email sent November 24, 2015

Subject: Cheers!…
… or, Why Land at New Plymouth in Winter Instead of Farther South as Planned?

It’s been two months since the end of my infusion portion of the clinical trial. Consequently, today I had the first CT scan in my one-year follow-up period. And the results are in… nothing’s changed and nothing new! As Vicki predicted two days ago, “You’re going to slam dunk us into the thankful of Thanksgiving.” And right she was! Woohoooo! Not only that, last week we learned that Ned is coming home for the holiday, so we’re set for some great family times.

It’s also time for my annual Thanksgiving message. The theme remains the same: I’m extremely thankful for you and for the countless blessings I’ve received.

I hear a lot of very nice comments regarding my update emails. Thank you! But I receive far more from all of you than you receive from me. Thank you for all that you have taught me… in your responses, in your friendships, in your caring, in your thoughts and in your prayers. I’ve been the beneficiary of truly overwhelming good fortune.
I’ve learned some very basic life lessons from you. As I mentioned previously, on the river I learned to resist the temptation to insist on being right. One companion actually expressed that outright to me. That awakening has also helped me to better listen to what people (especially Vicki) are telling me as opposed to just hearing what they are saying. (Yeah, I know what some of you are probably thinking. Hey, these things take time.)
My eyes have welled with some of the teachings, both with sadness and joy. I’ve been witness to the grace and strength and tragedy with which some friends and family have left this life. As a lovely daughter wrote, “As many of you know, to my mom, love was a verb, to be acted upon with every beat of her heart. Please take her lead, show your love and bless others with your actions.”
On a different note, I received an astounding text message from very good friends, pilgrims, on the Camino de Santiago. I was told, “I walk for you as well.”

As a side note to taking action, I ran across a passage written in the 1800s:
“Take care of your thoughts because they become words.
Take care of your words because they will become actions.
Take care of your actions because they will become habits.
Take care of your habits because they will form your character.
Take care of your character because it will form your destiny.”

Last week, I went to sleep pondering how to express my thanks. I awakened thinking that we too often choose to exaggerate our differences with one another, especially with those in foreign countries and those with foreign beliefs. This attitude masks our fundamental connectedness. The notion and illusion of individuality blinds us from the acceptance of our collective oneness and the bliss that blossoms from that understanding. (What a way to wake up, eh?)

Ned recently reminded me of the extraordinary TED talk (the most popular of all time) of neuroanatomist, Jill Bolte Taylor. She eloquently described her experience of surviving a stroke. With her left brain compromised, her right brain assumed control. As she stated in an interview…
“I just really didn’t have any energy left in my body, and I curled up into a little ball, and the best way for me to describe it, is I felt my energy shift. I felt my whole body become lighter. I surrendered, if you will, and I knew I was no longer the one choreographing my life and either the doctors rescue my body and give me a second chance at life or this was going to be the moment of my death. And I have to say that it was, you know, you hear about these stories about that’s it’s an extremely peaceful experience, well, for me it was a total experience of euphoria. So I essentially found a space of nirvana.”
I once entered that magical realm as I flirted with shock while floating downriver under very high water conditions. I clung to our raft, with no one around. As I marveled at the exhilaration, I further enjoyed basking in the oneness and connectedness with all others. Years later and I’m still a sucker for all movies that incorporate that sort of plot element, even the cheesier ones, including Lucy.

As a believer in the oneness of humanity I’m also a sucker for forgiveness. I cannot imagine a more poignant and heart-wrenching example than what follows…
Nelson Mandela spent 27 years in prison. Upon being elected President of South Africa, he chose against retribution. Neither did he opt for unconditional amnesty for those who committed atrocities during apartheid. Instead, he created the Truth and Reconciliation Commission as a mechanism to engender forgiveness. The perpetrators had to fully confess their transgressions. Their victims could choose to forgive them. The process successfully allowed the nation to move forward without massive bloodshed or pervasive latent hostility. The process lasted two and a half years.
One policeman, van de Broek, recounted how he and other officers shot an 18-year-old boy then burned the body to destroy the evidence. Eight years later, he returned for the father and forced the mother to watch as he was burned alive.
The mother witnessed his confession. When asked what she wanted from the man, she calmly replied, “I want three things. I want Mr. van de Broek to take me to the place where they burned my husband’s body. I would like to gather up the dust and give him a decent burial. Second, Mr. van de Broek took all my family away from me and I still have a lot of love to give. Twice a month, I would like for him to come to the ghetto and spend a day with me so I can be a mother to him. Third, I would like Mr. van de Broek to know that he is forgiven by God, and that I forgive him, too. I would like someone to lead me to where he is seated so I can embrace him and he can know my forgiveness is real.”
Van de Broek fainted just before others in the courtroom began singing Amazing Grace.

I recently watched a documentary film about the search for the Yorktown and Japanese aircraft carriers that were sunk during the Battle of Midway. Remarkably, the American carrier was found (by the same crew who located Titanic). Even more remarkable, two Japanese and two American survivors from that epic naval battle were united on the search vessel, forging friendships and sharing tears as they honored their fallen comrades. Such a reunion seemed impossible not so long ago, but in the theater of connectedness it not only seems probable, but even inevitable.

Not coincidentally, this theme emerges as I’m reading the rich tale of a friend’s sailing adventure throughout the Caribbean. He reminded me of the camaraderie engendered by the simple act of sharing a beer (which is somehow different than sharing a wine or whisky) with complete strangers, with friends and especially with our partners. It’s too easy to take such revelatory rituals for granted and allowing them to evaporate. Even the numerous such experiences in the Phoenix airport over the last year weren’t sufficient to awaken me. It took my friend’s loving account of his journey with his wife and two girls to remind me of earlier days when such bonding was commonplace, forging lifelong connections cemented with love and hope.

With love, hope, gratitude and thanks, I raise a beer to you… Slàinte mhath! Prost! Salute! Kanpai! Happy Thanksgiving!
Jim

p.s. As one Pilgrim wrote about the choice of landfall, “We could not now take time for further search, our victuals being much spent, expecially our beere.”
p.p.s. Why do Pilgrims’ pants always fall down? Because they wear their belt buckles on their hats.

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