Every week, I work with people who have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. I see them at their best and happiest. They are in a safe place, surrounded by compadres, working with kind horses, getting a glimpse of light on the long road ahead of them. They tell me stories about hyper-vigilance or agoraphobia or times when they have coldly considered finishing it all. They have opened my eyes and opened my mind and taught me the art of listening. I owe them a great deal.
Rarely, I see someone who is broken. Not chipped or bashed or struggling or holding on by their fingernails, but broken. I saw one such person this week. The shock is exacerbated by the fact that he used to do a job so perilous and demanding that he walked, slowly and deliberately, without flinching, towards danger.
I know what it is like to be stretched and strained. I know how it feels to have your heart smashed. I know about death and grief and watching your dreams go up in smoke. I know what it is to walk into a hospital room and see a beloved in a wracked sleep so ghostly that I believed them dead, and I know the streaming relief when they move their eyes. I know missing. I know failure. I know the ordinary sorrows of an ordinary life.
I don’t know what it is to be broken.
Maybe the Perspective Police got up this morning, and decided it was time for a raid. I’d been vaguely moaning about the weather, a longed-for trip I could not make, the damn car going wrong, a Best Beloved who is not well, hopeless time management, professional worries, bills, forty-seven things on my To Do list, responsibilities. I was a bit cross because Stanley the Dog dug some more of his tunnel under the feed shed and then ran into the house, went straight upstairs, and transferred all the good Scottish earth onto my nice white linen pillowcases.
The Perspective Police rammed down the door and shouted: ‘You think you’ve got problems.’
I walked away with humility in my every bone.
Some people crack, like Scott Fitzgerald’s old china plate. Some people stretch and tear and warp. Everybody hurts. And some people break.
I get an awful lot of things wrong. But I can hold up my head and function in the world, to a greater or lesser degree. This is fortune beyond price.
And I have this person, who is worth more than diamonds. The polar plume means that she is putting up with sleet and frigid rain and cruel winds. But then the sun comes out and she is happy again:
As I finish this, the optimist in me raises her head and sniffs the air. What breaks can mend. There must be hope. If there is care, and support, and understanding, and someone who has faith, and people who will help and won't give up. I believe in second acts. They are not easy, but they are possible. I've seen a few, and I've seen the dauntless humans who make them happen.