Come celebrate

The Pacific Ocean at Waikiki, beautiful but risky. Photo by Li Yang on Unsplash

…come celebrate
with me that everyday
something has tried to kill me
and has failed.                  Lucille Clifton

Some weeks it’s easier than others to write a post appropriate for a blog titled Defeat Despair. This has been one of the more difficult weeks. I had Clifton’s brief but stunning poem— which ends with the quote above– tucked away in my memory for just such a time.

Over thirty years ago, not long before I lost the first of my friends I would lose to cancer, I asked this particular friend– a young mother with three children, including a toddler Drew’s age– what the latest doctor’s visit had told her. “He said that the bus is still behind me, but it’s not catching me yet,” she told me in a matter-of-fact tone. “But when you think about it, the bus is behind everybody, whether they know it or not.”

Life is a fragile, unpredictable gift. Some battles are harder than others, and while some fight literally for their lives, others of us are blessed to fight only for our sanity, or our self-esteem, or our financial stability, or our ability to make some sense of where our lives have led us. But it’s only a question of degrees. The old adage about everyone you meet fighting a hard battle is really true, I think.

However, some fight not only for themselves, but for others whom they may not even know. Some truly do face life-threatening circumstances, yet continue on because they are called to higher priorities. Their stories inspire those of us who are struggling with lesser burdens. In that spirit, I wanted to share a recent news story with you, in case you have not already heard it.

Remember Dr. Kent Brantly, the devout young physician who made international headlines when he contracted the Ebola virus while treating patients in Liberia? Now well and fit, Dr. Brantly and his family (including his wife, who is a nurse, and their two young children) are leaving their Texas home to return to Africa to offer health care services in a region where they are urgently needed. The Brantly family is sacrificing more than the comfortable life and relatively high income of a physician’s family in the United States, but when you read of his determination to overcome his own fears in favor of compassion, I hope it lifts your spirits as it did mine.

So today, I repeat Clifton’s words inviting us to celebrate survival– our own, and everyone else’s. It’s not a lighthearted party, to be sure, but those who choose to join us will find themselves in very good company indeed.

25 Comments

  1. Renee West

    ‘Come celebrate’ is a telling and commanding expression that shares a story of the outcome of many despairs. Yes girlfriend, we all have them. Some of the stories I hear from people (God has given me the gift of caring to listen) is so hard. We think when we hear others stories that “that will never happen to me” but over & over again it has-but ‘Still I Rise!’ One of my spiritual mentors & very good friend Coach, Dr. Sandra, gave me a bracelet with that inscribed on it. Day by day I rise & celebrate. Another day, another way to help someone else-which helps me. Your blog is a personal blessing to me. Much love always.

    • Renee, thanks so much for this beautiful comment. “Day by day I rise & celebrate.” YES you really do! And you cannot ever know (this side of heaven, anyway) how much watching you do just that has helped me survive, for nearly seven years now. Thank you for showing me that it’s possible to survive and live a victorious life. I really needed to read this comment today. I’ll tell you more when we talk. Love you!

  2. Chris

    Julia,
    Great post. So many things come to mind; so much thought for discussion. Yes, life is but a mere speck in the scheme of things, but certainly “worth the living”. For what purpose? I would like to agree with Renee; to be a blessing to someone else. The story about the Brantly’s is truly remarkable, and inspiring. It’s like an ember of hope for humanity. May we all use this hope as a catalyst for our own undertakings!
    Have a great week!

    • Thank you, Chris. I’ve often heard it said that we are “blessed to be a blessing” to others, but to be honest, it’s hard to put it into practice sometimes. Having examples such as the Brantly family and Renee provides me with a helpful ongoing illustration of what this looks like in everyday life. It’s more than saying a kind word here and there– though kind words are necessary– and it’s more than random acts of kindness, which also are good, but limited and subject to whim. It will take some consistent effort to fan those embers of hope into a flame that spreads to warm humanity whenever and wherever needed, but as someone has said, “We can do hard things.” Thanks for being here!

  3. My mother always reminds me that everyone of us is “on the edge of eternity.” I appreciate J.R.R. Tolkien’s idea of death as a gift was discussed in the Silmarillion. We live in a finite existence, but recognize an infinite. Perhaps that is why we want to live each day to the absolute fullest.

