Triage for a town
September 30, 2016
We're not done here. It's not over.
I know this is uncomfortable and sad and hard and gut-wrenching and terribly inconvenient, these truths, but the underbelly of a resort community looks just like this.
Drugs, absentee parents, depression, extreme competitions and extreme behaviors.
We stopped for a couple of days …asked our kids tough questions and then decided it was like a bad fall — time to get up, brush it off and go back out there again.
We stop talking about the tragedy of the drug, pink, because we started talking about the tragedy of the store, Patagonia. We deflect and shift focus while kids, lots of them, lots, many, are still showing up in the ER in crisis but we'd really rather move on and place bets on the first real snowfall.
This level of crisis per capita would shake a major city.
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Superintendent Conley is to be commended for putting together a Task Force — from social workers to law enforcement to medical personnel — to agree to work for as long as it takes to get us through and beyond this epidemic of drug use and depression. It exists under all the four color, glossy, flawless images — images we send out each day showing off our natural beauty. No one wants to talk about the ugly parts. Because the core issues are so difficult they would require changes in lifestyles. Adulting. Being a parent and not a buddy. Keeping kids home; checking with the other kids' parents before you drop them off; taking privileges away for infractions that mean you may just have to stay home yourself.
Pursuit of pleasure without measure has brought us here. So has a medicine chest of unused pain pills we lost track of. And debit cards without oversight for children. And no curfews. And no getting together with other parents in the neighborhood to ask what can we do… here… now.
"Must we talk of these things?" my mother would always say when I wanted to talk about uncomfortable things. "It isn't polite dinner conversation."
The updated version might be, "Must we talk of these things? It isn't good for our brand." But The Brand is under a microscope… like the tissue samples from the ER. The prognosis won't be determined by the diagnosis but by tough, long-term intervention and treatment.
We need to make certain those two children, Grant and Ryan, didn't die in vain. That they died to give an entire community a wake-up call unlike any other. That we had become such pleasure seekers we forgot to look after the children of our village. And we owe both of those children that we lost our dedicated efforts to change our culture.
There are movie screenings planned with difficult documentaries to educate us how to help look for signs. Listen. There are professionals leading special sessions to teach anyone how to administer the antidote to opiate overdose. It has come to that. There are law enforcement folks happy to explain what happens in prison to adults who deal drugs to children.
We're still in the triage stage right now. For all the things we are good at here — and there are plenty — we aren't very good at understanding hurting and healing and digging into the tough stuff. Big city problems made their way into one of the most naturally beautiful places in the west. A community built into and on mountain tops where we recreate and extol the almost endless natural resources available to us.
But our children and many of their parents hide high altitude depression and mask their sadness and disorientation in high risk behaviors. The undercurrent of warrior mentality that tells them they are invincible in individual and team sports and teaches them the biggest risk/crash/fall brings the greatest high and attention.
There are so many kids and adults who feel left out here in that highly competitive, body conscious, have-all-the-time-and-toys environment. Some kids aren't athletic and some who are don't want to compete on an elite level. Some kids just want to be kids — reading, dancing, listening to music, hanging out, watching dumb movies and eating pizza. They'll still be college bound if that is their path. Or maybe tech school bound or maybe they will travel and work in jobs and places we can't imagine for them right now. Not all kids are meant to graduate and then sign up for another four or six or eight years of school and the world no longer needs them to. This youngest generation needs connection and meaning and reason and compassion to engage their attention. They are already hard-wired to exist in a digital world of multi-tasking with speed and grace that can seem foreign to their parents/elders.
What the world needs now is kind young people, balanced, anchored in core values and armed with experiences that help them navigate a small interconnected planet. They need to understand their worth and value and potential and the likelihood those traits/characteristics may not be fully realized for years, even a decade or more, post-high school graduation. They have time to make some mistakes and start over and heal and change direction. God willing — life is long. Much longer than high school.
We live in a beautiful town with highly educated/ caring people who want to fix the broken parts. We used to be a pretty idyllic place to raise children. We can be that again but only if we all commit to being part of the dialogue in the healing. And allowing ourselves to sit with the sadness and first admit that many pieces of this beautiful community are badly broken and need us all to care about the repair. It is imperative we become involved in the long, slow process of naming the broken parts and setting about to fix them. One by uncomfortable one, every day now, every Sunday in the Park…
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the Park City Institute, which provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.
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