I’m particularly pleased to share this guest post by Mike Morgan. Mike moved to Camden first as a DeSales Service Works volunteer. He’s worked with HopeWorks, Joseph’s House, Cooper’s Ferry and others before becoming the Director of Operations at DeSales Service Works.
I’ve heard that it takes about six years before you begin to heal from the loss of a loved one, before you’re in a healthy place of peace and acceptance. I was walking to class nine years ago on the morning of April 16, 2007 when a Virginia Tech student was at that moment killing 32 students and teachers while injuring 17 more. I didn’t know him, and I didn’t know anyone personally that died, yet the event was traumatic for my young self. I noticed a few years ago that the six year mark was accurate- it was a turning point in which I noticed that the scarring event felt, for the first time, distinctly in the past and was no longer a constant presence in the room with me like it had been for so long. I now direct DeSales Service Works (DSW) in north Camden, leading volunteers in ministry and formation, and I’ve realized two things since moving here almost six years ago: healing is a luxury (albeit a right), and the support of a compassionate community has a lot of power and value to those who suffer and seek healing.
It wasn’t until I came to DSW in Camden five years ago that I realized how much of a luxury my healing process at Virginia Tech was. To fill you in on the dynamics of campus life at Tech the weeks following April 16: 25,000 students and staff waited to hear from loved ones. We were in shock, unbelieving, incredulous, in mourning, and barraged by media from across the world. We didn’t have class for a week, and the remaining 3 weeks of class were optional. In short: it felt like time stopped. We had space to grieve and be in pain without distraction. I collectively mourned with my friends and the larger student body. And the world send us incredible support- more than I could possibly tell you about. Healing was not a lone venture: it was a communal process.
Camden, and I imagine much of the rest of the world that experiences violence, has a much different relationship with healing. Camden has one of the highest murder rates per capita in the country, and too often the street-tough mentality takes over, not allowing people to grieve and fully heal. Many young people here know friends or relatives who have been killed, and time doesn’t stop for them like it did for us on campus. They don’t have the support of thousands of people or the world to mourn with them. Their pain and loss is often overlooked, downplayed because of its crushing commonality. Violence here is normalized- accepting something so tragic and seemingly unstoppable becomes an understandable defense mechanism. As April Saul recently wrote about, there are far too many makeshift memorials of bottles and teddy bears in our neighborhoods, yet violence continues.
This is the environment DeSales Service Works, and so many ministries and neighbors, is present. To see pain and suffering, and to choose to be present instead of running away, is the definition of compassion. Suffering can’t be erased or forgotten, but its grasp can be diminished through the compassionate presence of others. As St Francis de Sales says in my favorite prayer of his, ‘God will either shield us from suffering or give us unfailing strength to bear it’. Regardless of your religious beliefs, that strength that comes from, I believe, compassionate community that fosters healing. Camden needs a lot of things, and one of the things we need most, to properly heal within a supportive community, is something we can do for each other.
Director of Operations
DeSales Service Works