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It is a privilege to add my voice to the Reformed Journal’s Daily Blog. And my start date is September 11!
Living in Upstate New York the last 19 years, I’ve gained additional layers of firsthand stories about this solemn and tragic day whose aftereffects continue, especially among first-responders and impacted families.
Recently I marked another anniversary of tragedy in my life. August 28 once again fell on a Sunday, just as it did in 2011 when Hurricane Irene caused record flooding across my region, county, valley, village, church buildings, neighborhood, and personal home. It took us five months to muck out, gut, dry out, and rebuild our home to the point of habitability. It took about seven years to rebuild the Schoharie Reformed Church buildings. The first year became layer after layer of discovering deeper structural issues in the mid-19th century buildings.
As the anniversary loomed this eleventh year, I noticed I no longer felt the deep sting of it as I have in the past. Not that I won’t again, as grief often surprises us in waves that come and go. Still, I noticed the deep heartache of loss and the compounded trauma in the years of recovery struggles felt more like distant memories that I know are a part of my story, but I am not currently feeling.
Sure, those triggers are likely to be stirred in the future. This year, however, my heart was most full of love and gratitude. The anniversary brought to mind all the great friendships gained, miracles witnessed, the reminder of a strong and positive sense of community, purpose, and the best in humanity coming together to bring hope, help and recovery assistance.
As much as going through disaster is and always will be traumatic, the beauty of the human experience is that we are meaning-making creatures that continue to re-write our own stories. We can continue to make meanings of our own memories and experiences.
I also remember when my oldest child was born. Samuel: the church’s baby for whom we had prayed and longed. He was born early and had terrible reflux. He was very colicky and cried almost nonstop from the time he was a few weeks old until he was about 6 months old.
Additionally, I had had a difficult pregnancy with gallbladder attacks and ended up having surgery when he was about two months old. At times I heard him crying in my sleep even when he wasn’t crying. At times I knew I was losing my sense of reality as I was exhausted and unable to comfort my child, whose cries pierced my soul.
I always knew I wanted this child and more children, but when someone would say something about “the next one” my body would have a physical reaction. My body was keeping score and involuntarily reminded me of my trauma. I began to worry I wouldn’t be able to handle having another child. I told myself that it would pass and was absolutely amazed and eternally grateful when it actually did.
We humans are fickle; for worse often, but also for better. A beautiful part of our fickle nature though, is that it allows us to continue to re-story again and again. When we go through challenging times our subconscious may begin creating a fear cycle — especially times when our ability to cope is overwhelmed in some way, when our sense of safety or worldview is upended, when pain crosses our threshold of tolerance. Any time that we are stretched beyond our coping mechanisms, our executive function may say “I never want to go through THAT again! I couldn’t handle that again!” We avoid pain instinctively.
However, when we are aware of this cycle and continue to consciously process our fear and grief, we can begin to tell another story.
- “That was incredibly hard, and I don’t want to go through that again, but I made it through with God’s help. If I must, I can make it through again.”
- “Wow! I CAN do hard things with God’s help!”
- “God was with me through that horrible valley and will be with me in the future, even when it is really hard.”
Instead of focusing on the fear of “never again,” we can celebrate the horribly arduous work of having made it this far through the darkness and acknowledge the skills we’ve learned to make it through any future darkness.
I want to be clear that I am not making light of any tragedy, nor wishing hardship on anyone. I am voicing my inner Julian of Norwich with a deeper layer of understanding to hold onto amid our rising sense of fear and being overwhelmed. “All will be well… all manner of things will be well.”
“Well,” not because it will end up the way we want or be easy, but “well” because regardless of the outcome we are held by our God whose deep and abiding love sustains our souls as we pass through the waters and walk through the fire (Isaiah 43).
Thank you for this and thanks for your fidelity to the church after the flood. We know more than we want to know about floods here on the Millstone River in New Jersey.
By the way, when I was in seminary, many of the single male students were assigned the Niskayuna church for summer “supervised ministry.” I always believed that the seminary sent us so we would go to that large suburban church and come back with a nice RCA wife. I did. I used to sing, “I wish they all could be Niskayuna girls” to the melody of the Beach Boys “I Wish They All Could Be California Girls.” Both place names have the right number of syllables.
God be with you!
Thanks for your comments Fred. I’ll have to sing that to my daughter! ha ha… cute!