Left-Handed Miracles

Feb 14, 2014 | Updated Apr 16, 2014

Click here to watch the TEDTalk that inspired this post.

"You know, there's a philosopher who says, "As you live your life, it appears to be anarchy and chaos, and random events, non-related events, smashing into each other and causing this situation or that situation, and then, this happens, and it's overwhelming, and it just looks like what in the world is going on. And later, when you look back at it, it looks like a finely crafted novel. But at the time, it don't."
~Joe Walsh, Eagles' Guitarist

I love the idea in Phil Hansen's talk "Embrace The Shake", that sometimes the worst things that happen to us, can turn out to be the best, that gifts often come disguised as adversities and it is actually our resistance to change that impedes, blocks, our ability to create. For me, it all boils down to fear. "False Evidence Appearing Real." It is the fear of change that paralyzes us from action. Fear of failing, or worse, fear of success.

Paradoxically, embracing, surrendering, as was the case when I admitted I was an alcoholic 27 years ago, that it would actually be the key to my salvation, and the greatest gift I've ever been given, seemed pretty far fetched at the time.

The day I had my last drink, I thought I'd never laugh again, never have another good time, my life was going to be one long dental appointment. Of course that couldn't be further from the truth, in fact alcohol had robbed me of my laughter.

I realized we are so limited in our thinking and the universe is so abundant, it's our fears that block it. -- Sandi Bachom

Perhaps it is the perspective of re-reading my "finely crafted novel" of the past 70 years. "How terribly strange to be 70," Paul Simon wrote when I was 24. And now I am in my 7th decade on this planet. I've seen a lot of miracles in my day, and I have to say, many of them came gift-wrapped in an adversity. What I call, Left-Handed Miracles.

And each painful time a new part of my art was revealed to me, whether it was writing, filmmaking, or communicating. The artist can't not create. "Painters paint, writers write, actors act," an old acting teacher used to tell us.

Getting run over by a car three times in my life, being evicted and becoming homeless at 69 - all miracles, just like Hansen's "squiggly line." In most cases, they gave me a new pair of glasses, and as a filmmaker, opened a door to creation, to accessing my art. This never would have been possible before.

Closing the gap between the lesson and the gratitude is the tricky part. Getting over the "Why me's?" After all, we're all in school here. Every thing that happens to us can teach us something, and if pain is the touchstone to spiritual growth, I should be sprouting wings right about now.

Because I was evicted and on food stamps, I was able to tell the stories of Hurricane Sandy victims, or more accurately, they allowed me to tell their stories. I was not an interloper, I had a shared experience, I knew the humiliation of applying for food stamps. I even filmed my meltdown in the Social Security office. I know what it's like to have your food stamps run out two weeks before they are refilled. So that experience opened my heart and it opened my art in an elegant way that I never would have scripted.

The only thing that got me through the humiliation and trauma of being evicted was my camera. Hey, I used to be rich, I have a closet full of Prada! But if I was making a movie, it removed me from the pain of the moment. I was a fair witness. I filmed the eviction when the Marshalls came to the door, I filmed what I was going through - the shame, embarrassment and guilt. I filmed going to the storage unit and crying over my 'stuff' and I interviewed other people talking about their 'stuff' and we'd laugh at how stupid our attachment to things were. I felt like I was in a George Carlin routine. And out of this sadness came great joy and art, and art that I could not have accessed had I not pressed through the fear.

Nelson Mandela said of his 27 years in jail, "I had to go to prison to become the man I am."

When I get really low, I remember a piece I saw on a blind photographer in New Orleans who "took" the most amazing pictures. I realized we are so limited in our thinking and the universe is so abundant, it's our fears that block it.

I love asking people if they were really rich and didn't have to work (and travel doesn't count) what they would do. Most get hung up on the travel part. Hell yes, we'd all like to just travel all the time, But I want you to get to what I got to. When I set out on the streets of New York with my camera, there is that moment of doubt that all artists feel. "I can't do this. This time it won't work. I'm a fraud." And then, like learning to play the harmonica, or getting up on skates for the first time, you're flying, and the hair on the back of your neck stands on end and you lose all track of time. That's it, for me anyway. And every single time, it was a Left-Handed Miracle that brought me here.

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