Foreword by Rodney Smith
I have known Judy and Kim for many years. Kim was a meditation student and early member of our Seattle Insight Meditation board of directors. He and I taught a tailor-made class for teens interested in meditation. It was obvious that he was in his element, completely comfortable and relaxed with this age group, and I was awkwardly following his lead. We stayed connected in friendship through all the intervening years. I was also privileged to be one of several friends who formed a graduate advisory committee for Judy’s master’s program at Antioch College. Years later I officiated Kim and Judy’s marriage in our backyard. In 2007, Kim suffered a massive stroke that left him partially disabled until his death in 2011. As the title of this book suggests, this is the telling of a love story narrated around the most challenging set of circumstances imaginable.
Summoned by a Stroke is an alive and uplifting account of a deep and abiding affection that outward circumstances could not touch. Judy’s straightforward, honest style lays out the challenges she and her husband faced without sentimentality or resentment. This is a book of strength and fortitude, courage and trust. Grace fills these pages as we are ushered through episode after episode of situations that would have decimated anyone of lesser wisdom. As Judy states, “We’re living out the lives we’ve been given, best we can…We’re happy together, perhaps more than ever. We’re a strong team long as we focus on what we can do, not on what we can do no longer.” Later in the book, she writes, “Peace in our hearts. We’re happy and remain utterly grateful. How fortunate we are to be surrounded by so much care and to feel so meaningfully engaged in life!”
To say this book is inspiring is insufficient praise, for it is much deeper and life-validating in its breadth than any single word can encompass. It raises the bar of our own potential as we face our inevitable difficulties. In effect, this book says, This is what is possible, and then challenges us in our own responses. It shocks us out of complacency because through Judy and Kim’s example, we all feel what is humanly possible.
As a meditation teacher, the wisdom I attempt to impart can be partially summarized by this precept: If we want to be happy, simply live with things as they are, not as we wish them to be. In all honesty, I am imperfect in my ability to live this principle even after fifty years of practice. I remember my wife and I visiting Judy and Kim a few times after his stroke and the two of us walking away astounded by the integration of this wisdom into Kim and Judy’s lives. They seemed to have no forward worry or backward despair. Kim and Judy did not seem to linger on what could have been or what might be. They were simple living the moment as it was without regret or remorse. Judy calls it “adapting and accepting.” I call it a sacred life well lived.
As I read through this manuscript, I am further struck by the practicality of their actions throughout this period. Judy and Kim did not seem hesitant to ask for help when needed, allowing other people’s love to flow in and renew their own. They speak about the day-to-day living of both caregiving and care receiving, and that true love needs both outward action and inward replenishment. This book gives equal measure and gratitude to their community that met their struggles with concrete support and effort. Their interdependence upon others spread their love throughout the collective, and everyone was nourished.
This book avoids all stoicism or pretentiousness. On every page, Judy and Kim’s humanness is laid bare. Seizures, endless therapy treatments and rehab centers, trips to hospital emergency rooms, pain and weariness, emotional highs and lows, leg cramps and spasms, difficulty swallowing, endless doctor appointments, five hours a day getting Kim in and out of bed—all happening simultaneously to the never-ending daily challenges we all face in meal preparation and daily laundry. Somehow Judy manages all of this without obvious discouragement and infuses humor, joy, wit, poetry, and beautiful prose all along the way.
The themes of trust, space, and silence are strongly emphasized throughout these pages. Surprisingly, Judy and Kim seem to discover a deeper level of inward stability as they lose more outward control, and what arises is a basic trust that many of us miss because of our undiminished abilities. Some of us count on our health, mental acuity, and fitness for our confidence and salvation, but inevitably that will come to an end, and what is left to support our meaning, purpose, and intention without these? Judy and Kim trusted silence, which is not the mere absence of sound but a unifying element that interconnects the threads of life. They knew the value of silence and used it to nourish their stamina and deepen their connection.
In Judy’s words, “I’ve been feeling like I’m a sailboat at sea. Not lost, as I’m not far from land and can see where I want to go. Yet I cannot quite seem to get there. Tossed wildly by the winds that come out of all directions, unpredictable and harsh. I start to tack but soon as I set sail, I get sideswept by yet another gust. Nor can I set anchor, for it’s too deep here. Best I can figure is to hunker down and wait, taking deep breaths, trusting that the winds too will calm, the sky will clear, and the way will open.”
What does life look like when the only action we can take is to surrender, when the daily obstacles often seem insurmountable, and when we are left with only the resolve of our caring hearts? It looks like this book. Most of us are not comfortable with the word “surrender.” We think it means losing our position and handing over our power and place in life, but Judy shows it to be just the opposite—an activity of strength and trust. In Judy’s words, “I continue to have hope, lots of it—I just keep practicing living ever more lightly.”
Was Kim’s stroke a blessing, a tragedy, or both intertwined? Would the depth of this wisdom and the refined attunement of this couple’s hearts have been reached without the pain of this process? Should we, as readers of this book, continually attempt to escape any hint of unpleasantness, or is there redemption within our struggles? This book encourages us to decide if a life of difficulties has any ultimate merit and how we might respond when our own inevitable struggles do arise.
I loved reading about Judy and Kim’s rituals: their play, music making, “greeting the day,” and stops at the “kissing station.” We can learn so much about how to be content when it is our time to be “summoned by stroke” through these simple ceremonies. Rituals teach us gratitude, humility, patience, perseverance, constraint, and generosity. These playtimes speak volumes about love and love’s relationship to letting go.
Our lives can be used to end our arguments with the moment so love can flourish. We sense that an unselfish love cannot fail since it redefines success by excluding failure. Quoting Judy, “I recently came across the simple reminder that in the end, what matters most is how well we lived, how well we loved, and how well we learned to let go. Maybe this is our time to practice.”
Thank you, Judy and Kim. You have given us a lasting gift.