A New Cancer – because one isn’t enough?

I published this post a couple of years ago. I’m feeling pretty beat up today and going back to Invictus has helped me find the courage to keep on keeping on. Before going on to the old post, a little new information: The alien baby is definitely a new primary. It’s a sarcoma. I don’t know yet what kind of sarcoma, but I’ll be able to read the biopsy report later today. The oncologist I fired only treats breast cancer, so that works out well: I’m going to see a new oncologist Monday morning. She’ll probably order some imaging, maybe a PET-CT, and we’ll take things from there.

And now back to Invictus. The post was originally published on 26 January, 2012.

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A smarty and funny Twitter friend and blogger recently reminded me of William Ernest Henley’s poem Invictus. Think of it as a Victorian teenage boy’s version of Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive. At the dawn of his adolescence, Henley was stricken by osseous tuberculosis, eventually having to endure a below-the-knee amputation at age 17. He must have suffered severe pain throughout his teen years and young adulthood. It is said that Invictus was inspired by the amputation; it was published in 1875, when Henley was 26.

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

Far from expert on the Victorian era, I have the impression that it is a time of contrasts: sickly sweet sentimentality coyly nestles up to the robust “manly virtues”. It is the era of “muscular Christianity” and of strictly defined class structure and social systems. It is an era rife with sexual taboos, but its pornography is read to this day. An era of contrasts, of division, of merciless social expectations. Individuality was not encouraged.

The title Invictus (“undefeated” in Latin) was not Henley’s, but that of a later publisher. But it is perfect, isn’t it? A young boy suffering from a painful, usually fatal illness. Boys don’t cry in that time and place; they soldier through. Despite looking at first blush like a poem of extreme self-reliance, to me Invictus reads like a battle cry of strong faith in the midst of desperate circumstance.

He recognizes the reality of his illness and his grief at the loss of health and limb (the night that covers me, black as the pit) as well as the reality of his “unconquerable soul”. He graphically describes his physical and mental suffering (Under the bludgeonings of chance / My head is bloody…) and his survival (…bloody but unbowed). Looking forward, he sees nothing but more trial, more suffering, death. And then the afterlife:

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

My reading of this, which may be unorthodox, looks very much like Erich Fromm’s point in Man’s Search for Meaning. I am living in circumstances I cannot change or control, but one power will never be taken from me: the power to choose how I deal with it. And the way I deal with circumstances of necessity changes the way they affect me. It is a dynamic relationship: by changing myself I have changed reality.

There is a Jewish saying common among the Orthodox and the Hassidim: הכל בידי שמים חוץ מיראת שמים. Loosely translated, it means “Everything is in God’s hands except fear of God.” That is where free will comes in.

I can choose how I live. As a person who believes in the Christian afterlife, I believe that how I live today will affect how I spend eternity.

I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.


Image credit: William Ernest Henley Vanity Fair 1892-11-26 (from Wikipedia)

Is it time yet?

Priante

 

 

Lord,
I long to be with you.
Is it time yet?
I long to be reunited with my family who are already in your house.
Is it time yet?
I long for a glorified new body to replace this body of weakness and pain.
Is it time yet?

 

Lord,
I love you. I trust in you.
Your time is not my time.
You are not slow; you are patient.
I know that.
But Lord,
I am so tired.
Isn’t it time yet?

 

Wednesday Video: Had Gadya

Today’s video features Shirana, the women’s choir of the Arab-Jewish Community Center in Jaffa, Israel sing Had Gadya.

Had Gadya (חד גדייא) is a folk song traditionally sung in Aramaic at the end of the Passover Seder (the liturgical meal that opens the week-long holiday). The lyrics are in Aramaic and are a kind of Middle Eastern “This is the House that Jack Built”.

In this video the choir sing a version of the song by Israeli singer-songwriter and cultural icon Chava Alberstein, with lyrics in Aramaic and Hebrew. The song was banned from Israeli radio during the 1980s. (You can read more about Alberstein in Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Archive, including reference to  the political songs on her controversial twenty-eighth album Mehagrim (Immigrants).

