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Monday, September 8, 2014

My Noah Moment

Noah’s Boat                         dee ‘12
      I can readily label 2013-2014 as the worst year of my life.  And frankly, I have had some pretty bad ones. If I had a vintage wine created for each year I have been alive, the 2013-2014 varietal would have consisted of barrels and barrels of vinegar. On a personal level, I felt like my world imploded as a result of dramatic and long-term health concerns, devastating relationship issues in which I lost the friendship of my lifelong best-friend and partner, the deaths of two dear, but aged, mentors as well as my own father’s passing. To add to those Job-like tests, I faced the challenge of living alone as an independent adult for the first time in 38 years.
It has been one year since my life seemed to come unglued and I moved to Martha’s Vineyard. The Island has been a place of recovery for me.  I was told by a member of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head that parts of the Island have healing powers described by his Indian tribe as going back 500 years.  At a time when I found myself feeling seriously untethered, maybe even in free fall, I knew the Island was where I needed to be. Thankfully, by some inexplicable psychic communication, almost every day, one of my children would call, or I would have a text from a friend, or a package at the Post office.  I was reminded that I still had rope, carabineers and yes, belaying devices to slow my descent when I (occasionally) found myself slipping. The pivotal discovery was that much of what happens in our lives is outside of our control. The real power is what we do with that in our heads.
When I arrived on Martha’s Vineyard, ready to shift my residential status from part-time to full-time, I started from scratch in building a new life. New friends, new volunteer work, new hobbies and I spent a lot of time working on making my body and my mind as strong as I could with the components I had available. It was kind of a MacGyver thing; make due with what was at hand. And use a lot of duct tape. Every one of the things I did required people to help me. In the middle of my worst year ever, I found myself the most grateful ever. So many people were invested in me. My friend, Elizabeth, called me every morning from New Hampshire for nine months (except when she was in Germany on business) to make sure I was up and moving. I did not take that level of commitment and love lightly. She laughs and says, “Just paying it forward, Dawn.” Another friend sent me regular supplies of books. There were texts and calls and lots and lots of caring people who showed up unexpectedly.
       Recently, those of my friends and family who are closest to me have heard me talking (they might say babbling) about my “Noah Moment.”  I call it my “Noah Moment” because I imagine Noah’s family was probably as skeptical as mine when he randomly announced one morning that God had a task for him. As the story goes, it was on Noah’s word alone that the ark and the preservation of the animal kingdom took place.  I like to imagine  old Noah (he was said to be centuries old when he had this challenge put before him) waking up one morning and announcing that, “Oh-by-the-way, there’s going to be a flood. What’s more, it’s my job to build an ark and gather up mates for all the animals so that the animal world and humanity can continue to exist after God’s complete and utter devastation of what he built.”  
     Don’t you suppose Noah’s family and loved ones --  never mind the nosy neighbors --- might have said, “What’s up with Noah? He sure seems to be getting a God complex lately!”
      In my case, there were no cherubs and cherubims involved.  I simply woke up on August 18, 2014 with an inexplicable clarity that all that I have been through -- the physical and emotional trials that have taken me right to the edge -- were all for my enrichment and are, somehow - inexplicably - meant to temper me for my upcoming work.  My friend, Elizabeth, likes to describe me as a phoenix rising from smoking embers. In her poetic imagery, I am still strengthening my wings. On that morning of August 18th, I woke up knowing that the sense of grief, loss and mourning that has nearly engulfed me at times, has not ended. It may, in fact, never really end, but it has transformed me.  I will carry it, but it will propel me forward.
     I imagine I sound pretty much as lunatic as Noah sounded when I say that I have a deep knowing that I am being called to something greater. What’s problematic is that I have no ark in the works.  My charter is not clear.  And while I am not exactly talking about a religious calling, there is a strong spiritual element to all of this.  I have conviction that, soon, I will have a clear sense of direction. 
Omni Tower  or True North             dee ’14
When I first moved to Providence for the “Vineyard shuffle,” (whereby Islanders vacate affordable housing for the summer, and return when the prices return to, well..sort of reasonable levels) my daughter and I overlapped in Providence by two weeks.  I sublet her Providence apartment from her, and she moved on to Philadelphia.  In terms of helping orient me to downtown Providence, she had advice.  She said, “I always use the Omni Tower as my True North.  When I see the Omni, I can work out my direction from just about anywhere.” It seems to me that my “Noah Moment” comes with its own “True North” built in. Somehow, this year of introspection and reflection has offered me a keen understanding of my values and priorities.  Whatever it is that I do will be consistent with them. I don’t even need the Omni to guide me! In these early days since my “Noah Moment,” I truly feel that I have been stripped down to my essence, seen my core, looked at the “what” of who I am, and I am ready to put that to use. I find myself thinking, "If I can get through this past year, I can live through anything.” 
     The only other time in my life when I felt this absolute and utter certainty was when I knew I wanted children.  After four miscarriages, including one in the second semester, my doctors told me that I should stop trying. They felt it unlikely that I would bear children of my own and that I should consider adoption. The minute I walked out of the office, I threw away the informational brochure on the adoption process. I respect and encourage adoption as an option, but for me, I never doubted the outcome.  I was unwavering in my certainty that my husband and I would parent our own offspring. Ultimately, we were blessed with three children.
      So I am telling my friends something pretty much as preposterous as Noah’s claim. I keep repeating, “I have a calling. I am going to help many people with the skills I have as a result of the unique experiences of my life. I feel like I have walked through fire and have come through the other side, knowing I am stronger and even more grateful for my blessings. When the time is right, I will know just how that will look.  I need to stay open to the possibility that my work could show up at any time.”

