« The Power of Love | Main | Come One, Come All Elders »

Friday, 18 May 2007

Keep on Singing

By Holly Stevens of The Storyteller and the Listener Online

Some 20 years ago, I read Maya Angelou’s captivating autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, but I couldn’t quite decipher her own answer to the riddle. Then, five years ago, I found myself perched in my own cage, not of my choice.

I was going through a protracted and difficult divorce in Washington state, a continent away from my heart’s home in North Carolina, when I learned that my breast cancer of 10 years earlier had sprouted new tumors in my hips, ribs, spine, jaw and skull. In the year that followed, I synched my calendar with the rhythm of the cancer treatment center as my body was burned, slashed, poisoned, prodded, palpitated, injected and fed into high-tech imaging tubes.

For months I bore the excruciating pain of a spine fractured at the site of an irradiated tumor before a 10-hour surgery encased my spine in a titanium rod. I chuckled then, proclaiming I was a bionic woman, but three months later, the former tumor had the final laugh, as paralysis set in, leaving me paraplegic from the waist down. Mark that as one year in the cage.

But through the bars, a little sun must shine.

In the wake of my failed marriage, I had reconnected with a man I had loved 19 years before, and though I gave him my blessing to move on without me, Bill chose to share my journey. Closing down his retreat ministry in Oak Ridge, he flew to Washington to be with me, to share what he called “our grand adventure.”

Together we learned something of value that dreary November as paralysis set in: paraplegia is a poverty of function, and fourth-stage cancer a poverty of time. But poverty, chosen or not, yields unexpected bounties.

Because I cannot jump in the car to go shopping on a whim, Bill and I have learned better how to be still.

Because my bones are too brittle for me to work safely outside the home, the world comes to me through my writing and my DSL connection.

Because I cannot travel to exotic spots where wheelchairs don’t fit, my soul has come to feel the imprint of home on the spirit.

Because I do not know when my cancer will break the barrier of my bones and move into my vital organs, I’m recording my life’s stories and eliciting the stories from my loved ones.

Because I probably will never grow old in years, I’m a crone now by choice, revealing as never before the dreams, passions and prophecies that form my center core.

Unless one dies from a sudden catastrophic event, aging and succumbing to disease processes inevitably means loss – of function, of time, of friends. We dread these losses for ourselves and our loved ones. But there are gains to be found there, too: an insight into a loved one’s psyche here, a revived memory of a shared moment there. Most of all, losses yield permission to be extravagant in our expressions of what matters most to us.

My body may be confined to bed and chair and my future to an early end, but as long as my mind remains clear, my fingers nimble, and my DSL connection unbroken, I vow to keep on singing - from this cage.

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 02:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post



Your beautiful piece touched me very much. What an inspirtation you are. It is no surprise that that wonderful love in your life chose to be with you at this most difficult time. I can only imagine what a joy it would be to know you in person. May you stay strong. As strange as it may sound...I think you're very blessed.

Thank you for such wise and experienced insights. I hope I learn from my challenges, the way you have from yours.

Your attitude astounds me, and I applaud you! You could help us learn many lessons of how to live our lives with joy and gratitude.

Your courage and acceptance of the terrible blow life has dealt you is amazing. I, too, applaud you.

I think you have truly found the secret of life, whether or not one is a paraplegic. I admire your spirit and ability to enjoy life to the fullest whatever the limitations -- so much easier for many of us to talk about than to do.

I, too, was quite moved by that same Maya Angelou book many years ago, then had the good fortune to see her in person shortly thereafter.

Your comment about losing friends and family aptly states what to me is one of the most difficult aspects of life, that increases with aging. We will be missing others, or they us. Thank you for describing your experience so well.

At the risk of sounding trite -- awesome! As well as inspiring. I wonder how many people reading your story, Holly, will be set off on a path where they will come to be as whole as you are.

You have reached a place where you are beyond the easy reach of harm. How noble. No, how transcendent. And how blessed you are. And how blessed are we who have read your story.

Hello, I'm one of those people who walk 3 or 4 miles most everyday. I like to think I'm much aware of my surroundings when I do. I write about the things I see. Since I walk the same path each day through the woods I thought I'd seen it all. My wife walked with me one day and exclaimed as we rounded one bend, "Look at the grand Holly tree!" It made her day and I never pass it anymore without appreciating it and remembering her joy. So glad we passed each other today. I will remember this walk.

Your perspective on life is amazing. There are times when I really tire of responding to people's complaints about work. All they need is an ounce of the perspective and attitude that you have and their world would be a better place.

You are one courageous woman, god bless you!

Some time before, I did need to buy a good car for my organization but I did not have enough cash and couldn't buy something. Thank goodness my mother suggested to try to take the personal loans from trustworthy bank. Thus, I acted so and used to be happy with my bank loan.

I reached back to read a story here. At random I came across this story--your story. As I read through the responses my heart continued to be touched. My awareness in one response sounded like something I'd like to have said. At the bottom I discovered I did. Ten years later, I'm moved yet again. The power of story.

The comments to this entry are closed.