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Momentary Relief

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A psychotherapist ponders how nature can destroy homes and bodies but the art of mindfulness can rejuvenate the mind and spirit. A Chattanooga, Tenn. psychotherapist reflects on the overwhelming task of healing for the storm victims. This is first of three parts.

Like many people, I never imagined things would get this bad. Southern coasts had survived hurricanes for years. Houses were sometimes destroyed, but never an entire city. In one TV scene, several people waved calmly from the top of an apartment building. In others, bloated bodies floated in an absurd scene that did not resemble my nation. I watched people running, crying, angry. Upon returning to my dwelling after a particularly taxing day of therapy, I breathed out, It's so good to be home! and then winced. Some people can't go home tonight, I thought, sadness and helplessness passing over me.

I contemplated the destruction of entire universes of family connections, neighborhoods, churches, and places of work. How long would those displaced persons sleep in strange beds in rooms too big for peace of mind? Months, even years could pass before order was restored. The realities of the past events and the uncertain future seemed overwhelming.

Mindfulness, closely related to medication, is the art of being keenly aware in the moment. It is helpful for those suffering from depression, anxiety, or trauma. At the local shelter for evacuees, I spoke with Mr. Nelson at length. He had unwittingly mastered this concept. He had spoken to his wife the night before. In the midst of the travesty, he reminded her of a place they had often read about. "Remember Lookout Mountain in Tennessee? Well, guess what, I'm looking at it." In that moment he was excited, even wondrous. In that moment there was light, laughter, and wholeness. There are times when life can only be digested in the smallest of moments. The rest must wait.

Tabi Upton is a psychotherapist and columnist in Chattanooga, Tenn.

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