(Read War’s Family Page, first)
“Have you ever seen people who through some disaster were driven to great times of prayer? And have you noticed that once the disaster was long forgotten, a spiritual sweetness remained that warmed their souls?” June 12 Streams in the Desert L. B. Cowman
I’m not always one of the sweet people.
I know some who are.
As much as I love L.B. Cowman’s quote, I think for the big disasters they are not long forgotten. Even if they are locked up deep inside us in a box or cave, they are not forgotten. So when disasters, like years of war, come out of lock-down they are not forgotten they are brought back out to light.
How is the forgotten brought out to light? It’s not usually because of a change of thoughts. Usually the forgotten comes to light,as a chain of sensory experiences:
- a car backfires and brings up bomb blasts
- the smell of morning porridge links to a long-ago time of hunger
- love connects to the smile of someone believed dead-and found alive
I believe that the sweet people who have experienced their memory chains in some way, have faced the gifts and traumas of the past. They know what it is to quietly surrender, or to scream and feel terror, or to surrender to what was too big to fix. This is the paradox of surrender. When we surrender to the pain of the past, we find what is sweet now.
It is not the trauma itself that makes us sweet.
It is not being entirely alone with fear
It is not being alone with our humanity.
What makes us sweet is awakening to life and love again. Once we know that the horrific can happen, we make meaning out of what remains from the past and what comes to pass in new generations.
Some of the sweet people I knew were my pappie father, grandparents beppe en pake (Frisian language for Dutch grandparents) and Oma (Dutch grandmother). Some of the sweet people, I know now, are my mammie mother, husband, sister, tante aunt, oom uncle, my friends, my therapy clients over the years and -I hope- me.
Who are your sweet people, those who saw sorrow/trauma and yet their eyes hold or held love?
Prepare to be sweet. Know you already are, more than you know. You encourage others more because of what they can see in your eyes. Not your fine dress today, your great career. It is what they see in your eyes. Read this example from Arthur B. Baker’s WWII- in-the-Pacific memoir, Triumphs and Tragedies: Corredigor and its Aftermath. He is sweet and full of faith in his opening pages, yet he did indeed go to hell and back, What follows is his quote of the years in Japanese POW and slave labor camps when he could not allow the sweetness of emotion. (Read more about this time.)
“If you choose to cry you will die, no doubt about it. So when we could laugh, we did. We never cried. Feeling sorry for yourself was a luxury that cost many a man his life in Japanese captivity. I had to refuse to feel, and over time I got pretty good at it….I also lost the ability to feel good things (p. 91).”
My Oom Uncle Herman who is a Dutch-Canadian, and my father’s younger brother, told me this when we talked after my father’s memorial service.
At first he couldn’t understand how he felt nothing in the moments he first saw his mother again. It was the numbness, and my other survivor friends have told me – the stupefying numbness of starvation. We shared these words at my father’s memorial in 2008. Long, long before then he slowly came back to life again.
Many of us have come to life again.