More Than Meets the Eye, True Stories about Death, Dying, and Afterlife covers many aspects of the dying and grieving process and sheds light on euthanasia, suicide, near-death experience, and spirit visits after the passing of a loved one. ___________________________________________

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

What is CANSO?

by Elke Zilla

"The soul is healed by being with children." Fyodor Dostoevsky

Did you know that the CANSO SOCIETY is looking for members? And what is CANSO, you ask? We are two modest, yet enthusiastic and powerful ambassadors for healing who envision CANSO as “a spiritual foundation that ignites and offers great hope--through non-medical support--for people living with life-challenging illnesses and grief” (Elke Zilla). My partner, co-founder and president of The Canso Society is only five years old. We met at the Kingston Regional Cancer Centre on March 25th, at approximately 10:35 a.m.

It was my first visit to the Center and, so far, the day had lived up to its forecast: gloomy, frigid, dull, and, for me, angst ridden. I couldn’t find a parking place within 3 blocks of the centre. “Complimentary valet parking should be the first compassionate offering to any ‘still living’ being on this challenging journey,” I noted to myself, but alas, it was not to be. My entire reproductive system was in turmoil. Internally, I was a quaking wreck, yet outwardly, I, a drama teacher and performer well-schooled in strong entrances, presented as poised, balanced, primed, and prepared. From my perspective, any break in emotion might suggest to the waiting room audience some life threatening condition, thus setting the stage for a one-act play with the expected tragic outcome.

The audience could have cared less. Each was invested in his or her own circumstances, which, to my eyes, oozed despair and fragility. Even the plants drooped with fruitless, pathetic doom.
“This is not your story,” I reminded myself. “This is not you. This does not have to be you. This will never be you!!”

Buoyed and restored by positive affirmations, I approached the reception desk, once again projecting the admirable traits of self-confidence, self-assurance, and self-control that clearly indicated to any observer that I was completely and gloriously okay. Then, I saw my file. It was THICK. It had MY NAME on it, also MY NUMBER, MY LABEL, MY DIAGNOSIS…


Shaken, I walked back to my seat and waited, exhausted from my failed audition. I glanced discreetly around the waiting room to inspect the decrepit premises, an area where I very well might be tossing my cookies in the near future. No one noticed me. No one cared. I closed my eyes and prayed. One tear, en route to my knees, had liberated itself from the restraints of my eyelids. Then, I heard a voice.

“You got canso?”
I remained still, suggesting to the speaker that interrupting someone during prayer was ill-mannered. The same voice again, a young voice that perhaps would go away if ignored.
“You got canso?”

“You got canso?” I heard the voice, now loud, and opened my eyes to the presence of a tiny angel…a hell’s angel that is.

I had seen the little boy earlier on one of the parking levels. He was dressed identically to his Mom: camouflage army pants and shirts, Harley Davidson “headkerchiefs” sporting the scalp in that new and popular hip-hop fashion. They had been the recipients of my first judgment of the

“O.K…I understand that ‘Born To Be Wild’ is still a favorable theme for some of us, but a five year old bearing tattoos, reflecting the untamed, restless hallucinating spirit of the 6o’s? What happened to ‘Born to Be Child’?”

“You Got Canso?” This time Little Fonda was looking directly into my eyes. In the captivating rapture of that moment, I chose to surrender. Abandoning the superficial act and agonizing role-play, I answered him with as much conviction as a person trapped in the tender domain of denial and anxiety could muster.
Me: Canso… me? Maybe…I think so…I don’t know.
He: Why else would you be sitting here, waiting to go in there?
Me: Good point.
He: What were you saying to yourself?
Me: They’re called affirmations. They’re kind of like positive reminders you repeat to yourself to feel better.
He: Oh. Could that help my Mom? She’s really feels bad.
Me: It might. It could. Maybe. I think so. I don’t know. Perhaps.
He: What?
Me: Yes, it could help.
He: Craptastic! But maybe you should stop crying cuz it don’t look at all like it’s helping you so good!
(Laughter… Release…. Forgiven.)

