The Red Horses, c. 1930 -- oil on canvas (Influenced by Marc Chagall, "the quintessential Jewish artist of the 20th century.")
The artist's name is unclear. We will call him Wolfson. As the story is told, he was a Russian immigrant to the USA. He lived and worked in New York City.* While we are not sure of his name, we are more certain of his inner personal narrative.
Although he immigrated for reasons of religious persecution and political dislocation, he was often homesick. He grieved for the comforting familiar, the people and towns and language of his childhood homeland – his Motherland. He expressed his grief and longing especially in his paintings. This picture is an example. Take another look.
Note the blackened doors and windows and the absence of people. And yet, through his tears, Wolfson found the promise of life, a celebration: blue sky, green growing grass, horses helping, and a wagon full of fresh hay. Also, with such a vivid blue sky and white puffy clouds, we have a sense that the sun must be shining somewhere nearby. HOPE.
And, of course, the picture’s dominant bright color is red, considered by some to be the warmest color in the visible spectrum. In the Russian language, the words “red” and “beautiful” come from the same Slavic root. Red Square in Moscow meant “beautiful square.” In ancient Roman times, red also symbolized courage; soldiers wore red tunics. The color holds vast, international, cross-cultural symbolism – for instance: majesty, nobility, liberty, power, love, happiness, fire (“Chinese red”).
If he were asked today, maybe Wolfson would have chosen all of these words to describe his works. We are left to wonder and imagine. That is finally the enduring beauty of art: the beholder’s eye and the perennial question, “What was he thinking?” We see Wolfson’s resilience – and our own – in this picture. Resilience: the ability to recover, to rebound, to spring back from an impact even if it takes a lifetime. His painting shows us that he did not succumb to sorrow. It reveals that he could use his sadness and bend it and mold it … and heal from it. That is strength and growth. In his grieving, he also found a way of giving to others through his artistic talents. The ability to give to others is itself a gift. As he gave, his gift for painting returned to him much recognition, praise, and a highly favorable reputation in the world of visual arts. That enhanced his self-esteem, confidence, energy and inspiration to continue painting. It brought him community, support, and encouragement. It soothed him, like palliative self-care for the mind.
He was not defeated nor diminished by loss. He transformed his suffering, making it, for long and memorable moments, a dance of light and life.
* * *
*A firmly implanted family folktale with probable and significant alterations of name and places. Memory for facts is sometimes unreliable, but the feeling tone remains strong, unmistakable, and well defined. RLG 24 February 2016 Tags: #art #painting #red #hpm #grief #courage #hope #resilience #giving #transformation
I always had a feeling of something different In our house…but I couldn’t ever really pin it down. I sensed that there was something mysterious, Something peculiar about the past, About the place where I was born, But I didn’t know what. I wondered about it… From: Helen Epstein, Children of the Holocaust
The children of survivors are important to the Holocaust story. The children are the future of the past. For a time, it seemed that no one would be left to create a future. That history has been so carefully, lovingly chronicled. It must be preserved. If it is preserved and told, the possibility exists that there will be no more war. That is always the hope of the survivors.
This is the shadow generation, the echo of the scream. The children of survivors live in two worlds. One is the shadow world of War past. The other is present peace. Past-War and post-War. In the children, those worlds come together and sometimes collide. Contradictions are often prevalent. “I want you to know about the past, especially my personal past, but I don’t want to tell you” is one of the more obvious examples. Bayla Brenner, daughter of survivors, writes this: “We [my sisters and I] knew we were Jewish; we just weren’t sure what it meant. My primary associations with Judaism were pain, loss and thick European accents. Although my parents didn’t speak about their experiences, our home was suffused with an undercurrent of intensity that I dared not stir. We somehow picked up the unspoken, baffling directive – don’t ask, but know everything.”
