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My dog was attacked in the park today. She’s a friendly girl and likes to meet other dogs, so when the bulldog came bounding over and the owner said he wasn’t aggressive, I let them sniff each other. All of a sudden his teeth came at her throat.
She didn’t get hurt, and she seemed okay, but I knew she was a little traumatized. I hated the thought that one bad incident could potentially damage her wonderful friendly spirit. I did what I could to reassure her and I took extra time to love on her when we got home.
I don’t usually speak for other people when I write this blog. I think I can say with confidence, though, we’ve all had at least one trauma in our lives. Some have more than their fair share.
I still hurt from mine, even though I resolved it long ago. That’s because, after I recovered, I didn’t go back to the way I was before. I went forward to became a healed person instead, and that is very different.
My favorite moment in The Lion King is when Simba, all grown up, has a conversation with the mandrill Rafiki, about suffering. Simba doesn’t want to acknowledge the pain he feels over losing his father. He tries to dismiss it by saying that it’s in the past.
Rafiki hits him hard with his stick. Simba cries out, angry and hurt, and Rafiki tells him, “Don’t worry, it’s in the past.” “It still hurts!” cries Simba.
My traumas live with me forever, and if I forget them consciously I am probably carrying them somewhere in my body, because the trauma taught me things. Some of them were helpful things and some were hurtful things. Knowing I’ve been traumatized, how can I live with the idea that it won’t go away, that it’s a part of me?
The answer is reason for joy and hope: As I live, I add all kinds of experiences on top of that trauma. Hopefully most of them are positive.
The more positive the experiences I pile on, the smaller share that trauma has in the totality of me. The pain, the negative implications, intertwine with all of the other things I’ve added to them. They work on the whole like a bitter spice in a stew that adds a certain pungence which prevents it from being overly sweet, which gives it a kind of kick that wakes you up.
If these darker experiences can be integrated and balanced, they can do the same thing. They can add a kind of poignance to our existence, wake us up to the reality that life is short, limited, precious. They will not overpower us if we ensure there are more than enough of the other experiences to balance them.
So whatever traumas we’ve experienced as students of the arts, writers who’ve been mocked, performers who’ve crashed and burned, artists who’ve been neglected, we can keep the feelings as a means to steel our hearts. But they will only sustain us if we ensure that these are not the only experiences we know. We have to keep looking, keep working, until we get some of the good stuff, and if it doesn’t come as a result of our work, we have to go find it, in better teachers, more supportive friends, and the best aspects of our families.