In this weeks reading Maryanne finds out about the Afghan Library. Soon after she is continuing to get sick “…that not even several courses of antibiotics could tame”(170). Maryanne goes into great detail telling Schwalbe how to answer condolence notes. What Schwalbe mentions is that “…Mom had forgotten to tell me and then [I] remembered-how to answer the condolence notes we would be receiving after her death”(171). Maryanne continues to be in and out of the hospital. When she gets home, Schwalbe and Maryanne choose their next book: one of Jhumpa Lahiri’s collection of short stories. “…Lahiri had moved as a child with her parents to the United States. Lahiri’s immigrant characters often have experienced the same kinds of dislocation that Mom had seen in her refugee friends; many of them grapple with balancing two cultures, trying to preserve the known while embracing the new” (172). Schwalbe states that, “The emphasis in both tales is on the survivors- a father and his daughter; a father and his son- and how their changed or changing circumstances bring to center stage their inability to communicate”(173). Schwalbe mentions that theres not a lot of speaking throughout the story but he comes to realize that “Lahiri’s characters, just like people all around us, are constantly telling each other important things, but not necessarily in words”(173). A few weeks later, Maryanne and Schwalbe choose to read Murder in the Cathedral. After they finished it Schwalbe asked Maryanne what made her want to read the book. She said to him, “I find the play very inspiring”(174-175). “He’s also able to accept death. He’s not happy about it but he's perfectly calm. When I stop all this treatment, it will be because its time to stop”(175). Schwalbe also brings up a very interesting thought in this part of the reading: “How does a doctor tell you that its over…if your aim is quality of life and not quantity of life, there simply are no good next treatments?” “What could be more human than want to live?” (175). In 2014 my Papa who I was very close to, took his own life. When I got to the hospital he was on life support. As a family we knew we could keep him on life support to have “more time” with him. But at that point there wasn't any quality to his life. The doctor told us there was nothing they could do to save him and that it was up to us to decide whether to keep him or let him go. Letting go of someone is never easy. Have you ever known someone who was close to you that you had to decide whether to choose quality or quantity? If so, did you look at how lucky you were to have them in your life, or did you focus on how much will be missing without them? and Why?
In this week’s reading, the book resume to the news that Mary Anne’s friend from Harvard is donating one million dollars to help build the Afghan Library. One of Mom’s friend passed away a week before she was set to go to Geneva and they were discussing how do you decide if you should go to a service or not. “If you need to think about whether you should go or not, you should go. But if you can't go, you can't. Then you write a nice note as soon as you can” (171). In this chapter, they decided to read Murder in the Cathedral which was a book his Mom and Dad kept a copy in their bookshelf. Mary Anne inherited this book from her grandfather. A few weeks later they found themselves in the urgent care waiting room. Mary Anne explains why she wanted to revisit the book for its beauty of language and Thomas à Becker, a character from the book. He was a man who accepts martyrdom rather than ignore his conscious. Mary Anne states that Becket was able to accept death. He’s wasn’t too happy about it, but he’s perfectly calm about it. She said, “When I stop all this treatment, it will be because it's time to stop” (175).
They only looked ahead far enough to schedule new scans and to plan Mom’s treatments around trips she wanted to take. She would spend six days in the hospital with a raging infection. The good news they receive was that a recent scan had shown that the tumors, though no longer shrinking, weren't growing. On May 16, Marymount Manhattan College was giving Mary Anne an honorary doctorate of laws. She gave a speech at the graduation ceremony of the Class of 2008. She stared off her speech by telling the story about a boy who had lost a leg and Bosnian family who insisted on helping him get to the polling station. She ended her remarks with a story of a pamphlet that she was handed when she was visiting an African country where people were able to vote freely for the first time. The pamphlet was called The Ten Commandments for Voters and she read a few aloud to the graduates. We were introduced that she was an Obama supporter along with most of the students. They knew just what she was talking about and cheered. She said that, “I have learned from the refugees I have met over the last 18 years to have hope for the future and that is what has helped me through my life, and I know that has been important to the class of 2008. I wish you all staff for yourselves and so much more” (180).
Schwalbe and his mother talked about acknowledgement cards and that there were to be given after her death. This has got me thinking about past acknowledgement cards I received in the past. What kind of messages would you like to leave behind? Positive, inspiration, humor, story, etc. What are the things you hope to be remember by the most? If so, why?