In the world of War past, there is perpetual mourning. Also fear and suspicion. Suspicion is often rampant, as can readily be expected and understood. Many survivor parents are over-protective of their children, fearing the cruelty of the outside world. This fear and suspicion are easily transmitted to the child and may well become a personality trait that lasts a lifetime. Few peers share this combined world of past and present. That absence of comprehension sometimes creates a sense of isolation for the children, a feeling of being out of place. For the children of survivors, there is a sense of having and holding a terrifying, deadly secret. That only adds to the isolation. It cannot be expressed either to the parent or to the uncomprehending peers.
People of similar backgrounds or beliefs seek each other. So it is also with the children of survivors. Helen Epstein, herself the daughter of Holocaust survivors, expresses it this way: “[My friend] Evelyn never spoke about family, or history, or how her parents came to be living in New York City. But when I visited them, I felt at home. There was an intensity there, a kind of fierceness about living that was absent from the more casual, easygoing atmosphere of other homes.”
At the same time, people have great need to talk about themselves and their experiences. The children of survivor parents are no different. Talking is an affirmation of one’s identity. It further strengthens that identity. It confirms the realities of one’s life. Careful choice of listeners is essential, especially when it is clear that experience differs from a societal norm. This is true for the children of survivors. Talking becomes cathartic, relieving, reinforcing self-confidence and enhancing self-esteem. It makes the life story feel a little less peculiar and a lot more natural. Talking in groups is equally beneficial. Talking can be profoundly transformative. It has a way of dignifying life experience. It can be inspirational. And it is freeing.
The children of survivors are especially protective of their survivor parents. From Lisa Katz: “A higher frequency of separation anxiety and guilt was found in children of survivors than in other children. It follows that many children of survivors have an intense need to act as protectors of their parents.” The survivor parent is often seen as particularly frail and vulnerable to any outside questions or criticism, no matter how slight. The perceived vulnerability is, in reality, the survivor’s capacity for agonized remembering. The children have an intuitive understanding, almost as if by osmosis, of what is incomprehensible to most others: the horror of the Holocaust and the depth of grief suffered by the survivor parents. Anything that might hurt or otherwise upset the parents is noxious to the dependent young child. In 1734, Alexander Pope wrote, “As the twig is bent, so the tree is inclined.” The child grows up strongly inclined to maintain his protective stance toward his survivor parents. The intent is to preserve the parents’ hard-won equilibrium.
The child is the symbol of the future and the past for his survivor parents. The parents are also especially protective of the child. He seems to arise from the ashes of the Holocaust extermination. A phoenix rising. He is often seen as replacing at least some of what was lost to slaughter. He symbolizes renewal as well as a past regained. He is a new beginning and a continuation for his parents. Much is expected of him. He must meet parental expectations if love is to be fully maintained. Somehow in this case, love is conditional – as well as unconditional. Simultaneously, the parents may be reluctant to tell the child the whole story of their Holocaust experiences. The reason is to protect the child from painful information, and to protect the parents from painful memories. This presents something of a dilemma for the child. He is expected to fulfill his parents’ wishes relating to the War, but he does not know quite what is behind those wishes. Difficult position indeed. But there is no room for confusion about expectations.
In this regard, education plays an important role in parental expectations. Again the words of Epstein, as she quotes a fellow child of survivors: “My parents always said that a person can lose everything, but what’s inside his head stays there. I had to acquire an education, they said, because our enemies could take everything away from us but that. Little by little, as I became aware of who the enemies were, I began to understand. Education is closely related to the idea of self-sufficiency.”
The children of Holocaust survivors often have an intense wish to search and travel back to the parents’ place of birth and growing up. It is as if a return to the birth place will reveal secrets long kept by the survivor parents. If the secrets could be revealed, the child would better understand his own identity. This is not always a conscious, purposeful intent on the part of the child. For him, it just feels right to travel in search of clearer understanding of the parents and ancestry. Many such children are able to achieve exactly this, the travel, the search, and the further discovery of parents and of self – self-identity.
