“I cannot pretend I am without fear. But my predominant feeling is one of gratitude. I have loved and been loved; I have been given much and I have given something in return. Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure.”
? Oliver Sacks, Gratitude
I published my first essay at A News Café in July of 2012 and now, nearly eight years later, I am prefacing my 150th column. I actually wrote this one in 2013, the only piece I wrote that Doni refused to publish (out of humility, not malice). When you read it, you’ll understand. And to anyone who has read and appreciated my words over the years, I am deeply grateful. The disease of writing is a sweet affliction that can only be fully healed when it finds a home in another’s mind and heart.
As I type these words, it is late October, 2013 but chances are you are reading this in another month and year. But since truth is timeless, that shouldn’t matter too much.
The first person to read these words, besides me, is Doni Chamberlain. Anewscafe is her playground and she graciously allows me and my words inside the park to play every other week. She doesn’t know it but she is my inspiration for much that I write. (Well, she knows it now because she just read it but I never told her before this.)
A couple years ago, we each had our own radio program, back to back, on a local AM station in the broadcast graveyard of Sunday mornings. No one listened. Well, they may have listened to her show but neither of us could come up with paid advertisers and that eventually led us to give up our radio dreams.
For one of my shows, I had Doni on for an hour interview. As most are aware, Doni is a local celebrity who for many years wrote a popular newspaper column. And after she left the paper, she established Anewscafe. So, I figured we would talk about journalism, creative writing and most of all, the bold, sensitive, insightful and interesting person behind all those columns.
And then she surprised me. At the time, I knew very little about Doni, the person, but as the interview progressed, her life story came spilling out. The details were fascinating, poignant and gripping but what most impressed me was her fearless comfort telling her tale. This was live radio and she held nothing back. How could I not like, respect and admire this person?
Doni did not have an easy life growing up but I detected no self-pity. What came out strong and clear, however, was her fierce devotion to the protection of children or any vulnerable person who might become victimized by others. Her unapologetic openness about her life was part and parcel of her own conviction that we are accountable for what we do and how we choose to be in the world. What we do and say matters. We have no right to use or abuse another human being but more than that, we each have a responsibility to help the helpless and offer hope to the hopeless.
Doni is a courageous person in that she feels the fear and refuses to surrender to its threatening alarms. At least that is how I saw her that day. Some of us get hard and brittle in response to life’s slaps and kicks. Others of us retain our tenderness but learn to discriminate safe from unsafe and carry with us a quiet confidence that we can be authentic and open but still flexible and free. We are willing to have this life, whatever it is; we grieve our losses but refuse to complain. We resist the temptation to dwell on the bad breaks that came our way while we openly admit our failings and flaws.
A person cannot hurt us unless we let them. Others will do what they will, but ultimately, we decide how we respond. We get to choose how we think and feel about what others do and say. Our peace comes from knowing that our vulnerability is not our weakness but our strength. This is part of Doni’s secret power. She knows life hurts and faces it anyway; with a grateful, open heart.
Last spring, I ran into a friend I had not seen in quite a while. He mentioned how much he enjoyed this column and appreciated my honesty and willingness to self-disclose. Something in how he expressed his compliment made me feel momentarily embarrassed; like I may have been too open, too emotionally naked. I suddenly felt like a turtle in need of a shell. But then I remembered Doni.
When Doni opened up inside the KCNR studios that day, I was impressed with her fearless transparency. Our imperfect lives are not our shame. Our shame is our shame.
Our hidden fear that we are inadequate or inferior is a toxic germ that infects many of us. On the other hand, our willingness to reveal and describe the twisted turns and detours of our life-journey; the damage and dents, the painful cuts and wounds we’ve suffered along the way – without judgment – and with deep, abiding compassion; can become a healing, transformative experience for ourselves and others.
We are all wounded in some way or another and yet we bravely soldier on and share the lessons of our sweet, painful ride with the world. In owning and accepting our past, we are more alive in the present. In living in the moment, we are more available and authentic to our fellow travelers, who like us, are struggling to let go of what is gone. In saying goodbye to what has departed, we make room for what is just now arriving, enabling us to treasure what is true and real, here and now.
We are briefly alive in this fragile, precious world; our time here is fleeting. We are wise to value and appreciate those, like Doni, who honor us with their service to our community. They are the among the special ones, the heroes who shine a light on what is important, necessary and true while they seek to do their part to keep our world from cracking. Their witness helps us heal. Their love makes us strong. Their truth brings us light.
On behalf of all of us who love and know you Doni, we will always be, gratefully yours.