A Book About Living
Mister Owita’s Guide to Gardening is not a book about death.
It is not a book about cancer.
Last July, when I was in Bozeman, Montana for some book-related appearances, I picked up a copy of the Bozeman Magazine in a local supermarket. The magazine featured an article about Mister Owita’s Guide to Gardening. Its headline grabbed me: “A Book About Living.”
That is what Carol and Giles have left us—lessons for living.
If you read about the book, or dial in to the “teaser” at www.misterowita.com, you’ll learn that, though Giles was Carol’s teacher and she his student, neither of them had set out to fill those roles. Giles was just living his life, one day at a time, while Carol received his wisdom with, as her book’s subtitle suggests, an “open heart.”
Will Godwin, a friend from Austin, Texas, wrote a Facebook posting on our page in June, shortly after the tragic shootings in Charleston. Will quoted President Obama speaking at Reverend Pinckney’s funeral. The President said that Reverend Pinckney had “an open heart,” what the writer Marilyn Robinson describes as “that reservoir of goodness, beyond, and of another kind, that which we are able to do for each other in the ordinary cause of things.” That’s what Carol had, and that is rare indeed.
Two of Giles Owita’s “lessons,” reinforced by the experience of Carol’s life and death, resonate here. Carol said that Giles demonstrated a “gracious acceptance of the handicaps and afflictions life visits upon us.” She told me several times to be certain that her obituary did not say anything about “a courageous battle against cancer.” She said that there was nothing courageous about it. She admitted being scared to death. And she added that the word “battle” implied that she might have ever had a chance to win. “No one wins this,” she said.
Carol also taught me the difference between “healing” and “curing.” Just after we called in hospice in August, 2014, I took over Carol’s spot as the keynote speaker at a big Susan Komen event (before an audience of 450 people), including Dr. Judy Salerno, the president and CEO of the national Komen organization. Carol’s agent, Marly Rusoff, had asked me to read about “healing vs. curing,” and to try to apply that concept to Carol’s writings in my speech. I learned that “curing” refers to the elimination of disease, the restoration of good health. But for Carol, and for so many other cancer patients with metastatic disease, “cure” is no longer part of the vocabulary. However, in cases where “curing” isn’t possible, “healing” may still be. “Healing” is a spiritual concept. In whatever religious/spiritual context speaks to you, “healing” is being made whole.
So, as I travel now, spreading the message of this wonderful book, I think of “healing” myself. Anne Lamott says that it’s “the insidious palace lie” that we ever “get over” the crushing losses we experience. I’ll never get over the loss of Carol. I’ll never be “cured” of the sadness, but I can still be healed. My life will never be the same, but that does not mean it will be terrible every day.
To my mind, there are (at least) two epic quotes in Carol’s book. Near its conclusion, as Giles is struggling against failing health, he tells Carol, “Every day brings something good.” That is a powerful message. Regretting yesterday is a huge waste of energy, as is worrying about tomorrow. There is so much to enjoy today: “Every day brings something good.”
If you go to our website (www.misterowita.com ) and click on the trailer, you’ll hear the other book’s other great quote. Carol says that Giles taught her, “The ground in winter…looks awful—it’s gray and yellow and hard as a brick, but it holds a thousand lovely secrets.”
Two special lessons—for living.