The other night I had dinner with friends. After a traditional ceremonial meal, we watched Skins. I have read about the film, heard others talk about, and planned to watch it, for a long while. The film follows a few months in the life of a tribal police officer on a fictional reservation much like Pine Ridge, and weaves together myth and contemporary experience, violence and healing. Early in the story we are reminded that although humans like to think they are in charge, the spirits shape everything.
Earlier that day I had sat in a local bakery with a couple of medicine women, discussing a Medicine Wheel ceremony we are to hold next month as part of a conference honoring aging. As we come from different traditions and teachings it seemed important to all get on the same page. It turned out we were already in agreement, so the planning went smoothly.
Later, as I thought about the film and my delightful hour at the bakery I decided PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) might well live in the North, the place of night and winter. Fortunately, the North is the home of the Ancestors and the place we seek vision; in winter there is little haze and one can see clearly for a long way. The North is often a place where the spirits seem more immediate and accessible.
As the police officer in Skins discovers, healing from PTSD takes patience and courage, and may involve the workings of mythic beings. When we seek a healing for PTSD, we can request guidance from both our unconscious and the spirit world, asking them to give us manageable amounts of information regarding our traumatic experiences, and to aid us find new, more life nurturing, meaning in those experiences. Healing PTSD may become a vision quest, very like going alone to ask the ancestors and spirits to aid us and our communities, to bring us a vision we may live by.
Of course, we are not truly alone. Whether we are challenging the domination of PTSD in our lives, or praying for a vision, there are others, human and spirit, supporting us. We are blessed by the knowledge and caring of those who walk with, and pray for, us, and we benefit from their experience and companionship. Still, they cannot make the journey for us; we must each walk the healing road for ourselves.
As we walk sun-wise around the Medicine Wheel we discover that when we stand in the North the path before us faces East. East is the place of birth and rebirth, the home of insight and understanding. It is also the place, in the view of many Indigenous cultures of the Northeastern U.S., where we pass into the spirit world. Sometimes facing long-held trauma brings us an intense fear of death; indeed, the journey from the North to the East is fraught with both danger and promise.
When we go alone to seek a vision, or begin the journey of healing from PTSD, we benefit from telling our families and friends, asking them to pray for us, help us prepare, and honor our return. For many, requesting support when healing from PTSD seems shaming; often asking for aid requires as much courage as does confronting PTSD itself. Yet healing seldom happens in a vacuum; we each need the support of others in our lives and on our healing journeys. Let us honor the courage of those who ask for our aid.
Healing PTSD, like any vision quest, is not for the faint of heart. On the journey we need courage, perseverance, and compassion for ourselves and others. It is a good journey, holding the promise of healing, renewal, and vision, for Self, family, friends, and community.
MICHAEL WATSON, M.A., Ph.D., LCMHC (Dreaming the World) ~ is a contributing editor to Into the Bardo, an essayist and a practitioner of the Shamanic arts, psychotherapist, educator and artist of Native American and European descent. He lives and works in Burlington, Vermont, where he teaches in undergraduate and graduate programs at Burlington College,. He was once Dean of Students there. Recently Michael has been teaching in India and Hong Kong. His experiences are documented on his blog. In childhood he had polio, an event that taught him much about challenge, struggle, isolation, and healing.
“Such an economy kills. How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points.?” Pope Francis, Jorge Mario Bergoglio (1936), Argentinian, 266th Pope of the Catholic Church
[This piece was started some months ago, before I wrote the poem Fortune, featured here on the Into The Bardo a few weeks ago. That poem and this piece focus on a common theme, which is, perhaps more than any other in my writing life, a constant thread of philosophical thought for me. This is that, however much we may be short on fortune, there is never cause to give up on our hopes and dreams, or more realistically, our ‘visualisation’ of what we want from this life.]
“Oh what a tangled web we weave, When first we practise to deceive!”
(Sir Walter Scott, Marmion, Canto vi. Stanza 17.
Scottish author and novelist: 1771 to 1832).
