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The Bliss Blog

The Bliss Blog

The Width of An Eyelash-The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Yesterday, I saw the much heralded film : The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Even without benefit of viewing its predecessor, I enjoyed it immensely. It may have had something to do with the demographic I am now in. Although most of the characters were twenty or more years my senior, I could relate to the life choices with which they were faced. Career, relationships, health, finances, all came to the surface for these British ex-pats who came to India to ‘outsource’ their later years. From what I understand, they were initially disappointed in the hotel that had seen better days, but came to embrace the culture, the inhabitants and each other as family.

Role calls are done each morning, to be sure that the residents are still breathing.

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In this incarnation, the hotel was upgraded and these residents had acclimated. Various and sundry relationships were highlighted. The impending marriage of the young owner and his fiancee’ sets some of the background drama, as well as the proposals of one of the women, by two Indian suitors with whom she had been keeping company, unbeknownst to each other, the wooing of the mother of the hotel owner by a visiting American, the shy tiptoeing around, are-we-or-aren’t-we-a-couple relationship between two others and a series of affairs because one person thought the other one was already sneaking around.

The themes were about taking chances, regardless of stage in life or relationship status,  about new beginnings, about facing fears, about things not always being as they appear.

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One of my favorite lines grabbed me with a big squeeze and wasn’t about to let go. “Sometimes the difference between what we want and what we fear is the width of an eyelash.” Do I ever know that one?

In the movie that I write, film, view and critique daily, I am facing two wishes that fit into that category. The first has to do with desiring a partner with whom to share the adventure of a life time.  I am a powerful manna-fester as experiences, opportunities and people often show up at the speed of thought. And yet….she says, with a bit of wistfulness, this person has remained elusive. I wonder if it is because I still stand with a foot in each polarity. I wonder too what it will take to solidly stand in the one that allows him to arrive.

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The other has to do with career. For years, I have been declaring that I want to travel, teach and write full time. Guess what?  The opportunities to do so have been extended and I am nervous as heck, even as I am saying yes to those that are appealing.

As all of the loose ends got tied up at the end of the movie, so too do I see it occurring for me. Would that life be as simple. One of the lines from the original movie is “Everything will be alright in the end. If it’s not alright, it’s not the end.”

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Through The Eyes of Love

Yesterday, my friend Joan made a comment on Facebook about a painful interaction with someone in her life. “I’ve been looking at myself through the eyes of someone who doesn’t love me, but trying to see love.”

My response to her was this: “If you are looking at yourself through the eyes of someone who doesn’t love, appreciate or respect you, don’t borrow their eyes and don’t loan them yours. Instead, gaze at yourself through the peepers of those who admire, adore and feel blessed that you are in their lives. In that way, you can become spiritual-eyesed. Thank you, Joan for that in-sight.”

As I contemplate the meaning of the material that came through me as if channeled, I became acutely aware of the times I had been in that very position. Although I really have no way of knowing who loves me and who doesn’t, since love can look all different ways, I do know when I FEEL loved and when I don’t. To me, love is a verb; an action word. Love need not be earned. It is something that ought to come with us at birth, as if factory installed. When we live as if we ARE love, than engaging in loving acts comes naturally. I ask myself often:  WWLD- What Would Love Do?  And then, as often as possible, I do it.

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Admittedly, there are times when I view people and circumstances through the eyes of fear and judgment, being human and all. I judge when folks intentionally do violence in word or action, when they disrespect the environment by polluting and otherwise trashing the air, water and land. I judge when people are short sighted and only live for the moment, rather than caring about leaving a peaceful and healthy planet for the next generations. I judge when people don’t help someone in need, even though they have the ability to do so. I judge when people wage war, to take what is not theirs, or because of a difference in ideology. I judge when people use religion as a front and excuse for abuse, demeaning and constraining rights. THAT to me is tantamount to ‘taking God’s name in vain.’ I judge when people put others down because they choose to love differently than they do.

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I judge myself for judging. When I am in that place of critiholism, it is as if my metaphorical glasses are smudgy and I can’t see clearly.

