A ping on my phone one evening some years ago, alerts me to a message from Judy Starritt. She’s found this blog and read the first teaser chapter of Thursdays With Harold. She asks for more.
Judy has ALS , is paralyzed and has lost her power of speech. She still has marginal use of her hands, however, and can read and type on her Ipad. She’s a hawk for typos. The teacher in her connects with the teacher in me. We become fast friends and communicate daily via Facebook messenger. Her joy and determined vitality are infectious. She’s intrigued by Harold, the main character in the book, who is also an ALS patient.
I email her six chapters at a time.
Judy comments –
I finished your book about 3 hours ago. Would you like to know my thoughts about it?
This book is TOO good to be tucked away. THIS IS A BOOK THAT SHOULD BE READ. A book club and discussion sort of book. A PERFECT book club book that would lead into wonderful discussions. A book that stays with you.
Is this book at a publishers?
It is time for it to come out of the closet … or drawer… or hard drive. How can I help with miracles? This SO needs to be published.
There is such an awareness about ALS now. I could be in charge of East Coast publicity. I have learned that anything is possible.
Judy passes on some weeks later. I’ve never met her in person, this woman who’s become such a dear and intimate friend. I fly out to eastern Canada to attend her funeral in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia.
The dream she’s rekindled refuses to die. Anything is possible, she said …
But I need a cover design.
I reach out to Avril Borthiry, a talented Canadian writer of medieval romances. We got acquainted on Fanstory.com when she was creating her fascinating novel, Triskelion.
“Who does your covers?” I asked.
“I do my own,” Av said. “I could design yours!”
It’s lovely when artists are generous with one another.
Avril produced a cover that read my heart. She pushed me to persevere. She sent me tips and links, made suggestions and critiqued.
“I loved Harold. It’s a story that must be told,” she said.
And so, the dream came true.
Thursdays With Harold is available on Kindle and in paperback on Amazon –
Harold Stedman, a quirky sixty-something suburban lawyer with a crooked smile and zany sense of humour, is retained by Fiona to represent her in a bizarre case of copyright theft and wrongful dismissal.
Shortly into the legal proceedings Harold is diagnosed with ALS. Within months he’s lost his power of speech, but he’s determined to see the case through.
Fiona makes weekly visits to Harold’s office as attorney and client make a united effort to laugh their way through the harrowing circumstances
Lorraine, Harold’s wife – a strong, stylish professional – and Fiona become friends as time ticks by and the case drags on. Then Lorraine Stedman turns nasty. Very nasty.
There’s a trial looming and finances are depleted. An ugly cloud hangs over Fiona. Will there be a way out?
Charged with pathos and fun, unexpected twists and convolutions, this is the compelling story of an unlikely friendship, misplaced trust and the mad scramble to wind up an ill-fated lawsuit.
Come on in and visit with Fiona on Thursdays with Harold …
Thank you, Judy Starritt, for believing in this novel. I’ve dedicated it to your memory. You came out of nowhere, reached out through cyberspace and helped me believe the dream was worth pursuing.
Thank you, Avril Borthiry for sharing your time, talent and expertise, and for convincing me to see this project through. Without the crucial, final detail of an eye-catching cover Harold would never have hit the public forum.
Remember how your mum would tell you not to judge a book by its cover? Not true in this demanding digital age! The cover counts big time. It’s the reader’s first exposure to the author’s work — to tempt or to turn away.
So this dream’s done and dusted off. And now, there’s a brand new one simmering on my mind!
Life changed with the grisly demise of her husband, Vethanayagam Subramaniam Samuel. In ways Mary Chellamma never imagined. The breadwinner struck down in his prime, she was left alone to raise month-old twins amongst six young children. There was neither time, nor expertise to tend the land which was the family’s only source of income.
Mary turned in desperation to her brother-in-law, her husband’s brother, who cultivated rice and raised cattle on the adjoining property. He agreed to take on the management of her farm. Mary was relieved to be rid of the burden.
Blood is thicker than water, after all, and they were neighbours …
Harriet (Theivanei) Danvers – Mary’s mother, the children’s maternal grandmother – a widow herself, lived in her own home, a stone’s throw away. This pious woman was a bottomless reservoir of strength.