Some days are better than others . . .
The better ones allow me to indulge myself in my passions. I could have walked the dog and come back feeling refreshed, or have attended a rehearsal with the Waldershelf Singers and feel utterly uplifted, or complete a piece of prose or, better, a poem and feel a sense of release. On other days, I feel disillusioned, cynical, angry, like throttling public figures (politicians) to within an inch of telling them what a bunch of useless, self-interested, lying, cheating ne’er-do-wells they are! … which they are, almost to a man (and woman) …
Why is it that, once human beings attach themselves to an organisation, an establishment, a business, a company, a corporation, a religion, or they declare their political affiliations, somehow, they lose the ability to tell the truth, assuming their integrity would allow them to differentiate between the truth and a lie, in the first place. They become overly deferential, assume the organisation’s rules are right and, worst of all, become somewhat apathetic and are inclined to assume the ‘elders’, senior leaders of the organisation are right and therefore entitled to our undying respect.
This subjugation of self, a denial of the person that was borne into this world, through that infinitely variable process, driven at its lowest level by chemistry and physics, in turn determined by the relevant genetic ‘pool’ and nurtured by the geographic, economic, demographic, societal and political environments it is our fortune, or misfortune, to have grown up in, is undeniable. This denial of the uniquely wired ‘self’ and its particular talents and aptitudes, opinions and attitudes, and the ability to discern right from wrong, truth from the lie, and I mean the real truth, the kind that only you yourself will know deep inside, is almost guaranteed.
Does it have to be this way?
I think that I’ve come to hold this position rather late in life. Questioning authority is the stuff of rebellious youth, isn’t it? When we didn’t know any better, few had any time for the opinions of young people, anyway!
Is it so, because we are too shallow? … I don’t think so, not for everyone, anyway.
Is it because we are too lazy or unable to think for ourselves … almost certainly for some.
Is it because we have to earn a living? … inevitably a contributory factor.
Is it due to the fact that, as human beings, in spite of our incredible capacity for ingenuity, we are still very insecure; none of us are ever entirely in control of our lives and I mean NONE of us, given the uncertainties of our own health and particularly of the natural world and what Mother Earth herself can throw at us! We therefore have to enwrap ourselves with a protective external blanket, woven by someone else’s dreams or designs, at one extreme by the premeditated manipulation of tyrannical leadership or, at another, simply by the desire to ensure the annual bonus, a generous pension, public honours, a knighthood … or simply the reassurance of knowing from where our next meal will come?
Is it because we are all limited in our capacity to take on too much information, store all the factors affecting any number of problems that face us each day; wrapped up in life’s complexity that sometimes threatens to overwhelm us, wouldn’t we prefer to take an easier option and permit others to make decisions for us, which acts as a perverse kind of freedom? Herein lies a major truth. But it’s not easy for managers and leaders either.
Contrary to the impression we might receive from those in stations so elevated, it may act as some comfort to those who aren’t to know that the higher up the ladder of success we go, in whatever field of human endeavour, the more insecure we get. Why, you ask? It is because we have our limits, all of us, and some of us are more limited than others; that is our birthright, given the variable abilities, with which we are endowed, the tactics and strategies we have learned and been taught to cope; it is the way we are wired. The higher up the ladder of success all this leads us, the stronger becomes our inclination, consciously and unconsciously, to hang on to whatever we’ve got; the more inclined we become to develop further selfish strategies to aid this survival process. That’s what it is to be human, well, at least to be an animal. Being human does, nevertheless, endow us with an extra ability: high intellect and, with it, a great responsibility and, yet, this tendency, this seemingly irresistible force, does inevitably lead to greed.
So what happens!
We get our heads down and graft, manoeuvre, wheel and deal, whatever it takes to gain influence, fame, attention, success, with whatever vanity or hope or need that has the greatest hold on our hearts, minds … and stomachs.
At some future moment in time, we then find ourselves, well, what’s the best word to describe it … trapped, yes trapped by our ambitions, needs, material greed, more than by hopes and dreams.
