They say writers usually write what they most need to read. Well, that’s certainly true in my case! What I’ve been reading over and over again recently is our newly published 2011 calendar – Know That You Are Loved – which contains words from our recent editorials, together with photographs by Janet Baxter, who does our cover images every month.
‘What?’ I hear you wondering. ‘Haven’t you been reading proper books then? I thought you loved reading?’ Well, facing what most people would say is a terminal illness, your whole attitude to life changes – not because you will it to; it’s something that just happens. Lots of things you used to enjoy or find important no longer ‘compute’, and tiny things you used to overlook suddenly seem almost painfully beautiful and precious, so that you find yourself bursting into tears just for the sheer love of them. So, yes, I’m not reading much at the moment. Books like Lark Rise to Candleford or Cranford , which draw you into a world in which cars, petrol fumes, tarmac, phones, TVs, electric lights and global threats of all kinds do not feature, and in which people live simpler lives, much closer to nature, are helping to draw me back into life in this world, so I read those. And yes, I read the calendar.
Why? Well, on our fridge Geoff and I have a sticker which reads, ‘We already know… life is just remembering…’ We like that expression! And each page of the calendar focuses on something that, deep in our souls, all of us know full well. But how important it is to be reminded of the eternal verities, many times a day if possible, because there is so much in our world that would deny these life-saving truths, and lead us into a dark maze of our own making. For August, for example, the calendar highlights the following phrase: ‘Seen from the eternal heart of the universe, all your choices are right choices, all your falterings are advantages, and you never did anything wrong.’ When I wrote that, and most of the other phrases chosen for the calendar, I had a strong sense of ‘non-authorship’, if you know what I mean. I felt that, wherever those words came from, they didn’t come from me – I was just the person who was privileged to be holding a pen at the time! So I hope you’ll understand when I say that I find this particular phrase most healing, every time I read it. I can feel my heart breathing a sigh of relief and then sucking in a great lungful of clean air! And if I’m not much mistaken, many of you, particularly if you, too, are facing oppressive times, will feel the same way when you read this.
A love to share
It was with the aim of helping all of us to remember what we deeply know, but so often forget, that the calendar was created. Sarah and I sat up till well past midnight one night, marveling at all Janet Baxter’s magical photographs and choosing the ones that would evoke the spirit of the words as accurately as possible, and then deciding in which order the words should appear. Such love went into its making, and it’s love we want to share…
It would be lovely to share with you, too, the special happening that inspired many of the words in the calendar. It happened during my two-month spell in hospital earlier this year. Pierre Pradervand rang, and told me the joyful news that Roger McGowen – a man wrongfully imprisoned on death row in Texas State Penitentiary, for whom Pierre and others had been campaigning for years – had just heard that his death sentence had been commuted to life. This meant that, since he had already been in prison for 23 years – half his life in fact! – and that at the time of his condemnation the life sentence normally lasted 25 years, he could theoretically be free in just two years time!
Imagining how I would feel if, like Roger, I were suddenly to experience such a magnificent transformation of my fortunes was not difficult, since, like many cancer patients, I was often overcome by the very human belief that I was ‘imprisoned’ in a painful body, being ‘punished’ for sins I hadn’t committed, and awaiting a ‘death sentence’ that could be carried out at any time.
Pierre talked of Roger as being ‘at the end of the road to hell’, and how, even in that darkest of dark places, he had somehow found the strength to bless his jailers and find a sense of gratitude for his experiences. Roger had even told Pierre that he wouldn’t have missed a single moment of his experience in that jail. And also that he was convinced that God had a perfect plan for his life.
Remembering your power
Hearing this struck me, as it were, right between the eyes, and provided a kind of landing place for many thoughts that had been circling round and round in my head like birds waiting to roost; thoughts in which I had till then been unable to fully trust or believe, because they spoke of an alternative, much more liberating and joyful way to interpret what was happening to me, a way in which I saw that there was a perfect, divine plan underlying everything that was going on, and that – even if I couldn’t read the map, I certainly was not lost. But from that moment, I knew I could put my absolute trust in those thoughts, and even raise the courage to share them with others. I also knew that if Roger could bless his situation, and find a way to transform hell into heaven, so could I.
And so, dear friend, can you. If called upon to do so, you may cherish the certainty that you, too, have the power to bring your most beautiful, divine humanity into whatever life-situations are placed before you. Love is who we are. We just need to remember.
With all our love, Ann, Geoff, Sarah and the Cygnus Team