The late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries saw evangelical activity at its height in northern Ceylon. The numerous schools and hospitals in the region bore witness to the presence and commitment of the American and British missionaries. Mary Chellammah, a young woman still, found employment with the CMS Missionaries in the area, who offered her a position as nurse’s aide at the local missions hospital.
Disaster struck again. Neighbour-brother-in-law turned perfidious predator and assumed ownership of the widow’s property. By unscrupulous means he had changes were made to the the title deeds and the cattle were re-branded accordingly.
Grandma Harriet – Paatti to the little ones – was a woman of prayer and unshakeable faith. She was known to sit in her house for hours by herself, lost in prayer. Her hands one upon the other, palms facing heavenwards, she pleaded with tears for heaven’s favour.
Subramaniam Vethanayagam (S.V.) Chelliah, her oldest grandson, looked in through an open window one day, and heard the old lady praying out loud in Tamil: “Heavenly Father, what am I to do about these children? Open the windows of heaven and bless them, I pray.” (“Aandavaney, intha sinna kulanthaihalodu naan enne seivan? Vaananthin palahanhelai thiranthu intha chiruvarhalai aasirwathiyum.”)
Irreverently tickled by the pious woman’s fervour, Chelliah summoned his brothers and sisters to witness the peep-show. The amused youngsters gawked at their grandmother while she made her petition to the unseen Almighty.
“Look at how her hands are open and reaching upwards,” he snorted with laughter. “She’s waiting for heaven to open and blessings to fall into them.”
The yield from the land continued to be purloined by the greedy uncle. Mary and her little ones lived in a home, which, according to the doctored deeds, was theirs no more.
Life was a struggle.
The stuff that ugly fairy tales are made of …
When the twins – Solomon and Anna – were six years old, Mary Chellammah took ill and was confined to her bed. Grandma Harriet, who carried on as best she could, was out of earshot when young Chelliah complained, “The food is not good (chaapadu chari illai).”
“Be patient, my son,” his ailing mother urged. “I’ll be up and about to cook tasty meals for my children (porungo rasa, naan elumbitu wanthu, nalai chamaichchu kudukiren pillaihalukku)”
Mary was unable to keep her promise. Fate struck another foul blow when she succumbed to her illness and died a short while later. The six fatherless offspring of Vethanayagam Subramaniam Samuel were now orphans.
Grandma Harriet was left to raise the children on her own.
The children became unofficial wards of the Anglican Church.
Elizabeth Thangamma, who showed no particular interest in academic learning, was constrained to give up her schooling in order to remain at home and help cook and care for her siblings.
The boys were fostered out to benevolent families in Jaffna, sixty miles north of Vavuniya. The providential intervention of the church enabled them to continue their education at the reputed CMS Missions boys’ school, St. John’s College , Chundikuli (Jaffna).
On Shadrack Chinniah’s twelfth birthday he received a letter from his grandmother (who remained in Vavuniya with his sisters), mailed to his new address in Jaffna. The single sheet of notepaper was laced with weighty words of blessing written in the Tamil language.
Granny wrote: May you, little one, go from strength to strength, and become a millionaire (Chinnavan aigiramum siriyavan palaththa seemanum aavaan).
This birthday proved to be a milestone marking the end of Shadrach’s formal schooling. He bade farewell to Saint John’s College where he learned to read, write and speak with the polish and ability of a highly educated individual. His dreams lay beyond the confines of the arid northern province, far away in the colonial metropolis of Colombo.
The landscape shifted from dusty-dry to lush-verdant as the tracks snaked inland and the train rattled on its way, two hundred miles down to the capital city in the south of Ceylon.
In his shirt pocket, pressed to his heart, was the precious birthday letter.
The memory of his mother grazed his thoughts. The grim ghost of his uncle’s unthinkable actions haunted these quiet moments.
Shadrach pressed his face to the train window. Coconut-thatch huts and green fields flew by.
The new life beckoned. World War I was still to come
“I suck at this,” she wailed. ” I’ll never get it. I’m going to fail. Why even bother to try?”
Some people take to certain things like ducks to water. Others not so much.
All five fingers are not the same, Mum used to say…
I watched as she struggled to accomplish her task, heaping negativity on her hapless head. Her words settled like corrosive dead-weights in my spirit.
