No one can tell you when it’s time to let go of your suffering, because only you understand the depth of your pain. However, letting go doesn’t mean we have to forget.
Forty people huddled outside the entrance to Yad Vashem: Jerusalem’s Holocaust museum.The group of students were participating in a ten-day trip to Israel, organized for young adults of Jewish heritage. Before entering the memorial, the guide asked each of us to explain our personal connection to the Holocaust.
My Story: the numbers tattooed on my grandmother’s arm.
I explained that my grandparents were only twelve years old at the start of the war. My grandfather was imprisoned in Auschwitz, while my grandmother was held captive in a work camp. Although they managed to escape the war alive, neither of their families survived.
When I was a child, I curiously stared at the numbers tattooed on my grandmother’s arm. I wasn’t sure what the numerals meant, but I somehow understood the dark past that hid beneath the permanent ink.
My grandfather was tormented by survivor’s guilt and PTSD, causing him to take his life before mine began. I remember eating dinner at my grandmother’s house, listening to her whisper horrible stories, her eyes welling with tears. My parents angrily shushed her, but they understood she had no control over the flashbacks.
For a long time, this was all I knew of survivors: grief and loss.
His Story: humans are capable of letting go of anything
Not everyone’s experiences mirrored my own. One student explained that several years ago he visited the site of a Poland Concentration Camp. Each tour was accompanied by a Holocaust survivor. Many people were shocked that survivors were willing to return to the place that once caused them so much suffering.
None of the students expected the old man’s incredible kindness and optimism. He answered questions with enthusiasm, handing out small candies to people on the tour
“It was the craziest thing to me, to see someone push past the pain. If he could do that, then I believe humans are capable of letting go of anything,” the student told our group.
When I returned from Israel, I asked my mom if she resented my grandfather for taking his life. She responded that although she grieved, but she was not angry. She had little explanation of his death, but she knew that he was convinced he would never escape the sadness.
Going Forward: only you understand the depth of your pain
No one can tell you when it’s time to let go of your suffering, because only you understand the depth of your pain. However, if you spend too much time consumed in your own rage, you will forget to take a step back and care for yourself.
Slowly, we allow the people that hurt us to dictate our self-worth. We start to believe that we were never good enough to be loved, hold down a job, or even save our families’ lives. Sometimes we start to believe we are not worthy of our own life.
Letting go doesn’t mean we have to forget. Those of us affected by war and loss cannot magically flip a switch, erasing all of the pain. Eventually, we need to realize that holding on to anger harms ourselves more than anyone else. We don’t deserve to let previous pain prevent future happiness.
We let go, because our tragedies shouldn’t define us. Instead, we should define our worth by the choice to overcome our suffering.