Copyright © Louis Schmier

Date: Wed 12/13/2006 2:49 AM
Random Thought: At the Pearly Gates

Early. Can't sleep. Just brewed some coffee. I'll go out later this morning. It's inviting out there. South Georgia has returned to its senses. The weather channel says it's in the balmy high 50s. No more heavy grubbies. Shorts and a t-shirt are the order of the pre-dawn morning. I love that time of the day. It's my meditation time, a time for me to get quiet and go within. It's a time I bring my music inside me outside; when I listen to my intuitive inner voice, when I connect with the passion that stirs my soul, and when I tap into the forces of love and living.

Things are kinda quiet around here. It'll be almost a month before I start once again doing what I love and loving what I do--and making a living loving and doing it! Final grades are in. All last week I had to use two tiles of my Spiritual Alphabet each day to keep me high during that downer of that very uneducational and unrewarding and unfulfilling process. Maybe quiet is the wrong word. Susan will be handing me rolls of paper today to wrap the Chanukah gifts for our west coast grandkids. It's not enough that we'll need a separate suitcase for all that stuff, she went out yesterday and came back after too many hours giggling with an armful of more girly stuff for the girls in both San Mateo and Nashville! I think this year Chanukah is going to need fifteen days of candle lighting and gift giving.

Anyway, this morning, I'm thinking of a Bar Mitzvah that's going to occur at the synagogue this weekend before we leave for the west coast. I just found out that the bar mitzvah boy, Jacob, as his "mitzvah (good deed) project" had created "There is Hope" baseball caps that he had given each patient at the regional hospital's cancer center. He's going to present me one during his bar mitzvah speech. That brought back memories of a real-time, on-line conversation I had had a few weeks ago with a student from the spring semester of 2005 when I was recovering from my cancer operation. Hers was the class that gave me the blue band I now wear on my right wrist. She discovered three weeks ago that her mother has a "tiny lump" in her breast and is going in for a biopsy. She had e-mailed me just to talk. At her request, I had sent her copies of the four Random Thoughts I had written specifically about my cancer beginning with, "I Am a Cancer Survivor" and finishing with "What Really Matters."

She "called back" and we had a long conversation. I had saved it and have been reading it every now and then to keep up as I was dragged down by final grading. This is the tail end of some of our long exchange, mostly my part of the conversation. With her permission, I'd like to share it with you. It has to do with renewal and resilience:

"....Some Christmas gift, huh? How were you able to talk of your cancer in your classes with your students or anyone? I remember when you came back to class. Damn, you weren't embarrassed or ashamed. If anything you were as upbeat and open with us as hell. Remember, you told us about your catheter and to tell you if we saw it or your bag was leaking and it was like you gave _____permission to talk about her cancer. And, there was ____who shared with us her struggles about her father's death from cancer that December before and how it was effecting her concentration, and _____ who could think of nothing but her mother who was stricken with colon cancer....Why did you do it?"

"I respected you. You know that. You were in class."

"Yeah, but I need to hear it again. Somehow I just can't get the words out of my mouth like you and they did. I am so scared of what might happen that I don't want to get out of bed in the morning....I just don't see how it can be merry around here....the lights, the tree, the shopping, the gifts, all just don't seem right, at least, not as bright and cheery....I just feel as cold inside as it is outside...."

"....That's the point, isn't it? I told all of you, and I live my words, that if you are thinking about, talking about, and spending energy on what is missing in your lives, what is wrong, what you don't like, what you are afraid of, or what always has been, then you're going to continue to attract those negative and limiting, even paralyzing, things into your life--and your going to miss a lot of beautiful things both inside it and around it. They, I, you, we become what we think about. When you see beauty, you’ll become a more beautiful person; when you see fear, you become a more fearful person. Remember, I asked you that first day, 'What do want in your life, nightmares or dreams? Do you want to feel drained, sad, and bad about yourself or energetic, happy, and good about yourself?' I don't have to tell you what your and everyone's answer was. Did you forget that I told you that you're in a class with that energy that creates a space for exactly what you want? Remember the piece of paper I handed out with the words I have taped on the shelf over my computer? I'm looking at it right now as I look at it every morning. I don't know where I got it. It says, 'Attitude is everything. So, pick a good one." So, I ask you now. What do you want in your life? ….Teaching as a teacher, learning as a student, and living as human being is all in the same mix, aren't they? Attitude creates your intention; it focuses your focus; it's the fuel for your performance, and cancer has affected my attitude as it is yours. It's a simple formula: change the way you look at yourself, others, and things around you, they change the way they look and you change; when you change, you change what you believe you can do; change that belief and you'll change what you do….Jump out of bed and grab hold of that life, don't waste it. My cancer has made me realize even more than I had that each day of life is important. Every moment of each day is a moment of grace. As a teacher, not to share that grace, not to help others see that no day is ordinary, not to serve others is a betrayal to every hour I'm offered. I've become an unstoppable me to hold on to and soar with the no-limit feeling I was born with, had lost, and have now rediscovered. So, I write and talk about having had cancer to keep myself conscious of and to awaken yours and everyone's consciousness to the simple truth that we must professionally and personally live each day to the fullest in the service of others. Elie Wiesel once wrote, "No one is as capable of gratitude as one who has emerged from the kingdom of night." I think I would say I come from such an emergence. I had cancer; in that darkness, I saw the light. I saw how fragile life is; I got hit square between the eyes with that reality of not knowing how many tomorrows I had; I had and still have to face the reality of my mortality; I have to live with the consequent physical side-effects of having had cancer. That realization created a transcendent wonder of myself, others, and things around me. It helps me not to lose my joy for life, to stay at peace within myself, to be grateful for the day's promise. My emotions are on the surface more acutely than they ever had been. You saw me choke up when I told you all the story of Kim and my painted pinky nail. You saw me tear up when you gave me that cancer band. I was not embarrassed to tell you I loved each of you. I was not ashamed to have you stand and applaud your own ability after the 'Neil Diamond Project.' What turns me on is a clue to who I am and what I can accomplish. Trust me, if you concentrate on finding whatever is good in every situation, of finding the light in the darkest of dark, you will discover that your life is filled with a nurturing feeling of gratitude. Doing that makes me into a walking postal service."

