I am an elder, and as such I am given the task of teaching and supporting the young. On the Medicine Wheel of this lifetime I am in the Northwest, the place of honoring the challenges of my life, understanding them as best as I am able, and sharing what I have learned with others. Perhaps you will share your thoughts about the experiences I share below; I would greatly value that.
We, along with many others, spent a good deal of time during the past two weeks watching the Olympics. Over time we noticed, especially from NBC’s coverage, that the commentators seem to believe winning and perfection were all important. This is a sad thing. One does not have to watch much before one becomes aware the announcers are ceaselessly pointing out errors and failures. Rather than empathy for the competitors, one is barraged with demands for perfection and minute details about failure to achieve such. There is very little celebration of the athletes who fail to meet the announcers’ or judges’ criteria.
This hits home on two fronts. The first is cultural. I was raised to appreciate the efforts of all. Winning is fun, but should not shame others. Nor should anyone be left behind after the games are over. Further, perfection was considered suspect. One was advised to build imperfection into one’s art and welcome it in one’s life. After all, we are not the Creator although we are aspects of His/Her creation. Only the Creator can be perfect, and it is likely even S/He makes mistakes; as we are reflective of the Creator this suggests that even mistakes can be good and holy. The unbridled pursuit of perfection endangers the individual and the culture, the community and the ecosystem.
The second part is I am a survivor of Bulbar Polio. My phsysiatrist says I am “a walking quad”; rather than disparaging, this is a simple statement of truth. I have severe neurological injuries; Polio destroyed motor neurons all over my body. My arms and hands have considerably diminished capacity; my legs and feet lack strength and mobility; breathing can be a challenge. I am not perfect by the dominant culture’s standards.
Add to this my Native American heritage and the soup becomes thick indeed. I once heard a man, who understandably thought he was with other Europeans, say something like, “There is nothing more pathetic than a disabled Indian.” What are we to do with that? Indeed, what are we to do with NBC’s virtual silence on the topic of the Para-Olympics?
Herein lies the difficulty. One one hand I was encouraged to accept and honor imperfections. On the other, as a Polio survivor I was taught to do my level best to pass as normal, to overcome limitations, and to forget my illness and its aftermath. Additionally, as a child in a Native family that was actively passing, I was taught to be invisible, a lesson that surely applied to Polio as well.
It is a profound challenge to resist the limiting messages of our families and the dehumanizing ones of the dominant culture. I have done my best, yet I have also spent much of my life seeking to achieve others’ views of perfection, even though not even normalcy was not an option.This has been painful.
I don’t know whether you have ever thought about the Wounded Healer. In Traditional cultures ill youngsters are often expected, should they recover, to become healers. I use the term “recovery” loosely. Youngsters who face and survive catastrophic illness may not have the same physical capacities as their normative friends. Yet their illness may also give them abilities and insights not readily available to others. When the child is ill the healers do their best to aid. They also seek to discern the nature of the illness; often such illness are understood to be calls from the spirits, initiations into the realm of healers. When there is a spirit call, training in the healing arts accompanies recovery. The illness frequently leaves a footprint in the life and work of the survivor; he or she becomes a wounded healer, knowledgeable about many of the territories and challenges that accompany illness.
This is a different model than the academic learning focus of the West. Of course, the two paths are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, they may intersect, even overlap at times. Both address the needs of the body. Some Western trained healers have adopted the Indigenous understanding that the soul and psyche must also be attended to. (Milton Erickson, although not to my knowledge Indian, comes to mind as someone who walked both roads well.)
I have come to this point on the Medicine Wheel by living my life from within this severely injured body. This is a sharp contrast to the physically perfection of elite Olympic athletes, or the health and wealth gurus we see on PBS and on innumerable infomercials. The television sages convey the message to us that illness, poverty, loneliness, and all other forms of suffering are moral failures. They do not speak this directly, rather they hold up their carefully managed perfection as a mirror to our human frailties. They offer advice, even salvation; for a fee we can be just like them. But I, and many others, cannot. The very lifestyles they espouse harm us, and endanger our precious planetary ecosystem and all that lives therein. Where, I wonder is their wisdom and compassion?
