Saturday, December 29, 2007

Rethinking Fears

Fearing for Loved Ones

The mighty prophet Teiresias at last revealed himself to Odysseus and drank his fill of the spilled blood. The prophet provided his counsel, cautioning that Poseidon’s anger had yet to be assuaged. He predicted that Odysseus would lose the whole of his crew, along with his ship, to the terrors of the sea and would return alone to shores of Ithaca. There, Teiresias declared, he would realize that the men of Ithaca who wanted to marry his wife Penelope had overrun his home, devoured all sustenance, and abused his son. Hearing this declaration by the sightless oracle, Odysseus was awash with fear—the fear of losing those he held most dear to his heart.
Fear and Dread are the ogres that often haunt the steps of the adolescent who becomes brutally aware of the mortality of loved ones. Those who care about students such as these must learn to smite such foes. They are enemies who would attempt to ensnare a life that could be lived in freedom.

When disaster strikes someone close to us, it is natural to feel worried about others that we love. The sudden realization that all human beings are mortal can be very unnerving for a young person. Thoughts such as “Will my mother die?” or “Will my brother be hurt?” can cross an adolescent’s mind with startling frequency. A student affected by another’s death may appear to be fine on the outside, but inside they are often grieving. They are fearful of experiencing this type of loss again in perhaps an even more personal and devastating way.

If you suspect that a young person is struggling with fears such as this, it is helpful to arrange for a private meeting. There, in an environment of caring and confidentiality, the student can share what is really on his mind. Allow the student to share with little input from you. Simply listen. Sometimes the best thing we can do for a young person in this situation is to be a listening ear.

If she is reluctant to divulge her thoughts concerning her fears and worries about the future, you may want to ask her to write her concerns on a piece of paper or in a journal. This is another grounding technique that allows an individual to take an abstract and thus powerful fear and make it concrete and tangible. Writing reduces intangible fears to something that is manageable. The student can look at the list and say, “So this is what I’m afraid of.” The rational mind is allowed to intervene and determine if the fears are worth having or if they are in fact irrational. A piece of paper and a pencil seem innocuous, but they are in reality very strong weapons against Fear and Dread. The pen is mightier than the sword. It is true that we will all lose those we love, but a life lived in fear of such loss is no life at all.

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Saturday, December 15, 2007

Rethinking the Season

O come, O come, Emmanuel, And ransom captive Israel, That mourns in lonely exile here Until the Son of God appear.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.
O come, Thou Wisdom from on high,Who orderest all things mightily; To us the path of knowledge show, And teach us in her ways to go.

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free Thine own from Satan’s tyranny; From depths of hell Thy people save, And give them victory over the grave.

O come, Thou Day-spring, come and cheer Our spirits by Thine advent here; Disperse the gloomy clouds of night, And death’s dark shadows put to flight.

O come, Thou Key of David, come,And open wide our heavenly home; Make safe the way that leads on high, And close the path to misery.

O come, O come, great Lord of might, Who to Thy tribes on Sinai’s height In ancient times once gave the law In cloud and majesty and awe.

O come, Thou Root of Jesse’s tree, An ensign of Thy people be; Before Thee rulers silent fall; All peoples on Thy mercy call.

O come, Desire of nations, bind In one the hearts of all mankind; Bid Thou our sad divisions cease, And be Thyself our King of Peace.

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel - Medieval tune rearranged by Neale, 1851
This medieval song carries a power and a depth and a magic that often seems to be missing in our modern celebrations. When you read the words to this song, is anything stirred in your heart? Is there something holding your heart in bondage this Christmas season? What would bring you joy? It almost seems taboo to waist "valuable time" pondering such thoughts. This year, step away from the mad rush of buying and selling and enter in to the solitude that will allow you to find answers to these questions. They may be the most important questions you ever ask!

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Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Rethinking What Might Have Been

The first ghost that appeared to Odysseus was that of one of his own sailors, Elpenor, who had died when he fell off the roof of Circe’s palace. He spoke regretfully of the drunken state that had caused him to stumble and fall to his doom. Elpenor entreated Odysseus to give him a proper burial lest his spirit torment the king’s days and haunt his steps. Odysseus swore an oath to provide a suitable wake for his fallen comrade.

If we think about Elpenor’s words, we see that his ghost was full of regret over what might have been. When someone dies in their own world, especially a classmate, it is very common for young people to feel great sorrow and regret over the opportunities they missed to interact with the deceased. These thoughts and emotions can swirl around inside a student and preoccupy their waking hours. The goblins with which we as adult leaders must do battle are known as Regret and Depression.
One of the best ways to help a student in this situation is to give him the opportunity to share his thoughts and feelings, either in a group of his similarly grieving peers or one-on-one with an adult leader. If not given the chance to be freely expressed, these emotions and thoughts can reach a boiling point and cause some serious problems in a young person’s life. Sharing in this manner allows a student the chance to give substance to his feelings and to put words to otherwise amorphous laments and sorrows. Steps should be taken to ascertain who the close friends of the deceased were so that the group can freely share personal memories and stories. These are some ways in which we can help students to slay the monster Regret.

Depression can be defeated through encouraging a grieving student to make forward progress. Suggest new activities in which the young person can become involved. Motivate the student’s friends to come around her during this time. Service projects can be an excellent way to move the student who is sinking into the mire of depression to look beyond her own struggles and toward meeting the needs of others.
What in your life do you regret doing? What do you regret not doing? What changes can you make right now so that you can live your life without regrets?

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