People are resilient, even in the face of incredible trauma. This is certainly true for the Holocaust survivors as well. Characteristics of strength can be passed along to the next generation just as much as severe emotional wounds are transferred. Resilience is the ability to recover successfully from adversity. Lisa Katz: “While trauma can be transmitted across the generations, so can resilience. Resilient traits – such as adaptability, initiative, and tenacity – that enabled survivor parents to survive the Holocaust may have been passed on to their children.” Successful management of challenging situations is a display of strength and resilience.
The child gathers a sense of responsibility to carry forward the grief of the survivor parents. This is implicitly communicated by the parents. No words are exchanged to express this expectation. It just is – like an entity that lives and breathes independently. By so doing, by assuming responsibility, the child becomes a companion sufferer and pain reliever for the parent. Also, he aids in keeping alive the cherished memory of the dead. As Elie Wiesel has said, to forget the Holocaust is to kill twice. And the child fulfills the parents’ need to know that their story is, and will be, kept active, told down the generations. This is inherited bereavement. It is complex. The parent expects it. The child accepts it. It reinforces the parent-child bond. It is handed even to the next generation.
Lisa Katz writes: “The Third Gens [grandchildren of the parent survivors] are the ones who will be alive when all the survivors have passed on, when remembering the Holocaust becomes a new challenge. As the ‘last link’ to the survivors, the Third Generation will be the one with the mandate to continue to tell the stories.” In his novel, The Oath, Elie Wiesel tells us something similar: “That night Grandfather appeared to me in my sleep. Surprised that I could see him, I asked him to explain. After swearing me to secrecy, he said: ‘Your mother thinks I am dead; she is wrong. Your father too is wrong. And you will be my proof. As long as you live, I shall be alive.’” Inherited bereavement.
If ever there were a place for end-of-life planning – and there is, in every life – it is this place. The survivors were exposed to massive, vicious, terrifying, and totally unplanned deaths. Survival was often a stroke of luck more than determination. Planning would have been a gift beyond imagination. Now, with the participation and assistance of their children, survivors can plan and ease the path to a far better ending. This is the opportunity. A ‘good death’ is once again within reach, in a saner society, in a post-War world.
A few degrees of heightened understanding and release then belong to the child of the survivor parent. A ‘good death’ for the survivor parent may well lead to some relief of inherited bereavement for the child. War deaths were atrocious. A post-War ‘good death’ isn’t. The parent’s post-War experience of death as a time of relative peace may have a positive influence on the child. It may refocus and reframe his general perception of death and dying. That could well enlighten and instruct the child’s future. It is resilience. It is strength. It is growth. It is the story, refreshed as it must be told.
An old tree was felled… Echoing, dark echoing Thunder in the hills. Naito Meisetsu, Japanese haiku poem
Bayla Shiva Brenner, “Healing a Wounded Covenant: Children of Holocaust Survivors Reclaim their Heritage,” Jewish Action: The Magazine of the Orthodox Union, 2 April, 2013.
Helen Epstein, Children of the Holocaust: Conversations with Sons and Daughters of Survivors, New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1979.
The Holocaust: Bereavement Takes a Different Course
The Red Velvet Album
Rea L. Ginsberg, LCSW-C, ACSW, BCD
Jewish history has all too often been written in tears… I am fascinated by people and groups with the capacity to recover, Who, having suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, Are not defeated by them but fight back, Strengthened and renewed. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, PhD, From: To Heal a Fractured World
In some situations, the whole idea of complete recovery from bereavement makes no sense. Bereavement can be fully expected to last a lifetime. That must never be considered a mental disorder. Among the most obvious of these situations is Holocaust survivorship.
Very few Holocaust survivors are still living. The last prisoners of the European concentration camps were freed in 1945. Their suffering before release is virtually unimaginable and incomprehensible to the vast majority of us. We have absolutely no mental yardstick with which to measure such suffering. Imagination completely fails. We cannot do it. The children of survivors are perhaps the only ones who come slightly close to a true understanding. They sense the meaning of the emotional horror of the experience and the problems of survivorship.
