Thoughts on Palm Sunday

Today is Palm Sunday, the day of Jesus’s entrance to Jerusalem, when crowds who thought he might lead a new Jewish kingdom strew palm fronds on his way, an honor fit for a king. It was the only day of Jesus’s life when he was honored and cheered.

None of those cheering followers were to be found a few days later, when the crowd demanded his death.

For Jesus it must have been a bittersweet moment. He must have known that the cheers of Palm Sunday were mere flattery.

The Palm Sunday liturgy does not emphasize the day itself; rather it looks ahead to the painful events of Thursday and Friday, to his betrayal with a kiss; his abandonment and denial by his followers including the “rock” of the church, St Peter; his humiliation and death.

After the false pleasure of Palm Sunday, beyond the pain and desolation of Good Friday, comes the day of true joy: Easter, resurrection and new life. Joy, ultimately, is certain to triumph over pain. But, we mustn’t hasten too quickly to Easter. For there is a time for joy and a time for grief; and first we must grieve.

If life’s nature is bittersweet, it is inevitable that our own lives will recapitulate those ups and downs. Let me share some of my own recent up and down moments, bitter and sweet.

Shou-Ching is in Australia at the moment, spending a few weeks with her godparents, who are in failing health. As their health declined, they found it difficult to cook, and their diet for some time now has consisted largely of packaged foods and pre-prepared dumplings. It is difficult to know how to help them; they have pain, disability, and cognitive decline; and Shou-Ching’s godmother, in particular, may have little time left. “Old age shouldn’t be this hard,” Shou-Ching wrote me. Yet, it is a blessing for Shou-Ching to be able to share time with them, and do them a bit of good.

Kirk MacLeod, a PHDer whom many of you learned about in this blog post, passed away last week from metastatic colon cancer at the age of 42. He was a kind, strong-spirited, courageous man. His cancer was already advanced four years ago when it caused his colon to rupture; yet he was able to make an 11 mile swim for charity last August, from New Brunswick to Prince Edward Island across the Northumberland Strait. The swim benefited Brigadoon Children’s Camp, a charity for children that meant a lot to Kirk. His family has set up a memorial page and suggests donations to Camp Brigadoon as the best way to honor Kirk.

Ironically, Shou-Ching is in the midst of developing an anti-cancer drug that probably would have saved Kirk. Unfortunately, under the laws of the land it can at present be used only to rescue laboratory rodents. Perhaps in ten years, it will pass the regulatory hurdles for use in humans.

Last week brought mingled pleasure and pain to me as a sports fan. I grew up near the University of Connecticut and have rooted for its sports teams since childhood. On Monday the men’s basketball team won the national championship, and on Tuesday the women’s team followed suit. The men’s team has now won 4 of the last 16 championships and the women’s team 9 of the last 20 (and 8 of the last 15).

This year’s men’s team was an unexpected champion. They were not the most talented team in the field, but they were the gutsiest. Their defense became spectacularly good in the tournament; no matter who was on the court, all five defenders synchronized their movements and seemed to be always in perfect position. They held powerful opponents to 54 points or less in the last three games.

Their excellence was no accident, but the fruit of two years of dedicated, gritty effort. Suffering came before the joy, and made the joy possible. I like this highlight video because it shows the fruits of virtue rewarded. Watch the post-championship dancing:

A subplot of the tourney was the story of Lacey Holsworth – ‘Princess Lacey’ – an 8 year old who died of cancer last week. Here’s an ABC News segment about her connection to the Michigan State Spartans:

And here is MSU coach Tom Izzo talking about Lacey at a vigil on the Michigan State campus:

These cancer deaths are painful. Yet why do we mourn them so? A dinner party is a good thing, Santayana noted, though it comes to an end; so too is life something to celebrate, be it ever so short. Death can never diminish life’s worth, nor triumph over joy.

One positive to sickness: it helps us appreciate good health. We regularly receive reader success stories, and they are always a source of joy. From last week:

  • In two weeks on our diet, Primal Psychologist reported improvements to Raynaud’s and hypothyroidism, and hints of relief from amenorrhea.
  • Andy Grove writes in an Amazon review: “I have been following this diet as closely as possible for 4-5 months and have lost close to 25 lbs in weight and improved my health considerably. I have been relying on daily medication for asthma since childhood (I am now in my 40s). My asthma did not improve immediately on this diet – it took several months, but I have not had any asthma at all in just over 3 weeks now. This is an incredible change for me.”
  • Healthy Amelia, who will be at the May Perfect Health Retreat, writes: “My appetite is WAY down and my sugar cravings have diminished a lot. I feel almost incapable of overeating. When I’ve had enough, I have to stop right in my tracks with a feeling of not being able to take even one more bite. I can’t eat even half what I used to for dinner. Very interesting.”
  • Paula, who had been on Primal for three and a half years, reports: “Tomorrow will mark the end of my second month on the PHD. I have lost about 10 lbs and hit a new low weight…. Benefits so far: Weightloss in spite of binges. Stable mood. Stronger in the gym. Better sleep. Better response to carbs. Decreased PMS. Better sex life.”

