For the Week of December 6, 2015: Themes of Turbulence

It’s a windy day in Okinawa, hardly unusual for this island prefecture of Japan.  My daughter and her family, along with my husband, are out at a local farm picking hibiscus blossoms to make into tea and jelly, an invitation from her friend, Kazumi.  I, meanwhile, nurse an aching lower back, the result of over-doing my romps with two delightfully creative and active grandchildren.  It also means that any length of time sitting at the computer is defined by pain.  Thus, I offer you a post written over two years ago, when I was again visiting my daughter in this far away place.  At the time, I arrived just at the end of typhoon season, and the theme of turbulence, in weather and in life, was the inspiration for the post.  As I think about leaving this delightful place, the warmth and kindness of the Okinawans, I can’t help but feel a little sadness for my daughter and her family.  After five years here, they will be leaving a place they’ve loved deeply to return to the U.S., as the military demands.  The freedom, gentleness and warmth of this island is all my grandchildren have ever known, but as my daughter puts it, “they will be on a much shorter leash” as they adjust to life in the U.S.  and nightly news dominated by terrorism, violence and shootings.  Turbulence, the upset that comes with these kinds of adjustments, may also dominate the first weeks of their return.


(Previously posted October 13, 2013)

I would settle now for just one perfect day
anywhere at all, a day without
mosquitoes, or traffic, or newspapers
with their headlines.

A day without any kind of turbulence—
certainly not this kind, as the pilot tells us
to fasten our seatbelts, and even
the flight attendants look nervous.

(From:  “Three Perfect Days,” by Linda Pastan)

Over a week ago, on the first Saturday after my arrival in Okinawa, a typhoon swept across the island.  I’d felt the first vestiges of the approaching storm as I flew from Tokyo to Okinawa, a somewhat turbulent three-hour flight that kept me grasping my arm rests.  I was noticeably relieved when the plane finally touched down in Naha.   Just over a day later, I sat inside my daughter’s concrete house and watched as sheets of rain streamed down the long glass windows and bent the trees along the nearby river.  “I’m certainly glad I got here before the storm did,” I said.

We had only a short reprieve from the rain and wind before hunkering down again on Monday, preparing for the arrival of Typhoon Danas, a stronger storm which, as the day progressed, shifted direction and took aim to the north of us.   But the turbulent weather isn’t over yet.   This morning my son-in-law scanned the radar images of the Pacific and reported another typhoon due on Tuesday.  It will be another day inside, but thankfully, short-lived.  Typhoons are a regular event each autumn, just as hurricanes are along the Gulf coast, and Okinawans are well equipped for them.  But for me, who lives in a climate where changes in weather are barely discernible, the idea of flying across the vast Pacific where tropical storms are plentiful had me a little nervous.  Turbulence is not something I enjoy.

Storms, turbulence:  these are metaphors for chapters of our lives, aren’t they?  Google “storms,” “turbulence,” and “cancer,” and you’ll find more than a few blog posts, book titles and articles written by people who have experienced cancer or other serious and debilitating life events.

In an article entitled “Cancer’s Perfect Storm of Pain,” P.J. Hamel writes:

After you hear those words, “You have cancer.”

That’s when the pain begins.

The emotional pain that comes from cancer takes many forms. There’s the searing pain of imagining your children without their mother. The dull, systemic pain of figuring out how to tell those you love. And the jagged, intermittent lightning strikes: They’re going to cut off my breast. My hair is going to fall out. What if I lose my job?

(In: Health Guide, www.healthcentral.com, September, 2013)

Turbulence has been on my mind, and it’s not just about another impending typhoon.  It’s the shift from the quiet and more routine life I lead to this temporary one of navigating the challenges of caring for two pre-school grandchildren, a boy and a girl, as my daughter lies upstairs, recovering from her abdominal surgery of this past week.  Shrieks of laughter can quickly become loud wails of complaint as small storms as one decides that he or she wants the toy or book that the other has.  Both children loudly protest naptimes as I herd them upstairs to their rooms after lunch, and once they have settled down for an hour’s nap, I make a few more trips up and down the stairs to tend to my daughter’s needs before they awaken.

Turbulence.  I think of young mothers dealing with cancer or being the primary caretaker to a loved one with small children, and I’m completely humbled.  How do you navigate through the turbulence of daily life, much less the larger storm of cancer?  We all have our coping mechanisms, ways of helping ourselves ride out the storm.  For me, writing has always been important as a way to make sense of the chapters of life that up-end me from time to time.

Julie McCoy, an Irish author, commented on the process of writing her debut novel, Eye of the Storm, saying “Writing has always been this for me: peeling back the visible layer to see the much more interesting and meaningful stuff underneath. But more than that, it is a coping mechanism, a way of setting this overwhelming world straight on a page, a way of dissecting tragedy, love, life and trying to make sense of it all.”

(Posted on www.Writing.ie, the home of Irish writing online, 2013)

Coping, setting the world straight on a page, making sense of it.  It’s why writing can be such a powerful way to write yourself through the storms of life, of cancer, hardship, or loss.  This week, write about one of those turbulent chapters you’ve experienced.  What was the event?  Describe how it felt or what happened.  What helped you navigate through it all?

About Sharon A. Bray, EdD

Best known for her innovative work with cancer patients and survivors, Sharon is a writer, educator and author of two books on the benefits of expressive writing during cancer as well as personal essays, a children's book, magazine articles and the occasional poetry. She designed and initiated expressive writing programs at several major cancer centers, including Breast Cancer Connections, Stanford Cancer Center, Scripps Green Cancer Center and Moores UCSD Cancer Center. She continues to lead expressive writing groups for men and women living in the San Diego area and teach creative writing workshops and classes privately for UCLA extension Writers' Program. She previously taught professional development courses in therapeutic writing at Santa Clara University and the Pacific School of Religion, was a faculty member of the CURE Magazine Forums and at the Omega Institute in 2014. Sharon earned her doctorate from the University of Toronto and studied creative and transformative writing at Humber School for Writers, University of Washington, and Goddard College.
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