Fern Schumer Chapman, the daughter of a survivor, said it this way in her book, Motherland: Beyond the Holocaust: A Mother-Daughter Journey to Reclaim the Past: “The past is a presence between us. In all my mother does and says, the past continually discloses itself in the smallest ways. She sees it directly; I see its shadow. Still, it pulses in my fingertips, feeds on my consciousness. It is a backdrop for each act, each drama of our lives. I have absorbed a sense of what she has suffered, what she has lost, even what her mother endured and handed down. It is my emotional gene map.”
We have a habit of using certain old adages to comfort and humor others. We often use these sayings to dismiss from our own minds what otherwise makes us fearful and uncomfortable. One adage says God never gives us more than we can handle. Another says that what doesn’t kill you will make you stronger. In the case of the Holocaust survivors, so false. So weirdly irrelevant. So insulting. So empty. So absent in understanding of the Holocaust experience. Would we say that to someone who has survived starvation and certain annihilation in a Nazi death camp? The answer resounds with No. Then, too, why do we say it to each other? Life lessons; applied ethics. The wretched Holocaust is still our teacher, so many years after. From the survivors, another exercise in living.
It must be noted that the survivors had been surrounded by death in the extermination camps. It was not just one death but massive deaths. Most survivors lost many family members, not only one or two. They lost many friends and neighbors, not just one or two. The camp inmates bore witness to many deaths every day, not just on one or two days. The deaths occurred primarily by premeditated, deliberate and vicious murder, not by disease or natural causes. Murder routinely took place after extreme torture. Intense humiliation before death was standard practice. Des Pres wrote that human dignity was treated with cynical contempt. The value of life had been reduced to zero. There was no escape except the grave. In many instances, physical survival was an accident of time and place, not an act of strong determination to live. It was a Holocaust, a great devastation, a systematic mass slaughter. That was genocide. That is the background of survivorship. That is monstrous, shockingly hideous.
This is a different kind of loss and a different course of bereavement. This is not ‘good death.’ It is brute force and mass killing. This is not fear. It is terror. It is panic. This is not anger. It is outrage and despair. This is not guilt. It is inner conviction of crimes committed or omitted. Judgment has been passed by the jury of the inner self. The verdict is pronounced. The finding is guilty on all counts. The question is not: is the verdict right? The question is: to what extent is that verdict right? No punishment fits the magnitude of the crimes. The sentence is lifetime-plus-time atonement. These thoughts form a survivor mindset.
In most instances, talking does not help. Only in groups with other survivors does discussion seem to bring some heartfelt relief. After all, in extreme situations, only experience knows experience. The rest of us remain mere outsiders peering in. Imagining carries us to the outer edge. The Holocaust was located very far beyond that point. All of us have an intuitive understanding of personal tragedy. We find comfort most of all in others whose experiences match our own. We find it also in those who have lived lovingly beside us as we suffered. Survival is a collective art. We need other people.
In notable instances, writing also helps to soothe. As an example, Dr. Elie Wiesel long ago became one of the most prominent survivor authors. From his book, Night:
"Never shall I forget that night, the first night in the camp, which has turned my life into one long night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed. Never shall I forget that smoke. Never shall I forget the little faces of the children, whose bodies I saw turned into wreaths of smoke beneath a silent blue sky. Never shall I forget those flames which consumed my Faith forever. Never shall I forget that nocturnal silence which deprived me, for all eternity, of the desire to live. Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust. Never shall I forget these things, even if I am condemned to live as long as God Himself. Never."
He had vowed that, if he survived, he would devote the remainder of his life to telling the story of the Holocaust. It was his moral duty to tell it, he said. If the world knew the facts, another holocaust might be prevented. As the old Santayana adage goes, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Wiesel has turned his torture and lifetime of bereavement into one of the world’s most treasured and admired literary art forms. A thing of beauty. In so doing, he eases his pain. He brings us news not only of man’s evil but of his goodness as well. He is successfully saving himself and memorializing his dead family and others as he guides the rest of us. His writing is his public monument to the 6 million and so very many more.
