston. I am unsure how to process the violence that has marred my city’s streets, other than through writing – much as the women I had interviewed years ago made sense of themselves in a society reeling from civil war.
I was, like so many around the globe, shocked and shaken by Monday’s terrifying turn of events. I was also particularly incredulous on Tuesday at how quickly people returned to work, running errands, walking their dogs, caring for their children. How could things appear so normal given the carnage wrought not 24 hours before? Talking to loved ones and neighbors, I learned that that this apparent normality was in fact masking the fear, anxiety, and sadness so many felt in reaction to Monday’s damaging event. As a city, we are rattled. Despite calls for Boston to stand strong and show pride, the truth is that underneath this facade lies a barrage of difficult emotions. We may be physically present at work or school, but so soon after bombs exploded on city streets, we are not emotionally whole or healed. We are in shock, moving towards a long process of grief and loss.
Many of the children we work with in schools will have their own small worlds shattered – not on a global scale or at the hand of unknown terrorists, but by divorce, unexpected illness, death in the family, or a loved one’s incarceration. As school psychologists, we will have to help our school communities in understanding that while these children may be physically present at school, deep emotional fissures may prevent them from achieving academically. We will be called upon to support these students and their families, and to find ways for these students to express the difficult emotions they wrestle with as a result. These forms of self-expression may include writing, like the poets that I interviewed, or may take another form such as art, music, or community work. While we cannot erase the traumas they experienced, we can help them cope with the emotions that result. Likewise, the battered City of Boston is beginning to pick up the pieces and move forward in grief and acceptance – and we are beginning to sort through the wrenching emotions that the bombings have evoked.