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How many mortal beings do you see?

The year was 1980. My father’s body was in the casket in the living room — the same room he had been born in almost exactly 55 years earlier.

Gazing at him for the last time, I remembered the syllogism learned in Logic 101.

All men are mortal.

Richard is a man.

Richard is mortal.

Now, 36 years later, I see something new — the photo within the photo:

my 1966 high school graduation picture, blurry in focus, stares back at me from the table.

All women are mortal.

Shirley is a woman.

Shirley is mortal.

Saint Benedict admonished long ago: “Daily keep your death before your eyes.”

Some people shudder at this thought.

Other people show enormous courage. One of the most gifted writers I have ever read, Paul Kalanithi, was able to not only keep death before his eyes but to do so while living more fully than he had before.

His memoir, When Breath Becomes Air, moved me deeply.

So much so that I wanted to read it again right away.

And so much so that I want to devote the next several posts to the themes that connect this book with Jubilación.

How do death, sorrow, courage, and suffering connect with joy, vocation, meaning, and purpose?

These are questions every conscious adult must face in later life.

Paul Kalanithi faced them at age 36 and died at age 37.

He was a pilgrim.

His wife Lucy, in the book’s epilogue, concludes by quoting from a hymn text unfamiliar to me but written by John Bunyan and derived from Pilgrim’s Progress.

Then she says,

“Paul’s decision to look death in the eye was a testament not just to who he was in the final hours of his life but who he had always been. For much of his life, Paul wondered about death–and whether he could face it with integrity. In the end, the answer was yes.

If you have not yet read When Breath Becomes Air, I encourage you to do so.

If for some reason you aren’t able to read the book, you can benefit by using the links in this post to learn more about both Paul and his equally courageous wife Lucy. If you read Paul’s New York Times essay now, and then listen to the beautiful rendition of the hymn, sung by Maddy Prior, with Bunyan’s original lyrics, I pray you will find courage too.

Who inspires you to be a pilgrim? Tell us the story of someone whose image you carry in your heart when “hobgoblins and foul fiends” assail you?

Shirley Showalter

42 Comments

  1. Merril Smith on February 3, 2016 at 12:39 pm

    You ask such profound questions, Shirley, and I will have to ponder. My quick answer is to think about how I love to live where there are changing seasons. I appreciate the spring so much when it comes after winter. I think perhaps we need some sorrow to appreciate joy, and failures to value success–though of course I would not wish sorrow, pain, or failure on anyone. I am not a pilgrim in a religious sense because I am not a religious person, but I hope I have learned lessons as I’ve traveled through life and that I continue to learn and grow.

    I think I’ve seen the NY Times essay, but I will look at it again. Thanks for sharing.

    • Shirley Showalter on February 3, 2016 at 12:56 pm

      Thanks, Merril, for beginning the conversation here and for offering two ideas with deep connection to courage: the natural world and the fact that opposites deepen, don’t obliterate, our ability to grow and appreciate our lives.

      The thought of Spring on this dreary, rainy day in Virginia, puts a smile on my face too.

      And you describe this paradox beautifully: “I think perhaps we need some sorrow to appreciate joy, and failures to value success–though of course I would not wish sorrow, pain, or failure on anyone.”

      This is one of the lessons Pilgrim learned on his journey. And it’s one we all benefit from, regardless of the frame we use.

      • Carol Bodensteiner on February 4, 2016 at 11:30 am

        Merrill’s comment makes me think of conversations I’ve had as a result of Star Wars, movies in which the opposition of Dark and Light are so pronounced. It is very likely we would not appreciate the light if we did not just come out of the dark. We are wiser when we recognize that the tendencies to dark and light live in all of us.

        My mother inspired me to be a pilgrim. She planted the seed for college in me and nurtured it at every opportunity. She enjoyed travel and made opportunities for us to do it even when it was only a day trip between morning and evening milkings. She viewed even a trip to town as a “mini vacation.” I hold her spirit and positive attitude close.

        • Shirley Showalter on February 4, 2016 at 11:36 am

          Carol, yes. Death highlights both darkness and light in our lives, and we become wiser as we recognize the truth of both inside, all the while believing that the light is stronger.

          I wish I could have met your mother. She was an adventurer as well as a nurturer, and you exemplify both qualities so well also. Her humor and warmth pervade your memoir Growing Up Country.

    • Richard Gilbert on August 10, 2016 at 10:06 am

      I guess I missed this when you first posted it, Shirley. At least I stumbled across it again after reading When Breath Becomes Air. I agree. Amazing book.

