Tragedy, Trauma, and Resilience

We all will face tragedy and trauma in our lives, some of us more than others. The most severe forms are often the least expected. Though we can’t control what happens to us, we can control how we respond to it.

I have an Uncle In-Law named Sidiki. He grew up in Guinea, Africa.  As a young teenager he contracted a mysterious illness (probably polio), one day when he was walking to school he fell and never stood up again. He spent months in a hospital in a coma, and with time regained the use of his arms. But was deeply depressed by his circumstances. Africa can be a very unforgiving place for those with Sidiki’s fate.

After months of depression and contemplating suicide, Sidiki reminded himself that he had something to offer the world. He chose to build himself back up, learning not only to walk with his hands but dance, bike, waterski, and more. He was not musical before the incident but something ignited in him, he is now a very accomplished musician recognized in both Guinea and the US as a treasure.

You have to wonder where he would be if this has not happened to him, without the trauma and challenges he faced, would he have still been able to forge himself into this hero that he is today? It’s difficult to answer. Sidiki’s resilience turned a terrible sickness into the an incredible journey in musicianship and courage. Though he is a true hero, we can all make the same choices when faced with our own challenges.

He has a documentary out now called “dancing without feet” check the trailer out here!

Check out this Article in the New Yorker on Sidiki

I have another friend how suffers from a bacterial overgrowth in his intestines, caused by taking antibiotics without probiotics. Which causes him to have a very bad reaction to many foods (grains, processed foods, sugar… a majority of the average American’s diet). I lived with him for several years and watched every step from contracting this illness, researching it, and fighting to overcome it. Most of us take food and our eating habits for granted. It’s been very difficult for him to manage this problem, it requires a constant vigilance, a strict diet, and occasionally many days of fasting. There’s no days off, no opting out, no magic pill, no clear answer on how to overcome this.

This hell has transformed him into a different person. It has ignited a passion to cure himself through a profound understanding of his digestive system and how it interacts with food. He has developed a very scientific method for his diet and has an depth of knowledge that could easily be used for a Ph.D dissertation. This augmented his passion for the environment and has lead him to a promising graduate program in ecology in Switzerland. I don’t know how he will use this experience and knowledge, but the intense challenges he faced has made him a really incredible person. His journey to overcome this digestive problem inspired a blog, documenting his experiences and challenged. This has revealed a huge community of people with the same problems, and his work has helped and inspired others.

It’s never ever easy to face tragedies, pain, fear, trauma and other challenges that life brings, but life will assuredly bring many your way. But you can take hope from these stories and know that you are not alone in your battles, lean into the discomfort of your own fight, and use it to become someone better.


A New Kind of Death

Reflections on Death

There is a taboo in western culture about death. What happens after is a big unknown, and it could happen at any time. When it comes time to “knock on heavens door” people often come to terms with death by reflect on their lives and how they made it worthwhile. For most it can be something along the lines of “I raised some good kids”,  “I helped people”, “I created something”. Almost all of them involve others, as if they see themselves living on in the echoes of their deeds.

This video shows many peoples aspirations on what they want to do before they die, you’ll notice most involve relationships in one form or another with others.

All of this points to the idea that we live on through our contribution to the “human experience”.  That all of humanity is deeply connected and we are part of something larger than ourselves. It’s kind of a nice thought, and comforting as we confront the idea that death is guaranteed.

A new kind of death

“I mean, they say you die twice. One time when you stop breathing and a second time, a bit later on, when somebody says your name for the last time.” –Banksy

I would like to critique banksy’s idea of dieing twice. I think it’s a little self centered that the second death comes from when someone says your name for the last time. It is impossible to fully fathom how are actions play a part in the grand scheme. You could inadvertently plant a literal seed that grows a tree that in a hundred years after your name fades from memory provides a fruit for someone. The possibilities are endless.

Let’s have a thought experiment: You are the last human, for dramatic effect it’s winter in the ruins of new york city, and you have a month or two to explore the city, the libraries, the music stores, the great buildings, mountains of wealth, thousands and thousands of years of culture, of knowledge, of science, of thought, of humanity, have led to you… Fate is kind or cruel enough to allow you a peaceful time to reflect on all of this before you yourself go to die, and that’s it… there’s nobody left for the great novels to inspire, there’s nobody left harness the carefully crafted formulas of science. The books become heaps of paper and ink, paintings become canvas with globs of colors, and great buildings and machines will only be heaps of metal and stone.

The second death would come when there are no more humans to contribute to the experience.

it’s gonna get a little heavy here, bear with me.

This seems a little obscure at first like something out of a bad zombie or disaster movie. But history provides a powerful context for this. Imagine now how a native American would have felt after being moved to a reservation, and their lands taken, their great stories not remembered by anyone around them. Or imagine being in a concentration camp, everyone with your culture and religion has as far as you know been rounded up into one of these camps and is being killed off. These are truly great tragedies in history. But I submit that the extinction of all of humanity would be a deeper tragedy still.

For better or worse, most religions around the world have insulated us from this idea, whether we think we’ll go to heaven, be reincarnated, or appear in some other plane of existence. We rarely see the mortality of humanity as a whole, I think it is something worth considering.

Ok, I’m bummed already… So now what?

Perhaps this the end of humanity like the end of our individual lives is inevitable, but this new death provides unique clarity and frame for our existence and how we can fit into the big picture. You have to decide if the game of keeping yourself around, and keeping humanity around for a long time is worth seeing through. Though I don’t believe that we are anything special in terms of the universe, I don’t think the universe “cares” if we are here or not. But I do like us bring here, and I am honored to be a product of thousands of years of humanity now past, and I hope I am building a better humanity for the future. It’s worth trying to make a contribution that will have a positive effect and make “the human experience” something that can be and deserves to be around for a very long time in the future. You can do that by discovering yourself, following your passion, being honest and genuine with yourself and others, make your life count, if not just for you, then everyone that has come before you and everyone that will come after. Loving yourself and loving others is the best you can do.

This is a good video of remembering what experiences shaped the world you live in today.

MADE BED from Kevin Oestenstad on Vimeo.