Thursday, December 16, 2004

Touching peace

I have lived a large portion of my life in anticipation of some better future. High school anticipated college, which anticipated law school. Law school anticipated graduation, getting a job, passing the bar. These anticipated making partner, making equity, building a practice.

Not that I didn't enjoy the journey - if I didn't stop to smell the roses, I certainly appreciated them on the way. Music, art, literature, friends, family, faith, celebration were always with me.

It was really not until my late thirties, very recently, though, that I let go of the idea that, if I could just get through the now, then everything would come together neatly at some point in the not far distant future.

Up to a point, this isn't all bad. It is good to have objectives, to work toward something, to plan and prepare.

There is a risk, though, that you'll make some bad decisions if you discount the importance of the present. I have to eat right and exercise so I can live well now. Sacrificing in the present for a future value is good, but wasting the present because only the future matters is not.

I remember my grandmother telling me, many times, when I was a child not to "wish my life away." This usually came in response to an "I can't wait until . . . " from me. I can't wait until Christmas. I can't wait until school's out. I can't wait until we come home.

Recently, in my mid to late thirties, I've done better at this. Maybe because I'd checked off most of the things on my original list - family, check, partnership, check, band, check.

I'd been doing a pretty good job of exulting in the present. These are the golden days. My life was great - not just the accidentals, but the essentials. And the accidentals, too. And I was appreciating it.

Usually, these stories have some "but" in them. "But I knew something was missing." "But I wasn't really happy."

Not me. Sure, I had bad days like everybody. There were challenges that frustrated me. I struggled. But I knew, felt and was grateful that I had it good. Really good.

Enter cancer.

All of a sudden, my life is completely different. There's no transition period. There's no prep course. Everything I love about my life, including my life itself, is in jeopardy. In a particularly selfish moment early on I told Judy that the prospect of my death was worse for me than her, because she would only lose me but I would lose everybody.

So now I find myself clenching. I can't wait until chemo, radiation, surgery are over. I can't wait until I'm back to work, back with the band, back in the saddle. If I bite down hard, I can endure this ordeal and then resume the program already in progress.

I've even fantasized about a drug that could knock me out until it's all over, and I can awake, cancer-free, to start back where I was interrupted.

But I hear my grandmother's voice - don't wish your life away.

There's so much more going on around me than my therapy. Radiation takes less than an hour each morning, travel time included. Even if I don't feel my best, I don't always feel my worst, either. I'm spending more time with Judy than I have since we were in college, and I get to interact more with the kids than ever before.

I'd been thinking of the support of our friends and family as something to help us through our ordeal, but when I reflect honestly, I get a glimpse of the truth that it is much more than that. I've been privileged to hear, see and learn so much about the fundamental goodness and power of people and our world.

One of my friends gave me a book called "Touching Peace." Though it is the voice of a Buddhist monk, it is speaking the same message as my grandmother's. It is not enough for me to withstand this period of my life - I have to embrace it. I need to embrace it.

This morning, as I was waiting to go into radiation therapy, the patient who precedes me every day came out of the treatment room. She is probably in her late sixties or early seventies. As usual, I smiled and said good morning. She smiled and returned the greeting.

Then she stopped. She said "I feel like we're getting to know each other," and she told me her name. I stood up and introduced myself, too. We shook hands and smiled again. She turned to leave as I was called into the treatment room.

"See you tomorrow," she said.

Every moment has holiness in it.

I just have to reach out to touch it.


Blogger bonnie said...

You have lived a life with an attitude that takes most folks a liftime to learn. You always did stop and smell or at least enjoy the roses. Now you are learning there is a deeper meaning to "stop and smell the roses". Grandmother knew it, everytime she said don't wish your life away. Everything is sweeter when the mind is open, reach out, touch, smell, live......Anticipate the coming of new experiences and sharing new acquaintances, even really horrible storms have good things in them and past them. Lean on those that are there for that purpose, but always seize the day for opportunity. Fight the fight, work the plan, but take the journey as a living experience and wisdom that comes hard but is so enlightening and refreshing.

We believe in you Jim and the power of positive, caring thoughts.

11:43 AM  
Blogger UisceBaGirl said...

It sounds ever so trite to say that this was the most profoundly inspirational entry for me so far in your blog, but I have to say it anyway. I think that that's saying a lot because I've taken away profundity from about every post and also from many of your friends' comments. This entry, as many others, raised tears in my eyes. I think what did it was the comment: "Every moment has holiness in it." My soul cried, "Yes!" and my mind remembered that this is a truth I've read in other literature. Yet reading it here it was if for the first time I was beginning to discover this truth personally. During this season of light I'm going to try to remember these six words, especially in the difficult moments, even though my challenges are no comparison to daily radiation and all that Jim has going on.

12:57 PM  
Blogger vkenny said...

