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

God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Psalm 46:1

The Greek word trauma means wound. In our time the word trauma has come to describe an extremely distressing and harrowing personal or communal experience that exceeds our normal abilities to cope. Traumatic experiences can leave us feeling overwhelmed, emotionally flooded, disoriented, unsure of ourselves, no longer able to trust others or our ability to perceived reality correctly.

Past traumas can be reactivated suddenly and unexpectedly by something that happens in the present, something that acts as a trigger. Such an experience is commonly referred to as a “flashback”. I have come to call it trauma reactivation since the visual imagery of the word flashback does not do justice to the many and complex ways in which the human organism responds on such an occasion.

Sometimes, however, whatever has been triggered in us is so powerful that we feel overwhelmed and sense ourselves taken over by a force beyond our control. It can feel like being hijacked against our will. My own experience of being emotionally hijacked happened one sunny morning in July, 1988 when I received a mailer from my father in the Netherlands that included a periodical with a story about Bangkong, the last Japanese concentration camp in which I was imprisoned during World War II in Indonesia. The year was 1945 and I was 11 at the time. I had not thought of the name of that camp for years.

The headline over a brief article my father had marked for me to read was as follows: “Monument Jongenskampen [Boys Camps] Bangkong-Gedungjati 1944-45.” The main point of the article was to invite those who had survived Bangkong to gather for a reunion at a designated time and place in the Netherlands. The accompanying photograph was of a statue of an emaciated teenager, clad only in a loincloth and carrying a pickaxe and hoe. Most boys who were physically able were required to work in nearby fields, as I was scheduled to do before the War in the Pacific suddenly ended. This statue was placed on the cemetery where those who died in Bangkong were buried.

to be continued