To love, to love without limits, even while the conditions for hatred were clearly assembled—such was the heart of the message Ingrid Bétancourt shared during her recent visit to Quebec. Love for the members of her family, certainly, but also love for her people, whose corruption permits the FARC to thrive, love even for her jailers and for the other former hostages who have criticized, even vilified, her. She credits God with liberating her from the burden of hatred. It appears that beings like Ingrid Bétancourt possess an interior life that allows them to relegate, to the margins of their souls, those predictable psychological mechanisms which usually seem to occupy all soul-space in such situations.
It is because we are convinced of the universal character of these mechanisms that we now dispatch emergency medical-psychological teams to assist victims of misfortune. Professor Louis Crocq, creator of these emergency teams in France, offered this prognosis in Ingrid Bétancourt’s case:
“On television, she appeared energetic and smiling. This will persist until she is reunited with her family and friends. But this euphoria will disappear in several days, when she begins to resume normal activities. Nights will no doubt prove gruelling, with dreams and nightmares that take her back to the jungle. The love of family members is not enough in such situations. Ingrid Bétancourt must, with the help of a psychiatrist or psychologist, undertake serious reflection on what she was before her captivity, and on what she has now become. She must recover an authentic vision of herself as she moves forward, and free herself from the heroine’s image imposed by the media. She will not be able to forget her captivity, but she must remember it differently, in some non-traumatic way. The principal risk of trauma is, without a doubt, the absence of meaning from what she has experienced. For that, I think she will need medical-psychological care.”
Ingrid Bétancourt has not hidden the persistence of some trauma related to her ordeal; for example, an initial mistrust of those who would speak to her. She has also identified, with a smile that says a great deal about the place she accords the psychological, that this mistrust could be treated by a psychiatrist.. But from all evidence, the traumas that persist appear to be marginal phenomena. What is essential is linked to the meaning of her experience. Contrary to the psychiatrist’s theories, not only was meaning not absent, on the contrary, it flooded Ingrid’s interior space and shone through her whole being. Who was it who said, “We are not made for misfortune; we are made by misfortune”? This is the feeling evoked when one is with Ingrid Bétancourt.
If such an interior life can manifest itself in a human being, how is that we don’t see there the shape of that supreme belonging, a precious gift we must cultivate, and on which we must rely before we submit ourselves to specialists in psychological mechanisms. Emergency medical-psychological services – a recent invention – represent a professionalization of tragedy. Do we not depend on them too exclusively, even though they only touch the periphery of its after-effects? In making them a routine response, do we not remove, from those touched by tragedy, their ultimate grounds for relying instead on the gift of seeking, inside themselves, the remedy for their troubles? Are we not mechanizing ourselves by assuming that we are governed entirely by predictable biological and psychological mechanisms?
1. L’Express, July 3, 2007.