There’s a wonderful children’s picture book by Michael Rosen, ‘We’re Going On A Bear Hunt’, that I think has a message for us all.
We wake every morning preparing to face the stresses of the day. We take a real or metaphorical deep breath, look for the positives, remember our skills and abilities, and search for resilience. We can even understand life as an adventure.
‘We’re going on a bear hunt. We’re going to catch a big one. What a beautiful day! We’re not scared.’
We can all feel the thrill and excitement of risk. There can be an adrenaline rush that comes with sport or travel. Stepping outside our comfort zone can be exhilarating.
But then, of course, the unexpected can happen. Life throws a curve ball and we feel shaken by the challenge of unexpected adversity.
The children in the book, buoyantly setting off on a country walk, are suddenly faced with a number of ‘Uh-uh!’ obstacles that stop them in their tracks. A river, deep mud, long grass, a big dark forest means they have to make a decision as to what to do next.
If they are not to abandon the walk they realise that, ‘We can’t go over it. We can’t go under it. Oh, no. We’ve got to go through it.’
And that is true for us all too. We have to endure and find a way of surviving unexpected and overwhelming events. The ending of a relationship that breaks our heart. Redundancy and sudden financial insecurity that hits like a sledgehammer. Facing gruelling treatment after a frightening medical diagnosis. The loss of a loved one that feels unbearable.
The wonderful illustrations by Helen Oxenbury show the children looking more daunted and worn down by each obstacle. Their energy levels lower as they stumble in the thick forest and struggle through the snow storm. They draw closer and cling on as they try to help each other get through.
Then the children discover that, unlike the fantasy, the reality of an actual bear is terrifying. They race back to the sanctuary of home and leap together into the bed and under the duvet.
When we are facing a devastating situation, or the sheer number of difficult incidents has worn us down and we are peering into the abyss, we all need a sense of a safe haven. At the very time we feel we are free floating, with nothing to ground us, we need to reach out and clutch on. No one can take away the pain, but we need support until we find the resources to manage and cope.
In Jerusalem’s trauma centre, when there has been a catastrophic occurrence, they have found it is essential for the victim’s recovery that close family and friends are immediately brought to the bedside.
We will all have different ways of coping and managing the turmoil. In her book ‘H is for Hawk’ Helen Macdonald describes training a hawk when overcome with grief at the death of her father.
Sometimes it can be the counselling room which offers the safe place to begin to let out the pent up agony and find a way to breathe again.