The past few days were a bit trying. I began my second regimen of chemo last week and hoped for fewer side effects. In fact, the effects are less. But I really wanted no effects to get my spirit and body back to a “normal” function. Though nausea is greatly reduced, I have pain that feels like stomach cramps every time I move. Yet, I sleep well. I reflect that just before the last time I started chemo my stomach pains were so great I could only sleep lying on my back. In essence, physically, I am grateful to be in a better space this time around – 5 days off the chemo pump.
I need to ask Emma about these things so that she can remind me that yes, 5-days off the chemo pump the first time, I slept all day. Yesterday, Emma drove me to church, I made the rounds, and walked home. Still, I spent much of my day in a state of lethargy. I know I need to eat to keep up my weight, but the Girl Scout Cookies were probably not ideal for my stomach – more pain. I spent the better part of yesterday doing stuff, trying to be either productive, or just restful, but with a stomach in knots, until . . .
. . . I picked up a different book to read – Gregory Boyle’s Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion.. The novel I had been reading and my “contemplative” texts were coming off as just words. I recently watched an interview of Boyle by Sarah Silverman on her comedy show. He talked about his 3 decades of work with gangs in LA and the founding of Homeboy Industries. Click here to watch the interview.
I began reading Boyle’s book the first ime when the School for Contemplative Living here in New Orleans invited him to come and speak. Fresh from listening to the Silverman interview of Boyle, I picked the book up again. The experience was like I had never read a word before. Here is a dialogue Boyle records with one of his homies who calls him on the phone at 1:00 AM (pp. 31):
“Cesar is sober, and it’s urgent that he talk to me.
“I gotta ask you a question. You know how I’ve always seen you as my father – ever since I was a little kid? Well, I hafta ask you a question.”
Now Cesar pauses, and the gravity of it all makes his voice waver and crumble, “Have I . . . been . . . your son?”
“Oh , hell, yeah,” I say.
“Whew,” Cesar exhales, “I thought so.”
Now his voices becomes enmeshed in a cadence of gentle sobbbing. “Then . . . I will be . . . your son. And you . . . will be my father. And nothing can separate us, right?”
In this early morning call Cesar did not discover that he has a father. He discovered that he is a son worth having.
The book is filled with such experience, strength, and hope. It was not until today I noted the subtitle of the book – The Power of Boundless Compassion. In this era of fear-stoked hysteria on caravans, criminal elements, MS-13, ad nauseum, the very direct experience at Homeboy Industries demonstrates a better success rate than any wall/fence to secure the southern border as a permeable and reciprocal port of entry and exit. The words of American poet Emma Lazarus inscribed on the Statue of Liberty reflect this truth I learned in 5th grade civics class:
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
Oh, and funny thing, but my stomach feels much better.