THE CENTER FOR THIRD AGE NEWSLETTER – DECEMBER 2014
1. FATHER WILLIAM’S MUSINGS
2. KINDNESS: THE FIRST GIFT
3. THREE MAGICAL WORDS: JAI SHREE KRISHNA
4. FEAR & FAITH
5. GRATITUDE IS THE KEY TO PEACE
6. YES, VIRGINIA, THERE IS A SANTA CLAUS
7. ONE GREAT ACT OF HOLIDAY KINDNESS
8. THIS MONTH’S LINKS
QUOTE OF THE MONTH: JOHN O’DONOHUE
“To believe in blessing is to believe that our being here, our very presence in the world, is itself the first gift, the primal blessing… Nowhere does the silence of the infinite lean so intensely as around the form of a newly born infant. Once we arrive, we enter into the inheritance of everything that has preceded us; we become heirs to the world. To be born is to be chosen. To be created and come to birth is to be blessed.”
1. FATHER WILLIAM’S MUSINGS
Holiday Greetings, Dear Friends…
This is a time of year many, maybe even most, of us feel more keenly drawn to Spirit no matter what our religious upbringings and rehabilitating evolutions may have been. The season calls us to reconnect with something deeper in us and in life, and we respond. At least, old FW does. And this year I’ve been gifted with a new insight into my childhood version of The Christmas Story, an interpretation that’s allowing me to reopen to parts of my heritage I’ve cut myself off from for half a century.
Disclaimer: I have no intention of donning that heritage in full again, so please don’t imagine I’m being ‘born again’ in a way that puts you off.
I was raised in a suburb of St. Louis, Missouri, a southern US city then, and, from the Ferguson events, still. Mom was Catholic and dad was not in 1933, so they had to be married outside the altar rail as mom would only accept a Catholic ceremony. The church also required dad to sign a contract that the children had to be raised Catholic in order for the ceremony to take place. Not what one would call a ‘freeing start’ to the marriage – or for me and my sister.
Dad never went to church with us, but mom insisted Janie and I attend mass every week with her. That led to me to a decade of first communion, confirmation and altar boy experience. I have nothing sordid to report about any of that. But I did take on enormous guilt for Adam eating the apple and for Christ being crucified for my sins. By the age of six I knew at deep unconscious levels I could never be or do enough to atone for my being part of the species that had caused such terrible pain to the Son of God.
Yet, despite this incredible guilt, I always did, and still do, love the Christmas season, and I hope you of different faiths, or non-faiths, may find echoes of your own experience in mine. I’ve always looked forward to December and embraced the rituals of carols, tree, feasting and family. I still do. But there is also a dark side that comes with the season’s conflicting messages of positive love and negative guilt, and I’d never found a satisfying resolution to that disturbing paradox until this year.
I did seek balm for my unease on alternative paths, and many helped greatly, but the cultural differences also took me away from my own heritage and history of being raised as 1940’s Catholic boy in the Midwest.
My first glimmer of reconciliation came in the early 80’s from Matthew Fox,* a Catholic priest defrocked for his beliefs, who offered an astounding reversal of the notion of ‘original sin’. Here’s a quick summary I found in a sermon by Jane Easdale of Wedgwood Baptist Church…
…I had an opportunity to hear Matthew Fox, a formerly Catholic and now Episcopalian priest, speak at Colgate Rochester Divinity School, in Rochester, New York, (optional: one of those fine Northern seminaries. Yep there are divinity schools north of the Mason Dixon line!). Matthew Fox’s theology, based upon the Hebrew scriptures, states that blessing permeates “all creation from the very beginning.” He continues “There is no doubt that original blessing is the basis of all trust and of all faith. Original blessing underlies all being, all creation, all time, all space, all unfolding and evolving of what is…” Original Blessing! Not “Original Sin” as I had been taught back in fundamentalist days where we all begin life – not in innocence – but in sin.
Fox continues to say, “The (Hebrew) word for covenant, beriyth, is also directly related to the (Hebrew) words for ‘create’ and for ‘blessing.’ A covenant is a blessing agreement, a promise to bless and to return blessing for blessing.” Fox also quotes former president of the Catholic Bible Association of Germany and author, Herbert Haag, who writes: “The doctrine of original sin is not found in any of the writings of the Old Testament. It is certainly not (emphasis mine) in chapters one to three of Genesis…The idea that Adam’s descendants are automatically sinners because of the sin of their ancestor, and that they are already sinners when they enter the world, is foreign to Holy Scripture.”
