Focusing the Lens in 2012

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If my blog were a handwritten journal, this would be me digging it off of a shelf somewhere, blowing off the dust, and peeling back the last crumpled page I scribbled down to find new space for a new entry in a new year. How and where to start? It has been nine months since my last blog entry. A gestation period for this new post; wasn’t quite ready to see the light of day until … well, I’m not sure it even is now! I have to admit, after taking this long of a break from writing, the task is surprisingly intimidating. I’ve got so much I want to share, but will the words still flow?! Okay, here goes…

2011 was the best year of my life. I’m writing this post in my new home where I am living with my new wife, from where I commute to my new job. As I had hoped after previewing things earlier in the year, it indeed has been a trilogy of epic proportions. As is the usual case with this blog, the lens through which I can best reflect on the year came during my most recent visit to Dana Farber. Just a week and a half ago, I found myself there for another regular check-in, accepting more good news: that I’ve been cancer-free for over two and a half years now. But even before the visit with the doctors, just being in that place puts life into sharp focus. Every visit draws to the surface a vast array of emotions at every wavelength of the spectrum; good and bad. Actually, good and bad is too black and white, really. The emotions are much more colorful. Regardless of which color though, the place implores a certain level of presence that I find  hard to attain anywhere else. I am struggling to put into words just how profound an experience it is for me. Every emotion is so much more… emotional. Joy, happiness, anger, sorrow, peace. The place breathes all of them, in and out.

With each post, I find myself coming back to my experience with cancer. I wonder sometimes, if that becomes a crutch for my writing. Maybe, I force more weight into my experiences than they merit. It’s always tough to know where that line between reflecting and indulging is, and how not to cross it. Authenticity is the goal. The fact of the matter, though, is that the best lens I’ve got in my arsenal (indeed, the one that sparked this blog) is my experience overcoming cancer. It is in looking at life through that lens especially, that I can reflect on how beautiful life is. Marriage has been simply perfect. We so enjoyed every moment of our wedding and every moment since; traveling to Greece together, moving into our new home and making it our own, adopting our first baby (cat), spending time with loved ones through these holidays. Wow – what a gift it has been. And then there is waking up every morning and going into work at a place and with a job that aligns so perfectly with my beliefs, my skills and my values. It has been an honor to work at Oxfam America alongside such wonderful people to support such an important mission: to create lasting solutions to poverty, hunger and social injustice. My work there has been extremely rewarding and I’m truly excited to continue on this path.

In addition to that, I’ve been very fortunate to be able to continue with my filmmaking endeavors and work on some really exciting projects this year. With Paul Brown and the Killing Devils, I’ve been able to write and produce two music videos, the first of which (Dance Like a Rocket) was just released a week ago and already has 17,000 views on YouTube! Check it out: // And the next video, we filmed in Salem MA and will be released in a month or so. I’ve always wanted the opportunity to work on music videos because of the artistic freedoms they allow. I could go into far more detail on this front, but I’ll spare the words and save it for another post! I was also very fortunate to be able to edit a great piece for the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island which you can watch here: //

It has been quite the remarkable year, indeed. Life has been good to me. And I feel incredibly fortunate for that. But how do I respectfully accept this abundance of good in my life, while there are so many suffering in the world? It’s something I come back to often. The world has been through so much this year that gives me so much hope; inspired by the people of Tunisia and Egypt, people around the world have taken to the streets and made their voices heard. And yet, there are still those whose voices go unheard. In 2011, a devastating drought hit east Africa causing food shortages and a famine in Somalia. In a world abundant with food, more children died without any. They were on my mind often this year. For that same lens that allows me to appreciate life after overcoming a deadly disease, also pulls into focus the grave injustice at hand. I still ask the question: why me? Not why me, why did I get cancer? But why me, why did I survive? Why was I so fortunate to be born in a place where I would be taken care of, while children are born in a place where they are largely forgotten. It is a question I can’t let go of. Nor do I want to let go of it. And so, I find that the only way I can really accept the good in my life this year, is to also hold close in my heart those who did not have the same good in their lives. Maybe that sounds depressing, but although it saddens me I don’t find it depressing. Archbishop Desmond Tutu describes it best, I think, “There is an equally great experience of suffering that occurs when we try to numb ourselves to the realities around us. It is like ignoring a sore and letting it fester. When we look squarely at injustice and get involved, we actually feel less pain, not more, because we overcome the gnawing guilt and despair that festers under our numbness. We clean the wound–our own and others’–and it can finally heal.”

Oh, how numb we can all find ourselves. That numbness to reality and life isn’t something that my experience with cancer disrupted forever. Bringing reality back into focus is a constant challenge. It is a constant process for me. Every appointment at Dana Farber jolts the lens back into focus, but it most certainly isn’t the only way. As I check-in with myself and gather thoughts to write this blog, I can feel that clarity. It is so difficult with the constant numbing stimuli around us. It is so difficult. So easy to numb ourselves by consuming more… food, television, alcohol, drugs, technology – whatever it may be. My wish for this new year is that I can keep that lens focused on reality; on the things that are real. And hopefully I can capture and share more of that reality.



Author: John Abdulla

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