     As proof that the Universe is determined to do its thing, with or without our help, there is a tangential footnote to this story.  I was telling my friend, Kate, about my “Noah Moment.” Kate has cheered me on every step of the way since I moved to Martha’s Vineyard.  “You went to the grocery store and the bank today, Dawn? Why that is fantastic.!”  Or, “You worked on your photos for four hours this afternoon? I can’t wait to see the best of them.”  She didn’t seem the least bit flummoxed by my assertion I had this new clarity and an unshakeable calling to do something over the next 25 years or so.
Instead, she said, “Dawn, you know how I listen to these inspirational Ted Talks? You have to listen to the one I heard today. I think you are going to be blown away.”
It was delivered by a game maker named Jane McGonigal.  She had a traumatic head injury and was unable to use her computer for a year. She devised a game that ultimately engaged her family and then her friends, allowing her world to grow. A surprising side effect and a quantifiable result started to occur, Jane began to feel better. In her Ted-talk-twenty-minutes of speaking at breakneck speed, I learned something particularly germane to what I call my “Noah Moment.”

As it turns out, the media tends to focus almost exclusively on Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. There is a flip side to that coin for some people. Many studies are being done to understand the whys of the phenomenon, but the deal is, some people, when they hit rock bottom, will rise up stronger, more directed, more connected, more giving and more grateful than previously. According to Jane, there are two distinct added bonuses, first, these people tend to adopt behaviors that correlate with a longer and happier life and second, they have fewer death-bed regrets. They feel they have used their lives to the fullest possible measure. I was hooked on what she was saying, I caught a reflection of my head nodding excitedly.  Yes! That’s what I was talking about. I began winding and rewinding her delivery on my iPad as Jane McGonigal described the characteristics of Post Traumatic Growth.  After profound events, severe or even life-ending illnesses, and after bone-deep traumas, a certain group of people emerge in their own way, and at their own rate with a sense that there may be a new, and conceivably, better path available to them.

The Five Characteristics of Post Traumatic Growth that show up repeatedly are:
    1.  A deeper commitment to relationships and family.
    2.  A belief that “if I lived through that, I can face anything.”
    3.  A sense that new opportunities and people will appear.
    4.  A greater appreciation for life.
    5.  A shift or deepening of spiritual awareness

The ability to experience growth is greatly affected by having a support system. Some kind of spiritual core seems to be a critical element to the growth, and finally, the ability to grieve and gradually accept loss plays a part of the conversion of trauma to growth, in the ability to move from tragedy to possibility in a healthy way. Humans, by nature, are story-tellers.  We use narratives to interpret our pasts and to invent our futures.  As I started reading up on this, I discovered that the way that survivors invent and tell the narratives about their life events was key to their ability to move past the trauma or grow from it.  Those individuals who could develop life stories that confront the pain and sorrow and then convert it into a way to cope are more likely to find a way to turn their most severe of life’s trials into an avenue of growth.  Individuals with a strong support system consisting of people willing to buoy and, sometimes, gently bully, their loved ones into taking just-one-more-step fare better than those without those connections. Interestingly enough, it is more likely that slightly more extraverted individuals will find their way to a path toward their personal True North.  There is still a large school of research being done to study this entire subject. Maybe that is how I am supposed to help?

An hour later..... 

I tried to sign up to participate in a study that is evaluating the cognitive response of individuals after trauma.  It is being run by the University of North Carolina. Unfortunately, the project was closed when I tried to enroll.

For the time being I will try to remain open to the possibilities coming my way, with my eye set on my True North. I will work on practicing the values I hold most dear to the best of my ability. I will thank the friends and family who have held my hand, brought me food, run errands, listened to me repeat myself like a broken V8 tape.  I will continue to spend a part of each of every day in meditation, connected to the Greater One. I will be ready to step forth onto the path that is right for me when that opportunity appears. Meanwhile, I will do the work I know how to do. Write essays, treasure other people’s life stories, appreciate the blessings in my life and always, remember the glory of the firmament. If I stay true to My True North, it will lead me where I am called.  Note to the Universe: I am listening.

A few references


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