Fox cites Elie Wiesel, a holocaust survivor, whom he calls “a Jewish prophet.” Wiesel says, “The concept of original sin is alien to Jewish tradition.”
One last quote from Fox: “We enter a broken and torn and sinful world – that is for sure. But we do not enter as blotches on existence, as sinful creatures, we burst into the world as ‘original blessings.’”
Isn’t that marvelous! We don’t come in sinful – “we burst into the world as ‘original blessings’”!
FW NOTE: If you’d like a glimpse of Baptist diversity, I recommend checking out http://wedgewoodchurch.com/sermonjaneesdale7.html
I’ve been aware of Matthew’s insight for many years, but didn’t fully let it in until now when I was ‘gifted’ with a much deeper interpretation of Christ’s birth than I’d seen before. And ‘gifted’ is the right word – I can’t tell you where it came from, but it’s way beyond this ego and body. More and more I think the truly great stuff comes with aging!
So here’s what came to me. I visually relived the story of Jesus birth – the long trip, the ‘no room at the inn’ and the birth in the manger. But this time I saw it entirely differently.
It had always been presented to me as if GOD, somewhere way up there was sending HIS only SON down here to straighten out us screwed up, sinful humans by dying for our sins (sorry if I’ve overemphasized the excessive patriarchy of ‘The Church’, but it’s time). This meant Jesus had to perform miracles, be betrayed, get gruesomely crucified and rise from the dead so we’d believe he was for real.
Seems much of the world went for that interpretation, which also meant we depended upon religions with churches, mosques and synagogues as our only avenue to salvation and redemption. So we succumbed and sent our children to unending trainings that instilled the guilt that makes them obedient to their churches, mosques, synagogues… and parents.
The ‘gift’ I’ve recently received was to reinterpret my childhood understanding of Christ’s birth.
Like Matthew Fox and Jane Esdale, I now see it as bringing another message altogether, a message that frees rather than imprisons, a message that Spirit, whatever it may be, comes in us and with us as we are born. Christ’s birth was never meant to be taken as singular, unique and limited to a god’s immediate progeny. It was meant to be a powerful reminder to us of not who we might someday become, but who we already are.
We are whole and complete. The terrible forms of destruction we create come from thinking we are not, that we should be different than we are. To let our destructiveness evaporate, we just need to stop trying to be someone else and relax into being, loving and sharing who we are. Easy to say, but very hard to do when cultural messages so consistently pound us with the marketing message that “we are never enough.”
May you have the most joyous of Seasons whatever path you choose!
Much love, FW
PS: Part of my re-owning my history is listening to Dylan Thomas read “A Child’s Christmas in Wales.” Even though St. Louis and Wales would seem to exist on different planets, Dylan’s reading takes me back into my own heritage along with his….
*Matthew Fox (born 1940) is an American Episcopal priest and theologian. Formerly a member of the Dominican Order within the Roman Catholic Church, he became member of the Episcopal Church following his expulsion from the order in 1993, by Cardinal Ratzinger. Fox was an early and influential exponent of a movement that came to be known as Creation Spirituality. The movement draws inspiration from the mystical philosophies of such medieval Catholic visionaries as Hildegard of Bingen, Thomas Aquinas, Saint Francis of Assisi, Julian of Norwich, Dante Alighieri, Meister Eckhart and Nicholas of Cusa, as well as the wisdom traditions of Christian scriptures. Creation Spirituality is also strongly aligned with ecological and environmental movements of the late 20th century and embraces numerous spiritual traditions around the world, including Buddhism, Judaism, Sufism, and Native American spirituality, with a focus on “deep ecumenism”.
2. KINDNESS: THE FIRST GIFT
BY JOHN O’DONOHUE, AWAKIN.ORG, NOVEMBER 28, 2014
FW NOTE: “To believe in blessing is to believe that our being here, our very presence in the world, is itself the first gift, the primal blessing. Nowhere does the silence of the infinite lean so intensely as around the form of a newly born infant. Once we arrive, we enter into the inheritance of everything that has preceded us; we become heirs to the world. To be born is to be chosen. To be created and come to birth is to be blessed.”
