I am writing this for anyone who, like me, has been pitched into a life-altering situation.   For me, it has been chronic pain, but the same issues face all of us whose lives have been dramatically changed: how to make sense, find psychic strength and hopefully improve our lot.   But the path has been more than coping – it has been discovery and often joy.  Thank you for walking alongside me.



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Also Blessed to Receive

One who knows how to show and to accept kindness will be a friend better than any possession.



Two of my closest friends are struggling with cancer. So when I saw Radical Remissions, I picked it up. Kelly Turner, the author, has researched authenticated cases of remissions or cures from cancer.

She found one key factor to recovery is accepting love and support. Not just receiving the neighbour’s casserole, but accepting it with a grateful heart. Not as easy as it sounds, We like giving, but are uncomfortable being given to. Charity is a dirty word. No wonder the Bible says it is more blessed to give than to receive. None of us like being beholden.

A friend whose grandson was badly injured in an accident, said wearily how exhausting it was being grateful – for fundraisers, prayer vigils and other community kindness. She was touched and helped, but in our modern society being indebted is a burden.

Ben, living in a poor, black, rural South African community once asked me why my widowed father lived alone and not with me. I tried to explain he wanted to be Independant – to be met with blank incomprehension. Why would he want to live icily alone on a different continent? I couldn’t explain and I felt ashamed of our Western culture.

What happens when we open our hearts to receive? How do we change? Who do we become? Warmer, softer, grateful, not just to those who helped us, but to a world where such kindness can flow. Humbled, because it takes humility to accept help. Healed, if not physically, emotionally. You only have to watch the grace of cancer sufferers who have found community and courage from their friends’ support. To the point they can say, from their hearts, “Cancer has given me a blessing, been a wake-up call.”

My mother always pushed gifts aside: “Don’t let the children waste their money on me.” I always countered, “It’s exactly what they should be doing.” How else will they grow up to be decent, generous people?

Her attitude was catching, so this Mother’s Day, I determined to change – be more open and accepting. Was it just coincidence that this year, the kids went overboard? Or that a child I helped years ago burst out of Facebook with a Mother’s Day tribute?

Or synchronicity – a friend who is a minister, out of the blue, explained how we need to love ourselves to be able to give love to others. Janice Pascual talks about our receiving capabilities being jammed. Mine were wooden with disuse – I had got used to evaluating my day by what I have done for others. I never realized how I was denying others the richness of generosity. I learned that accepting opened a faucet in my heart which flowed on out to everyone I touched.

A boy with cerebral palsy, who could only write with a pen held between his teeth, summed it up. “I am so lucky with my CP that I only see the best side of people.” He’s right – people are at their kindest, competition stripped away when they help others worse off. And he had the insight to accept this as a blessing.

And I find that when I allow myself the vulnerability to accept help, I am also more able to hand it on.


Radical Remissions: the Nine Key Factors that Can Make a Real Difference by Kelly H. Turner, PhD

Radical Remission website. Search by cancer type for personal stories of people who have beaten the medical odds by going into remission or their cancer has gone away or submit your own – link

Tiny Buddha – How to Receive Gratefully, instead of Rejecting Kindness by Janice F. Pascual – link


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When Enough is Good Enough

Sure fire way to make a big decision? Ask an algorithm. Hiring a secretary, choosing a wife, buying a house, the optimal method is to see a certain number (actually 37% of your possibles), but don't make a decision yet. Just note which is the best so far, then choose the next one you see that is better. Apparently, it works every time.

I prefer to call it common sense – or good enough. The relief of reading a book on parenting, expecting to recognize all my failures, and be told I just need to be a “good enough” mother. Am sure a relaxed “good enough” mother will do better than an endlessly striving one.

Looking at our major decisions, we would always go for 90% of what we wanted – and decide to like it. So why did I go on and on looking for a pain solution round the next corner? Chasing a dream. In algorithm speak, I was wasting time and resources.

Then, when I decided enough, what happened? Not despair, but relief. It is a burden fighting – and destructive. Full of “shoulds” and judgment, teased by the recurring doubt “is it all in my head?”

“Trying” made an enemy of my body as I offered it up to be bullied by yet another expert. Keeping a pain diary, though we are always told to, is counter productive as it keeps pain in the front of your mind. Recurring “failure” made the resulting pain like being on the rack – punishment. For what? Being physically or psychologically weak? Another pain book, hinting “do you want your pain?”

Giving up allows me to look lovingly at my battered body. To live kindly with it. And to live beyond it – in uncharted waters where I am “good enough.”


PS. Have you noticed that the appropriate book always turns up at the right moment? I wonder if there's an algorithm for that?


