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My decision to forego further medical treatment for my terminal lung disease came unexpectedly easy; it flowed organically from my willingness to change.

“Hi, this is Liz, living in St. Louis with chronic illness. Thanks for the meeting. Hi everyone!”

For over two years, I had been calling into daily phone meetings of Chronic Pain Anonymous. What I heard amazed me. Fellow sufferers, from around the world, applied the principles of the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous to the negative baggage of their pain and illness. They still had a full life. Crippling physical disorders did not define them. At the heart of their recovery was a new God of their understanding to whom they surrendered, one day at a time; at times, one moment at a time.

Tired of my glum world, I would find my own God. As long months passed, I continued listening, studying our literature with CPA buddies, and praying for discernment. Occasionally, “charged words” heard during meetings stirred my heart. I knew I was on the right track.

And then it happened in that emergency room last month. Like the morning sunrise, the change emerged, blindingly evident, upon my former wasteland. My enthusiasm knew no bounds.

For those trapped within organs that barely function, with medication, for those with fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, nerve pain, migraines, wasting diseases of any kind, there is a community waiting for you: Chronic Pain Anonymous. Information about this spiritual fellowship can be found on CPA.org. Join us and come alive!

 

Brown Pelican in flight at sunrise on Captiva Island, Florida

How often will an April freeze scorch a lilac shrub of its regal display? Or brown a full-blown magnolia tree, reducing it to widow’s weeds? Or blister-winds knife blossoms from apple trees and pastiche the ground with snowy whiteness? Or drenching rains wash away tender roots of newly planted annuals? Such losses burn, leave a sour taste.

Such feelings glimmer beneath the opening lines of T. S. Eliot’s elegy, The Waste Land (1922): “April is the cruelest month, breeding/Lilacs out of the dead land mixing/ Memory and desire, stirring/Dull roots with spring rain.”

It’s all about yearning, about holding onto glimpses of Beauty, whether experienced in nature, in loved ones, or in pets. Within these richly nuanced moments, we catch our breath, perhaps pick up pen or watercolor brush and set to work. For students of such industry, a trail emerges that evidences the expression of unstoppable Life, despite continuous setbacks, even death. The challenge is to begin, yet again, hopefully wiser until the next in-breaking of Beauty that stirs our roots with spring rain.

 

It happened in a split second—Just as the white-coated doctor wrenched the seventeen-year old’s face, the tattooist pressured her forearm to quell her screaming lest she be selected for one his brutal experiments. No matter their shaved heads, their dirty ill-fitting uniforms and wooden shoes, their enslavement at Auchwitz-Birkeneu, their dark eyes, with flitting smiles, found refuge in each other.

It was April 1942, the beginning of the three-year courtship, of sorts, between Gita Furnam and twenty-six year old Lale Sokolov, both Slovakian Jews, both determined to survive their rifle-toting tormentors with violent eyes.

Starvation, typhus, harsh weather, stray bullets, and the gas chambers sharpened the couple’s vigilance and heightened the urgency of their sporadic Sunday meetings behind the administration building. Both brought exceptional gifts to this relationship: Lale’s fluency in six languages and his position as tattooist in the camp that afforded him access to information and extra rations he liberally shared with others; Gita’s robust constitution and passion for life.

Fortunately for students of Holocaust literature, the widower Lale approached screenwriter Heather Morris with his story, three years before his death in 2006. While still decrying the injury he inflicted upon fellow prisoners and burdened by his collaborator status with the Nazis, he wanted the world to know what had happened in Auschwitz. Thus began another unusual relationship. Slowly, through long afternoons in his Melbourne apartment, Heather sifted these events through her imagination until the historical novel The Tattooist of Auschwitz emerged in 2018.

Again, we are deeply moved.

 

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