Ten years ago I got an email from my friend, Dave. A man of few spoken words, he asked me to check out his latest piece of writing. "Intense is all I can say" was the only clue as to what was about to unfold. At the time the working title was "The Killer Inside Me". Over time, it became known as "Stalking the Bogeyman" (trigger warning).
I read it with frozen attention. Words unfolded, revealing a history I couldn't imagine. My friend. He had this history I couldn't fathom. He had kept it in a vault all these years, and we never knew.
This happens to other people. This stuff is in the papers. Not to anyone I know.
Not my friend.
My friend couldn't have possibly gone through this.
Dave wasn't lying, it was definitely intense. I don't know if that was his intention, but it's hard to write about intense events without being intense. The intensity remained, but at some point it took on a different quality. Under the pressure cooker of a secrecy first imposed by his rapist, the desire to kill to protect other potential victims, direct and indirect, grew all consuming. When the lid was unexpectedly removed, the secrecy was gone, and with it the possibility of the perfect crime.
The traumatic event of his childhood was in black-and-white for all to see. The people Dave sought to protect the most with his secret-- his parents-- stayed by his side. He wasn't in trouble. He wasn't going to be shamed. And he wasn't going to be punished for talking about it. The imposed secrecy wasn't a magic spell, but exposed instead as a cheap magic trick. There was nothing to back it up.
With the very public story came-- what? Healing? Resilience? Is that the Hollywood ending we're all hoping for? He wrote this story, it became an episode of This American Life (trigger warning), now it's an off-Broadway show... so that means it's all good, right? All's well that ends well?
I don't know.
Over the last 15 years or so, I've spent a lot of time with people who are dying and grieving. My career has given me time to reflect over the course of what have been thousands of grief and death trajectories exactly what we're prepared for as a society.
We are not prepared for trauma.
We are not prepared for our loved ones to be in pain.
We are certainly not prepared for complicated emotions.
We like tidiness. We like things to be clean. We like to think pain has stages that we can grow out of and get over.
We really like anti-bacterial soap. But our lives are full of contagions, full of germs, things unseen that can be very threatening.
We think of resilience as clean. As closure. It's a goal, an endpoint. We get there, everything is fine. We move on, we don't hold on. That's a sign of healing, right?
We assume people we know are not in pain. Surely, they don't have any secrets, any hidden pain. They're functioning so they're okay.
We aren't prepared for the reality of trauma, pain and grief. It's an injustice to those we care about, maybe some day ourselves, to assume that resilience must mean you've "moved on", or gotten over stuff. More than likely, the stuff we go through becomes a part of us.
We don't have a template for this.
Resilience can't be measured by how happy you are. It's not required you have "closure".
Sometimes resilience just means you've endured and survived.
Sometimes resilience means you stop hiding your pain.
Sometimes resilience just means you share your story so there's less secrecy around all our suffering.