Contrary to the popular adage, time does not heal all wounds. While time plays a significant role, there is more complexity to the healing process. Healing is rooted in compassion and a sense of belonging around a traumatic event.
For our community in Pittsburgh, that’s never been so clear. We continue to navigate life while violence occurs in Israel and as the fifth commemoration of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting approaches. The trauma cues from the violence in Israel are visceral for many of those impacted by the attack of Oct. 27, 2018. Instead of assuming that time will ease the impact of trauma cues on us, we must understand instead how to react to these and other trauma cues that arise this month.
Trauma cues may include anniversary effects, which are the psychological and emotional ways that the date of a traumatic event affects us. Anniversary effects may be marked by avoidance of the event or our emotions, remembering the experience more vividly than usual, becoming angry, anxious or physically sick, or being bothered by feelings that are as intense as ever — despite time passing. These anniversary effects are programmed into our bodies and brains; they are biologically based, and they don’t wait for an invitation to come in. Meeting these emotions with acceptance and insight is vastly more effective than shoving them down with shame.
Some may also experience anniversary effects that are comforting. The date of the event may bring up memories of loved ones and a feeling of being closer to them. Through the commemorative events that surround an anniversary, some may feel more connected to their community and enveloped in a sense of belonging.
Since Oct. 27, 2018, we have seen continuous efforts to cultivate this sense of belonging. Through our neutral role, the 10.27 Healing Partnership has been honored to observe deep collaboration and this community’s herculean efforts at building trust and offering support. Difficulty and rockiness can actually foster a greater sense of belonging. We can uphold a communal contract to show up for one another and continue to be in relationship together even during rough periods. We grow from holding tenuous, fragile connections to one another into a deeper belonging. We begin to trust that conflict will not inevitably create splintering or cause us to lose one another. The fifth commemoration is a time to acknowledge the beauty of these continued efforts toward trust, belonging and repair.
This sense of belonging involves recognizing the event’s significance within your own identity. When you find healthy ways to identify with and belong to an event, you learn to integrate it into your self-understanding, your memory, your life
story or your cultural heritage. What does it mean to belong to Oct. 27, 2018? In what ways have you changed because of it? How has your life and the way you react when confronted with a traumatic incident changed since 2018?
A sense of belonging allows you to build insight and recognize your own place in an event, neither requiring you to be in the center of it at all times nor to downplay its significance to you. You can balance the idea that there may be others more intimately connected to the event than you are with the idea that your own experience still remains meaningful.
When we meet conflict together and when we build insight through our secure connection to the event and to ourselves, we begin to use this belonging to build a space for all of us in the legacy of Oct. 27. When we stay engaged and lend ourselves to this effort we enrich the fabric of this legacy, which is greater for each person added to its overarching story. We move into actively investigating ourselves and our connection to the event and actively connecting with others in shared struggle and joy. The bonds created during Oct. 27 cannot always be sustained at the same intensity with which they began, but they can be nurtured over time. This nurturing and maturing of both our own identities and our community creates this belonging, this deep sense of security, insight and care that our community deserves.
Time may not heal all wounds, but it grants us the opportunity to create belonging. Feeling that we are a part of this community, no matter how large or small, holds the potential for ongoing healing. PJC
Maggie Feinstein is director of the 10.27 Healing Partnership.