So it seems that the ability to relive past emotional states is both an aptitude and a curse. It’s a curse because sometimes it doesn’t allow you to get on with your life. Every wound, every bruise, every assault, yields a harvest which is then stored. The pain is kept on ice and can be relied upon to taste as fresh as the day it was inflicted.
A few of my local counselors here in Liberia seem to be both cursed and blessed in abundance. Their ability to feel profoundly and relive the past makes them excellent counselors, but every day they do this work I worry. The stories they hear affect them deeply, especially because they share in the collective trauma everyone here is suffering. Some days it appears that the simple act of bearing witness to the stories they hear transcends them; but, on other days the stories they hear are glaringly reminders of their own traumas, and these reminders are relentless and unforgiving.
I feel like I owe them a warning. About what, I am less clear, but I desperately want to protect these 26 brave souls who decided to dedicate their lives to help fellow trauma survivors. I want to warn them about what this work can sometimes do to people and I want to share with them a few simple truths about man’s proclivity to behave inhumanly. I somehow want to lessen the burden they feel, but what would I say? Between telling them the truth and remaining brutally silent, I fear the less hurtful option is silence.
Really, what can one say to explain away their experienced atrocities? It's painful to hear their stories but it would more painful if they didn’t tell me, if they didn’t trust me or believe I wanted to hear them. It’s painful to feel the suffering when one knows some of what has happened, what is happening, could have been stopped. If there were resources or adequate interventions, women could be protected, a nonsense war would not have lasted 14 years, parents would not be burying their children, malignant leaders would be held accountable for their propaganda and lies, and mothers would not have to discover their 13 year old daughter is pregnant as a result of rape at the hands of a school teacher who threatened to fail her if she did not surrender. How can this be, in a world of endless wealth and resources? Why doesn't somebody just put their foot down or open their jaw like a whale and swallow the brazenness in one gulp?
With all that being said, I have to report I am again left feeling somewhat hopeful. I think of these aforementioned glimpse of utter compassion and I am left with a sense of humanity and belonging to my work here and for that, I am grateful. It feels like a conversation with something larger than myself, a felt participation, and a touch of spiritual fulfillment and the mysterious generative nature of that fulfillment. Whether this fulfillment lasts for a few more minutes or a few months, I am not complaining of its appearance. So now I must choose and I have decided to set out boldly in my work, and remember that the outcome of this endeavor is not what I manage to accomplish but who I become while accomplishing it.