My darling Kate after her Primary Program on Sunday, November 9
So I was listening to a TED Talks last night by Debra Jarvis called Yes I Survived Cancer, but That Doesn’t Define Me, I was blown away by what she said and what I could learn from it.
She started off the talk by saying: “I just met you on a bus, and we would really like to get to know each other, but I’ve got to get off at the next stop, so you’re going to tell me three things about yourself that just define you as a person, three things about yourself that will help me understand who you are, three things that just get to your very essence. And what I’m wondering is, of those three things, is any one of them surviving some kind of trauma? Cancer survivor, rape survivor, Holocaust survivor, incest survivor.” I thought about what I would say that could define myself as a person and as I went through this exercise, I came up with 1) A daughter of God, a believer and follower of Christ and all that entails including living a worthy life, caring about and acting on someone else’s behalf (charity is the true love of Christ), treating my mind and body with respect (exercise, eating well, sleep), being open to others, being worthy to live with those who came before me and lived great lives, and doing everything I can to be improve as a human being and 2) Being a Wife, Mother and Grandmother and loving it, doing whatever was positive and promoted growth in my husband, children, and grandchildren and making sure that their needs were taken care of but not by smothering them, instead by expecting great things from them and 3) Passionate person about all my roles including Cancer survivor, teacher, runner, hiker, biker, writer, musician, gardner, reader and learner. I loved doing this exercise and encourage all to do it. You learn so much about yourself.
Debra Jarvis goes on to talk about her experience as a Cancer Survivor. She said: “I learned a lot being a patient, and one of the surprising things was that only a small part of the cancer experience is about medicine. Most of it is about feelings and faith and losing and finding your identity and discovering strength and flexibility you never even knew you had. It’s about realizing that the most important things in life are not things at all, but relationships, and it’s about laughing in the face of uncertainty…”
And I would so have to agree that this learning does take place when you have a trauma in your life if you allow it to lift you to higher ground and own those feelings rather than hide away or try to suppress them. I’m fortunate because it goes against my nature to let a problem just sit. My nature is to tackle a problem full on and deal with it so as if to eradicate it from my life. That’s not always possible but sometimes, most of the time, it works.
But one of the parts that I loved most about her talk is that she cautioned Cancer Survivors not to let this experience “claim you” rather “claim your experience”. Debra says: “Don’t let it claim you. We all know that the way to cope with trauma, with loss, with any life-changing experience, is to find meaning. But here’s the thing: No one can tell us what our experience means. We have to decide what it means. And it doesn’t have to be some gigantic, extroverted meaning. We don’t all have to start a foundation or an organization or write a book or make a documentary. Meaning can be quiet and introverted. Maybe we make one small decision about our lives that can bring about big change.”
And then to all of us she says: “So what about you? How are you going to find meaning in your crappy experience? It could be a recent one, or it could be one that you’ve been carrying around for a really long time. It’s never too late to change what it means, because meaning is dynamic. What it means today may not be what it means a year from now, or 10 years from now. It’s never too late to become someone other than simply a survivor. Hear how static that word sounds? Survivor. No movement, no growth. Claim your experience. Don’t let it claim you, because if you do, I believe you will become trapped, you will not grow, you will not evolve.”
So we are all survivors of something really “crappy” and let’s face it, it is up to us to let the experience “claim us” or to “claim it”. Everyone has to make this choice.
So later that night, I decided to see what my family would think of naming 3 things that you would want someone to know about you if you were on a bus together and your stop was coming up. Our soon to be 7 year old, Maggie, wanted to go first and she said “1) that I ice-skate and 2) that I have a really, really, really great family (both the Wixoms and the Dailys) and 3) that I like who I am and where I am.” We were amazed at her understanding of these basic principles of gratitude and knowing what is really important.
Maggie riding the scooter in front of her house and us together after her Primary Program.