Once again he found meaning in life and regained the will to live. Eventually, he was even able to say, “I have not lost faith in God. I have moments of anger and protest. Sometimes I’ve been closer to Him for that reason.” As we read his works, we fervently wish him to be right: no more war and injustice! Horror transformed into beauty and the embodiment of moral righteousness. That is quite an achievement of chronic bereavement. It is not a disorder. It is a rare and wondrous gift. The Nobel committee recognized and honored this life of achievement with an award for Peace in 1986.
An elderly lady of my acquaintance lived with her family in Eastern Europe during the War. As the German army advanced, she sent her only child, a teenage son, to live in hiding and safety in the countryside. Her son was discovered by the German army, tortured, and then shot before her eyes. All the remainder of her family died in the concentration camps. She herself became a subject of the infamous Nazi medical experiments. She was never able to talk about her son and her experiences without dissolving into tears of guilt and despair. The wound never healed, nor could that be expected.
Late in her life, she was hospitalized. Due to a medication error, she became delusional. One auditory hallucination brought her to a state of panic. We found her behind the door of her room, frightened and shaking. Over the intercom, this hearing-impaired lady had clearly heard the voice and commands of the Gestapo. They were taking a lineup of concentration camp inmates to the “showers” (gas chambers). She saw a camp guard pass her door. She beckoned us to quickly hide with her behind the door. The Holocaust trauma survived and burned in her vivid memory. Through her vision, we could sense the smoke and feel the flames. That was 50 years after liberation. She had seen the face of evil. Like Dr. Wiesel, she would never forget. Why would she? Why should she? How could she? Who would?
She managed to make her peace with life by giving to others. It was her own personal Kindness Project. It brought her purposeful life. It commemorated her dead. She was an expert, avid needle point artist. She was passionate about her skill. Everyone in her surroundings received, with great pleasure, something she had created. She lived to be well over 90. Her bereavement remained raw, but it never brought her down. She was never defeated. She found meaning and healing in her life by giving the fruits of her talent. Her son lived once more in her generosity. Bereavement’s achievement.
Given the depth and breadth of the trauma, it seems an act of heroism just to return to so-called normal life. From Dr. Wiesel again: “I survived the Holocaust and went on to love beautiful girls, to talk, to write, to have toast and tea and to live my life – that is what is abnormal.” The feeling tone is obvious. After such trauma, a life of normal routines seems at first crazy, surreal, disorienting. It seems almost disrespectful of the dead. At best, the reentry is a struggle. It happens nevertheless. At the center of the healing are other people. Connection is the core principle. Hope can be given only by others. Also in Jewish folk wisdom, a Yiddish proverb states: even in Paradise, it is not good to be alone.
Needed: people of warmth and compassion. A shared knowledge that the Holocaust situation was evil and extreme. A firm flow of support and reassurance that guilt for past and guilt of survivorship are misplaced. A conviction from others that the survivor has always been worthy of dignity and respect. Acknowledgement that bereavement is forever and is sane. An understanding that the dead are kept alive inside the grief. Therefore grief is necessary and has a purpose. There is no incentive to finish grieving. On the contrary, there is every incentive to urge grief to remain fresh. Needed: people for whom death is no stranger. People willing to lift the veil of fear and find the beauty and resilience of the human spirit.
So much is said about the devastation of World War II, fascism, and Nazi Germany. Atrocity and abject misery seem to be an endless source of fascination. The reasons are many but the fact remains. Much less is said about reintegration. It is the human will and ability to rise above past contempt. The survivor had to regain entry into a sensible, open society and sane living. Lost through radical suffering. Found, as Des Pres tells us, through social interaction and keeping dignity and moral sense active.
