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  • Reverend James Squire

Life Is To Be Enjoyed Or Learned From

Photo by Federico Respini


On April 1, I began a journey that has taken many twists and turns. The spine surgery itself was laden with some risks. My surgeon and I tried different approaches to avoid the surgery including injections under surgical conditions and interventional radiology, a relatively new approach. This was in a surgical setting but was done with a Cat Scan.  The cyst that needed to be removed from my spine had calcified. That approach didn’t work either. I was sent to the ER after the procedure as things went south. EA is everywhere. My surgeon is a former EA parent, and the head of the ER that night was a former EA parent as well. I was in great hands.


The presenting symptom was severe pain in my left leg and weakness. I promised a former student who died that I would do his memorial service which I did, by postponing the surgery, and a week later had four hours of spine surgery. My surgeon said that he was bringing his A team in for the procedure. After several days in the hospital, I began the recovery process. I knew that I could handle the recovery, but I didn’t know that I would get COVID. This was my second bout with COVID which was much worse than the first. I knew that I could handle that, but I must admit that I didn’t know if I could do both the COVID and the spine surgery recovery at the same time.


What did I learn? I learned that the strength of others informs and nourishes my sense of strength. My deceased student lost a bout to cancer but told me that he was going to write a book with the title, Why Not Me! His inspiration helped me to see the two ingredients that I saw in our relationship during his last days. Why not me! I am no better or worse that anyone else! I could also fight like crazy as he did to find the courage to keep going forward. Why not me to make it back. I had a quote from Helen Keller on my desk. “For all that we love deeply becomes a part of us.” I had a host of people who have inspired me, and they became part of me. So, be aware of the people in your life who have inspired you. Make sure that you can access those attributes of character that they have and live. It’s the greatest gift that you can give yourself!


Two of my former students are in wheelchairs because of accidents. After his disability I blessed the marriage of one of them in the Princeton Chapel. He went on to get his MD as well as his MBA from Harvard and has a family! After the disability of the other one, he became a lawyer, is married, and has a family. One of my former assistants has a serious cancer that was diagnosed just weeks before his wedding. He has undergone the most rigorous chemotherapy. His faith just gets stronger each day. When I hired him, everyone said we were too different to get along. We worked together for fourteen years. I told him recently that I am a better person because I knew him. One of my friends has lost a husband and son, but life will never break her in part because she lives why not me every day!


I have so many people to be thanked by their lives that have helped me find courage against the odds even when I had to find my way to college through the money provided by the hell of a steel mill. I am grateful that I didn’t give up during life. Nietzsche was right when he said, “What doesn’t kill us only makes us stronger.” I heard today from a high school classmate who wrote a review of my memoir. He wrote, “Jim, you ‘re a tough guy from Conshy and I would bet on you to take the punches and come back swinging every time.” Those days are part of my strength too.


I have often said that there are no atheists in foxholes and the prayer that was said the most was the Lord’s Prayer no matter what one’s faith. I found myself doing the same thing during those nighttime fevers that left me soaking wet, chills, and surgical pain thanking God, Vicki, and my family but also my blankets. How stupid is that? Who thanks their blankets, but thy kept me warm during the shaking due to the chills. I have more education than one can imagine, but during those moments I could only think of that prayer said on my knees before bed as a child. “Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray thee, Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake. I pray dear Lord, my soul to take.”


But perhaps the cruelest turn was right before my surgery, Vicki was hospitalized for an illness that she is still recovering from. She is my heart and inspiration and the person in my life who has demonstrated the most courage of anyone I have known. She is tough and tender! She puts everyone first before herself including me. My concerns for her health ripped me from any self-concerns. My daughter in law, Courtney, who is a nutritionist with integrated medicine moved in for a week and more than anyone helped Vicki turn the corner. My son Spencer handled everything else that was needed.


Do it now! Reflect on those people who have carried you forward. Reflect on your faith and how that intercedes for you. Make your watchwords be NEVER GIVE UP. One of my former students had his father post that over his bed in huge letters at Jefferson Hospital when there was a chance that he would never walk again. He is now a doctor in Colorado! How blessed I have been.


I saw a poem recently that summarizes where I am today as I still have a way to go in recovery. Writing is a coping mechanism for me. Hence, more blogs.


I counted my years and found that I have less time to live from here on than I have lived up to now. I feel like that child who won a packet of sweets: he ate the first with pleasure, but when he realized that there were few left, he began to enjoy them intensely. I no longer have time for endless meetings where statutes, rules, procedures and internal regulations are discussed, knowing that nothing will be achieved. I no longer have time to support the absurd people who, despite their chronological age, haven't grown up. My time is too short: I want the essence, my soul is in a hurry. I don't have many sweets in the package anymore. I want to live next to human people, very human, who know how to laugh at their mistakes, and who are not inflated by their triumphs, and who take on their responsibilities. Thus, human dignity is defended, and we move towards truth and honesty. It is the essential that makes life worth living. I want to surround myself with people who know how to touch hearts, people who have been taught by the hard blows of life to grow with gentle touches of the soul. Yes, I'm in a hurry, I'm in a hurry to live with the intensity that only maturity can give. I don't intend to waste any of the leftover sweets. I am sure they will be delicious, much more than what I have eaten so far. My goal is to reach the end satisfied and at peace with my loved ones and my conscience. We have two lives.And the second begins when you realize you only have one. Credits: Mário Raul de Morais Andrade (Oct 9, 1893 – Feb 25, 1945) Brazilian poet, novelist, musicologist, art historian and critic, photographer”

― Mario Raul de Morais Andrade 

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