Long Story Short: Finding inner peace

When her beloved husband, Rod Kirby, was diagnosed with cancer, Linda Kirby turned into a list masker.

“I used to make fun of the people I knew who always kept lists,” she said. “But when we were going back and forth between Lafayette and Houston, and Rod was having the radiation, I started keeping lists.”

Kirby said the lists helped keep her focused and busy.

Rod Kirby was an assistant pastor at East Bayou Baptist Church. In late 2005, he was training for a marathon and went in for a physical. The routine physical changed the course of their lives. Rod was diagnosed with cancer.

“The day the cancer was spoken into our lives – it literally changed every plan we had – every dream we had ever made,” Kirby said. “He was a couple of years younger than me. We had a joke he would outlive me by a long shot. He came from a family of people who made it to 105.”

Eighteen months later, on April 27, 2007, Rod passed away.

“Through it all, I learned about love at a new level,” Kirby said. “I remember looking out the window one day while we were at the hospital in Houston. There were all these levels of clouds moving at different speeds. It looked like the bottom level was moving faster than the highest clouds I could see. Probably the opposite was true. But I sat there watching the clouds moving, and I realized there were different levels of things going on – and the level I was focusing on might not be the most important or significant.”

Throughout her husband’s illness, Kirby inspired many of those around her.

“She positively radiates joy!” wrote Gayle George in her nomination of Kirby as someone who lives her life demonstrating inner peace.

Kirby, 62, credits her walk with God as the secret behind any peace she has been able to find through the years. Before and during her husband’s fight with cancer, Kirby asked friends whose spiritual walks she respected to help hold her spiritually accountable. One of those people was Fran Robinson, who also attends East Bayou Baptist.

“I told her, ‘If you ever see me out of line, I want you to come up and grab me and shake me.'”

One Sunday after Rod’s diagnosis, Robinson did just that – without the shaking part.

“I was crying in the foyer at church. She walked up to me and said, ‘Linda, people are watching you. I want you to walk out what you believe.'”

Robinson’s words were just what Kirby needed.

“I didn’t have the answer for what was going on, but I knew who did,” Kirby said. “It occurred to me that Rod and I had been chosen. This was a chance for me to show my faith. It wasn’t a time for me to kick and scream on the pavement.”

But Kirby admits even with a strong faith and support network, she’s experienced her share of challenges.

“For a while, I was furious at my husband. Counseling helped ease that,” she said.

On the practical side of coping, Kirby decided to be proactive on several fronts. She eliminated the things in her life that caused chaos – including some relationships. She prayed a lot. And, she kept busy on projects.

“Watching a virile, vibrant man – watching cancer consume him like that,” she said. “I knew he was in heaven when he died. And one day, I’ll see him again.”

Since her husband’s death, Kirby has worked to find ways to rediscover the little joys of life.

Before he got sick, Kirby said there were three things her husband did not want her to do.

“My husband used to tell me I would never be able to screen in the patio or have another dog or get a high-def television,” she said with a smile. “Now, the porch is screened in. I got another dog. And, I have two small high-def televisions. There came a point when I realized it was important to have joy in my life.”

She named her new dog Happy – as a reminder. Happy and Pete (her other dog) plus several cats continue to provide comfort and add to the joy in life.

“There is hope. We have choices to make. You can choose loneliness, or you can choose happiness,” she said. “I have come to a point that I’m happy. I look forward and am excited about what the future will hold. I honor my husband’s memory, but I don’t have to look for anyone else for fulfillment – and that’s not a bunch of bunk.”

This is the third in Jan Risher’s series about Acadiana residents who live their lives demonstrating inner peace. Each of the people featured were nominated by a reader. Long Story Short appears Sundays. E-mail Jan at jan@janrisher.com.

Long Story Short: Joy is a duty

Edie Preston is glad Kay Couvillion came into her life — and the life of her son — eight years ago.

“Luckily, Kay is an educator. So, many people, young and old, are influenced by her daily. She always sees the good in everyone she meets,” Preston wrote in her e-mail nominating Couvillion for someone who lives her life with inner peace. “I have never been around anyone who is so at peace with everything and everyone as Kay is.”

Couvillion, 54, quickly dismisses all claims of near-sainthood.

However, she admits she is a major supporter of people taking responsibility for creating joy in their own lives.

“Joy is a duty,” she said.

