Last month, one of six of our beautiful, adult children was diagnosed with low-grade polymorphic adenocarcinoma of the lesser salivary gland of the palate. This is a child I have loved unconditionally since her birth. This is a child who, when she was six-years-old came home one day after school to find me crying and said, with her arm wrapped around me best she could: “Mommy. Please. Tell me what’s wrong. You know how I always tell you what’s wrong when I’m crying, and then I feel better.”

This is a child who, in her teens, asked me whether or not I thought she had been my mother in another life, when years before I had written a poem exploring just that notion. This is the child who, when she revealed to me, face-to-face, the diagnosis she’d been given regarding the cancer in her mouth, I wanted to cradle-and be cradled by-forever, for surely nothing could break us down while we pressed each other close. Now, this is the child whose tests test me, as well as the understanding that has been growing in me-at first unbeknownst but now known-all the years of my life: an understanding so strong that it has become a living vision and the touchstone against which I measure all my choices and deepest longings.

The vision is an all-embracing one, a world of boundless family wherein any child is my child, any old one, my parent, any stray or wounded creature, mine to help or bless-no matter how comely or how off-putting.

Walls drop, becoming bridges. We care for and are cared for at every turn. Our concern for another’s land, another’s country, becomes no less vital than our concern for our own. Visiting our beloveds in the hospital, seeing them pale in their beds-we open to the person in the next bed-pale, too, frightened, and perhaps fundamentally alone.

I am concerned for my daughter, whom I love “bigger than a bread box.” “Bigger than a mountain,” I tell her, and that’s only the seed of all I feel for her. Yet I trust that any worry or pain she is, or may be, facing will not strike me so deep as to constrict me. I pray that my concern for my daughter will open me to others’ daughters, mothers, sisters who are ill, and also adored.

Neither I, nor my family, need enjoy perfect health-or unruffled days-to find the heart and time to care for those we don’t yet know whom we might meet. (The phrase “perfect stranger” comes to mind.) Compassion demands only a huge and raw and open heart, not ordered circumstances-as well as eyes that deeply see. Having these, it nourishes in all directions and, within our dear circle I’m certain, will likely be a saving grace.

“Say I am you,” said the poet Rumi, and what else makes better sense?

In these times especially, our colossal, throbbing hearts can do for our wellbeing what a hard run is meant to: “careobics”, not aerobics, the state-of-the-(he)art practice. Our greatest respite and finest wholeness well might bloom in proportion to our ability to love gladly-radiantly-without end.

Maggie Davis


  • Maggie Davis is an author, publisher and volunteer community caregiver living in East Blue Hill, Maine. In 1993, after being published in New York and elsewhere for nearly two decades, she created Heartsong Books to move her books into the world in person-to-person ways that reflected the all-embracing vision expressed on their pages.

    Maggie Steincrohn Davis is co-founder of Neighborcare-a joyful band of volunteers offering free-of-charge, health-related assistance in thirteen towns and beyond since 1995. Read The Neighborcare Story here at the Empowering Caregivers Site.