"What we call ‘normal’ in psychology is really a psychopathology of the average, so undramatic and so widely spread that we don't even notice it." — Abraham Maslow
I call it the "Abnormalcy Advantage.”
"I see the balloons!" screamed little Patsy. "I see the balloons! They're blowing them all up right there for the parade. But that little balloon won't stay up. It just can't hold air. It can't keep the air inside it. It must feel like me."
Patsy was a miracle maker. She was only eight years old but she had wisdom that many don't have even after decades of living. Her favorite statement was, "That's just the way." All of her games followed the rules of "the way." She was undergoing a bone marrow transplant as treatment for her leukemia. She was in the hospital room next to mine, and on this Thanksgiving morning, her screams were of excitement and not from the pain of the needles that usually began our mornings.
Patsy often sat with the nurses at their station. They needed her to boost their courage on one of the most stress-inducing units of any hospital. The entire floor was sealed off from the rest of the hospital and had its own air circulation to save us patients from contracting infections. Our immunity was down to zero because of chemotherapy and radiation, and our blood counts would have signaled death under normal circumstances. A common cold could have killed dozens of us within days. Masks, gowns, and sterile gloves were worn by everyone, including the limited number of visitors, who always seemed so afraid when they came to see us. Once on this unit, we patients seldom felt the touch of another person's skin against our own. There were many "almost hugs" that stopped short of contact for fear of contamination. We learned to signal our hugging by wrapping our arms around ourselves while our loved ones hugged themselves.
All of us were on the verge of death. Almost half of us would die. Most of us would be exposed to more radiation than the workers in the nuclear accident in Chernobyl. In fact, lessons learned from treating the victims of nuclear accidents were applied to the treatment of bone marrow transplant patients.
We were all in terrible pain, constantly vomiting and losing control of our bowels at the same time. We were sick with repeated infections, and festering oral sores from the chemotherapy grew so large that they almost sealed off our mouths and made swallowing nearly impossible. We were all losing weight and had to be fed through our veins because radiation treatments had burned our appetites away. We ached where needles had drilled into our bones to withdraw marrow samples. I have never known such pain as the sensation of my own marrow being sucked from deep within me.
A bone marrow transplant typically requires about two months of hospitalization in almost total isolation. Prior to this time, the most rigorous tests are conducted and, ironically, the candidates for a transplant must be in "good health" even though they are dying. A "donor transplant" is a process through which the patient receives bone marrow provided by someone who perfectly matches the patient's own. An autologous transplant, as in my case, requires the removal of the patient's own marrow from the hip and pelvic bones, sometimes "purging" or treating it with intense chemotherapy, and then placing the marrow back inside the body after the patient has had days of near-lethal whole-body radiation and/or chemotherapy. Including the diagnosis, evaluation, numerous tests, chemotherapy and radiation therapy transfusions, and lengthy recuperation during which the immunity of the patient is so low that every cough and sneeze causes a fear of death, the patient and his or her family surrenders any semblance of a normal life for about two years.
All of us looked like walking ghosts. "I have an idea for a new diet," said Patsy one morning when we all were getting weighed. "Everyone who wants to look skinny can come here to get chemicals and rays. Then they will look like us. They could go on our cancer diet."
We could hear each other retching during the night and crying all day, but Patsy would cry only for a little while. Then she would hop onto her metal stand, which held the IV bags and tubes that always dangled beside each of us. Each stand was hung with several different colored bags that ballooned out in fullness with toxic chemicals designed to burn away any growing cell in our body, the latest drugs to treat the many infections we all contracted, and nutrients to keep us alive while we were unable to eat and digest food. The chemotherapy medications were equal-opportunity killers. They attacked any fast-growing cell in the body whether or not that cell was a normal hair or stomach-lining cell or a killer cancer cell. The contents stung and destroyed our veins so completely that the multiple daily blood tests we received had to be taken from a plastic catheter surgically implanted in our chests.
In the middle of the night, the nurses would come to pop out the heparin seals that served as chemical corks to hold back the blood in our chest tubes. The blood would spurt out, sometimes soaking the patient, the nurse, and the bed. Hundreds of blood tests were necessary to determine when transfusions would be needed to save our lives. We sometimes tried to pretend we were not awake when the blood was taken, but the smell of heparin and our own blood would nauseate us. We patients called this catheter the "Dracula Drain," but our feeble attempt at humor could not mask our terror.