Hi Jimmy, Sometimes people think they are living when they are really just existing, going about their lives never really knowing what's truly important. When we lost Tommy in 95 that was my moment of true awakening, which was immediately followed by Eds' diagnosis, talk about a 1..2 punch. At first all I could think about was the inevitable end to his disease, but what I found was our everyday became a blessing good, bad or mediocre we are happy just to have another day together. To many people live for tomorrow I feel like one of the few who truly appreciate today in all its' glory, welcome to the club. V

1:41 PM  
Blogger Kita28 said...

Dearest Jim,

I’ve been thinking about your blog entry today. I know that nothing in my life compares to what you’re going through, but I did have some thoughts.

First, about living for tomorrow instead of today – I can’t believe that ever was you. And I knew you before family, partnership, and band (well you did have a band, not a professional one, but with a great keyboardist). You once told me that someone else we knew was “waiting for life to start.” But as far as I could see, you were always living it.

I called Judy yesterday (okay, I called Judy a couple times yesterday, but I’m talking about the last time). I talked to her for about two minutes – just long enough to recount a conversation I’d had with my 3 ½ year old daughter. It wasn’t a cute conversation, or anything memorable, it was only seven words, but I was so excited that I called Judy long distance to share it with her. Parents of typically developing children don’t experience the heartache and anxiety that some of us do. But they also don’t experience the great joy of hearing a child put seven words together and feeling that it’s a miracle. Would I rather have typically developing children? You bet. Do I receive special benefits because I don’t? You’d better believe it.

As you know, we have a close family member whose husband had a kidney transplant last year. They have been praying for you ever since we heard of your diagnosis. She said to me, “You know, the seven years that he was in renal failure were a terrible time. But I also can’t express the gifts that we were given during that time, and how much closer we became to God and to each other.” “Well, I certainly can’t tell them that cancer is a gift from God!” I said. And I still can’t.

Do I want you to not have cancer? YES!!! But whatever good the cancer may bring with it, whatever holiness comes in every moment, I should have known that you would find it.

Love and love,


5:49 PM  
Blogger Jyothi said...

Today I shared with some folks various quotations on the words "patient" and "patience" at the law firm where I work and dedicated that sharing to you. I wrote you earlier about Dr. Vernon Sylvest, M.D., a holistic physician who has treated several cancer patients and whose lectures on A Course in Miracles have helped me to understand a lot about our consciousness and its relationship to everything that happens in our lives. He is not the only scholar/physician who believes that everything, including disease, begins in the mind. In his last lecture, he spoke about the energy centers in the body which for thousands of years have been known to the ancients in the East and have now been scientifically proven in the West to exist. These energy centers called "chakras" have "mental/emotional equivalents" so that the thoughts happening in the mind travel to one or more of these energy centers and result in physical manifestations. I asked Dr. Sylvest about cancer of the esophagus in relation to the chakras and he said the mental/emotional equivalents (ie., what's going on in your consciousness) depended on where the cancer was located in the esophagus since the esophagus passes through several energy centers. I found a great article on the Internet about how our body is a mirror of our life. It also explains the chakras. I thought you might like to read it sometime ( It is a tutorial on the body/mind interface and includes information on the mental/emotional equivalents of the chakras. It states that we have to orient ourselves to the idea that the "causes of symptoms are within. While it's true that germs cause disease and accidents cause injuries, it is also true that this happens in accord with what is happening in the consciousness of the person involved." Your journal entries are inspirational. You seem to be reflecting now on your past accomplishments, on who you were before cancer knocked on your door. Some of your friends have encouraged you to consider honoring yourself by seeking professional therapy. It has tremendous benefits, including helping us to re-fine ourselves. When we are born, we are fine, but the world immediately begins to de-fine us with all kinds of labels. Then we continue to de-fine ourselves too. I am this. I am that and so on. But if we strip away all those de-finitions, we get back to our original fineness which is all love and joy. It helps to have a professional guide along for that important journey. I have someone to suggest in case you are still considering it: George Nixon, LPC, a deeply spiritual man, gifted healer. He's in the phone book. He's one of the best you can find anywhere!
Keep your light on.
Love from Jyothi

7:00 PM  
Blogger Jyothi said...


You can contact Dr. Vernon Sylvest through his website - You might enjoy some conversations with him.

8:43 AM  
Blogger Pat_N said...

I agree with the previous comments, your blogs are inspiring and eye opening (and eye watering) to me. The comments from your friends show you are surrounded by great people. There is a gentleman in my church group that taught a class on Praising God. His message was, praise God in all things. He went through a battle with cancer and even then he forced himself to thank God. There is holiness in the moment. When my daughter was being treated for her tumor I was in awe of God’s presence in the kindness of our circle of friends and beyond. It is a shame we have to go through tragedy to experience it. I agree with Jyothi, George Nixon is great guy. I’ve known him through running for many years.

Thanks for sharing this blog and performing last night.


8:54 AM  

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