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Posted By Opening the Heart

   In a New Yorker article by Michael Specter last month, he talked about Daniela Schiller and her father, Sigmund, who both had lived in Tel Aviv. Each year in Israel a siren announces 2 minutes of silence in remembrance of the Holocaust. Throughout the whole country, everything stops. Waiters stop waiting, bakers stop baking, people stop talking- except for Sigmund Schiller who is a concentration camp survivor, who goes about his day as if the siren had not sounded. His daughter, Daniela, recalls growing up asking her father: "Daddy, what happened in the war? Why do you never talk about it?" Her father never answered her, not a word, only silence. Silence is not precisely accurate. I think it was more like something darkly jagged locked away in a safety deposit box: safety because taking it out of the dark, locked place would be too overwhelming and painful.

   Many years ago in my therapy practice, I saw a woman who had survived a small plane crash where more than half the passangers were killed. Four years later when I first saw her in therapy, she was still unable to remember anything that happened either months before or months after the accident. Something traumatic and scary had been locked away because it was too big to integrate it into her consciousness.

   I currently work with a very brave woman, now in her early 50's, who was sexually abused by her father from the time she was 7 until she was 12. After 6 months of meeting with me, she shared one day about the abuse, afterward saying "I have never told this to anyone before". She told me about the abuse in a non-emotional, very matter-of-fact way. I waited patiently for her to share whatever she needed to. Then I said "Deanna, how does it feel to have shared this with me after keeping it inside for 45 years?" Even though there was silence for the next few minutes, a lot was happening. I thought of it as a "loud silence". She never looked directly at me. She bit her lip. One finger tapped on her knee. She was not breathing. She looked out the window at birds feeding at the feeder. Her finger tapped faster. She swallowed. Her eyes began to fill up. One tear fell down her cheek. I could not help but think of the ground trembling before a volcano erupts. Her body began to shake. She closed her eyes and a few more tears squeezed out down her cheek.

   Then, as if a dam broke,, she sobbed and she put her arms around herself. In the softest voice, barely audible, she said "I love my father". The tears continued for a long time and I thought of all the things we carry inside us, all the scars that hobble us- all the energy used in the most noble of efforts: to stay alive.

   I also thought of Sigmund Schiller and how alone he had lived with his nightmares for so many decades. Sometimes we get lucky and we find a safe place to land, to lay the burden down, to no longer be afraid. What it must be like to wake up one morning and, consciously, not put on the body armor.

   What I think I know is that many of us have not gone through a horror like a genocide or a childhood sexual abuse, or heartbreaking poverty or hunger. Still, I do believe that we all are human and have had our hearts break, our dreams dashed, our dear ones taken from us. Most of the time we don't get to see the scars that our brothers and sisters carry, but please assume that these wounds are most likely there, locked in a dark, secret place and that only love and kindness can help ease the pain.

   With Love and Respect, JonJon

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