When we were given platelets to increase our blood count, we would feel freezing cold. I shook so hard that I still have soreness in my joints and muscles. A sudden fever would result, followed by tremors, headache, and nausea. All of this was overwhelming for a grown man, but Patsy weathered each torturing procedure with humor and strength. Her presence permeated the entire unit.
Patsy loved to ride her IV stand, crouched so low that the nurses saw only what seemed to be an unguided stand moving past their high counter. Patsy sneaked by the nurses' station and rode what she called her Christmas tree IV stand every day, and we all laughed at this daily joke. She would often drag along dolls in her parade and demanded that patients who were out for a wobbly walk join her. We had to keep in line, because that was Patsy's way. The nurses and doctors came to rely on Patsy's procession as a boost to their morale and energy, and we patients came to see her parade as a form of protest against the overwhelming urge to give up.
Now, however, Patsy was losing her physical battle. The transplant had taken just too much from her, and although she had pulled through countless crises that should have killed her, this time she would not survive. A virus so small and so weak that almost any person would never be bothered by it eventually would take advantage of Patsy's lowered immunity and kill her. First, there would be a slight fever and then, within hours, Patsy would be gone. Still, she continued to humble all of us with her strength and the making of her miracles.
On this Thanksgiving morning just before the crisis that all of us feared could happen to any of us at any time, her cries were of excitement about preparations for the Detroit Thanksgiving Day parade that were taking place (by coincidence) right underneath her window in the hospital courtyard. She hollered with glee at the big, multicolored balloons, and we all clustered to Patsy's room, dragging our own Christmas tree IVs. Like prisoners pressed up against the bars of our cell, we looked down on the impending holiday celebration.
"But that one little balloon can't hold air," said Patsy. She had been unusually pensive the last several days, and we all noticed that Patsy's parade was not taking place as regularly as it once did. She became somber now as she pressed her nose to the hospital window. We pretended we could not hear her murmur, "That's just the way."
Suddenly, the little balloon inflated and floated away from its handler and up into the sky. "There it goes," yelled Patsy. "It's going to heaven, but the parade is still going to go on, isn't it? There are lots of balloons and air is everywhere. That's the way it will be." With her words, the little balloon's journey seemed to be a meaningful coincidence for Patsy and for us all.
The Timelessness of Miracles
After my own bone marrow transplant, I almost died from suffocation. A simple virus not unlike the one that took Patsy's life attacked my lungs. As the nurses rushed me to surgery and I gasped for air, my nurse Carolyn said, "Remember Patsy and her parades. Think of your lungs as balloons and try to fill them up with air. Find the way." That's all she said, but it was all she had to say. She knew I needed Patsy's spirit then. I could barely breathe, but I relaxed as I felt comfort in Patsy's principle of "the way."
I survived what was supposed to be an "always fatal virus" to bone marrow transplant patients, and I began to breathe again. I had been given strength from Patsy. I knew her to be a miracle maker. I knew her spirit was still making miracles for all of us. Patsy had not survived her own illness, but miracles are not measured individually and in linear time. The measure of miracles is not living to an old age but of living life with the confidence that there is much more to life than just a local living. Miracles are not measured as successes but as celebrations of the strength and eternity of the human spirit.
The healing energy of Patsy's living provides clues for what it takes to be a miracle maker. Patsy's life must be measured in the depth and meaning she brought to it, not in the number of her years and birthdays. The science principles of nonlocality and nonlinearity are proven through the power, pervasiveness, and permanence of who Patsy always will be. Patsy lives forever in her enduring relationship with all of us. The temple of miracles is in our relationships and in our connectedness to others, not in our body or our skills. I will never see a balloon or a parade without feeling Patsy's power.
If we use long life, heroic survival, and the conquering of disease as the exclusive criteria of a miracle, we are trapped into believing that miracles "happen" only to a chosen few. We seem to think that if we are very lucky, very good, or try very hard, a miracle will happen "to" us and we will achieve victory over time, space, disease, and grief. But miracles are not payoffs for earned cosmic points. Miracles occur when we perceive life from the perspective of the cosmic laws or the "way it is" in the universe.
