Message given at Durham Friends Meeting, May 3, 2020
Message brought by Sukie Rice on May 3, 2020)
I have recently re-read (for the fourth time) a book called “And There Was Light.” It is an autobiography by Jacques Lusseyran, a Frenchman born in 1924. At the age of eight, Lusseyran had an accident that caused him to become totally blind. Much like Helen Keller, his life was an inspiration to countless numbers of people as he made his blindness become his strongest asset. Indeed, at age 17 he became the leader of a French resistance group that printed and distributed an underground newspaper, which he and schoolboy friends spread widely. Within a few years the paper had a distribution of about 50,000, making it one of the most reliable sources of resistance news in the country. There was no book containing the hundreds of names and numbers of members of the group, but instead they were all kept in Lusseyran’s head. But that’s not why I’m telling you about him.
What I want to tell you about is his experience growing up without sight. He says that from the earliest time after the accident, although he was unable to see the light of the world, much to his amazement, the light was still there. In all its movement, shades, colors, as strong as it had been when he had had his sight. When others said he would never see light again, what he discovered is that the Light is not in the in the outer world. The Light dwells where life also dwells: within ourselves.
His second discovery was that this inner light was dependent on him and his soul condition. When he felt fear, sorrow, anger or envy the light decreased accordingly or became extinguished. It was when he was in a negative soul condition that he was truly blind. The absence of love was what brought on the loss of the Light.
Needless to say, blindness became the catalyst for him to live a new way. Each day a school chum would meet him at his door and walk him to school, looking forward to their new day. Boys vied to give him their shoulder to hold onto as they ran down the roads and through the fields. He didn’t miss out on play for a moment. He was an excellent student, highly respected for his ability to pay deep attention, his ability to sort out the “truth” from fiction, and his insight into the real intentions and character of others. He says his blindness was his greatest gift as it gave him access to the real Light.
Now I’m going to shift gears, and talk a little about vulnerability. Everyone has felt vulnerable at some time or another. People usually don’t like to feel vulnerable. They often tend to walk away from situations that make them feel vulnerable, sometimes closing themselves off, protecting themselves, finding ways not to feel or show vulnerability. After all, vulnerability is weakness, isn’t it?
Well, I’m going to say, “no.” In fact, I believe feeling vulnerable is one of the most valuable things we can allow ourselves to feel. Allowing ourselves to be vulnerable, to have our hearts be broken, is what can change our lives. You can’t fall in love without risking getting hurt. You can’t do most anything worthwhile in life without taking chances and allowing yourself to be vulnerable.
But most of all, I think that it is when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable that we accept our “cracks” through which the Light can enter in. Clearly Jacques Lusseyran embraced his vulnerability and, instead of being angry or sorry for himself, he opened himself and discovered a whole world of Light and a way of seeing from the inner soul. He treasured this gift he had been given.
Now I’m going to shift gears once again. And talk about myself and my journey with cancer and of being vulnerable, very vulnerable, as facing one’s mortality makes one become.
Most of you know that I have been dealing with cancer for over 2 ½ years. Stage 3 ovarian cancer has a poor recovery rate, and from the beginning I knew my chances of “beating it” weren’t great. But I also knew it was a challenge from God and I needed to accept it, to embrace it and to give it my best shot and to take advantage of this disease to change and grow. I knew God had given it to me as a gift, to crack me open, to be vulnerable and to discover new things.
It has actually been an incredible journey with so much spiritual seeking, inner growth, and an abundance of love and connection with others. We ARE connected, deeply connected, although it’s easy for weeks and months to go by without our realizing how powerfully true this is. Because of my vulnerability I have become intensely conscious of these connections, and because of that, more Love and Light has been coming through the cracks, often with great tenderness.
Now I wish to bring you “up to date” with where I am and what is happening with my cancer. A month ago I shared with Friends about this during our after-meeting Zoom fellowship and they all said, “Please share this with the rest of the Meeting,” which is why I am doing so today.
Two months ago my CT scan showed the cancer was growing and had metastasized into my lung and pleural cavity. It was brought there by the lymph, and once the lymph starts carrying cancer cells, it can keep spreading. The doctor said I could either try one more chemo drug that might hinder the growth of the cancer. Or I could begin on Hospice. I chose the chemo.
I have now had two of these chemo treatments and tomorrow I am scheduled to go in for a third. Unlike the other chemos I have had, this one seems to be especially toxic for my system, and the side effects have been very rugged. It means I have a great deal of fatigue, nausea, abdominal pain or discomfort, and just plain feel crummy. I have to sleep sitting up to avoid pain and nausea. Of course there are pills I take to help reduce the intensity of these side effects, and they are certainly very helpful. But every meal becomes a challenge. Having my brain and motivation slow down to a crawl is frustrating.
I do get some “good days” near the end of the 21-day cycle. This past Wednesday, Friday, yesterday were good days. I’ve chosen today to bring this message because I knew it would be a good day. But the number of good or partial good days are far outnumbered by the difficult days and, to be honest, I don’t know how many more of the treatments I can take.
This means, my friends, that I don’t know “what’s in store” for me next. Except that I continue to be vulnerable and face my mortality. What has been wonderful in all of this, however, are the conversations I have had with people. Tender. Loving. Deep. Often with a wave of tears that comes over us. Always inviting the Light to enter and give us deeper spiritual connection. People don’t talk about dying very often. Knowing one is going to die is a very special privilege. It is so different from the deaths of people from the coronavirus. To me that is absolutely terrifying. It isn’t “natural” like heart or lung disease, or cancer or all the other illnesses that take us. Instead, it comes out of the blue, is fast and furious, and people are separated from loved ones in the most horrific way. Most people think about the numbers and the spread, and the protections and the political differences when they talk about the coronavirus. I think about the suffering of those people who are dying and their family members. Unlike them, I have had time with my family and friends to slowly get prepared for my passing and to grieve in small ways so that when the time comes, I hope my passing will be a gentle release into the spiritual world rather than a sudden, terrible storm of grief.
Why am I telling you all of this? Well, mostly because you are my Friends, my spiritual community and we share our spiritual challenges and insights. I want you to know that I have a very, very deep faith … an absolute conviction of God — the Divine Presence, that is within and all around. I believe that Christ is a part of that Divine Presence and Light. I also believe in reincarnation and karma. I believe that each of us has a Spirit that existed before we were born, lives within each of us as our essential self during our life, which will continue after our death. It is because of this belief that I can be so accepting of the truth that I am dying. It is God’s will whenever it happens. I just want to be surrounded by Love and Prayers to help carry me into my next journey.
And so, I close with this: Let yourself be vulnerable. Let the cracks happen. Allow pain and the Light to come in. Talk about death and dying. Yes, it is a mystery, but don’t let it be a taboo subject. Make it personal because some day it will become very personal.
I express my gratitude to all of you who allow me to share my journey with you, to talk about my final months and days. I love my husband Lee and my sons so dearly. And my dear, dear friends. I believe I will be with them from the other side and will be sharing with them the Light and Joy I experience with my new “eyes.” It will be a new birth. Let me share it with all of you as well. (Reference: And There Was Light, by Jacques Lusseyran (New World Library, Novato, CA)