    • I haven’t read that book but now I’m intrigued about it and want to read it. I think I need to re-read The Hobbit and the Rings trilogy first, though. Your reflection reminds me of what Descartes said about our concept of God being innate because (in essence, if I understand him correctly) a finite mind could not conceive of an infinite reality unless such actually existed. And yes, that does cast an entirely different light on our existence, giving it meaning, therefore giving us something to live up to day by day. Living on the edge of eternity is quite a different prospect than living on the edge of oblivion.

  4. Harry Sims

    Is it “a light on a hill”?
    Or is it “out, out brief candle”?

    Some say A A stands for “attitude adjustment”.

    Harry

    • I suppose some choose the “light-on-a-hill” quote, and some choose Macbeth’s soliloquy which includes the “out, out brief candle” quote. Although, in fairness to Macbeth, if you had been married to Lady Macbeth you might have had that same reaction to word of her death, hee-hee. 😀 Though that’s one of my favorite passages in all of Shakespeare, and one of the few that I know entirely from memory, I still don’t think it’s a good choice as a philosophy. I prefer the light-on-a-hill idea, though that’s ultimately a much more demanding outlook.

      • Harry Sims

        EGO a surviving remnant of our childhood ego structure and frequently referred to as standing for easing god out seems to be constantly trying to persuade that one is all knowing and all-powerful.
        Unfortunately it tells lies like we are hypocrites and any other thing which is needed to manifest it’s cunning, baffling and powerful influence.
        The remedy is to develop intellectually and spiritually in order to find control measures for this dastardly force housed in every person.

        The comprehensive recovery program of AA offers this.

        • Harry, it’s an interesting battle you describe there, between listening to the lies, and learning to tune them out and listen to those who bring the truth to us through their words and actions. Confusing the issue is how often we switch sides in the battle, unintentionally passing along those lies to others. Also, we ourselves are often hurt by the “friendly fire” of those who once were sources of truth but have themselves been drawn away into those same pernicious accusations. As you say, such malevolent influences are indeed acting (or trying to act) on every person. The armor against such is custom-fitted and one size does not fit all, but I’m glad you have discovered (as have countless others) an ally in A.A.

          • Harry Sims

            Yes. Julia, everyone’s spiritual journey is tailor-made.
            I am getting to know my Tailor.

            Harry

            • In my opinion, that’s a huge help with understanding the journey…

          • Harry Sims

            I hope everyone has a personal relationship with their tailor.
            Harry

  5. Good morning, Julia!
    That is a pretty powerful poem. It certainly ties well into Brantley’s story. I’m feeling humbled as I go off to work this morning. Still, I have to hope nothing tries very hard to kill this sheltered, soft, blobby thing I call “me.” I don’t often consider what could destroy me. I think I’ve heard somewhere that one never really knows what one has in them until one is tested.
    Last week, I was interviewed in person as a reference for my friend’s brother, who applied for a government job. I saw asked how he would hold up under torture or some such thing (I think they used different wording, but my mind translated it to “torture”). I responded with the “does anyone ever really know” answer. The interviewer said that engineers and teachers tend to give that answer, which I found interesting. I wonder how most people respond.

    • Susan, I think if most were honest, they would admit to the “does anyone ever really know” answer. Having said that, I suppose one could think of it as a relative question. There are some people whom I would feel quite confident in guessing– always with the disclaimer “I could be wrong, but…”– that they’d give in immediately, and others about whom I might say “Well, this is a pretty tough person. I wouldn’t want to bet against him/her.” I like it when such questions can be answered on a scale-of-one-to-ten basis. Some would most assuredly hold up longer than others, based on how much willpower they demonstrate in the mundane aspects of daily life. Just my two cents; perhaps my answer is typical of retired librarians? 😀

      • Julia, I have to admit, when the interviewer told me about engineers and teachers, I thought of you and wondered how you’d respond. 😊

  6. Judy from Pennsylvania

    Thank you for this writing that you have shared today. And a thank you to Rene for her comment and the phrase “Still I Rise!”, which I hadn’t heard before and immediately loved. You two have given me something good and very welcome as I read this at the end of a summer evening. It’s so nice to have uplifting thoughts before bedtime. Sleep is much more restful that way!