I should say something about dreams. Before you think I’m about to crush them, I’m not. As one who writes poetry and pieces of prose like this, I find dreams are just as important as the ambitions of a professional footballer I know, who learned, early on in his journey through that precarious profession, that visualising your goals (figuratively as well as literally in his case), that is imagining yourself scoring the goal, over and over again, is a truly powerful and effective way of motivating yourself to feel better about your abilities and potential. This is, for me, an unexpected way in which to feed the creative imagination; such is the process that leads to the products of human ingenuity as well as understanding and success. But, a word of warning about dreams! They can also be manipulative! They can be induced and ‘used’ by others to manipulate control over lives – take advertising, particularly on the television, as one example! We need to learn how to distinguish good from bad dreams, your own from other people’s dreams, just as we should be able to tell the difference between good and evil.
Now, I’m not necessarily talking about conspiracy theories here, about demons and evil people, who sit in back rooms and scheme to overthrow regimes or gain control of whole populations. No, I’m talking, for the moment at least, about the demons inside our heads; the ones that lead us to the point of paranoia, the fear of not being ‘successful’, wearing the right ‘fashion’, living in the right district, driving the right car, appearing in all the right ‘places’, doing what’s apparently ‘right’ in society … tricky concept this, but I’ll try to explain my thinking.
If you were to ask a child of five or six to tell you their dreams of how to make the world a better place, wouldn’t they give you magical answers, which involve the charm of fairy tale characters and imaginative, not to say unusual (and, sadly, unlikely) conclusions to their stories?
If you were to pose that same question to a child in their mid ‘teens, wouldn’t their answer be tainted with a little more realism, perhaps even a touch of hopeless, hormonal cynicism, whilst still retaining some of that childhood naiveté, a lack of what we grown-ups would call wisdom?
If you were to ask a grown up poet or a philosopher, I think their answer would come out in one of several subtle ways, but one thing is for sure, any poet, with integrity, that I know, would try to address all of the issues that confront us head on, in an honest way. This is perhaps because they rarely make a living from their writings and, therefore have no vested (financial) interest in it, other than for the integrity of their material and perhaps for a bit of recognition!
Even Poets …
Yes, even poets and philosophers have to live and pay their ‘rent’. So, somewhere along the path of life, we have to align ourselves with an organisation or two, toe the line and obey the rules. We most certainly should obey the law and, if we don’t agree with it, don’t break it, lobby to change it! There is nothing wrong with toeing the line, provided there is a fair share of integrity within the organisation; provided that we don’t lose sight of our own personal integrity, justice, beliefs, values and, above all else, what we know, deep down inside, makes each of us unique individuals, our identity.
For those, who are born with a genetic code that, given the right environment, encouragement and education, predestines them to a life of leadership and possibly even greatness, let us not forget that for those of us, who remain, whilst we may not have had the good fortune of the same faculties and opportunities, we do nevertheless represent the vast majority of the population of the world. So, if we do still have a vote in what can reasonably be described as a democracy, then we must use it or lose it! If we have the ability to write, we should do it! We must make our mark upon the paper, make our feelings, our values and beliefs known. Whilst we still have the freedom to do so, we have the ability to depose those in power who do conspire to deceive us, who have been corrupted by their privilege and who would continue to weald the power they have from such privilege for self interest. Otherwise we get what we deserve. If that happens to be a comfortable life that we’ve achieved by subordinating our own integrity, it is our choice, but, from where I am now in my life, I know that I would sooner follow and trust someone who refused to allow themselves to be trapped by the material rewards of compromising complicity, than one who, in the fullness of time, would be racked with regret, that they didn’t follow their conscience and their dream of a better life … a better world.
It would be wrong of me, however, to leave you with my totally cynical outlook, without mentioning that, thank God, there are some remarkable people in this world, who, at and on all sorts of levels, do remarkable work on behalf of their fellow human beings. Whether they be local community charity workers and volunteers, international aid workers or the likes of the inspired Mother Teresa of Calcutta’s Missionaries of Charity foundation, they are all driven, by some degree of selflessness, to improve the lot of the less fortunate and I have nothing but admiration for them.