“Don’t say such things,” I uttered. “Words are powerful. They stick and become self-fulfilling.”
If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say it, Mum would say …
“That’s what you always say.” She sounded irritated. “So what? It’s just words.”
No. Not just words …
Proverbs 18:21 Life and death are in the power of the tongue …
I began to see a vivid picture in my mind. Two seedlings in glass containers, one full of acid and the other rainwater.
“If you were a plant,” I said, “And words were the medium you were growing in, if kind, positive words were rain water and negative, condemning words were acid – which one would you thrive in?”
She grew silent.
“If you wake up every morning and hear someone tell you how ugly, rotten and dumb you are, that you’ll never go far or succeed, can you imagine the toxicity you’ll imbibe? At some point you’ll come to believe what you hear. Your spirit receives what your ear hears until it becomes a part of who you are.
I plodded on. “On the other hand, if someone tells you daily that you are beautiful, smart, talented and capable of achieving anything you set your mind to … imagine the pure rainwater seeping in nourish your spirit.”
Point made. Her exasperation remained, but the dark words ceased.
For the moment.Oh, to always be able to see the gorgeous pink sunset behind and that dark, dark cloud…
Some weeks back, I stepped into the mall and understood — all over again — the power of words. I’d recently begun to experience occasional darts of doubt . Amazingly, that mellow evening, it seemed like my steps led me from store to store and brought pause at unexpected spots where wonderful words leapt out to cheer me on –
I couldn’t have contrived the inspiration, if I’d tried. My spirits rose and began to soar.
But that wasn’t all …
On my way home, there was an impelling to stop at a supermarket I don’t often visit. I paid for two bags of soil I didn’t urgently require and headed out. A man hurried up from behind and bent over my cart.
“Those look heavy,” he said pleasantly.
I smiled, “They are.”
“I need some for my garden,” the stranger added, “but that’s why I didn’t get any today!”
He straightened up and I became instantly aware of the words on the back of his T-shirt –
I gotta believe …
Caught my breath on a gasp.
Gotta get a picture!
Hurried into the parking lot and chased the gentleman down.
Me (to man): I know this sounds silly, but do you believe in signs?
Man (looking startled): I do.
Me: Would you mind if I took a picture of the words on the back of your T-shirt? I needed to see them. They were my sign today.
Man turned around and obligingly posed.
Man: So what are your plans for the summer?
Me: I don’t know. I have so many dreams and they were beginning to die. That’s why I needed those words. Thank you!
Man: I really need to get some of that soil, you know.
Me: So go get some. Maybe I am your sign for today!
My heart sang all the twilit way back home.
The final clincher came a week later, at the dentist’s office.
I became acutely aware – the moment I stepped in – of the single word tattooed on the neck of the girl manning the phones. She had her back to me –
Point taken — signed, sealed and delivered!
I’d have to be really dense not to get it by now …
Life is full of appointments – to be kept or missed as one chooses – delicate deviations from the daily script. Sometimes showing up in the form of inner impelling, an inaudible whisper, they urge one to reach for the moment and grab it by the horns, before it dissolves and vanishes un-met, unrecognized.
Gotta grab that camera before the light moves on …
Rainbows on the ceiling won’t linger long , nor shadows on the carpet …
So one halts to act. Because such moments will not be put on hold. Because the tide of micro-events ebbs and swells, leaving behind the joy of happy happen-stance embraced or the tragedy of serendipity unrealized.
The timing of such things is fragile, precise and never a coincidence.
NEVER a coincidence …
I had a nagging urge one busy afternoon, to check my Facebook page.
I’m not one of those Feverish Frenzied Facebook Fiends … honest!
The screen on my phone opened up at a video clip on Cousin Preman’s page.
Jaunty young men with beards and bright turbans leap and prance, holding hands with a delighted woman.
A birthday Bhangra serenade!
The woman in the motorized wheelchair beside herself with glee, claps her hands and beams.
Her eager, electrifying enthusiasm smacked me in the face.
You have made such a difference in my life this afternoon (I read). Your reply to Preman started it all. I SO want to connect with you. I SO want to find out about the next Thursday. Having gone through cancer yourself, you know the deep JOY of living .
