Friday, January 23, 2009
Monday, January 19, 2009
But, what if you literally did not grow up? What if time passed chronologically for you…and you were expected to graduate, find work and create an adult life, while still looking like a 12 year old? This is the theme captured in Jennifer Haigh’s new book, “The Condition”, a novel about a family struggling to deal with their daughter’s “Turner’s Syndrome”, a condition that keeps her 12 year old body from growing up, but still requires her to make her way in the world. The social implications are vast. Gwen, the girl with the “condition”, must navigate the social world of academia and life on her own. What amazed me most about this story was not Gwen, and her condition, but rather Gwen’s family, and their inability to adapt. Remarkably, Gwen builds a quietly successful life for herself, while her family takes on their own struggles by their inability to be as adaptive as Gwen becomes. “The Condition” is an excellent book. Each one of the characters is unique and mutli-dimensional in their own personal struggles. I found myself wanting to sit down and talk with each of them to learn more about why Gwen, who was doing just fine in her own life, had such a profoundly negative effect on those around her. Gwen’s family has to face the fact that she will never grow taller than 4’7”, she will never have a woman’s body, never be able to have children and still face a number of health problems. While Gwen creates her own independent existence, the lives of her family remain in limbo, all stunted by Gwen’s condition. Gwen remains steadfast and interested in intellectual progression and pushing the limits of her limitations. Her family finds themselves “stuck” in the moment in time when Gwen was first diagnosed. Old habits remain, and each member retreats into the place they were, themselves, stopped from ‘growing’.
St. John of the Cross wrote, “I am not made or unmade by the situations in my life, but by my reactions to them,” in the mid 16th century. How true his words ring today! Situations are going to arise in our lives beyond our control. We will find ourselves spinning our wheels in frustration, unable to change something unfair, unjust and unwarranted. We can’t stop time from happening. We can’t roll back the calendar to those blissful days of building sandcastles. But, we can rise above those situations that occur, and offset our sense of personal equilibrium. Our family has been beset with many challenges this past month. It has felt as if we were facing one major obstacle on top of yet another one, without a respite or a solution in sight. It has seemed as if we were on a treadmill, unable to change direction or move forward. What our family has been learning has not been easy, but we are coming to a place in which we simply try to look at each moment from every possible angle. We are learning the skills of persistence, of lateral thinking and of patience in problem solving. None of these lessons are complete, nor do they help us at every moment we feel a sense of powerlessness. But, we do realize that the refrain of ‘rise above and move forward’ can be incredibly helpful during times of trial. We have also learned that forward doesn’t always mean the direction we had thought it would…sometimes we simply need to change direction. Life isn’t always fair. To the contrary, life is rarely fair. And yet, when we continue to run against a metaphorical brick wall, we are only hurting ourselves. It’s the way of finding the path around, through, over or under that wall that the answers are revealed.
In Yoga, an asana I have found to be incredibly helpful during times of powerlessness and frustration is Camel Pose. Camel is an extended back bend. While those with knee and back issues may find this asana challenging, it can be especially therapeutic during times of stress and anxiety. Camel in a pose in which you lead backwards with your heart open. Coming into the pose is also metaphorical, in that your heart leads in a direction that is unexpected and unusual. I find that even spending just 30 seconds in Camel can have a profound effect on how I feel, and how my thought processes work. By moving backwards, and into a pose that seems counter balancing, I realize that, at times, I’m able to come up with new solutions to nagging problems. At other times, I simply find myself better equipped to handle problems that don’t have immediate solutions, by keeping an open heart and mind.
Everyone goes through tough times. We all face obstacles in our paths. We are treated unfairly, unjustly and have little recourse. And yet, we can also find these to be times of growth. We may need to divert our path. We may find that life takes us in ways we would not have chosen. And yet, when we're not presented a choice, the path becomes clear: stop moving, or find a new way. New ways aren't always easy or what we expected. However, we all need to find the lessons that await us, or risk being stuck in place. And, who wants to be stuck in place, never moving forward?
The race is not always to the swift, but to those who keep on running. (in reference to Ecclesiastes 9:11-12)