June 18, 2014 at 3:56 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 15 Comments
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As you probably know, I am far from being a Buddhist. I am, in fact, a “cradle Catholic”–baptized a few weeks after birth and then processed up through the massive parochial church and school system in post-war Philadelphia. When I fall, I mutter “Jesus, Mary and Joseph” on my way down.

Lately, through, I have been thinking about the Buddhist concept of impermanence. Impermanence (anicca), as Paul Knitter explains in Without the Buddha I Could Not Be a Christian, means that everything that exists is in constant movement–constant flux. It’s closely linked to another Buddhist concept, interdependent origination (pratityasamutpada), which means that everything changes because everything is interrelated.

I began thinking about this toward the end of April. At the beginning of April, Keith, my husband, developed a cold, which got a lot worse after he preached six times during Holy Week (!) and then drove up to see the grandkids in Massachusetts the weekend after Easter. When I finally got him to a walk-in clinic over on Atlantic Avenue, the osteopath took several X-rays and announced that Keith had an aneurysm in his aorta and that we should go directly to the emergency room at nearby Methodist Hospital. We did, and sat there for five hours, during which time the doctors took more X-rays and announced that it could be an aneurysm but could be a number of other things and that Keith should go to his GP for a cat-scan. The next day we did that, and the following day the GP called to say that what Keith had was pneumonia; he prescribed some antibiotics.

But the doctor also told us that there was a “shadow” on Keith’s kidney, and that after he got over the pneumonia, he needed to get that checked. So ten days later Keith had an MRI up at New York Presbyterian, and the next day the doctor called to say that Keith had a “mass” in his kidney that would have to be removed. We scheduled an appointment with a renal surgeon immediately.

That same night, the hard drive on my computer crashed. I have had a personal computer since 1984, and never before had anything crashed. The next day, the phone rang and a voice that sounded familiar but subdued informed me that a dear friend, Eileen Holahan, with whom I had spoken two weeks before, had fallen in the parking lot of her apartment building, hit her head, lost consciousness, and died a week later, never having regained consciousness. The voice sounded familiar because it belonged to Eileen’s sister, who had come across my phone number in Eileen’s address book. Eileen had been a Sister of Notre Dame de Namur at my high school in the early 1960s; singing in the glee club that she directed is one of the happiest memories of my adolescence. Eileen was 85 years old, but she was in good health. I really couldn’t take in that she was dead. And her funeral was the same day that Keith had his appointment with the surgeon, so I couldn’t go, something I still regret.

Keith had his surgery last Friday, and it went really well. The growth was such that the surgeon had to take out only ten percent of his kidney. And although it’s highly likely to be malignant, they got the growth quite early–thanks to the nitwit aneurysm diagnosis and the case of pneumonia that required the cat-scan. No chemo or radiation will be necessary. How often do you get to be grateful for having caught pneumonia?  Keith is home now, feeling stronger by the day, walking around the block morning and afternoon. And even before his surgery, Keith drove me over the Apple Store on 14th Street where I got my hard drive replaced.

But as I said to a friend, I feel as if I’ve seen a ghost. The ghost of impermanence, and its twin, interdependent origination. Everything out there is in motion, bumping together, and making the future a lot less certain than it seemed. I am trying to be grateful.




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  1. Dear Marian,

    I’m celebrating in my heart that Keith is all right. How hard it is, though, when a dear friend dies–an experience my mother had several times by her 85th year (my age) but I haven’t known yet. However, my two precious daughters did die in 2010, you may recall; Debbie, my firstborn, in January, and Amy Jo, my last child, in June. Heart vulnerabilities, but not quite unexpected, for we in the family knew they were ill.

    I send you my love. –Ellen Duell


  2. I’ve been remiss in reading your blog, Marion, having been engaged not just in working on my third book, to be subtitled A Widow’s Journal and Poems, but in helping out a friend whose acute myoblastic leukemia is advancing rapidly now. But know that I deeply resonate with your experience, thank you for your reflection, celebrate Keith’s return to health, and include you both in my prayer.