We approach the Spring, the East in the Abenaki view of the Medicine Wheel, the place of rebirth and awakening. I am curious how my changing understanding of this beloved, traumatized body will blossom in the coming year. I wonder whether our culture can set aside the deeply held values of independence, competition, and perfectionism that shaped the our country (the very ones espoused by those television commentators). Can we own our imperfections, and acknowledge the harm we have inflicted on ourselves and so many others, inside and outside our country? Can we embrace those who suffer illness, poverty, displacement, abuse, or isolation?
As we follow the journey of the sun into the East, we are invited to begin again, to open our eyes and practice compassion and understanding. May we find the courage to do so.
– Michael Watson, Ph.D.
© 2014, essay and photographs (includes the one below), Michael Watson, All rights reserved
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.
WRITING YOUR SELF
We feel this book review puts a fine close on our series, Perspectives in Cancer. Writing as a healing art, whether as a purely personal exercise or for publication, is powerful. One of the authors of Writing Your Self, Myra Schneider, learned that with her much appreciated work,Writing My Way Though Cancer. That effort informs much of Writing Your Self.
This review was originally published at Musing by Moonlight.
Four of Myra’s poems were published earlier in this series.
We wrote the book because we believe that personal writing is very potent both for the writer and the reader, because some of the greatest literature is rooted in personal material. Myra Schneider in an interview HERE.
The subtitle of this book about writing is “transforming personal material.” I think it is implicitly also about personal transformation. It always seems to me that writing and reading about life is a healing activity, a way to live hugely, and a way to empower ourselves and others. If we can do it well enough to engage others, whether our purpose is to leave a record behind for family, to set the record straight, or simply to share and entertain, the experience is rewarding. Writing is a powerful healing path.
Writing Your Self is the most comprehensive book of its type that I’ve yet to read, and I’ve read many. It is organized in two parts:
- Part I: Here the focus is on life experiences, the exploration of those human experiences that are universal. These include childhood, self-conceptions, relationships, displacement, physical and mental illness and disability, and abuse.
- Part II: Here the focus is on writing techniques, recognizing material that is unfinished, working on refinements, and developing work projects.
Writing Your Self is rich with examples from known and unknown writers including the authors. By example as well as explanation the authors reinforce what we all intuitively understand to be true: that telling stories preserves identity and clarifies the human condition. It helps us understand what it means to be human. The experience of working through the book was something like a rite of passage.
I very much can see the use of this book by individuals training themselves and by teachers of adult learners who wish to write memoir, poetry, fiction, or creative non-fiction. It would be useful in hospital therapeutic writing programs or in writing programs for active seniors.
Memories, both recent and distant, tell us who we are and so play a crucial role in our experience of life…
You may have memories which you want to plunge into or you may have material like a diary or letters which summon them up. There are other ways though of triggering memories. We offer a series of suggestions. Chapter 13, Accessing memories, secret letters, monologues and dialogues, visualizations.
I think Chapter 13 alone is worth the price of admission. I work a lot off of childhood memories and even the event that happened two minutes ago comes back to me with dreamlike qualities when I sit to write. I have not thought of the things I do naturally as triggers, but indeed they are. It was quite interesting to see these natural aids laid-out and organized on the page to read: objects and place as starting points, physical sensation as triggers, people in memory, and predominant feelings. The section on secret letters – that is, letters that you write someone and never send – was particularly interesting. I’ve only done this twice in my life, but I know some folks who do it all the time. I’m sure it is a common practice and would make a fine jumping-off point for some and a satisfactory exercise – complete in itself – for others. The authors go on to monologues and dialogues, which certainly everyone spins in their heads. They discuss visualization. Hey, if you can see it, you can write it.
I’m an experienced writer and I enjoyed the book and the exercises and learned a few new things, got a few new ideas. If you are inexperienced or stuck midway in a transition from one form of writing to another, you’ll benefit from the exercises, ideas, and instruction in Writing Your Self: Transforming Personal Experience. This one’s a definite thumbs-up.
John Killick was a teacher for 30 years, in further, adult and prison education, but has written all his life. His work includes both prose works and poetry. You can visit him HERE.