She went through a period in her own life when her mantra was tested. With the help of friends and family, she made it through the divorce that rocked her world in 1996 and 1997 and came out stronger than ever.

But it wasn’t easy or without its bumps and bruises. And now, how does she live her life with such inner peace?

“One reason is friendship – and finding the balance in life,” Couvillion said, as she pulled a photograph from her wallet.

It was a dance recital photograph – the kind any young girl who’s ever been in a dance recital takes. You know the dance pose that sums up the whole performance in the fanciest dance outfit of the season.

However, the person in the photograph wasn’t Couvillion’s much loved daughter, Kelly. It wasn’t her son Christopher either.

Nope, the person in the photograph was Simone Guillory, an architect in New Iberia.

“This is my friend, Simone. A few years ago, she started taking dance classes with her daughter. She didn’t have anything to do with her recital photos, and I didn’t have anything to do with all the school pictures taken of me as a teacher. We started exchanging photographs – and keeping them in our wallets.” Couvillion said, smiling. “Finding the humor in situations helps.”

After Couvillion’s divorce, Guillory – and her dancing – played a major role in Couvillion’s re-entry to the rest of the world.

“She would call me every week and ask me to go dance,” Couvillion said. “I didn’t want to dance. All I wanted to do was stay at home and clean out my garage.”

Even with deep Cajun Vermilion Parish roots, Couvillion said the dance floor was almost a foreign place to her.

“Before my divorce, I hated Cajun music,” she said. “I didn’t know how to Cajun two-step or zydeco.”

According to Couvillion, Guillory was relentless in her dancing demands. Eventually though, Couvillion would agree to go out dancing with Guillory nearly every weekend.

“We would go to Back to Back or Grant Street,” Couvillion remembered.

Whether deliberate or not, Guillory’s dance therapy worked. Couvillion ended up taking lessons and became an accomplished dancer. It was the other stuff that dancing brought into her life that helped to save her – including a new perspective, a reinvigorated sense of self and a wonderful man she met about ten years ago while dancing at Whiskey River.

“Now I can hang with the best of them on the dance floor, but sometimes I wonder if without Simone I would still be cleaning out my garage,” she said. “When I would dance, I would forget about the divorce and the sadness. I wouldn’t think about how I could stay in the house or ‘How will I pay for things?’ ”

She said the divorce led to personal growth she didn’t expect.

“Somehow I knew intuitively that I needed to be real good at being single before I got married again,” she said.

Although she realized the importance of love in the classroom long before the divorce changed her life, she believes her divorce also helped her to be a better teacher.

“I had this point where I knew that how I treated the kids was more important than any academic gift I could ever give them,” she said. “Once at the end of a school year, I asked my students, ‘What was the most important thing you learned this year?’ ”

She said she expected a variety of answers about the amazing science experiments they did, the quilt they made or the field trip they took.

One little girl raised her hand.

“It was that thing you told us every day, ‘Joy is a duty,’ ” the little girl said.