If we are impressed only by the misguided miracles of levitation or by dramatic stories of heroic patients conquering disease, we fail to see the simple miracles of a cloud moving at just the right time, a silver lunar rainbow, or the glory of a Christmas tree IV protest parade in support of healing. We can copy and learn from miracle makers such as Patsy. They know how to do everyday miracles.
Miracle makers like Patsy have found the way. As philosopher Sengtsan writes, "For the unified mind in accord with the Way all self-centered striving ceases."1 In other words, miracles have little to do with the survival of the self unless that self is all of us. Miracle makers are aware of their nonlocality, as when Patsy saw herself as one with the little balloon that escaped the confines of earth. They know that their chosen view of their world designs that world, as when Patsy made joyful parades in a place where funeral processions were more likely. They know of the principle of complementarity, as when Patsy saw our potential for marching in her parade even as we wobbled down the hospital hall. They know the hope that comes with the uncertainty of life, as Patsy seemed to know when she pensively looked out of her hospital window and said that the parade would always go on even though some balloons escaped. After more than 25 years of clinical work with my 17 miracle makers and after my own near-death experiences, I now knew that we don't have to go to gurus or channelers to find our role models for miracle making; we just have to look for people like Patsy.
An elitism of miracles has evolved in recent years. Popular and scientific writers alike describe the "heroic patient who conquers a fatal disease" and gurus who have uncommon insight and clearness of thought. There is talk of channelers, precognizers, fortune-tellers, and mystics who are able to see what the rest of us cannot.
My professional and personal experiences have taught me that although some people may indeed have developed their God-given capacity for uncommon consciousness, they are only professional spiritual athletes. The true gurus are common people who are able to cluster coincidences around them and give them meaning. They are free from the constraints of a local, time-limited view of the world, but they have not surrendered their rationality in achieving that freedom.
Miracle Making as a Common Human Trait
Author Joseph Priestley whose collection of coincidences I referred to earlier, writes, "There is nothing supernormal and miraculous about this larger temporal freedom of the dreaming self. It is not a privilege enjoyed by a few very strange and special people. It is a part of our common human lot."28
I have presented some characteristics of miracle makers. Each characteristic represents a choice you must make about your own laws of living before you will be able to claim your birthright as a miracle maker:
You must choose between being creative, open, and vulnerable to the unpredictable energy of spiritual growth or accepting the more predictable local life of the here and now.
You must choose between accepting transitional life crises as psychic toughening exercises and a necessary part of attending soul school here on earth or viewing the transitions and tragedies of daily living as punishment or as proof of the bumper sticker axiom that reads "Life stinks and then you die."
You must choose between pursuing your yearning for a spiritual life that connects you with everyone and everything and being teased by a sense that there is more to life than your local existence or immersing yourself in the more known quantities of local laws: immediate pain, periodic pleasure, and easy and quick closure when decisions and problems arise.
You must choose between a view of life that emphasizes simplicity: freedom from acquiring things, goods, and money, or an outlook on life that stresses doing and getting more and more until the things of your life become the focus of your living.
You must choose to utilize as a source of learning the energy released at times of personal decision and development, challenges, changes, and transitions of your life rather than adopt the view that things happen randomly to us and have little meaning other than as aggravations and threats to our survival and happiness.
Most of all, if you are to make your own miracles, you must choose to be a gambler. You must not be foolhardy or reckless, but you must be vigilant for those times when all of the cards are on the table and it is time, as the saying goes, "to know when to hold them, and know when to fold them." You might at first choose to hold and play your cards by taking small chances that follow your spiritual sense and playing when others would decide to leave the game or watch others play. You must choose to put yourself in the miracle position, opening the way for the coincidence clusters that fuel miracles.
Miracle makers have chosen to show a patience, forgiveness, generosity, truthfulness, and equanimity that I call "loving kindness." Every one of the 17 miracle-making patients whom I studied showed loving kindness in all that they did. This seemed to be the catalyst for the explosion of a meaningful miracle in their life.