When I remember that we are all Divine creations from the same Source, I am called to see all people and circumstances in that light. It doesn’t mean that I don’t have preferences and don’t have the need to take a stand and speak up. I can tell when I am doing it from love or from judgment. When I am in that place of love, compassion and healing, I am a greater force for good in the world.

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Sara’s Smiles- Lift The Cloud, Inspire The Joy

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The Philadelphia Flower Show is an annual event that heralds the coming of Spring. This Winter weary woman who hadn’t attended in decades, was eager to immerse in beauty. Little did I know that it would go far beyond the blossoms and butterflies that lent their color and wonder. I was offered the opportunity to volunteer at a table for Sara’s Smiles.  A few friends were already on board with it, and although I had limited knowledge of the purpose of the organization, I did some research and then leapt into it, wings spread. Greeted with hugs by Jennifer Kogen Burke and Alison Kogen Feldman and draped with a bright feather boa, the better to attract attention of passersby, I was given a brief run down of what our delightful task would be.  We were to invite folks to sign cards with inspiring messages for children in hospitals up and down the East Coast of the United States who were living with cancer. Vividly hued markers and cloud shaped cards were scattered across the tables. By the time I left the convention center, my feet were tired, but my heart was light.

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This activity was in honor and memory of Sara Burke who had passed in 2008 after courageously facing the disease with the support of her loving family and friends. Jennifer is her mother and Alison, her aunt who continue to champion the cause of bringing as much joy as possible to other families who are in the same situation that they unexpectedly found themselves in.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Jennifer afterward.

Please share some background on Sara’ Smiles.

Sara’s Smiles began before Sara was even discharged from the hospital in 2008. As we were approaching the end of her treatment, we began to talk about doing something to give back to CHOP (Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia). It was our home away from home for seven months and almost every person there- no matter what their role- had a special place in our hearts. When Sara had been declared “in remission,” the staff would tell her that she should celebrate with a party. Sara would always add, “and a fundraiser!”

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That enthusiastic response was typical for Sara. Every day in the hospital, she would want to know what was on tap in the fun department. We filled every waking moment (and many nights) with arts and crafts, games, and activities. The staff always loved to come to our room because it was decorated with messages of love, artwork, and party lights.

We also searched out any and all resources available to us during treatment. For instance, “Chemo Angels” provided Sara with secret Santa-type pen pals who would send messages and small gifts. “Super Sibs” supported her siblings at home, reminding them that they were special too. Small pick-me-ups like these made a big difference in our days.

We came to realize early on that not everyone took this approach to their stay in the hospital. Some people just couldn’t imagine having fun in the hospital. Others didn’t have a support system nearby or at all. Many were just too overwhelmed to even know what to do. This quickly became our focus. We wanted to reach out a hand to others in helping to create a warmer, more personal, more fun, and thus more empowered experience for children diagnosed with cancer as well as their families.

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When she passed, what helped your family continue on as you did?

First and foremost, the support of our family, friends, and community helped keep us afloat. Knowing that Sara was aware of how much she was loved gives us tremendous peace of mind. Although there is a great deal of pain, we are fortunate to have that peace. Our family, friends, and community continue to be there for us and that supportive circle continues to grow. It’s not any particular act of kindness that has helped, just the knowledge that people are there, that they are trying to understand, and that they are willing to do whatever is necessary. The hard part is never knowing what is necessary on our end. It’s always easier to help others than to help ourselves. Identifying our own needs is surprisingly difficult

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Developing Sara’s Smiles also helps us to continue on. It is the best way we know how to honor Sara’s memory and a piece of Sara’s spirit is in everything we do. Our mission is very “Sara” and we know that she would heartily approve of our mission to help others find joy in each day. The ability to focus on Sara’s Smiles diverts our attention from our own pain to helping alleviate the pain of others. It’s important to use our experience to make it better for those walking in our footsteps.

What can people do who feel uncomfortable being around those who are grieving, especially around the illness and death of a child?