© essay, Jamie Dedes, 2011 all rights reserved
Copyrighted cover art, fair use.
♥ ♥ ♥ ♥
Jamie Dedes ~ Jamie is a former freelance feature writer and columnist whose topic specialties were employment, vocational training, and business. She finds the blessing of medical retirement to be more time to indulge in her poetry, creative nonfiction, and fiction. She has two novels in progress, one in final edits, and is pulling together a poetry collection. Her primary playground is Musing by Moonlight. She is the founder and editor/administrator of Into the Bardo. Jamie’s mother was diagnosed with cancer the first time at thirty-six. She went three rounds with breast cancer, one with thyroid cancer, and died at seventy-six of breast and colon cancer.
WHEN CANCER STRIKES
It was both
a blessing and a curse,
hair was often tangled or worse,
times Laura hated her hair,
her wish it wasn’t there,
It had been
that way as far back as memory could get,
when dry, hard to manage when wet,
curly hair was admired often, she’d confess,
But it was
often a distraction as a frizzy mess,
many options on how to fix her hair,
She worried when
the wind made it fly here and there,
looked out of control and people would rudely stare,
calm, peaceful, and beautiful was her goal,
the comments about her beauty as a whole,
and her abilities made her special in all she did,
hats, tied up in tight braids, her curly hair she hid,
Laura was a
businesswoman, ambitious in every way,
be a success before she turned old and gray,
also wife and mother with two children on her mind,
them or even for herself, was very hard to find,
sent her flowers every month to let her know,
That he would be waiting for her if she decided to take life slow,
Her life was filled from dawn till night, with one job to the next,
she spend quality time with Joe, and both were too tired for sex,
were quick and far away, with pictures to prove she was there,
she went and whatever she did, she covered up her hair,
from a young M.D. on her routine annual exam,
Made her mad
when he said, “We need further tests for you, Ma’am,”
through the tests mainly to prove him wrong,
Much to her
chagrin blood was drawn, it didn’t take them long,
at first when new appointments were made,
But soon she
was on her way and memories of the visit began to fade,
Later that week several phone calls at work interrupted
“We want you
to come in, not tomorrow, perhaps yesterday,”
“What’s so important?”
she wondered as she brushed tangles from her hair,
been so healthy, so why should I care?”
Laura brushed her hair ninety-nine times or more,
tug she commented, “Curly hair is such a chore,”
was restless, the upcoming visit was eating at her,
And at her
next appointment she decided she would concur,
cancer,” he said quietly, “we should treat it aggressively,”
have time for cancer!” she shouted, “or even time for me,”
“We need to
treat it with chemotherapy,” he stated, “as soon as we can,”
“If we want
to win this war, we have to make a plan,”
too busy for this, I’ll do chemo in the spring,”
bury you deep while you sleep, the chemo won’t mean a thing,”
read a list of changes that Laura might expect,
eat, nausea, loss of hair, there was little time to reflect,
deal with changes in her diet, so why did she care,
Yet on her
way home one thought returned, she would lose her hair,
she do about work, would everyone lose respect?
about her children and her Joe, what would he expect?
