Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Now I Understand

When I was a young woman, a new college graduate and first living in NYC, I learned of some people who had survived the Holocaust. I don't remember who they were. They may have been some older, distant relatives of Jeremy's. They may have been the grandparents of friends of friends. I never met these people. But I heard about them.

One holocaust survivor was a woman. The other one was a man. I don't remember if they were married or two separate, totally unrelated people. It doesn't matter.

After the holocaust both people came to live in the United States. They assimilated and for the most part, lived normal lives. However, the woman never went anywhere without a can of tuna and a can opener.

The man could go out without food. However, he had amassed a stockpile of guns that he kept in his basement. If Jews were going to be rounded up again, he was going to be ready.

I couldn't pretend to understand what these people endured. I was out of my depth even thinking about it.

I felt sorry that the people who survived the Holocaust were not able to feel safe once they were living in the United States. It was difficult for me to understand why. The evidence for feeling safe seemed obvious to me. But I had enough perspective to know my limitations. In other words, I could understand why I couldn't understand why.

A level of understanding would come years later with the death of my son Jacob.

I can't liken what happened to me, to Jeremy and to Jacob to the holocaust. The two are not the same. Even the word overlap feels like too much comparison.

But when my son Jacob died, it was the worst thing that ever happened to me. It's the worst thing that could have happened in the context of my particular life.

Right after Jacob died, I said to myself that I had just experienced my quota for bad news. I took some measure of comfort from this realization. That good feeling lasted for approximately 10 minutes.

Then I realized this entire construct was wrong. The very idea of a quota implied that there was a sense of fairness and order. There weren't any of these things. No one was organizing this and deciding that I had my lifetime limit of bad news. This was random. There was no rhyme or reason to it at all.

I can't walk in the Holocaust survivors’s shoes. They can't walk in mine.

One person stockpiled guns. Another carried tuna. I became watchful. I already had another baby when Jacob died. I would go on to have one more. I want to watch them grow up. All parents worry about something terrible happening to their children. For me, it's just a lot easier to imagine. I have a clear point of reference.  Hyper-vigilance was the price I paid for the gift of these children.

Jeremy was not as afraid about the same things I was. But he had his triggers. The good news was that our triggers were usually different. That way one of us could help the other one.

When bad things happen, everyone changes. No one gets off easy. There are people who emerge from trauma with their worldview somewhat intact. There are people who feel that lightning can strike twice. Like just about everything, people can be mostly one way or the other, or a mix.

Every time I explain this, it feels clunky. I'll try anyway. 

For me, Jeremy, the lady, and the man, bad things happening showed us what was possible in terms of bad. Bad things happened and none of us had any illusions going forward. The bad things that already happened opened the floodgates of bad possibilities.

I'm talking like it’s only the four of us like this. I don't like to think there's more, but that doesn't make any sense. There's hundreds of thousands of people walking around having experienced the aftermath of trauma.

If you're one of these people carrying around your own version of tuna and a can opener, know that other people get it. I get it. That's a small thing, but it's something. I can't speak for the woman or the man, but I can speak for me. Time, living, and experiencing good things eventually impart a new perspective. I'm proof that it can get better.

1 comment:

  1. i get it. Julia has a cold....I try not to let my mind wander that it is really more than a cold. Elizabeth has bowel issues....Alexander had bowel issues.....his issues were really cancer. Trying not to go there.