In this week’s reading, it is Mary Anne’s birthday. Before her birthday party, Mary Anne and Will went in for the results of her second scan since she’d been diagnosed. But she was soon taken off one of her chemo drugs; Xeloda because Mary Anne was reacting badly to it. They were warned that the results might not be as good as the first. Eventually Dr. O’Reilly had good news of the result from her last scan “About thirty percent of the liver was involved when you first came in [...] Now it’s much closer to fifteen percent” (148). Mary Anne has been feeling better lately she started to gain some weight and had a lot more energy. Mary Anne and Will start a new book the Continental Drift by Russell Banks, which was stated as depressing. Schwalbe says the book Continental Drift, is a story of a young Haitian woman. “The book tells in parallel the story of a young Haitian woman and her infant and nephew, and their journey as refugees as she tries to make a new life for the three of them. Things go horrendously badly-both on an illegal boat and long before” (152). They eventually didn’t have an opportunity to discuss this book because it was soon Mary Anne’s birthday. She was celebrating her 74th birthday at Daisy May’s; a barbeque restaurant where Will arranged a celebration with friends and family. Later in the book, Schwalbe mentions The Painted Veil where the main character; Kitty is told to consider the beauty of the nun’s lives as perfect of art. As Mary Anne continues to read this novel she admires Kitty’s perspective on the nuns “The nuns do what they do without fear; she does what she does in spite of it” (164). After reading that quotation, Schwalbe made me wonder if I knew someone that was fearless for their actions. So this brings me to ask, are you able to do what you want without fear ? Do you know anyone from your friends or family that is fearful ? If you are scared, how so ?
Schwalbe opens up Continental Drift awaiting the second scan results of his mother since her diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. Because she previously reacted badly to one of her Chemo Drugs, the results for the test weren’t expected to be as good as the first test. But Schwalbe inserts his take on changing expectations, and retells a story he was told in college. It’s about a man who joined the CIA right out of Yale during the Korean War and was captured. He had realized he would have to spent time in jail and was praying for anything less than five years. He was kept for two years in solitary confinement before being sentenced. His sentence was to be read along with the other prisoners. The man heard the first three sentences: death. And all of a sudden he prayed for life in prison, and was ecstatic when that was what he received (147). The role expectations can play in life is discussed throughout this chapter as well as the next.
I loved how Schwalbe illustrates the beauty of changing your expectations. After recounting the story of the man who was sentenced to life to his mother. His mom smiled and said “finding no more tumors would be great news.” This immediately changed the family’s perspective and it was powerful. Being able to look at the best case scenario in that type of situation is extremely powerful. It reminds me of a movie I recently saw called Unbroken.
It’s about Louis Zamperini an Olympian and WWII soldier who is involved in a plane crash. He is stranded out at sea with two other soldiers, with no food and only two emergency water canteens. They are floating on an emergency boat and the odds are totally against them. I can remember trying to imagine what that would actually be like. Having to totally battle your mind day in and day out in order to survive. While being stranded out in sea is a little bit different than knowing you have cancer, I believe the mindset is the same, knowing death is approaching at a greater rate than normal is a scary thing. And being able to live life as Mary Anne is extremely powerful. Her changed perception is her key to living.
What is something that you’ve experienced that wasn’t what you’d expected it to be? Did your perspective change after you experienced something you didn’t expect? How could changing your perspective positively affected that situation? =
Last Saturday I went to San Francisco, as I was driving across the Bay Bridge I realized it looked extremely gloomy. I had prepared for rain, but not that much. As I reached my destination which was Crissy Field, the beach that overlooks the Golden Gate, rain started to pour from the sky. Large amounts of water screamed down on me and my roommates. We initially were pissed and annoyed, standing in it for a minutes in hopes that it would slow down, but it definitely wasn’t going to let up. One of us started laughing and from that moment forward we all seemed to have embraced the rain. Although it was initially a bad thing, we were able to shift ourselves in alignment with what is, and made it a good thing. Changing our perspective allowed us to have equally if not a better day in San Francisco had we been upset with the rain. The ultimate fulfilment I believe is progress.
In this week's Reading Mary Anne Schwalbe took her first trip out of the country after she’d learn of her diagnosis. London was where she went too and enjoyed going back to visit family and just reminisce. When she got back from London it was time to pick new books for the club. As she was going down memory lane Mary Anne asks Schwalbe if he has yet read her favorite book, The Lizard Cage. Mary Anne and Schwalbe briefly talked about the book on what it was about. The lizard Cage , “starts with a little boy, an orphan, and tells the story of his interaction with a political prisoner, a songwriter named Teza.”(131) Teza is the main character in the book, it talks about the worst things that happen in prison. “Teza, a Buddhist must capture and eat raw lizards, breaking his breaking his faith by killing and consuming something that lived in order to survive himself..”(131) Schwalbe mentions how this book helps him and Mary Anne connect with each other more as he says, “It’s a tremendously powerful book that also speaks to our need to connect with each other, to tell stories and pass them on, especially through writing.” (131) Mary Anne kept what meant to her the most from The Lizard Cage , “Whatever beings there are, may they be able to protect their own happiness.” As Mary Anne is sitting getting treated for chemo she continues discussing the book with Schwalbe, and briefly asks him, “What did you think of the amazing prayer Teza says to himself after the beating?” (132) The prayer Teza says is “.. a Buddhist meditation that Teza uses to calm his mind, to put aside not just the physical pain but the sadness and range he’s feeling.” (133) She tells Schwalbe that it is her favorite about protecting your own happiness. Schwalbe then asks himself, “But how can you protect your own happiness when you can’t control the beatings?” (133) In Schwalbe's mind he replaced the word beatings with cancer. Do you think you can protect your own happiness? What if you can’t control the bad the comes to you? Can you still choose to be happy or let it beat you? Have you ever had something bad happen to you? And did you let it take over your happiness? Do you agree in being able to have control in protecting your own happiness? If so, how?
