SURFERS off Newport’s Cliff walk at Marine Avenue, contend with powerful waves created by a nor’easter March, 3, 2018

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The latest message posted by Suzi and Dave Van Ness on their homegrown coronavirus “billboard” speaks both to the challenges of Newport’s rugged coastline and a mindset that can overcome daunting forces like a pandemic.

It’s both optimistic and realistic:

YOU CAN’T STOP THE WAVES,

BUT YOU CAN LEARN TO SURF 

OPTIMISM – The third message posted by Suzi Van Ness in the picture window of her home at 65 Carroll Ave., Newport, is a quotation from mindfulness pioneer Jon Kabat-Zinn.
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Since early this month, Suzi Van Ness has been posting big signs in a picture window in front of the Van Ness home at 65 Carroll Ave., Newport, R.I., with the goal of raising the spirits of people going by.

This is her third message, and it went up last Friday, a quotation she attributes to Jon Kabat-Zinn, an MIT-trained scientist, who developed “mindfulness” medication programs as a means to reduce stress and promote mental and physical health.

SINCE early April, Suzi and Dave Van Ness have turned a picture window at their Newport home into a billboard showcasing messages of hope during the coronavirus epidemic.

How did she come up with the quotation?

Surfing – but not the kind Kabat-Zinn uses in his metaphor. She says that she found it while surfing the Internet, searching for inspirational themes.

 “I felt his words fit with our current situation,” she told What’s Up Newp, referring to the Covid-19 pandemic, with its twin medical and economic challenges. “We are all learning to work through this situation.”

The Van Nesses are retired teachers – Dave in math and Suzi in art, which helps explain the stylized quality of the displays.

“I have enjoyed researching quotations,” She said in an email. “Some are familiar, many not, some funny, most thoughtful.  If the author’s name is not included when I first find an interesting quote, I try and look it up to give credit to that person.”

The earlier messages were:

SHARE JOY

“WAG’ 

YOUR TAIL

WE CAN

DO THIS

With a doctorate in molecular biology from MIT, Kabat-Zinn approaches alternative medicine from a scientific perspective. He developed programs to promote mindfulness meditation, and founded what has evolved into the Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, where he is a professor emeritus.

Kabat-Zinn’s widely quoted surfing metaphor about adapting to seemingly overpowering forces  is particularly appropriate to Newport, where surfing is popular, especially during times when ocean storms generate daunting surf.

Particularly popular areas include sections off Newport’s Cliff Walk behind The Breakers mansion. Even before riding the waves, surfers, balancing their boards under one arm, make a perilous – stressful, non-surfers might say – journey down the steep, jagged cliffs to reach the water.

The coronavirus crisis may have created a new challenge for surfers, since convenient parking at access points to the Cliff Walk have been blocked in order to discourage large crowds on the popular walkway. Parking is also blocked at Easton’s Beach in Newport, and Sachuest Beach in Middletown, also popular with surfers.

But if surfers find ways to transport their boards to the ocean, they’re already experienced in another practice designed to slow the spread of virus – keeping at least six feet from one another.

Dave Van Ness, in a safe-distance conversation with What’s Up Newport over his front hedge, says that his wife plans to change their sign every Friday, and that she’s already well ahead in her project, having created two more that are awaiting display.

“This is a fun project,” Suzi Van Ness said in her email. “And I enjoy sharing what I create in my studio.”


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