The Reverend Ed Bacon, Episcopalian priest and rector of All Saints Church in Pasadena, Calif., and Rhinebeck, N.Y., Omega Institute co-founder Elizabeth Lesser will present “Finding Your Invincible Summer,” Thursday, May 9, at Newtown Middle School, beginning at 7 pm.
Rev Bacon and Ms Lesser were frequent hosts of the Oprah’s Soul Series, from 2007 to 2011, discussing with the talk show host and other notables the matters of the soul. Responding to an invitation by local nonprofit organization Sandy Hook Promise to take part in the “Moving Forward” series of programs it sponsors, the two spiritual experts will speak on the power of community, the beauty and necessity of grieving, how culture has placed shame on those unable to find closure swiftly, and how individuals and communities grieve and move on, “honoring the heartbreak while seeking the invincible summer.”
Rev Bacon is the author of 8 Habits of Love — Open Your Heart, Open Your Mind. It is the beauty found within the Albert Camus quote, “In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer,” which Rev Bacon discovered had brought solace to one of the parents of a child lost 12/14, that forms the theme of the May 9 presentation. “It is a beautiful metaphor for what resides in the souls of all affected by calamity,” said Rev Bacon.
Ms Lesser is the author of Broken Open, The New American Spirituality and The Seeker’s Guide, and has worked with leading figures in the fields of healing. Over the 36 years she has been with the Omega Institute, she has witnessed and helped people going through many types of trauma, she said. Among the many workshops created at the Omega Institute, she said, are those for people in need post-9/11 and for military veterans suffering from PTSD.
“I’ve spent years in the field of helping people move through difficult times. In Newtown, which is in such an iconic moment, anything I could do to help would be a privilege,” said Ms Lesser.
The May 9 program is not intended only to address the issues of 12/14, she said. “Anyone who is a human being will benefit. Just to be a human being, within that job description is ‘going through difficult times.’ Just because Newtown has become emblematic of tragedy, doesn’t mean that others there aren’t going through everyday difficulties,” Ms Lesser said.
“December 14 must be a burden to the people in Newtown, as life goes on. Everything keeps going back to that tragedy. There is no hierarchy in pain, though,” she said. “Every time you suffer, it’s true and valid suffering.”
“Sometimes ‘moving forward conversations’ can be premature,” cautioned Rev Bacon. He has been in contact with members of Sandy Hook Promise, the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut, and with local minister, the Reverend Kathy Adams-Shepherd, he said.
“There is some meaning that we’re coming to Newtown at this particular time,” Rev Bacon said. “We are aware that it is the Thursday before Mother’s Day, which is a special call to me and Elizabeth to the mood and the care with which we address the crowd in Newtown. Everything we’re talking about [May 9] is framed by being very sensitive to this point of four-plus months [since the shootings]. What we talk about will be affected by what we experience when we get to town,” he said. “What we hope to express is applicable to other circumstances [beyond 12/14]. They are principles and truths that could apply to any traumatizing event, but not ignoring or putting aside December 14,” said Rev Bacon.
Healing Takes Work
While Newtown appears to be a beautiful, intact community, from what she knows of it, Ms Lesser said that at the four-month mark, it might be a time when “things begin to fray a little. After a while, old patterns reemerge, and that can be almost a second trauma,” she said, as residents realize that healing will take work.
“Sometimes, knowing what to expect is helpful, so that you don’t think, ‘Oh, our community is failing,’” she said. Assisting the community in recognizing what to expect post-12/14 is what she and Rev Bacon hope to do on May 9.
“There is a pressure to be the perfect example of how a community should react in the aftermath of a tragedy, and that’s an added burden,” Ms Lesser said.
The power of community can be as small as having a friendship of the soul with just one person, Rev Bacon said, or a coming together, in a rather rhythmic method, such as provided by community gatherings. The power of community is in finding places in which mixed feelings of gratitude and loss can be expressed in a safe environment, or of having people with whom feelings can be openly expressed. “We cannot be human beings alone,” Rev Bacon said.
How a community moves forward from an event like 12/14 will be different for every individual. “You need to throw out the idea that there’s an agreed upon table of what that looks like. Some people are better able to hang on to what Rev Bacon and I call ‘the invincible summer,’ what gives them the resiliency,” Ms Lesser said.
“Don’t put someone else’s timetable on your own grief,” she counseled. “Don’t think closure has to happen quickly,” she said, adding that she feels the word “closure” is not quite accurate. “I don’t think a wound like this ever fully closes. This kind of trauma is always with you. But you can use it to grow and become wiser of the human condition, or you can become bitter. It’s a choice, a series of choices, to stay open to life and to hope,” Ms Lesser said.
An individual or community heals by moving from victim to survivor to victor, Rev Bacon has been told by survivors of violence. “There has to be acknowledgement of the pain; sufficient community support for grieving; and support for when any individual moves forward in any way. Then you know that something is going on, that there is healing and moving forward,” he said.
Grieving is a way of honoring the victims of violence and of honoring that the grief is a part of our true selves, Rev Bacon said. “Grieving always is there; but there is an end to mourning.”
Rev Bacon is hopeful that those attending the May 9 presentation will come away with the knowledge that a way to honor the victims of 12/14 is to remember them and to have a sense of wanting the very best for those who survived. “Honor them by living life fully,” he said.
“In the sense of human community, it’s as if I’m paying a visit to my brothers and sisters, by coming to Newtown. I feel the interwovenness of our lives,” said Rev Bacon, who has former Pasadena parishioners now living in Sandy Hook and has been asked by a current parishioner to make contact with her niece here. “I hope,” he said, “to come away from Newtown, a learner.”
“Finding Your Invincible Summer” is free and open to the public. The program begins at 7 pm, Thursday, May 9, at the Newtown Middle School.