    • You know far better than I how scary this kind of thing is, Elaine. Thanks.


  3. I love when “impermanence” works in your favor as, thank God, it did for Keith and you, although, sadly, not for your dear friend. I had an odd moment with the same kind of “bumps of the universe” yesterday. I had discovered a crease in my one breast and, although I hadn’t felt a lump, there seemed to be a bit of a thin, sort of hard, tube. After it didn’t go away and I scared myself silly researching “breast crease” on the web (either a dimple – BAD or a leftover effect of breast enhancement surgery – DOES NOT APPLY!), I went to my GP full of trepidation, sure that my beloved trip to Paris this summer would have to be cancelled to allow chemotherapy and radiation. Ready for the diagnosis? My underwire bras are too tight! (It turned out I also wear them a bit askew because there was a crease on the other side, too, only a bit behind the breast out of my sight.) I was embarrassed, chagrined, and relieved at the same time. I definitely felt universal “bumping” but thankfully in a comic way, even if the laugh was on me.


  4. I love it! And I’m really glad you’re okay. (When do you go to Paris?)


  5. When I feel the way you describe, Marian, I get out a T-shirt that Pat Dolan’s meditation group had made a few years ago. There is a smiling Buddha face and underneath it, the words “Impermanence makes all things possible.” A saying to live by…especially at our age and in our world
    ! So, so glad to hear that Keith is ok. I’ve been thinking of you both a lot during these days.


  6. Marian, thank god that Keith is ok! You are both in our thoughts and prayers. That is a scary thing to happen! May you have time to relax and enjoy each other after such a scare! Much love, Alexa


    • Thanks so much, Alexa!

      Love, Marian

      Sent from my iPad



  7. The concepts here are interesting but hard to reconcile. Of course all things are “impermanent”— what does that mean though? If you believe the pyhsicists, our universe “began” and will likely “end.” Similarly, the earth spun out of the sun, and will be consumed by it at some point. And so? My buddy Wallace Stevens writes that we face “sure obliteration”— I guess the challenge is to make something of life in the interim.

    The Buddhist concept of “no-self” is similarly challenging— I’ve heard Buddhists say that they sincerely believe there is no self at all. The linguistic/conceptual confusion of that point is amazing. The position being taken here is sort of a strawman— there is no “permanent” self (i.e., an unchanging, “monolithic” self). True enough– but that doesn’t mean there is no “self” at all. A changing self that is able to tell a coherent life narrative is at the core of what human life is about. People with “no self” are called “demented” or “insane.”


  8. I think I get your point here, Joseph. Maybe for Westerners like us, for whom the coherent self–the individual?–would seem to be the ideal, these sorts of notions–impermanence, no-self–just help to shave off the sharp edges. In any cases, I am breathing deeply these days, maybe mostly from relief.


  9. Marian, I am so sorry to hear about all of this trouble–but so happy the Reverend is okay! Hang in there! xoxox Kathryn


    • Thanks so much, Kathryn. Keith is doing pretty well; already off the pain medicine. Just a little shocked by the whole thing, as I am.

      Enjoy this gorgeous Friday.


      Sent from my iPad



  10. In high school, Lumen Cordium, run and taught by the Vincentian Sisters of Charity (now SCs of Cincinnatti) and others, had a class in Religion taught by a former seminarian who was terrific. In those during Vatican Council II days, we each were asked to take a religion and do a report on it for the class, so we all would be exposed to the facts of other religions, not the rumors we had all heard, as we were never allowed to go into another church up to then. My brother had been in the Navy and brought back the Baghevad Gita (sorry about the spelling) and so I did my report on Buddhism, based on my Sophomore year understanding of what I read. Amazing the parallels. Loved this article, thank you as always, and prayers continue for Keith as he recovers, so grateful!


  11. […] I wrote in an earlier post, last spring our family–my husband and me, his mother, and by association, his kids and […]


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