Survivor’s guilt on a different front


The year was 1992, and it was the beginning of the end.

Both of my parents, living life at an age only five years older than I am now, became entangled with the impending end. It wrapped itself around their feet, straining itself around them and the 20 million others who called Yugoslavia their home in the early 1990s.

In a series of events composed of national dissolution and instability, some people attempted to grasp a hold of peace, while others vainly pulled the rope tighter, craving control in this Bosnian War.

It doesn’t matter who was the bearer of the rope. Either way, disarray dawned upon those living within the Balkan territory, and the growth of muddled wrath caused homes, churches, and mosques to be torched in flames. It set hope ablaze and caused dreams to turn to ash.

At the age of 22, my mother—a bright, caring woman—lived in a generation that was greeted by conflict in young-adulthood. With little initial stability, she quietly watched her homeland become ravaged by the intrusions of a civil war, helplessly witnessing everything she knew fall apart into pieces that were too ruined to be mended together.

Her family was forced to leave. Her home was burned to the ground. Her hope for a future was merely buried deep in the rubble and ash left behind, unable to be distinguished from the ash of the thousands who lost their lives.

Like my mother, my father was just another faceless victim that became interlaced within the rope. With no home and a family seeking shelter on foot, both, although thousands of miles apart, struggled to escape the same entrenched mess.

Both were young, living among broken people and broken lands. Both had the little opportunity that was stolen from their bear, pure hands, only for it to return years later in another land.

Although my parents quickly came to peace with their burned dreams from 27 years ago, I cannot shake off the image of the leftover sorrow that trailed behind them with each step taken forward.

I will only ever see this careless destruction through black-and-white stories and crumpled photographs that survived, but I will never see it in a full perspective through their eyes. I have not lived in the poverty they’ve experienced. I have not felt the emptiness of watching everything around me burn to the ground.

I am safe. I know with each morning, the sun will rise. I have no doubt, no fear.

That’s why my parents left the ash and the rubble behind, though; the “American Dream” held many false hopes, but a safe land was not one of them.

However, I must confess that this gift of a life lacking any threat has created a sense of guilt. Why am I allowed dreams when my mother’s were cut short? What makes me worthy enough to almost effortlessly grasp opportunity?

The only difference between the vastly distinct life of my parents and mine resides in chance. It was merely one lifetime that separated me from the stolen life of my parents. I am my mother, just 30 years later.

It was merely one lifetime that separated me from the stolen life of my parents. I am my mother, just 30 years later.”

I barely slipped past the conflict, and this “survivor’s guilt” is unnecessarily corroding my thoughts.

Why am I safe? Why do they face broken, stunted dreams?

It’s not my fault. It’s nobody’s fault, yet it feels wickedly unfair. I’m endlessly thankful for this life I live, but I wish I could share my childhood, even for just a second, with those who gave it to me.

The other day, my father told me he wishes he could become a chef, but he laughed it off, knowing he needs to keep his colorless job to keep me and my brother’s dreams alive.

I wish I could simply hand my dreams to him; he deserves to see past the unimaginable, past the end.

He deserves to dream. Why can’t he dream?

I once overheard a conversation between my mother and an acquaintance. My mother was comparing her previous job at a shoe factory to my brother’s pursuit in the medical field; the unparalleled comparison made her laugh.

The acquaintance then briefly reminded her that she wasn’t incapable; instead, she didn’t have the opportunity.

I wish I could simply hand her my opportunity, but time refuses to allow it.

Why is time against her?

I feel as though there is a responsibility held gracelessly between my brother and I, responsibility for making the most out of the “Dreamland.”

I don’t want just my dreams to be possible, however, but my mother tells me she has everything she needs. She has her family, and that is enough.

She doesn’t want my dreams. This life is her dream.

This guilt is unnecessarily ravaging my thoughts. Maybe both of our dreams can come alive and run distinctively parallel, despite every ounce of fire thrown against us.