If there is a moral to my tale, this long and rambling piece of prose, it is that I believe life can become much less complex, when we stop trying to satisfy someone else, when we discover the very best in ourselves. However unfair, unjust or unreasonably difficult life seems to be sometimes, we should never allow ourselves to give in to the pessimism that results from a state of despair at the world, to roll over on our backs with our legs in the air! We must never believe that someone else, whether it be a single person or a large faceless organisation, either has control over us or is beyond control by the voting, lobbying, plural us. For writers and poets in particular, as long as we can breath and weald a pen, we can do something, however small, and collectively we are able to make a difference, even if we don’t feel we can hop on the next flight to Africa, we musn’t allow ourselves to believe that we can’t still bring something to the table from our own unique armoury of intellectual skills. We can, above all, in our own way, be winners. It takes courage to step out of the crowd, but courage comes in many colours, one of which is being true to your innermost convictions. Fortune really can favour the bold.
[If you don’t already read it, you could do worse than by starting to read poetry now. Good poetry should open the eyes that are shut, elevate the spirit that is depressed and enrich the soul that is impoverished. Good poetry is the highest form of literature, which should tell us the way it is and feed us with deep insights that we would otherwise not experience; and I mean insights and creative thought that will enable change, not only in your own life, but also others.]
JOHN ANSTIE (My Poetry Library and 42) ~ is a British poet and writer, a contributing editor here at Bardo, and multi-talented gentleman self-described as a “Family man, Grandfather, Occasional Musician, Amateur photographer and Film-maker, Apple-MAC user, Implementation Manager, Engineer and general all-round good egg.” This he tells us with tongue firmly planted in cheek. Add grace and humor to the list.
John participates in d’Verse Poet’s Pub and is a player in New World Creative Union. He’s been blogging since 2011. John is also an active member of The Poetry Society (UK). He says of his work, “Much of my writing and my poetry focuses on the future and the important part that our children, and the way we treat them, play in this. It also spans a diversity of life’s experiences, some moving war poetry and particularly observations of life for a modern generation.
Also a member of Grass Roots Poetry Group John steered their anthology, Petrichor* Rising, into publication. It is now in print and available for purchase. “Petrichor Rising takes you on a journey that exposes you to the full spectrum of emotions, from barely concealed despair to hope, from love to sorrow, with a clear appreciation of nature’s value and humanity’s shortcomings. It rides a roller-coaster that moves you to consider many of life’s challenges from a different perspective, as all good poetry should. It is at once haunting, yet shocking, with aching nostalgia alongside enchanting stories of dragons. It gives you optimism and hope tinged with shadows of doubt. It writes about places never seen and humanity’s uncaring nature, in prosodic social commentaries and observations of the minutest details of life, mood, atmosphere and romance. It contains clever writing that brings you close to the edge of society, still capable of moving you, but not pulling any punches. It has poetry with a universal appeal covering subjects as varied as the loss of a cat or a harrowing account of the 7/7 London bombings, poetry that focuses on the roots of all that makes us respond to life and long for something better.”
* Petrichor – from the Greek pɛtrɨkər, the scent of rain on the dry earth.
Walking is a spiritual practice that I am predisposed to. After all, photography would not happen unless I walked around! Simply putting one foot in front of the other, time after time, without expectation of arrival at an end point is a contemplative practice. Recently, though, I discovered a new way of viewing walking as a contemplative practice. This practice had an end point and I was completely aware of all the w’s – who, what, when, where, why. I was not letting go and receiving images (well a little). I was literally focused on my feet and putting my feet, one step at a time, on stable ground.
And this is a metaphor. Sometimes, sitting at our desk or listening to our loved ones, can be a practice of just being aware of what is now and putting your best effort towards arriving at the next now. One step at a time.
As you continue reading, consider the questions, “In what area of my life can I start (or continue) putting one foot in front of the other? What new story will be created?”
