It’s been a very full week.
On Tuesday, I was honored to be part of a panel hosted at Loyola University by the Chicago Headline Club about how to cover trauma and violence.
Headline Club president Steve Franklin kicked off the event by emphasizing the importance of the issue before turning the microphone over to Randi Belisomo Hernandez, another Headline Club board member and reporter for WGN, the Tribune’s television affiliate here in Chicago.
Randi had done fantastic work pulling the panel together and getting the word out about our work before it even began, securing an interview for Frank Ochberg with Steve Edwards on the local NPR station and having a television piece with him happen the next day.
Frank opened the discussion by venturing from behind the table where we were seated and out into the audience of about 50 people (The majority were Loyola students, and we also had speakers from an event we held at John Jay College earlier in the month, Brian Nelson, one of the major people in “The Grey Box,” our award-winning film from Dart Society Reports, friend and former boss Alden Loury, and, of course, Dunreith and Jon.).
Frank gave an overview of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
He knows a lot about it, given that he was part of the team that coined the term more than three decades ago.
Frank spoke about the intersection between a person’s memory, emotional responses, intellectual processes, and nervous system, and how they become disrupted through exposure to a traumatic event. One result, he said, is people’s inability to filter out the past from the present.
Fellow Dart Society board member and Loyola professor Julia Lieblich spoke next.
She talked about the different types of coverage she has done, from the Catholic Church sex abuse scandal to working in a Sierra Leone that had been ravaged by war.
Julia also read from her just-about-to-be published book, Wounded I Am More Awake: Finding Meaning After Terror. The book is a joint project with Esad Boskailo, a Bosnian doctor who survives six concentration camps in Bosnia and emerges with powerful new lessons for healing in an age of genocide.
Julia will have a book party next month, so expect to read more about it soon.
From there I talked about the kind of practical steps you can take in your reporting to act in compassionate ways as well as how to practice healthy self-care. I moved and spoke about the kind of work we are doing in the Dart Society.
I said that we are working to create multiple types of community so that our members can tell meaningful and compassionate stories and be intact people.
The work we produce, we hope, will help give the societies in which we live material from which to make humane and informed decisions.
Randi followed our presentations with a series of probing questions about how to handle very difficult situations that she has encountered in her work life before bringing the audience into a lively conversation.
How do you knock on the door of a couple who has just lost their children?
What do you say to them?
What do you do if they don’t answer?
How much persistence is too much?
What if your editor insists that you “come back with something”?
Jon made an important contribution to the conversation by saying that things have gone much better for him in his work around the world when he can articulate to the people what he is doing there and why he wants to tell their story.
Randi thanked everyone for coming, and we all mingled for a while before a group of us walked across the street to Bar Toma, a hip Italian restaurant with high chairs, a loud atmosphere and pizzas that appeared as if by magic just minutes after you ordered them.
I sat there among family and friends, Dunreith on my left, Jon next to her, drinking a full glass of rich red wine, sharing salads and pizza and chicken, talking with new and older friends about the work we do and hatching plans about what we can do together in Chicago and the country.
And, for a few moments, even as there is and will be unspeakable trauma and hardship in the world, some of which we will cover, others of which will happen in our lives, I felt the deep-down peace that comes from doing what matters in the gut and being with people who love and accept you for you.