I couldn't sleep last night. When I was working cases of abused and neglected infants and toddlers I almost never slept well. My wise, older mentors would tell me to imagine putting my case files in my cabinet for the day and closing them up, trusting that I had done the best I could. Sometimes that worked. Sometimes. Mostly I imagined the doors opening back up and the lips of the file folders moving like a mouth saying "help me, help me".
A sleepless night returned and it had nothing to do with an abused or neglected child. It had to do with three young children (ages 10, 7, and 4) and their mother, Abbie. It had to do with media images of the casket that held the man who was their rock and one of the most solid parts of the foundation of their family: a young husband and father killed in the line of duty. You can read more about Warren County Sheriff's Sgt. Brian Dulles here.
The sadness runs even deeper. His oldest daughter has battled cancer twice and won. Isn't that enough suffering for one family to endure? And now this? How could this have happened? Why? Those same questions that gnawed at me in the dark while I was representing the best interests of kids in court returned with a vengeance.
As usual, I have no answers. But the one thing I do know is that the saving grace in devastation is community. Abbie and her children are surrounded by family and friends who will step in and do whatever they can to ease this pain. Brian's brotherhood of public servants will stand by them and the larger community around them will support them with prayers and random acts of kindness. They will not go through this hell alone. They are forced to endure it, but they will face it with an army of companions who will hold them together while they are falling apart. And with a lot of prayers, support, love and a tremendous amount of grace, they will grow strong around the broken places.
In the end, community is what stands when all else seems blown to pieces. Our relationships with each other are what matter most when you strip away everything else. We need each other. We cannot go through this life alone. Moving through this life in tandem with others is just about all we can count on, even if we can't move through it with the ones we love the most.
We all belong to communities: our families, our schools, our churches, our workplaces and our little neck of the woods. Wherever your community is, take a moment today to be grateful for it, to express your appreciation for being rooted and consider how you might strengthen it by your words and actions. Then think about building stronger communities around vulnerable children and families who aren't quite so fortunate.
Community is also what will ultimately save a generation of foster children drifting through a compromised government system.
Community is what will save all of us.