Thursday, November 22, 2007


What seemed like a good idea yesterday seems like a not so good idea today. Writing the thoughts and feelings surrounding my breast cancer in a public place seems narcissistic, like it is giving to much importance to my dilemma, drawing attention to it. I mean, everybody is going through crises – some a lot more serious and difficult than my own. This is beginning to seem weird.

But the thoughts and feelings continue to emerge in me in the form of a blogpost (of all things), so, for now, I am putting them here.

My friend, Donna, has been in prison for 27 years. She is one of the wisest women that I know. Yesterday I got a letter from her in which she writes:

“… As depressing as this whole ordeal is for you, I hope you realize your situation is not hopeless. And believe it or not, that one small concession can make all the difference in the world. There is a vast sea of possibilities that separates helplessness from hopelessness. Helplessness means, there’s a problem and I cannot fix it. Plus, I realize no one else can fix it either. Hopelessness leads people to suicide and other tragic, irrational actions. Hopelessness causes unbearable grief, and if an individual does not understand the grieving process – and that it is a process – then it is often more than one can deal with. The grieving process, however, ends with acceptance. With acceptance come peace, strength, and courage. People grieve many losses aside from the physical and emotional losses evolving from the death of someone dear. We grieve the loss of a job, a lifestyle, a dream, a belief, ability, and endless other matters that impact our lives through uncontrollable change. There are five stages/steps in the grieving process: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

Beth, I am sorry you must contend with the necessity of losing a breast. I am a lot more optimistic than you are, because I have seen the remarkable difference in the procedure and results, first hands. I also know how fortunate you are to have first-class medical attention and care. Women in here have to wait a year or more, on average, to ever make it to surgery. By then, their chances of survival are greatly reduced to the extent that surgery sometimes becomes impractical. Their situation goes from helpless to hopeless while the powers-that-be haggle over dollars and cents. Ultimately, their health and lives are deemed worthless. I could argue the injustice of this until the cows come home, but it will not improve their outlook, or yours. Life is unfair, and contrary to popular belief, life is not full of promise. There is only one promise life guarantees – and that is hope! Where there is life there is hope! I arrived at that conclusion during my own struggle with hopelessness (after I received my 2033 parole date). That one final conclusion helped me abandon my suicidal quest and risk living again. I now realize there are many things I’d like to do before I die and even if I never get out of prison – there are still many things I can contribute in an effort to better mankind and/or the generations to come …”

I feel sad and scared, but there is something in me that is rising from this bed of sadness and fear. Maybe, like Donna says, this is my struggle for hope, something at the very core of life.

I am almost finished reading William Johnston’s autobiography, “The Mystical Journey”. Besides giving me lots of perspective on Zen and Christian meditation, Fr. Johnston also talks of his lifelong struggle with celibate sexuality – how he repressed his sexuality during the early years of his life, and then how he came to learn to love others within it.

This ability to not repress, not run away, and the ability to hold seemingly opposite and conflicting energies is also part of what I am reaching for.