Play it forward — in our words sung, written and spoken — swayed through my Sunday for people I work with as well as me, myself and I. The whirlwind double-header started with a reading at The Writers Place in Kansas City, featuring people living with or caring for someone living with serious illness. The 18 writers were all participants in the workshops I’ve been facilitating over recent years at Turning Point: The Center for Hope & Healing, one of the greatest centers for modeling how to survive serious illness with meaning, dignity and even delight.
I was so proud of the writers, who shared powerful prose and poetry about how impossible it is to find the opposite of alone when you lose your partner of 47 years, the miraculous gifts of a horrendous illness written by a mother about her young adult daughter, and what leaving cancer statistics in the dust looks like nine years after a terminal diagnosis. One man used the mesh model of his head and neck — part of his radiation treatment for parotid cancer — complete with KU ball cap — as the visual to accompany his poem about the hard truths and sweet gifts of survival and perfect peaches. A young woman had me read aloud the poem she wrote on what she learned from her young son, who passed away in May. A man told us about the ridicule he endured because of his illness and strength he found in spiritual gifts.
What people read wasn’t just about living with or surviving MS, cancer, Parkinson’s Disease and other chronic illness, or about taking care of someone in the grips of the impossible. People read poems in praise of the ex-husbands who surprise us, the grandchildren who complete our lives, the old love that shows us the way. Life, stripped of any pretense, was front and center in this reading, and who better to celebrate being alive that people who know intimately what mortality means?
After the reading, and the taking of many pictures (along the eating of many grapes), I took the poetry van (looks like hell, runs great) back to Lawrence, just in time for for a sound check with Kelley Hunt before we performed a short performance for the Friends of the Lied Annual Dinner at KU’s Lied Center. We also got to eat some rather spectacular Biggs BBQ, which absolutely ensured our best effort.
Reading poetry (me) and singing while playing piano (Kelley) in the Pavillon room was a special treat. The space is acoustic nirvana, and as I read, I could see both the shining faces of 150 or so wonderful Lied friends as well as the wind winding through the leaves of cottonwoods outside through the wall of windows. “Play It Forward in Music & Poetry” was Kelley and my newest collaboration, featuring a spanking new song, “Let It Rain,” which is all about passing on what we’re given. “It was all given to you/ Now who will you give it to?” Kelley sang, one of my favorite new lines that came to us.
Lying in bed late last night, the day swam through my heart, lifting it to the starlight as I thought to myself, “I get to do this for a living.” Not just to pay it forward, but to play it forward, with all the added joy implied.
Pictures: Our sparkling Turning Point readers and friends/family: top photo: Cathy, Peggy, me, Dee, Debby, Megan and Lou; Earle & Lois; Will and Stacey; Carol.