I came up with the theme “On Hope and the Human Spirit” last summer after convalescing from an operation that entailed removing a tumor, nineteen centimeters in diameter, from my abdomen. It was benign, but “bizarre,” as the medical report said. Before my diagnosis, I was confused by what my body was telling me: I had gained weight, and yet I was regularly exercising and eating healthy. I consistently had abdominal muscle strain due to playing tennis, but I had been playing tennis for years and never experienced this before. I had other difficulties as well and went to a series of doctors, until finally I was diagnosed with a cyst. At first, this tricky cyst-tumor thing was not easy to assess, and I was told there was a good chance I had stage three ovarian cancer. The memory of being on my knees after I hung up with the doctor is one that will never leave me: I yelled out to God not to take me for the sake of my kids. With the help of my family and friends, I started to accept the idea that I could have cancer. I felt something inside me come to light, some power that was dormant on a daily basis. I had felt this power before in times of great fear and anxiety: after a job loss or a bad break up. I can only describe it as a light surrounding my heart and extending outward, a beam that lit up a path.
A year later and what’s left of the tumor is a nine-inch-long scar down the middle of me. I am in another state of mind now, one of ennui and numbness. I am stunned by the numbers I see on the news—the number of people who have died, the number of people living with COVID-19. I feel helpless. I myself am not experiencing the power, the heart as radiant, but I see it in others. I see it, and I am hopeful, because of the expertise, compassion, and courage of the people fighting firsthand to help heal others. I witnessed this particular power of compassion when I had complications from the surgery. If it weren’t for the expertise and bright faces of the staff at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, I would have suffered so much more.
COVID-19 deaths are still on the rise. People are dying alone, without their loved ones; people are grieving; people are anxious; people are living altered, insulated lives. It is time to check in with ourselves: what do we believe about compassion and making sacrifices? What gives us hope? What is the human spirit, anyway? Is it the power to heal and persevere, as in Chad W. Lutz’s poem “Not the Arms,” and Cathy Warner’s essay “May All Those Who Enter Here Be Comforted”? Is it courage and compassion during the direst of circumstances as in Leslie Contreras Schwartz’s flash story “Passengers” and K. Alan Leitch’s “In Deep”? Is it an embraced joy despite the world's vitriol, depicted in the wide strokes of Amantha Tsaros's paintings? Does it involve divine attributes, like those in Tolstoy’s “Three Hermits”? Or is it the playfulness of being alive, of knowing how to dance, as in Rachelle Parker’s “Dancing on Beat”?
If you ask me, it is all of these things.
This edition is dedicated to those with human spirit fully engaged, to those struggling to stay hopeful while fighting serious illnesses like COVID-19 and cancer--and I want to send a shout out to Christy Doxsee, a friend of mine with lung cancer, and Bobby Jean Russo, a cousin fighting ovarian cancer--as well as those lending their expertise and sometimes putting their own lives on the line. I also want to send a personal thank you to Dr. Whitfield Growdon and his team at Mass General Hospital. You are all wonderful, thank you.
Thank you to my Poetry Editor Jennifer Martelli for helping me shape this edition; thank you to all of our talented contributors who inspire us with their creativity and insight. Thank you to our readers who are curious about what we have to say. May you all be safe, healthy, and despite the news, hopeful.
Laurette Folk, Senior Editor of The Compassion Anthology