Sunday, April 13, 2014

Fireworks, Trauma, and Healing

Yesterday was a beautiful day. The morning was crisp, great weather for a run. The sun rose higher, warming the air and warming the spirits of so many of us who were tired of a long winter. It was the perfect day to spend outside. Many people from all walks of life gathered at the waterfront for Thunder Over Louisville, the airshow and grand fireworks display that kicks off the season of the Kentucky Derby. I thought maybe this year I'd join the throngs.

In February of 2012 I witnessed my first peaceful demonstration gone wrong in Palestine. It was my first exposure to teargas, skunk water, and sound bombs (aka percussion grenades).  That day I happened to be behind the point from which the Israeli soldiers were lobbing teargas and sound bombs and spraying skunk water towards Palestinian, Israeli, and international demonstrators.  Eventually they threw tear gas towards where we were standing and we ran for cover. Only the sight of the conflict permeated our beings, not the teargas or skunk spray.

That night I remember thinking that the sound bombs sounded a lot like what used to be my favorite firework: the one that makes a flash and a boom and nothing more; it was no longer my favorite firework. I remember thinking of Thunder Over Louisville, of the airshow preceding the fireworks showcasing military planes, of the re-lived trauma seeing and hearing that those planes could cause people who had lived in war zones, who had experienced the sights and sounds of the planes in a very different context from the one presented during Thunder.  I knew that my own intake of Thunder, whatever part I'd choose to watch in the future, would bring me back to Palestine and to a peaceful demonstration gone wrong.

For that very reason, I'd decided not to go last year.  However, at the last minute upon seeing the enthusiasm of the friends I was with, I went.  We drove downtown and by the time we parked, the fireworks had begun.  We walked closer to the river over which the fireworks exploded and I could feel my body tense. My friends were delighted by the wonder of the lights. I tried to appreciate the flashes of color, the choreography, the music, the beauty, but all I really noticed was the sound. The booms that reminded me of a protest by people trying to free themselves from military occupation. A peaceful demonstration gone wrong.

We kept walking towards the river, towards the lights, towards the noise, towards the crowds. I could feel myself wanting to slow down as my friends sped up. When we finally stopped, we were close, on the edge of the crowd, the sound reverberating through our bodies. I felt sick to my stomach. I told myself it was OK not to be OK and to focus on breathing.  Breathing.  Breathing. This helped me to be calm. I was glad when the booms were over. I was glad when we got ourselves out of the crowd, away from the noise.

The beautiful day yesterday enticed me to be outside: on my run, in my yard, and later at a party downtown. Thinking I'd try the fireworks again, I checked with a couple friends, but they had other plans. I could have stayed and watched the fireworks from the party I'd gone to, but was tired and decided I'd walk home before the main event of Thunder began.

I've been around a lot more sound bombs between last year and this year. I thought I was used to them. I thought I had disassociated their sounds from that of fireworks.

When the fireworks began, I could hear them from my home. My heart rate went up. I was transported to Hebron as I had been last year. The sound was far enough away that I imagined myself in our apartment, taking a break from monitoring clashes, wondering what we'd encounter when we went back outside. Of course, intellectually I knew that I was hearing fireworks.  I could even see some of them from my window. But I was glad not to be so close to the sounds.

As I consider my experience of fireworks and sound bombs, my own experience that in the grand scheme of things is not particularly traumatic, I wonder how long it takes for someone to heal from a much deeper trauma. I wonder how much of what I see going on in Israel/Palestine is a response to wounds that were not properly tended generations ago. Wounds that continue to fester, to be opened and re-opened, sometimes (it seems) deliberately so that the possibility of healing is impossible.  I wonder how long the wounds will fester before they are either cared for with the aim of healing or irritated so much that greater violence and trauma will erupt. I pray that it will be nonviolence, that it will be tending to the wounds of Palestinians and Israelis, that will prevail.

In the last week the world has been commemorating the 20-year anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda, of 100 days of the brutal slaughter of hundreds of thousands of people. Today perpetrators and survivors of the violence are living together, working together, speaking the truth of what they did or what they witnessed being done to their friends, family, strangers. It has taken many years to get to this point, but together they are working through trauma. They are not celebrating military might. They are not escaping the past. They are tending wounds, deep personal and societal wounds. Slowly, they are healing. Together they are healing.

May we learn from Rwandans. May we learn to care for others, whether we have been hurt by them or have hurt them.  May we be sensitive to the experiences of others. May we expose wounds, but only with the aim of gently cleansing them, of giving them air, of allowing pestilence to escape, of healing.  May we invite people from all walks of life to be together in a way where all will find joy, energy, life, and peace.