In the end, we’ll all become stories. ~Margaret Atwood
Trauma has the power to strip us of all the layers we’ve worn around like clothing through most of our lives. It can bring us into contact with our primal, more fragile and vulnerable self. It reveals who we are when we come face to face with the possibility and reality of our inevitable death.
I am not trying to be dark and dismal as I am keenly aware of the fact that we all just emerged on the other side of Holy Week and are supposed to be lingering in the afterglow delight of sayings like “He is Risen” and “the tomb is empty”. We were only supposed to sit with the heaviness of death from Friday through Sunday morning…right? I’m not so sure that’s true at this point in my life. In actuality, the lengthier my story becomes, the greater my capacity to hold both life and death simultaneously. I’m beginning to think that this correlation between my days on earth and my capacity to bear the heaviness of both life and death is in part due to the time I’ve spent getting to know that more vulnerable part of me in the face of indirect and direct forms of trauma.
Last night I wound up observing the traumatic experience of another. My mother was helping out with childcare while I was finishing up a workday. She delivered our nine year old to her soccer practice and was entertaining our one year old until I was able to arrive at the field. Shortly after she settled onto a blanket on the sideline there was a freak accident in the parking lot involving three vehicles and one of the cars striking a mother and her four children while she was loading two of the children into a stroller. The mother and her children were all transported to the hospital but fortunately none of them suffered life-threatening injuries.
I pulled into the parking lot nearly 20 minutes after the mother and her children were taken by ambulance, but the evidence of this horrific scene remained. The vehicles had not moved. There was glass everywhere. People surrounded the area and watched as police officers tended to the ensuing investigation and firemen managed the aftermath. After surveying the expanse of the scene, my eyes eventually rested on the man responsible for striking the woman and her children. That’s when I felt an all too familiar shudder within my own body.
I woke up this morning still feeling the weight of what had happened inside my own body. In the few moments of quiet throughout this day, I have been wrestling to understand the implications of that shudder. I was overwhelmed with compassion for the man most likely deemed responsible for the accident, so I knew that the shudder was in no way reflective of judgment or repulsion. If I felt anything toward this stranger it was curiosity around how his story had collided into the stories of the victims. We often go through the motions of life exhibiting little to no awareness of just how interconnected all of us really are until our stories bump against each other in some way. Beyond the curiosity, however, I began to recognize that I was projecting my own experience of trauma upon this distraught man. I imagined he was feeling incredibly raw, vulnerable and stripped down in those moments following the accident.
Therein lies my visceral response. The shudder. The stripped down naked shudder. The raw shudder. The shudder that is more appropriately linked to a category of awe than of fear, though they’re difficult to distinguish from one another at times. It was a shudder of remembrance of what it is like to come face to face with my own fragility. It was a shudder that conjured up a recollection of moments where all of the noise and inconsequential stuff that fills our days and the pages of our stories was held at bay. The shudder was the reminder of what happens in the aftermath of trauma when we are left begging the question – what is all of this really about anyway? The shudder recalls the given answer to that proverbial question. The given answer that could be heard and known in a deeper way when trauma had left me utterly naked and entirely aware of my own fragility. The answer that still reverberates throughout my being in moments of stillness – that LOVE is all that matters, it is the truth, the reason we are all here. It is what lives on when we do not.
Sometimes in the aftermath of trauma death and life kiss and give birth to love.