An Awe-Filled Year
THIS IS THE FIRST WINTER I haven’t been sad.
Every winter, for as long as my memory permits, I have felt deep sadness. The harsh winds would beckon to an emptiness which hollowed out the bones. I would turn to drinking, smoking, and other numbing agents. Even after breaking out from the cycle of dependency, the tumult of life remained––it would weigh deeply, it would combine with an existential dread, making me void.
In those days I would simply await the passage of time. It was as if there were something about spring’s rebirth which allowed me to live again.
Importantly, at that time I would feel a diminished connection between myself and others. My home would feel further away, I would undoubtedly think about the deaths of others, rather than their current lives, and I would walk about with the complete conviction that no one understood me.
I saw myself as markedly different than others; this unnerved me.
Only recently have I been able to, for the first time, feel kinship with others. My willingness to see myself in this kinship unfolded with my transition––the barriers between myself and the other fell away.
There is a passage in Acts: "And so an awe came upon everyone."
We find messages in the most unexpected places. That awe has been potent in my own community as I have begun to create, feel, and notice. For the first time I no longer see myself on the margins. I’ve taken a decided movement towards awe, and a momentous step away from judgement.
I’ve begun to ask, "What am I carrying? What am I carrying that I don't need?"
I’ve learned to stand in awe of what I was carrying, rather than standing in judgement of how I had been carrying it.
This feeling of awe overwhelms me, sometimes bursting from the seams, verging on hypomania.
It shocks me: when I wake up next to my partner and she hasn't left out of fear. When I lean in to the mirror to touch up some eyeliner, and I don't shudder in judgment. When I walk into a patient's room and they say, "I'm glad I got you today."
Awe. It has one necessary component. It relies on the existence of the other.
I look into my closet, finally out of the closet. So many items line my racks––dresses, blouses, tops––all that once I could only dream of wearing. For the first time, I feel genuinely supported by a community. I see clothes from friends around the globe: from an Alaskan hiker in Yogaville, from a resilient friend in Guatemala, from a compassionate teacher in Mississippi, the list could go on and on. I stand stronger than ever now, looking back into the closet from the outside.
Awe can sometimes leave quickly, only to come back in the most unexpected ways.
Awe fled quickly one late night near the end of a long shift. I was tasked with a long and daunting patient admission.
When admitting any patient, it is imperative to take all perspectives into account. In beginning to paint a full and holistic picture, this time was different. This patient had participated in the events of August 12, 2017––known by Neo-Nazis as "Unite the Right"––and he wasn't on “my side." The patient had a history of violence and jail time; he was one of that day’s many organizers.
After reading through his history and physical, he came through the doors. I took a deep breath, inwardly conflicted about how he would treat a transgender nurse and about how I would stand up for myself when the time came––a thought to which I had given little attention.
As he wheeled toward me through our locked doors, I could see a large swastika on his chest and another on his right fist. The man was about six feet tall, with a shaved head and a large build.
I gulped. Completely unprepared.
He turned to me, I began my usual introduction, waiting for the barrage of insults.
They never came.
Instead, he looked at me intently and almost immediately began to discuss his own history: what brought him here and, importantly, his long history of psychological and physical trauma. Within minutes the world fell away and we had developed a strong patient-nurse connection––a reverberation throughout the Universe which proclaimed, "Now Hear This."
I was listening.
After about ten minutes a male nurse walked by. The patient looked over quickly in his direction, his posturing turned immediately defensive. He then turned back to me, saying, "I'm sorry if I act weird around men, it's just––my father abused me when I was little, I was never the same. I can talk with you, though. You're gentle, you're kind."
The man was simply, a patient, one who suffers.
Lloyd Shearer's quote from “Walter Scott's Personality Parade” comes to mind:
"...compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving, and tolerant of the weak and the wrong. Sometime in life you will have been all of these.."
This experience, and so many more throughout this year, have catapulted me into a new landscape––one in which I no longer feel separated from the other because I notice the judgement of myself and of others.
It's like melting ice cream resting on the tongue. When judgment falls away, it reveals a whole new sweetness about the world. A sense of awe.
And so this year, the first year of my transition, has become a year of awe: one of faith, one of resilience, one of joy.
I find myself awake, perhaps for the first time, in gratitude––perhaps with a similar experience to that of Nietzsche coming out of a deep sickness:
“Gratitude pours forth continually, as if the unexpected had just happened—the gratitude of a convalescent—for convalescence was unexpected…. The rejoicing of strength that is returning, of a reawakened faith in a tomorrow and the day after tomorrow, of a sudden sense and anticipation of a future, of impending adventures, of seas that are open again.”
And the year sails on.
DALLAS MICHELLE DUCAR
she, her, hers
School of Nursing
Class of 2019, Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Program
I was motivated for this piece by my experience transitioning and the amount of unknown that comes with this process. When I began to transition I was floored by how scared and uncertain I was. I did not know how to understand with certainty that I was transgender. The early months of my transition were filled with doubt, and I was forced to develop a deep faith in myself and the world around me. This faith eventually transformed into a radiant sense of awe which permeated my every experience. In short, I was on a high. My queerness gave me the language and feeling for freedom and liberation. As a writer, I respect Aldous Huxley for his broad imagination, Oliver Sacks for his romantic pragmatism, and Mary Oliver for her vivacious thirst for now.
Bible, Holy. “New American Standard Bible.” Grand Rapids: World (1995).
Scott, Walter. “Walter Scott’s Personality Parade.” Parade (1993).
Nietzsche, Friedrich. The gay science: With a Prelude in Rhymes and an Appendix of Songs. Vintage, 2010.