More info:

Algorithms to Live By: the Computer Science of Human Decisions by Brian Christian and Tom Griffiths


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Murphy Reigns

Having spent the last 24 hours battling bureaucracy, I think it is time to update Murphy's Law.

Our grandson is trying to switch from a South African University to a Canadian one. Simple? As he's in the Southern Hemisphere, along with bath water running out the opposite way, the school year is also back to front.

Simple to fill in the forms, get transcripts and apply? His current university had student strikes last year, so the December exams were in February; the results late March. Still weeks to the April 30 deadline. Except the transcript office is closed till May 5 – not just closed but disconnected while graduation certificates are issued. They too are late, which explains the backlog.

Finally, he gets his informal transcript, which the Canadian University won't accept. After hours on hold (helicopter grandmother?), I get a woman who says they will accept the temporary transcript if faxed with a letter from the South African university. Email grandson and sit down with stiff drink.

Only problem now is they are seven hours ahead and a long weekend starts tomorrow. Frantic email from grandson: the university won't write the letter.

Stiff coffee and the phone again. Worse than tax time. Call overseas admissions, and get an unintelligible (from overseas?) voice. Hold till he comes back with a number for me to call. I write it down carefully. Then look at it. “This is your number. If I dial it, I will get you.” “Yes,” he replies, with an air of having solved everything.

Bill takes over and does a telephone slalom. Busy, out, away till 5 May, not allowed to act… Finally, a common sense individual who agrees to tag his file and add the transcript when it arrives.

So my amended Murphy's Law:

Whoever you need to speak to is out/on vacation/assisting other clients

If they are in a different time zone, it is one where everything is shut

When their offices open, yours are shut

A crisis always happens on a Friday, usually before a long weekend. This also applies with small children getting sick.

If you go to an advised website, the interface has been upgraded and doesn't match the instructions

If you need a computer program to do something useful, the app has been improved and your particular task discontinued, usually just last week

If you need info in a hurry from your computer, it announces proudly that it has improved your security and needs your password, which you have lost. You make a new password, which is rejected because it is too short, is already in use, doesn't have caps/numbers/you name it. When you finally get the info, the original site has timed out, taking with it all your info

The bright side is that my vocabulary is greatly enhanced, my character supposedly built and with luck the problem solving has reduced my chances of dementia.

But our grandson still hasn't got his transcript.

PS Murphy was an optimist!

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Quitting to Live

Today's ashes are tomorrow's soil.

Craig D. Lounsbrough


It was a big and final decision – to stop medical marijuana. It had been the new hope and, miraculously, initially turned the pain off like a tap. I stood and sat longer. The pain refrain silenced – I didn't realize how strong was its beat until it stopped and my back was filled with white space. Doors opened – possibilities.

Within hours I also had vicious cramps. Stopped the marijuana, my stomach subsided; retried it and within 4 hours I was wrung out again with cramps. “It's all trial and error,” I was told. And I tried: oil, creams, suppositories, coconut oil bases. Of course, the cramps increased my back pain; stomach and back go hand in hand. Pain broke through; my sleep was worse and my stomach wretched. But still I tried, hoping I could get the magic mix. All the time, I felt half dead, with no life or joy.

For 12 years, I have tried to fix my back, not only for myself, but for Bill. He has been so patient and kind, but this isn't the retirement he had planned and worked for. So as long as there's a hope, I will try. There's also that niggling thought that if I give up, that means in some way I want the pain – brainwashed by earnest books on mind over matter.

When I look back, there's a clear pattern: try a therapy, be it physio, chiro, you name it. Treatment, come out feeling beaten, persevere (must give it a fair trial), recover (months after physio, a week with chiro), try another approach. Two pain clinics – injected me, gave epidurals, which failed and took 6 months to recover from. I am too skinny for their final offering – burning the nerve.

No one tells you how to make this big decision: when is enough? When does my trying actually get in the way of my living? All I can find are cheerleading quotes about never quitting. Nowhere do they say that you might be pushing in the wrong direction. That your very trying might stop you from living.

So now I must reevaluate: what matters most – being able to do more or feeling alive? The cost of a wider life is feeling drugged, dreary and confused, afraid of crossing the road. If I stick where I am, I may be very limited (lying down frequently and tied to the house) and still, of course, in pain, but I am happy. I feel joy. My head is full of ideas. Life is worth living.

The biggest lesson – when to stop pushing?



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Finding Meaning

An old day passes, a new day arrives.

The important thing is to make it meaningful:

A meaningful friend – or a meaningful day.

