The Rev. Dr. Han van den Blink
St. Paul’s Church, Troy

Therefore we will not fear, though the earth be moved,
and though the mountains be toppled into the depth of the sea.
Psalm 46:2

continuation of January 20th post

I later wrote about that moment of trauma reactivation in this way: My reaction was immediate and extraordinary. I felt as if I had been physically hit. It was as if the scab of some deeply hidden wound had been ripped off. I burst into tears and wept and wept as I kept looking at that picture and that article. I could not stop crying. I was vaguely aware that my eyes widened, as in fright, and that the sound I was making was not that of the 54 year old man that I was then but that of a much younger person, a boy.

I sat at that kitchen table for a very long time, weeping and sobbing and staring at that awful name, and at the statue of that poor boy who stood for me and for so many others whom I had known. I was flooded with feelings and images of that dreaded camp, of the suffering and despair, of the starvation, of the abuse, and of the feeling of helplessness. It amazed me how sharp and immediate these feelings were, as fresh as if they had happened yesterday, even though, on that morning, the events that occasioned them occurred more than forty three years earlier.

This experience of a suddenly remembered, painful experience is a common one. The content of the story, of course, differs from person to person, but the dynamic is similar. Many of us have experienced the sudden influx of strong emotions when some forgotten or blocked past suffering is remembered and when our feelings finally link up with what we have known all along but in a disembodied or dissociated kind of way. We remembered the facts but the feelings suitable to the occasion were absent until the moment of reactivation.

What happened to me was the unexpected reactivation of a traumatic time in my life, a memory that was triggered by the sight of a photograph and a place name. This experience fueled of my interest in understanding trauma better and how to do a better job of helping those who have been traumatized.