Here is my story.
Monday, I went hiking to Bridal Veil Falls / Lake Serene in the Central Cascade mountains of Washington. It was a spectacular day. (The weather is forecast to be fabulous all week-long in Seattle leading me to believe somebody is playing with our emotions.) I felt confident I could do the +7 mile hike. BUT I forgot to look at the way the path is (smooth vs. rocky) and the grade or “up-ness.”
I started out on the popular path and asked a co-hiker what to expect and she told me it was steep but that it was worth it. And that there were a lot of switchbacks. OK. I can do this! I will just take my time and be careful.
In February of this year, I was going through a diagnosis of Celiac disease. Now most folks just think that this is digestive only. Well, it is not. It causes inflammation in every part of my body. It grew tumors in my ovaries. I had a period for 3 weeks. I was severely anemic. The test didn’t say, “Low,” it said “Alert!” I could not walk up a short hill without being severely out of breath because I had very few mature red blood cells to carry oxygen around. In short, it stank.
And, over the last few years I have had surgery on my left ankle (torn tendon) and my right foot (two! neuromas crowding out my middle toes). I couldn’t walk without pain until, oh, last year after the neuroma surgery. Generally, I count every pain-free step a success. Would my feet hold out? Always a question. And with the ankle surgery, I generally look for nice, solid, flat ground so my ankle will not roll.
Rats! This path is not smooth. Very rocky. Wet sometimes. Muddy sometimes. But mostly rock, rock, rock. Keep my eyes down and make sure my feet land on flat spots! That’s the plan.
Anyway, I started up the path at my own pace. I got a little less than two miles in and found the below sight. I tried really hard to capture this thing that was happening with the sun and the water! It looked like liquid sunshine was pouring off the top of the waterfall. My eyes received the beautiful image of sunshine being poured down the mountain, could my camera receive it? A little.
At any rate, it was astounding. And it was the second set of falls I had seen. This mountain is one big slab of granite! (Hence the rocky path) And there is water everywhere. Well, okay, not everywhere, but in a lot of places. It was hard to get a good picture, but earlier, there was a set of falls that were very tall and jagged. But the trees were very overgrown so you could only get glimpses of the splash of light and water. This is the very bottom of that series. I received beautiful images of flowing water.
I got past the falls and it was two miles to Lake Serene. I was feeling good so decided my body could do this! I kept on going. And going. Up and up. Picking my way carefully through rocks. Resting when I felt overwhelmed. Then there came a moment when I thought that I was not going to be able to do it. I grounded my feet to the earth and drew on the strength of my God and the strength of the earth. I breathed deeply. This had become a spiritual quest.
I kept on going. But at that moment, I felt like giving up. I soon encountered a woman and her dog. They were resting. (Yay for rest!). I asked her how much further. She said, “When you feel like you have been through the worst possible climb, then it is just a bit more up and a little down and you’re there.”
OK. The worst possible climb. I can surely get to this.
I went up and encountered massive rocky path, with only about a 9″ clearance to skinny through. Surely, this is the worst possible spot.
I kept going and encountered another massive rocky path, with water and slipperiness. Surely, this is the worst possible spot.
Add water and repeat.
Finally, I broke through the shadows of the forest into a sunny meadowy type area (is it a meadow if it is on the side of a mountain?). I looked up and my breath left my body. It. Was. Amazing. I received the most beautiful blues intermingled with a dark granite mountain and white fluffy clouds rising like steam. I remember the story of Moses going up the mountain to be with his God and going into the cloud. This is a place to connect with spiritual strength. I felt strengthened, encouraged, excited, and alive. A complete contrast to how I felt when I was in the shadows.
I was now in the sun, with this incredible sight, having passed through at least 5 stretches of the worst climb ever. And I saw another worst climb ever in front of me. But my spirits were jubilant. I was in the light and had left the darkness. Amen!
I kept on going. There was one more seriously worst climb ahead and then I was there. Lake Serene.
