April 2018

Sunday, March 18, 2012


My first good friend with disabilities, though hers were invisible, was my college friend Jenny. She had childhood-onset diabetes, which affected her ability to see, especially at night. She was also color-blind. She wanted to go into medicine, but she could not see the little flags on the pig in the Biology lab to identify body parts, so she took a long road. Now she’s a psychiatrist, and she’s thriving after a kidney transplant.

Jenny came to visit after my surgery, and she told me that one day I might be grateful for my tumor. I inferred that she is grateful for her diabetes, and I admire her wisdom, but at the time I was not yet grateful.

Though I still would not choose a life touched by tumors, almost five years after neurosurgery, I am grateful for so many gifts in my life, gifts that I recognize more now than I did before my tumors.

Like my other inspirations, Jenny has a great spirit and a delightful sense of humor. One night when we were in college, I called her on the phone for emotional support. She lived in a dorm on another part of campus, about a ten-minute walk away, and she said she’d be right over with a cup of tea.

When she hadn’t shown up after an hour, I started to worry, but Jenny finally arrived, a mug of cold tea in her hand. She had miscounted her steps as she was walking in the dark and turned off a path into a tree. She had long hair and got tangled in the tree; when she finally extricated herself, she couldn’t figure out how to reorient herself. The cute boys on the porch who watched  her wrestle with the tree helped her to point her toes in the direction of my dorm.

She laughed hilariously as she told me this story. Then she apologized that my tea was cold. I laughed, too. Her sense of humor helped me to gain some perspective on my own troubles.

Little Brother Matt asked me recently how my spirit has remained so strong in the days with these tumors and my disabilities. I have puzzled about this strength of spirit myself. Where did this spirit come from?

Today's sermon, titled "Dayenu", from Hebrew meaning, "It would have been enough..." made me think about gratitude and its role in facing life-changing struggles.

Our minister cited Brian McLaren's book Naked Spirituality: A Life with God in Twelve Simple Words (the book's about 80,000 maybe those twelve words aren't so simple).

McLaren posits that gratitude may be our greatest road to happiness. He also tells of a time when he experienced insomnia and took that time to picture all that he was thankful for. I gather that gratitude helped with his insomnia.

My primary emotional response since the brain tumor diagnosis has been gratitude: for a loving partner-a rock in my life, a family generous with care and support, communities and circles of friends and colleagues who seek to help me use my skills and experience meaningfully, professional care-givers, health and disability insurance, the flexibility of administrators and directors in helping me continue my education and work in schools as I recover, wonder in the world's extravagant beauty and a faith that cradles me and gives me hope.
The closing of Wordsworth's "Intimations of Immortality" reminds me of the miracle that remains, of the joy in living even in--and maybe especially in--times of loss, the power of natural beauty to overwhelm me with a sense of this miracle that is living. Wordsworth writes,

The innocent brightness of a new-born Day
Is lovely yet; The clouds that gather round the setting sun
Do take a sober colouring from an eye
That hath kept watch o'er man's mortality;
Another race hath been, and other palms are won.
Thanks to the human heart by which we live,
Thanks to its tenderness, its joys, and fears,
To me the meanest flower that blows can give
Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.

Perhaps I have found strength in this gratitude. My life has changed, and I am grateful for the life I had and for the life I now have.
I am grateful for you, too. Thanks for being here. Mary

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