Aina Segal’s life was scarred, like that of thousands of other refugees the world over, displaced from their homeland by circumstances out of their control, compelled to start their life afresh in a new world with strange customs and little understanding of their plight. Segal was born in Latvia in 1934. After a picture-perfect childhood as an only child in a well-to-do family, World War II shattered her life into a million pieces. They needed to be put back together slowly, her psyche set back on an even keel, through the course of her later adult life in the United States. Hence the title of the book, Battered Heart. Thankfully, a heart that can be battered can also be healed.
War, it seems, affects each individual differently. Some may appear relatively unscarred, others turn to drink. Others internalise their traumas but maintain a brave exterior. Their pain is masked by the need to survive, to work and to feed their families. A sense of guilt for having survived may start to snowball. Faith in a higher being takes on a certain role in the healing process. For others a sense of apathy and clinical depression sets in, making them unable to “snap out of it.” For some, it takes a few years to regain a life and function as normal, if there is such a state. For others it takes a lifetime of soul-searching and therapy.
Segal seems to have reached a state of contentment in her life after a lifetime of anger, guilt and blame for the bad cards that Fate has dealt: dealing with a complex relationship with her mother; surviving the war; living in a Displaced Persons’ camp; starting life afresh on a different continent with no language and a completely different set of values and customs; the tragic loss of her only child, Kim, to cancer, and a string of bad relationship choices. All contributed to Segal viewing herself as a victim of circumstances, never the one who could be the one in charge.
Life took a positive turn when Aina met Norman, who was supportive like no other person had been in her life. The love and commitment of her new partner, coupled with a conversion to Judaism, her education and later career successes, close friends and a good therapist and a realisation that her connection with her horse, Minka, is an essential for her emotional well-being—all provide the stability and healing needed.
Part of Segal’s healing has been the unfolding of her career as a psychotherapist. The soul-searching required during her studies, especially a master’s degree in psychology at Queens College where two years of personal psychoanalysis was compulsory as part of the course, all set Segal on the road to accepting herself for who she is. No doubt writing Battered Heart has also been therapy in itself.
The book clearly shows the triumph of the human spirit. Every person’s life is in a constant state of flux. The onus is then on each of us to take on the challenges that are inevitable in life. The victim will always find someone else to blame and, more often than not, circumstances, fate, God—call them what you will—are responsible for our lot in life. The circumstances may be extreme, as in Aina’s case: war, displacement, loss of loved ones. No matter what the circumstance you face the defining thing is your response. Are you a victim or are you a survivor? How do you cope with the grief of a loss of a loved one, of one’s childhood, one’s homeland? How ready are you to adapt to new situations? Every person has to find their own coping mechanism, work through their own issues, often with the help of others, but ultimately by themselves, for themselves. Only then can we say we are free of the past and ready for the future and the beauty of its uncertainty.
Sarasota, Fla.: The Peppertree Press, 2006
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