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Soul survivors (10/04/2009)
By Janet Lewis Burns
“You don’t have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.”

Wow! Well said, C.S. Lewis!

The existence of the human body is evident, but go beyond the tangible and things get confusing. Childhood is far less puzzling, with its nursery rhymes, Bible stories, wild imaginations, and blind faith. All we had to know is that little girls are made of sugar and spice and everything nice, and little boys, well, all I can remember is puppy dog tails.

An adventuresome spirit of the outdoors, our eight-year-old granddaughter Ally proclaimed, “God planted all the trees on those hills!” A kindred soul to nature…she’s already there.

Aging will gradually complicate things. “Man does not live by bread alone” is a lot said. What defines who you are? Do you live through your egotism? Your ailments? Your religious beliefs? Your passions? Your fantasies? Your sorrows? Your bitterness?

Catholic Monk Thomas Merton once observed, “Solitude and silence teach me to love my brothers for what they are, not for what they say.”

I remember back in those traumatic months in 1979, taking care of Mother as she lost her lengthy battle with pancreatic cancer. I was a young wife and mother of three at the time, with little or no insight beyond how to whip up a scrumptious batch of brownies, the virtues of fresh, line-dried bedding, how to get a husband to do what you want him to do without nagging, and believing if I obeyed the Ten Commandments all my prayers would be answered (realizing since that sometimes the answer is “no.”)

It was then that Mother was confined to a hospital bed in her dining room. Our family took turns staying with her and tending to her needs. What had kept Meta Lewis going for eight years with incurable pancreatic cancer was her iron will and her deep faith in the Lord. She did not accept any medical treatments after her diagnosis and remained working at Camera Art up to those final months at home.

I gained weight as I cooked and indulged in the rich food she craved. Her appetite would fade after a few bites. She seemed to be physically dissolving away. Cancer is a relentless forager, invasive and consuming. When I complained about wanting to slim down, she always reminded me to be careful what I wished for, considering the great amount of weight cancer took from her once strong and vibrant body.

Mom did not allow terminal cancer to define who she was. She lived out her final years giving of herself more fervently than ever. I did not realize how much energy and stamina it takes to be the person others need you to be, and expect of you, until I fought breast cancer myself, in 1996, facing my own mortality. Then I truly understood how courageous Mother had been.

As I sat beside Mom’s sick bed, it was not entirely a sad time. We talked more openly and unguardedly than we ever had. At times, it was enough just being there with her. I had not expected to be uplifted in such a situation. I was reminded of a Chinese proverb that says, “The best of friends share the same silences.” Dying is not all sorrow, grief, and suffering. I learned, from those early years, it’s therapeutic to share joy and laughter amid the tears.

Spirituality is the wellspring of the soul. One can have soul without religion, but religion is empty without soul. We don’t all find God in the same way. The soul is a place of retreat; that pulse deep within that bears itself to enrichment.

Who is any man to separate himself from other men, either by conceit or hatred? Nothing is less humane than to look past another human being as though he or she doesn’t exist. A virtuous soul carries one above the pettiness of humanity.

Janet Burns lives in Lewiston. She can be reached at patandjanburns@embarqmail.com.



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