The people I'm imagining



I’ve been undone by the story of writer Patti Digh and her husband, John, recently diagnosed with kidney cancer. Uninsured through an employer and unable to afford the exorbitant premiums of private health insurance, they faced not only the terrifying diagnosis itself, but also the mind numbing, gut wrenching question of how they could ever hope to afford treatment.

Patti posted, as always, openly about the scary road ahead, and the response has been nothing short of miraculous. Patti wrote:

… so many people have shared this, so many people we know and don’t know have given. People have made and sold their art for us. They have opened lemonade stands. And created Team Brilliant t-shirts. So many fairies and unicorns and love. It is such a sign of hope in a world of pain that we take care of each other, still.

Her unicorn reference isn’t just whimsical phrasing. Patti’s friends set up an Indiegogo page to raise funds for John’s treatment, and an anonymous donor known only as The Unicorn promised to give $25,000 as soon as the funding reached $50,000 (which it has).


Healthcare (or the lack of affordable healthcare) is an issue near and dear to my heart. Like Patti, I’m a writer without employer-sponsored health insurance. My husband and a handful of engineering wizards are trying to save the world with their start-up company, developing an alternative fuel technology. It’s noble, but for the foreseeable future, we’ll have to struggle under the considerable weight of our private health insurance premiums. Our coverage is honestly pretty crappy. A diagnosis like John’s would, even with insurance, be financially very, very scary.

And we’re the lucky ones – my family and Patti’s.

I’ve been so incredibly heartened by the community that has gathered together for Patti and John. They’re a living example of how love begets love. It’s really impossible to read Patti’s writing and not fall a little in love with her (and her family, since they are often the subjects of her stories and posts). Patti’s work is big, honest, funny, poignant. She shares her life with her tribe without pretense, without expectation. That they (and I count myself among them) would gather around her in this time of need makes perfect sense to me. This is where fearlessness and love connect. This is the intersection where magic happens.


And yet…


I  can’t help thinking about the people who get a diagnosis like John’s when they’re all alone, without health insurance, without resources.

I wish I lived in a world where what’s happening for Patti didn’t feel so unusual, so special and rare.

I wish it were commonplace to feel so supported.

I wish our everyday interactions reflected an appreciation for our connectedness, a willingness to be genuinely concerned for one another, a deep down desire to not only ease each other’s suffering, but share each other’s load.

I wish it happened on a much larger scale – this unleashing of wild creativity rooted in love and generosity.

I wish our default position was love.


Last month, The $100 Startup author, Chris Guillebeau, held his second annual World Domination Summit. At the end of the event, he gave each of his 1000 attendees an envelope filled with $100 and a challenge to start something good. He could have done so many different things with that money. Paid himself better. Paid his volunteers. Put it toward next year’s summit. He chose instead to invest it in people who want to positively impact the world.

When I heard that story I was stunned. When I watched the video of Chris announcing his plan, it gave me chills. There needs to be more people like that, I thought. And they need to hold public office, and vote, and teach children, and write books, and open animal shelters, and be doctors, and launch startups, and make art… and they need to band together in overlapping communities of purpose.

And then I thought, those people I’m imagining?

They’re us.


  1. Lance on August 20, 2012 at 7:33 am

    My heart goes out to them and I pray for him.

    This was beautiful.

    • j on August 20, 2012 at 2:10 pm

      Thank you, Lance. I know they are feeling very loved right now, and that can only help with John’s recovery.

  2. Marcie on August 20, 2012 at 7:55 am

    Tears rolling down my cheeks as I read this. Such a beautiful testament to the power of love…and how just a little can mean a whole lot.

    Wonderful…inspiring post. Thank-you!

    • j on August 20, 2012 at 2:11 pm

      Yes, a little can do so much more than we realize… such ripples we create. Thank you for letting me use your gorgeous photo, my talented friend. It was so exactly what I wanted for this post.

