Friday, December 7, 2012

The only thing one can do in the moment *


I think the world runs in infinite loops bringing us back continually to our central question.

This term, I've been speaking about Joseph Campbell's hero's journey—specifically as how it can be used to structure games for impact and how it applies to the process of actually creating them. All this comes about due to the experience of producing our UN sponsored game to address violence against women and girls:  BREAKAWAY. We've had champions along the way and I have a profound belief in the hero capability of the "twenty-something year old". I presented this as a keynote at Meaningful Play in Michigan and was asked to give it again as a guest lecturer at MIT's Game lab. Both great honors for me, incredible honors.
Campbell quote & from a church in Italy
But I've not been feeling much like a champion myself. Life has been pulling at me and sometimes, so wrapped up in the overwhelming "challenge" list,  I've forgotten why I even do what I do. I've forgotten the joy part, the love part. And I haven't been able to connect to my twenty-something heroes in the meaningful ways I'd like to.

This past Saturday looking for that why, I picked up a book by my friend Judy Rodgers and her colleague Gayatri Naraine "Something Beyond Greatness". It has been at my bedside for about 2 years but once I began, I spent all day reading it through to the end. It could be a companion reader to Joseph Campbell as it describes a journey in search of what makes individuals do the extra-ordinary. All week it floated in my head like a tune I was trying to remember the words to. 
"In the moment of action, the hero actor does not have the conscious thought of being an instrument, but feels inspired and then compelled to act in a certain way." - Dadi Janki
I was incredulous about some of the stories of individual actions: the man who jumps into the subway to protect another who fell; the 16 year old girl studying CPR who goes to the aid of a woman hit by a car; the Air Florida crash passenger who gave his life so others would be rescued; and others on larger life scales. But life does seem to be an infinite loop constantly returning to the test question. What would I do?
Self-portrait at MIT
Wednesday morning with barely a coffee consumed, I was on the Boston subway in a packed car when without a sound, a young women collapsed across from me onto another passenger and then fell to the floor. No one knew what to do and there were no medical personnel in the car. I am squeamish about medical stuff - purposely not going into nursing - but instantaneously - with barely a thought besides "there is no one else", I was on the floor beside her. Her scarf was wound around her face and I was afraid she couldn't breathe. I unwrapped it and she appeared to be having an epileptic fit. I made sure she could breathe and was safe and I held her from harm. I was calm.

 It seemed forever and the whole car of people surrounded us glued to their spots staring down at the two of us on the floor. Another young woman appeared bending in asking "Can I help you?" but I had no words or directions to give. I heard another calling 911. The car was moving but seemed so freakishly trapped in time. 

Loop. Loop. Loop.

Loop. Loop. Loop.

Loop. Loop. Loop.

Loop. Loop.

Loop. Loop.

Loop.

Then like a spring unwinding, her eyes began to stop rolling and her body un-stiffened. When the young woman came back to consciousness, she looked like a young lost child or a wandering pet caught in the middle of the road. Recalling what I had read in a passage in Judy's book, I said "Hello. I'm Ann. You're OK". 

I wish you all could have been beside us as her look turned from fear and confusion to one of security - the way a child recognizes her mother. It was incredible. One I will not forget soon. One stranger caught in a life moment with another.
Self-portrait at MIT
In the scheme of life, I didn't do much. I helped. Yet since then I've been reflecting on the how - how it happened - how I knew what to do - how accurate the book was. I think it was the sight of the scarf that called me to action. There was something I could do. I could unwind it for her. Yet I don't feel it was me who helped the young woman, it came from a bigger place, a place outside myself, a knowing and a certainty from another source. And I was the lucky one - the instrument which it passed through. It still makes me tear up in awe.

Much later in the day, after my lecture, there was another small awesome moment. Ever so appropriately, an owl took up residence for the day outside the window of the MIT coffee shop.  I got to see it with MIT's Scot Osterwell and Konstantin Mitgutsch and my daughter Tegan, reminding me of yet another post I made a long time ago at the beginning of our BREAKAWAY project.


It really was quite an unexpected journey I had to Boston.
The MIT owl
* titled from quote by Sr. Helen Prejean in "Something Beyond Greatness": 
"What is it that makes someone turn their life over to humanity? It can be a life's journey or it can happen in a second. I know from my own experience of holding a loving vision for Patrick Sonnier as he died in the electric chair, that what other people see as greatness often doesn't feel like greatness to us. It feels like the only thing we could do in that moment." 

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