resenting silly dreams

There is a transformative shift that comes with the traumatic events of our lives, a before and after.  There’s no going back to the innocence of the pre-event.  The memory of then mingles with the tangibility of now and we occupy a wholly new blended, bittersweet reality.  If traumatic enough, the event removes us from the world we have grown to know, everyday habits, the comforts of relationships, the normalcy we construct and occupy and share in the pursuit of a meaningful life.  When we go back to the before world, we are strangers and outsiders to it, and our natural proclivity is to explain the shift to anyone and everyone, like a confession, or a purging of the discomfort of the event and the loneliness of life with the knowledge of it.

Who shares in these traumatic events?  The large and growing literature of trans cultural migration confirms the alienation that comes with uprooting from native family and country when people emigrate.  The colonial boarding school has a similar documented history on the psyches of children of business, military and missionary parents.  Natural disasters and violent events rank as well, for instance in the case of Rebecca Brock who experienced 911 from the vantage of a flight going over New York and her capacity as a flight attendant.  In her essay quoted below, she draws an exquisite, searing picture of that violent and uncanny event which removes her from the safety and banality of her before life and throws her into a life in which she constantly craves sharing her experience with a world that doesn’t get it because it didn’t live through it.  She finds beautiful examples in literature that also describe this culture of humanity who have come back from that place beyond, the dead, and need to share their anguish with a world they see as inexperienced and petty.

Following are some of the bits of literature which she uses to describe her alienation.  For better results – easily the best piece I have read on 911 – read the whole essay:

The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.

— Milan Kundera, Book of Laughter and Forgetting

Since then, at an uncertain hour,
That agony returns:
And till my ghastly tale is told,
This heart within me burns.

Rime of the Ancient Mariner

“I found myself back in the… city resenting the sight of people hurrying through the streets to filch a little from each other, to devour their infamous cookery, to gulp their unwholesome beer, to dream their insignificant and silly dreams…I felt so sure they could not possibly know the things I knew…”

Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness

“It takes so little, so infinitely little, for a person to cross the border beyond which everything loses meaning: love, convictions, faith, history. Human life-and herein lies its secret-takes place in the immediate proximity of that border, even in direct contact with it; it is not miles away, but a fraction of an inch.”

Milan Kundera, Book of Laughter and Forgetting

Rebecca Brock, You Can’t Even Remember What I’m Trying to Forget


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