For the Health of Humanity

This was originally written in February 2016 - revisiting after the unfolding in Christchurch and sharing the sentiments now as then, with enormous gratitude for the expression of unity from the citizens and leaders of New Zealand.

Reviewing reports of the recent events in Kalamazoo – in my home state, a terrific city where I spent two summers and where my sister has lived nearly her entire adult life, growing her family and knitting herself deeply into the community – I was surprised that it did not feel any different to me than similar events that have happened elsewhere in our country. Initially, I was concerned that I had simply become numb to such an occurrence – so frequent; announcement of death by shooting has become a headline as common as the winner of last night’s basketball game. But as I sat with the news, and wondered yet again if it was time to jump ship for lands with notably less gun crime, it dawned on me that my outrage was not lessened by regularity of occurrence nor was it heightened by familiarity of location because it was maximized long ago, and has been maintained ever since, by the oneness of humanity.

There have certainly been moments that felt closer to home in context and location over the years – I was myself a senior in high school when Columbine took place – it was difficult to rectify that I was able to commemorate such an important stage in my own life with joy and celebration as the memory for many was stained by the loss of thirteen innocent lives. My oldest was a kindergartener at the time of Sandy Hook – there was a shift in the beauty and excitement of early education for my own son with the awareness that it was being replaced for these parents by the unimaginable bereavement of twenty children and six of their dedicated stewards. Soon after we arrived in Oregon, the Umpqua Community College shooting occurred. Making my new home in a university town only 100 miles away, I was bewildered – I grew up in one of the most violent cities in the nation and spent the past decade in another. Living now in a quaint tourist town, tucked in the mountainside of the Pacific Northwest where no one even locks their door, I was now in residence when the state experienced the deadliest mass shooting in its modern history, as eight were killed at this institution of higher learning. Nowhere is safe; patterns are unpredictable. The relief-ridden gratitude for the safety of ones own family is followed immediately by the horror-stricken realization that it is only by chance that this is so. We are missing the big picture if we think that each of these lives lost does not impact the constant destruction of the soul of society while undermining the quality and threatening the quantity of our own lives.

I grapple with this reality – of the violence ever-present with the fervor of debate so heated, the possibility of a resolution through legislation highly unlikely and capacity for change seemingly beyond my grasp. My human response is paralytic fear. My parental response is enraged sadness. Neither of these, thus far, has resulted in productive movement toward solution. But when I take a step back and look at the panoramic view of death by gun violence as the public health crisis that it is, the physician in me begins to find some clarity and loosen inertia’s grip.

As an osteopathic physician, I have the privilege of engaging with anatomy to effect change in physiology. Osteopathic manipulative treatment is intended to remove obstruction from the patient’s inherent path to health. When treating patients, symptoms are acknowledged and addressed, diseases identified and managed but the search for root cause is the ultimate goal of evaluation and correction the true purpose of treatment. As I consider the ongoing, escalating gun violence in this country, I cannot help but filter it through this lens of analysis that has underscored my professional life.