This week our nation honored the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. I remembered an elderly woman I met at a bus stop some thirty years ago. We began to exchange pleasantries. She then introduced herself, first telling me her name and then telling me that she was a survivor of the Triangle fire. She told me the story. She cut her thumb on a piece of machinery and was sent downstairs to get bandaged. While she was gone the fire broke out. This woman had children and grandchildren. She was retired from owning her own dress shop. She had traveled the world with her husband. Still, 65 years later, she defined herself as a survivor of that fire.
I began to think about why certain events become how we define ourselves. In my case, I define myself as a person who survived growing up in a violent family. All that I have done - all the therapies I experienced , all the spiritual journeys I have gone on, the works of art and writing I have created, and even my current occupation as a provider of homeless services are and have been a response to my childhood and part of my healing journey.
In my case you will never hear me say, "It was worth it." I would cheerfully refund everything I have gained as an artist and a human being to have spared my family the horrors we experienced. It was not worth it. Still, it is so important to honor and to make use of painful legacies. Otherwise, all that pain becomes useless and meaningless. It is wasted.
So, my friends, do not waste your pain regarding yourself as unfortunate or seeking solace at the bottom of a bottle. And when you do, turn the experience into a play, a song, a poem, or a foundation for helping other troubled souls.