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A Safe Space

Updated: Jan 16, 2021

“Please pray for my family”, my friend said softly into the phone. I was sitting on the couch in the trauma physicians TV room, with one eye on my computer and my slowly progressing patient notes, and another eye on the screen, where a distraught young man passionately implored the US President to “come to Dayton, where my cousins did not deserve to be gunned down!” She then informed me that she did not mercifully lose any of her family who resided in Dayton, Ohio, but that ”I know that area, Grace. Its a prominent area in that town. Pray for peace, Grace. We gotta pray.” Shock and sadness were resonant in her words.“Thank you for calling to check on us,” my other friend, who lives in El Paso replied when he answered my phone call earlier in the day. He sounded subdued as well, unlike his normal confident, incisive self. “We are…OK.” He did not sound okay. A father and husband, he immigrated to the US from Kenya and went through a near-decade of judicial hurdles to become a US citizen. I wondered if he was second-guessing that decision; if he was wondering if it was a mistake to uproot his young family to forge a life in El Paso, Texas.

Neither of these 2 people, old friends, wise and canny, feel very safe right now.

Ironically, I began 10 months ago to create a manual, a mini-booklet , called a Safe Space, for young female students who were victims of sexual abuse at their school, where the perpetrators were the very staff who were responsible for their safety. The purpose of the manual was to start a personal narrative within the first space available to any human being, the mind. This narrative begins with the statement that every student (person) has a right to personal safety, the right to express their thoughts without fear of reprisal, and to be listened to in a secure and nonjudgemental environment. These rights should be provided by the community that they live and function in. Regardless of their age or gender, any child, or adult for that matter, should have access to such a Safe Space.

Where is that Safe Space for the people of Dayton, El Paso, or anywhere in the US for that matter?

Community strongholds such as churches, schools, and mosques, are being attacked by lone wolf personality types, who feel that committing atrocities in formerly revered, peaceful locations will have the “shock value” that they need to be infamously feared and regarded as significant by their society.

Has anyone noticed the amount of gun use in video games, movies, and TV shows has increased exponentially in the last 5 years? More and more children are being exposed to violence at toddler ages, and the incidences of children as young as 3 years old pointing and firing a carelessly placed gun at their siblings or family with tragic results.

I sat in a movie theatre recently, watching a recently released popular film, on its 3rd instalment, opening to wide acclaim. Within 5 minutes of its start, the star had carved his way through at least 20 opponents, displaying a gory dexterity in dispatching as many people in as short a time as humanly possible. Someone in the theatre shouted in glee and triumph, “Yeah!”, as he wound down to a stop, breathing hard and covered in blood. I felt ill, and decided to leave the theatre before their blood lust enthusiasm got out of hand.

I am a trauma surgeon, and I am trained to function effectively in the face of devastating injury, resuscitate, stabilize and restore health and organ function. To do this I must sometimes bury or suppress my personal and visceral responses to pain and grief, and deal with those feelings at a more convenient time.

I also am in need of a Safe Space.

That is, a Space where I can give myself permission to validate how I feel, not to minimize or dismiss my own thoughts and emotions, and not to rush through or try to cut short the time necessary to process them.Then, sometimes, I need to ask myself if it would be helpful to talk to someone else about what I experienced or witnessed or felt, and how that would affect the relationship between that person and myself. Sadly, I usually have answered myself with Yes to the first question, while deciding that it would do no good to burden others with the stories of suffering and the personal struggle to balance work and life, with life a frequent loser.

I have sought counselling at times, when I felt especially burned-out or drained or out of “gas”.While the counsellors were well-meaning and experienced, their silent listening was by far more effective than any vocal responses or suggestions. The very act of sitting and opening up about something that strongly affected me, without worrying about the effect of my narrative on the listener, was calming and soothing.

My strong feeling is that, we can all learn how to create Safe Spaces, for ourselves and others.Lets consider agreeing to provide for each other, a physical (or virtual) meeting place, where what we say is kept in confidence, where we are agreed beforehand that the outcome will be holistic and not nihilistic, where long-held hurts that have turned into crippling and false beliefs, can be released in a safe manner. Lets talk about this, and more, and continue the conversation, and maybe people would not feel compelled to speak with bullets, or knives, or explosives, or sexual violence, or online verbal violence. I would love to hear from you and what you think about this.

May all of your spaces be safe,

Gracie Ann Dinkins, MD, FACS


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