Some things you just never expect to happen.
Like a well for a village of 1,000 people running dry and caving in. Like no contingency plan in effect, and people being handed little drinking bottles of water, little ones! Two the first day, then twelve. And high heat every day.
We’ve been watching the series “Treme” and learning about the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The disaster of losing homes and lives and records, and cherished belongings. The difficulty of putting a life back together under such extreme circumstances. And some people are survivors, some give up, some become enraged, some become depressed, some move away. Natural disasters (with that human element of “mistake” contributing to them) test a person and a community. I don’t think you know what your reaction will be until it happens to you.
My wonderful (bigger) dog flew out the screen door last weekend, which had not completely latched, and went after her “nemesis” dog who was walking with its owner innocently on the sidewalk. She did not hurt the dog, but the sounds and the sights of them fighting was absolutely terrifying. I was outside, and dived right into the fray, trying to pull my dog off. I was not afraid at all, just knew that I had to get my dog out of there, and kept trying to get a grip on her fur or her collar or her skin. I finally got a good enough grip on her skin to pull her, and dragged her inside the house, panting and exhausted, but relieved. My partner stayed out to deal with the other dog and its owner, and we realized no one was hurt, we were all just scared. My dog was having an extreme territorial reaction that scared the pajeebus out of us.
All these things provide varying degrees of trauma and long lasting effects on those involved. And sometimes on others as well.
I have extreme empathy, which can be difficult when other people’s troubles affect my mood, my health, my life. Sometimes it happens because they are people I know and care about, sometimes it happens when I read a book about something traumatic or watch a TV program. I have to remain aware of this (because I like reading mysteries, which can sometimes be violent, and I like crime drama on TV), and sometimes I have to get some distance to protect myself. Other times, I have to perform an action that is helpful to the situation, even if it turns out to be just listening and empathizing. (Or I have to read a funny book for a break!)
But my partner has given me something to think about that is a really different way to look at all these difficult situations. She suggests that they are not actually about the obvious, but that the real purpose is something else. And I believe that, and will always remind myself of that, because it turns the tragedy upside down and makes it an insightful event. I know this is similar to the last post, but it’s my most recent take on the subject.
We know this because we can see all the positive results of the cancer. It came about to bring my daughters closer to me, to give Sarita and me a chance to know that we can be around each other 24/7 and be completely happy, to show Sarita what a great caregiver she is, something she did not know about herself, to show us that time is not infinite, and we’d better live the lives we want right now, or at least sooner than we originally anticipated, and even to get me retired, which is what I wanted, but didn’t think I could afford to be.
The birth of our grandchild was also so much more than the obvious. His existence sustained me through the worst part of my cancer, he has shown his mother and all of us what a good parent she can be, he gave my other daughter a reason to clean up her act and have some self confidence about her ability to work with children, he gave his father a new purpose in life and opportunity to give what he might not have had, and a reason to go on after the death of his own mother. I’m sure there is more that I’m not even aware of.
Sarita and I like to say that we took a long and involved and somewhat challenging trip to Canada just to get the name for our dog. And another dog we once had for about six months and had to give up when I got cancer, caused us to get the car we now have, a wonderful car for our family and our constant travels to NM where we are always hauling furniture, etc. (It was a huge dog, and wouldn’t fit in our other, much smaller, car.)
The recent dog incident immediately showed us its other purpose, because after it happened, we not only talked about changes we have to make regarding the dog (be sure the door is shut tightly, etc.), but it made us realize the stress we were feeling about the rest of our lives — pulling a trailer for the first time on a cross country trip, not having time to breathe from the ending of school and the beginning of our trip, traveling to a town with no water, etc. And then we could make decisions that felt immeasurably better. We hadn’t even realized how much stress we were feeling until all of that came up. And we relieved that stress 100%. It also showed me how fearless I am, that I will go into any situation where I feel a loved one is in danger, and I will become as “superhuman” as I can to get them out of that situation. I’ve always wondered about that with regard to myself.
The dry well situation’s other meaning has not become apparent yet. Maybe it has to do with bringing the citizens of the village together, maybe it has to do with getting rid of corruption if it exists, or just learning how to be better at conserving water, maybe there is something else. We are not sure of the other meaning even for us yet, but we are sure it will become known before too long.
The real lesson I have learned and am constantly learning, is that anything that happens is not an isolated event with one major consequence, there are always different perspectives from which to see it, there are always other meanings that are far more important than the obvious ones. And searching for those meanings becomes a way to deal with it so that it is not so devastating in and of itself. A way to cope, to learn, to find relief, to be able to move on after the initial survival phase has passed. And this is always true, which is why I have learned not to have regrets about difficult things that have happened in my life.
So when challenges come our way, armed with this different perspective theory of life, Sarita and I now say to each other the phrase Tracy Ullman uses in her HBO series of characters: “I’ll take that on.”
Here’s my song about The Town Without Water