If we are to answer the question of “what do we do now?”, we have to first know what story we are living in. In other words the story you live in is the story you live out.
All around us today are the ashes of modernity‘s story: with just the right system and just the right thinking we can solve all the worlds problems including the problems of this neighborhood. But poverty is not a problem to be solved. It is a wound to be healed, and the story of modernity does not have an algorithm for that.
Post-modernity does not fair much better. The ethic of disengagement that is so prevalent within it means that there is a profound fear of ever deeply connecting to anyone because that story says people will only let us down. That is a story of distance and detachment. And here we are in the midst of an opioid epidemic and climbing rates of suicide and addiction. All around us are people surrounded by the benefits of material wealth and achievement, and yet people are dying in record numbers from diseases of despair. Systems of scarcity have created a storyline whose meter is anxiety and whose backdrop is depression. The story we live in is the story we live out.
The story we lived in today included two men among many hundreds of people. Both men have their story, and neither story was the kind you’d tell out loud in mixed company. Both of them have had the trajectory of their life set by a story of violence, abandonment, broken homes, and worse.
Their stories collided today. I don’t know exactly which one of them triggered the trauma in the other one of them first, but one‘s reaction became the trigger for the other and they were both in a full adrenaline and cortisol-fueled fight mode. They both became people I didn’t know in a second’s time. In the story of the world outside these walls, people would be asking, “What’s wrong with those two?!” But a wrong question always yields a wrong answer.
The trouble with trauma is that it’s stored in a part of the brain that doesn’t have words and doesn’t know time. If we don’t deal with it and heal it, it has a way of popping back up at inconvenient and highly destructive times. Someone smarter than me once said, “Trauma sends you letters throughout your life, usually disguised as something else. The question isn’t “What’s wrong with them?!” A question that can guide the story towards healing is, “What happened here?”
Once both men were triggered, neither one was in this story of Despensa de la Paz in this moment in time. Trauma had taken them back in time, and both were back in some other horror story, their trauma story, and were living out the emotions of that story here in the midst of this one.
The story that shapes this community – Despensa de la Paz – is so different from the ones that shaped these mens’ lives.
In the story of this community, we are all servants of one another. We are well aware that if we had experienced what they had experienced, we would be responding in exactly the same way. That’s the way trauma works. We think we’re making decisions, but we’re not. Our brains are making decisions for us; like a pinball bouncing around until it lands in one of four holes: fight, flight, freeze, or fawn.
The story those men were in involved a fight for survival, a story of scarce love and scarcer blessings. The story of Despensa is a story of abundance, not scarcity. There’s always enough if we share. In our story, we look out for our neighbor because our neighbor is looking out for us. Our care is in the hands of one another, and in the hands of a power greater than all of us whose heart is good.
The story today could have gone a lot of ways. But it didn’t. The community was able to come alongside both men as a non-anxious presence, listening to each, coaxing them gently to come back to the present; to this moment, to this story.
We let them breathe. We let their chemistry regulate. The adrenaline eventually stopped flowing. “You’re loved here. You’re safe here.” Their hands stopped shaking.
When old, traumatizing stories come up and we find ourselves back in them, this community figures it out, together. In a city where something just like this triggered a mass shooting just last night that wounded 17 people, these two men left Despensa today reconciled to each other. The streets have a story of, “I’m gonna get mine. Hands up!” Ours is a story of, “I’ve got you, brother. Hang on.” We’re in this together. This is a different story. This is the story we live out. It’s about food, but it’s about so much more than food. This is our community.
–Max Ramsey, Site Manager