Unpredictable Transformation

Many who come through The Carpenter’s Boat Shop will often describe it as being a bit of bubble, removed from many of the struggles and pain of “real life.”  Yet, as our apprentices often come to figure out, that while gratitude, kindness and hospitality pervade the community here, real life also happens here everyday.  Below you will find a very personal experience that happened to our apprentice Ed and his partner, Bailey, this year when she experienced a grand mal seizure. Please note that Ed’s description of what happened is graphic and may be disturbing.  Yet, it is also very real.  I have chosen to share it here because, as Ed writes, you never quite know what experiences in your life will be transformational, and we certainly cannot predict what part of an apprenticeship at the Boat Shop will bring transformation.

Thank you, Ed, for being willing to share your story.  — Kim Hoare, Executive Director

Early in the winter on a Sunday during my apprenticeship, I was ripped out of sleep in the early morning by the frantic spasms, sharp heavy shaking and helpless guttural moans of my love of 7 years, Bailey, who had been sleeping beside me last time I was awake. My body acted first, pulling my consciousness out of sleep and into action; I stared Into her violently protruding and distant eyes and tried to find meaning in her flailing gestures. I saw what appeared to me to be an image of choking, and mid-interpretation, with a heavy gasp and release I saw her gestures wash away, her stiff body relax, and her eyes descend into what for a flickering moment I thought was death. I broke down. The room swirled. I had somehow already called 911, my cat was hissing at me – something he has never done before – and in the mania of trying to put him away so that the EMTs could come in, he ripped one of the 5 stitches out of my hand I had recently received after a carving injury. The 911 operator walked me through a few moments, I established with her that Bailey was still steadily breathing. I breathed a little. All of this must have been within 3 or 4 minutes, maximum. Bailey came back after around 25 minutes to a room full of EMTs, one police officer, and myself, holding her and trying to explain.

The doctors told us that she had experienced a “grand mal” seizure, although properly speaking she wasn’t there at all; her body seized and she was somewhere deep inside, blocked in by the electrical misfiring. She is left with a blank space in her memory, a void, and the explanations of machines and doctors. In that void, which for me was so frantic, I tried to act in the best way that I could and spent the rest of the day deeply confused and balling. I’ve never been so scared and uncertain of myself. The bottom really fell out.

But I wanted to share this experience, aside from the catharsis of writing it and in the midst of a feeling of guilt for not being able to do justice to someone else’s suffering, to explain how I find myself sharing the pain and challenges of my lover in a way that I could never have even slightly anticipated when I signed on for a “transformative” boatbuilding apprenticeship. Her seizure came from nowhere, and I don’t believe it has any mystical or ultimate “reason”; for me, it is meaningless, like getting hit by lightning or like an asteroid crashing into earth. Yet it’s in that very inexplicability and the uncertainty of subsequent diagnoses that I have found some glimpses of a truth, and been able to share even a kind of joy. It comes in the form of a radical call to the present, to the simple truth that every moment is a weird gift, and the beautiful sky and the lovely ocean, the Maine coast, the trees we turn into boats, are all miracles. To find another human being to love on this planet is like a magical gift.

On the way back from the neurologist one day, Bailey and I stopped for bagels. The sky was so piercing and the ocean was glittering with sunlight and pulsing blue. We both cried and cried and cried, and felt the moment of being there in a parking lot behind a bagel store, and being together just as we were. I can’t really do a good job of describing it; it admits only sideways glances, but we were both there and we felt that we were alive. It hurts so much to learn that everything is so precarious, but without the community of care and respectful attention of the Boat Shop, I think it would have hurt a lot more. — Ed Vlcek ’17