June 18, 2018

The Ripple Effect of Tragedy.

I have few precious memories of my beloved sister that blurrily waft in amid plumes of Grateful Dead smoke.

She was a consummate “Deadhead,” having attended over 300 shows spanning coast to coast.

I tried to follow suit—with little success; I was drawn to other more academic pursuits. But, she was the coolest person in my world. I loved and cherished her, and despite our outward differences and habits, we shared tremendous love and devotion.

The memory of one particular show at Cal State San Dominguez Hills still flows like warm honey through the crevices of my grieving brain. The sun was slowly settling into another warm, lazy August night, like a comforting blanket parachuting down from the sky to soothe the happily exhausted crowd after a daylong festival of communal love, dancing, sharing, and singing.

Amidst the organized chaos that permeated the band’s tangential free-form jamming detours, there was a moment where I turned to look at my sister, her tan face contrasted by her bright white smile and blonde sun-kissed hair. She appeared to be in a state of peace, maybe even bliss, and with her clear green eyes, she communicated to me an implicit knowing that all would be okay—in that moment, and always. That she was “with” me—an unspoken promise that she always would remain a part of my soul, of my being.

I would contest (some Deadheads can take set lineups pretty seriously) that “Ripple” is a “B Side” song. The word itself has been on my mind for the last 10 and a half years. Or, more specifically, since my sister’s murder.

The “ripple effect” of tragedy is something we tend to focus on, with collateral damage spanning generations and affecting us intra and interpersonally, socially, economically, and psychologically.

But as I listen to this Grateful Dead song and reflect on my own journey through trauma, loss, anger, resentment, and adapting to a life I never imagined, I want to understand and ride the ripple effect in a way that cultivates connection and a coming together, rather than promoting a sense of inevitable, continual trauma and destruction.

The ripple effect can be less about collateral damage to those left in its wake, and more about the opportunity for growth, connection, love, and compassion beyond the tragedy.

For those caught in the ripple or not riding it where you want to go, I say we reach out to each other, ask to be heard or seen, and seek help. By doing so, we can create more ripples, more connection, more love.

Bigger ripples no longer need to mean a bigger circle of damage, but wider circles of connection, love, and opportunity to help guide and carry us beyond what we may sometimes feel is impossible or unchangeable. Like the song, we can strive to make meaning out of tragedy that evolves and expands beyond the drop.

Ripples can become an energy source for healing and movement, and less for future destruction. Ripples, like waves, flow and change in shape and direction depending on what it connects with; we all have the ability to change the shape of a ripple or wave with our presence, love, and compassion.

Just like this lyric in the song: “Ripple in still water, when there is no pebble tossed nor wind to blow, reach out your hand if your cup be empty,” ripples can begin from anything, small or large (in my case, a senseless and violent act), and you may need to seek life’s meaning on your own.

From tragedy, it is up to the survivors to shape and change the course of the ripple. Rather than being behind it—drowning and out of control—we can get on top of it and ride it where we want to go, creating bigger and wider circles of connection with others, creating a sense of belonging.

“There is a road, no simple highway between the dawn and the dark of night, and if you go no one may follow, that path is for your steps alone.”

This lyric speaks to the truth that we all have our ripples in life to ride, but rather than being separated by our own individual paths, we ride our waves together, side by side, cultivating waves of love, devotion, forgiveness, and connectedness.


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Megan Swan

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