Tuesday, August 08, 2006

The celebration

I’m still basking in the glow from Sunday’s celebration. It was just wonderful. Thanks to all who came, and especially to Anna and everyone else who worked so hard to get it organized and make it such a beautiful occasion.

There must have been close to 150 people there, and we’ve received more than 150 messages and other objects for the 130 Letters project! I’m looking forward to the opening of each envelope and to hearing what’s inside. We’ll keep you posted! I’m not even going to try to name names here—there were so many people, and I didn’t even get a chance to say hi to everyone. But I know you were there, and it makes me very happy.

LZ Love, the gospel singer, and two members of her band were playing  as people arrived. She has a rich, strong, passionate voice, and the music set a great tone, intense and  celebratory,  as people gathered, got themselves wine or other drinks, put on their nametags, talked to old friends or made new ones. Meanwhile, I had been steered to a chaise-longue that Laura Rose and Bruce brought from their backyard and draped with a deep red and purple India-print bedspread. Some people said it looked like a throne,but if “kingly” is the right word for what I was feeling then it was only because so many people came up to say hello and I got so many great hugs—it had never occurred to me that it would be like this! I danced a little with Anna (I hadn’t gotten to dance with her at BodyChoir in the morning because she was doing the music—and because whenever I headed in her direction I found myself dancing with several other people and ended up in some completely different part of the dance-space!), and then she led me back to my lounge chair so the ceremony could begin.

Neil Blumoff, the cantor of Congregation Agudas Achim, led this part. This part. It was beautiful. He had selected Moses’ prayer for the healing of his sister, Miriam: "El Na,Rafanah La, God please, heal her now” (Numbers 12:13), with the final pronoun changed to the masculine lo. He began by getting the whole group chanting—first a single note, then a major 5th, then finally a 7th. Then he taught the individual words, repeating them  several times till everyone had the prayer, and then he had the whole group sing the prayer, slowly and powerfully, his beautiful clear voice rising above the rest. It was incredibly moving and powerful—so simple, so beautiful.  I Wanted to know more about this prayer, so (of course) googled it; almost the first thing I found was a Web page where Rabbi Edyth Held Mencher talks about this same prayer in connection with a woman who had a stem cell transplant.  I like the connection—not only with others who have cancer but also with other Jews going all the way back to biblical times; although I was raised as a Jew and have occasionally felt that connection through ritual, it hasn’t been a strong part of my life and I welcome it now as I never have before. Something to explore, perhaps, with Hope Lipnick from the chaplain’s office at M.D. Anderson, whom I met last week.

Cantor Blumoff then again asked the group to chant wordlessly while  he sang  the Misheberach prayer, a centuries-old prayer for healing, and again his voice soared. During this whole time he had been gripping my right hand while Anna held my left, and thole group sang with joined hands. So we were all together, and there was an incredible energy in the room.

LZ and her band started up again, and there was more dancing and talking, eating and drinking, and general good feeling. And then LZ was beside me in my chair and asking for the group to gather round. She asked me for permission to take my picture, then said “I’m gonna flash you!” I said this was the part where I wanted a live rendition of I once was blind but now I see, and I guess she took my picture. Then she grabbed my hand and sang her song, “Trials,” which I love and which I had asked for. She did it a capella in that powerful, rich voice with a little extra huskiness in it because, as she said, she’d been singing for four days straight and she was a little hoarse. That just made it all the more beautiful. Then she rejoined the band for a couple more songs, ending with another really powerful one, a rock-the-house song called Movin’ on to Higher Ground.

Then Bhagirit was at the microphone. I knew he’d arrived because he had been sitting behind my left shoulder talking a little earlier, so (after a few seconds when I didn’t recognize his voice) I knew he’d made it in from the airport. He explained a little about some of the work he and I had done together since May. Then he invited everyone to invoke whatever healing force they recognize and suggested that we visualize it as a great golden light filling the air and our bodies, from the crown of the head down to the toes. When he finished, the room was absolutely silent—even the air conditioning wasn’t humming—for what seemed but probably wasn’t a long time. It was fantastic, an amazing thing. Just a few minutes earlier it would have seemed impossible for a room so large and so full of lively, strong, energetic people to fall so quickly and profoundly silent and then hold the silence. It was, truly, awesome.

Eventually the voices came back. People said their good-byes and drifted off into what was still bright, intense sunlight; and we left too.

I haven’t done anything like justice to what took place in that space. I can’t even begin to take it in. I’m so moved, so grateful, so much in awe  of the love I felt and heard in that room, the love that I’ve heard and felt since this whole thing started last June—this ordeal, this journey, this life-shattering, strangely beautiful disease that changes everything and nothing.I’m not alone. I am well and truly loved by a large and generous community here in Austin and far beyond. Thank you, thank you, thank you.


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