FN1. It’s ultimately unproductive to point out that: (a) our present and our future are difficult to predict; and that (b) nobody ever 100% understands someone else’s experience. While such statements are true, they do not build on what the human race has fabricated from the dust of necessity.
I am most grateful for how teaching made me realize I was in a role where I finally was strong enough to offer the hard-won lessons of my own recovery to students who sought help with their own trauma.
I may serve as a guide, not a promise, for the future.
In scientific inquiry and in handling trauma, I can model growing from my own failures, so my students avoid my mistakes and learn from their own pitfalls. This way, I add to the menu of options for “adulting”. Realizing I have made it into that menu usually staggers me for a couple moments, and inspires me to be better for them.
FN2. I think everyone has a subjective range of trauma they’ve experienced. Big or small, the experience is always real to the one suffering, and my students’ gratitude has remained constant, because love has no sensible scale or measure.
When we show our students a better way than we had, we heal ourselves in the process. Stephen Colbert inspires me in the way he talks about gratitude for having gone through personal trauma, and for having the experience to recognize trauma in others and to provide companionship or to share their own struggles with grief. I practice few beliefs save kindness, but I respect the way in which Mr. Colbert uses faith to clarify his framing.
The relevant excerpt of the video and transcript are below. The full interview is worth a watch, too. This marvelous and emotional segment shows two people being fully human with one another.
COLBERT: My experience is the example of my mother and from what I read and experience of my particular faith. Extremely imperfectly. There is not another timeline. This is it. And the bravest thing you can do is to accept with gratitude the world as it is. and then as Gandalf says, so are all people who are in such times.
COOPER: You told an interviewer that you have learned, to your words, “love the thing that I most wish had not happened.”
COLBERT: I don't remember that.
COOPER: You went on to say, “what punishments of God are not gifts?” do you really believe that?
COLBERT: Yes. It's a gift to exist. and with existence comes suffering. there is no escaping that. I guess I'm either a catholic or a buddhist when i say those things. I’ve heard them from both traditions. but I did not learn it, that I was grateful for the thing I most wish hadn't happened. I that I realized it. And it is an oddly guilty feeling.
COOPER: It doesn't mean you're happy about it.
COLBERT: I want it to not have happened. But if you are grateful for your life, which sit a positive thing to do, not everybody is and I'm not always. But it is the most positive thing to do. then you have to be grateful for all of it. you can't pick and choose what you're grateful for. And then, so what do you get from loss?
You get awareness of other people's loss which allows to you connection with that other person which allows you to love more deeply and to understand what it is like to be a human being if it is true that all humans suffer.
And so at a young age, I suffered something so that by the time I was in serious relationships in my life, with friends or with my wife or my children, is that I understand that everybody is suffering. and however imperfectly, acknowledge their suffering and to connect with them and to love them in a deep way.
That not only accepts that all of us suffer but also then makes it so you have suffered so you can know that about other people. It's the fullness of your humanity. You can be a bad person and the most human.
I want to be the most human i can be and that involves acknowledging and ultimately being grateful for the things that I wish didn't happen, because they gave me a gift.
COOPER: One of the things my mom would often say, “I never ask why me, like ‘why did this happen to me’.” She would always say “Why not me? Why would ‘me’ be exempt from what has befallen countless others over the centuries?” I think that's another thing that has helped me think, yeah, of course, why not me? This is part of being alive. This is the suffering is, you know, the sadness, suffering, these are all, you know, you can't have happiness without having loss and suffering.
COLBERT: And in my tradition that's the great gift of the sacrifice of Christ is that God does it, too, that you're really not alone.