  2. Laurie Buchanan on February 3, 2016 at 2:22 pm

    Shirley — Thank you for this post. Paul Kalanithi is a person I’d like to learn more about so I additionally appreciate the links you shared within this post.

    You asked, “Who inspires you to be a pilgrim?”

    To answer your question, I’ve pulled a snippet out of my up-and-coming book:

    “My mother, Delle Hunter, was a physically small woman, yet she was the biggest person I’ve ever known. She had total focus, an attribute that deeply impressed me. She taught me by example that how we live impacts how we die. She lived a life of courage, beauty, and integrity; she died in the same manner.

    “When my mom was seven years old, she contracted polio. As a result, one of her legs was shorter than the other one. She never let it hold her back. When I was in grade school, she had an operation to lengthen her heel cord. It worked, to a degree. She never voiced any disappointment. My mother’s cup was half-full, never half-empty. She was all about joy and love and passing it along.

    “Diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of forty-one, my mom had a mastectomy, followed by chemotherapy and radiation treatment. She never complained—even when I had to shave her head because huge chunks of hair had fallen out. She faced her challenges head-on and did what she had to do. Other than the fact that she’d lost her hair, you never would have known the agony of what she was going through. Life burned inside my mother; she glowed.”

    • Shirley Showalter on February 3, 2016 at 2:46 pm

      Oh Laurie, thank you for sharing this portrait-in-words of your mother. And, of course, I thought about you and your own vitality and your desire to give as much love as possible to your physical body at this stage of your life.

      I’m in the midst of reading your wonderful manuscript right now. Eagerly moving from page to page. How exciting for you to be taking this journey into launching a book. Only another author knows how many “hobgoblins and fiends” stand in the way of such a quest.

  3. Elfrieda Neufeld Schroeder on February 3, 2016 at 7:15 pm

    My father has always been my inspiration. He was gentle, patient and kind, and taught me how to love. He was willing to “discuss” rather than to punish. As a teenager I was annoyed, but as an adult I value his insights. He lived a long life (he was 92 when he passed away) of hard work and dedication to his family. We did not want to let him go, and stood around his bedside weeping, until the chaplain gently admonished us to “let him go.” We had to give him permission to leave us.

    • Shirley Showalter on February 3, 2016 at 8:42 pm

      Your father certainly sounds like a wise pilgrim, Elfrieda. What a well-lived life to be so loved by children that, even at age 92, they find it hard to let him go.

      I’m glad you have a role model for not only courage but kindness. Our parents’ deaths are probably our closest guides to our own. And their ability to teach us continues over a lifetime into death and even beyond. I’m glad you still have his spirit to guide you.

  4. Marian Beaman on February 3, 2016 at 9:19 pm

    The wedding photo I saw last week stands in stark contrast to that of your dad in a casket. Yet, as you point out, they are part of the continuum of life.

    Who inspires me to be a pilgrim? I can think of two, my grandmother who died the same year as your father did, and my husband. Grandma Longenecker knew that serving others is the path to a life of peace and happiness. My husband Cliff is a pilgrim literally, blazing his own trail as an artist. I know of no one with more persistence than he has. Years ago we found a print of a crusader pausing to kneel in prayer, his eyes cast heavenward. As WP doesn’t permit photos, I may email it to you.

    Paul’s op-ed piece was arresting, and I enjoyed seeing the link to music I played earlier from your Facebook page. A nice pairing!

    Yes, I spotted the photo of your dad’s oldest daughter immediately, a woman who has achieved way beyond his wildest dreams for her. You are preparing well for your Fellowship this fall.

    • Shirley Showalter on February 3, 2016 at 10:03 pm

      Marian, you have a gift for remembering and connecting. You don’t just read what’s on a post, but you remember the last post and details from conversations. And you saw the photo before I asked.

      You pay deep attention to your friends. I’m honored to be among them.

      Your pilgrim models stretch you to be both receptive and active, balancing and complementing each other. Onward, Pilgrim!

  5. melodie davis on February 4, 2016 at 6:34 am

    I can’t help but pair your post and link to Paul Kalanithi’s story in my head with that of a valiant cancer patient and thus far survivor–a former Presbyterian pastor here in the Shenandoah Valley Donna Coffman whose blog post I also just read. http://www.caringspirit.net/2016/02/hanging-on/

    Donna just baptized her youngest grandchild this past Sunday, with friends and family praying for strength for her to get through that which she wanted to do so much. Her courage in her 10+ years battling cancer just astound me, and move me on.

