Dear Friends, I want to wish you all a happy and blessed Thanksgiving, Eid Al Adha (the Muslim holiday celebrating Abraham’s sacrifice of his son), Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, New Year’s Day, etc. As a Quaker, I’d like to remind you (and myself) that every day is holy.
My 7-year-old nephew Edward has grasped this concept quite clearly at a tender age. When his teacher asked to write about an “ordinary day,” he replied, “Every day is EXTRAordinary.”
This is what Kathleen and I felt during this past year. Every day is EXTRAordinary, a gift from God. “Let us rejoice and be glad in it….”
This is the first holiday letter in 20 years that I have had to write without Kathleen’s direct help. Ordinarily she’d write about her activities and I’d write about mine and we’d merge our reflections into one. This year I am writing on my own, but am still feeling her presence and inspiration. Love, I’ve learned, never dies. If we open our hearts to God and to our loved ones who have gone before us, they remain with us , just as Jesus is always with us, a light that shines eternally in our hearts.
Despite the challenges of cancer, I can look back over this year and feel deep gratitude for the many times that the light of love has shone through the darkness. We celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary at the home of our dear friend Kate Carpenter while Kathleen’s stem cells were being harvested at the City of Hope. I was surprised and pleased to discover recently that Kathleen made a digital recording of her feelings about this special day, which I will always cherish.
During Kathleen’s final six months, we were truly blessed to have time to visit places that were special to us, such as Palm Springs (where we went to the Living Desert museum, Palm Canyons, and the Film Festival), Santa Barbara (where we visited Gene Hoffman and the arboretum), and Palo Alto, where we paid a surprise visit to Kathleen’s brother, sister-in-law, and our beloved nephew Edward.
We were able to share our ministry with others through our Caringbridge blog and through Circuit West, which published our articles. We gave presentations about our healing journey at various churches, including the Church in Ocean Park, Whittier UMC, Santa Monica UMC, and the Community Church in Huntington Beach. The talk that Kathleen gave at Huntington Beach on March 1 was especially moving. She made everyone laugh with her joyful, upbeat spirit.
Kathleen and I went to an Easter service at the Self-Realization Fellowship, which was an extraordinary experience. Here’s how Kathleen described it:
We enjoyed an "interfaith" Easter this year by attending the early morning Easter service at Yogananda's Self-RealizationFellowshipTemple in Pacific Palisades. You might not think that Hindus would celebrate Easter, but Yogananda emphasized the similarities between Hinduism and Christianity and placed a picture of Jesus on the altar right next to Krishna. The sermon was an excellent summary of Jesus' teaching from the Sermon on the Mount, and the importance of his Resurrection. Then the temple choir (which had sung earlier that day at the Hollywood Bowl sunrise service) sang Christian hymns such as "For the Beauty of the Earth", "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" (Yogananda's favorite!), and concluded with "The Hallelujah Chorus."
On April 19 we took part in an interfaith event sponsored by the Parliament of the World’s Religions at the Sokka Gaka Buddhist Center in Santa Monica. I was in charge of the youth program, and Kathleen surprised everyone by helping out with the setup. She felt very happy to do so since it made her feel “normal.”
During this extraordinary year we went to concerts at various churches and were uplifted by music that ranged from the grandeur of J.S. Bach to the humor of Peter (PDQ Bach) Shickele.
We spent lots of time walking around gardens, particularly the one at the Lakeshrine. Kathleen loved flowers and her heart leaped for joy every time she was in a garden. I never see a flower without thinking of her shining face.
The rest of our story you know. Kathleen passed away at the City of Hope six months ago, on May 24. She did everything possible to be cured, and at the same time she prepared herself for death by living a life deeply centered in love and in the Lord. She also left instructions for an inspiring memorial service.
We had two beautiful memorial services for her—one that was unprogrammed at the Santa Monica Friends Meetinghouse and one that Kathleen arranged for the Torrance UMC. Over four hundred people attended these two services and all were spiritually uplifted. Kathleen made sure that her memorial service witnessed to the faith which sustained her and which she shared with others through her sermons and her many deeds of kindness.
After these celebrations of Kathleen’s faithful and abundant life, I settled down to my new life in Culver City. Thanks to Kathleen’s excellent stewardship and the generous provisions that the Methodist Church makes for widowers of pastors, I find I am able to live on social security and our savings and can devote myself full-time to writing, peace activism, and my new role as a Quaker pastor. I am deeply grateful to God and to Kathleen for enabling me to dedicate myself to the spiritual life.
I continue to serve on the boards of various interfaith groups, including Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace and the Parliament of the World’s Religions. I have helped organize events, given talks, written articles, and done fundraising. I enjoy being a bridge-builder and networking for various interfaith groups, and I especially enjoy encouraging the leadership potential of young people who are involved in the interfaith movement.
I also enjoy hiding out in the library and doing research. I have nearly completed the book about Howard and Anna Brinton that I was supposed to write while Kathleen and I were at Pendle Hill. I began writing in March, and 50,000 words poured out of me during the month of March and April. I shared what I wrote with Kathleen on a daily basis, and she was (as always) very encouraging. I have now completed 85% of the manuscript and expect to have the rest finished by next spring. The Quaker scholars who have read it are very impressed and believe it will make an important contribution to Quaker studies.
This book will be dedicated to Kathleen along with the book about our cancer journey that I plan to write when I return from Australia.
God willing, I leave for Australia on November 29 and plan to return on January 13. I have a very full agenda and will be giving presentations in Melbourne, Canberra, Sydney and Adelaide. My first assignment will be to lead a workshop at the Parliament of World Religions. The topic: “Listening with a Heart of Mercy.” The co-presenters are a Muslim Sufi and a Jewish film-maker.
I will be giving presentations about interfaith work and compassionate listening to Quakers and peace activists in what is called “the Golden Boomerang”: Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra. I am also giving a “summer school” class at Australia Yearly Meeting, the national gathering of Australian Quakers. The topic is a new one for me, but one which is near my heart: “Healing, Caregiving and Grieving in the Light.”
Along with this spiritual work, I am also very involved with our family. I am happy to report that all our nephews and nieces and cousins are doing well. My niece Emily is now in high school and still active with cheerleading and girl scouts. My nephew Demetrios is now in seventh grade and loves to do google searches on the internet. My nephew Edward takes tae kwon do and is learning to play the fiddle. Adriana is doing well in community college, and Capri is doing well in high school. The rest of the family is healthy and happy, thanks be to God. I was very grateful that we had a chance to get together and support one another during the time of Kathleen’s transition.
I am also pleased that my homeless family—Melissa and Shawn—are doing reasonably well, in spite of having to live on the street. They were both sincere Christians who were very dear to Kathleen, whom Melissa adopted as her mother. Melissa has now adopted me as her father. I am doing my best to insure that this sweet woman who now needs to wheelchair to get about has a roof over her head so that she can gain custody of her ten-year-old daughter. We are hoping and praying that Section 8 housing will come through on December 1. Meanwhile, I visit with Shawn and Melissa at least once a month and plan to spend Thanksgiving with them. I’m sure Kathleen would be very pleased to know that I am continuing her ministry of caring for the homeless.
As you see, I am living abundantly, as Jesus promised, and am glad to be part of God’s blessed community. I miss Kathleen’s physical presence—her laughter, her hugs, her smiles—but I am infinitely grateful that her spirit lives on in me, helping me draw closer to God, to my friends, and to all those whom I encounter day-by-day. Every day is extraordinary, and so is every person. Let us rejoice and be glad!
With love and best wishes,