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Sharing the Joy

I hope that I am not pressing my luck by posting another inspiring story from a Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen book, but I just couldn’t resist. Someone once described Dr. Remen’s stories as an  “extraordinary outpouring of human wisdom”. I agree! 


WE STRENGTHEN LIFE any time that we listen generously or encourage someone to find meaning, or wonder about possibility, or dream or hope or escape from self-judgment and inner criticism, or know that they matter. Anytime we share someone’s joy, we bless the life in them. Jesse does this as naturally as she breathes. Her own life has not been easy; nonetheless she is a celebrator, a deeply happy person. Although she has had two episodes of colon cancer and many professional disappointments, her joy in life is tangible. I smile whenever I am in the same room with her. So does everyone else. She is always one of the first to celebrate someone’s birthday, to remember anniversaries, to congratulate people on their successes, whether she knows them well or not. So Jesse is one of the first people to call when something good happens to you or to someone you love. She is there to listen to the whole story with delight. Often when you finish talking to her you feel even better about what has happened, luckier than before.

Once as we were sitting together in a doctor’s office, awaiting the lab results of her six-month chemotherapy checkup, I had asked her about her joy in life. Her own life had been so hard. Didn’t she feel envious of others who had things she did not? She had smiled at the thought and shaken her head. “Then what is your secret?” I had asked her, laughing. Suddenly serious, she had replied that it seemed to her that joy was not something personal. When I looked at her, baffled, she explained she has found that if you are genuinely happy for them, people are very generous with their joy and share it with you openheartedly. “When something good happens to the person next to me, I am there to celebrate it with them. Their good luck makes me feel lucky. I rejoice with them about it as fully as if it was happening to me,” she told me. “It makes me really happy.” She paused and looked thoughtful. “Of course, then it is happening to me,” she said with a grin.

When Jesse was first diagnosed, her cancer had spread beyond her bowel. Despite this, her surgeon had operated and removed as much of it as he possibly could, but he could not remove it all. “We need to keep her comfortable for as long as we can,” he told me. But that was fifteen years ago. It makes you wonder. When you strengthen the life around you, perhaps you strengthen the life within you.

Click here for a link to Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen’s book, “My Grandfather’s Blessings”.
Click here for a link to Dr. Remen’s book, “Kitchen Table Wisdom”.
Click here for a link to RISHI (The Remen Institute for the Study of Health & Illness).

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