Long Story Short: Serving the poor has made her rich

Linda Lanclos, according to Peggy Reeves, “has inner peace oozing out of her pores.”
Reeves sent me an e-mail nominating Lanclos as someone she knows who lives a life that demonstrates strength and inner peace.
“She has more spunk and determination than most. She has suffered some terrible things in her life and seemingly moves on from them with peace, inner strength and determination that is a witness to others,” Reeves wrote. ” I know the source of her peace, but I feel she delivers her message better than I could. Linda works hard on behalf of others on a daily basis, trying to make their world a better place.”
Less than 30 seconds into my conversation with Lanclos, I had insight into the reasons behind her nomination. Lanclos was clearing a force of peace to be reckoned with.
“About 25 years ago, I went through a period in my life when I was in a great deal of pain. I went through a divorce. Three of my brothers died. My dad was dying,” she said. “I got very angry with God and said I was not going to serve him anymore.”
However, she continued to go to church because she wanted her children to get “the moral fiber they needed,” she said.
One day in church, she heard someone quote a Biblical passage about serving the poor.
“If you spend yourself on behalf of the poor, your life will be like rivers of living water springing up within your soul, and you will no longer be like a parched land,” Lanclos said to me on the telephone.
Lanclos, 55, grew up in the country. She could visualize the meaning of the passage.
“And I knew I was a parched land,” she said.
It was near Christmas time. Someone suggested she organize help for a family. She did.
“After Christmas, I became convinced that people were poor throughout the year, and I needed to do something,” she said.
So, again, she did.
“About six months later, I looked at my life and thought, ‘I’m having a blast.’ I was no longer angry and bitter. I was no longer focused on my life, but I was focused on the lives of others. I realized I was no longer feeling my own pain. There was joy there instead.” When Lanclos moved to Lafayette, she became one of the founders of the Bridge Ministry, a Christian based non-profit that works to empower lives in the ‘Four Corners’ area.
“We decided we didn’t want to be the kind of organization that goes an inch deep and a mile wide. We wanted to be the kind of organization that went a mile deep and a foot wide,” she said. “We are a part of the fabric of their lives. Our numbers are small, but our impact is deep.”
Through the years, Lanclos said her views on helping others have changed.
“I used to think God wanted us to help the poor because they needed our help – and they do,” she said. “But now I think God wants us to help others because they transform us. You feel so sorry for yourself, and then you meet someone who really has problems – like a child who doesn’t know if he’s going to be able to eat tonight. You look at your own life and think, ‘I don’t have problems, I have inconveniences.’ You realize how blessed you are.”
Though I don’t know Linda well, she ended on what I believe may be typical Linda fashion.
“We’re getting ready to have Bridge Market Dec. 6,” she said. “Do you think someone who reads this might like to donate Christmas gifts to our program? Would you mind if I sent you the info?”
Moments later an e-mail arrived.
“Bridge Ministry is collecting Christmas Gifts for needy folks. …This is ‘charity with dignity’—these folks won’t have to pay for the gifts because they’ve already given their time to earn ‘Bridge Bucks,’ which they will exchange for these gifts.”
If you or your organization would like to donate, call 337-235-5565 or e-mail lindaofbridge@gmail.com. You can check out their Web site at bridgeacadiana.com.
And with that, the circle of giving continues.

from October’s Country Roads Magazine…

Story by Jan Risher

Leona Thibodeaux is seventy-five years old and hasn’t been to a doctor in five years.
Like many of her friends and neighbors in Catahoula, Thibodeaux prefers the healing ways of a traiteur.

“It’s our culture,” Thibodeaux said. “We just live by it.

If you doubt the prevalence of traiteurs dispensing medical treatment in St. Martin Parish, stop by a convenience store, bakery or auto repair shop anywhere in the vicinity of Catahoula, Butte LaRose or St. Martinville. Ease your conversation toward looking to feel better. If the St. Martin Parish residents don’t think you’re some uppity outsider who might mock their ways, give them about three minutes before you’ll get your medical referral.

No insurance company approval is required. Though there is the rare traiteur who requests and expects payment, generally, payment is highly frowned upon.

And whatever you do, don’t say thank you.

“If you say thank you, you’ve killed the prayer,” said Helen Boudreaux, a practicing traiteur.
Becca Begnaud, a fifty-six year-old faith healer who lives in Scott, has researched the origins of many of the prayers she uses and the culture surrounding faith healing. Her explanation for the practice of not saying thank you to a faith healer is simple.

“This is not ego-based work. It’s spiritual-based work,” Begnaud said, explaining that in the past, one person did not possess the ability to heal everything. “There wasn’t a single medicine man. Different people treated for different things. No one person could heal it all.”

In Catahoula, a stop by the convenience store verifies that the practice of going to different healers for different ailments is still very much alive.

“My brother-in-law, Howard Landry, treated someone here the other day. Was it for poison ivy or sunstroke?” Ellen Latiolais asked no one in particular, as she continued to ring up her customers at the check out counter. “He treats both. And for teething babies, you go to Red Higginbotham.”
Almost everyone has a story about the time when he or she was a kid and some old medicine man or woman treated them for sunstroke or warts or a sprained ankle.

“I used to be treated when I was a kid for sprains. And I tell you what, it worked. We’d go to this old lady. She’d wear a long, long skirt and had long, long hair. She’d say her prayers and in a day or two, it’d be OK,” said Anna Foti, owner of C’est Jolie Flowers in St. Martinville.

Helen Boudreaux, 69, grew up in Catahoula and has gone to traiteurs for healing for as long as she remembers. As the mother of eight grown children, Boudreaux now makes her home in Butte LaRose, just across the old pontoon bridge about five miles from Catahoula. She spends her time writing songs, singing and playing her guitar at the community’s Catholic church, caring for her grandchildren—and healing.