Curious, I leapt into her Facebook page.
The intro read –
I am a joyous person LIVING with ALS with my loving husband, Cameron, always at my side.
I gotpunched in the guts. I’ve lost two good friends to this brute, a cruel, merciless, relentless ogre that steals and destroys –
Drum roll … Ladeez a..a..nd gentlemen, presenting the one, the only …
– Cameron Amos Starritt
Many hats Judy wears. She sparkles, she shines. She’s extraordinary.
A wheelchair won’t vanquish her spirit –
Disease daren’t define her.
Judy: “I have discovered I haven’t changed, just my body has changed. I am more intensely aware of both the changes in my body and the JOY that surrounds me …”
Shortly after her diagnosis in 2014, ALS awareness (literally) deluged public awareness in the form of the Ice Bucket Challenge.
Judy: “It was as if ALS suddenly came out of the closet!”
Her firefighter son took on the challenge with gusto –
Click here to watch Judy at Andrew’s side in the Hot Firefighter Ice Bucket Challenge …
– as his mother prepared herself to face the inevitable new normal.
Judy: “I made up a motto for myself and shared it with others … ‘I have faith and hope, I am optimistic and I will find joy every day.’”
I so identify with Judy’s resolve. When late-diagnosis breast cancer crashed-landed on me in the summer of 2008, I determined to live each day with joy. However many – or few – of them remained.
Me to self: “I won’t waste a single moment of my cancer!”
Judy won’t waste her ALS.
Kindred spirits or what?
Judy: “I looked for joy – unexpected happiness – and began to find it in the most unexpected places.”
Judy: “At first I would recite this over and over in my head. Now I just accept it because I HAVE found JOY and mentioned it is nearer than you think.”
Some snippets from e-mail newsletters to family and friends –
“If you are wondering, I did find JOY every day! I don’t want to sound superhuman … I DO have dark moments about the future at times, but by keeping myself busy and surrounding myself with positive people that love me and knowing I have so many people out there, caring and praying for me, this journey is SO much easier.”
“Every day became a special one. I have so many reasons to smile.”
Like them wild chicken stockin’s and a brand new volunteer-constructed ramp …
“As I started out my journey with ALS, I made up a motto that I wanted to represent what I have, what I am and what I want. As many of you know, I composed the following –
I have hope and faith
I am optimistic
I will find JOY every day.
“Just had to look out the back windows to find my joy. I told you once that JOY is nearer than you think!!”
“I will participate in the ALS walkathon.”
Since she made that last statement above, Judy has inspired three ALS Walk Strong teams to join Halifax and Virtual Walks!
Judy Starritt is probably the unofficial poster girl of the ALS Society of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia (www.alsnbns.ca).
Her story is on their blog.
Click here to read about Judy’s journey: ALS In The Words Of Judy Starrit …
I contacted Kimberly Carter at the the ALS Society for permission to use information from their website
Me to Kimberly: Any friend of Judy is a friend of mine.
Kim’s reply: I’m the same way, any friend of Judy’s is a friend of mine. I just love her half to pieces.
Yes, there’s certainly something about Judy …
It’s ALS Walkathon time of year again on June 10, 2017.
MAY the 4TH be with you and me and the ALS Walkathons across Canada. Today is my official starting date to promote my own team. It is called “Judy’s Joys” and Cameron and I and many more family and friends are going to walk beside me.
It is on June 10th at DeWolfe Park in Bedford. Registration is at 11 o’clock and the walk is at 12 o’clock.
To join my team, go to www.alswalkstrong.ca
I made a donation (of course) and wrote on my page –
Wish I could walk alongside you, Judy Starritt. Brave, beautiful, joyful, you inspire me … Rooting for you in memory of two close friends I’ve lost. Keep sparkling, keep being you. You go, girl … GO!
Join me in supporting ALS WalkStrong 2017. Click here to donate/ support Judy’s team. She calls them Judy’s Joys …
Mum often said when I was a girl, “Laugh and the world laughs with you. Weep and you weep alone.”
Phrased more simply: “Who wants to be around a miserable grouch?”
Or in Judy’s words (quoting from a newletter update to her circle) –
Find YOUR joy!
