Living life and learning to breathe after tragedy

Published 8:12 am Saturday, September 21, 2019

One of my sisters used a phrase when talking with me this week, “learning to breathe again.”

These are just four words, but they have stuck with me like sap from a pine tree.

I live in the greater Cincinnati area, but work in Dayton.

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I have had a front seat view of catastrophic events. Eighteen tornadoes hit the Dayton area on May 27, 2019. Then on Aug. 4, 2019 a very troubled man took an AR-15 rifle and, within a mere 32 seconds, six people were dead and multiple people physically, mentally and spiritually were wounded.

Many of my students and colleagues have been affected, some totally destitute from the damage of the storm.  Others must learn how to trust our society again and how to fill the void that the injuries and loss of life have so callously thrown them into.

The devastation is sickening. There are no words to express the destruction and loss, not only of homes, but of security.

And yet, there is something miraculous about what I am witnessing as well. I’m watching the walking wounded reach out to give assurance, comfort and a simple moment of calm to each other.

A colleague and I, with the blessing of our employer, created a room that we call the Peace Place. In this room, we have designed a sanctuary of sorts.

We have healing music playing and a diffuser emitting lavender scent. There is soft lighting rather than institutional florescent lights. We have a small love seat and soft chairs and our visitors can hear the gentle bubbling of a small waterfall.

On the walls, we have placed encouraging spiritual words that evoke thoughts of tranquility, quiet and harmony. Our Peace Place is a space for refuge from the confusion and chaos of life. It is an intentional place where we can choose to either be in solitude or in community. We even have a prayer screen in a corner, so, if a person desires a place to pray, they can have privacy to enter into holiness.

After opening our Peace Place, I have been lifted up when observing people entering to sit and rest, to meet with friends, or even to be an encouragement to me. I have heard confessions of fear as well as sweet laughter between friends.

Humans are not meant for chaos. We tend to have constant restlessness with the loss of routine and consistency. Our spirits naturally seek ways to bring order to chaos. We go from total shock to the flight or fight mode. But when you have nothing left and no resources to bring stability on your own, desperation and depression can easily take over.

I am grateful to my colleague, Larry, who had the inspiration to create the Peace Place.

I am grateful I could play a part in it. My greatest thankfulness is that by being near the Peace Place, not only do I begin to heal, I watch as others bring healing from their wounds to others.

This is a time for the Dayton community be reminded of our strength in the midst of our weakness. We are learning to breathe again.

Nora Swango Stanger, a Lawrence County native and Appalachian outreach coordinator for Sinclair Community College, can be reached at