And so, my first teacher: A Steppenwolf Mini-Me had offered a valuable first lesson: Acceptance. Acceptance in response to any diagnosis or circumstance calls for honest, direct and clear communication. First and foremost? Be honest with yourself. Be willing to really look at, confess, acknowledge, own up to, recognize and admit to the craptastic truth of what is.

The minutes that followed remain some of the most precious care- free minutes in my life. We told jokes, sang and danced some back-up to “Wild Thing.” And we played Canso ‘Knock Knock’ Games:

Who’s There?
Canso who?
Cansomeone tell me what to do about this Canso?

Canso my reservations… I’ve got Canso!

Who’s there?
Canso Society

Canso get you down?
Canso lose your hair?
Canso…make you sad?

I glanced at the little tyke’s Mom occasionally during this playtime. She looked at me with deep appreciation for the distraction offered to her little one. I felt such unfathomable compassion for her. She had moved from the nurse’s desk ashen and fatigued, her hollow frame beaten and weak, possibly the result of whatever treatment she was enduring. How amazing her attempt to create a theme of rebellion with her child, this little, energizing bunny, bursting with optimism and exuberance! My heart fell open as I noticed their identical tattoos, small hearts carving the outlines of Mommy on his arm and Charlie on hers.

“God,” I marvelled, “How can she be so present and available for her child in the midst of her own diminishing energy?” And I berated myself for my earlier thoughts, asking, “What kind of loser judges a display of such bonding, creativity, boldness and courage while careening through a parking lot?”

My name is called, and I give a final high five farewell to my new BFF. I express my heartfelt best wishes to Mom, and disappear in pursuit of the aid, who, while clasping my file, offers good natured comments about the state of the weather and the world. While taking my blood pressure, she launches a monologue that runs like a shock through my system:

“I see you met brave little Charlie…Charlotte Lilly…Isn’t she an amazingly sweet little tomboy? Only 6 years old! How sad for the family to have such a young child diagnosed with this rare cancer. (She gives it a name, some sort of leukemia, I don’t remember.) Isn’t she a tough little tyke? Promised her Daddy that she would handle it like a man. I think that’s why she wears the biker gear. You should have seen her before…beautiful long blonde hair…Her mom, Dianne (so sad) finds it unbearably tough. I don’t know how she keeps going! It’s so much more unfair when this happens to a child. Anyone’s child.”

I practically ran out of my preliminary examination eager to be reunited with Charlie and embrace her one more time. She was no longer there, but her energy lingered in the sunlight streaming through the room. The plants stood alert; protective gentle giants, glorious and shimmering. A lighthearted, optimism permeated the now lovely waiting area, and I felt deeply connected to each person sharing the space with me.

“Your story is also my story…I’m not separate from you…we are travelling together...searching for whatever means to heal us, to empower us… with whatever tools or teachers that life can provide for us.”

I humbly acknowledged that my vision had been clouded by the tainted lenses that reflected my anxieties, judgments, and terror of the very word, ‘Cancer’. I believed that everything and everyone in the room was weak, hopeless and sad. I believed I could fake my way through by being some sort of brilliant example to all. I believed that Charlie was a boy. I believed that it was Mommy who was ill. I believed that I was there to support her by entertaining her healthy, lively, child.

Craptastically, I was wrong on every level!

Lesson number two: We don’t see things as they are. We see things as we are. Then we see what we believe.

I now realize that the ways we perceive become the context in which all content arises, the basis for interpreting anything we experience and the stage on which the dramas of our life take place.

It took the tender love of a child to literally change my mind, to remove the veil of hard-rock illusions, and to rock and roll me into unwavering acceptance, honesty, clarity and joy. I never saw Charlie again, despite my enthusiastic efforts to trace her. Yet through her exuberant fearless presence, this small child invited me to a new and juicier perspective, one that holds hope, humour, optimism and a wildness of spirit as its highest virtues. May she continue to coast through life as the true embodiment of an Easy Rider.

The CANSO Society is founded in her honor.


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