Over the past few days, I’ve been contemplating a memory from a very dark time, when I was nevertheless being protected in ways I couldn’t imagine.
I was suffering from critical postnatal depression, feeling helpless, despairing, and absolutely at the end of my rope. Unable to see any way out of my pain, I decided that I would take my son to his grandparents and then drive my car over an embankment. I put him in his car seat, ran back to the house for something I’d forgotten, and in slamming the back door shut in my rush, my car key caught between the door and the doorjamb – and broke.
Accident? A guardian angel? Some subconscious reflex of self-preservation? Who knows – my suicidal intention was thwarted, and there I was, grounded, with my son…shocked enough by the broken key that I was able to grasp some remnants of sanity – or grace – and get through the rest of the day, napping and playing with my baby in the garden till my husband returned.
That incident is overlapping a memory from nearly 20 years later, as I was camping with a friend in the boreal forest of Labrador, 80 km away from the closest town. We had heard a large animal stalking outside our cabin that night, and as I went to the outhouse the next morning, I came upon a pile of scat with fragments of fur and bone visible in it: the leavings of a predator.
I realized: my friend and I could have been prey that night as we sat talking under the midnight sun. We could have become the predators in pre-emptively defending ourselves when we heard the footfalls of the threatening presence. And we could have – we chose to – become witnesses, retreating to safety and watching and walking with care and intention.
If that key hadn’t broken on that long-ago afternoon, I could have fallen prey to my depression. Later on as I sought help, I became the predator, relentlessly seeking to eradicate it with medication. Later still, I chose to become the witness, watching its patterns, its triggers; discovering the needs hidden at its roots. Later still, I am able to take that accumulated knowledge and choose paths of action.
And still I face the enduring question: which role do I choose to play in response to each experience: prey, predator, witness, or conscious actor?