Do you avert your eyes and cover your children’s eyes when you drive past a serious road accident with fatalities?
We drove past a carnage a few days ago. Whilst the paramedics were tending to the seriously injured, the dead bodies were lying on the road, waiting to be ferried away.
“Mum, how did you begin?” my daughter asked somberly. She seldom asks me for advice, so I thought long and deep.
I rewound back the decades. The first violent death from a road traffic accident you come across is more shocking than the first dead body you encounter in the sanitised environment of a hospital. Much, much more shocking. Perhaps it is because road traffic accidents bring home the fact that for a twist of fate, it could be you or your loved ones lying there, mangled. Faces twisted, bodies contorted into unnatural angles, pools of dark blood seeping onto the road. All too real. I still remember my pounding heart and the rushing noise in my ears.
In those early months, I built a wall between my emotions and my intellect. I hid my emotions behind the wall. I detached from the reality that my intellect had to deal with. I made myself see the world in black and white for the distance. I put myself in a trance where I sent away the human part of me. I became an unfeeling machine.
The walls grew stronger and more robust with the years, until one day, I realised I no longer flinched when confronted with the most violent deaths. I could shut the tiny door within the wall effortlessly.
Years later, I worked for a wonderful man called Achmad Mediana who taught me more than how to be a good doctor. He taught me about life and being human. My Facebook post about him has a whopping 10,308 SHARES and has been read over quarter a million times.
On my first day, Achmad taught me this poem: “Dockter, tukang becha sama aje..”. The gist of this poem is that doctors are no different to trishaw pullers – just waiting for the call, that’s all. Nothing glamorous or smart about being a doctor.
I thought it was meant to teach me humility, but on the first day he sent me out, he told me to remember this poem. It dawned upon me then that my job was – like the trishaw puller’s – merely to treat my “customers” courteously and efficiently, and send them where they need to go. I should serve them to my best ability but have no hang-ups about their destinations. This realisation was one of the most profound ones in my eventful life.
It enabled me to process those feelings waiting on the other side of the wall, that I had kept away for decades: the shock of being so close to something very gruesome, the helplessness of being unable to help, the anguish on behalf of those who died so violently and the fear of death. Armed with this realisation, I began processing these long-buried feelings and making sense of them.
This is what I learned: in life, we cannot suppress the feelings we do not want. We have to learn to manage them instead, however long ago they came into being. There can be no running away too, because those old feelings are like faithful dogs waiting for us at the other side of the wall.
Thus, these are the three take-aways:
(1) Teach children to be brave and honour what they feel about something. It is OK to feel hate, anger, jealousy, because all feelings are equally valid. It is through acknowledging them that we can transform hate, anger, jealousy, etc.
(2) Teach children how to manage those feelings by giving them a safe place to discuss what they feel. I admit, these discussions are sometimes difficult and painful!
(3) Realise that the time spent with your child is the most important thing you’ll ever do – every second counts ❤
Here’s an article about a beautiful book on teaching children about their painful emotions: