Captains of the journey

Peter Davison first noticed the symptoms in 2005.
His legs shook and his right hand wouldn’t stay steady enough to write his name or brush his teeth. After visits to the doctor and many tests, they diagnosed him with Parkinson’s disease. He was 45.
For a year, Davison says he had his own pity party and remained in denial about his disease.
“I didn’t tell anyone, I was embarrassed,” he says. “I can relate to that, the feeling of being a victim.”
Things turned around when he took a course on yoga laughter, which he says was designed to produce endorphins, the hormones that make people happy. Then he re-met his current wife, Andrea. They had dated 18 years before.
“As we became closer, I realized I had to tell her [about the disease],” Davison says. “She accepted me anyway. I realized all my contortions to defeat myself and not let myself be easily loved were challenged. It was a choice.”
He proposed while they were in Costa Rica. Two years earlier, before his symptoms appeared, he left a note under a floor tile at a temple in the country he visited with a friend. He said he’d return one day and propose to a woman, even though at the time he didn’t have a girlfriend. He took Andrea back to that temple and the note remained. He proposed; they married in July 2007.
They adopted a daughter, Hannah, and then had a son, Vance.
Davison wanted to write a biography about his own story of the blessing of adversity. When he started sharing his story, he learned of more stories, from friends of friends who had similar tales. Soon, he realized he had a compilation book of stories just like his.
He put aside the idea of a biography and focused on the compilation of stories, eventually publishing Gift of the Hit. There are 21 stories, including Davison’s, of life’s hits and the gifts the authors received.
Patricia Arnoldin shares her story in Gift of the Hit, too. She experienced sexualized violence from before she can remember until she was 19. In her 20s, with the guidance of her stepmother, she took feminist-based therapy and yoga. She eventually studied social work, and recently completed a thesis on the intersection of feminist-based healing and yoga for women who experience sexualized violence. Yoga and feminist-based therapy, she says, was the gift she received from her trauma. She connected with Davison via her yoga instructor, Jenny Kierstead, who also contributed a story to Gift of the Hit.
“Really, having gone through the trauma, I did land on a path and feel really good about it,” Arnoldin says. “And having the opportunity to really dig into who I am and what I mean to myself, what I mean to my family, and always growing in that respect.”
Arnoldin says it’s vulnerability as strength is another gift she’s received, and one that is a common thread in everyone’s stories in the book.
“Everybody goes through some sort of trauma,” she says. “Mine is not worse than yours, not worse than his. We all experience a lot of adversity. It’s understanding and knowing and feeling and really feeling in the pit of our belly we can get through this. I think our world is so caught up in ignoring any trauma we’ve experienced and putting on a brave face, pulling up our bootstraps. This book allows us to say, ‘Wait a minute. I can deal with this. I can cope with this. I can have a bad day and that’s okay and that’s going to let me move forward, if I feel this.’”
In his research and learning others’ stories, Davison says he doesn’t think there isn’t any hit a person can’t manage. “One of the questions we put on our Facebook page was ‘Is there any hit that couldn’t be eventually worked through?’” he says. “Some people said, ‘Maybe there are some that are too horrific.’ But I haven’t seen any yet.”
He says that has taught him about the endurance of the human spirit. It’s what he shares with the other authors in the book, and with the people who continue to share the stories of their hits.
“How we are able to bend with the wind and just preserve and look deep inside to find something,” he says. “That’s what we all have in common. We don’t have a religion, but there’s a spiritual sense that there’s something bigger than just us. There a sense that maybe there’s something bigger than on this journey and maybe are human beings we’re not designed to be left on the rocks. We are actually designed to pick up and keep on going.”
Davison is working on a second volume of stories and has 10 already. Like with his first book, they are the stories of friends of friends. Word of mouth gets around. There is a story from Germany, one from Abu Dhabi, British Columbia, Alberta. But that is just one of several volumes he’d like to publish, including a volume on leadership. “I’m always fascinated by what drives people to be leaders.” And he visualizes a movie deal, too. If I say it, it becomes reality,” he says. “I would get George Clooney to play me,” he says.
When he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s, Davison says the future looked bleak. Now, he says the future it much friendlier. “I see the blessings and the joy,” he says.
Ultimately, he wants readers to see the lesson in the page. “Life happens and then you get to choose,” he says. “We aren’t the victims of our circumstance. We are the captains of our journey. I would encourage people to dig deep enough to find that. I know it can be scary. I think the book holds a lot of hope, and people can see what happens when you walk the talk of courage.”

This story was originally published in Halifax Magazine.

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