    I also admire your boldness in looking mortality straight in the eye, even with the stunning photo of your father after death. My mother wouldn’t allow any of us to take photos at Yoder-Culp Funeral home, which I understand. The pictures are still there in my mind anyway. But it is interesting how different people deal with grief, loss and death each in their own ways.

    • Shirley Showalter on February 4, 2016 at 11:21 am

      Melodie, thank you for bringing Donna’s blog post today to my attention. I left a comment there, hoping a stranger’s prayers would add just a bit of strength for her daily fight for life. Yes, she does have a lot in common with Paul Kalanithi. One of the links above shows a picture of him at his daughter Cady’s baptism — conducted apparently by a woman minister. His daughter was only eight months old when he died. The book is dedicated to her. Tears your heart out.

      Yes, we all grieve differently on the inside and outside. My father’s body was brought back to the farm for a viewing (thanks to the fact that the undertaker was his cousin). I had some of the most profound spiritual experiences of my life that night after the viewing, getting up before dawn, sitting next to the casket, gazing at my father’s body, remembering the surprise I felt at the viewing when Grandma told me “your daddy was born in this room. He almost died then. I almost died then.” As the sun rose in the east, I saw something on my father’s face I never saw before — scars from the forceps that brought him into this world!

  6. Sherrey Meyer on February 4, 2016 at 12:55 pm

    Shirley, I agree–you ask the most profound of questions. I have When Breath Becomes Air on my Kindle. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the book and Paul and his wife.

    Who inspires me to be a pilgrim? A little girl named Addyson, or as we all her, Addy. And you can’t be inspired only by Addy without including her parents and her siblings, both younger than Addy.

    You see Addy is only 7 and has been fighting cancer since she was almost 4 years old. We’ve never met Addy face-to-face but met her online through friends in TN, where Addy lives. What’s so special about Addy? Her smile, courage, and bravery throughout each and every treatment, surgery, and test, and there have been many. Addy works hard to bring joy to the lives of other patients, doctors, and employees of Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital by making cards, helping her mom bake cookies, and more. I dare to complain in the face of hearing from Addy’s mom via Facebook or Caring Bridge. This child is gifted with unconditional love for the world, her brother and sister, and her parents. Such an example to those of who stand by healthy and watch.

    • Shirley Showalter on February 4, 2016 at 2:21 pm

      Sherrey, wow, a little child shall lead them. Addy sounds like an incredibly loving young girl, able to touch, inspire, and challenge thousands of others many times older than she. Next time you look in on her, send her extra love from me.

      You have a treat in store as you read When Breath Becomes Air. When you’ve finished it, you will want to watch videos at the Stanford link above. I also understand that Katie Couric did an interview. Have to find that one.

      • Karin Larson Krisetya on February 10, 2016 at 12:22 am

        Shirley, I have been cruising the net all day collecting tidbits about Paul Kalanithi. The theme that comes through all the text and sound is that ‘the ordinary is profound.’ One of the most interesting pieces I heard was an interview with his wife, Lucy, done on WNYC by Lopate (http://www.wnyc.org/story/when-breath-becomes-air/). It’s much better than Couric’s interview–though that’s not surprising considering that NPR does ‘in-depth’ so well.

        • Shirley Showalter on February 10, 2016 at 8:58 am

          Thanks for this tip, Karin. I’ll listen to Lucy before I finish writing today’s post on time and mortality.

  7. Dolores Nice-Siegenthaler on February 4, 2016 at 1:22 pm

    Wow, what a way to get to the heart of our daily lives, and to bring death and dying into the foreground.

    Late Winter and Spring are the times of year many of my beloved ancestors breathed their last. This is also the time of year, if you are a farmer in the midwest, that you prepare your taxes (due by March 1 in farm country), reflecting on the past year with your land. In the 1800s and 1900s, when there were lots of small farms, if you moved to a new farm, occupancy began March 1st. My Illinois grandfather, Abner, is recorded in diaries many times in February and March, helping neighbors move (or moving his family once, in 1915…100 years ago, to a farm my brothers still farm). January was a time for sales on farms where families were preparing to move.

    I too am inspired by seasons, aware that and wondering how and and when my seasons on earth will end. I currently live in the Bay Area of California, where, the seasons are subtle, but still very wonderful and strong (though easily missed by many). This month of February I have begun to hear the cooing mourning dove, and I sniff dangling, pink clusters of native currant bush, feeling in tune with thousands of people who enjoyed the spicy spring smell, for thousands of years (even before this land was called California).

