During the past couple of weeks, stories of those who survived the trauma of terror attacks in France and other places have arrested our attention. A man who lost the love of his life and the mother of his young child said that he made the decision not to hate back. One of my grandsons told me that his class was sending stuffed animals to the children of Paris. His class had asked their teacher about it in and came up with the decision to bring in their own stuffed bears and frogs and rabbits to send to the children of Paris. At 6 years of age, does he already understand that no matter where bad things happen to good people, the only thing that helps is knowing you are not alone?
I have held on to an op-ed column by David Brooks, of the New York Times that was written in July of this year about a young refugee named Clemantine Wamasriya. At age 6, this girl did not understand genocide, but she and her younger sister escaped with their lives, and spent much of their childhood in refugee camps. In 2000, the girls were given refugee status in the United States. Clemantine later wrote an essay for a contest sponsored by Oprah Winfrey about her experience.
Mr. Brooks described it this way: “When she was a young girl, Clemantine displayed the large courage to endure genocide. In this essay she displays the courage of small things: the courage to live with feelings wide open even after trauma; the maturity to accept unanswerable ambiguity; the tenacity to seek coherence after arbitrary cruelty; the ability to create tenacious bonds that have some give to them, to allow for the mistakes others make; the unwillingness to settle for the simple, fake story; and the capacity to look at life in all its ugly complexity.”
These are complex times and there is plenty of ugly. Watching those who survive trauma gives us the inspiration to find courage to deal with the small and large traumas of our own lives and to realize what 6 -year-olds know—what happens to one, happens to us all.