I believe in Awakenings. By this, I mean, I believe the universe can bop you on the head one day and tell you to wise up. My day is a quiet summer day in Maine when I am eleven years old, walking down the road from my grandparent’s house where I have watered goats then lay on the living room floor reading my grandmother’s latest edition of The Enquirer, believing it all: the gossip, unbelievable human feats, my spectacular horoscope. My head full of wondrous tales, I am walking home to muck out stalls, and then take the collie to the meadow where Black-eyed Susan, pale clover, and flaking timothy stalk would brush my ankles. The sun is bright and the sky a true summer blue. There are no cars in sight. I’m about halfway home when I suddenly stop in my tracks and there it happens: I have my “Awakening.”
Another word for it might be epiphany or worse, seizure in a literal form, halting me. In simple terms, from that moment on I was utterly and acutely aware of who I was and my place in the universe. To explain it more in depth: whereas before I lived inside a box, registering only things pertaining to absolutely me, now I was aware of the “whole wide world.” I suddenly saw my bigger role as a human: daughter, sister, granddaughter, and student. At that point I was able to see myself three-dimensionally. And because of that I was now able to “edit” myself. Whereas before I was “asleep,” now I was forever “awake” and, as much as is humanly possible, in control of who I was.
I tell no one of this moment, not because I want to keep it a secrete but because I just assume that this happens to all of us when we are eleven years old and walking down a country road.
Flash forward almost a decade and it is dusk. Fireflies in the orchard and peepers in the pond command my attention in the outside world, but inside the house my younger brother, a teenager, adopted as an infant from an Indian reservation, is in the middle of an alcoholic rage. He is throwing punches at my helpless father, breaking glass in the hallway armoire, and screaming at my mother. The police are called and they cart him away. He will be gone one night, only to return to create scenes like this over and over again until he finally crosses the line and is charged with attempted murder against my mother. But that’s in the future. On this night we gather lick our wounds, both mental and physical. We grieve our losses and speculate on Andy’s future. Because it’s so obvious to me, at some point during the evening I blurt out, “It’s because he has not had his Awakening yet.” Of course I thought I was just being helpful and the family would nod in total agreement – oh yes, he has not had his Awakening, therein lies the problem. But no, they all stare back at me. I remember it would be my mother who would ask what I mean by this. I try to explain what could not, and maybe should not, be explained using human words. After the ensuing silence I understood for the very first time that the fragile moment I had experienced on the road was mine and mine alone.
I had been touched by something I now believe to be divine, not in a religious sense, but in some sort of spiritual arena. And I sometimes wonder who I might be if that day had not come or I had not been standing on the road. Without that day, what would my tallies of huge losses and enormous gains mean to me?
I’m still unsure of how to shape this into a gift or a lesson, if that’s possible or even required. But I do know that that day changed forever who I was and who I am now: wife, mother, runner, writer, neighbor, and citizen of the world, the me who lives in a chaotic but tender universe. That day shaped all my remaining days.
Perhaps this happens to other people in various ways and degrees and perhaps, unfortunately, it’s not as gentle as mine, which was like a fairy godmother tapping me on the head with her magic wand. I can envision someone arriving at the same place via a more turbulent voyage. By this I mean I believe hardships provide the largest and most enduring lessons. Maybe for me it was not a fairy godmother after all. Maybe it was that on that particular day when I was eleven years old the time was right to bring me forth fully and wholly into the world, for I was ready.