After you’ve written more than one book, people often ask, “Which one of your books do you think I’d like best?” I always answer, “it depends what you’re going through in your life. Are you looking to develop a spiritual practice or to heal your heart or strengthen your body? My first book—The Seeker’s Guide—is good for that. But maybe you are in some kind of big transition, a change, a loss, a confusing middle-of-the-dark woods period…My memoir Broken Open: How Difficult Times Can Help You Grow is about my own dark woods experience through divorce, but it also includes stories from people known and unknown going through their own “Phoenix Process,” as I call it—rising from the ashes of a difficult time, wiser and stronger. My most recent book is called Marrow: Love, Loss & What Matters Most, and it just came out in paperback.
Marrow is about being my sister’s bone marrow donor and the experience we shared cleaning up our relationship before having my bone marrow harvested and then transplanted into her body. We wanted to go into the procedures with nothing but love between us, but first we had a lot of unspoken sibling stuff to wade through, to understand, to forgive. We wanted to do this now because it was a life and death situation: if my cells attacked my sister, or if her body rejected my cells, she wouldn’t make it. The book charts our sometimes painful, sometimes funny, always meaningful process of healing (what we came to call our soul marrow transplant), and the year she lived after the transplant, and the courageous choice she made at the end.
So the other day, when someone asked me, “Which one of your books do you think I should start with?” I responded with my usual: “Depends what’s up for you.” And the person said, “I’m going back home for Thanksgiving, and there are several family members who have very different opinions about what’s going on in our country. I’m afraid we’re going to get into a big fight.” So I suggested she read Marrow. You may wonder why a memoir about cancer and sisters and a bone marrow transplant would be applicable for someone going home for the holidays. But Marrow is also about how all of us can let go of opinions and assumptions about each other—whomever the “other” is—show up with an open heart, listen, and have authentic, courageous, and real conversations with the people in our life.
If ever there was a time for us to learn how to confront our differences in a loving, hopeful, and mindful manner, it’s now. As I write in Marrow, “People have said I was brave to undergo the bone marrow extraction. But I don’t really think so—you’d have to be a miserable, crappy person to refuse the opportunity to save your sibling. But getting emotionally naked with my sister—this felt risky. To dig deep into never-expressed grievances, secret shame, behind-the-back stories, blame, and judgment wasn’t something we had done before. But my sister’s life hung in the balance…What I learned from both transplants—the bone marrow transplant and the soul marrow transplant—is that the marrow of the bones and the marrow of your very own self are quite similar. Deep in the center of the bones are stem cells that can keep another person alive, perhaps not forever, but for a time and, in the case of my sister, for what she called the best year of her life. Deep in the center of the self are the soul cells of who you really are. Dig for them, believe in them, and offer them to another person, and you can heal each other’s hearts and keep love alive forever. Here’s one more thing I learned. You don’t have to wait for a life-and-death situation to offer the marrow of yourself to another person. We can all do it, we can do it now, and there’s a chance that the life of our human family does indeed depend on it.”
So, if you’re dreading confronting all those “others” across the Thanksgiving table or during the ho-ho-ho festivities, you may want to pick up Marrow. It’s a good read, and you’ll also come away inspired to go a little deeper with your family members—past the politics and into the soul.