Mr. Don Damond speaks to Christian Prayer class

This+chalk+memorial+was+drawn+outside+Ms.+Michelle+LeBlancs+home+in+her+yard.+The+alley+behind+LeBlancs+house+is+where+Ms.+Justine+Damond+was+shot+and+killed+on+July+15%2C+2017.

photo courtesy of Ms. Michelle LeBlanc

This chalk memorial was drawn outside Ms. Michelle LeBlanc’s home in her yard. The alley behind LeBlanc’s house is where Ms. Justine Damond was shot and killed on July 15, 2017.

Erin Lerch, Staff Writer

Ms. Michelle LeBlanc’s Christian Prayer class was given the opportunity to listen to and meditate with guest speaker Mr. Don Damond. Don Damond lost his fiance Ms. Justine Damond this past July when a police officer shot her in an alleyway after she had called the police to report a possible assault happening there.

Damond and LeBlanc are neighbors and were brought together due to the fact that LeBlanc and her husband were the only ear-witnesses to the shooting.

The seniors in the Christian Prayer class are currently studying meditation, which aligns with Damond’s chosen tool for healing after his tragic loss. Meditation has helped Damond to cope with his feelings and identify them as well. “I have dealt with a lot of sadness. Meditation is a way for me to identify that sadness. I think to myself, ‘sadness is like this.’ I notice the feeling, and I don’t judge what I am feeling,” Damond said.

The school walkout to remember the 17 lives lost in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas school shooting was on the same day that Damond was speaking to the seniors. “[Damond] thinks that this is no coincidence that the very day our nation’s youth are protesting gun violence falls on the day he will be speaking to our class, as his life has been forever touched by gun violence,” LeBlanc said.

It’s one of those things that you think will never happen to you. I was always aware of gun violence, but I never put any action behind it. Now I guess I see how it is, and more importantly, I feel how it is.”

— Don Damond

Instead of walking out with those who participated in the walkout, Damond decided it would be more beneficial to stay inside and meditate with those who chose not to go outside. In the classroom, the class gathered in a circle and silently meditated to pay tribute to the lives lost. He believes that acknowledging others’ suffering can make an important difference. “In the practice called Tonglen, we breathe in people’s suffering or sadness, and breathe out love,” Damond said.

Damond believes that mediation has helped to take some of his anger away. He is able to understand his feelings and also empathize with others. “It’s one of those things that you think will never happen to you. I was always aware of gun violence, but I never put any action behind it. Now I guess I see how it is, and more importantly, I feel how it is,” Damond said.

The Christian Prayer class walked through a practice called Body Scan, where the seniors were able to be aware of things they aren’t normally aware of. While the practice was hard, Damond guided them through it. “It was hard to focus on meditating because there were so many noises and distractions, but [Damond] kept reminding us to focus on our breath. It was a really powerful experience,” senior Ruby Strommen said.

Damond has taken all of the benefits of meditation and used them to help others. “I have gotten amazing things from meditation, so everything that I get, I want to give back,” Damond said.

Rather than dwelling and being angry with the past, Damond focuses his energy on benefiting others. He volunteers at several correctional facilities and teaches meditation to both youth and sex offenders. “Sitting shoulder-to-shoulder I realized, these people are just like me. They want to be loved. They feel sadness and pain. The things that I have in common with these people greatly outweighs our differences,” Damond said.