Come in, please sit down, don't mind the bell, I'll tell you about it in a minute. Here, put this cushion behind your back. Now, let me introduce you to my friend Barry.
I first saw a crowd gathered around this fellow in January last year and moved in close to see what all the hubbub was about. Everyone was jostling and humming and then all around people started shushing. So we hushed. Then Barry told a story. After he was done, I thought, how'd he do that? His story was ordinary, just something about living in Toronto, or maybe it was some mystery in the woods he and his cutey black dog Lindsay found on their walk, or something smart his painter wife Linda said. I don't remember. But it really doesn't matter what the story was about. It was the man's charm, his humble view of himself as a sort of funny ordinary guy who faces life squarely and dutifully, that made me go back regularly with the crowd on the bluff and find something true, and lovely.
A couple months after I joined the Barry-listening crowd, we were all dealt a whammy blow. Barry was diagnosed with esophageal cancer. His narrative changed, but his humility, charm and humor strengthened - or maybe it was just that his true character was more exposed. We listened with hands to open mouths and welled up eyes as he told about scans and tests showing that his cancer had metastasized from the esophagus to his hip, ribs and spine. Even cancer cells crowded around, as if to listen for how his story would unfold. But everything in him and in us the crowd said No to that army. Barry has pulled out chemo, meditation, relaxation, a healthy diet - whatever he can to prolong his story telling days, and we offered him the best advice we'd heard too. He was willing to try almost anything, because after all, he loves the Living thing.
He's an explorer of life, this Barry. These last months he got to examine the deep dark side, and we got to listen, cry, pray, meditate and walk alongside him for his health. Thursday, this very week Thursday, February 18, Barry completes his chemo treatment at Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto at 2 o'clock. There is a bell there. When Barry completes that last chemo treatment, he will ring the bell loud and steady, and throughout Princess Margaret Hospital people will cheer, applaud, whoop! That global crowd listening to Barry's story? We'll be ringing bells around the world and cheering and whooping too. At 2pm Thursday my cell phone alarm will ring in my university office. I'll stop what I'm doing - maybe a student will be sitting there, wondering what happened - and I'll close my eyes, thank the Universe for Barry, for his survival, for my friend Inge beating breast cancer, for my own life after melanoma, for all our loved ones who suffer through illness and disease, and ask if we could please be allowed to explore the world with Barry a while longer.
There is a little sign near that bell at Princess Margaret Hospital with a quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson:
"What lies behind us, and what lies before us,
are tiny matters compared to what lies within us."
Read Barry's plan for ringing the bell here. If you join the crowd and ring yours, it will be like D-Day. And oh, I have a story Mom told me about that. On the 6th of June in 1944, Mom and Dad lived in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. They were working in the tobacco fields to supplement my dad's pay as itinerant preacher. Suddenly on that warm sixth of June, bells began ringing all across the valley. Their neighbor came running out, "What happened, what happened?" My dad replied, "It's D-Day, the Allies have invaded Normandy!" The farmer retorted, "Oh, is that all, I thought the pigs had got out!"