Elizabeth Lesser, Marrow (2016)
What are the ties that bind us as human beings? Can our thoughts and feelings influence our bodily well-being, even that of another person? How does releasing personal hurt, anger, and misunderstanding bring healing to our relationships and the world? When confronted with loss, betrayal, and death, can we learn to actually “love our fate”?
These are some of the questions that Elizabeth Lesser engages in with this memoir of the time she spent with her beloved younger sister during the last stages of Maggie’s long fight against lymphoma. To her own surprise, Elizabeth was found to be the rare “perfect match” for a bone-marrow transplant for Maggie, which meant that all of Maggie’s blood would be replaced with that produced by stem cells harvested from Elizabeth. It became more than just a medical miracle for both of them, as they sought to support the procedure with therapeutic conversations that strengthened their new identity as “Maggie-Liz.” By speaking their own hurt and forgiving one another, hearing and honoring the truth of each other’s experience, they come closer to the marrow of their true selves.
In recalling their journey, Elizabeth intersperses memories of her sister and other family members with the spiritual wisdom she’s gleaned from a lifetime of searching (she is the founder and director of the Omega Institute, a renowned center for spiritual development). She does not set herself up as an infallible expert or guru, and her way of writing about the soul and the human quest is humble, open, and honest. The truths of the spirit, which are in essence simple yet in practice so hard for us imperfect human beings to work out, are expressed in connection with her own experiences. Though in some ways these are extraordinary — not everyone can call up Deepak Chopra for advice — Elizabeth keeps the emphasis on the universal, everyday, basically human details that we can all relate to. For me, this was the most compelling aspect of her work.
There are still failures and loose ends to take up — in caring for one sister so intensely, Elizabeth tended to come across as controlling to her other siblings, and that caused some further hurt. But what she learned from her time with Maggie only strengthened her faith in the power of the soul to work through such challenges, when we connect with our deeper selves. In the end, this is a story of hope, and of a love that truly became stronger than death.