A New Normal: Ten Things I've Learned About Trauma


Trauma can be an isolating experience. It's only through relationship that we can be most fully healed. Lightspring/Shutterstock

I wasn’t really expecting painful things to happen to me.

I knew that pain was a part of life, but — thanks in part to a peculiar blend of “God-has-a-plan” Southern roots, a suburban “Midwestern nice” upbringing, and a higher education in New England stoicism — I managed to skate by for quite some time without having to experience it.

After a handful of traumas in the last five years, things look different now. Trauma upends everything we took for granted, including things we didn’t know we took for granted. And many of these realities I wish I’d known when I first encountered them. So, while the work of life and healing continues, here are ten things I’ve learned about trauma along the way.

Nurturing An Inner Voice

Photo: Young girl reading, AISPIX by Image Source / Shutterstock.com

Photo: Young girl reading, AISPIX by Image Source / Shutterstock.com

During my first year as a second-grade teacher, I struggled with classroom management. I am a soft-spoken person by nature and habit. I didn't have the experience to help me set up great rules and procedures for my students. My classroom was noisy and chaotic. I think you could hear us all around the school.

A well-meaning colleague stopped me one day after school and offered, "Trevor, you need to find your teacher voice. Most of the children at our school won't listen to you unless you yell at them. You need to show them who's boss."

After five years of teaching, I agree that it is important to find your teacher voice. I disagree, however, that your teacher voice needs to be mean and bossy. I found my voice. It’s nurturing and supportive and one that students can internalize for positive growth and change. 

I thought about this teacher voice when I met 7-year-old Maria. On her first day in reading intervention classroom, she made a mistake on a skill sheet. She asked for an eraser but I said, "Don't worry if you make a mistake. You don't have to erase it. Just cross it out and fix it. I'll never be angry with you if you make a mistake. I just want you to try to fix it."

Jazz Fusion — Like It Or Not

Musical notes, graph / Shutterstock.com

Musical notes, graph / Shutterstock.com

Jazz is an embodiment of creative tension; it is essentially a medium that is expressed through creativity and change. It’s also a wonderful metaphor for what my life often feels like. There is beauty that often emerges from the tensions of life’s unpredictable rhythms. I have never resonated so deeply with this idea than in the last five years since I became a parent. 

When I was pregnant with my son Javier, I read stacks and stacks of books on parenting: nurturing your child, building your child’s faith, raising a baby in the city, saving for college, and organic cooking — you name it, I read it. I conducted informal focus groups with all of my parent friends. I was prepared (I think you already know where this is going…). I was so proud of myself, I gave birth to this beautiful boy and I even graduated with (informal) honors from the nursing class at the hospital. So there I am, confidently pushing my newborn in his new stroller out of the Lenox Hill hospital, when I see the nurse smiling at me.  I naturally think she is just as smitten with this beautiful baby boy of mine. But then she stops me and with a tone superiority tells me that my baby is backwards in the stroller: “you need to turn him around.”  And it was at that moment that I realized I had no idea of what I was doing and that this creative process of raising a child was going to also going to involve a lot of not knowing, unlearning, and a surrendering of what I could not control or anticipate. 

Music and Domestic Tranquility

Hands of music teacher and student, Anna Jurkovska / Shutterstock.com

Hands of music teacher and student, Anna Jurkovska / Shutterstock.com

"We the people, in order to form a more perfect union ..."

I heard these words for the first time in a song when I was a kid. I was pouring a glass of orange juice in the kitchen when I heard it. Bugs Bunny had ended. I was waiting for Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids to begin. There was the familiar refrain of Schoolhouse Rock in between those cartoons. 

"As your body grows bigger, your mind grows flowered, it's great to learn 'cause knowledge is power!" And there it wasthe Preamble to the U.S. Constitution in song. I learned it and never forgot it.

When I became an elementary school teacher, one of my goals was to teach my students to sing the Preamble.

The Sound of Learning

Cabbage plant, Richard Griffin / Shutterstock.com

Cabbage plant, Richard Griffin / Shutterstock.com

Imani walked down the hall with a paper cup in her hands.

She stopped and held up the cup to me. Inside of its paper walls were soil, water, and seeds — all those humble and elemental things that build a third-grader's scientific knowledge.

Imani was growing cabbage.

She was my student last year. She loved science and writing. I remember the look of wonder in her eyes when we studied weather. We learned about tornadoes. In my classroom, I had two 2-liter bottles connected by a tornado tube, a plastic piece that allows you to make a tornado by swirling the water around and around in one of the bottles. Imani held the bottles in her hands and marveled as her water formed into a giant, powerful funnel cloud. 

"Wow," she whispered.

I love the sound of learning.

Imitation of Christ: Thomas a Kempis, Love and Learnin'

The manuscript of "De Imitatione Christi." Koninklijke Bibliotheek, Brussel.

The manuscript of "De Imitatione Christi." Koninklijke Bibliotheek, Brussel.

Nothing is sweeter than love, nothing stronger, nothing higher, nothing wider,
nothing more pleasant, nothing fuller or better in heaven or earth; 

for love is born of God, and can rest only in God above all created things.

And so my musings on Thomas a Kempis, for whom Jesus the Christ was Love Incarnate, begin.

Will it frame my day? Will it help me make sense of French class?