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“We can make it. We are going to make it!” so pressed John Lynch as he and Franka Berger struggled against insupportable odds toward freedom—both were in dire straits. Their attitude served as a leitmotif throughout Eoin Dempsey’s novel White Rose Black Forest (2018) and resonated within my practice of the 12 Steps as understood in Chronic Pain Anonymous.

The We is significant; it suggests the components of the CPA’s spiritual fellowship: solidarity, like-mindedness, willingness, honesty, and humility, in union with Higher Power’s presence. From my first phone meeting in September 2017, I’ve felt understood and supported, moving through seven hospitalizations until opting for hospice’s palliative care last November. No longer am I alone with the burden of failing lungs and other evidence of aging.

Experience of the We also occurs during daily 12-Step work with my sponsor and others suffering with chronic pain and illness. No one tires listening to symptoms and their accompanying emotional pain. No one remains stuck.

The way out requires action: can make; are going to make. Here, open-mindedness and willingness prod the overwhelmed toward a different scenario. Thanks to working Steps I, II, and III, stony attitudes begin to splinter. A bigger picture of our flawed but graced humanness emerges. We are much more than our pain or illness. Breathing becomes more normal.

And then comes it. In CPA, emotional sobriety is critical to recovering what’s left of our lives. With the rest of the 12 Steps, we relax within our limits and participate. Slips do occur but help is a phone call away; within such dialogs, Higher Power manifests. So we give thanks for another twenty-four-hour day, as did Franka and John when they made it.

 

 

Yet another harrowing read has emerged from the ruins of Nazi Germany: White Rose Black Forest (2018) by Eoin Dempsey. From the first paragraph to the last, high drama ignites questions, teases out near misses, and displays murderous violence. Grave concern for the survival of nurse Franka Berger and John Lynch, a wounded American spy wearing the captain‘s uniform of the Luftwaffe, heightens the suspense.

What gives this novel substance, though, is Dempsey’s incorporation of the White Rose—a 1942 resistance movement made up of University of Munich students and their philosophy professor. For eight months they printed and distributed pamphlets informing the populace of Hitler’s true agenda, until caught and many executed by the Gestapo. Among them was blonde, blue-eyed Franka, only spared because of her Aryan features and the prospects of her birthing children to support the Third Reich’s Thousand Year Millennium.

And the wintry Black Forest, a large mountainous region in southwest Germany, serves as a volatile character: Its blizzards, ice storms, moonlit nights, and freezing temperatures tense the plight of the pursued and their pursuers.

Donovan’s judiciously selected images and terse dialog imprint this riveting story upon his readers. With Franka and John, we identify with their bone-shuddering cold, exhaustion, hunger, and thirst; with them, we recoil from the Gestapo’s cunning.

In my perception, the noteworthy merit of White Rose Black Forest lies in activating psychic wars within our depths, where Gestapo-like insanity lurks, searching for lapses in consciousness.

In my present circumstances, vigilance is key.

 

Another night of psychic distress roused me. No dream snippets clued my sense of what was amiss, especially since yesterday’s puttering around had gone so well—even had my teeth cleaned. I was clearly in Step I: “We admitted we were powerless over terminal illness—that our lives had become unmanageable.” Yet, I preferred my comforter’s warmth to my chilled study and meditation with Recipe for Recovery. Hours limped by. Dawn light finally sulked like spent embers.

Bleary-eyed, I sat in my prayer chair, turned to the Ingredients of Step I, and mulled over “Accepting the Unacceptable.” Often, I had begun my day with this practice, one that countered the denial of my mortality and opened me to bliss on other side of my diminishment, however it played out. But this morning was different—my insides were raw as if scraped clean by a scalpel.

I groused, mindful of conscious efforts to live fully in the present moment, the locus of grace, as I thought I had done the day before. How was I to move toward acceptance of my terminal illness as practiced in CPA? What was I to learn? More daylight filtered through the blinds. I waited, listened to my breathing: inhaling, exhaling. I began to relax, wiggle my toes.

Then it happened—I fell prostrate before the God of my understanding, the source of last night’s distress. Anther lesson in humility was underway and I knew it. Beneath my façade of contentment still lurked control, albeit limited, of my homebound world. Without the support of oxygen and Dexamethasone, my symptoms would level me.

 

 

 

Again, I accepted my ultimate lack of control over my terminal illness, until the next rupture and lesson. I’m not humble.

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