The Trauma of Fear

Memorial to Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Poland

I went through a difficult period in my late thirties. My husband was terminally ill, we were about to lose our home as he had been unable to work, and my kids and I were pretty much basket cases. As hard as it was, we walked through it. Losing my husband, relocating to the other side of the country, and struggling to get back on our feet took the next decade. It’s a time I don’t remember much about other than everything changed.

Years later, and a bit of therapy later, I realized I had spent that decade and the next one waiting for the next shoe to drop. Waiting for the next bad thing to happen. In so many ways, usually ones we often don’t see or understand, trauma conditions us to alter our expectations. It teaches us to live in silent fear, fear that the bad things will repeat over and over, fear that we will never get back to a place of joy.

What we don’t realize when trauma holds us in its grip, is that joy isn’t a place. It’s something that lives inside us. If we nurture it, if we understand that we’ve been hurt and we need to heal, joy is waiting inside us to do just that. That’s its purpose.

We are where we are…so how do we live now?

Bare shelves in a consumer society

It’s a question that’s haunted me for months, even before I found myself quarantined at home with lots more time to think about it. There’s a saying that talks about how we were made for times like this. Yet the question remains, what is it I am made for? To suffer and die? To be a hoarder, or a hermit? Exactly, specifically, what is it “I” am called to do?

If you’re struggling with this like I am, here’s what I’ve come to understand: Push out the light. That’s it. When the darkness (i.e. hate, fear, greed, etc.) gathers around you, being a small beacon of light can seem pretty useless. You’re a pinprick in the center of a black void.

But it isn’t useless. Light begets light, to think creatively. Build up the fire, turn up the power, push out the light that lives inside you. How? By meeting the negative with the positive. By connecting with other small pinpricks of light. By consciously, intentionally, deliberately choosing to focus on the light both inside of you and in those around you.

Push out the light. Broaden the circle of light. Extend the boundaries of light. We will get through this. And we will do it in the light.