    I’m going to enjoy looking into Paul Kalinthi; thank you Shirley.

    • Shirley Showalter on February 4, 2016 at 2:25 pm

      Dolores, I think you are right about farm occupancy beginning March 1. I think that’s about the time when we moved to the Home Place described in my memoir.

      As you devote yourself to writing as a major goal this year, I encourage you to use this imagery of seasons and to describe them as beautifully as you have done here: “This month of February I have begun to hear the cooing mourning dove, and I sniff dangling, pink clusters of native currant bush, feeling in tune with thousands of people who enjoyed the spicy spring smell, for thousands of years (even before this land was called California).”

  8. Joan Z. Rough on February 4, 2016 at 2:33 pm

    Shirley, More thought provoking questions … You are so good at that. I’ve read and reread Bunyan’s Pilgrims Progress and always return to it when I feel the need. I will be ordering When Breath Becomes Air. Thanks so much for this beautiful post and getting me thinking about living an authentic life to the nth degree.

    • Shirley Showalter on February 4, 2016 at 2:48 pm

      Joan, thank you. I know you will love the book. And I had forgotten that you loved Pilgrim’s Progress. I went back to my original post on pilgrimage and discovered that you left this comment way back then and that I had somehow failed to respond. “Mine was a formal version, no illustrations. I’ll have to check out other versions. my memoir is absolutely a journey story, moving from abuse and trauma by way of difficult pathways to love and compassion for my abusers and most importantly, myself.”

      Isn’t it great to find that description of your memoir as pilgrimage, now that you have a great title, a lovely cover, and an audience of friends ready to support you as you launch this fall!?

      • Joan Z. Rough on February 4, 2016 at 5:22 pm

        Shirley, Thanks for this wonderful reminder. I’d forgotten I’d written it. Now I will copy it from here to keep on my bulletin board by my computer.

        • Shirley Showalter on February 4, 2016 at 5:59 pm

          🙂

  9. Carrie Ann Lahain on February 4, 2016 at 3:22 pm

    Spectacular post. It was strange reading Kalanithi’s NY TIMES essay in the wake of Michael’s cancer battle. I remember sneaking out of bed late at night and logging onto my computer. Hours passed as I trolled the colo-rectal cancer survival rate articles. I’d try to figure out the unanswerable. Like, if Mike’s young age put him at the more generous prognosis, how much would his being diabetic set him back? (A lot as it turned out) At one point, Mike’s oncologist said that he had only a 15% lifetime chance of his cancer recurring. Six months later it was back. One of the hardest parts of Mike’s final months was how he still couldn’t get a straight answer about how far the cancer had spread. The images said NO progression; his failing health said just the opposite. I don’t think he ever came to terms with the ambiguity of it all.

    We tried very hard not to let predictions about “time left” matter. “Let’s make the most of every minute.” You try. You really do. But it’s just not that easy.

    I’ve been on my library’s waiting list for WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR. I hope to get to read it soon.

    • Shirley Showalter on February 4, 2016 at 6:07 pm

      Oh Carrie, how this touches me. “I don’t think he ever came to terms with the ambiguity of it all.” Paul and Lucy Kalanithi would so understand how you and Mike felt. My next two posts are going to be about time and vocation and what I learned about both from this book.

      Please give yourself a sacred space to read this book. It will be excruciatingly beautiful. Kleenexes recommended. And maybe a massage afterward??

  10. Marlene Kropf on February 4, 2016 at 4:16 pm

    Shirley: We sing the “pilgrim song” here in our little Episcopal church in Port Townsend. I was struck by the text, even though I had no idea it was connected with PILGRIM’S PROGRESS, a book I read over and over again as a child.

    Thank you for pointing your readers to WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR. I will look for it. And thank you for your reflections on mortality — a timely reminder with Ash Wednesday coming soon.

    • Shirley Showalter on February 4, 2016 at 6:13 pm

      Marlene, I’m listening to the “pilgrim song” again as I write these words. I didn’t know this song until I read the epilogue of this book written by Lucy Kalanithi. Finding this version online was an amazing gift.

      Did you know the original Bunyan words before? Most of the modern lyrics edit out the earthy language of the original.

      Thanks for making the connection to Ash Wednesday. A good one.

