Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Unexpected

“Most people want to be circled by safety, not by the unexpected. The unexpected can take you out. But the unexpected can also take you over and change your life. Put a heart in your body where a stone used to be.”   ~  Ron Hall

When I'm traveling to other parts of the country and tell people that I live in Maine, I usually get the same reaction. It's one part "I'm so poor thing!", and another part "How pretty it must be there in July!". These comments generally drift into an anguished sympathy asking how I can possibly function with 'all that snow'. To the outsider, living on the coast of Maine year round seems as if we residents go into a 'bubble' from October to June. These folks imagine that we're mole people, tunneling our way underground to have an entire civilization away from the cold. No one can fathom that we lead completely normal lives. Kids go to school. Adults go to work. We go to the market, to the movies and to restaurants. We don't hibernate. In fact, for many of us, winter is pretty nice because the crowds are less and the gatherings are more intimate in the places we socialize. Yes, it snows. But, we deal with it. We have the occasional snow days (to much laughter and joyful dancing). We have to shovel. But, it's life...and frankly, we're just used to it. It's simply not a big deal. It's the expected, and it generally begins after Thanksgiving and before Christmas.

Halloween has always been our last 'outside' blast of fun. In our little town of Camden, there are a couple of streets that get all the Trick Or Treat traffic. There are police blockades set up so those little Fairy Princesses and miniature Supermen can walk safely without cars. For teens, the village green has become a 'somewhat' sanctioned location for the annual shaving cream fight. It can get a bit rowdy, but in general, Halloween in our Maine town is akin to a small version of Mardi Gras. It's all in good fun. There are always a few 'bad apples' who try to ruin it, but it's a traditional night of merriment and joviality.  The big storm that hit the northeast was a huge surprise! We've lived in Maine for twenty years and, not once during that time, did we ever have a "white Halloween". It definitely put a damper on what many people, especially young people, were planning for their holiday. Will tiny Ladybugs or petite Firefighters have to wear snowsuits over their costumes? Will the shaving cream turn into a snow ball fight? We just don't know. Jack O'Lanterns are buried all over New England right now. 

This snow storm has really struck me as incredibly metaphorical for the challenges I'm facing in my life right now. I do have a diagnosis. I do have some answers. I don't have a way to fix the broken problems with my body right now, here at home. I'm nervous about how to repair my terrified spirit. I'm constantly waiting for the 'other shoe to fall' once again. An October snowstorm sums up, quite neatly actually, the way I feel about my life. I had expected lighthearted joy and received unforeseen melancholy. 

What the "October Snowstorm" metaphor  has taught me is to find the eye of the hurricane, and to rest in that bright spot as much as possible. In between some dreadfully painful and invasive neurological tests, I was able to go out to my favorite restaurants with my mother and 'aunties'. While my husband has been looking for a new career, we've had the luxury of wonderful time spent just the two of us. The unexpected is terrible. But, it's taught me another lesson: I've learned to never get too 'comfortable' in any situation. Why? Because that comfort can easily turn into complacency. We can be so satisfied in our current circumstances that we allow contentment to override the possibility great changes. We can also become dreadfully set in our ways. "October Snowstorms" teach us to remain open to new situations, and also to learn to react effectively when massive changes hit. Most of all, the unexpected can be a drill in living in the moment and a reminder not to take our current lives for granted.

One of the pleasant parts of my recent health complications was my trip to Arizona, where I was blessed to find a doctor who could diagnose my problems. However, this exceptional woman wasn't the doctor I had flown 3000 miles to see. The expected neurologist was great...not only was he a nice man, but he was a premier doctor at the most highly rated neurological center in the country. And, he was completely stumped by my case. He felt it was "just one of those things that might go away on its own". This didn't help me with my pain level or ability to walk. The doctor who ultimately aided me was recommended by one of my mother's best friends. The doctor is an MD, a Princeton educated doctor no less, who also has studied Eastern medicine.  She a tiny office in a tiny town in Arizona. She was the first person to ask me when my ability to walk became a problem, listened to the results of all the traditional tests I'd had (which she'd assured me that she would have ordered) and then proceeded to help me using acupuncture, chiropractic work and other 'alternative' methods. Had I not flown to Arizona, I never would seen this doctor...and she wasn't the health care professional I'd expected to help me. I still have to find 'help' here in Maine, but just having the diagnosis of a compressed spine has made a huge difference.

October Snowstorms come out of the blue. We don't expect them, and we certainly don't feel, when we're in the midst of one, that we can learn anything by the blows we're dealt. And yet, these 'come out of nowhere' experiences also have blessing of pushing us out of our comfortable territory and into exploring new horizons. My mother has a great illustration for this: "Make plans, but always have your running shoes by the door."  I get that now. I appreciate that now. I live by that now. The only difference is that I make my plans, but keep my Uggs by the door. I think the same concept works.

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