Pondering Death’s Visit and Living Your Truth

I’m having surgery in 4 days. Last week I met with the 2 surgeons performing the surgery. They are kind and personable and explain 0handsmedical terms in a way that a non-medical person can understand. They are respected in their field and are very good at what they do.

The main surgeon who is doing the more tricky parts told me he’d be treating me as if I were his wife or sister on the operating table. He’s talked to numerous other doctors to get their input. He’s studied my case, my files, my test results. He is confident and meticulous and if ever during the surgery there is a question, there are many, many colleagues he can call on for advice or assistance.

“But,” he told me, “I am not God.”

That was refreshing to hear because some surgeons do believe they are God. This I knew was the lead-up to him telling me what could go wrong during surgery. He said he had to tell me these things; not to make me worry or make me think these things would definitely happen, but to make me aware, to be honest, and to see that medicine is not a perfect science and things can go wrong.

“Of course,” I said.

He decided to start off with the worst-case scenario. I suppose it is best to get that out of the way. I mean, once that one is out of the way, all the other things that could go wrong seem quite insignificant.

“I have to tell you this. There is a an infinitesimal chance that death could occur. I mean, a 1% chance.”

I noted how he said it, I suppose to soften the blow. He didn’t say, “You could die,” which is what he meant, but he said it in a more passive way, like Death could possibly float into the room, say hello and go along his way.

Hearing it was unsettling. However, I understand it’s not very likely that it will happen. And the truth is, we could die at anytime for a multitude of reasons. It’s just a bit more worrisome knowing you are putting yourself in that position by choice (although a choice that is necessary for my quality of life).

When one has a child the prospect of death becomes a million times more sobering. In our younger, carefree days, we feel immortal, we don’t worry about death. Even I, who grew up with a chronic illness, did not feel threatened by being mortal. Now, however, the warning that my doctor gave me has been stuck in the front of my brain.

I talked to friends and asked them if I was insane or overreacting for wanting to write my son a letter,  a sort of goodbye, telling him how much I love him and always will and what I wish for him. Everyone said that I should certainly do that, if only to purge those thoughts and to take that worry from my mind.

I’ve started the letter about ten different times and have already written the words in my head for what feels like a thousand times. Each time I do; however, my eyes start stinging from the tears. Of course I don’t want to leave my son behind. And I won’t be! I think about those poor mothers or fathers who have terminal cancer and know they are dying and are going to leave their children behind. That is heartbreaking. I am grateful that my condition is nowhere near as serious as that.

Illness changes a person. You have a different outlook on life. You figure out your truth and try your best to live by it. I realize the importance of living with passion and getting my feelings all out there. I can see the frailty of life. So, while I’m confident this letter will not be read by my son next week, it will surely be a great reminder of what I want to share with him, teach him and how to guide him. My hope is to raise him and to make him feel loved and cherished and teach him what I think is important and let him flourish in whatever ventures he chooses. It also reminds me what I need to share with all those I care about.

I tell my son every day that I love him. I hug him and kiss him. He’s little and loves it now, and I will continue to do that until the day I die. I won’t embarrass him in front of his friends, but I will not stop showing him how much he means to me, no matter how annoying it gets to him. Every child goes through those years of rebellion and breaking away from his parents. But once he grows out of that stage, my hope is that he’ll remember how I never gave up on him, no matter how shitty he could sometimes act (because all teenagers are a bit crazy…or a lot crazy). I’ll still love him, no matter what.

For me, the greatest trait a person can possess is kindness. I’m not talking about wimpiness or a walk-all-over-me attitude,  but I wish for my son to possess a light that shines in his heart which pushes him to help his fellow human beings (friend or not) and would never allow him to hurt someone else on purpose. I already see this in him, but I will continue to teach him through my own actions and through discussions about his life experiences on how important it is to keep that light burning. If we are to leave a mark on this world, shouldn’t it be to make it a better place?  I want my son to be known as a good guy – sensitive, generous and sincere. We’ve all been knocked down, whether by illness or abuse or bullying or poverty or  prejudice. Everyone carries around their own share of pain. Isn’t it time to be kinder, be the bigger person and not perpetuate the hate?

It’s not aways easy to be kind, and that is why it takes courage. My wish is for my son to have courage and strength. He should stand up for what he believes in. He should stand up for anyone who is getting bullied or harassed. And most important of all, he should have the courage to show his feelings. I understand the courage that it takes, because the fear of rejection is strong. Also, you don’t know how the other person will react; most crushing can be when someone doesn’t react at all. However, in this one life we are given, we should not squander our feelings, but instead share them boldly. Secrets can diminish us, but those that speak their truth can stand proud in knowing they are not holding anything back.

I want him to discover his passions and live them. He’s 6 now, so he wants to be everything from an opera singer, spy, magician, superhero, video game designer and an architect. As he grows, he will discover what really excites him and makes his pulse race. I would never dictate what that should be. I will certainly be unwavering in my desire for him to have a passion for learning, because that’s where it all begins. From there, he can see where his talents lie and what he wants to do with them. I hope he sees my tenacity and learns the importance of never giving up. With dreams, goals and hard work, one can accomplish whatever they desire.

I wish for him to have true-blue friends. Of course this means that he needs to be a true-blue friend. He doesn’t need a ton of them, but a special few that share his interests and values, friends that can make him laugh and friends that encourage him to think about things differently. He should be loyal and forgiving and love them like family. True friends help you when you fall, and in our lives there are plenty of times when we need a little help.

My little boy will grow up and fall in love. He will probably have his heart broken numerous times, but when the time is right I hope he finds “the one” partner for him. Whomever he dates and ultimately chooses, he needs to show that kindness in his heart, communicate well, love with everything he’s got, be a gentleman and cherish and protect the heart he holds. He needs to know when to say “I’m sorry,” and love passionately. He needs to have patience and gratitude and never give up on that person. And hopefully, by showing him all the love I have for him and what a great person he is, he will know what he deserves – someone that will cherish him as much as I do.

