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The Foundation

I am back in the infusion center, getting two units of blood. This is the second time I have been the recipient of someone’s unselfish donation and the enormity of the experience has moved me to tears. We are asked to be our brother’s keeper, and I can’t imagine a more appropriate example of that in action. The simple act of kindness is saving my life.

This current chemo protocol has been rough. I have entertained thoughts of quitting, but I suppose my will to live is still pretty strong. Most of us, given the choice between something hard that has the potential to keep us alive would choose the more difficult path. It is the way we are programmed.

I’ve been thinking about how somebody develops the strength and perseverance to continue when life gets tough. The history books are filled with examples of courage in the face of overwhelming odds. But I have figured out that there really is no magical formula, although perhaps it is woven into a person’s DNA.

I have family members who were confined to Nazi concentration camps during that terrible moment in history. Some survived; others did not. I’ve often thought about the sheer determination, the incredible resolve it must have taken just to wake up each morning in those awful places, to cling to hope in spite of the despair, to pray for liberation to come. What a testament to the power of the human spirit!

I also have family, who, after leaving France on a promise of a potentially better life in the New World later became political pawns, spoils of war. They were removed from their homes, separated from their families and deported to parts unknown where they were despised and rejected until they finally claimed land that was deemed uninhabitable and made it their own.

My great-great grandmother came to this country from Ireland at 16 by herself. I could barely get myself to school on time at that age, but she had the courage to seek a promising future, and later, built a family on her tenacity. At the end of the Civil War, when money was tight and jobs were scarce, her husband went to work for a farmer with extensive property nearly a hundred miles away from their humble home. After months of being apart, she longed to see him, so she set off on foot with her sister and her six small children to surprise him, doing chores for families along the way in exchange for food and lodging. In six days, they had walked the incredible distance and although exhausted when they arrived, they were rewarded with a joyous reunion.

And then, there’s the account of the time my grandpa hopped the tall fence that surrounded the state penitentiary to steal a bloodhound, which he had deemed to be an ideal hunting companion. Tall tale or truth? He was a master storyteller, so who knows? But it has become part of my people’s folklore.

My own father spent most of World War II in the bowels of a destroyer escort as they accompanied the big naval ships into battle. It was, as he often said, his patriotic duty to serve in spite of the dangers.

I dare say that every family has a story of unimaginable bravery in the face of adversity, those who fought for a cause they believed in. I think about the human capability to adapt, to face the unthinkable, to ride the waves of heartache and despair. But I suppose that every species on this planet has had to learn to accept difficult circumstances, to adjust in order to move forward and survive. People included. Compared to our ancestors, we’ve got it made. We have all of the modern conveniences, the trappings of a cushy life. Has that made us soft? Perhaps. But it is important for us to remember that when put to the test, we are stronger than we think we are. The resilience of those who came before us has laid the groundwork for ours.

If you want to determine how long something will last look at its foundation. If it is solid, the building stands, even if the carpenter will not be there to witness it. As I face the most challenging time of my life, I am grateful for mine, giving me a history of strength that now, I most certainly need.


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