  11. Janet Givens on February 4, 2016 at 9:51 pm

    Shirley, thank you, again. I have added Paul Kalanithi’s book to my Amazon Wish List. I’m curious how it’ll compare to Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal, one that, when I finished, I was sobbing to Woody, “This is the best book I’ve ever read.” Happy sobs though. It’s a condemnation of the “medicalization of old age,” juxtaposed against the last years of Atul’s father’s life. Also beautiful.

    So many thoughts, so little time. I wish you were closer. We’d have tea.

    • Carrie Ann Lahain on February 4, 2016 at 9:59 pm

      I loved BEING MORTAL. It left me changed. I can’t look at my life, aging, or society the way I did before.

      • Shirley Showalter on February 4, 2016 at 10:10 pm

        Amen, Carrie.

    • Shirley Showalter on February 4, 2016 at 10:10 pm

      I too loved Being Mortal. I think these two books may well crack open the Denial of Death (another good book written by Ernest Becker in 1973)that has existed in our country for decades.

      You mention beauty. Paul Kalanithi will really make you cry if you love the good, the true, and the beautiful. I want to write about that topic too.

      I’m touched by your last comment. Would love to have tea with thee!!

  12. Betty Schrag on February 4, 2016 at 11:37 pm

    Thank you for posting the picture of your dad, Shirley. As a small child, I remember being held up to the casket of my grandfather so I could see him and viewing someone’s “shell” never scared me. I’ve always thought I would be cremated, but reading the story of how you sat with your dad and as the morning sun rose, you noticed for the first time the scar from the forceps that helped bring him into the world. Powerful. My dad was a pilgrim/seeker all his life but he carried the burden of unforgiveness until his deathbed. The disagreement was with two of his brothers over the family farm and my dad could not let it go until a week before he died. His sister was visiting him and told him he had to “let it go.” That night he had a dream where he was wrestling with the Angels (my dad’s name was Jacob like the Jacob who wrestled with the angel in the Bible) and he finally let it go! From then on, he would tell everyone who came into his room that he was going to heaven and his face shone! My cousin wrote a poem about him and compared his dark years to crows hovering about him until he forgave and then “the crows flew away to make place for the Angels.” A couple of years ago, I was on the website of a favorite photographer from PA who takes pictures of trees in all seasons. I was struck by a picture of a dead tree with only two thick branches reaching to the intensely blue sky behind it. Upon closer examination, I saw that there were many black crows flying off the branches into the blue sky. And then I saw something that made me weep . . . The photographer (who did not know my dad) had named the photograph “Jacob’s Point.” That picture is a reminder to me that some pilgrims find their way late on the journey but they find their way.

    I look forward to reading the books you mentioned.

    • Shirley Showalter on February 5, 2016 at 11:20 am

      Betty, I wrote a long reflective note in response to you this morning before the sun came up. Then my site crashed, and the note was lost in cyberspace. So I’ll try to reconstruct it.

      Your story of your father’s liberty at the end of life when he finally let go of his sense of being treated unfairly reminds me of Pilgrim’s story.Bunyan’s words: “So I saw in my dream, that just as CHRISTIAN came up to the cross, his burden loosed from off his shoulders, and fell from off his back, and began to tumble; and so continued to do till it came to the mouth of the sepulchre, where it fell in, and I saw it no more.”

      Our fathers and grandfathers influence us to the end of life, and if they found freedom, we feel assured of freedom also. I know you will love this book. Thanks for taking time to tell a moving story.

      • Betty on February 5, 2016 at 10:59 pm

        Thanks for your response, Shirley…so sorry the first one got lost in cyberspace! I think I may have to read Pilgrim’s Progress again. Have the ebook of When Breath Becomes Air on hold at the library…12 people ahead of me!

  13. Marylin Warner on February 5, 2016 at 9:42 pm

    I saw the picture on the table, so my answer was “two,” Shirley. At my father’s viewing the night before his funeral, my granddaughter (his great-granddaughter) went to the open casket and tucked her school picture and her brother’s pre-school picture inside the casket to remind Great-Grandpa that he didn’t need to be afraid.
    The detail I found most touching in your post was that the picture of your father’s casket was in the same room where he’d been born. A full cycle of life. Of love, too, and a testimony to the next generation that came from his life.

    • Shirley Showalter on February 6, 2016 at 1:01 pm

      What a touching moment, Marylin. We feel that full cycle of life when our children’s children say good-bye to our parents, regardless of the room.

