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Seal Beach is a quiet beach community in Southern California. A group of women are relaxing on a sunny afternoon gossiping as they are having their hair done. Suddenly the tranquil scene is disrupted by gunfire and eight women are dead and one is in critical condition. A distraught, estranged father and ex-husband abruptly and without warning forever changes the life of a several families and a community.  How could this happen? How does one make sense of such an event?

Tragedies such as this one in Seal Beach have happened in other parts of the country. Some tragedies are man made, some made by Mother Nature. No matter by what means, how often, and how close by, the results are always similar. Lives are disrupted, people grieve, they question, they become confused, depressed, and then angry.

The truth is that there is no inherent meaning in these events. More often than not they are simply random events. Whether a shooting, a tsunami, or an earthquake, they simply occur. However, we can and should learn from them.

In Chapter 10 (Lessons from Disaster) of my recent book, Living Life from the Inside Out: Who You Are Matters, I wrote:

When natural disasters strike we feel scared, even panicked. The natural order has been disrupted.Those of us who survive may leave, walk away from our homes, or rebuild. Regardless of our choices, we have an opportunity to what lessons we have learned and build something better or even completely new. We have the opportunity to make this a meaningful life lesson. What lessons can I glean that will make this experience meaningful as I move forward with my life. By asking these questions, we can empower ourselves and rebuild our lives from the inside out. (p. 91)

One lesson that I have learned from these events concerns the power of the community to heal itself. When these tragedies occur the community pulls together. There is an outpouring of sadness and support for those who were immediately affected by the tragedy. In Seal Beach the entire community went into a state of shock. People who did not know each other began talking to one another. Where ever one went there was conversation about the event. Within a few degrees of separation every one knew someone who was immediately affected. No longer was this a community of strangers. And through the tragedy people connected with one another, strengthening both their bond and their resolve.

I would hope that business will not resume as usual.  Rather, the community will be stronger and more committed to embracing the stranger in its midst. The more we can know our neighbor in a meaningful way, the more we reach out to one another, the fewer surprises that may occur. And when they do occur, we will know we are not alone.

[Dr. Dreyfus is a nationally recognized clinical psychologist, relationship counselor, sex therapist, and life coach in the Santa Monica – Los Angeles. The profits from six of his books are being donated to charity through the website Book Royalties for Charity and can be purchased through Amazon.com. Please become a fan on his Facebook Fan Page by indicating “like” on the page by clicking here.