“To be here is immense.” -Rainer Maria Rilke
There is a kindness that dwells deep down in things; it presides everywhere, often in the places we least expect. The world can be harsh and negative, but if we remain generous and patient, kindness inevitably reveals itself. Something deep in the human soul seems to depend on the presence of kindness; something instinctive in us expects it, and once we sense it we are able to trust and open ourselves. Here in Conamara, the mountains are terse and dark; left to themselves they would make for a brooding atmosphere. However, everywhere around and in between there are lakes. The surface of these lakes takes on the variations of the surrounding light to create subtle diffusions of color. Thus their presence qualifies the whole landscape with a sense of warmth and imagination. If we did not feel that some ultimate kindness holds sway, we would feel like outsiders confronted on every side by a world toward which we could make no real bridges.
“The word kindness has a gentle sound that seems to echo the presence of compassionate goodness. When someone is kind to you, you feel understood and seen. There is no judgment or harsh perception directed toward you. Kindness has gracious eyes; it is not small-minded or competitive; it wants nothing back for itself. Kindness strikes a resonance with the depths of your own heart; it also suggests that your vulnerability, though somehow exposed, is not taken advantage of; rather, it has become an occasion for dignity and empathy. Kindness casts a different light, an evening light that has the depth of color and patience to illuminate what is complex and rich in difference.
“Despite all the darkness, human hope is based on the instinct that at the deepest level of reality some intimate kindness holds sway. This is the heart of blessing. To believe in blessing is to believe that our being here, our very presence in the world, is itself the first gift, the primal blessing. As Rilke says: Hier zu sein ist so viel — to be here is immense. Nowhere does the silence of the infinite lean so intensely as around the form of a newly born infant. Once we arrive, we enter into the inheritance of everything that has preceded us; we become heirs to the world. To be born is to be chosen. To be created and come to birth is to be blessed. Some primal kindness chose us and brought us through the forest of dreaming until we could emerge into the clearance of individuality, with a path of life opening before us through the world.
“The beginning often holds the clue to everything that follows. Given the nature of our beginning, it is no wonder that our hearts are imbued with longing for beauty, meaning, order, creativity, compassion, and love. We approach the world with this roster of longings and expect that in some way the world will respond and confirm our desire. Our longing knows it cannot force the fulfillment of its desire; yet it does instinctively expect that primal benevolence to respond to it. This is the threshold where blessing comes alive.
3. THREE MAGICAL WORDS: JAI SHREE KRISHNA
BY NIPUN MEHTA, AWAKIN.ORG, NOVEMBER 27, 2014
FW NOTE: One gift other traditions offer is the serenity of knowing whatever or wherever gods may be, they are not separate from us and beyond our knowing…
“Whatever you do, make it an offering to me.“ -Bhagavad Gita
ARUN DADA AND MIRA BA
Two weeks ago, a few of us visited an elderly Gandhian couple in Baroda — Arun Dada and Mira Ba. Now in their 80s, their entire life has been rooted in generosity. As students of Vinoba, they have never put a price tag on their labor. Their presence speaks to a life-long practice of equanimity, trust and compassion. And so do their stories.
“Nine years ago, we were gifted this house,” Arun Dada told us. The week they moved in, they discovered that their neighbor was a drunkard, prone to fits of violence. Just a couple days after their move, they noticed that their front-yard was filled with food items and alcohol.
It turned out that the neighbor also ran a catering business, and thought he could use Arun Dada’s front yard for storage space. Arun Dada naturally protested. “Sir, this is our home now, we don’t drink or take non-vegetarian food, and this is inappropriate.” Somehow he managed to convince the catering staff of their error.
But that night, at 12:30AM, the gates of his bungalow shook violently. “Who is Arun Bhatt?” a loud voice screamed. Mira Ba is wheelchair bound and immobile, but she woke up and looked out the window. Arun Dada put on his glasses and walked out to the gate.
“Hi, I’m Arun,” he said while greeting the ominous drunk man. Immediately, the man grabbed 73-year-old Arun Dada by his collar and said, “You sent my staff back this morning? Do you know who I am? ” It was the next-door neighbor bent on inflicting fear and punishment. While cursing vehemently, he struck Arun Dada’s face, knocking his glasses to the ground — which he then tossed into a nearby creek. Undeterred by the violent actions, Arun Dada compassionately held his ground. “My friend, you can take out my eyes if you’d like, but we have now moved into this house, and it would be great if you could respect our boundaries,” he said.
“Oh yes, you’re that Gandhian type, aren’t you? I’ve heard of people like you,” sneered the intruder. After some more verbal assaults, the drunken neighbor gave up for the night and left.
