Cherish is the Word


Embrace the abundance that life has given you.

By Paget Pizitz

Life abundant

I digress, deviate and meander around the point.  I skirt the issue and make amendments to the plan all the time. I take the long way home and ramble on tangents more often than not. I hope that’s why B-Metro continues to allow me to fill up this page with my wandering diatribes. This month, instead of writing about relationship specifics, I’d like to speak to all the relationships you have in your life. To my 902 “friends” on Facebook, the loyal readers I imagine myself as having, my boyfriend, my family and everyone who holds or once held a special place in my life, these words are for you. But first, some back-story, because I know you want something in the column to be lighthearted.

As an innocent, wiry-haired 13-year-old, Ashley Makar was the first friend I made at Indian Springs School. The first time I went to play at her house and met her father — a tall man with deep-set black eyes and a gruff Egyptian accent — he told me to clean myself up, that the race to catch a man for marriage was close upon me and dressing like a vagabond wasn’t doing anything to help my case. As it is, I saw him a year ago, and he scolded me for being unwed but informed me he had relatives in Egypt who would be eager to make me their wife. I don’t let anyone talk to me like that, except Youssif Makar.

After almost 20 years, Ashley is still like family. This winter, she was diagnosed with advanced esophageal carcinoma. She writes for Killing the Buddha, an online magazine of religion, culture and politics that invites readers who are both hostile to and drawn to talk of God to join them in building an electronic Tower of Babel, a Talmudic cathedral of stories about faith lost and found.

The following is an excerpt from Ashley’s story:

“I’ve got all manner of people I know and don’t know praying for me. I’m on Pentecostal prayer lists all over Walker County, where my mom grew up in Alabama. My Egyptian cousins are sending holy oil from the monastery of a Coptic nun known for healing miracles. My evangelical brother has missionaries holding prayer vigils for me in Papua New Guinea. His Messianic friends are blowing shofar in Jerusalem, tucking slips of paper with my name on them into the crevices of the Wailing Wall.

For this deluge of prayers, I say thank you. Thank you, God. And thank you every friend, acquaintance and stranger who’s praying for me. Thank you for being part of the life force that’s keeping me, somewhat exuberantly, alive. But I wonder why I don’t know how to pray for healing for myself. I did learn, from before I can remember, to pray — no matter what the doctors say — for healing. I’ve lived most of my life as a witness to debilitating illness: from my mom’s spinal cord injury, to my dad’s heart failure, kidney transplant, vascular dementia. My aunts on both sides died of cancer. And their caregivers — my grandmother Pauline and my uncle Latif — defied bleak prognoses with fierce, persistent prayers. I have three prayer shawls: a sea green one from Unitarians in West Hartford, an earth-toned one with iridescent purple threads from Congregationalists in Iowa, a periwinkle blue one from Episcopalians in Houston. I put on the prayer shawls when I don’t have words to pray, to wrap myself in the anonymous prayers of strangers. But I’m still one of those strangers praying for others. I say novenas to St. Jude, patron saint of difficult cases, for a refugee I know, who’s making his way from Israel to what’s left of his home in Southern Sudan. I pray the Mi Sheberakh, a Hebrew healing prayer, for a Jewish patient at the psych hospital who hopes to get stable enough to go to a group home in the mountains. I pray, in translation, “fulfill her dreams of healing,  strengthening her with the power of life.” I don’t think I believe my prayers will do a thing to help Sudanese refugees get home, through conflict zones and rainy seasons. I don’t think I believe my prayers for psychiatric patients will diminish their post-traumatic stress, their paranoid psychosis and their fears of life inside and outside locked wards. But I believe in the healing power of prayer.

I can feel the anonymous prayers of strangers in the shawls around my shoulders. I can feel the morning prayers of my friend’s mother, also living with cancer, buoying me up to embrace each day and celebrate life. I can already feel the unction of last rites — the repose that lets you rest, and die, when you need to. I don’t want to die early. But if I do, I want to surrender. I believe every loss has an afterlife. And I don’t mean bodily resurrection. When I die, I want to be cremated and have my ashes planted with a tree. A big, weeping beech with enough shade for everyone I love to gather under, unfurl a blanket, share a meal. I imagine all those prayers for healing swooping over the ground under my feet, like the shadows of birds. Evidence of living things unseen, faith making me well enough to live abundantly, with cancer.”

When a priest asked Ashley after communion what she was praying for, she responded, “To live as abundantly as I have for the last six weeks.”

Let this excerpt from her story inspire you to stop bickering over what ultimately doesn’t matter and start truly valuing the relationships in your life. Admire, acknowledge and embrace the strength of those around you.  I’m certainly guilty of scrutinizing the small things and making “mountains out of mole hills,” as my grandmother would say. Cherish, respect and care for the significant people around you, because what you have is precious, moments are fleeting, and life sometimes takes unexpected turns.

To read Ashley Makar’s entire article, visit  http://killingthebuddha.com/mag/confession/communion-on-chemo.•

Paget is the owner of Connections: Matchmaking and Personal Consulting.

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