I recently read a passage by Ram Dass that discussed peacefulness:
What does Buddha have to do with the women who inspired me? Read on…
Occasionally people show me their new babies and ask me if that peaceful innocence is not just like that of the Buddha. Probably not, I tell them, for within that baby reside all the latent seeds of worldly desire, just waiting to sprout as the opportunity arises. On the other hand, the expression on the face of the Buddha, who had seen through the impermanence and suffering associated with such desires, reflects the invulnerability of true freedom.
Since the topic of this prompt links back to cancer, the women I know and have known who had cancer came to mind immediately. Some were very public about their experiences; others literally did not convey the message to their most loved ones until after death. All of them inspired in one way or another. It is the ones who somehow embody peacefulness (a la Buddha) despite the impermanence of their health statuses and their tangible suffering who get top billing in this post.
When I was in grad school, I had to interview someone with a disability. That led me to Judy, who had had various battles with cancer over her lifetime, eventually leading to the removal of her leg. Did that stop the light that almost literally emanates from her? NO. I owe it completely to her (and divine intervention) that I ended up at her church, St. Francis, for most of the next decade, with the exception of the three years I was in New York.
Speaking of New York, back in 1991, I was seeking a replacement for my “coffee hour duty” at my church. I was calling through the list of potential substitutes and came upon Lucy, who replied, “You must not know – I am on the prayer list.” In reality, “on the prayer list” meant desperately ill with terminal cancer. She could have said, “I am fighting for my life and can’t believe you care about me shoveling cookies down the Methodists’ throats” but she said, so kindly, “I am on the prayer list.” She made it easy for me.
When my children were in daycare, I kept noticing a pregnant mom with no hair picking up her child who was my son’s age. It did not compute. Turns out, Jennifer was battling breast cancer, while pregnant, while raising a 2 year old, with a smile on her face every time I saw her!
Lastly, the final honoree will not be identified. It is too early. She is someone I talk with frequently in the course of doing business. When I called her today to discuss what I thought was my thorny business-related problem, she said she needed to tell me something after that. She sat through my explanation of my “complex” issue, then told me that, after beating bladder cancer, she has been diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer and will be out for a few weeks. No weeping, no gnashing of teeth, no “poor me’s”. Classy, calm, almost peaceful.
When I am on edge due to stressors much less serious than a cancer diagnosis, everyone in my orbit knows it. Not because I say, “it is bothering me that I am in debt a lot more than I want to be (or whatever the problem du jour is),” but because I allow the stress to snuff out my inner light and put a damper on the way I relate. I am so not in the “invulnerability of true freedom” stage yet.
Thanks to these women, though, I am inspired to open myself up to that invulnerability. They help me believe I can be truly free.
Wife of one, Mom of two, Friend of many.