Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Here's to Life!

Here’s to Life!
For Eileen

She had an insight, a view, few could have: to both
Be patient and nurse at once. We call it empathy:
The embodying of another’s pain, taking it on yourself,
The double experience of life and its pain incarnate,
So they[i] asked to hear what she could teach. Of course,
She told us all, if we could have the ears to listen.[ii]
“What is the difference? What makes you feel better?
I’m free, I’m free! Let’s go to the beach.”[iii] Her words
Resonate in our ears. The questions and the answers:
What is the difference, what is life? Either, both, all:
The pain, the disease, the struggle, and the service
To others’ pain, disease, and struggle, all mixed ever
Inextricably together in the scrapbook of our minds
With the respite of laughter and love spent in harmony
With friends, and family, and true partners in service
Beyond ourselves, lovingly captured in photographs,
Each a testament to what it is that truly matters—life.[iv]
Yes, such is the stuff of life: loss and gain, pleasure
And pain, all combined in images in our brain,
Never meant to die—and yet, if this alone is life,
How can we be free as you say we are to be?
I have to think and wonder, but when I look again,
And listen again, I hear and see beyond her words,
Her comforting smile, an ever strong, and fortified
Lady[v] saying, “Accept whatever life throws your way,
The rain need never dictate your day,
For whether the sun is shining or no,
You have a choice on what it makes so.[vi]

The outlook you have, and what you believe,
Can shape the joy you feel, or the loss you grieve,
For nothing’s ever lost if the story never ends,
Though hearts and bodies break, love always mends.”
So freedom then is found whenever we can love—to rise
Above events to see and act with our hearts, and not our eyes?
On days like this, when your loss we feel, can such things ever be?
Our minds say no, but through faith, let go, and simply wait and see,[vii]
And in the meantime, take our neighbor to the beach. Cheers![viii]

~ Rev. Peter T. Atkinson

[i] “They” – specifically the ABC News story (see note 3)

[ii] Allusions to Christ – “Incarnate, embodying another’s pain, ears to hear listen” – I wanted to evoke how her life exemplified carrying the cross of Christ, and so stands as a witness.

[iii] From her video, “A Day in the Life of a Cancer Patient” - . She poses the question about what makes the difference between two different people with the same numbers, the same fluids, why one is “actively dying” and “she is working.” She describes the feeling of being set free, like a kid on the last day of school.

[iv] This long sentence seeks to define life, capturing the pain and joy mixed together, and alluding to what she said filled her life, service, family, friends, all captured through photography and scrapbooking.

[v] In the video we see the woman we knew, strong, beautiful, fully aware, calmly alluding to moments where she wasn’t so strong, revealing how real her strength is, not in the make-up, or the wig, but behind her eyes, inside.

[vi] From Shakespeare’s Hamlet  – “there is nothing either good / or bad but thinking makes it so” (2.2.1350).

[vii] Her teaching symbolically has inspired my own because now my poem perfectly “end-rhymes”, whereas before rhyme was present but without consistent structure.

[viii] In the end, a simple message: “Love thy neighbor” by giving them the experience of joy at the beach, and toast always “to life” come full circle, I say “our” not “your” because her message has now come through me as the poet in my voice instead of hers.