Sunday, November 29, 2009

Thanks Giving

On Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, I sat down to write a post about saying grace. I got interrupted and never finished it. That evening I found out that the woman I'd intended to refer to in that post had died. On Thanksgiving. And although I knew that she had melanoma, I was stunned by her passing.

Her name is Barbara, and for well over 10 years she has been one of the two great teachers who have blessed my life. A few years ago she asked me for a testimonial for her website. I wrote: "Part philosopher, part healer and part spiritual counselor, her powerful vision...has opened my eyes to the limitless abundance all around me, and helped me develop a deeper appreciation for life's gifts--even those that are not always readily apparent! Integrating these lessons into everyday life has been nothing short of life-changing, dramatically altering my view of the world and how I choose to live in it." It's still absolutely right.

Barbara lived in Tucson and, since we did most of our work on the phone, it's her voice that's imbedded in my memory. Warm, lilting, girlish, yet deep for a woman with such an ethereal physical presence. Regardless of how much time had passed between our sessions, she'd answer the phone, "Helllooooooooooo, my Donna," or "Hey, girl", as if we talked every day. Her intuition was mind-boggling and her suggestions often wacky. But, skeptic that I am, I rarely balked--and was rewarded beyond my wildest imagination. She taught me to eat better, be a better listener, and take better care of myself. She helped me end the most painful relationship I've ever known and learn from it; have faith in my son's ability to cope with his father's death; and choose the job I have now--a career move that even I didn't believe would work out as well as it has. She instilled in me the importance of "allowing", and of being a source of joy and light in the world.

The reason I was thinking about Barbara on Thanksgiving was because of her "Yes Prayer". My family says grace before we dig in to our holiday feast, and it's always made me cry. I never thought much about it until this year--when I didn't cry. I'm pretty sure the reason I've cried in the past is because giving thanks for the good in my life was something rare and unsettling. But this year I've developed the habit of expressing gratitude on a daily basis, which may have defused the act of saying grace. I begin my practice by reciting the "Yes Prayer", a signature prayer that Barbara often used to open our sessions. The basic idea is to give thanks for all we have and to open ourselves to receive all that the day holds for us. It centers and calms me. It's also allowed me to connect daily with Barbara; and for the past few months, I've asked whatever power fuels the universe to marshal its forces and help her beat the cancer.

She always struck me as someone who was not entirely of this world. The first time I met her was in New York City, and seeing her outside, on the street, was disconcerting. She appeared to be totally out of sync with the traffic, crowds, and noise. She belonged indoors, in a cool, quiet, space where she would fix her crystal blue eyes on your face and draw you straight in to her soul. I secretly believed she had some special hook-up to eternity, that a magic spell cast at birth gave her life everlasting. That's why her death is so shocking. How could this woman, of all people, die of cancer? A woman so devoted to health and wellness and self care. A woman who was the essence of love and gentleness and peace. A woman who left an indelible imprint on the lives of everyone she came in contact with. What I'm really asking is: How could this woman die at all?

Monday, November 23, 2009

Big Deal

I've never sold a raffle ticket. I've never raised money for a cause. I believe in causes and believe in giving to them, but fundraising is just not something that has ever amazed, surprised or delighted me. Until last week, that is.

I work for the YWCA Bergen County and we held a raffle this month. We're a non-profit, so a raffle is no big deal in and of itself. But for our YWCA, this raffle was a big deal. The prizes were big (a 40" flat screen TV, a digital SLR camera). The potential was big. And for me personally it was big: because this year, raising money is a job requirement. Selling some raffle tickets seemed like one of the surest ways to do that. The only problem was that it required me to do something I really, really, (did I say really?) hate doing: Asking.

Fortunately, this is what the Internet was invented for! Asking via email is so much easier than looking someone in the eye and begging. (Nothing like being separated by cyber space to boost one's confidence!) So I sent an email to everyone I thought might either 1) be willing to give just because they care about me, 2) be generous by nature and give because it's the right thing to do, or 3) actually want to win a TV the size of Utah. The first surprise was that all but three of them said yes. The second surprise was that a quarter of them bought more than one ticket.

When they picked the winners last Thursday, the amazing thing was that my sister Deborah won the camera! The delightful thing was that it turned out I'd sold the most tickets of any single person in the organization. Me, the woman who has never asked anyone to donate anything. Ever. And yeah, I earned myself half a day's vacation. And better still, I raised some money for a cause I believe in. But the really big deal is the realization that, when you do ask, the answer will be yes more often than you think. Maybe next time I'll have the guts to do it face-to-face...