In fact, this lake feeds into the waterfalls pictured earlier. I had climbed all the way around to the other side. Here is what the top of the waterfall looks like from this same point, just facing the other way.
I clambered through the snow a bit and sat at the closest point I could get to the top of the waterfall. Ate lunch. Relaxed a moment.
Time to head back down. Surely, down would be easier! It always is. Mostly.
On the way down, I kept my head down looking to keep my feet planted so my ankle will not turn. I almost made it. Darn it. One misstep and a turned ankle. Choice – fall in a way to minimize injury or try to get that wobbly ankle to hold me up. Quick decision – my ankle will not withstand the effort to stay firmly up. Fall it is! Sheesh. I hate rocky, downhill, paths. Now, cuts and bruises, scratches and blood. I would hate to see what I looked like.
I crossed back in front of the amazing waterfall that poured sunshine and the woman I had met earlier was there with her dog! She was resting. Her dog decided to try to clean up the scratches on my legs a bit (ha ha!). We chatted a bit and she moved on. I stayed and tried to get some more photos of the falls and take a rest. Oh, and to use the water to wash my arm which has a pretty serious scratch(es).
But, gosh darn it, I did it! I am still on the path. I can still walk. My body is sustaining me. This is such a big deal, you have no idea. I was misdiagnosed for at least 20 years. To be able to do this is the most awesomely amazing thing ever. My muscles don’t even hurt as much today as they did on days the inflammation from being celiac made them hurt. (That was a bad sentence, sorry.)
I kept going. And I made it back to my car by about 5:00 p.m.
The quest was complete.
I am proud that I had the perseverance to keep on pushing through. My blood tests still say “alert” on the iron portion, but it is improving. My ankles and feet are okay today. My right arm and right shin are pretty banged up, but as long as nobody touches them (!) I will be fine.
The return hike took 2 hours. It took me 4 hours to go up.
Walking or hiking as a spiritual practice, for me, is typically about opening myself up to the images around me. Receiving images that I sometimes share here or on my blog. This time, though, it transformed into something else. Instead of receiving the beauty around me, I had to dig deep to connect to the strength of the earth, strength of my faith, and to the strength in my own body in order to find sustenance for the journey. This is a new kind of spiritual practice for me. I had thought, Monday night, that I would not be eager to repeat this experience. But I am. Focusing on putting one foot in front of the other in this way gave me a faith in myself that I sometimes lack. Especially in my own body’s ability to sustain me. That is my new story. I trust my body.
TERRI STEWART is Into the Bardo’s Sunday chaplain, senior content editor, and site co-administrator. She comes from an eclectic background and considers herself to be grounded in contemplation and justice. She is the Director and Founder of the Youth Chaplaincy Coalition that serves youth affected by the justice system. As a graduate of Seattle University’s School of Theology and Ministry, she earned her Master’s of Divinity and a Post-Master’s Certificate in Spiritual Direction with honors and is a rare United Methodist student in the Jesuit Honor Society, Alpha Sigma Nu. She is a contributing author to the Abingdon Worship Annual.
This following piece on Roger Ebert was originally written for our Perspectives on Cancer series in 2011. I don’t know how well known Roger Ebert is outside of the United States; and while he is best know and appreciated as a journalist and film critic, I feel his inspiring response to catastrophic illness makes him a true hero and role model for anyone anywhere. Earlier this week the Chicago Sun Times announced Roger Ebert’s death from cancer.
Roger Eberts cancer and treatments took away his jawbone, his ability to speak, and even his ability to eat and drink. He continued writing right to the end, said that when he wrote he was just like his old self, and he wrote his last tweet two days before his death. Of his life online, he said:
Now we live in the age of the Internet, which seems to be creating a form of global consciousness. And because of it, I can communicate as well as I ever could. We are born into a box of time and space. We use words and communication to break out of it and to reach out to others.
