Listening to news stories about the lives of people far away, in lands I will probably never see, I am struck by the similarities between their lives and mine. No, I wasn’t raised with stories of grandparents being enslaved, or the entire village being massacred. Those people would look at my life and tell me how easy it has been. But listening to the reaction to their circumstances I see that there are more things alike between us than not . Does it matter where we are stabbed, if we are all bleeding somewhere? Well yes, to answer my own question, it does matter where we are stabbed, because our wounds are so personal. We need to feel where and how and why for every betrayal, insult or loss; we wouldn’t be able to heal ourselves if we didn’t. But our reactions to those experiences are where I believe we are connected.
It is too easy to push people away when we are hurt – almost as if we wanted our experiences to be unfathomable. When my 18-month-old son was diagnosed with cancer, I knew that no one would understand. The phrase I heard most often was just that “I could never imagine what you are going through.” And I would smile and nod, but something in me cringed every time I heard those words. I didn’t understand why until several years later. I wanted my friends to imagine what I’d gone through. I didn’t want to face it alone.
A few years after my son’s treatments were over, a friend of mine miscarried. When she began to show signs of depression afterwards, she was told by friends and family, that she was overreacting. Most women experience miscarriage at least once, why was she making it such a big deal? But when I spoke with her and listened to her words, I was amazed. She was describing everything I had felt when I was dealing with my son’s disease. We had such unique experiences, how was it possible that we were reacting the same?
Then I read a book called Trauma Through A Child’s Eyes by Peter Levine and Maggie Kline and I saw in those pages this new belief: That we react to pain, not circumstance. Trauma is not what happens to us, but how we perceive our experiences. Miscarriage can be traumatic like childhood cancer; slavery like abandonment, surgery like accidental death.
I now believe that anyone experiencing any kind of pain can understand the pain of others, they just have to try to imagine it.
It took my friend a few months to recover from her miscarriage; my own recovery took several years. But I think that perhaps the healing time is proportional to the wounding time; the longer it takes to be hurt the longer it takes to heal. But we are human and react in human fashion and it is through this that we are connected.
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