  3. Rita on August 20, 2012 at 8:15 am

    Me too. Tears. And goosebumps on my arms. This is so beautiful and thoughtfully written. Which isn’t a surprise since it’s coming from you, but it’s so heartbreakingly beautiful. (I know heartbreakingly isn’t a word but I just used it twice). I have heard, over and over again about John and Patti’s story and it’s beautiful. that is how the world “should” be. In my dream world. The world that includes unicorns at every turn. and i was in the audience when the (what i call it) hundred dollar miracle happened at WDS this year, and i was one of the many sobbing in my seat as chris shared his plan. i haven’t opened my envelope yet, as I don’t want to do chris a disservice by not doing something remarkable with it. thank you for imagining these people…for being one of them. xo

    • j on August 20, 2012 at 2:16 pm

      Heartbreakingly is totally a word. Don’t believe every silly squiggly line you see; we are smarter the computers. Say it with me! 🙂

      I can imagine how powerful it was to have been in the audience at the WDS when Chris did his generous-hopeful thing. I love that you’re waiting to open your envelope. I absolutely know you will do something amazing.

  4. Julia on August 20, 2012 at 8:20 am

    J. I had so many goosebumps & heart tugs throughout this post. And then I got to those last two lines and my insides stirred in a way only Truth can stir.

    It is happening. One act of love at a time, we are creating a wild new world. You are doing your part in such a touching & beautiful way, J.

    Watching you continue and continue to show up, despite the fear, despite how hard it can be to show up in such a full & true way, is so heart filling. It is truly an honor to call you friend.

    • j on August 20, 2012 at 2:18 pm

      “One act of love at a time, we are creating a wild new world.”

      That stirred MY insides. Yes!

      And thank you so much for your words of encouragement. I need them too. It is beyond comforting to know you’re in my corner. xox

  5. Clare Flourish on August 20, 2012 at 11:06 am

    I burned my wrist on a kettle, and thought, I should go and put this under running water, but I want not to interrupt this interaction.

    When I looked at my reddened, very superficial burn, I found it was in the shape of a heart.

    • j on August 20, 2012 at 2:20 pm

      Wow. Stuff like that makes it hard not to believe in magic and universe messages.

      (So glad it was very superficial!)

  6. Pam on August 20, 2012 at 7:28 pm

    It’s appalling that so many in the U.S. go bankrupt from medical bills. This should not happen, ever, to anyone. We pay the most to get something like the world’s 26th best healthcare. Arrgh!

    It’s wonderful and moving that people are stepping up to help this one family.

    I love the $100 to each attendee idea! I have a friend who plans to win the lottery. She said she’d share her winnings with any friend who had a good idea for using some of the money. My plan is to re-pave the wrecked road through Samuel P. Taylor State Park. I’m still waiting for her to call me & say she has won. #smoothdrivingandbikingforall

    • j on August 21, 2012 at 7:00 am

      Appalling and sad and frightening… I agree completely. I wish compassion was more a part of public policy and our social infrastructure.

      I hope your friend wins. I love smooth driving and biking! 🙂

  7. Michael on August 20, 2012 at 10:23 pm

    Yes. This.

    • j on August 21, 2012 at 7:01 am

      Thank you, Michael. I knew you’d approve. xo

  8. Chris Edgar on August 22, 2012 at 8:35 pm

    Hi J — I continue to be amazed by the generosity I see in campaigns like this one on the “crowd-funding” sites — I suppose this kind of generosity has always existed, but now perhaps its existence is more transparent and it has an opportunity to inspire people in larger numbers.

    • j on August 23, 2012 at 8:25 am

      Yes, it’s truly amazing how many more people we can reach these days. I worry a little that burnout might set in, a feeling that everyone is raising funds for something, and we can’t afford to give to everything so we stop clicking through.

      I hope despite the increased visibility, people will remain thoughtful and give to the causes that stir them.

  9. Sandra Belegi on August 23, 2012 at 7:24 am

    So beautifully written, Judy. Patti’s books have touched so many people, spreading love, laughter and reflections on the brevity of life. It’s good to see that a lot of people see this as an opportunity to give back.

    And Chris, my goodness, you gotta love that guy. What a lesson there – you can dominate the world by… giving. Imagine that.

    Compassion, service, love. Is there any other way?

    • j on August 23, 2012 at 9:01 am

      Thank you, Sandra!

      I had this really eye-opening experience on the day I heard what Chris had done. That morning, I’d had a conversation with a group of people who I like very much, but they were complaining about typos and grammar on Twitter… a subject I just couldn’t quite get up the energy to care about. Later, hearing about Chris’s amazing act of faith and generosity, I thought, “how do I want to spend my time… and with whom?”

      Attempting to change the world right along side the other people who still believe we can, was my answer.

      Earnest, hippie and doe-eyed? Absolutely. 🙂

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