Reflections from Beantown: Helping the Helpers

I was lucky enough to be in Texas and not back home in Boston during the explosions at the Boston Marathon, but of course my thoughts were immediately with my students, friends and family in the area.  I also had the firsthand experience of having my cell phone pinged with texts and messages from those making sure I was ok… and the experience of trolling Facebook and Twitter to make sure those that I knew who might be close to the explosions had posted that they were safe.  One of my students finished the marathon about 20 minutes before the explosions went off.  Quite the sobering reality.

Once I determined my loved ones were safe, my thoughts turned to my students and colleagues, many of whom are in a helping profession.  They are the counselors, the advisors, and the crisis first-responders.  Although our immediate thoughts are with the victims and their families, as they should be, it reminded me about how we can’t forget those that are the helpers.  Yes, the firefighters, the police and others… absolutely… but also those that work behind the scenes that often respond and give support without thought for themselves… those that rarely are given a spotlight.

I’ve been there before: directing massive crowds, evacuating buildings, staying behind at scenes that are unsafe just to make sure the last person is accounted for, comforting students who lost loved ones or just don’t know what happened to them, and helping other students cope with and make sense of difficult events.  I wasn’t formally trained in all of his, but many skills you pick up along the way.  When you’re a helper, you don’t think about yourself in the moment.  You just do.  You spring into action.  It’s, in part, your job, but it’s also a part of who you are as a person.  You take pride in that.

But the difficulties of working through a hard or traumatic event, that are set-aside in the moment, often emerge afterwards.  One of the difficulties of being in a helping profession is that you need to remember to take care of yourself.  For someone who gives to others, this is often something that is hard to accept in return.  Who helps the helpers?

As I prepare to teach a class to my students at Boston College tomorrow (a university which is directly on the marathon route, albeit miles away from the finish line), I know I will begin with a processing through of yesterdays events.  Not only does it present an enormous learning opportunity, but also a time to make sure THEY are ok.  We’re all in this together.  Let’s not forget about the helpers and help them too.