You’ll find this picture in her Facebook photo gallery –
So her home is her haven, not a jail. She made that choice.
Life is her adventure. It’s not unfair. She made that choice too.
It helps immensely, of course, to have a wonderful man at your side.
Judy: Thank God for big men!
Judy: Eggs come in different shapes and sizes, but they’re all the same inside. Just like people.
Some eggs, like some people, have stronger shells strengthened not because of, but despite the circumstances …
Judy wrote on her Facebook page some months back –
Since my video went viral, many new and exciting things have happened to me. I tried to read every comment and some just stood out. Selina’s was one of of the them. I replied and a special friendship has developed. Is it serendipity??? Who knows? Who cares?? I delight in her words and she has opened my mind and heart to newer things.
As she has opened my heart …
Words are powerful. Weapons of destruction or tools of hope. It all depends on how one chooses to wield them.
To bless or to curse …
Judy: “I will pray that in my lifetime, ALS will become treatable, not terminal …”
Oh, me too! Me too …
Believers in dreams, you and I, Judy. With faith, we’ll make them all come true.
1 Corinthians 13:12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood …
Through the looking glass in my garden nooks …
Judy Starrit has found her Promised Land — that place within the heart, nestled deep inside the human spirit.
A believing heart, a humbly yielded spirit …
Codeword: JOY …
So thankful for Judy’s joy. Infectious, unforgettable lady.
To help increase ALS awareness and support Judy’s Joys at the Walkathon, please share this post. (Scroll down and click on one of the share buttons below). Let’s see how far Judy and her cause can travel. Thank you.
– three hundred and sixty five days untrodden, all gift-wrapped.
Reams of resolutions. High hopes in spite of/ because of …
Then comes …
Evening news. Burning building collapses.
Shades of 9/11 …
Pick up phone to text Neighbour–
Me: (tap, tappity-tap) Hope your family wasn’t near the building that came down in Tehran.
Neighbour (texts): Thank God, none of my family members was in that area. I knew this building very well since my father used to have an office there when I was little. My mother was working, so he would take me to his office after school. It’s all so sad.
Me: (Tap, tap): Thank God. Sad, yes.
Avalanche in Italy buries ski resort. More earthquakes. Tsunami warning. Shooting in Texas mall.
Never ends. So what’s changed?
Nothing, it seems, but …
Must keep looking upward, focus outward, embrace light.
– Must speak LIFE.
Proverbs 18: 21 Death and life are in the power of the tongue …
Daughters’ Christmas present hangs by writing desk. Speaks loud and clear to Heart. Heart leaps for joy –
One-woman musical. A bittersweet, poignant, sometimes irreverent look into life as she’s lived it. Script, lyrics and acting by Sharyn Stone, storyteller par excellence, poet, playwright.
She sang and played for me from the show’s musical score, over the phone last month, just before Christmas.
Almost picked up my feet and danced.
Had the privilege of reading an early draft.
Sparks of brilliance. Definitely going places.
Felt it in my bones …
This is Sharyn with her adorable sidekick, Joyce Romero (82 years young) and the comment accompanying the email she sent along with the picture –
and you thought leaf blowers were for the GARDEN??? Think AGAIN TWINNIE!
Aloha, Sweet Things!
A peep into the final scene of Old Girls (with permission, copyright Sharyn Stone):
STORYTELLER/SHARYN: What’s that old guy looking at? (Speaking to “old guy”) Yes? Do you need the machine
MIME/MALE GYM MEMBER, OLD: No, no thank you. It’s just that … well … I’ve been watching you for months now. You’re beautiful. And I just want to say how great it is to see Old Girls like you … Oops – that didn’t come out right
STORYTELLER/ SHARYN: Oh, ya think?
MIME/MALE GYM MEMBER, OLD: Old girls … like you … looking … Hot! And I don’t mean … sweaty. You are seriously … HOT. On the INSIDE. I mean …
YOUTH IS A STATE OF MIND.
I agree. One hundred percent.
Thrilled for you.
Your name in lights …
So here’s to all the dreamers who DARE to dream –
Thankful for the ability to keep dreaming in spite of naysayers, sneering sceptics. Despite what life’s flung my way –