“This is not
fair,” she thought, “I’ve fought hard to get where I am,
Now I have
cancer and that puts me in a jam,”
to the doctors and see how this could be fixed,
how business worked, maybe this could be deep sixed,
afraid to hug her husband, likewise with the kids,
draining more from her, their marriage would be on the skids,
to her intently and suggested a group for her to attend,
need a support group,” she countered, “I just want to mend,”
He left a
number of the group in case she wanted to call,
For two days
Laura wanted nothing to do with the group at all,
third evening as she brushed and detangled her hair,
wondered what others did when strangers began to stare,
She called a
cell phone number knowing she had to make a choice,
to go to a meeting when she heard a cheerful voice,
“Come on and
join us, we’ll have a special guest tonight,
we have lots of fun because no one gets uptight,”
brushed her hair as she waited for her ride,
In the car
it was explained she’d have to wait outside,
a home made her feel this was not the place to be,
But she only
had time to see what they wanted her to see,
placed was a sign stating the group’s name,
“Birds of a
Feather” and in smaller print, “We’re all the same,”
led in at the appointed time but saw one empty chair,
for you,” a woman called out, “and your beautiful hair,”
she explain that soon her head would soon be bare,
afraid they might laugh and show they didn’t care,
was growing as she glanced about the room,
She was the
only one with cancer and ready to meet her doom,
single women, mothers, daughters, wives,
were all beautiful and had normal lives,
“We have a newcomer tonight, so welcome Laura
continued, “And in case she’s worried, it’s time for us to pause,
our fears before, and sometimes hid our shame,
we are strong and our freedom we proclaim,”
One by one
each removed a wig to reveal her hair was gone,
in this together, no one is all alone,”
were wide and welcoming as the leader took her hand,
can, let Laura know that you really understand,”
meeting was over Laura returned home,
her children and showed them her comb,
explained her disease and told them about her hair,
“We love you, mommy, we don’t care,”
Laura learned, was compassionate and kind,
He loved her
for her heart, her ambition, and her mind,
to fight cancer together and strive for the best,
spend more time living and loving with zest,
went into remission and Laura grew back her hair,
And whether tangled,
frizzy, or wind-blown, now she combs with flair.
© poem and artwork, Dan Roberson, 2011 all rights reserved
♥ ♥ ♥ ♥
Dan Roberson ~ lives in Kansas City, Missouri. He says, ” I celebrate life. I retired from teaching and now I’m looking for new parades to lead, or to follow. I’m alone, still hoping to be a published author, and trying to stay on my chosen path. I have no anchor to hold me down and I’m ready to rid myself of possessions that impede progress. I want my imagination to soar. I’m open to learning about new worlds, new countries and languages, and different ways to look at things I thought I knew. Every day is a bonus day and I look forward to the challenges it brings. I’m finding out that technology is fast and getting faster and there is much information that I need to learn.” You’ll find Dan at My Blog.
[In the United States alone in 2007], approximately 10,400 children under age 15 were diagnosed with cancer and about 1,545 children will die from the disease. MORE Childhood Cancers Fact Sheet, Cancer Topics, Cancer.gov
COOKIES FOR KIDS CANCER
Cookies for Kids’ Cancer, a 501(c)3 non profit, was founded by parents inspired by their son Liam’s battle with cancer. They were shocked to learn that the main reason over 25% of kids diagnosed with cancer do not survive is because of a lack of effective therapies. And the reason for the lack of therapies was very simple: lack of funding. They pledged to support the development of new and better treatments by giving people a simple way to get involved.
It all started with 96,000 cookies…
Gretchen had a crazy idea for a larger-than-life bake sale with the goal of baking 96,000 cookies with friends and volunteers. Dozens of other families whose children were also battling Neuroblastoma got involved and began to take orders for cookies from friends, co-workers, and neighbors. All 96,000 cookies were sold in three weeks, thanks to the work of over 250 volunteers. The event raised over $400,000 for pediatric cancer research, but it was soon clear that something bigger than a bake sale had begun. Even weeks after the event was over, requests for cookies kept coming in. What started as a desperate act to raise money and awareness for her child’s own cancer blossomed into something much bigger than any had planned. The event caught the eye and the hearts of the media and people all over the country. Emails from across the United States started flooding in asking the same simple question “what can we do to help?”
Be a Good Cookie
Make a difference by joining the mission to find a cure for pediatric cancer. There are many ways to support Cookies for Kids’ Cancer. Hosting a bake sale is a sweet and simple way for people everywhere to get involved in the fight against pediatric cancer. Send our cookies for birthdays, anniversaries, or just because. Our cookies taste as good to eat as they feel to give.
And you don’t have to eat or bake cookies to be a Good Cookie. Other supporters have run marathons, held tag sales, organized golf tournaments, collected spare change, and hosted car washes to support Cookies for Kids’ Cancer. We’ve even made it simple to donate online once or once a month with online giving. The ideas are only limited by your imagination. No effort is too small and every penny counts.
