Tuesday, December 18, 2007

the mystery of transformation

“Martin Buber defines a miracle as an event that instills us with a feeling of “abiding astonishment”. The experience of being lost is the shadow side of experiencing something miraculous: both are bewildering, both transformative. Over time, if we are sensitive and perceptive, we will come to view all of life with a sense not of shock but of wonder. With wisdom we will shed our doubts and fears, regardless of the challenges or hardships we must confront. We will welcome the adventure. For it is life itself, with all its ambiguity and mystery, that is the hidden miracle – overlooked, omnipresent, waiting to be discovered and explored.”
a quote from the book Lost Souls, by Niles Goldstein

There are so many events in life which take a great deal of fortitude to reach the point where we can think of them with a sense of wonder. Or maybe I'm being too narrow in my own definition of wonder and astonishment because I tend to associate these feelings with positive experiences filled with smiling joy or surprising revelation. Could astonishment and wonder be applied to the other more serious and sometimes tragic events in our lives? After all, it is life too isn't it?

When we are confronted by a tragic death or a life altering accident our lives are tossed into an abyss, a lost soul solstice where time seems to standstill and meaning is out of reach. Surprised, confused and full of questions starting with "why??" Astonishment is defined as something unexpected which produces an emotional state. We shake our heads and proclaim......

"I don't believe it......."

"Is this really true?"

"I'm so surprised that this happened."


These statements are reiterated whether the event is lottery winning amazing or life altering devastating. Both are bewildering. Both are transformative. One is a feeling of experiencing a miracle. The other is a feeling of experiencing a sense of being lost. Our grounding is altered by both.

A few years ago, I had the pleasure of a meeting a woman whose son was born with severe disabilities. His level of functioning was comparable to an infant. There were no explanations as to why this happened. It just did. Her son, who required 24 hour care, who was completely dependent on his family, especially his mother whose life changed from career person to full time caregiver right at the moment of his birth, had just turned 18.

For all of those years, the Mom rarely left his presence because his needs were unique and complicated. With no extended family in the area and for some reason no real assistance from community social services, it fell on this boy's parents to figure it out. His Dad remained the primary breadwinner. His Mom remained home. His little sister who was able bodied and full of dance steps never knew family life like her friends. As much as her parents tried to accomodate, and attempt to find the attention balance one strives for when siblings are involved, the little sister's needs sometimes had to take a backseat. Always.

When this young man was well enough, he could attend school with a full time caregiver though rarely had there been a week when he was able to attend for 5 days in a row. Hospitalizations were too numerous to count, but a few were made more memorable when this family clung onto the ledge of hope wondering if he was going to survive. As I listened to the stories, the horrors and stress of ongoing medical interventions, of never ending advocating......of sleepless nights when their son was awake for days on end, a habit which continues to this day...... I wondered how a family comes to terms with such a burden.

I've wondered this throughout my career.........

I spent two hours with this woman in her living room listening to her family's story of how the birth and life of her son impacts every component of their story. I was there to complete a social/home assessment so that I could write up their application for disability certification and consequent social assistance for her son who qualified when her turned 18.

Her son at the time was sound asleep, and not stirring at all. He had been awake for days and had just fallen asleep for the first time. This is the norm for this family. It turned out to be good timing on my part because it gave the mom freedom to spill her fatigue, her worries, and to share with me how she and her husband went from astonishment and feeling utterly lost to a sense of gratitude and calm acceptance to how their lives are unfolding.

They have had 18 years to process it all.

And yet, I wondered if by telling me her story she was still trying to convince herself that there was much to be grateful for. I mean, this woman was trapped.....that's how I perceived it. She had no freedom. The very idea of going to the hairdressers or to the YMCA for a workout was a monumental task. She has had to compromise, give up, accomodate, adjust, assimilate throughout every waking and sleeping moment of motherhood.

After she finished sharing and I finished asking questions.....she asked me if I wanted to meet her son, assuring me that he wouldn't wake up if we went into his bedroom. He was sleeping that deeply. So, we went into his darkened room and i went right over to the large crib like bed where he sleep soundly. I leaned in and held his fingers while he was relaxed in his dreams. Then, I turned my focus back to his Mom who was watching me and her son.

What I saw on her face was my answer to how someone overcomes the feeling of burden in a situation like that.

Love. Unconditional love. Untarnished, uncomplicated, unending love.

What I witnessed made my knees buckle at the intensity of the love melting on this woman's face. When she witnessed her son, she witnessed beauty in a way that felt spiritual. Never before or after have I been privy to this wonderful moment.

Now, after reading this quote, I recognize what I witnessed as astonishment transformed from a shadow of lost to welcoming the mystery of the adventure as a miracle. This woman had figured it out.

And I am a little closer to understanding.

Thank you Katie for sending me the quote.


Gypsy said...

Well I am astonished at this woman's courage, tenacity and endless capacity for love and acceptance. It makes me wonder how she and her family have managed to maintain a life with such monumental responsibilities and burdens. I am truly awestruck by this story Dana. Thankyou for sharing.

Awareness said...

Gypsy. It is a story which I have held inside me for a few years, always wanting to find the words to share it because it truly was one of those moments that send grace right through you. My knees did buckle when I took in the intensity of her love. when I got in the car after my visit, it took me a while to reorient myself knowing I had been privy to something extraordinary.
when I read the quote that Katie gave me, this family's story surge forward from my memory bank. I knew it was the link I needed to begin to the find the words.
I'm glad it left you awestruck. It means I managed to convey some of how I felt too.

Barbara (aka Layla) said...

amazing story and amazing timing for my life....thank you.

Rainbow dreams said...

The most amazing story Dana...I'm not sure how one gains that degree of wisdom or insight... I love the quote - am just not sure how to live it totally despite wanting to... how to shed doubts and fears.
Your story helps though, as do the stories in the book.

It is one book I will reread - not something I normally do - it has some fantastic thoughts in it...

Am pleased you liked it too...

Open Grove Claudia said...

People are so inspiring. It amazes me how much people can do. What a great reminder to stop wasting so much time! Thanks for sharing.

Awareness said...

layla.....I'm glad the story is revelant to you and your life stuff right now.

Katie....I was taken aback actually by all the examples and stories which floating out of my memories while reading that quote. This one.....had the most clarity.
I dont know if we really need to shed all fears and doubts because I think they have a role to play in assessing and analyzing the events and decisions we make. Without those triggers, which often come out of our intuition, we wouldn't be able to monitor things appropriately. Plus, they are key survival emotions. Though, I understand where you're coming from because if we allow fears and doubts to take precedence, we become paralyzed in making any inroads towards accepting life and all it throws at us.

Claudia. Arent they amazing! I have had the privilege of meeting some of the strongest and most amazing people through my career journeys.........dealing with adversity we can't even imagine. And yet, most of the time they have no idea how strong and focused they are....
It is amazing how human beings can adapt.

Rainbow dreams said...

Am thinking you're right Dana, I'm not sure it is about shedding all our fears and doubts - they are our safety net sometimes - as much as accepting them and acknowledging them but not letting them stop us from living the adventure to the full...

Footpad said...

Thanks for sharing this. It's timely and comforting. Thank you.

-- f