I’m posting this excerpt from another amazing piece of writing by Molly Wolf in her book Angels & Dragons: On Sorrow, God, and Healing. With love, to all my fellow members of the Club:
Excerpt from The Club, a short story by Molly Wolf:
Susan knew that her normal was gone; she could never get back what she’d lost in that split second when the world exploded. She knew that she’d have to build a new normal from scratch – new habits, new spaces, new community – instead of staying frozen, looking back at what she had lost. She could help in the struggle to set her church building to rights, but it’s not the church it was before, and she is not the woman who worshipped there before. In this life, those yards of scars will always be on her hide, just as the face of her town will never be as it was. But there was this comfort: that she belonged to a whole secret society that knew exactly how it felt, and that could offer love.
People join the club through all sorts of experiences, some obvious, some not. For very many, it’s not one huge big horror; it’s a whole succession of small big horrors, one intolerable thing after another that you have to tolerate because you have absolutely no choice in the matter. I don’t know how the Vietnam vets get by, the ones who had it real bad. How do they get through the day, living with the flashbacks, the sense of helplessness, the anxiety, the fits of rage? – all the woundedness of a soul who should never have seen this shit, never been forced into this situation. Some must have found it easier to die, literally or in spirit; others snapped and went into darkness and did things that they probably will never be able to remember, because some things you just can’t handle.
For still others, it’s just one damn thing after another: a friends death after a bankruptcy after a parent’s severe illness after a cancer scare after a child going off the rails after a job downsizing, until the whole world just looks like one door slamming after another. You might go under; or you might deny that anything’s wrong at all. Or you might give up and join the club.
But for every big-bang trauma, there’s probably another case that doesn’t make any noise at all, other than the occasional smashed dish or shouting match and a whole lot of quiet sobbing. Oh, there may be the occasional explosion, enough to keep you scared and wary and to cause long-term changes to your adrenaline levels, but that’s not how the real harm happens. Instead, it comes on so slowly that you don’t even realize what’s happening. It’s apt to be a series of small things, little surrenders, compromises that seemed not so bad at the time; it’s only looking back that you see how they all added up. At the time, it all seemed so trivial that you never thought to challenge what was happening, and besides, as time went on, you lost your energy and confidence, one nibble at a time. That’s when the evil becomes the wallpaper of your life, stuff you don’t even really notice anymore because you’re so used to it. It’s now normal, and you no longer think to question it. You can be blown up, or you can die of repeated wounds. Or you can be chilled to death almost without knowing it at all.
However it happened, big or small, loud or quiet, you find yourself joining the club. At least your fellow members are apt to understand and to welcome you with open arms. In the club, people don’t compare and dismiss; they are uninterested in the hierarchy of suffering (“My pain is bigger’n your pain!”). They respect each other’s experience too much for that. They know that there are scars and scars, and some you wear on the outside, like Susan, and others you wear on the inside, also like Susan. they know that enough small wounds over enough time leave just as many yards of stitches. They don’t need you to be whole and fully functional and just fine. It almost doesn’t matter where you are, because they’ve been through equivalent landscapes—and you may learn to your humility that some have been through much, much worse.
Susan says, “The funny thing is that you can almost tell when meeting someone whether or not they have gone through the horrible initiation rites … People who have been initiated into the trauma club are unafraid to face someone else’s pain.” Their response to it is simply to put their arms out, because they know that’s what they needed – to have that warm blue sweater wrapped about their bleeding shoulders, to be cared for by the compassion of strangers. But members don’t push and they don’t ask questions and they don’t demand to see the stitches, because they also remember how that felt.
