'Builders' and 'Firefighters'
January 21, 2014 8:17 PM   Subscribe

"The Art of Presence"

Catherine Woodiwiss' blog post at Sojourners is linked in the op-ed: A New Normal: Ten Things I've Learned About Trauma
posted by zarq (7 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
 
Hmm, not taking away what's worked for them, and others, but I found that a bit on the trite side, really (the first link, and the second, which is pretty much the same, really).

At the best of times, the complex territories of human emotions resist 'hacks' and lists, and pat 'rules' - to try and generalise the vastly diverse and tragic enormity of trauma into types and always/nevers is really, really futile I feel.

Further, I feel it marginalises and de-legitimises those whose feelings and response to trauma fall outside this fairly narrow spectrum. Their reactions - and the reactions of people around them - are no less valid, or true, for them.

I think I may have even read it on Metafilter, but I remember this piece, about the differences in response to trauma, far more illuminating and interesting.

I dunno, I feel like the OP pieces are like someone who falls into a sinkhole, and then says "let me tell you all about caves." Caves share some similarities - dark, scary, underground; but for all that, they are very different. Trauma is such a private thing: I would be extremely reluctant to assume by own brushes with it would be relevant to any other person.
posted by smoke at 9:34 PM on January 21, 2014 [5 favorites]


Smoke says: Trauma is such a private thing: I would be extremely reluctant to assume by own brushes with it would be relevant to any other person.

Indeed, that is what Catherine Woodiwiss says too. "Don't compare." "Do not offer plattitudes." "For as private a pain as trauma is, for all the healing that time and self-work will bring, we are wired for contact. "

Because it is private and unique, we need presence. Those who don't want others around, I imagine, are those who have grown up experiencing the trauma of a non-responsive environment and now expect the same.
posted by Obscure Reference at 5:45 AM on January 22, 2014 [4 favorites]


Catherine Woodiwiss writes, "What we need in the aftermath is a friend who can swallow her own discomfort and fear, sit beside us, and just let it be terrible for a while."

janey47 writes, apropos of a hospice situation, "Stop using words. You need them way less than you think."

Years ago, on Stanley Greenspan's Zero to Three blog, there was an article which included an anecdote about the time when the author was out and about, and came across a little boy under a tree, wailing away. Her (His?) impulse was to tell the child to stop crying, that things were going to be all right, but she checked herself and simply sat down beside the child and kept him company until his storm passed. As a parent, I have thought about that scenario so many times: It's so much easier to tell my kids to stop crying or to ask what's wrong as my first response rather than holding them close and letting them cry on me for a while until they can talk. The situation gets resolved more quickly when I do the first, but more deeply and completely when I do the second. So while I agree with smoke's point about the limitations of extrapolating a universal model of trauma response from one's own grief, I have also found that there's a qualitative difference between grieving and hearing "Why don't you just...?" and having a friend quietly be with me as I fall apart.

My own worst moment came before a death, when I just fell down. I fell. I had no reserves left. I had completed a series of hard duties that day, and as soon as the last was done (handing over a box containing my dying MIL's dead cat; I had driven home from the vet as fast as I could because of the heat, had called ahead so my husband could dig the grave, had been to the hospice for hours), I collapsed at the edge of the barn. My husband, holding the box, had walked away bury the cat. My best friend -- bless and keep her -- kneeled down and put her arms around me, and loved me even though at that moment I was small and ugly and helpless and overcome by the monstrous unfairness of the situation. I will never forget that, how she was wordlessly, solidly present.

Presence matters, whether it's with the dying or the hurting, and not only in the aftermath of trauma. Sometimes things are terrible. It makes a difference when someone else is able to sit with our discomfort, fear, and sadness and to be a reminder about connection and love.
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:57 AM on January 22, 2014 [3 favorites]


I dunno, I feel like the OP pieces are like someone who falls into a sinkhole, and then says "let me tell you all about caves." Caves share some similarities - dark, scary, underground; but for all that, they are very different

I'm assuming the article is intended for that narrow audience for whom losing a child or getting your face destroyed by a car count as caves rather than sinkholes.
posted by Jpfed at 6:13 AM on January 22, 2014 [1 favorite]


It's hard, given all of Brooks' other views, for me to give him much credit for having written this.

Firstly, and this is tangential I know, he offers a title "The Art of __________" without any further explication about how it is or can be an art. There are lots of implications of using that word that Brooks just steps all over, unconcernedly, if he even recognized they were there. I feel like he's using the word to dress up a listicle.

Secondly, what did he bring to this topic at all, other than to echo the Sojourners article to a larger audience? Was there a shred of novel thought or personal experience that I missed there somewhere? He shouldn't be receiving praise for something that's only a few steps away from plagiarism. It's telling that the only Brooks columns I like are the ones he lifts from elsewhere.
posted by newdaddy at 9:12 AM on January 22, 2014


I'm assuming the article is intended for that narrow audience for whom losing a child or getting your face destroyed by a car count as caves rather than sinkholes.

I was not intending to trivialize her experience with that simile; sinkholes can be extremely dangerous, much more so than caves in many ways.
posted by smoke at 12:02 PM on January 22, 2014 [1 favorite]


Brooks wrote this. It wasn't in the Sojourners piece. Every now and then even David Brooks gets something right.

Theology is a grounding in ultimate hope, not a formula book to explain away each individual event.
posted by surplus at 3:54 PM on January 22, 2014 [1 favorite]


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