I chose public health as a profession largely because of a story. A young man is walking through the meadow enjoying the warm spring air and the smell of flowers when he hears a cry for help. The man runs toward the sound and sees someone flailing in a rushing river. He rushes toward the river and jumps in, loops his arm around the drowning man and pulls him safely to shore. Just as they both recover their breath, the man hears another scream and jumps in to save another person being swept away by the current.
This scenario repeats itself all day until the man is exhausted by the effort. His initial elation has turned to frustration as the calls for help continue. Because he has been so busy saving people in crisis, he never has the chance to find out why they are falling in. He is unable to see or fix the broken foot bridge a hundred feet away where a piece of wood has come loose causing all the chaos, fear and trauma.
Fixing that bridge is public health. It is prevention. It is the knowledge that the consequences of harm carry their own legacy. When we can disrupt the cause of the damage, we prevent so much more than just the proximal event.
Those who ignore these horrific gun massacres for some skewed belief about what freedom means are complicit in blunting our collective psyches. We are creating a nation of the traumatized. Trauma makes us insular. Trauma makes us draw toward ourselves to repair our souls. Trauma often makes us unable to act outwardly as all of our energy has to go toward simply surviving.
Hard as it is under duress, we must not retreat to our corners as we understandably struggle and grieve.
We need to fix the bridge.