It is tough to help those who feel uncomfortable around those who are grieving and/or dealing with illness because each and every person who is coping has unique needs and responds differently to the efforts of others. Some are very private, others are an open book, and some just don’t even know what to ask for or how to deal with being the focus of attention. Emotions run the gamut as do responses to what may seem like simple statements and/or offers. The most important thing is to just let the friend/relative/community member that you are cheering them on. Offering concrete services such as driving siblings to practices, shopping for groceries, or offering to take a walk if and when needed with the “coper” is always better than saying “let me know if there’s anything I can do.”

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There is no reason to feel uncomfortable around someone coping with illness or death. That someone is human and needs to know that people care. A simple note or phone call can accomplish that. Silence can make a loud statement. Avoiding the subject or remaining silent can feel like abandonment at a time of need. It is better to reach out than to do nothing at all.

How does Sara live on in the work that you do?

We feel strongly that a piece of Sara’s spirit is part of everything we do. Despite the variety of grueling circumstances that each day brought during Sara’s illness, Sara was looking to have fun. Every morning she woke up wanting to know what was on tap for the day ahead. Sara crammed in as much joy as possible, regardless of her disabilities, treatments, or setbacks. We took advantage of every opportunity we had to keep her spirits buoyed. As a result, we have many happy memories on which to look back. We want others to have that same experience. It is important for both the patients and their families.

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Are there particularly moving stories to share about what you have seen since the organization has begun?

This is a difficult question because the story of Sara’s Smiles is somewhat open-ended. Currently, we deliver our kits to the hospitals who, in turn, distribute them to patients as they are admitted to the oncology floor. We rarely have the opportunity to see patients respond in person. We have heard many personal stories at events we’ve attended though. It feels good to be able to offer a ray of hope to someone who has been plunged into what feels like a different universe.

Hearing the diagnosis of cancer can simultaneously feel like a swift punch to the stomach and landing on mars. Cancer is a new world with its own rules, terminology, and landscape. It helps to have someone aid in navigating the new, and frequently scary, terrain. There is beauty along the journey, it’s just found in different places than we’re used to looking.

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In your wildest dreams, what would you like to see happen?

In our wildest dreams, we would like to see every pediatric oncology patient receive a Sara’s Smiles Inspiration Kit, take advantage of the resources on our website, and know that they are connected to a caring community, despite their physical isolation. We want every child to feel empowered, find happiness, and know that they are loved and not alone.

How can people be of support to Sara’s Smiles?

There are several ways that people can be of support to Sara’s Smiles. The most important thing anyone can do is share our website, www.saras-smiles.org, with others. It offers a comprehensive list of valuable resources such as games and activities, strategies to manage pain and stress, glossaries of oncological terms, and ways to connect with others with similar diagnoses.

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People can also host or participate in an Inspiration Station. Sara’s Smiles provides hosts of Inspiration Stations with cloud-shaped Inspiration Cards to be filled in by volunteers. The Inspiration Cards are crammed with colorful, uplifting words, phrases, and pictures. The cards offer an extra measure of love and support to the patients and families who receive them. They can also be used to add a spot of cheer to the walls of a child’s room. Inspiration Cards act as a constant reminder of the strength that lies within each child and the unbroken, loving connection to a community that cares about them.Donations, of course, are always a method of supporting Sara’s Smiles. Contributions fund the packaging and delivery of Inspiration Kits to children diagnosed with cancer. Our kits provide a sampling of the resources found on our website. They contain items that help families to stay organized, entertained, connected with others, and to explore creative ways to encourage smiles. We believe that engaging children not only brightens their spirits, but empowers them as well. Currently, Inspiration Kits are delivered to children receiving treatment at fourteen hospitals in six states and we hope to significantly expand our reach over time. Kits can also be delivered, free of charge, to children who are diagnosed with cancer but receiving treatment at hospitals other than those with whom we are partnered.