In this week’s reading Mary Anne returns from her trip to London, her first trip out of the country since she learned about her diagnosis. When she returned, Mary Anne and Schwalbe talked about Karen Connelly’s book The Lizard Cage, the novel Mary Anne loved about Burma. Schwable talks to us a little bit about the book, “The book starts with a little boy, an orphan, and tells the story of his interaction with a political prisoner, a songwriter named Teza… Teza a Buddhist must capture and eat raw lizards, breaking his faith by killing and consuming something that lived in order to survive himself; this is just part of his torment, though a potent symbol of it.” (129). Schwalbe thinks of The Lizard Cage as being extremely powerful. He mentions that The Lizard Cage is a book that, “Speaks to our need to connect with each other, to tell stories and to pass them on especially through writing.” (132). As Mary Anne and Schwalbe are sitting together while chemo is flowing into her arm; Mary Anne asks Schawalbe, “What do you think of the amazing prayer Teza says to himself after that horrible beating?” (132).Mary Anne then mentions to Schwalbe the Buddhist meditation that Teza uses to calm his mind and to put aside physical pain:
He starts to whisper “Whatever beings there are, may they be free from suffering. Whatever beings there are, may they be free from hurtfulness. Whatever beings there are, may they be free from ill health. Whatever beginings there are, may they be able to protect their own happiness.” (133).
Mary Anne seems to like the phrase about, “Protecting your own happiness.” Schwalbe then asks, “But how can you protect your own happiness when you can’t control the beatings?” (133). Mary Anne responds by saying, “That’s the point, Will. You can’t control the beatings. But maybe you can have some control over your happiness.” (In her mind replacing the word beatings with cancer) (133). In this week’s reading, Schwalbe learned something about Mary Anne over the course of their book club, “Never make assumptions about people. You never know who can and will want to help you until you ask. So you should never assume can’t or won’t because of their age, or job, or other interests, or financial situation.” (135).
What are your thoughts on “Protecting your own Happiness?” Are there certain obstacles that you have to go through to protect your Happiness? What is your opinion on Schwalbe’s response to Mary Anne when he questions, “ But how can you protect your own happiness when you can’t control the beatings?” (133). Do you agree with Mary Anne when she says, “You can’t control the beatings. But maybe you can have some control over your happiness.” (133). Can you relate this to your life as a college student? If yes, how?
In the chapter Daily Strength for Daily Needs, we get a vivid description of Schwalbe’s mother. She is a short, gray haired mom who loved the sun and could be described as being birdlike. During this chapter Mary Anne reconnects with an old Harvard friend, and her friend gave her two gifts that would change her life, that was left. Schwalbe thinks he mom really liked the book she received, Daily Strength for Daily Needs, because it was a second-hand copy or older. The previous owners were born and had died now but the book remainded. Schwalbe also introduces how he wasn’t sure but his mom was somewhat disappointed he wasn’t as religious as his brother and sister. The next chapter covered is People of the Book, Schwalbe makes an analogy of book that has been set aside for a long trip but you don’t know how long the book is. It could be short or long but you either way have to pace the book to last your trip. He compares this to how people learn to pace themselves in their daily routines. We all know we will die at some point but the day and hour are unknown. So we need to live our live to the fullest. He then says a line that really impacts me and it's terrifying but completely true. “And there’s a world of difference between knowing you could die in the next two years and knowing you most certainly will.” Schwalbe saying this really is an eye opener for me, because in most cases we don’t know our life expectancy.
This makes me curious on what would you do if you knew you would certainly be gone in the next two years? Would you live life to the fullest? Or would you keep living as if you had ten years l;eft? I feel despite Mary Anne knowing she’s getting close, she doesn’t let that glooming clock tick away stop her goals. Mary Anne and her group finally had got a support letter from President Karzai, but she said there is so much more still to do. She made her New Year's resolution to get the library built in Afghanistan, because without books they don’t have a chance. This made me think about how I would handle my last years of life. I believe I wouldn’t drop all my current tasks to go check skydiving off my bucket list. I would continue to make my difference in the world with my work. Once I graduate, I plan on working in Forensic Science. But I’ve always had my passion for horses, and despite my lingering last day, I will continue helping children learn to ride horses. I want to leave my mark on this world and to leave that mark, I have to keep making a difference till my last breathe. I’ll go out with a bang as my grandma always says.