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  • On January 20th, 2009, Barack Obama was sworn in as the 44th president of the United States. I would have loved to watch it, but I was busy fighting for my life.

    I received a triple bypass that day. Given the sad state of my arteries, it was miraculous that I hadn’t dropped dead long before. I remember waking up in the Intensive Care Unit, swimming in and out of morphine-induced sleep. I followed the advice of a wise friend who’d taught me to accept rather than resist pain. I kept having a vision: I was crawling on my hands and knees through the woods. In the far distance I could hear the sound of human voices. Every time the vision resumed I was closer to the disembodied voices. After two days of determined crawling, I reached a clearing. My family and my dearest friends were sitting around a campfire and welcomed me joyously. At that moment on January 22nd I knew I would live. I still celebrate it as my rebirthday.

    Five days after I was released from the hospital, I felt anything but right. Every time I breathed in or out I heard a distinct crackling sound. I went to the emergency room and X-rays revealed that the sutures holding my breastbone together were coming apart. So I had a second operation and a second reminder that intense boredom and exquisite pain can co-exist just fine.

    I recuperated at home and, except for journeys measured in a few steps, did my best imitation of a still life for five weeks. There was nothing much to do but watch “Law & Order” re-runs and think. And wonder. And think again.

    Why had I been granted a second chance? What was I meant to do now, a child of 64 summers? I’m old enough to know that I cannot change the entire world but I can change myself, and that, in turn, can activate the Butterfly Effect. If ever a time called out for reinvention, this was it. I changed.

    I’m speaking to you now from the bottom of my new and improved heart, Cowbird readers. No flowery phrases, slick wordplay or murky analogies. I’ve been given back the gift of life and I intend to pay it forward.

    How? I don’t have a vast fortune to donate to the charitable causes I admire. I don’t command armies or boast my own influential news network. I’m a writer, no more, no less. These are the three gifts I have to offer you:

    1. Words. Let my prose and scripts always reflect my higher self. May I use them to heal, not to inflict wounds or pain. May I share beauty where I can find it and hope where I can’t.

    2. Passion. “Indifference” no longer exists in my vocabulary. I buried fear and doubt, too. I have no idea how much time is left to me, but I hope we will be together a long, long time. If my passion can somehow brighten your day or make you see something in a new or different way or want to howl with me at the moon, so be it. I place it at your disposal.

    3. Gratitude. I’ve always loved life but never more than I do now. I’ve told some of you privately but I’m shouting it out now to anyone reading this: thank you! Thank you for the chance to put into words what has long been in my heart. Thanks for letting me risk making a fool of myself. Thank you for the wonderful, beautiful, funny, heartbreaking, enchanting and wild stories you put out into the world.

    My fortunate heart is full.

    (Image of heart monitor from the University of Sussex)
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