I am what’s known as a “clam digger”
– a person born and raised at the New Jersey Shore in the town of Point Pleasant. While I live now in Vermont, I’m a Jersey Shore girl at heart. What most refer to as “the Shore” – a place they go “down to” – is to me simply “the beach”, part of my neighborhood.
My point is that this place is rooted within me as Home with a capital H, the place where I found my footing, learned to handle freedom, developed my identity, and discovered myself. Fifty six years later I still go there, have family and friends there, have a home there, and while Point Pleasant is much different than in my youth, it remains the backdrop for who I am.
Now that place has suffered unimaginable destruction due to Superstorm Sandy and many of the places that constitute that backdrop are gone. So many people are struggling with incalculable loss and suffering. All of which leads me to these questions that I have, and which I suspect many in Superstorm Sandy’s path may at some point have as well: “Who am I when the places that define me are gone? And how do I move forward and live fully now that I have lost these anchors of home and identity?”
The key lies in learning to let go of what is in order to make room for what else can be – a task that is much easier said than done.
Individuals seeking to thrive in their Third Age must surrender to a similar – although hopefully less dramatic – letting go as part of their own process of transformation. Such transformative change isn’t easy as it challenges us to respond creatively to our changing external environment and internal desires. Furthermore, it calls upon us to deepen and expand our sense of ourselves – to broaden our identities.
All of this letting go happens in the second phase of the four phase process or Journey of Transformation known as “Unforming”, which is the most grievous and challenging phase. Unforming is all about letting go of what is and was, in order to make space for what can and will be. It feels like a time of loss, much like autumn. Some of the loss in Unforming happens by choice, but sometimes it happens because of external circumstances. We may experience a change in professional interests or suffer the loss of a job. Our family roles and responsibilities shift. Our personal interests, motivators and success markers change. Frequently we find ourselves rethinking the elements that give shape to our lives. At the same time, we are also letting go of beliefs and assumptions about what is possible that no longer serve us. Ultimately we realize that the identity which has served us for so long is changing and may no longer sustain us.
The hallmark question of the Unforming phase, therefore, is this: “who am I when the things that have defined me for so long begin to slip away?” And as we look this question in the eye we feel unsettled, even apprehensive, because we’re losing an identity we’ve known well without necessarily knowing where we are going. Yet we recognize that we need to let it go in order for a new direction and an expanded and transformed sense of self to emerge.
So, in the face of life’s storms, how do we move through Unforming? How do we find hope when we don’t know what’s ahead? Here are a few thoughts:
- Surrender to the process and the unknown;
- Recognize that once we let go of what was, a new vision for what can be has the time and space to emerge;
- Savor and celebrate what has been and honor the place it holds for you in your life;
- Appreciate the natural cycles of life – the leaves of autumn must give way in order for the new growth of spring to ultimately emerge; and
- Realize that a little faith and trust can go a long way.
I know I will always be a Jersey girl and clam digger despite beach realignments and the loss of familiar haunts. I will savor and remember all that has defined me so far. Yet I also realize that I am much more than that one place, and so with faith and trust I will surrender to the wonderful possibilities that await me in my personal journey of transformation. And meanwhile I will keep praying for all of those dealing with personal losses and challenges due to Superstorm Sandy as they travel their individual and collective paths of transformation.