diamonds and trust nuggets
Open Letter to My Supposedly Dying Friend
After I wrote this, I sent it to my friend to see if she was okay with my printing it. She wasn't. She had things to say to me, and things she needed to hear, and then she said I could print it if I wanted to. I didn't. To me, the letter had done its job, my friend and I felt clearer and closer, and I had another idea for my mailing. But the next morning her written response was in my inbox, and she asked me to print them both. So here they are.
Dear beautiful friend,
When I got to spend time with you at the Womyn’s Festival, I was struck again and again by the life in you. Like me, you were moving slowly, at your own pace, and resting more often (oh, glorious naps) than average human beings of our respective ages. You even spoke slowly, and speak slowly on the phone, and I’m thinking this predates the diagnosis of incurable cancer. I love how carefully you articulate the things you choose to speak. I love how laughter bubbles up from you slowly and swells and ebbs in its own sweet time. I love how carefully you think and live.
You told me about the painful betrayal episode that your intuition tells you spawned the cancer. Something inside you pinpoints this as the genesis of the disease, just as something inside you aligns itself with the one doctor who blocks consensus on the death sentence the others decree. I’m the first to champion the inner voice. I believe this voice is our guidance. I believe it guides us all through our lives, as much as we let it, and it will guide us through death’s door when it’s time for us to cross the threshold. I love being guided. I declare it every day with joy and gratitude: I am guided.
We’re all guided. And if your guidance has shown you the genesis of your disease, it’s pointing you simultaneously to your healing. My thought would be for you to cultivate healing this story of betrayal with as much enthusiasm and detachment as you can muster in equal parts. The healing could certainly walk you to your death, and this could be a sweet walk, in your own sweet time. And it could also launch the next era of your amazing life. As far as I can tell, you don’t get to choose which; but either way, I’m sure of it, you get to choose to heal.
Caroline Myss used to say that our deepest spiritual journeys are launched by a betrayal—as symbolized in the Christian tradition by the kiss of Judas in the Christ story. Neither of us subscribes to that particular brand of God-talk, but it’s a great story and you get the idea. A betrayal is just one of the things that can happen to human beings, and I love to say that anything humans can do to each other will be done to you—and you’ll probably do it to someone else. (Did I learn this from Byron Katie? Most likely.) Betrayal happens. Could it happen for a great reason? That is, if it’s a friendly Universe, could it happen for your growth and ultimate total well-being?
It’s been a powerful practice for me—and something my clients have found to be transformative—to depersonalize the characters in a story. Forget that it was your (brother, mother, girlfriend, son, boss, whoever) who did something to you; see it as the friendly Universe (or call it God) showing up personified, wearing that person’s face, and see any reckoning needed as needing to happen between you and God—or you and you (same thing). This can be applied everywhere and always. The more compelling the story, the more odious the betrayal, then the more we can vilify the person playing the role; and the more we can tell the story to hungry audiences who will ooh and ah on our behalf and agree that it was at least twice as awful as we claim. (And, truly, your talk isn’t bitter; you told me the story in the simplest, most non-accusatory terms. I’m more concerned with the bitterness for you of the original event, and how the very cells of your body registered and absorbed it.) In the end, the greater the betrayal, the greater the challenge to shift our perception and see instead that the Universe showed up in this fascinating way to give us some strong medicine, powerful enough to launch us into our next phase of growth—or into becoming the next highest version of ourselves. If the medicine going down wrong can make a cancer, imagine its power to heal and transform with the right spin on it.
I love to remind people (and myself) that sometimes the only power we’ve got is the power of interpretation. We get to interpret events. Choose your interpretations well. Choose ones that empower and heal. Choose a way of looking at it (anything) that makes you come out the winner—not over another, but as the heroine/hero in your own life, in your own beautiful story with all its twists and turns and at least one poignant betrayal to make the story a good one.
So what happens when you redefine it? Can you put a new spin on it? Can you, if only in a silent prayer, thank the person who played the betraying role for you? You can put an ongoing contemplation on to simmer and see what reveals itself. What did you gain? What muscles did this build that you didn’t have yet? What could still come of it now and going forward, without the negative interpretation that anyone harmed you in any way? Can you see yourself as absolutely okay no matter what went down, so that you grow yourself right into a healed life or the sweetest death possible?
I’ve applied these concepts through what plenty would agree to be hard knocks. I’ve applied them heartily and consistently, persistently—by which I mean, catching myself when I don’t, and coming back to concerted application. I’ve made it a way of life. But I can’t seem to stop myself from making this comparison: life hasn’t asked me to apply these concepts through dread diseases whose names drop like bombs and strike debilitating fear. You’ve been asked to carry more than I, and I don’t know how these things get determined. I see you as a large soul, a strong soul, an inspiring soul. Perhaps your mission is a large one, or meant to touch a lot of people, or certain to go deep, deeper than most of us care to go. Perhaps whatever healing you experience will spread faster and farther than any cancer. I don’t know, but I do know it’s no mistake that you’re the one on this particular journey. I’m watching closely to see what I will learn from you. I’m listening to that laughter and slowing myself down to listen carefully when you call. It’s such an honor to be part of your process.
My fondest hope is to be part of your healing, which I believe in with all my heart quite apart from any matters of timing in our living and dying. Whatever you choose in terms of protocols and procedures, medicines and modalities, I’d love to help you harness what I call your power of interpretation. You can see everything that’s ever happened to you in terms of the friendly Universe conspiring in your favor. You can be free of anything bitter in your mind that would seep poison into your cells. I believe in your freedom. I can hardly wait to see how the story comes out.
(My friend's response to me appears below.)
Dear beautiful Jaya,
Thank you for sharing your open letter with me. I would like to respond in a heartfelt way that may further the conversation between us and your newsletter readers.
When I first read your letter, I was moved both by the beauty and the strength of it. Your love for the truth is like a laser that pierces deep into my heart and psyche. I felt exposed, yes, even betrayed, and I wanted to run away from myself.
When we worked together at the Womyn’s Festival, you coached me in reframing my recent incurable cancer diagnosis. Through you, I began to understand its gifts. I am living my life as if there is no tomorrow, cherishing those I love today.
I baulked at your insistence in the letter that my way back to health required embracing the initial betrayal, the essential wound. I know that path to be true, because love and disease cannot occupy the same space at the same time.
And you ask me to accept death and dying, not as concepts but coming face-to-face with my own mortality. You couldn’t ask this of me, of us, if you hadn’t walked that path yourself.
If I don’t want cancer to define me, then I have to let that story go. What will remain?
Jaya, you are a remarkable healer. I trust you on my journey. I would be honoured if you would share your open letter and my response to it in your newsletter.