"Walking postal service?....."

"Neither rain nor snow nor cold nor heat nor gloom will stay me from loving each day and seeing the reasons to be happy all around me. I just told some e-colleagues when we have feeling and thoughts that include others--a thought of kindness, or a thought of love, or a thought of belief, or a thought of hope--we draw on the powerful power of intention….

"Is that why you still tell your students about your cancer, and your epiphany fifteen years ago, as well as the story of your painted pinky nail, when they ask during your "What do you want to know about me" session at the beginning of each semester?

"Yeah. You know it's always one of the first parts of my week-long "Getting to Know ya" classroom community building process." It's one of the three strong connecting threads we use to start weaving community. And, it proves to be powerfully lasting, doesn't it….

"Yeah. That's why I'm talking with you. I need to hear your voice. Tell me again, please..."

"When students ask me about the yellow and blue bands around me right wrist, I tell that I am a cancer survivor and I choke up when I tell them that the blue band was a "we're here for you" and a "we're glad you conquered the sucker" gift from all those in your class. I tell them the same thing I say to myself, "inspire myself to aspire" is a better way to put it, each day I awake and plant my feet firmly on the carpet and whisper to myself so I don't wake up my angelic Susan, "what a day this is. There are great things to do today!" I tell them that I learned from having had cancer not to waste the only thing I've got: this moment of today. Today is a new day and it is a good day. No, it is a great day. You see, this day is unique; it's irreplaceable. There's no such thing as an ordinary day. I, everyone, every thing is different from yesterday. It's all new! It's all adventure! It's all exciting. It's filled with untold opportunities and possibilities….Don't take anything for granted today. Be surprised today, be curious today, be fascinated today, and love yourself and others with all you have today. Be grateful for today and you'll never take anything for granted, you'll never be unresponsive, you'll be constantly awakening to new wonder, and you'll discover the beauty and goodness around you, inside others, and inside you today."

"....It sounded so easy back then. Now, it doesn't...."

"Well, it still isn’t, never was, and never will be. You've forgotten what you had to do. You've forgotten that you had to work at it each day."

"Coming to think of it, it was like taking an attitude one-a-day vitamin pill. But, I also had to go for a daily spirit, soul, attitude, emotion, feeling, and action workout. That's what the journaling was for, wasn't it? Man, I sweated at doing that...."

"Bingo. The first principle of my teaching is to be happy and feel good, to love the place I am in and being in the moment I'm in and what I am doing and serving others. As you take that vitamin, as you do that workout, you'll have feelings that exclude no one, that are thoughts of abundant love, kindness, faith, hope, and beauty. You'll get grabbed by a feeling so vital it will expand in every direction without limits. Then, you'll go on a rampage of appreciation of the new world you'll find yourself in every single moment of every day. It's what keeps me renewed and resilient. It'll work for you if you let it grab you. I'm not always successful. But, doggone, I keep working on me. And, slowly, oh so slowly, I'm getting there.

"Where do the students fit in? Tell me again....?"

"You just said it. To be happy and feel good is the first principle of learning as well. You, for one, were one of those who got caught up in it. It's what's a psychiatrist named Carl Jung called 'synchronicity.' As I vibrate, everything around me will be similarly vibrated, or at least have the choice to vibrate. It's about modeling. It's this attitude I struggle to use as more than a mere guide in my personal life. This is the attitude I struggle to use as more than a mere guide to everything I do in the classroom. This is the attitude I struggle to live. I struggle for it to be me. And, I struggle to model it for others so they, you, can learn to model it yourself...."

"....You know, I just finished watching 'Actors Studio.' Now, I'm going to be a James Lipton in 'Teachers Classroom' and ask you a form of the last question he always asks his guest. What would like to say to God at Heaven's gates if you had time for only one sentence?"

I thought for more than a minute and wrote back, "Whew! I have nothing left because I gave it everything I had to touch someone and make a difference."

"Nice. Thanks. Can I write you again?..."

"....Wouldn't have it otherwise....Have a happy, merry, and all that."

And we both clicked off-line.

         Make it a good day.


         Louis Schmier      
         Department of History
         Valdosta State University
         Valdosta, GA  31698                 /~\        /\ /\
         912-333-5947              /^\      /     \    /  /~\  \   /~\__/\
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                        -_~    /  "If you want to climb mountains,   \ /^\
                         _ _ /      don't practice on mole hills" -    \____

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