The next morning, the neighbor’s wife apologetically approached Arun Dada and Mira Ba. “I’m so sorry. My husband gets very unruly at night. I heard that he threw away your glasses last night, so I’ve brought this for you,” she said offering some money for a new pair of glasses. Arun Dada responded with his usual equanimity, “My dear sister, I appreciate your thought. But my glasses, they were rather old and my prescription has gone up significantly. I was long overdue for new glasses anyhow. So don’t worry about it.” The woman tried to insist, but Arun Dada wouldn’t accept the money.
A few days later, during the day, the neighbor and Arun Dada crossed paths on their local street. The neighbor, embarrassed, hung his head and looked down at the ground, unable to make eye contact. A common response might be one of self-righteousness (“Yeah, you’d better look down!”), but Arun Dada didn’t feel good about the encounter. He went home and reflected on how he might be able to befriend his difficult neighbor, but no ideas surfaced.
Weeks passed. It was still challenging being neighbors. For one, the man next door was always on the phone, negotiating some deal or another, and every other word out of his mouth was a curse word. They didn’t have much sound insulation between their walls, but Mira Ba and Arun Dada were constantly subject to foul language, even though it wasn’t addressed at them. Again, with equanimity, they quietly endured it all and continued to look for an avenue to this man’s heart.
Then, it happened. One day, after one of his routine conversations peppered with foul language, the neighbor concluded his call with three magical words: “Jai Shree Krishna”. An homage to Krishna, an embodiment of compassion. At the very next opportunity, Arun Dada approached him and said, “Hey, I heard you say ‘Jai Shree Krishna’ the other day. It would be nice if we could say the same to each other, every time we crossed paths.” It was impossible not to be touched by such a gentle invitation, and sure enough, the man accepted.
Now, every time they passed each other, they exchanged that sacred greeting. ‘Jai Shree Krishna’. ‘Jai Shree Krishna’. Pretty soon, it became a beautiful custom. Even from a distance, it was ‘Jai Shree Krishna’. ‘Jai Shree Krishna.’ Then, as he left home in the morning, ‘Jai Shree Krishna’ he would call out. And Arun Dada would call back, “Jai Shree Krishna”. And one day the customary call didn’t come, prompting Arun Dada to inquire, “What’s wrong?” “Oh, I saw that you were reading so I didn’t want to disturb you,” came the response. “Not a disturbance at all! Like the birds chirping, the water flowing, the wind blowing, your words are part of nature’s symphony.” So they started again.
And the practice continues to this day, nine years later.
While concluding this story, he reminded us of Vinoba’s maxim of searching for the good. “Vinoba taught us there are four kinds of people. Those who only see the bad, those who see the good and the bad, those who focus only on the good, and those who amplify the good. We should always aim for the fourth.” It hit a deep chord with all of us listening to the story, particularly since it came from a man who practiced what he preached.
Amidst the sea of negativity, physical threats, and curse words, Arun Dada found those three magical words of positivity — and amplified it.
Jai Shree Krishna. I bow to the divine in you, the divine in me, and that place where there is only one of us.?
ServiceSpace.org is an incubator of gift-economy projects that is run by inspired volunteers. Its mission statement reads: “We believe in the inherent goodness of others and aim to ignite that spirit of service. Through our small, collective acts, we hope to transform ourselves and the world.”
4. FEAR & FAITH
BY HOWARD HANGER, A MENTAL BREATHER, HANKKAH EVE 2014
FW NOTE: I’ve thought for some time that fear is the opposite of love, and this latest ‘Mental Breather’ from Howard has offered me a powerful connection between love and faith…
“Do not be afraid.” -Angels in the Hebrew Scriptures.
Doubt is not the opposite of faith. Doubt is faith’s quality control. Doubt keeps faith from getting smeared with superstitious smegma, cluttered with kooky claptrap or wasted with wildly-weird woo-woo.
Doubt is not the opposite of faith; but if there is an opposite, a good case could be made for fear. Not that fear is always necessarily bad. Healthy fear can keep your sweet butt out of the E.R., out of jail and out of the crematorium. Healthy fear can keep you from keep you from walking across the interstate at rush hour, standing on your head on your Harley at 50 miles an hour or doing anything after drinking and shouting, “Hey, ya’ll, watch this!”
On the other hand, a life guided by fear can keep you from faith better than bad breath and body odor can keep you from getting a date. When you live in fear and allow fear to call the shots, there’s no room for trust. No room for hope. No room for confidence. Fear pops the faith balloon and kills the party. Allowing each decision and turn in life to be directed by fear, inevitably leads you to a tiny walled-in cell. A prison where a healthy faith-fed soul can starve.