Cookies for Kids’ Cancer is committed to raising funds to support research for new and improved therapies for pediatric cancer, the leading cause of death by disease for children under the age of 18. Through the concept of local bake sales, Cookies for Kids’ Cancer provides the inspiration and support for individuals, communities, and businesses to help fight pediatric cancer.
Facts about Kids’ Cancers
Cookies for Kids’ Cancer is not about one child or one type of pediatric cancer. It is about changing the facts of pediatric cancer for the better, forever. Important statistics to know:
- Cancer claims the lives of more children annually than any other disease ” more than asthma, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis & AIDS combined.
- 46 children per day are diagnosed with cancer totaling nearly 13,000 new cases per year.
- Cure rates have improved dramatically and advances in childhood cancer research has provided seminal insights into the cancer problem in general. Today, 4 out 5 children diagnosed with cancer can be cured.
- While long-term goals for the pediatric cancer community will focus on securing more federal funding for childhood cancer research (more than the 1-2% of the National Cancer Institute budget that is current expended), philanthropy plays a critical and essential role in the ongoing battle against childhood cancer.
About the Founders
Gretchen and Larry Witt founded Cookies for Kids’ Cancer in 2008, just a few short months after the success of their first cookie sale during the holidays 2007. Their efforts have always been inspired by their son Liam who was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer in 2007 at the age of 2. Tragically, Liam came to the end of his courageous 4-year fight with cancer on January 24, 2011 at the age of 6. Though devastated by his loss, the Witts remain more determined than ever to continue the fight against pediatric cancer.
Gretchen Witt has been recognized nationally for her leadership as a mom on a mission. In 2010, Witt was named one of Woman’s Day Magazine’s 50 Women Changing the World and Traditional Home Magazine’s Classic Woman of the Year. She was also featured in the December 2009 issue of O, the Oprah Magazine, for her work with Cookies for Kids’ Cancer. She accepts speaking engagements to tell the story of the beginnings of Cookies for Kids’ Cancer, the need for funding for pediatric cancer research, and to share her experiences as a mother fighting endlessly for her son and for all children. Her story resonates as one of determination and guts with a willingness to stop at nothing to do what’s right and what’s best for all kids fighting cancer. Audiences as varied as The Cornell Club NYC, Meredith College’s 2010 Commencement and the International Housewares Show in Chicago have all been inspired by her words and her passion.
Feature photograph and article courtesy of cookiesforkidscancer.org.
Video upload to YouTube by GladtoGive.
HER DAYS ARE NUMBERED
Her days are numbered
She was the only one who knew
The world filled with warmth
Is gonna end like dew
She thought of those she loved
Her fears aren’t new
But now it’s time, and she should say adieu
This thing that eats her inside
She had no control, it stab her life like a knife
Nothing can be done, no cure
It seems to be stealing her life
It’s so deadly, but she has determined to live for the moment
She smiled through her tears, she had no choice…
© poem by and photograph, Dakshima Haputhanthri, 2011 all rights reserved
♥ ♥ ♥ ♥
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.
CHILREN’S HOSPITAL, WAITING ROOM
Rev. Bill Cook
From this side of this window-
through this glass looking
down seventeen stories –
the world is a odd place.
The smell of rain
has become a distant memory.
Taxi cabs – thick bugs.
People- so much seed
scattered on a hard path.
Who would have thought
a tiny swish rising
through a stethoscope
could so change everything.
Here we are a congregation
Of the suspended –
Inhabitants of a sanitized purgatory –
A communion of those who wait.
Here the priests and prophets
wear blue scrubs
and white paper masks.
Why, I ask, is it that your tiny heart,
no larger than your tiny hand,
should refuse to grow?
What providence has brought us here?
What karma? There is no answer
so we wait.
We wait for our names to be called.
Re-blogged with the permission of Bill Cook, Poetry Matters. Bill is an Ordained Elder in the United Methodist Church, serving a wonderfully diverse congregation.
- His church: St. Paul UMC, Willingboro NJ.
- BA. English Lit., Rutger’s, the State University, New Brunswick NJ.
- M Div. New Brunswick Theological Seminary New Brunswick NJ.
- D Min. Wesley Theological Seminary, Washington DC.