For me, the Internet began as a useful tool and now has become something I rely on for my actual daily existence. I cannot speak; I can only type so fast. Computer voices are sometimes not very sophisticated, but with my computer, I can communicate more widely than ever before. I feel as if my blog, my email, Twitter and Facebook have given me a substitute for everyday conversation. They aren’t an improvement, but they’re the best I can do. They give me a way to speak. Not everybody has the patience of my wife, Chaz… But online, everybody speaks at the same speed.” Roger Ebert
Born in Urbana, Illinois to parents of modest means who wanted a better life for him then they had, Ebert’s affinity for writing and film were encouraged. He went to Urbana High School, University of Chicago, and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He is known for his film column in the Chicago Sun-Times (1967 – April 4, 2013), his film guide books, and for the television programs he did in collaboration with Gene Siskel and later Richard Roeper. Ebert struggled with alcoholism. He is married to a trial attorney, Charlie “Chaz” Hammel Smith, now Chaz Ebert and VP of Ebert Company.
In 2002, Ebert was diagnosed with salivary cancer. He received radiation treatments and multiple surgeries that effected his speech. In 2006, more cancer was found in his jaw bone. He was rushed to the hospital when his carotid artery burst and he “came within a breath of death.” The jaw bone was removed. Between one thing and another, he suffered through excessive bleeding, loss of muscle mass, deformity, a jaw prosthetic, and the loss of his voice. In the TED Award video below, he informs us of his – among other things – experiments with different voices.
I have always admired Roger Ebert as a writer, film critic, and the first film critic to win the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism. Since he has been living with cancer and then the fallout from cancer, I have come to admire Roger Ebert, the man. He has shown himself to be a world-class role model and a first class human being. As you will see, through it all, he has retained his sense of humor. Write on Roger …
ROGER EBERT: Remaking My Voice
Photo credits ~ Ebert at the 2004 Savaanah Film Festival by Rebert under GNU Free Documentation License and Lillian Boutte and Roger Ebert by Jon Hurd under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license. Both photos via Wikipedia.
Belated addition to this post 12:22 a.m.: I just found this lovely essay by Roger Ebert entitled, “I do not fear death …” on Salon’s site. Link to it HERE.
Jamie Dedes ~ My mother lived with cancer of one sort or another for forty years. She was diagnosed with cancer the first time at thirty-six. She was pregnant with me, her second and last child. She had a radical mastectomy and radiation treatments while pregnant. Ultimately, she went three rounds with breast cancer, one with thyroid cancer, and died at seventy-six of breast and colon cancer. I pray everyday for cures. Advancements in medicine and technology give us hope. I’m also encouraged to see that we are doing more with lifestyle and nutrition (antiangiogenic foods), both prophylactically and for healing and remission, and with the soft technologies of prayer, guided visualization, energy medicine, meditation, music and art.
With love for her students who would surely face death at the hands of the Nazis, Andree Geulen (then a twenty-year-old teacher) hung the Star of David on her Cross of Jesus and one-by-one walked three-hundred children out of the Holocaust and into life. They called her Mademoiselle. Her story is a lesson in courage and compassion.
There are unsung heroes in this story too. They are the men and women who subsequently took these children in at risk to themselves. They raised and presented the children as their own. They taught them to put on the face of Christianity for safety sake while secretly teaching them to honor their own Judaism.
Laurel D. sent me this video with a song that was written to honor Andree Geulen-Herscovici. The complete story is embedded in the video. The song was written to honor Mrs. Geulene-Herscovici’s 90th birthday, as you will note in the video.
Andree Geulen-Herscovici, May 1998, at the reunion of children who had been saved during the war at Chateau Jamoigne, Belgium: Her comment HERE. (Must read.)
Belgian woman who saved 300 children in the Holocaust gets honorary Israeli citizenship HERE.
Our treasured Marlene is not to be undone by Parkinson’s Disease. A former professional accountant, she is a master-level skier, participates in marathons, is an award-winning dancer, paints, writes poetry, and . . . that’s just the short-story. J.D.
MARLENE G. McNEW ~began exhibiting symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease (P.D.) eight years ago. Her blog (Strange Gift) is a vehicle for sharing her experiences with P.D. and her many, many interests. She maintains a lovely home in Northern California where she lives with her husband and a much-loved rescued golden retriever, Carmen.
