I was interpreting for a mother the other day who had lived through quite a bit of trauma and was seeking healing and strength to carry on. Comfort comes from all directions, when we can see it. Her young child offered a simple lesson of resilience and confidence after falling off his bike and running into the house to find her. Her wonderful therapist helped her notice and appreciate his attitude, and notice how he was living up to her own long-held values of endurance and endeavoring – values he had learned from her. And seeking his happiness in a precarious world.
It was a simple city sidewalk fall, so common to kids on bikes. He lost control for a moment and landed on the rough concrete. He came into the house exhibiting scraped and bloody knees, torn elbows, incipient bruises, and some tears on his face. His fingers especially looked raw and painful, and his mother cleaned them with antiseptic spray. One knee was bleeding profusely. The rest didn’t need band aids, but would scab and heal over the coming weeks. No broken bones. Mom cleaned him up as best she could.
Mom started to tell him how to be more careful. Where to ride and how to ride. Reminded him of the things he already knew. Be careful! Keep your balance! Watch out! Look both ways! Slow down! Maybe you should stay inside! Think about…
Her son interrupted her and explained, “Mom, I know. But right now, I just wanna get out there and ride my bike. If I keep thinking about the fall, I’m not gonna to feel any better. So I wanna ride go my bike. Because it’s fun.”
Mom sent him out with a few more motherly warnings – all things she had already taught him. She was reluctant to let him out so soon. She wanted to feel like she could protect him from future pain. What if he fell again? What if he really hurt himself? So many what ifs. Endless spirals.
Just as he shut the door, he poked his smiling face around it with his helmet on, and said, “Don’t worry, Mom! I’m just gonna ride my bike! I’ll be okay!”
After recounting this in detail. the mother realized that she was getting ready to move on from her own, much deeper trauma. From recounting and reliving it. From focusing on it. From trying to parse it out, and setting up all kinds of avoidance plans to stem potential future danger and harm. Because simply staying in her shell in the futile hope of avoiding the pain of living was keeping her a prisoner of the past. She started to consider with the counselor what “riding her bike” would look like. And there were lots of ideas for ways that she could ease back into enjoying her present life.
“What might give you that sense of balance and forward movement, that sense of the wind in your hair, freedom and ease?” She had many ideas, from being out in nature, to spending time with safe friends, to getting into more social circles, and improving her work situation. Traditional recipes she wanted to cook. Handcrafts she wanted to try. Things she wanted to learn and experience. There was so much she could do with what she already had. So many opportunities. Space for peace. Room for joy.
She wasn’t in her home country, and there were many unknowns, but she had reached relative safety. And she took that in, and thought about her son seeking joy, in spite of everything. Just embracing life. When the session ended, the face of the mother had a brighter look, just as I imagine her son had looked when he announced to her in the doorway that he was going back out to ride his bike, and it would be okay. A look of faith – an anticipation of joys to come. We all fall and rise so many times. I am going to remember both of them with their brave message of hope and resilience. And consider the many ways in which I can ride my bike.