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Everyday Trauma Afflicts Many

September 23rd, 2020 by dk

Many are still reeling from the tragedy upriver that befell so many of us two weeks ago. And by “reeling,” I mean turning in small circles, faster and faster. Each of us has had to make space for the sadness to measure what’s lost, but the world around us continues apace. This week I had to shut off the power to my house that is no longer there.

Sometimes our belongings, and almost always our homes, become part of our identity. When that aspect of our identity is no longer true, how do we not become a lesser version of ourselves? When I talk about — or even think about — my tiny house, or my neighbors, or the community around it, which verb tense should I use?

The present tense is mindless, but the past tense is heartless. Future perfect continuous fits best, but what help will that have been? You see the problem?  It’s not a natural state. Normal methods of coping tend to fail.

I’m still struggling to sequence things correctly. It takes effort to notice and care when things fall out of order. “Does it really matter? And if it does, why? (Or did I ask those questions out of order?)” The power company can’t shut off my power without knowing what my address will have been, if events arrange themselves generously and I rebuild.

Everyone I know was delighted to welcome the rain last week, and even the thunderstorms that brought the much-needed precipitation. But when the lightning and thunderclap coincided, I woke with a start, convinced from my slumber that the roof over my head was being struck by lightning. One of my Blue River neighbors told me the next day that she had exactly the same reaction!

Here’s my point — or what will have been my point, two minutes from now.

McKenzie River residents are experiencing a specific trauma related to the tragedies that converged into the Holiday Farm fire. It’s making us peculiar to others, but similar to one another. Our suffering soon will have passed. That’s fortunate for us. Before too long, we will have rejoined your ranks.

Now consider those who are very poor or unhoused or otherwise oppressed. Their trauma is not unlike ours — except that it’s accepted and unending. There is no future perfect continuous envisioned for them, but all the same handicaps apply.

Can they imagine a future time when they won’t be poor? Many can’t. They are poor and they will be poor — continuously, and not perfectly. They can’t fill out the forms for assistance correctly — they can’t help themselves — because they get things out of order. They aren’t lesser than us. They have burdens we don’t understand.

Trauma hijacks your sanity. If it’s for a short time, we make amends. When it’s continuous with no end in sight, it’s debilitating. Their identity is not less than yours and mine, but they have fewer attachments to ground them.

How do we care for the most vulnerable among us? That’s the one question I wish that someday we will have answered.


Don Kahle ( will have written a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at

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