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Lions Roar : March 2014
erences on the radio or in conversation to Hawaii as an island paradise or great escape overload me with a montage of competing emotions. This anniversary I finally resign myself to accept the depth of my post-traumatic grief: These are events that will never leave me. They lie in the murky depths of my soul to rise at the slightest provocation—the offhand remark or the taste of a sweet, ripe pineapple. As I head up LaSalle Street, the sun breaks through the gray sky. A warm glow of memories surges through me. I relive the daylight hours before the attack: the beauty of the forested campground along the cliffs that bridle the roaring waves of the Pacific, the brilliant hues of the orchid patch outside the park, the double rainbows mirrored in the glassy sapphire sea, the sweet fragrance of gardenias. It was the day before the nightmares began, the day before the decades of rehab therapies. It was the last day Philip was alive, the last day we spoke and laughed. It was the day I felt Pelé, the volcano goddess, had summoned me to Hawaii. For those twenty-four hours, Hawaii was paradise. I am reminded that in the aftermath of Pelé’s volcanic eruptions in 1983, the park must look very different today than it did in 1980. Three years after I awakened to the horror in the tent, Pelé awoke from her own slumber. She exhaled mountain- high flames that splintered into showers of ruby-orange shards against a black-velvet sky. Rivers of fiery lava roared from her vents into the cool ocean waters as giant plumes of steam billowed from her midst. Over the course of the next thirty years, Pelé surged magma that enlarged the Big Island. As she has done for centuries, Pelé transformed her rage into an array of exotic new landscapes. Her explosions added hundreds of acres to the southern shore of Kilauea that laces the outer bor- der of MacKenzie Park where Phil and I met our dark fates thirty-two years ago. For the first time post-injury, I am stunned with a real- ization: Pelé’s transformative energies have mirrored mine. Is it a coincidence that 1983 and the thirty years thereaf- ter proved to be a period of creativity and deep transfor- mation for me, as it did for Pelé? I married my husband, Shelly, in 1983 and began expanding my consciousness to live in the present. Like Pelé’s island-building, the years since 1983 were when I gave birth to our son, Lewis, and learned to transform the suffering that followed the vio- lence. I awakened to the healing power of work to help improve the lives of others with disabilities. In the distance, Pelé awakens. catches the headline of the newspaper my travel companion is perusing: “Three Killed in Shooting.” I pause and reflect upon Chicago’s growing homicide rate. I close my eyes to begin meditating. It’s a practice I turn to when assailed by news of violence that claims the lives and well-being of others. It’s a meditation I’ve cultivated based on the work of Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard and my retreats at The Insight Center, an oasis of urban tran- quility in Chicago. To awaken my compassion for other victims of violence, I start with the love I feel for Philip and reimagine the horror in the tent. Then I picture a crowd of humans worldwide who are suffering from the effects of violence, their pain and terror similar to what Phil, our families, and I felt. I extend the love and compassion I feel for Phil to the crowd of oth- ers. I visualize that the dark mass of their pain is dispelled by a vibrant rainbow radiating peace and good fortune into the lives of my fellow victims of violence. The conductor enters our car to announce, “Approach- ing downtown Chicago.” As we alight from the train, a loud metric beeping fills the air, signaling the start of the wheel- chair lift. My companion waits for me to descend on the lift, walks alongside me, hesitates, and says, “Well, I’m sure you’ve been through a lot, but it looks like you’re doing just great.” “Thanks,” I say. “I think so.” Zigzagging deftly through the crush of commuters, I con- gratulate myself for sparing my companion the agony of my story. Over the years, I have learned that people react to it badly. Horrified by the violence and shocked that it did not occur in a rough Chicago neighborhood, they often shriek in disbelief, “No—Hawaii? You’re kidding!” This reaction is so common that before revealing the full account of my injury, I find myself awkwardly defensive. I suppress the impulse to apologize for bearing news that may further shock or disillusion them. My reverie is interrupted when I hear a building guard say, “I didn’t know Harley-Davidson makes scooters.” “Neither did I,” I reply with a smile as I glide into the lobby to wait for the paratransit ride that takes me to work. Cautiously, I roll through the icy wind onto the ramp of the minivan. My chair is secured in place; the doors are closed. My driver shivers and proclaims that if she could find a cheap travel package to some place tropical such as the Bahamas or Hawaii, she would escape the deep freeze e-e-mmediately! The mention of Hawaii agitates me. It astonishes me that decades later—happily married, a mother—and just when I think enough psychotherapy and time have transpired for the trauma to vacate my system, there’s a lump in my throat that argues otherwise. It’s the size of a coconut. As we cross the Chicago River I remain silent, absorbed by the offhand mention of Hawaii. Inevitably, everyday ref- Opposite: While riding the train to work, Judy Panko Reis practices an adaptation of Thich Nhat Hanh’s smiling and walking medita- tion. That is, she practices smiling and rolling in her wheelchair. PHOTOBYJOHNHWHITE/CHICAGOSUN-TIMES SHAMBHALA SUN MARCH 2014 62