Labels! Don't we love them? We are very quick to apply them: Right wing. Left wing. Conservative. Fat. Thin. Pretty. Funny. Weird. Trendy. Survivor. Wealthy. Dodgy. Banker. Politician. Salesperson.
We seem to feel comfortable when we have classified someone. We know what to expect of them. They are filed away in our minds and once a label has stuck it is very hard to remove, or change.
It seems harmless enough but labelling can also make us dismissive of people. We have made our assumptions, worked out who and what they are and don't need to give it another thought. That's it. Sorted.
But we don't only apply labels to others. Many of us define ourselves and continue to live with that label. We may define ourselves according to our appearance, our beliefs, our job – or according to something that happened to us.
My community recently commemorated a hideous event 20 years ago in which one gunman killed more than 30 men, women and children, entirely at random, for absolutely no reason, on a beautiful Sunday afternoon.
Every person who was in Tasmania at the time can remember exactly where they were on that day. We were enjoying an impromptu meal with two other families at our house; half a dozen or more kids played happily in the Autumn afternoon while the men fired up the BBQ.
One of the Dads went to the shop for bread and milk. He was gone for a long time. A very long time. When he returned his face was ashen, his voice quavering: 'There's been a shooting. A guy's shot a whole lot of people! They're dead! At Port Arthur! It was on the TV news in the shop.'
More than 30 dead. Others wounded: physically, emotionally, in their spirits. The effects were felt by the families of the dead and the survivors, by their friends, their workmates and the wider community. It was an outrage: Beyond belief.
Survivors of the shooting returned to their vehicles to find bullet holes in doors or windows. Some found kids hiding under a bus. A few families had taken visitors and overseas students to see the beautiful historic place and the responsibility of caring for another parent's child was overwhelming.
There are survivors of this horror who talk about it. There are others who don't. Many have come to terms with it in their own way; 'moved on', as they say, but never, never forgetting. They can't. No-one can. The gunman's name is rarely mentioned and opinion was almost equally divided over whether to hold a 20-year commemoration or not.
We all react in very different ways to stress and horror and I doubt that anyone could know what their own reaction might be. I like to think I know what I'd do, but – honestly – I couldn't really tell. But I pray that I would not have my whole life defined by such an event.
One friend has done just this. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder can be tricky to deal with but 20 years of therapy, counselling, medication and meditation, hospitalisation have all been to no avail.
Sadly, God didn't get a look in here. The massacre has been allowed to define this friend's life, stifling enjoyment and connections with grandchildren, friends, colleagues and it is so sad to witness. I look at my friend and wonder what might have been if God had been allowed to enter and there'd been a 'letting go.' I wonder if we sometimes hold on for so long that we can't let go.
But getting back to the labels
How do we define ourselves? Who do we see in the mirror each morning as we get ready to face another day? Do we see a victim of past circumstances? A survivor of illness? Do we see someone whose identity depends on our looks, or our jobs, or our social status?
Or do we see a Child of God, awake and looking forward to another God-given day, with the past firmly behind us? We can't forget what has happened and neither should we but maybe we need to file it away in the deep drawer marked 'past experience'.
It can remain in the filing system, to be taken out only when we need a reminder of how God's grace and goodness carried us through it all.
It's good that God blesses us with the gift of just one day at a time. Some quip on social media said recently: The past is gone. The future hasn't happened. Now is the present.
Sheelagh Wegman, BA, IPEd Accredited Editor, a specialist in freelance copyediting, structural editing, proofreading, layout, ghost-writing and is production editor for the Tasmanian Anglican bi-monthly magazine. Sheelagh does a broad range of editing for self-publishing authors and works as a tour guide for cruise-ship shore excursions and a member of St David's Cathedral Chapter and Cathedral Choir, Secretary Society of Editors TAS. She has 3 adult children, 5 grandchildren and lives in South Hobart bushland with husband Kees.
Sheelagh Wegman's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/sheelagh-wegman.html