If the holidays are anything, they are a carnival of faith. A festival of joyful expectation. A salute to infinite possibility. The holidays are a celebration that we never, ever need to live our lives boxed in by fear.
5. GRATITUDE IS THE KEY TO PEACE
BY GLENNON DOYLE MELTON, MOMASTERY EMAIL, DECEMBER 1, 2014
FW NOTE: Glennon’s honest sharing of herself, her struggles and her joys is a gift of release to us all! And I couldn’t agree more that ‘gratitude is THE KEY to peace.’ Took me many more years than Glennon to understand this simple truth…
“I still get very high and very low in life. Daily. But I’ve finally accepted the fact that sensitive is just how I was made – that I don’t have to hide it and I don’t have to fix it. I’m not broken.”–from my TEDx Talk
“Gratitude turns whatever we have into enough” -Melody Beattie
I have a relentless and heavy hunch that gratitude is THE KEY to peace. I’m not sure we need to change our circumstances, but I think we might need to change the way we see our circumstances. I recently returned from the Dominican Republic, where I visited CWS projects that assist survivors of sexual abuse and provide health education, training and support to youth at risk of falling prey to the pervasive local sex trade. I can’t wait to tell you about all of the warriors I met – but now I’m too busy recovering from many mucho intense games of “tag” with the kids I met! Mostly, the trip made me more committed than ever to super glue-ing my perspectacles to my face — feeling insanely GRATEFUL instead of LACKING. This holiday season I plan to wake up every morning and look at my home and my people and my body and my pantry and say: THANK YOU. THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU. THIS IS ALL MORE THAN GOOD ENOUGH, ALL OF IT. I am going to spend the holiday season with my eyes on all I already have instead of all I think I need. We have what we need. I believe that is the truth.**
‘If you think you’re enlightened, go spend a week with your family.’ -Ram Dass
**I should add this important caveat: If you happen to be spending the holidays in close quarters with extended family, then your effort to adjust your perspectacles to the insanely GRATEFUL setting may be futile. You may lose some ground you’ve worked so hard to gain. You may find yourself feeling like an out of control small child in need of a good tantrum — instead of the grown up you’ve fought so hard to become. Don’t worry, this is normal — you are not broken. You are just one of us. Same boat, all of us. Seriously, this weekend marks the start of the part of the year in which we extra-sensitive folks tend to struggle with old family dynamics and old coping and numbing strategies and tend to forget that all the crazy isn’t about us, anyway.
It reminds me an essay I wrote a while ago —“Getting Better.” My hope for you as we start this holiday season is that you may find the courage and peace to let things be and know that you are enough.
Until recently, I never had any idea how to just breathe and let life happen.
How to say — yes, yes, that’s okay, and that, too — and even that.
I never knew how to let things be and trust that I am enough and that everyone else is fine and that I don’t need to be liked or even loved by everyone at all times.
That I was always going to feel a little left out, and that’s okay.
I didn’t know that the moods and actions and words of other people did not have to affect my peace.
I didn’t know how to forgive people even before they hurt me because
They are doing the best they can.
I didn’t know that it wasn’t all about me, anyway.
I LOVE YOU ALL. Carry on, warriors! Embrace the power of your messy, beautiful holidays!
Love Wins, Glennon
6. YES, VIRGINIA, THERE IS A SANTA CLAUS
BY FRANCIS PHARCELLUS CHURCH, SEPTEMBER 21, 1897
FW NOTE: This beautiful answer to a little girl’s question has now been around for over a century, and it is still the answer to most other important questions as well…
Eight-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon wrote a letter to the editor of New York’s Sun, and the quick response was printed as an unsigned editorial Sept. 21, 1897. The work of veteran newsman Francis Pharcellus Church has since become history’s most reprinted newspaper editorial, appearing in part or whole in dozens of languages in books, movies, and other editorials, and on posters and stamps.
DEAR EDITOR: I am 8 years old.
Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus.
Papa says, ‘If you see it in THE SUN it’s so.’
Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?
115 WEST NINETY-FIFTH STREET.
VIRGINIA, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.
Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.
Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.
You may tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, VIRGINIA, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.
No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.
