Thursday, March 1, 2012

Triggers come unexpectedly; the memory flashes, but healing becomes steady

We were watching an old episode of MASH – an anti-war television series set in Korea in the 1950s – when it hit. A number of our readers know how that is. You are doing something, maybe enjoyable, and then, wham. Flashback. MASH is the only filming set in war we watch, probably because it is funny, anti-war, and my wife served on a chaplaincy team in a hospital. This episode got to her, though.

A comic lead, “Dr. Frank Burns,” is a truly obnoxious character and the butt of many practical jokes. In parallel episodes the story line dealt with instances of Post-Traumatic Stress. In this episode the prank played on Frank was to nail him in a crate when he was asleep. There was a lot of loud yelling from the crate, loud hurting silence from Annelie on the couch. Frank had triggered the screaming in the apartment house basement when, as a child, the twenty or so of them were trapped during a raid by a bomb blast jamming the exit up the stairs. The writer who authored that comic scene had no idea of how much sympathy he evoked for Frank.

It passed quickly. It was what you might call a semi-flashback. It is there, always potentially intense, but not really. She has worked those things through. For those readers for whom the flashbacks are still intense: they can be modified, the time can come when this or that torturous scene is just “there,” but no longer more than a momentary agitation. Really. I see it in Annelie; I know it first hand.

Paul did, too. He faced up to its worst as he was going to Corinth, after that deflating time in Athens; he continued to work through his chronic aching – “thorn” was his biological metaphor – so that by the time he was in a Roman prison, even though under enormous stress, his theological speculations were free to roam at will. What a relief – no, joy – to be “in Christ.”

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