Marlene is a master skier, but for the past several years she’s been able to incorporate into her life increasing involvement in the arts. She expresses her beautiful spirit through poems and paintings. She also has a strong interest in dance, having been a competition level ballroom dancer. Other interests include cooking.
She is currently preparing for a marathon and is registered for the Mighty Mermaid sprint triathlon (1/4 mile open water swim, 12 mile bike, 2 mile run/walk) through Team in Training with the Leukemia Lymphoma Society. Marlene originally started her blog when she was getting ready for the Nike Women’s Marathon (half marathon walk) and raising funds for the Leukemia Lymphoma Society. Her YouTube channel is SkiDisiple. J.D.
When my mother’s best friend, Katherine, became ill with stomach cancer, her daughter enlisted Katherine’s friends to be of support as she went through her chemotherapy treatment and subsequent recuperation. Her daughter lived out-of-state and had a medical practice and could not be with her day-to-day.
I had known Katherine my entire life. She was one of the most positive, bright lights I had ever known. Her daughter and I had spent much time together as children, which included many hours swimming in the beautiful lake that they lived on. Katherine’s husband had died many years prior.
Her daughter was very organized and efficient with setting up people in shifts to take turns staying with Katherine during her illness. Sometimes this included remaining overnight with her. But Katherine had a very independent nature, even at age 87, and at times would insist that she was OK and send us home. Her daughter had tried her best to convince Katherine to move to North Carolina and stay with her family, but Katherine always refused. She had been there for over 50 years. During one afternoon, she confided in me that she would never leave her beloved home on the lake. The house had an enclosed porch that overlooked the water and we would sit out there for hours as we talked and relaxed. Her eyes would occasionally scan the lake and she would comment on a bird that had caught her eye or an activity by a neighbor around the water’s edge.
We were able to share ourselves like never before. She regaled me with all kinds of stories from her past and shared intimate feelings. She told me she was totally at peace and was not fearful of death. I felt somehow as if I were a vessel for her to pour her heart into and was so grateful that I could be of service to her in this way.
I marveled at her serenity during this difficult time. There was no “battle”, just gentle, quiet acceptance and the allowing of what was. She illustrated to me what it meant to live in the moment. Her ease and even emotions were a gift to me as well.
One day she tired as we had been sitting on the porch for quite some time and so we retired to her bedroom. Climbing into her bed, I propped myself next to her as we watched television. A short time later, as I noticed her eyes getting heavy, I told her I would leave and let her sleep. Lowering myself down on the bed so I could look into her eyes, I held her hands in mine and told her how much I loved her. She smiled at me with beaming love in her clear, sweet, blue eyes and told me how beautiful I was. Tears pooled in my eyes as I realized, in that moment, what grace she possessed.
Katherine died quietly in her sleep with hospice in attendance several months after her diagnosis. Her bedroom window was open to the lake.
Gayle Walters Rose ~ lives in Winter Park, Florida and has been blogging since August of 2010. She is an adventurous writer, experimenting with various forms of poetry and with fiction and creative nonfiction.Gayle comes from a large family, and she is the mother of grown daughters. Much of her writing is about nature or things of the spirit. Early in life, she lived in an ashram and often shares that experience and its lessons.
Gayle’s favorite quote is “Never think there is anything impossible for the soul. It is the greatest heresy to think so. If there is sin, this is the only sin; to say that you are weak, or others are weak.” (Swami Vivekananda) You’ll find Gayle blogging at Bodhirose’s Blog, where she is much appreciated by the online poetry community for her fine work and because she is genuine.
Dakshima Haputhanthri ~ is from Sri Lanka. She is a writer and poet and a lawyer by profession. She says, “I am a simple mortal with an undying passion for writing … Writing gives me wings and I fly, thinking and wondering about life and how people refuse to reveal their true selves.” Dakshima blogs at Love Among Other Things.