Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Transformation Tuesday - Spectacle Island and Me

No man or woman is an island but my story of transformation certainly resembles that of an island's story of transformation.

Spectacle Island's original form was two mounds connected by a sandbar thus its shape resembled a pair of spectacles. I thought Spectacle Island was named for the spectacular view of Boston and Boston Harbor that you see when you go there.

{Source for quotes taken from: New York Times Archive
Spectacle Island Journal; Stinking Heap in Boston Harbor Is Well on Its Way to Revival
Published: June 27, 1999}

An island just cannot get any more down and out than Spectacle Island did.

Think of the exact opposite of St. Tropez, or the anti-St. Lucia. Imagine a hideous, stinking, toxin-leaking dump right in the middle of Boston Harbor, which itself used to be compared to a toilet, what with sewage and all. A 100-acre hellhole just three miles out from Boston that no one was allowed to land on, and who in the world would want to, anyway?

For some in this sorry life, though, there is redemption. For people, for islands, even for whole harbors, given a great deal of work and the right historical juncture.

Eight years ago, I could not have been more down and out experiencing a crisis of mind, body and Spirit.

''There used to be 200 years of trash piled here,'' said Sheila Lynch, chairwoman of the Spectacle Island Park Advisory Committee and director of the consortium overseeing the zero-emission grant, as she trod a new road past saplings and rose bushes. ''To see it, in 12 years, go from a very bad landfill to a zero-emission park is like seeing a phoenix rising from the ashes.''

I was buried under years of the emotional toxic waste of generations of my family rife with drug and alcohol abuse and violence. I didn't know what was happening to me at the time but I knew that I had to find a healing path. I was blessed to find Spaulding Rehab's International Rehab Center for Polio. They surveyed my landscape and helped me to begin my healing journey.

Now, here is the serendipitous twist that turned Spectacle Island's tale from woe to winning: none of this could have happened without the $12 billion highway project known hereabouts as The Big Dig.

That big digging involves sinking the city's Central Artery underground, along with adding a third tunnel to Logan Airport. All that tunneling produced a lot of dirt, much of it contaminated. Without a place to put all that dirty dirt, the project could not have gone forward. Meanwhile, the dumps on Spectacle Island needed to be capped so they would stop leaking into the harbor.

To make a long story short -- a story of more than a decade of legal battles, politics, permitting, public pressure and assorted city-state-Federal struggles -- Spectacle Island ended up getting about a third of the Big Dig dirt, more than 3 million cubic yards of it. In return, the Big Dig builders were obligated to provide ''mitigation'' services, from containing the old waste to building a visitors' center, trails, beach and mussel habitat area.

All that piled and compacted dirt made the island grow about 60 feet upward to become the tallest point in the harbor.

Serendipity has greeted me at every turn of my journey of transformation from a frightened woman who did not know how to fully inhabit her body to the woman I am today. There were battles along the way as I fell into less than ideal circumstances to support me on my healing journey. Once I left that path behind me, incredible people came into my life who believe in me. Most recently, it was Alain Ferry who had a vision for me to race Spectacle Island last Sunday.

When a gaggle of officials and advocates boated over to check on Spectacle Island's progress today -- and invited the first reporter to land there since the island's transformation, they said -- they surveyed a newly terraformed world still in the making, but already easy to imagine as a park inviting enough to attract tourists as planned, in 2002.

I used visualization through writing poetry beginning in February of 2007. I imagined myself as healthy, as whole, no longer needing a leg brace and also in my mind's eye, winning a 10K race as I wrote in, 'Running the Race," the first poem I penned during that cold, dark and rather bleak winter of 2007.

Here are "our" before photos:

The fate of Spectacle Island, said Brian MacDonald of the New England Aquarium, ''is like the greatest story you can tell about recovery.''

From my memoir, "Coming Home:A Memoir of Healing, Hope and Possibility":
The buzzing hum from the fluorescent lights echoed the buzzing in my nervous system. I sat waiting for my first appointment at the post polio clinic at the IRCP. My complexion was as white as the paper that covered the exam table. I felt as fragile and vulnerable as that piece of paper that gets ripped off and tossed away after the exam. Every inch of my body hurt. I was exhausted. I was sick and tired of feeling sick and tired. I hadn’t really cared whether or not I woke up in the morning but I had a husband and twins that needed me. Ironically enough I was at the peak of my career as a VA social worker. I couldn’t sleep. I felt depressed. My award-winning career as a social worker at the Department of Veterans Affairs no longer fueled my soul. Somewhere deep inside of me there was a feeling that there had to be a way out of the hell I was living in.

Spectacle Island and I would not be banished to the trash heap. Instead, with the help of wonderful visionaries and people of passion and compassion, we experienced a wonderful journey of transformation.

Today Spectacle Island, just 15 minutes from downtown Boston, is ideal for hiking, swimming, boating, and learning. Stop in at a “green” visitor center with exhibits about the history and evolution of the island. Go swimming on a sandy beach (one of the few on the islands) supervised by trained lifeguards in the summer. Take in panoramic views of the harbor and city from the tallest hill on the Boston Harbor Islands. The marina makes it a popular destination for boaters. Spectacle Island opens upon arrival of the first ferry in May and closes on Columbus Day each year. {Source:Boston Harbor Islands}

Today I am a runner, a blogger, the author of 5 books of inspirational poetry, my memoir and am writing my 2nd book about my journey of transformation, "Journey Well."

No man is an island but Spectacle Island and me share an inspiring story of redemption and transformation!

The first 7 years of my healing odyssey are chronicled in Coming Home: A Memoir of Healing, Hope and Possibility available on Amazon. I donate 50% of royalty payments to The One Fund Boston to help survivors and their families who were affected by the tragic events of 4/15/13.

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