Those of us who did not experience the full horror of the Holocaust will never fully understand its emotional power. But we can help those who did. Never become discouraged by the scale of the problem. Just keep inching forward. This bereavement is a victory for connection, the value of relationships. Accepting, respecting, and appreciating are fundamental qualities of relationship. Attentive listening is also basic. For the survivor, learning to trust again is demanding. It takes great mental effort to accomplish. We can help to point the way, again and again. Repetition is part of the answer. Telling the Holocaust story is that part of the answer. Dr. Wiesel: “I decided to devote my life to telling the story because I felt that, having survived, I owe something to the dead, and anyone who does not remember betrays them again.” To forget the Holocaust, he said, would be to kill twice. Bearing witness gives voice to the dead. That voice is indispensable. Silence speaks.
Connection is a gift we can freely give. It does not require full understanding. It requires only empathy, honesty, and compassion. Maybe a little altruism as well. Each connection provides links to the wider community and further connections and friendship. The support system expands this way. Self-respect and dignity are reinforced this way. Life finds meaning again this way. Life is reaffirmed this way. Once more an achievement of bereavement. Survivors fight back, strengthened and renewed.
Our task is to make music with what remains. Yitzhak Perlman, violinist
Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: The last of the human freedoms – To choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, To choose one’s own way. Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom. Viktor E. Frankl, MD, PhD, Psychiatrist, Author, Holocaust survivor
Anne Elizabeth Applebaum, Gulag: A History Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem Bruno Bettelheim, Surviving & Other Essays Bruno Bettelheim, The Informed Heart: Autonomy in a Mass Age Fern Schumer Chapman, Motherland: Beyond the Holocaust: A Mother-Daughter Journey to Reclaim the Past Terrence Des Pres, The Survivor: An Anatomy of Life in the Death Camps Helen Epstein, Children of the Holocaust: Conversations with Sons and Daughters of Survivors Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl Viktor Frankel, Man’s Search for Meaning Bernard Goldstein, Five Years in the Warsaw Ghetto John Hersey, Hiroshima Lucette Matalon Lagnado and Sheila Cohn Dekel, Children of the Flames Primo Levi, Survival in Auschwitz Robert Jay Lifton, Death in Life: Survivors of Hiroshima Konrad Lorenz, On Aggression Daniel A. Mendelsohn, The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million Emmanuel Ringelblum, Notes from the Warsaw Ghetto Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, To Heal a Fractured World: The Ethics of Responsibility Andre Schwarz-Bart, The Last of the Just Varlam Shalamov, Kolyma Tales Alexander Solzhenitsyn, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich Jean Francois-Steiner, Treblinka The Black Book: The Nazi Crime and the Jewish people (out of print) Gordon Thomas and Max Morgan-Witts, Voyage of the Damned Leon Uris, Exodus Elie Wiesel, Night Elie Wiesel, A Beggar in Jerusalem Elie Wiesel, One Generation After Elie Wiesel, The Oath
IT CAN'T HAPPEN HERE: Considering dying -- with a special thought concerning mass murder/terrorism and how soon we "forget." Remembering the San Bernardino massacre.
You'll miss the best things if you keep your eyes shut. -- Theodor S. Geisel
It can’t happen here. It won’t happen to me.
How many of us report this from our snug, smug homes. Complacent to a fault. A little self-righteous. A lot of turning away from painful realities. Refusing to admit what does in fact exist. Denial. It is the omission of truth. That is the essence of our belief that “it can’t happen to me.”
How we fool ourselves, willfully, joyfully, inviting others to follow, insisting that this is the right and righteous way forward. Others are captivated, convinced by our cheerful confidence. They do follow because the path of denial is so much easier and more attractive. Better by far than a harsh reality that we can usually grasp only with accompanying pain and suffering.
Maybe denial is necessary in our arsenal of defenses. We cannot live in fear and outrage all the time. We must have relief. We must find periodic escape. We “forget.” However, to fully protect ourselves, we also need to confront truth head on. Otherwise, truth will catch us by surprise and hurt us even worse because denial prevents adequate mental/emotional preparation for adversity. Unarmed truth must have the final word.
