I am a selfish reader, often searching for ways to connect what authors write about with my own life. Through Joel ben Izzy's exploration of his experience with thyroid cancer and losing his way for expression, I found ancient stories overlapping with personal truths and moments of celebrating the secrets of sweet silence.
I came to know of this author through an interview on NPR. Joel ben Izzy was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in the mid-90's. Soon after surgery, he completely lost his ability to speak. Without a voice, he had no way to continue with his storytelling profession as well as his way of living. It is important to note ben Izzy's intentional threading of ancient stories from many different cultures with ben Izzy's own story of dying and living. At first the stories interfered with my reading process but as time went on, I found myself seeking the stories of the ages, hoping the author would unearth light within his own silent life journey through these masterful tales. Of course, ben Izzy finds his way to informed living and through his enforced silence, he discovers the "secret of happiness."
While I enjoyed many parts of this biography, I found myself most drawn to ben Izzy's time in his mother's hospital room as she moves closer to the end of her life. My father's life has been dramatically reduced by Alzheimer's disease, and I am keenly aware of what he can no longer share with me: history. His story is literally lost now, and when I talk with him, I often notice my own wistful desire to again hear one of his stories from his life. While immersing myself in ben Izzy's story, I was reminded of ways to listen to the stories around me now as I maneuver the trials of life and death.
I will continue to listen to my father as I listened into the wisdom written in The Beggar King and The Secret of Happiness. Near the end of the book, ben Izzy explores the thought of how things happen for a reason. He finally shares his own belief: "...sometimes the reason comes only after they happen. It is not a reason we find, but one we carve, sculpted from our own pain and loss, bound together with love and compassion. As hard as we may search, we can only see it when we stop to wonder, looking back to see where we've been and what we've learned." (page 211) ben Izzy found his own way to tell stories through loss and listening.
Gotta run and talk to my dad. Uh, I mean listen. And my mom too. And.....