I don’t think it’s bad to ponder the frailty of life and let it guide you. Although your ideals may be much different than mine, I believe it’s important to know what those ideals are. What message are you giving to the world? Are you living and loving with passion? Are you sharing your truth, your soul? I don’t want Death to visit me for a long, long time. But when he does, I don’t want there to be anything in me left unspoken.


Spirituality vs. Religion

Religion is for people who are scared to go to hell. Spirituality is for people who have already been there.” ~ Bonnie Raitt

If I were to classify myself as spiritual or religious, I definitely fall on the side of spiritual. I’m quite fond of Raitt’s quote and it rings true for me, but I know plenty of religious people that have been through hell, and used their faith to help get them through.

Kindness is my religion.

Kindness is my religion.

So, what is the difference between spirituality and religion? I battled finding the right words to delineate the difference, and found a very concise explanation online: “Religion is often about loyalty to institutions, clergy, and rules. Spirituality is about loyalty to justice and compassion. Religion talks about God. Spirituality helps to make us godly. The two need not be at odds. Religion at its best is spirituality in community.”  Shapiro, Rabbi Rami. (May-June 2012) What is the Difference Between Religion and Spirituality? Retrieved from http://spiritualityhealth.com/articles/what-difference-between-religion-and-spirituality

People’s beliefs have always intrigued me. I am not one for debate so much as getting inside another’s head. I have friends that are atheist, agnostic, Catholic, Muslim, protestant and Buddhist. Some don’t like to categorize themselves at all. I can call all of these nonbelievers or believers friends because we have come to an understanding.

When I was a newbie teacher, I was able to put up a small Christmas tree in my classroom (all of my students were Christian or at least celebrated Christmas). When I moved onto a more diverse district, I didn’t want to leave anyone out. So, along with a Christmas tree, our classroom was decorated with a Menorah, a kinara and Diwali oil lamps; we also had a mini post-Ramadan feast. The students and I learned a lot about other cultures and holidays and the non-Christian students were proud to show us their traditions. I was annoyed the next year when my principal told me I couldn’t teach that unit again. But, I understood and respect the separation of church and state. As of December 2012, 77% of Americans identify themselves as Christian. Although some may argue that because Christians are the majority in this country, we shouldn’t have to be so “politically correct” in the classroom. But, why should non-Christians have to conform to the majority’s religion?

As a spiritual person, I believe that I could walk into most any church and find some sort of common ground (unless it’s the Westboro Baptist Church. I’d like to stay as far away as possible from those psychos). I have taught Sunday School and I believe in Jesus’ teachings. However, I don’t agree with everything written in the bible. While recently in the hospital, a pastor stopped by, held my hand and said a prayer for me. This felt intimate and comforting – even just for someone to hold my hand. It’s funny, but while in the hospital you kind of lose all dignity as you are poked, prodded and examined, but no one holds your hand. Just that act made me feel human again and not some pin cushion.

I believe in kindness and miracles and love and helping others and rooting for the underdog. I believe we have souls and that beauty is a gift to be noticed. I pray, and sometimes I wonder if anyone is listening. Is it God, the angels, the universe, my grandmother? It brings comfort and hope, even though some cynics would call it a crutch. I also believe in hard-work – prayers (answered or not) may give you a spark, but you need to keep the embers glowing and light the fire yourself. I think we are a network of people and the more generosity of spirit we exhibit the better off our world will be. I believe we need to love ourselves in order to love anyone else and that random acts of kindness make this world more beautiful. I believe in living with love in my  heart and I do my best not to take a bad mood out on someone else.

Sure, I have my moments of misanthropy when horrible acts are carried out to hurt other humans. It’s easy to lose faith in humanity. But because I love my friends and family, I want to make this world a better place, and I figure I need to start with me. If I’m a mean crabby patty, then how can I expect others to show kindness?

I’ve recently started meditating. While this is not always a spiritual practice, for me I feel connected to something warm and beautiful. Recently someone made me mala beads, which are like rosary beads for Buddhists. The beads have helped my practice of meditation. I focus on a mantra or positive thought for each bead until I’ve gone around the entire string. A mantra is like a little prayer. I pray for my son, myself, my friends. I often wonder if the people I’m thinking about feel the kindness and warm energy at night while I’m meditating. My mala beads are gorgeous, and were made out of stones that I requested for their certain healing benefits.


My mala beads made of Amazonite, Red Calcite, Amethyst and Howlite stones, strung together with silk. Made with care at http://www.malamemala.com

I’ll leave you with some quotes from John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars. In the story Hazel, a teenager who is battling cancer, is an atheist. Her father explains to her how he feels about spirituality:

“I believe the universe wants to be noticed. I think the universe is improbably biased toward the consciousness, that it rewards intelligence in part because the universe enjoys its elegance being observed. And who am I, living in the middle of history, to tell the universe that it – or my observation of it – is temporary?”

At the end of the book, Hazel contemplates what her father had told her:

“I was thinking about the universe wanting to be noticed, and how I had to notice it as best I could. I felt that I owed a debt to the universe that only my attention could repay, and also that I owed a debt to everybody who didn’t get to be a person anymore and everyone who hadn’t gotten to be a person yet.”

Do I think I alone can make a difference? Yes. Do I think if kindness is spread by more people our world will be better off? Definitely. Do I think there are positive forces out there? Certainly, because without them I wouldn’t have the love of my friends and family, my son, the kindness of strangers, prayers from a pastor or the beauty of the stars, always twinkling above us, awaiting to be noticed.