Several years ago in Seattle, Washington, there lived a 52-year-old Tibetan
refugee. "Tenzin," as I will call him, was diagnosed with one of
the more curable forms of lymphoma. He was admitted to the hospital and
received his first dose of chemotherapy. But during the treatment, this
usually gentle man became extremely angry and upset. He pulled the IV out of
his arm and refused to cooperate. He shouted at the nurses and became
argumentative with everyone who came near him.
The doctors and nurses were baffled.
Tenzin's wife spoke to the hospital staff. She told them Tenzin had been
held as a political prisoner by the Chinese for 17 years. They killed his
first wife and repeatedly tortured and brutalized him throughout his
imprisonment. She told them that the hospital rules and regulations, coupled
with the chemotherapy treatments, gave Tenzin horrible flashbacks of what he
had suffered at the hands of the Chinese.
know you mean to help him," she said, "but he feels tortured by
your treatments. They are causing him to feel hatred inside - just like he
felt toward the Chinese. He would rather die than have to live with the
hatred he is now feeling. And, according to our belief, it is very bad to
have hatred in your heart at the time of death. He needs to be able to pray
and cleanse his heart."
So the doctors discharged Tenzin and asked the hospice team to visit him in
his home. I was the hospice nurse assigned to his care. I called a local
representative from Amnesty International for advice. He told me that the
only way to heal the damage from torture is to "talk it through."
"This person has lost his trust in humanity and feels hope is
impossible," the man said. "If you are to help him, you must find
a way to give him hope."
But when I encouraged Tenzin to talk about his experiences, he held up his
hand and stopped me. He said, "I must learn to love again if I am to
heal my soul. Your job is not to ask me questions. Your job is to teach me
to love again."
I took a deep breath. I asked him, "So, how can I help you love
immediately replied, "Sit down, drink my tea and eat my cookies."
is strong black tea laced with yak butter and salt. It isn't easy to drink!
But that is what I did. For several weeks, Tenzin, his wife, and I sat
together, drinking tea. We also worked with his doctors to find ways to
treat his physical pain. But it was his spiritual pain that seemed to be
lessening. Each time I arrived, Tenzin was sitting cross-legged on his bed,
reciting prayers from his books.
went on, he and his wife hung more and more colorful "thankas,"
Tibetan Buddhist banners, on the walls. The room was fast becoming a
beautiful, religious shrine.
When the spring came, I asked Tenzin what Tibetans do when they are ill in
the spring. He smiled brightly and said, "We sit downwind from
flowers." I thought he must be speaking poetically. But Tenzin's words
were quite literal. He told me Tibetans sit downwind so they can be dusted
with the new blossoms' pollen that floats on the spring breeze. They feel
this new pollen is strong medicine.
At first, finding enough blossoms seemed a bit daunting. Then, one of my
friends suggested that Tenzin visit some of the local flower nurseries.
the manager of one of the nurseries and explained the situation. The
manager's initial response was: "You want to do what?" But when I
explained the request, the manager agreed.
So, the next weekend, I picked up Tenzin and his wife with their provisions
for the afternoon: black tea, butter, salt, cups, cookies, prayer beads and
prayer books. I dropped them off at the nursery and assured them I would
return at 5:00.
following weekend, Tenzin and his wife visited another nursery. The third
weekend, they went to yet another nursery. The fourth week, I began to get
calls from the nurseries inviting Tenzin and his wife to come again.
One of the managers said, "We've got a new shipment of nicotiana coming
in and some wonderful fuchsias and oh, yes! Some great daphne. I know they
would love the scent of that daphne! And I almost forgot! We have some new
lawn furniture that Tenzin and his wife might enjoy."
Later that day, I got a call from the second nursery saying that they had
colorful wind socks that would help Tenzin predict where the wind was
blowing. Pretty soon, the nurseries were competing for Tenzin's visits.
People began to know and care about the Tibetan couple. The nursery
employees started setting out the lawn furniture in the direction of the
wind. Others would bring out fresh hot water for their tea. Some of the
regular customers would leave their wagons of flowers near the two of them.
It seemed that a community was growing around Tenzin and his wife.
At the end of the summer, Tenzin returned to his doctor for another CT scan
to determine the extent of the spread of the cancer. But the doctor could
find no evidence of cancer at all. He was dumbfounded. He told Tenzin that
he just couldn't explain it.
Tenzin lifted his finger and said, "I know why the cancer has gone
away. It could no longer live in a body that is filled with love. When I
began to feel all the compassion from the hospice people, from the nursery
employees, and all those people who wanted to know about me, I started to
change inside. Now, I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to heal in
this way. Doctor, please don't think that your medicine is the only cure.
Sometimes compassion can cure cancer, as well."
By Lee Paton
Reprinted by permission of Lee Paton (c) 2000, from Chicken Soup for the
Gardener's Soul by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Marion Owen, Cindy
Buck, Cynthia Brian, Pat Stone and Carol Strugulewski.