Yes, denial protects – sometimes. Thinly. Self-awareness and insight bring us solidly to who we really are and how then to proceed. Insight is the ability to perceive clearly and deeply, understanding the true nature of a situation. It is the capacity for understanding our own mental processes. It is our personal truth. It is not easy and it is sometimes painful. What counts is the courage to consider.
We are stronger than we suppose. Emily Dickinson said it memorably, poetically:
We never know how high we are Till we are called to rise; And then, if we are true to plan, Our statures touch the skies--
Dr. Charles Seymour, an historian and former president of Yale University (1937 – 1951), once famously remarked, “We seek the truth and will endure the consequences.”
What’s the point? Death, of course. In our case in this article, keep in mind death especially by sudden and unexpected violence like terrorism. But also think of dying by many other means as well: illness, accident, disease, and “natural” causes.
How much we gain from looking directly into the depths of death and remembering to prepare, remembering to test the what-if’s – reality testing. What if “it” did happen here; what if “it” did happen to me? Imagining our place in a future reality is a “what-if.” It poses a question of how we would feel and behave in various circumstances, if they occurred. We can mobilize hope and moral energy through questions.
We cannot afford to be trapped by living only in the moment or mostly in the past. We must also wrestle with future possibilities. They deserve careful and lengthy consideration. Very soon – sometimes too soon – the future becomes Now.
We do not need to have all the right answers, but we need to ask the right questions. It is mental preparation for the future. It is a search for safety; we can never be too safe. It is a self-taught and vital lesson in caring for the Self – call it self-defense or creativity. It is a buffer against FutureShock. Imagination lights the way. Something new is born this way.
Maybe this should become a required high school/college course, a how-to, the new iPsych 1.0 - IntroToPreparedness. It would examine and debate the crucial psychosocial first aid kit, what to pack, how to pack, and why. There, we would also teach how and why to carry on this learning for a lifetime. We would advise our students to reality-test often, to be prepared in case of various hurtful developments / crises. Don’t “forget,” and sooner is better than later – the later which may be too late. Don’t turn the unenlightened yesterday into tomorrow’s sorrow. Think about it.
The future is unknown and unknowable. It is radically open. It can be predicted only without certainty. The future remains to be made – largely but not only by our choices. Nevertheless, we can imagine it in many forms if we care to try. Denial often fails, but preparation often triumphs. Preparing is protective. It informs choice. It has the force to save lives…promoting health and strength and positive energy.1 Heaven can wait awhile.
Life is richer this way. The honesty of insight pays. Each relationship becomes a greater gift to be cultivated, tended, and harvested. We need others and others need us. Every day grows to be more meaningful, powerful, even precious and peaceful. We are freer, unbound from denial and its hapless aftermath. Choose the informed heart.
It’s not about what it is, it’s about what it can become. -- T. S. Geisel
1. The field of medicine offers a parallel concept, a more concrete and literal example of the value of preparedness. It is called “prehabilitation” or prehab. It optimizes post-operative recovery. Patients who participate in prehab physical therapy regimens are more likely to have better surgical outcomes, fewer and less severe complications, faster recovery, and shorter hospital stays (thereby reducing the cost of care). Studies show that prehab targeted interventions reduce hospital readmissions and improve survival outcomes of cancer patients. Also, the prehab exercises tend to trigger mental health benefits such as decreasing anxiety, increasing positive and optimistic feelings, and restoring the patient’s sense of control over his illness and treatment. Simply said, eyes-open, focused prehab helps the patient to prepare for a better, healthier future.
“You will come to a place where the streets are not marked. Some windows are lighted, but mostly they're darked. But mostly they're darked. A place you could sprain both your elbow and chin! Do you dare to stay out? Do you dare to go in? How much can you lose? How much can you win?” ― Theodor S. Geisel