Survivor’s guilt

We have heard uplifting stories about the human spirits, survivors at seas and in the wilderness. But the other side of the coin is survivor’s guilt. This reaction is just an extension of that loneliness as portrayed in Cast Away.

The story goes like this. Three guys survived a crash and found themselves on an island. Of course, “he ain’t heavy, he is my brother …” Then an angel appears to grant each one a wish. “I want to go home”.

The second guy gets the same wish. The third and only guy left couldn’t wait for his turn. He blurts it out “Gee, I wish my friends are still here with me”. You know what happened then. His wish to “friend” the other two canceled out their reunion at home, bringing them all back to that lonely island of three.

Survivor’s guilt.

It eats us up inside:

I woke up this past Christmas realising it was my friend’s last Christmas.

He has now passed away. But for that brief morning moment, I experienced a speck of guilt. Perhaps it will return next Christmas as well.

For ten years, between 1975-85, I lived in guilt. My dad had stayed behind in our home in Saigon while I partied on (Disco craze).

I ended up volunteering at refugee camps, longing to see my Dad‘s face among the crowd (in fact, one of the guys in my team got that wish: he was reunited with his two younger brothers right there in the Jubilee refugee camp).

That long decade saw the rise of Rambo character, who tried to relieve his guilt via rescue mission.

Relief or rescue, we were onto the same theme: guilt.

Eastern culture was more into “shame” than Western‘s “guilt”.

The aftermath of Vietnam left us paralyzed with both shame and guilt.

(Reflections of my life).

At times, while working out, I moved the damn weight away from my chest, all along with silent scream: ” I did not cause war”.

Yet the impact and influence are the same: separation, loss and bewilderment.

So, on that quiet beach walk, or a stroll through my moon alley, I picked up a stranded star fish, or a loose brick. Just do what I can, in smallest way to make life worth living. It matters to that particular star fish to be tossed back to the sea. Or the brick to the side of the road. Makes it a safer world.

A world without guilt. Survivor’s guilt.


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