It’s a hot Saturday afternoon in August, as Boudreaux arrives home from a church singing in Butte LaRose. Wearing her trademark straw cowboy hat and with her guitar in hand, Boudreaux downplays her colorful life of driving trucks and making “strictly Cajun music.”  Now it’s time to focus on her prayers. Her small country home’s interior has the air of a shrine to the Virgin Mary—visible evidence of prayer is at every angle. Even with the music still blaring, Boudreaux makes it clear that somewhere in the last decade, her prayers have taken precedence over most everything else in her world.

Boudreaux talks about her prayers like some people talk about their children. She has her favorites, and she holds those close to her heart. And she has those she’s willing to share.
If warts are your trouble, you’re in luck. Boudreaux has a prayer you can say. “If you’re a male, you say ‘peigeide, peigeide’ and tap that wart with your finger,” she said. “For a female, it would be ‘piegle.’ You can say that one yourself.”

And what do ‘peigeide’ or ‘piegle’ mean?

Boudreaux doesn’t know. Like many of the words she uses in the prayers handed down to her by her elders, she says them on faith—without any idea of the meaning of the words.
In a five-page, single-spaced explanation of faith healing that she wrote, Boudreaux explains that the prayers she uses are a combination of Atakapas-Ishak Native American, French and Spanish words.

“None are English,” Boudreaux wrote.

Begnaud said she believes many of the traiteur origins can be traced to France and the Acadian’s French heritage.

“There are people in France who treat much like the traiteurs here. And much like the traiteurs here, they’re not always obvious,” Begnaud said. “It was based in a culture where everyone knew everybody. In the twentieth century, many of us shoved away everything that wasn’t medical science. Some of what we turned our backs on was and is very beneficial—and we’re reconsidering some of that now. The intention was good, but we threw the baby out with the bath water. In modern medical science, we don’t let any illness run its course.

“If you have a cold and go to a traiteur for a prayer, you’ll be better in two weeks. If you have a cold and go to the doctor for some medicine, you’ll be better in fourteen days.”

According to Begnaud, the explanation for the continued practice and cultural acceptance of traiteurs in St. Martin Parish is simple.

“They’re a lot more rural. Many are poorer. It’s free to go see a traiteur. It costs money to go see a doctor. But beyond that, they just live their culture, rather than having experts tell them about their culture,” Begnaud said.

Historically, Begnaud said that educated people were less inclined to use traiteurs. “There’s a stigma that goes along with it. People are either afraid, skeptical or look down their nose at it,” she said.

For Boudreaux, the skeptics are always out there. “But I don’t mess with them,” she said. “On the other hand, there are a couple of doctors interested in the prayers for pain.”

She even says her healing prayers over the phone. According to her, the result is the same.
“These prayers come to me. They’re offered to me, and I don’t turn them down. I don’t ask for them. They have to be offered. I’m the only one who has some of these prayers,” she said. “Beings as I have these prayers, and I’ve prayed on so many people, it’s become a part of me—heart and soul.”

Boudreaux follows the unwritten rule of passing her prayers to someone younger.

“I have different prayers for different ailments, and I can give them to people. But you must never give a prayer to anyone older than you because you’ll kill the prayer,” she said.
According to Begnaud, another often followed tradition of handing the prayers down involves gender.

“If a man has the gift, he’s supposed to pass it on to a younger woman. If a woman has the gift, she’s supposed to pass it on to a younger man,” Begnaud said.

According to Latiolais, in her family, the traiteur tradition is to be passed only to a younger family member.

“You can only pass it from family member to family member. My brother-in-law passed it to a nephew—who didn’t want it or something. So, my brother-in-law took it back. I didn’t know you could take it back,” she said. “But I do know that it’s a spiritual thing passed from generation to generation to generation. This really is a very spiritual area. We started out very Catholic and still have it in us.”

“I’m often asked, ‘Do you have to believe for this to work?’ ” Begnaud explained. “And the answer is, no. People have used this on animals. We come from an agrarian society. You did the work on animals that you did on people. Animals didn’t believe, and it worked. It can work on people who don’t believe too.”

Long Story Short: A name is just a name

According to my husband, by the time he reached age 11, he realized he could never be elected president.

His reasons weren’t so much that he was Mexican-American or his failure to meet other, more complicated, Constitutional requirements.

Nope, his reason was simple.

