“When nothing else subsists from the past, after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered· the smell and taste of things remain poised a long time, like souls· bearing resiliently, on tiny and almost impalpable drops of their essence, the immense edifice of memory.”
~ Marcel Proust “The Remembrance of Things Past”
I read about a study that took place in the years following the events of 9/11. This study was one of the biggest and most in depth studies of how human memory works and how significant an impact such events have on the human mind. The specific study was on what is known as flashbulb memories.
“It’s as if a flashbulb goes off and you take a mental picture of your surroundings,” says psychologist William Hirst of the New York School for Social Research.
The vivid memories that are recalled in the days, weeks, months and years following the event show that these memories degrade at a slower rate than other memories – in some ways memories of trauma are “uniquely impervious to aging”. The memories may fade – but they are never forgotten.
When a person is faced with trauma, be it on a public scale or on a very private scale, it is almost as if something snaps within their soul. Survivors of any form of attack, from horrific acts of war and terror to smaller, more individual attacks that take place on the street, in nightclubs, in homes – these life-changing, tragic, traumatic events have the unique ability to completely destroy the person that existed and leave behind a broken being – a shattered soul. Their life becomes defined by Before and After: The person they were before the event, and the person they have been in the time since it happened.
But these shattered souls do not remain shattered. Time is needed to mourn, to grieve for the life that was before, and to try and slowly repair what was broken. Scars take time to heal, with a new layer of skin covering what was hurt, making it stronger. Some of the strongest people I know have been through the worst suffering, and the most beautiful changes have come through the greatest of heartache and struggle.
“Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.” – Kahlil Gibran
As the world remembers the events of September 11th 2001, there are many others remembering in a more personal way. Remembering what has brought them to the place and person they are, remembering the person they once were, remembering those initial days repairing that shattered soul, and quietly recognising the person they have become – stronger and more beautiful because of their scars.