The Dalai Lama



How to live a meaningful life although in constant pain – that is the biggest question. The hardest thing as my back slid slowly downhill was loss of direction and purpose. It's one thing to be housebound and see doors closing, but far worse to lose meaning. It's like losing one's self. Trying to cope with grace only goes so far. Pain makes one passive and a victim, and accepting help has the same effect.

So the bigger task than enduring the pain and accepting its limitations was getting out of the victim trap. I still say to myself daily that “this is what you have got, you have a choice: whether to be happy or miserable.” Each day I make the conscious choice to be happy.

But that is not enough! Happiness alone is empty, although it falls on our actions like a grace. We need purpose: to feel there is a point to being here and alive. To quote Dan Ariely, who survived 70% of his body being burned and created a full and satisfying life, we need to feel “completion and acknowledgement.”

I believe deeply in a higher being, but that again leaves me, though comforted, in a passive role. We need to give as well as receive. When we first emigrated here in 1975, I felt a stranger, tripping over new ways – until the first time someone needed my help. That was when I felt we belonged.

Pain is the same: a lot of accepting help, a diminution of belonging. One sits outside life while it whirls by, like a leftover on a plate. Pain also limits action: because I can't sit or stand for long, I can't volunteer. Or babysit or drive friends. It is difficult to visit friends. So what, I asked myself despairingly, when we moved into town seven years ago, do I do to be part of this community? How can I contribute and how can I find a purpose to my daily existence?

My friends' lives are full of deeds; mine of contemplation. So if I can't DO, can I BE? Can I make my life a joyful meditation, filled with gratitude? I can watch life as it flows and see the goodness in each encounter because pain gives me the gift of time. I can take time – and listen – and care.

Purpose and belonging grow from service. Kennedy said, “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” Viktor Frankl pulled a man back from suicide with the question: “what does life still ask of you?” A new idea – that I owe life itself, smoky by being alive. So now each day, I ask life, “Show me what is needed”. And each day an answer, albeit small, comes: call, write, give.

Completion comes in pieces, like sound bites; acknowledgement in a touch or a look. Living in deep quiet, instead of my former to-do list, rushing life, there is purpose and much greater meaning.


More into:

The Upside of Irrationality: the Unexpected Benefits of Defying Logic at Work and at Home by Dan Arieli.




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Standing up to the Bullies

OMG United! Bad press, bad heart! Every way you look at it, the company is thinking meanly, from taking seats from boarded, paying passengers to give to their aircrew (can't they count before boarding?) to initial self-righteous comment (no way you could call it an apology).

So it is heartwarming to read of a young Finnair pilot, flying off duty. When a young mother traveling with 4 small kids, two of them babies, boarded, it was obvious she couldn't fly. Each baby required a lap to sit on. The pilot immediately offered his lap for the flight, including bottle feeding the baby. See this link for beaming picture

What a great way of standing (or sitting) up to be counted. Easy enough to click our teeth in disapproval of United or post a comment on Facebook. How much more effective to DO something – a moral setting straight of an imbalance. Putting humanity back in the black.

Or pay forward compassion and good service like the Etihad Airways pilot who turned his plane back to the gate, delaying take off so a grandmother and grandfather could get to their grandson's bedside in intensive care – and see him before he died later that night.

The more bullies we hear of, the greater the need for each of us to make a bonus payment of kindness into the future.


Finnair pilot holds baby – link

Pilot turns plane round for elderly couple so they could visit dying grandson – link




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Too Short a Time

It is better to have a meaningful life and make a difference than to merely have a long life.

Bryant H. McGill

Imagine being 16, with 13 brain surgeries behind you and ahead … what? And it's your birthday.

Lewis Hine did something different for his birthday: he made a video! Not singing and dancing, not surrounded by gifts, but a quiet account of his life: 13 surgeries since he was diagnosed with a brain tumour at 27 months; hydrocephalus, meaning water on his brain which has to be drained with a shunt; daily seizures. Yet he speaks of gratitude for life itself and his determination to help other kids who can't go to school or make friends.

He talks of the loneliness of being different and the difficulties of making friends when you are in and out of hospital. He. didn't sit around being sorry for himself, but founded Friend Finders, to put kids like himself in touch with each other.

There's a vibrancy throbbing through his speech, the essence of life that suffering can't quench. I was humbled, inspired and encouraged.

He doesn't have what most kids take for granted – or are boredly wearied of. Those kids who take drugs at parties to dull their ennui at living should hear him – and understand how precious is the life they are dawdling away.

What shines out of him is quality, courage and life. That trumps any bucket list.

Please watch it – link. (Aplogies: I couldn't insert the usual YouTube video link, but this link will get you there – and it is, in the real sense of the word, awesome.)

Friend Finder – link


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