    Sometimes I have to consciously work to keep a positive outlook because that ole worry bug likes to come and crawl around in my head. One reason I love your blog so much is that you are gifted with putting these common, naggy feelings into words, and with giving helpful encouragement and insights. The comments section is an added bonus. So good!

    Have a blessed day, Julia!

    • Judy, Renee was quoting one of my favorite poems by one of my favorite poets. If you aren’t familiar with “Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou, you are in for a rare treat. After you read the poem linked there, go and see this wonderful video of Maya Angelou herself introducing the poem and giving a recitation of it (complete with a bit of impromptu flair). I think it’s best to read the poem first, and then watch her own recitation of it. I’ve often said that Maya Angelou’s words do for me what spinach did for Popeye; I feel instantly stronger when I hear or read her. “Still I Rise” was featured in this post which I wrote long ago.

      • Judy from Pennsylvania

        I finished viewing all those links; they were wonderful! You’re right, her words make us feel stronger. I’m going to share them with a friend who is going through a long, trying time of tending to a verbally abusive, chronically ill husband. I see that the “Still I Rise” bracelets are available online, and one of those has been ordered now for her too. Your blog has a ripple effect in the ways that it helps others. Keep writing for all of us readers, Julia, we appreciate the inspirations you are given!

        • Judy, thanks so much for your encouraging words. The inspiration goes both ways! Thank you for caring. ❤

  7. Sheila

    Good Thursday morning, Julia. I was just thinking about the “landscape” of Garden City, the growth and the changes and the celebrations. Living in a vacation destination is often being at a different party everyday without an invitation. I suppose being witness to all these vacationers week in and week out is a blessing whether it’s the delights of arrival, first glimpse of ocean, and especially the excited squealing of little ones. So maybe for these few days every year these folks get away from the bus, the hardships, the burdens and renew and revive! I hope you’re having a better week. I’m recovering from Shingles and I’m really appreciative of each day. 💛🙏🏻

    • Sheila, OH NO! Shingles is indeed miserable. I had a very mild case of it in Hawaii and the eye doctors freaked out since it was in my eye. I hope you get well soon. Jeff had always told me to get the vaccine the minute I was old enough for it, but my nurse practitioner told me that the vaccine was not available because it was not being made as fast as people were using it. That reminds me I was supposed to check back to see if/when it was available… Meanwhile, FEEL BETTER SOON!! I’m so sorry you have to deal with this. Will you be able to get the vaccine once it clears, or will you not need it?

      Reading your comment on living in a vacation town, it reminded me of some of Maeve Binchy’s books (I can’t remember which ones) which are set in a coastal town that changes completely during tourist season. Have you read them? She was such a talented writer and reading her stories always gave me the feeling I was right there watching it all. There was an appealing rhythm between the business of the tourist months and then the quiet respite of the seaside when everyone but the locals left and went home. As with so many other stories, it fed my romantic notions of how special it must be to live by the ocean. The way you describe it, it reminds me a bit of what it was like to work at the departure/arrival gates (during my airline days) back when everyone was allowed to go to the gate to see a traveler off or welcome them home. Working there day in and day out, one was able to witness so many common joys and sorrows of life. As you say, bearing witness is a blessing. Thanks for being here! See you on the August Verandah, which features the blue-and-white colors I so love…<3

  8. Sheila

    Good Monday morning, Julia.☕️ Thank you for caring and understanding what I was experiencing with the dreaded Shingles! I’m thankful for the MILD case as well, and will be able to get the newer 2 shot vaccination soon, when it’s available. The national shortage was the only reason that I didn’t have it earlier this year.
    We actually sense an energy that abounds with the summer months here. After Labor Day it becomes calmer and quieter. Amazing! The Garden City locals enjoy a “reclaiming our beach cook out” in a few weeks. To say our beach has changed over 35 years is an understatement. One newly constructed house sleeps 38 people and rents for $18,000.00 a week. I must laugh at the very idea!
    Have a great week. Smiling….. 💛🌞

    • I forgot it was a 2-shot vaccination. Not something to look forward to, but I’m still grateful it’s there (or will be soon). Isn’t it hard to believe that the summer is already winding down? That beach house is truly unbelievable. If anybody pays that much for a week there, send them my way…I have a bridge to sell them, hee-hee. 😀 Hope you have a fun and restful weekend coming up!!

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