“Healing” – Reflections by Dana Aras at Episcopal Church of the Incarnation, Sunday, February 5, 2018


            What I have learned about healing, and experienced myself, is that there are three types of healing: psychological, physical and spiritual.  A teacher in my spiritual psychology class once said, “Some people are healed by grace but for the rest of us it’s a journey.”  I’d like to share with you today part of my own healing journey.

            I was born in Lithuania to a middle-class couple both of whom were depressed and unhappy with each other.  My sister, who was two years younger, said to me once, “Why did they have us if they did not know what to do with us?”   

            When I was 10 years old, World War II broke out and my homeland was occupied by the Russian army.  My closest relatives were deported to Siberia and the rest of us were living in uncertainty and fear.  About two years later, the German army showed up and my hometown became a frontline.  With the town burning, bullets flying and bombs exploding, German soldiers discovered my family hiding in our cellar and ordered us to get out.  Running, then standing against a brick building frozen in fear I felt that there was no escape.  We did eventually escape to the countryside and a few days later returned to the burned-out town.  Our house was there but it was occupied by German soldiers who allowed us to have one room in it.

            What followed a couple of years later was my family’s attempt to leave the country.  We were caught by armed German soldiers, underwent a frightening experience of being quarantined and then were taken to a labor camp where we slept in a bug-infested barrack, starved and where I was forced into hard labor with the adults.  As time passed, one day word reached us that the war was ending.  My parents, sister and I managed to escape from the camp and for a time open fields and chicken coops for spending the night became our home.  I was delegated to look for food or beg for it from the German farmers who were not generous or show any compassion.

            Eventually we ended up in a refugee camp in northern Germany, unable to return to our home in Lithuania because the great powers of Roosevelt and  Churchill  had “donated” the three small Baltic countries of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia to Stalin’s Russia.  Life in the refugee camp had its own challenges, but now we were free, young people could go to school, and Care packages from the United States helped with food and clothing.

            By this time, in my teenage mind I had come to the conclusion that I must be adopted.  Why else would a mother be so emotionally distant to her own child and why would either parent not show any personal interest in her. Regardless, it was easier for me to cope now because here I was making friends, doing well in school, being liked by my teachers, discovering my talents in acting, music and dance and really enjoying my young life.

            Two years quickly went by.  Then the Canadian government discovered a bunch of young people sitting idly in the camps and came to recruit them for labor in Canada.   After a rigorous selection process, I was accepted and signed a contract to work in Canada for a year as domestic help.  This was my ticket to freedom.  Saying goodbye to everything I had ever known, aboard a small wartime ship I began the next phase of my life.  On the rough waters of November sea I quickly began being seasick.  This lasted for the entire eleven days and by now I was so sick and weak that I became convinced I will die before reaching “the promised land.”  Thankfully I did not.

            Fast-forward now some 25 years.  I had been married for 22 of them, am now divorced and mother of four children.  The oldest one, a daughter, eloped and  got married while still in college, the next one, son, is on a psychiatric ward after attempting suicide by drug overdose and having been diagnosed with mental illness, and the two youngest daughters are five and nine years old.   I have no job, no money, am sitting at the kitchen table, aware that I’ve reached the end of my rope and that the thread of my life is about to break.  Then, something leads me to my bookcase and I pick up an old book of poetry which I had never read.  I open it and an ancient Persian poem hits my eyes:


            “When of thy mortal goods art thou bereft

              And when to thee only two loaves are left,

              Sell one, and with the dole

              Buy hyacinths to feed thy soul.”

I get up and start moving.   . . .

Fast-forward again.

            New and different experiences begin to show up for me now.  I get into therapy, start participating in Alanon and do at that time very popular est training.  This begins opening new doors for me–into myself and also other new experiences–workshops, seminars, books and tapes, and anything else that looked helpful in recovering my own health and preventing the health of my young daughters from being affected more than it already was.

Fast-forward one more time.

            I am now in California, work in administration at a prestigious aerospace company and on weekends attend a masters program in spiritual psychology at a private university, graduating two years later.  During that same time I also continue with therapy and participate in several different 12-step programs. Somewhere among all this I finally learn that since early childhood I had been suffering from major depression and PTSD.

            Just as I begin dreaming about finally becoming “good enough” and beginning to practice my new profession, I learn that my son in Ann Arbor has been diagnosed with a serious case of Hepatitis C, in addition to still struggling with a difficult-to-accurately-diagnose mental illness.  After his wife leaves him, I invite him to come and live with me, convinced that as California has been healing me it will heal him also.  But my own healing journey is still far from over and my belief system still needs a lot of straightening out.  I quit my job by taking early retirement and over the next three and a half years devote all my time and energy to saving my son’s life.  Remembering those years that were hell on earth  for each of us, I am  still amazed that I did not totally lose my own sanity.   . .  . Words of the psalmist come to mind:  “He gives power to the faint and to him who has no might he increases strength (Isaiah 40:21-31).

            My son died at Arbor Hospice in Ann Arbor and the same guidance that took me to California returned me to Ann Arbor shortly afterwards.  One of my daughters  commented once: “My mom went to California to find herself; now she’s back and is still looking.”

            Thank you so much for your attention and for your open hearts.

An afterthought:

            For a long time I questioned myself why my life had been was so filled with suffering and lack and where I had missed the mark.  Then one day, unexpectedly, I just became aware how peaceful my life had become and while living in subsidized senior housing, with not much money in my pocket, how rich and fulfilled I have been feeling.  It’s an experience difficult to describe and I’m convinced that there are enough people alive who would trade all their riches for such an experience which no money in the world can buy.

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