Thursday, September 23, 2010


I just returned from a visit to my father after he was hospitalized with heart failure. I thought it would be my last. Arthur Ranger Curran’s a hearty, hardy guy. Until his ninetieth birthday, the man was walking four miles a day, studying statistics and French for a mental jog, and had every radio in the house tuned to world events.

Last week, he barely had the strength to swallow from a straw. If we’d not sprung him from the bed-rest the hospital prescribed, I have no doubt we’d be planning memorials right now. Instead, after a few days of being back in his house, sleeping next to his bride of 68 years, and being free to move about (albeit on a walker) I found myself saying to him, “Well, Dad, I guess the rumors of your death have been greatly exaggerated.”

While I was with him, I was deaf to the chatter of emails, feckless to my calendar and focused on the smallest things. Now that I’m home and catching up with bills and deadlines, I stumble upon the most delicately-worded facebook messages asking how I am. I ramble on about what it is that’s occupying me, my dad, my daughter, my refinancing, my mischievous dog.

It didn’t quite occur to me that what my correspondents would really like to know is whether I’m OKAY. As in: Last we heard, you were treated for cancer. So, are you OKAY?

Yes, lovely people, I appear to be very much okay. Better than that. I won’t test the Evil Eye by saying I’m cured. However, the odds are very much in my favor. I see my favorite surgeon every month and he says I’m great. I believe him. Sort of. I know nothing in this world is guaranteed, but when I stay up late worrying, it’s not about throat cancer.

It’s about the surprises that visit when we least expect them.

In the same week Dad collapsed, my sister-in-law was hospitalized with meningitis and my nephew and his girlfriend narrowly escaped the fire that torched their Atlanta house.

A photo of the fire seconds after they got out.

Now they’re all steadily recovering but Crikey! In the same moment that you’re thanking God for what didn’t happen, you’re hit square in the face with the recognition that s*&t happens. And not just to other people! Katy, bar the door!
The next morning

The trouble is, it’s never just s*&;t. It’s always a mixed bag of ‘Things got pretty scary,’ and “Hey weren’t we lucky?” In the same month all these near-disasters happened, I got a visit from dear Irish friends, the news that my novel Everyone She Loved would be translated into German, an unexpected royalty check and a thousand other blessings.

Even as I was composing this, my dear friend Julz called to say her cancer doc had just pronounced her ‘home free.’

Given my odd fascination with how life serves up catastrophe with sacred moments too lovely to express, I’ve been drawn to stories that do just that. The novels I list below have lifted me up even while they took me places no one would voluntarily vacation. What they’ve done for me, and I hope they will for you, is to remind me of the simple privilege of ordinary life, of peace, of food, of shelter and of freedom from persecution. These are things we all take for granted as we grumble about the trimmings of life in this beautiful country of ours, a place that, for all its divisions and flaws, provides us with so much treasure, if only we could pause for a second and take notice.

Fabulous and Unforgettable Books

 Little Bee by Chris Cleave

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

Backseat Saints by Joshilyn Jackson

The Gendarme by Mark Mustian

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

As a recent translation of the Rule of St. Benedict goes:
The first rule is simply this:
Live this life and do whatever is done in a spirit of Thanksgiving.
Abandon attempts to achieve security, they are futile,
give up the search for wealth, it is demeaning,
quit the search for salvation, it is selfish,
and come to comfortable rest in the certainty
that those who participate in this life with an
attitude of Thanksgiving will receive its full promise.

Always We Begin Again by John McQuiston II


  1. God bless you Sheila. We love you, and we love the way you write. And as for all those little sacred moments you write about so beautifully, the trials and joys of ordinary life you bring to us so well and so often, thanks. Thanks so very much. XOXOX Jane

  2. I'm with Jane! God bless you! Thanks for sharing yourself with us. Makes everyone feel less alone!

  3. We're all alone sometimes, and then, luckily, we'er not. Thanks dear Jane and Elizabeth for sharing your responses. Sheila

  4. Oh, Sheila, you have me all weepy very early in the morning. This is beautiful and just EXACTLY what I needed to read today. Thank you so much. I second your recommendations for LITTLE BEE and THE GUERNSEY book. And now I need to go get the others.

    Thrilled with your wonderful health news, too.

  5. Well done, Sheila. You make me want to read your books. Love the dog in the trailer!

  6. Lovely post, Shelia and I enjoyed the quote. Have read almost all your recommended books and agree that they are wonderful.

    Also thank you for bringing up the idea of this group blog. It's been so much fun.

  7. Sheila, so much of what you said resonated with me! I'm a survivor, too (and I know you're friends with another of my good buddies and a fellow survivor, Maggie Barbieri--love her!). It changes your view of things, doesn't it? I don't take anything for granted anymore, not the way I used to. And you're right about the clusters of events (good and bad) happening at once. Feast or famine, as my mom says. Had one of those feasts lately, kind of like yours, with a host of "God, this can't be happening now!" news and some very bright lights, too. So your post today hit the spot in more ways than you can imagine.

  8. I'm so happy that you and your father are thriving, and your family is safe. This post moved me... thank you for writing it.

  9. Loved this! You & your dad are my heroes!

  10. Sheila, So glad your family is okay. Thanks for the wonderful post reminding me how important it is to live in the moment and appreciate everything around us. We have to do dinner again! Or coffee or a walk or you name it;)

  11. I seem to be following Maria around today, saying, "I agree with Maria." I'm so glad your family is okay.

  12. Sheila, you are such an inspiration!! Truly amazing. And I'm so glad to hear that your family is okay.

    Love that reading list! Must get myself to right now!!!

  13. Sheila.. the journey my lovely friend... there are so many philosophers and wise sages through time that have fashioned the perfect phrase(s) to explain this journey of ours - thanks for saying it Out Loud, and sometimes it sucks because the balance between lovely and horrible experiences is uneven and therefore overwhelming. Big hugs, from your mad Irish friend, Orla xxx

  14. so glad you're doing well. I was at mother's when your mom called her on Mon, so got the report on Range. It's hard to picture him not going full speed ahead. It makes me sad, but you then lift me back up! Congrats on the German translation. That's huge!!! loved Guernsey! thanks for the recommendations. love you, Pat Brewster

  15. St. Benedict in his Rule also made sure that his peeps got a healthy swig of booze every day, recommending that the monds be permitted a dram (not equivalent to today's pharmaceutical measure..) of ale daily. His sister, St. Scholastica, had even better ideas....DMC