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Posts Tagged ‘Hal Zinna Bennett’

The Essential Wound

This book is about having an essential wound,
and having it at the beginning of my life.” Hal Zina Bennett, author and writing instructor

Hal Zina Bennett and I have three things in common. One: We both love to write from our heart center. Two: We both had an essential wound. Three: We both had that wound from the beginning of our lives. I am striving to have a fourth thing in common with Zina Bennett: We both have published books. My writing below was intended to be the Preface of my memoir, Journey Girl, Steps in Secrets and Sanctuary, but I have restructured the beginning of my book and I am striking it, so I give it to Napkinwriter to share with you.

In his example of the student remembering how he was when he witnessed the unbelievable (at that time) happening of the Kent State National Guard’s shooting of four students on campus, who were peacefully protesting the Viet Nam War. I remember it as well. It was exceptional and unbelievable at that time, but not shocking anymore in our time now.

In his book, Write from the Heart, author Hal Zina Bennett describes giving his class a short writing assignment about having an essential wound. One student tells him he will write it but he is not sure he can read it to the class. Yet the very next day, this student is the first one to pop out of his seat for the readings.

He describes a scene of a young woman on campus holding her friend’s bloody head and limp body. She is hysterically shouting at the National Guard soldiers nearby. That exact historical and iconic scene played out on television and in newspapers across the nation, during a particularly troubled time in 1970. It was the May 4th shooting that took place on the Kent State college campus during the Vietnam War Protest era.

Barry, the writing student, had witnessed the horror, terror, confusion, and disbelief of violence thrust upon the students by military might. It resulted in four college students lying sprawled on the ground in their spot of instant death. Once the students in proximity to the shooting recovered partially from their shellshock and temporary paralysis, Barry and most of the other frantic students scrambled for pay telephone booths to call home (cell phone technology and social media were not products and methods of communication in student hands in 1970).

The phone booth lines were long and when he finally gained access, Barry called straight to his father’s office. He told the secretary to interrupt his father, who was in a meeting.
“This is important,” he insisted, in a begging tone of voice.

Barry’s father, a veteran of the Korean War, of which he never spoke, responded rapidly as he picked up the receiver. “Make it fast because I am in a crucial meeting.” The father’s staccato directive exploded upon his anxious, terrorized, and stunned son.

Then Barry’s father listened to the fast, rambling crescendo of his son’s recounting of what became known as the Kent State Massacre without saying a word or interrupting. When the son finished, he paused, letting the rest of his energy flow onto the floor of the phone booth, his legs weak and wobbly. There was only silence on the telephone line for what seemed like a long time to the dazed student.

“Dad, did you hear me?”

“Yes, I heard you,” his father replied, detached and distant. “Are you okay? You’re safe?”
His son replied he thought he was. “I haven’t been shot or anything.” And that was it. As Barry stood cramped and crouched in the restrictive phone booth, his father matter-of-factly informed him, “Good, then. I have to get back to my meeting.”

Hal Zina Bennett contends that being present to the horror of the campus shootings would be enough to last as an essential wound for any one of us. But Barry, the student writer, went on with his story about how he carried the essential wound around inside of him for many years to follow. He never felt safe anymore.

The memory of that day haunted his dreams over and over again. He was still upset for not being able to get over it. He realized many thousands of people saw these kinds of horrible things and seem to have lived with it. He blamed himself for continuing to suffer. That is why he was not sure he could read it to the class.

A usually quiet, older woman student, perhaps somewhat past the age of seventy, whom the instructor knew to be a keen listener, spoke from her desk in the back of the room, breaking a hushed silence and the palatable feeling of respect floating in the air.
“Your father dropped the ball,” she said. “That’s your essential wound and I think you know what I mean by that.”

Barry kept his eyes down and nodded slowly, tears freely flowing. Because Barry had noted on paper the history of his father being in the Korean War but never speaking about it to his own family or anyone else that he knew of, the woman went on to describe it as his father’s essential wound. It was something that his father could not face or release. She continued to say the same had happened to Barry regarding the Kent State shootings.

“But you have broken the chain today and escaped from your own history by having the courage to tell us this story.” She offered him thanks, for this story healed her as well. “You didn’t drop the ball.”

Bennett, the instructor, admitted to not knowing exactly what all went on in the classroom that day, but he remained convinced that the essential wounds we all carry are powerful within us. What had just happened in the classroom among the students was more than a lesson in writing.

This incident made Bennett think about the phenomenon of the essential wound. From his vantage point as a writing instructor, where students trusted their personal stories with him, he saw these wounds expressed in the majority of his classes. Surely, most people don’t get through life without an essential wound. The youth of his students most likely meant these types of wounds still lay ahead in life for many of them also.

This was a whole new way of looking at his students and their writing. What was there to be said for recovering from an essential wound after they gained the courage to talk about it? What were the protections offered for these wounds, which could still burst open and cause so much pain? How choices were made in whom to speak to about certain wounds, for it was a trust that could be so betrayed and produce ongoing regrets in the future life of the wounded.

Many people who begin studying their genealogy find stories, all too quickly, of “misplaced people” on their family tree; a surprising “crazy uncle” who was never talked about, perhaps even a rich heiress that disappeared from the family. All of this new news could probably be traced back in time to an essential wound that would not be talked about in generations going forward. Most of us know that sense of not quite being able, even though willing, to support another in deep emotional grief and turmoil. Past history, over which we have no control, plays a large part in our inability to “be there” for another at some time in our lives.
Bennett writes in his book, “it is our perceptions of the world, the inner vision of what we think life is about that is challenged in every essential wound.”

He says we must start trying out our perceptions, see what the wound mirrors in us, and seek out what we need to learn from the wound. Most importantly, we are to discover what we need to learn to embrace to take ourselves out of the role of victim. In other words, there is actually a blessing in these essential wounds. We need to have courage and ask for the grace to find it.

I had an essential wound at the beginning of my life also. But I didn’t have a name for what it was and I didn’t know what it was. I just knew it was there—for as long as I can remember. It was difficult, for me, to admit aloud that an essential wound of a lost and unknown mother, shrouded in mystery, lived within me.

But it wasn’t hard to recognize. William Faulkner wrote: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” And a time would come when I would begin to connect my past truthfully and freely and find the grace and gift within my wound.

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