They know the secondary hurts. They know the deep shame of having to deal with fits of rage or anxiety that pop up like sudden zits on a teenaged brow. They know how it feels to live with physical disabilities in a culture that unsexes and depersonalizes the ill – how to live with obvious scarring in a world that pays thousands of dollars to airbrush Michelle Pfeiffer’s face for a magazine cover shot. They know just how it feels to be stared at in an airport, how to handle the dumb comments: “Are you a Vietnam vet? Well, you know, you folks just overreacted.” “You say you lived for years with spousal abuse? Well, what stopped you from leaving?” “There’s nothing to stop losers like that Harry from going out and getting a job, even if he did go through a tough time. Sitting around all day, claiming he’s depressed. Huh.” Sightseers in dark glasses stop by the site of the Murrah Building and take snapshots of each other, smiling and waving for the camera. And, of course, there’s the stubborn universal human instinctive belief that bad luck must be self-inflicted and might possibly be contagious—that it’s better to avoid the walking wounded and hang out with the lucky, beautiful, and fortunate, because you have to be careful about what might rub off on you. That’s one good thing about being in the trauma club. You know what bullshit that is, and so do the people who have put their arms around you.
But the chief glory of joining the trauma club is that it takes you into deserts where you have never been, and it lets you find the fruits and the sudden pools of fresh water. For Jesus had it right: blessed are the uncertain, blessed are those that mourn, blessed are the poor. Not because suffering is a good thing in and of itself, but because it does tend to clear the decks.
So there you are, newly inducted into the club, standing at the edge of the wilderness in your undershorts or slip, shivering and bewildered, still in shock, perhaps, looking into no future that you’d ever dreamed of imagining. If you had any notion that you could control your circumstances, put it dow right here. that, like so many other things, has been blown off and away from you like the buttons from Susan’s suit jacket.
You must take the desert on its own terms and adapt to it, living with and through it as Moses and his people did for forty years; as Jesus did for forty days, wrestling with the darker sides of being human. You’ll learn very quickly that much of what you thought important isn’t. Networking doesn’t work here; power plays are of no conceivable interest. Career moves – what career? Why would that matter? All the clichés that used to entice, notions of being faster and shrewder and more fashionable than your peers – these shrivel and curl up like withered chiles. They’re as useful in the desert as a silver-plated cake plate.
But other things, things that you took for granted or didn’t think important, start becoming all-consuming: love, honesty, family, community, vulnerability, your own need to give and accept care, your essential powerlessness, that sense that someone’s there, looking after you. You think about things that you’d never though of before: who am I, really? who’s my God? why did all this happen? and what am I going to make of it all?
Look around you. You are walking on known trails that other pilgrims have taken. They knew where to find the fruit and springs of fresh water that can sustain you even through a long, long journey. And some of them are with you now, other members of the club. They know you; they know to count up from the bottom, not down from the top. Some days, you’re almost normal. Some days, you aren’t. Some days, with luck and hard work, you may just about manage to get your shoes tied, and that’s true victory. And they know that too.
What you carry into the desert is your soul, the one and only thing you can take on this journey. When you reach the other side—and you may not; you may choose to stay here, as many do – you’ll find that that soul has changed. It’ priorities are different. It knows what gold is real and what’s just pretty pyrite. It holds tight to love, and to it the world is so very full of beauty, as well as suffering.
Susan writes of living vita brevis—living with the knowledge that life is brief.
To live vita brevis means to count as precious the days remaining. you do not know when the end will come. We just went to work that morning. 169 people did not come home that evening, and for countless others, life will never ever be the same. I don’t have time to waste. It has made a difference to how I order my work and my personal life. Interesting, because I find myself wanting every minute at work to make a difference, yet on a personal level, “wasting time” with family and friends seems more important than anything else.
…I think of some of the profound tender acts shown to me that will stay with me and affect my relationship with that person forever. To be the recipient of that tender act sometimes causes me to perform a tender act with another person in another kind of trauma, and that interconnectedness plays on.
And that’s the final victory: that Evil can push a soul not off the edge, but into something deeper and holier than we could ever ask or imagine.
- finding the child’s heart (heartjunky.wordpress.com)
- removing the stain (heartjunky.wordpress.com)
- what are you up to this weekend (heartjunky.wordpress.com)
- the gift and the curse (heartjunky.wordpress.com)
- trusting perception, trauma is trama (heartjunky.wordpress.com)
- Looking For A Path (ahumanintraining.wordpress.com)
- Let the Scarring Begin (beautifulandofdreams.wordpress.com)