In life, we can expect to bury a parent, suffer a job loss or a failed marriage. But commentator Rawlins Gilliland ponders when something that only happens to ‘other people’ happens to us.
My heart ached listening to a friend telling me about his beloved nineteen-year-old nephew who had just died in a car crash. He said: “We won the Lotto no one wants to win. But others lose this luck of the draw every day so I can’t take it personally. Until now, my life was perfect. It isn’t perfect anymore.”
This dreadful event and that conversation were examples of when any of us cross over into what I’ve christened the “Before and After Club”, a mindset realm where humans come to recognize the difference between mundane distractions and profound experiences. Going forward, members of this club will keenly differentiate when ‘normal’ has been interrupted and when normal can never be the same.
I was initiated into the “Before and After Club” at nineteen after I witnessed a murder in North Dallas and survived being taken hostage to be the prosecution’s sole trial testimony. The aftermath perspective became two-fold; I morphed into someone who could comfortably call a friend whose child had just died when others would “not know what to say”. My newly integral empathy became instinctive. The down side became an attitude of dismissive impatience when anyone’s temporary life disruption or circumstantial disappointment is significantly dramatized as insurmountable.
It’s rather like someone who once weighed four hundred pounds hears someone whining about a twenty-pound weight gain. In other words, members of the “Before and After Club” can be your most insightful friend in a crisis while occasionally seen as insensitive, blasé. A colleague was robbed at gunpoint and my first thought was, ‘‘that happened quickly and no one was hurt”. I’ve come to realize that their prolonged trauma is an understandable reaction even if it’s alien to me.
I have always disliked the pandering contrast homily, “I cried because I had no shoes until I saw a man who had no feet” and yet it is a constant balancing act for members of a “Before and After Club” to not fall into that trap, in my case, certainly. Although I’m fortunate to consider myself an optimistic poetic romanticist, I have suffered enumerable horrors, any one of which meet the criteria to be inducted into the club. To name a couple, an arsonist burned down my first home and in this century I completely severed the fingers on one hand with a table saw. Who knows how but, in my case, these horrendous events made me less fearful than before while many members of this select club remain disturbed for life. Who can blame them?
Not long ago I spoke at an event, describing several terrifying episodes throughout my life. An audience member commented afterward, “That’s the worst thing I can imagine! If that happened to me, I would never get over it.” To which I responded: “The worst thing I can imagine happening to me is dying. And I will never get over that”.
Rawlins Gilliland is a writer from Dallas.