Thursday, September 3, 2009
Was It Just Yesterday?
It seems like yesterday. Thank you, so many of you, who sent notes asking if I was okay. It didn't happen yesterday. Even though it seems so. It was, in fact, several years ago, not long before the attack in the parking lot. The car crash was only one incident in a long, ugly chapter. But it does seem like yesterday. In fact, it was yesterday, in 2002. Seven years ago. More than the memories are fresh. So too the sensations, the fear, the paralysis. That is the legacy of profound trauma. It comes back. Lurks around, lingers. And sometimes erupts into full-blown panic. Seventy years ago. September 1, 1939. The night before, Warsovians were living their lives, somewhat wary, worried. But not expecting the bombs to fall. They did. The first day of the war, bombs fell on Warsaw. Bombs fell on fleeing civilians on the roadways, intended to incite panic. Not quite out of the clear blue, but not what they expected, either. Shock. Terror. Panic. Paralysis. Frantic fleeing. We respond differently to traumatic events. Depending upon our life experiences, our current situation, the resources around and available to us, our health, our intellectual and emotional framework for understanding and absorbing the blows. And we respond differently to trauma at different points in our own lives. Again, depending. So many variables. I confess, I cannot imagine, just given my experience, how the citizens of Warsaw got through the experiences of war. Of course, the same can be said for other survivors of other wars but this story is about Poland and a significant reason for telling it is that it is so terribly unknown, unappreciated and it needs to be known and understood and given its due. Dresden, Coventry, London, we know. Warsaw, we don't. And we need to. My car crash was the beginning of the end of a tragic and terrible period in my life. It was also the beginning of the beginning of a different painful and challenging period in my life, of complete collapse and injury, and then, healing. My "war" was a lot shorter than the Poles, and a lot less physically injurious. Their war, WWII, was a six-plus year war that brought devastation and catastrophe on every level. Six million Poles, including three million Jewish Poles died during World War II, in those six years. They died in the most hideous ways. The survivors witnessed evil beyond comprehension. They experienced evil that defies imagination. How did they go on? How could they get up afterward and rebuild? Their experience continues to teach and encourage me. It also humbles and challenges. I too encountered unimaginable evil. I hope in these blog posts to explore, with you, the stories of anguish and renewal, of hope and courage, of conscience and humility. By weaving stories together, I hope we can see together how our lives and the lives of others are more connected than we might think, and to find new insight into our own messes. Meanwhile, getting back to the action.... For the third day in a row now, we woke up to the smell of wood fire smoke, and to see a reddish glow reflecting from the sunrise. I looked over at the wall opposite my eastern window to see the shadows of the sun dancing on the white paint. It was red. More than a thousand miles and several mountain ranges away, California, here it comes. It is eerie to wake up to the smell and the hazy air from fires. I can't begin to fathom the experience of waking up to the acrid smells and thick smoke from bombs falling on my city. September 1, 1939. To the survivors, it seems like yesterday.