From the week before that:

  • In the midst of a longer philosophical treatise, Euthyphro wrote: “After adopting, four years ago, the Perfect Health Diet, I have not once gotten the common cold or anything else. The anatomical structures of my body have become increasingly robust, especially after the inclusion of pogo jumping.”
  • Angela Jane Hampton wrote: “From someone who had vitamin deficiencies, severe neutropenia, next to no weight to lose, multiple food intolerances and chronic fatigue and no idea how to get out of my hole. I thank u. For writing this book, it’s (sorry about being cliche) changed my life. 7 years since I could say I feel well, great even! Thank u!”
  • Mark Barnes-Williams wrote: “I’ve lost 14 lbs in 4weeks and my energy levels have improved, the recipes are tasty and would recommend this way of eating for life.”
  • Another reader emailed: “I have followed the Perfect Health Diet with great success and am an avid cyclist …  When I switched over to the PHD I never really missed a beat on the bike and my IBS symptoms went away.  In fact both my peak performance and endurance have increased.”

As always, we’re grateful for every reader who reports results, especially in Amazon reviews.

I have one last pleasure to report. A few days ago my friend Jennifer Fulwiler sent a copy of her new book, Something Other Than God:

Jennifer is at once hilarious and thoughtful. This is her conversion story. I’ve read about a quarter of it so far, and though it is not as funny as her Christmas letters – but what is? – it is deeper and equally entertaining. Highly recommended.

In conclusion: A blessed Holy Week to you, dear reader. Our lives mingle pleasure and pain, suffering and sorrow. Life is brief, and we all witness the loss of loved ones. As Henry James said, it is worse than that: Evil is insolent and strong; beauty enchanting but rare; goodness apt to be weak, folly stubborn; wickedness to carry the day; the corrupt to be in great places, the good in small. Yet for all that, life gives plentiful ground for joy. May you find it and treasure it.

Leave a comment ?

12 Comments.

  1. Touching and timely. Thank you for sharing a little about your life with us, both the joyous and the painful. You do good work and have helped so many. On a side note, I too grew up in CT and am a UConn fan, even though I married a Duke grad (oh boy!) and now live in NC. It was great to root for my home team!

  2. Thank you for this post about your life and thoughts on how brief a time we are here. I will remember this try to do good. I am embarking on the PHD today. I am suffering terribly with seasonal allergies and maybe this will help.

  3. Thank you Paul for your comments about the deeper nature of our journeys. I appreciate how living healthy and the our souls’ journey are always woven together and you articulate this so well! Peace and All good to everyone this special week!

  4. leo delaplante

    The meek have truly inherited the earth as only they can see the true beauty and pain that surrounds us.

  5. Thank you, Paul. This puts my meager dental suffering into context (just like the Palm Sunday Mass readings did — it is always beyond humbling to hear Jesus being mocked and struck on the head with the reed and then to pronounce the words of the crowd “Let Him be crucified”). You and Shou-Ching and so many of the other Paleo/Primal researchers have done more than just lift the burden of physical health, but as my wise Dominican pastor once said, “How can I expect people in the pews to focus on the Gospel readings when they have the weight of the world on their shoulders?” You have helped alleviate for so many a burden that allows them (us) to focus on what truly matters: Jesus, our families, other souls that God has placed in our midst. I am certain that God has used you and Shou-Ching as a means to alleviate the suffering of so many people. Thank you for your work. We are God’s hands.

    I cannot wait to read Jen’s new book (especially after last year’s Christmas card 😆 )

  6. Thank you Paul for a poignant reminder of Easter week and what it means to us today. Yes I’m thinking about 2 older friends who are in poor health (one from useless, but damaging meds) and the other with multiple health challenges. On the other hand I am truly grateful to the internet for linking me to people like you and Shou-Ching, who encourage me to find my own way to good health. I’m currently working on sauerkraut (an experiment with kimchi some years ago before encountering PHD put me off for life).

  7. Truly beautiful. We all need to be reminded of the important things….from time to time. Thank you and Shou-Ching for your unfaltering kindness.

  8. It’s true that a healthy diet can work wonders… but not miracles. We are all going to die of something, and that’s not going to change anytime soon, however tragic it can be.

  9. Samantha Tennant

    Thank you Paul. He is risen!He is risen indeed!. You are wise in so many ways. Wondering if you read Salvo magazine? If not, I think you would enjoy it. Happy Easter:)

  10. Fatastic thoughts…yes there is pain, disease and suffering but each of us can create balance within our own lives through creating optimal health and happiness so as to feel 100% and thereby give 100% to those around us who need us. It starts with one… One person, one step at a time, one day, one purpose, one with the greater good, one with God.

  11. Pam Schoenfeld

    Thanks for sharing your sorrows and joys with us Paul. I pray Shou-Ching has peace as she spends precious time with her godparents.

    I pray that the promises Jesus made that he will come again and bring forth God’s Kingdom will comfort all those who suffer in this world, and all those who face the deep sadness of seeing loved ones pass on all too soon.

    Jesus suffered for all of humankind to be able to be reunited with God. He was resurrected and glorified because of his true obedience to his Father.

  12. This post shows the reason I love the christian calendar. It regularly reminds us to think about the important things in life.

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