This is the last verse of the traditional song:

Then came the Holy One
Blessed be G-d
And destroyed the Angel of Death
That killed the butcher
That slew the ox
That drank the water
That quenched the fire
That burned the sticks
That beat the dog
That bit the cat
That ate the little goat
My father bought for two zuzim

In Alberstein’s version, in addition to having a different melody the song is sung in both Aramaic and Hebrew. Alberstein also added a final verse  in Hebrew and this is what led to the song’s banning from radio broadcast:

I questioned only four
Tonight I have one more:
How much longer will the circle of horror persist
Striker and stricken, beater and beaten,
When will this madness, when will it end,
And what is different for you, what is different?
I am different this year
I used to be a lamb and a peaceful goat
Today I am a tiger and a preying coyote
I was a dove already, and a ram
Today I dont know who I am
(My father bought for 2 zuzim)
And once more, we start from the beginning

I am pleased to present Shirana singing Had Gadya.

Christmas 2012

It is Christmas Eve in the Holy Land. I don’t often speak explicitly about my faith, but it’s no secret that I am a devoutly believing Christian. While the exact date is open to debate, Jesus was born – amazing event! – just about an hour’s walk from where I’m sitting.

Here is a modern take by the “Mediaeval Baebes” on a traditional Latin hymn, Gaudete!

Refrain:
Gaudete! gaudete! Christus est natus ex Maria Virgine. Gaudete!
(Rejoice! rejoice! Christ is born of the Virgin Mary! Rejoice!)
 
1. Tempus adest gratiæ hoc quod optabamus,
Carmina lætitiæ devote reddamus.
(Now is the time of grace for which we have been hoping,
Let us faithfully return songs of joy.)
 
2. Deus homo factus est natura mirante,
Mundus renovatus est a Christo regnante.
(God is become man, nature marvels,
The world is renewed by the reigning Christ.)
 
3. Ezechielis porta clausa pertransitur,
Unde lux est orta salus invenitur.
(Ezechiel’s closed gate has been breeched,
Where light is found, salvation is discovered.)
 
4. Ergo nostra contio psallat iam in lustro;
Benedicat Domino: salus Regi nostro.
(So let our gathering now sing brightly;
Praise the Lord, salute our King.)
 

Canticle of the Sun

Today, the fourth of October, is the feast day of Francis of Assisi. Popular culture has made of him a sort of tree-hugging hippie – and there is that side to him – but the spirituality he developed and lived is exigent in the extreme. Nothing wishy-washy about it.

The son of a merchant, Francis was not well-educated. Clare of Assisi, the nobleman’s daughter who together with him founded the order that came to be known as the Poor Clares, had much better Latin than he. Nevertheless, Francis composed a number of poems or songs in the dialect of his native Umbria. The only one to have come down to us so far is the Canticle of the Sun, composed shortly before his death. In fact, it is said that the last verse, the praises of “our Sister Bodily Death” was composed minutes before he died.

I love this text because it is at the same time exalted and lowly, magnificent and simple, spiritual and practical – like Francis and Clare themselves.

This translation from the Umbrian text of the Assisi Codex is attributed to Bill Barrett.

Most high, all powerful, all good Lord!
All praise is yours, all glory, all honor, and all blessing. 
To you, alone, Most High, do they belong. No mortal lips are worthy to pronounce your name.
 
Be praised, my Lord, through all your creatures,
especially through my lord Brother Sun, who brings the day; and you give light through him.
And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendor!
Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.
 
Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars;
in the heavens you have made them, precious and beautiful.
 
Be praised, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air,
and clouds and storms, and all the weather, through which you give your creatures sustenance.
 
Be praised, My Lord, through Sister Water;
she is very useful, and humble, and precious, and pure.
 
Be praised, my Lord, through Brother Fire, through whom you brighten the night.
He is beautiful and cheerful, and powerful and strong.
 
Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Mother Earth,
who feeds us and rules us, and produces various fruits with colored flowers and herbs.
 
Be praised, my Lord, through those who forgive for love of you;
through those who endure sickness and trial.
Happy those who endure in peace, for by you, Most High, they will be crowned.
 
Be praised, my Lord, through our Sister Bodily Death, from whose embrace no living person can escape.
Woe to those who die in mortal sin!
Happy those she finds doing your most holy will. The second death can do no harm to them.
 
Praise and bless my Lord, and give thanks, and serve him with great humility.