      Thank you for adding this story. We mortal beings keep learning what your granddaughter knows: we don’t need to be afraid.

  14. Elaine Mansfield on February 6, 2016 at 4:59 pm

    I saw the photo of you immediately–two mortal beings. Maybe because my dad died when I was 14. I didn’t see his dead body before it was embalmed and put in a satin-lined box with those folded hands. It all felt foreign and seemed to have nothing to do with my dad. I learned in Vic’s death that I don’t mind seeing a dead body. That’s been true with family pets, too, and now that I’ve attended other deaths. With Vic, I wanted to feel that he had left the premises. I needed to touch that here and not here one last time.
    It was especially tender for my son who didn’t arrive home in time to say goodbye.

    I’ve read many articles by Paul Kalanithi, but hadn’t ordered the book. Your post made me know it can’t wait. I love that his name is associated with the Hindu Goddess Kali, the feminine power that brings life and death. Of course it may not be associated with Kali, but to me, he is.

    His courage inspires me and Lucy Kalanithi’s support of her husband helped me decide to have Vic’s ancient website redesigned in January so his articles can be shared and preserved (in this odd way we preserve in cyberspace). It’s my job to keep my husband’s good work alive. It took hours to help create the site and many tears choosing images. When I’ve recovered from that and caught up with my own work, I’ll share some of the inspiring emails Vic sent to his community of friends when he was ill. Thank you, Shirley. I look forward to more.

    • Shirley Showalter on February 10, 2016 at 8:53 am

      I didn’t get back home in time to be with my father in his last hour, something I wish could have happened. So I didn’t get to stay with him in the room afterward. His embalmed body, however strange it seemed, was still enough like him to be meaningful to me. And the walk I took down a dark staircase in the middle of the night to sit with that body was absolutely archetypal. The first light I saw after I awakened and answered the “summons” to take the journey was that white satin in the casket.

      I am so glad you have encountered Paul Kalanithi already in the various essays he wrote before he wrote the book.

      Lucy Kalanithi has done me the honor of responding to this essay in a tweet. I hope she comes back and sees your words here. She and Paul are impacting thousands of people in grief and in health to deal with their mortal lives.

      Thanks for looking forward with me to more, Elaine. I thought of SO many friends (you were one) as I read this book. I will be keenly interested in your response.

  15. Karin Larson Krisetya on February 10, 2016 at 12:27 am

    You mentioned in your blog how people often shudder at the thought of death. I have never done so, and have, in fact, been intrigued by death and dying for as long as I can remember. It didn’t take long for me to realize that I was different from the norm–those who shudder. And for years I have wondered whether the reason I have no fear is because I will meet death early. That may still happen, who knows. (I’m still only 42.) But now I am beginning to think of this interest in death as part of who I am and have begun to ask how it shapes my choices, both daily and long-term ones such as my vocation.

    Being a pilgrim. I’ve never seen myself as a pilgrim. The word is so old-fashioned, and is colored with a lot of history. I took a bit of time to think about being a pilgrim as I watched the video of the Bunyan hymn you linked in your post. The visuals taken from Pilgrim’s Progress brought back memories of reading it aloud every evening as a family when I was about 11. I recall secretly reading ahead during the day even though I knew it was ‘cheating.’ It was simply that exciting! As I look at the images again, I am struck with the heavy weight of Christian’s pack, which contrasts with the jovial bounce of the hymn. How can someone so weighed down be ‘valiant’? Being a pilgrim…hmmm…need to give that more time.

    Thanks for the opportunity to reflect and to hear more of your life story–always my favorite part! I will dip into Kalanithi’s book soon, and perhaps that will push my ideas of being a pilgrim along.

    • Shirley Showalter on February 10, 2016 at 9:37 am

      You and I, Karin, share this odd relationship to the subject of death. I remember wondering the same thing: does this mean I’ll die young. Well, too late for that one. 🙂

      Thanks for finding the wonderful NPR interview with Lucy Kalanithi.

      My friend Janet loves the word “pilgrim,” and I have warmed to it partly because she and friend Anne and I traveled the Pilgrim’s Way to the Canterbury Cathedral together four years ago. The Celtic Christians used the word also, and I plan to go on another pilgrimage in May. I’m sure each of these experiences will deepen my understanding of both words: “mortal pilgrim.”

  16. When Breath Becomes Air on February 11, 2016 at 6:31 pm

    Shirley, thank you so much for writing about When Breath Becomes Air and Paul! Much appreciated.

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