His reason was his name.

“I would look at the newspaper every day. I read each of the bylines, and I noticed their names,” he told me this week.

According to my husband’s childhood memories of the mid-1960’s in El Paso, Texas – a sprawling city nestled along the Rio Grande across from Juarez, Mexico – there was only one Hispanic-sounding name in all the bylines of The El Paso Times.

“Ray Sanchez was a sports writer,” he said. “Everybody else writing for the paper was Anglo. I knew right then and there that if I couldn’t get my name in The El Paso Times, I could never be elected president with a name like Julio. I actually thought that back then.”

If you happen to know my husband, you probably are able to add that to the laundry list of other reasons why he – in particular – would never be elected president.

None of those reasons has anything to do with his name.

Even so, when he was young, based on nothing more than bylines in the newspaper, he realized something about realistic dreams. However, during the past week, that old realization was busted.

This week, little boys – and even little girls – across the country were able to throw my husband’s old reasoning out the window. For many, in the days after Tuesday’s historic election, the significance of the president-elect’s victory grew.

Late Wednesday afternoon, I encountered at least 10 young African-American men and women under the age of 30 looking to buy a newspaper. Like my husband, they were also looking for a name in a newspaper – and it wasn’t Ray Sanchez.

They were looking for a name as proof that no matter what they chose to name their sons and daughters, their children could be a part of whatever dream they chose to pursue. The young men and women I met wanted something to hold in their hands to prove that they were a part of history.

I got the impression that they were thinking forward.

They seemed to associate a newspaper – and in particular Wednesday’s newspaper – with nostalgia. They could just imagine the paper yellowing in the years to come. They could just imagine in the years to come having the chance to pick up the yellowed newspaper oh-so-carefully to show to their children and grandchildren that they were a part of history.

This week, we all were.

Thanks to the many readers who e-mailed stories of friends and loved ones who demonstrate inner peace. Next week, I’ll begin a series of columns featuring many of those nominated.

Long Story Short: Do you have a secret?

People are on edge.

Whether the inspiration is stress caused by the economic crisis or the tumult of this year’s election, many of the folks around me are looking for something.

Some of us don’t know exactly what that “something” is but continue to turn to old and new sources for encouragement, guidance and/or advice.

In tumultuous times, that’s what people have been doing for generations.

We look for spiritual rejuvenation. On the other hand, some of use may choose not to go the all-out spiritual route and simply take time to reflect on the state of our lives. Economic, political or personal crises give new reasons to look for meaning to fill the voids of our hurry-scurry existences.

Maybe turmoil is God’s way of keeping us in check.

Crisis provokes us to flirt with introspection.

Warning: Getting too close could be costly.

We might actually have to change our approach to people or situations.

It’s sort of like the Anglican responsive prayer that gets me every time I read it.

“We confess our shortcomings. We ask forgiveness for our sins — things done and things left undone.”

Asking forgiveness for the things we’ve done and know we’ve done wrong is one thing. It’s a biggie. According to all sources, reflecting on those actions and seeking forgiveness is a definite step in the right direction.

However, seeking forgiveness for the things we haven’t done takes introspection to a whole different level. While I’m no forgiveness expert, more knowledgeable folk have explained that a part of the process of sincere repentance includes plans not to make the same mistake all over again.

Imagine the head-trip you could take in asking for forgiveness for the things you haven’t done – and not planning to make the same mistakes all over again.

Things done and things left undone.

On the other hand, think of the lives we could touch.

Not the least of which would be our own.

Here’s a challenge, try to think of the people you know who live their lives by that basic tenet. You know the type. Those people who seem so peaceful and unflustered by the workaday world. Yet, they’re not zombies – though you probably know a few of those, as well. I’m talking about the people who go about doing what they can do to make the world – not just their own lives or the lives of those they know and love – a better place.

What’s their secret?

Let’s find out. If you know someone who fits that category – and a couple of folks come to my mind immediately, e-mail me your ideas. Send me the names of these fine folks who live in peace and harmony and try to make the world a better place. I’ll do what I can to track them down and talk with them. Chances are these people aren’t the types who go around tooting their own horns. It’s time the rest of us do the tooting for them. Send me their names and an example of the way you see them living their lives not having to ask forgiveness for “things done and things left undone” nearly as often as the rest of us.
I’ll see if I can find their secrets, and then I’ll share them with you.