The first time I read Kahlil Gibran’s essay on “Giving” from The Prophet in a 10th grade English class in 1970, I was unaware that it would have a life-long impact on me. Even though both my younger and older perspectives have understandably diverged, Gibran’s poetic message of selfless giving still resonates with me today.
Thus, twenty months after I was unexpectedly diagnosed with breast cancer I found myself at a day long retreat. At one of the sessions we were asked to write a letter to ourselves. Of course, I was stuck. Moreover, I did not want to write a letter to myself. I worried that I would end up with something unoriginal; worse yet, something that would not be meaningful. And then Gibran’s melodic prose guided me to write, not a letter, but a dialogue between myself as a very young child and myself as I am now. This conversation currently resides side-by-side with The Prophet in my head.
Then said the child, “Speak to me of health.”
And I answered, “Health is not something we can buy at the store or order on-line. It is not a jewel or status symbol to be flaunted. Nor does it care whether you are male or female, young or old, tall or short. Health does not pay attention to the color of your skin, your place of worship, or who you know. It is not something you can wear one day and discard the next.”
But the child was still confused and pressed me further.
“You have explained what health is not. Can you tell me what it is?”
And I answered her slowly and carefully.
“This I do believe, health is that which we take for granted. It is the toothless grin on a child’s face, the deep green of spinach, and the uninvited wasp’s nest on the porch. Health is a deep breath of cold wintry air, the fretful hiccups of a newborn, your neighbor’s dog barking. It is putting your arms in the water to swim another lap, shopping with your daughter, yapping on the phone with your mother, tasting something sweet. Health is collecting a paycheck, watching a movie, washing the toilet.”
Then I kissed the innocent child that was once me and told her to enjoy her journey. The child took both my aging hands in hers and whispered, “Good luck and be strong. And remember me always.”
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