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Jennifer,  Edie and Alison at the Sara’s Smiles table at the Philadelphia Flower Show

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We Never Know Who We Will Touch With Our Words

It is no secret that I am addicted to words. As a career writer, I live and breathe their essence. They delight me to no end. They are the beat of my heart and the blood that flows through my veins. They are a source of emotional, spiritual and physical support. They feed my right livelihood work that pays the bills. They have kept me sane and vertical and reminded me in the midst of the dark nights of the soul, that the sun will come out tomorrow. I write because I can’t NOT write. I write also because, so I’ve been told, that it makes a difference in the lives of those who take in the words and make meaning out of them for themselves.

When I cast the words out in the blog-o-sphere, I send with them, a prayer that they reach whoever they are meant to and, because I am human, I would love to receive positive feedback. I like seeing the numbers go up on the little counters on some of the pages of the sites for which I write. Not being totally altruistic.

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Today, I had cyber encounters with two talented writer friends. One of them was responding to an article I had written for The Huffington Post called The Perils and Pitfalls of Being a Prodigious Writer. I had quoted her in it and she was astounded that I had mentioned her, since like many writers, she too questions who is reading her stuff and whether it is having an impact. Theresa Byrne’s writing is clever, engaging and gleaned from her own life experience. Her articles and memes always spark me to action.

The other is Kurt Koontz whose book A Million Steps chronicles his journey along The Camino. He sends out a regular newsletter with short snippets of insights that always connect to issues with which I am either grappling or in which I am splashing about playfully. Today’s was no exception. He was writing about the concept of placing moats around ourselves so as to keep out what we fear. He encouraged folks to ‘de-moat’ themselves. I think in metaphors too and that one is apt for my own healing journey, even though I can’t see myself literally traversing the long walk he took. My own ‘Camino experience’ looks different and I need not get physical blisters on the soles of my feet from it. I can certainly say that emotional blisters have resulted from having pebbles in my soul shoes.

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My response:   “I think my moat has been work and co-dependent relationships. Hiding behind what looked like dazzling and tapestry draped walls made it appear that all was well. I would let the drawbridge down and invite folks in to the castle where there would be all manner of luscious banquets spread and musicians and heck, even a court jester. The thing is, much of it was illusion. Smoke and mirrors. Sadness masquerading as joy. Now that I am facing those addictions, the hospitality is genuine. The joy is genuine. The Lady of the castle is revealing the real.”

Thank you, Theresa and Kurt and a gazillion other wordsmiths who keep me honest.

Previous Posts

The Width of An Eyelash-The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Yesterday, I saw the much heralded film : The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Even without benefit of viewing its predecessor, I enjoyed it immensely. It may have had something to do with the demographic I am now in. Although most of the characters were twenty or more years my senior, I could r

posted 2:32:11pm Mar. 30, 2015 | read full post »

Through The Eyes of Love
Yesterday, my friend Joan made a comment on Facebook about a painful interaction with someone in her life. "I've been looking at myself through the eyes of someone who doesn't love me, but trying to see love." My response to her was this: "If you are looking at yourself through the eyes of someo

posted 10:37:32am Mar. 27, 2015 | read full post »

Sara's Smiles- Lift The Cloud, Inspire The Joy
  The Philadelphia Flower Show is an annual event that heralds the coming of Spring. This Winter weary woman who hadn't attended in decades, was eager to immerse in beauty. Little did I know that it would go far beyond the blossoms and butterflies that lent their color and wonder. I was offe

posted 8:01:28am Mar. 26, 2015 | read full post »

We Never Know Who We Will Touch With Our Words
It is no secret that I am addicted to words. As a career writer, I live and breathe their essence. They delight me to no end. They are the beat of my heart and the blood that flows through my veins. They are a source of emotional, spiritual and physical support. They feed my right livelihood work th

posted 2:31:37pm Mar. 24, 2015 | read full post »

Inhaling and Exhaling
Breathing is necessary in order to sustain our corporeal existence. Inhaling and exhaling, over and over. The average human takes 12 breaths per minute which comes out to 17,280 each day. This doesn't factor in times of exercise. It is something that most people do without even thinking about it, un

posted 9:39:37am Mar. 23, 2015 | read full post »

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