Sometimes I go about (suffering)
And all the while I am being carried across the sky
By beautiful clouds
– Ojibway saying
Survivors ask me, “Does everyone have to dredge up every moment of the past?”
The answer is “no.” No to EVERY moment, yes to the past.
If you have read elsewhere on this site, you know that my father never discussed his experience as a survivor of Japanese Concentration Camps in the Dutch East Indies. We shared a whole lifetime together, and I could see his losses in small and large ways, but he did not tell us stories of his missing 4 years. But he could not really hide his loss from us.
One of my small, yet large, experiences of Pappie’s (Dad’s) loss occurred Christmas time when I was 8 years old. We were in our first years in America. Pappie worked for the Utah highway department, and pursued his master’s degree in engineering from BYU. My favorite gift was the 1965 version of a remote-control helicopter. To operate it, I gripped the tubular controls, which held the two D batteries that energized the helicopter. From the controls, flowed a flexible metal cord, like a stiff arched fishing line, and at the end of that cord, dangled the helicopter, here is a picture of what it looked like. Once turned on it would spin in circles, and with skill, it could pick up items off the ground.
Over and over again Pappie said, “Here, let me show you how it works.”
Over and over again, I “let” him show me.
Mammie said, “Let him play, he didn’t get to have very many toys.”
He didn’t have very many toys…No problem, I loved Pappie’s voice, as he gleefully said, “Here, this way, and then – this way.”
My younger sister, Ann took a turn playing too, when we weren’t busy making cakes and cookies in her Easy Bake Oven. We quickly ran out of mixes, so Mammie (Mom) gave us part of boxed cake mixes from the store.
Pappie’s radiant face and voice with the toy helicopter. It was one of the times our family got it. We were there for each others in circles of care as simple as the small circles of a helicopter tethered to two D batteries.
No you don’t have to dredge up everything from the past. But the hurts and losses of the past don’t disappear, they will have their due. And all that pain, it’s a yearning, it’s a search for wholeness today.
And here is what looking in the past, can do. Please comment on what facing the past does for you.
Benefits of Honoring the Past
- We can learn. I said Pappie didn’t tell us about the past. That Christmas time, his actions did tell us about the past. I learned what he had lost, and how to regain a sliver of life; Pappie did too. He was in concentration camps from age 13 to 16, and then had to “man up” to complete years of lost education in the Netherlands, without his father, and with family who were also devastated by loss. I’m glad my Pappie was able to “man up” and also glad the boy in him could play with me.
- Speaking of and visiting the past is a balm to our anger. PTSD cycles between anger, depression, and acceptance.
- We take past experience from abject loneliness to sharing the journey. When I was in 12 step programs already as a teen, others were a balm to my loss and anger – from all our moves. The first person who heard steps 4 and 5 from me (which can be an opportunity to share your life story) walked through years of my life with me in The Netherlands, Iran, Utah and Texas. Let others share the journey.
- We discover the other survivors. Survivors believe they walk alone, while all along there are others with the same experience, mere centimeters, meters or kilometers away.
- A deadened spirit inside comes alive, for spiritual seeking.
- One of our great life tasks – looking for meaning – finds life again.
Whatever any of us choose to share from the past is a gift to our family and friends. In this circle of caring are a few who perhaps cannot cope with the worst of what happened, and many who can, who wish to know the whole you. Take that risk, whatever the past holds for you.
And tell me your stories of sharing the past….maybe even “every moment.”