7. ONE GREAT ACT OF HOLIDAY KINDNESS
BY JEFFREY KLUGER, TIME MAGAZINE, DECEMBER 9, 2014
FW NOTE: I love Jeffrey’s last paragraph which I copied into ‘THIS MONTH’S QUOTES.’ Kindness does occur “in bright dots of good, dabbed and dabbed and dabbed again…”
If you’re not fed up with the human species yet, it’s probably because you haven’t been paying attention. There are our wars for one thing. According to the Institute for Economics and Peace, of 162 countries surveyed, only 11 are not currently involved in some kind of armed conflict or full-scale combat.
There are our sectarian messes, too. Enjoy the ugly racial tensions sparked by the Ferguson and Staten Island non-indictments of white police officers who killed unarmed black men? Then you’ll love the far less defensible nativist uprising in Dresden, where weekly demonstrations are being staged to protest the imagined “Islamization” of the country, despite the fact that only 2% of the population of Germany’s entire Saxony region is made up of immigrants and only a small minority of them are Muslims. Then there are our drug gangs and street gangs and corrupt politicians and crooked bankers and all of the manifold reprobates who work their manifold harms on everybody else.
And then, just when you’ve had it, just when you’re really, truly, ready to wash your hands of the whole savage lot of us, somebody does something sweet and compassionate and wonderfully caring, and you’re willing to give the species one more chance. Which brings me to Manuel Sanchez Paniagua, the cast of the show Criminal Minds, and—yes, damn it—Christmas.
Manuel deserves a good Christmas season more than most. He is only 15, lives in Mexico City with his family and has been battling cancer for close to two years now—which is an awfully big piece of your life when you’re so young. (He is also—full disclosure—a member of my wife’s family.) Manuel’s illness began in January 2013 with a liver tumor which required three separate surgeries at Boston Children’s Hospital, the last of which was described by the lead doctor as “one of the most difficult in the history of the hospital.”
That was followed by three rounds of chemotherapy and—as is often the case with cancer—a blissful remission, leading his family to hope that Manuel had been cured. As is often the case with cancer too, however, those hopes collapsed.
In September, he suffered a seizure in Mexico and was rushed back to Boston, where his doctors found a brain metastasis. This time there would be more-aggressive treatments, and this time his parents would hear what every parent of a sick boy or girl dreads hearing, which is that just in case, if things turn worse, it might be time to think about granting your child some long-held wishes. So Manuel’s parents asked him what his wish was and he said he wanted to visit the set of Criminal Minds.
There aren’t a whole lot of people who haven’t thought about what they’d choose in such a situation, and the folks who’d pick a Polynesian beach house or a tour of Machu Picchu indulge in more than a little elitist sniffing when they hear of people who’d pick the Grand Canyon or Yankees training camp. The cancer romance The Fault in Our Stars made much of this idea, with Augustus Waters affecting shock that Hazel Grace Lancaster chose a trip to Disneyworld with her parents. “‘I can’t believe I have a crush on a girl with such cliché wishes!” he says.
But a wish, of course, is a reflection of a moment—who you are when you must make the choice. And when the number of moments you have left to you is in question, you choose what will make you happy right now, today. So Manuel chose Criminal Minds—and the cast and crew and production office made it happen.
Just before Thanksgiving, he and his family flew to Los Angeles to be present for the shooting of the series’ Dec. 10 episode. Joe Mantegna, the show’s biggest name, was directing that episode and he kept Manuel busy, dispatching him onto the set to work the slate, explaining scenes as he directed them, eating lunch with him during a break. Manuel met the rest of the cast, posed for photos with them and visited the writers’ room—a pretty static place if you’re not one of the show’s many rabid fans; Xanadu if you are.
None of what Manuel experienced in the six hours he was on-set will make a lick of difference in his prognosis—unless, of course, it does. Scientists have never fully understood the multiple ways optimism and hope and just plain being happy can help humans battle disease—except to say with near-certainty that they can.
Just as important is what the small act of kindness that came Manuel’s way—and a million-million others like it that are performed around the world every day—say about the prognosis for the human condition. Evil is vulgar, broad-brush stuff—the dark, mindless business of burning things down or blowing them up. Kindness is pointillist—bright dots of good, dabbed and dabbed and dabbed again. No single one of them amounts to very much. But a million-million every day? That can create an awfully beautiful picture.
8. THIS MONTH’S LINKS:
DYLAN THOMAS READS ‘A CHILD’S CHRISTMAS IN WALES’
THE BEST VERSION OF ‘THE CHRISTMAS STORY’ FW HAS SEEN…
34 EXAMPLES OF HEART-WARMING HUMANITY
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