April 2018

Monday, February 21, 2011


My Auntie (pronounced "On'tee) Myra says that my dad had planned his life by the age of seven and that he has followed that plan for his life. Though I believe him when he tells me that he decided to become a doctor after he went face first through the car windshield as a teenager and the doctors put him, like Humpty Dumpty, back together again, I suspect there's  a lot of truth to Auntie Myra's observation.

Dad is a planner. He succeeded in schools, went to Duke Medical School, married my mother ("the most beautiful woman he'd ever seen"), went to Wichita Falls, Texas, instead of Vietnam, and had three lovely children. He a had a successful pediatric practice, taught medical interns, lobbied for health care for all children, and became president of the American Academy of Pediatrics. All my life, he worked two more than full time jobs, and now that he's retired, I had been concerned that he might get bored, but retirement seems to have been part of the plan. He travels across the ocean and around the country to see his children and his grandchildren. On pretty days, he plays golf. On not-so-pretty days, he plays competitive bridge. He seems busy and seems to be having a great time.

I suppose having kids was part of Dad's plan but also challenged his life plan. He says that having kids keeps him humble. He also says, "It's hard to be humble when you're as great as I am."

I'm pretty sure that my decision to come out as a lesbian and my two brain tumors were not part of my dad's life plan. I have to give him credit, though. He's adjusted admirably to the challenges. He struggled mightily with both, but now he loves me and my partner, and he's been a great support to both of us throughout my treatments for brain tumors. Like the Access van direction-finder whose driver seldom heeds oral directions, my dad has recalculated.

For a long time, I followed what I believed was Dad's plan for me. I played Dad's sports, did homework like him, and went to his alma mater for college. I believed that he had a life plan for me, born before I was born, and that it was a good plan as it was crafted by someone who loved me and wanted the best for me, so I needed to follow that plan.

As I began to grow up, however, I began to deviate from that plan. First, I did not go to medical school though I believed that was part of his plan. I did not even become a lawyer or an engineer. Instead, I went into teaching high school English. Though I did not believe that teaching English was part of his plan for me, I did immediately find joy in the teaching profession and came to believe that sometimes I would need to deviate from his plan. This was my life, after all.

After high school, I dated two tall, dark, reasonably handsome and remarkably smart guys of good pedigree. This, too, was part of the plan. I was to marry one of them until death do us part. That part of the plan didn't work out. Seeking joy, I again deviated from Dad's plan for me, came out as a lesbian, and married the woman I love. Perhaps recalculating, finding my own plan instead of what I perceived to be my father's plan, was part of growing up.

My tumors have required me to recalculate again in so many ways. I now ride a trike instead of a bike. I read on my Kindle instead of on the page. I hike on level, paved paths with help.

Now in my work life I'm trying to follow in my father's footsteps again and again recalculate. Because of disabilities from tumors, I do not think that I can follow my earlier plan to be a public school administrator, and I do not think that I can continue along my teaching path.

In my work, I have recalculated once already since the tumors and have been a literacy coach, working with teachers who want my help improving their teaching practice. I love this job, as I get to work with teachers and their students in a way that I am now able and in a way that seems helpful to both teachers and students. Now, however, all of these budget cuts may leave me again needing to recalculate. This week I'm exploring how to publish and market my book and am also exploring the world of teaching English to adults, generally immigrants to the United States.

Much of my life since brain tumors--and much of this blog--has been about re-envisioning my life as it unfolds, about recalculating. My life has been about learning that I am not in control, and seeking the grace and the faith to live a life meaningful to me and to others by finding ways to live still in the joy that is life's miracle. My challenge, as I have attempted to relate it here, has been to see still the amazing beauty, the amazing grace, in the fragility of it all.

Though unlike wiser souls, I am still not grateful for these tumors, I am grateful for the compulsion to recalculate, for the gift of continuing to participate in this life, in this world, and for the grace of seeing now that, even as I must recalculate and must learn that I am not in control, still this is a beautiful world. Still, I strive to be happy.

As a teenager, like so many teenagers, I loved Max Ehrman's poem, the poem that exhorts us to "strive to be happy," and perhaps I sensed as a youth that the only possible plan is a plan of the spirit, a plan that Ehrman so gracefully penned. For years, the poem hung on the bulletin board of the desk where I never studied as I was growing up, then in my college dorm room, and then on the walls of my classrooms. I have pasted the poem below in case you do not know it.

The poem invites me to "go placidly amid the noise and haste," to "speak [my] truth quietly and clearly," to "be gentle with [my]self," to remember that I am "a child of the universe," and that "With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, / it is still a beautiful world." For all the career planning that business gurus would have us do these days, it has been the love in my life and the poems of my life that have lead me in this time of great change, this time of recalculating.


-- by Max Ehrmann--

Go placidly amid the noise and the haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.

As far as possible, without surrender,
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even to the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons;
they are vexatious to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain or bitter,
or always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Exercise caution in your business affairs,
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals,
and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love,
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment,
it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be.
And whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life,
keep peace in your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.


  1. I also had that poem on my wall as a teenager, and had a recording of it that I played often as well. It was a good reminder to calm down and be at peace, which was not always easy at that age. Thanks for sharing it with me again--it's probably been 30 years since I last read it!

  2. eM,
    I'm getting caught up on your blog today, and this could not have come at a more perfect time. Like Susan (Hi, Susan!), it's been a while since I've read this poem; a great reminder for me, thanks for that.

  3. Oh Mary, I love your writing!! I too am getting caught up on your blog. It's so wonderfully funny and readable and thought-provoking. What's the book you are trying to get published? I too love/d Desiderata. It was a big hit in my college days. Thanks for reminding me of it.
    Do you have a GPS? The ones that speak always say "recalculating" when you make a turn different from what they told you to do. I love your version of "recalculating."
    We miss you both!


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