We’ve all had those moments when everything changed in a flash, those traumatic times when it doesn’t seem possible to ever feel happy and optimistic again. Such events fashion us into new people, sometimes more courageous and determined and sometimes defeated and cynical. Always we feel the wound on our hearts that ultimately becomes a scar reminding us of our vulnerability as humans and of the vagaries of living.
While virtually everyone is able to describe such an event, some seem to have a Midas touch that keeps harm away from them for most of their lives and others appear to be chosen as the continual targets of tragedy. Coping with our fates whether they be few or seemingly never ending is always a struggle and while some may appear to be better at enduring the horrific, everyone is hurt by them in ways that burrow deeply into their hearts. We should never judge or underestimate the impact of bad news on anyone.
My own defining moment was of course the death of my father. I was young, only eight, and shy to boot. I tried to be brave for my mother so I went deeply inside my own psyche and rarely spoke of how devastated I felt. I pretended to be little more than a child who was ignorant of such things but my unspoken anxieties would haunt me for decades. We often forget that children have emotions as powerful as adults, sometimes more so. Ultimately my own story helped me to be intensely understanding of the problems that my students faced. I knew how greatly they were affected by the most intense moments of their lives because I had walked in their shoes.
I will always remember those battle scared children who had developed reputations as troublemakers when in fact they were driven by fear and anger over what they had experienced. There was the little tyke who had been set on fire by his mother when he was three, the teen who had watched his father murder his mother, the adolescent who felt unwanted because he was passed from one adult to another throughout his childhood. I grieved for them but also shared my own story with them and began a healing conversation that helped them to understand that they need not be defined by the tragedies that had so engulfed them.
As grew older I began to identify more and more with my mother. I realized the fear and the loneliness that she must have endured after my father’s death. She was brave to the point of stifling the deep feelings that swirled in her head. She set them all aside to care for us, but they were still there and would come back to haunt her again and again. People in her generation rarely spoke of their challenges. They had been taught to be like soldiers guarding their words lest they appear somehow broken. Being that way took its toll on my mother in the most horrific ways. I only wish that she had been able to talk with someone honestly about the trauma that never quite went away. Now I know and understand how important it is to allow anyone who has endured a shocking event to let their thoughts out knowing that they will be safe and without judgement.
Each of us should learn how to become a compassionate place of refuge. It is not an easy thing. It means setting aside our own concerns, avoiding platitudes, suspending judgement, just permitting someone who is hurting to describe the contents of his/her heart. Knowing that it is okay to voice even the most terrible of thoughts is a beginning in the process of healing.
All too often we humans tend to tell people how they should feel about certain things. We fear displays of emotional weakness because so often they get very close to touching the most fragile parts of our souls. We prefer to see someone smile through their troubles because it makes us feel better when we should be more concerned with how they are dealing with the reality of what has happened to them.
If we are very lucky we each find a person or persons to whom we might reveal our innermost thoughts without hesitation. Such beautiful souls allow us to express ourselves honestly. They gently drain the poison from our hearts. Perhaps we should each strive to be that kind of individual for someone, a haven of understanding and compassion. We call such people our brothers, sisters, best friends, partners. They know us as well as we know ourselves and love us “warts and all.”
Someone that you know is suffering right now. Reach out to them. Be the person on whom they can lean. Allow them to be however they need to be in the moment.