I remember the exact point at which I stopped watching the movie Schindler's List. By all accounts, the movie is a masterpiece and the story gripping, but I could not watch it. I have a vague memory, perhaps faulty, of a scene of soldiers moving through the ghetto, spreading violence and fear in their path. Desperate for her child's life, a mother tosses her baby out a window. . .to a waiting soldier who impales the infant on the point of his bayonet. Whenever I need to feel my insides curl into a tight little ball, I remember that scene.
Some time ago, I wrote about bliss moments, scenes etched in my memory because they evoke warm and cozy feelings. I hold quite a store of bliss moments. In another corner of my brain, etched just as powerfully, I have a store of anti-bliss moments, memories of times that stopped a smile dead in its tracks. This set of memories occupies a much smaller and less accessible portion of my psyche, and yet I hold on to these ragged images, feeling somehow that they, too, have something to offer me.
Oddly, outside of movies or novels, scenes of death and classic tragedy rarely figure on my anti-bliss list. Instead, my unhappy moments often tend toward the much more prosaic--flashing lights in my rear view mirror, for instance. In fact, just last week I had to dig into the bottom of my purse and smooth out a badly crumpled traffic ticket before sending it to the court clerk. I confess that I behaved rather badly when the conscientious police officer delivered the ticket, and I let loose a torrent of tears and objectionable vocabulary once he had moved on to his next victim. For days, I could not even talk about the ticket, responding in stony silence to my family's teasing.
Even now, my calm restored, I cannot quite articulate why a simple traffic stop sparked such an intense response. I think perhaps my overactive need for perfection balks at such a blatant reminder of my too human nature.
A rather prominent shelf in my anti-bliss storage closet holds memories of interpersonal conflict, not because I court contention but because those moments bother me more than almost anything else. On the simple end are moments such as the time I unwittingly cut off another driver headed for the same parking spot. Furious, the other driver flashed the international sign of contempt and yelled something rather unintelligible. In my surprise and hurt (I was 20, mind you, and rather naive) I attempted to respond in like manner, but I was shaking too badly to figure out which finger should point to the blue skies above. The incident bothered me for hours, which strikes me now as quite silly. Years later, I discovered that responding with a smile and a wave has the advantage of both disarming my opponent and reducing my own blood pressure quite handily. Beautiful discovery, that.
Less humorous and more striking are those times when discord settles on my doorstep, when misunderstandings wedge their way between me and one of those I love most dearly. When contention comes home, when I perceive a threat to bonds I hold eternal and lack the power or knowledge required to sew up the wound, those are the times I long to inflict on myself some sort of pain to distract me from hurt I cannot either understand or control. Fortunately, those moments occur rarely, and I have learned better how to cope when they do slide under the door.
Happily, I can bring forward few memories that travel beyond the mundane and almost no lingering angst from feeling offended. Whether I lead a charmed life, or whether my naivete simply leaves me blind to offenses, I couldn't say. I do find it intriguing that I seem to fear conflict, embarrassment, and loss of control above just about anything else.
I hope I never have the opportunity to feel the desperation of the Jewish mother in Schindler's List. I hope that I have taught my children to learn from their struggles and to store up blissful moments to give them strength in the darkness. And I hope that my own memory of pain will help me to grow in beautiful ways.