An Unlikely Audience Can be One of the Best

As is the case with nearly every presentation that I give on my new book, The World is Our Classroom, someone in the audience gets the brilliant idea to have me come speak to their group. It can be any type of group for when you talk about life-long learning as your subject, it can run the gamut of who would be interested. But Margaret McCoy’s group was a first. I had to even go to Google to learn more.


Margaret is an ostomy nurse. An ostomy is a surgically created opening in the body for the discharge of body waste. The surgery creates an opening (stoma) from an area inside the body to the outside. The organ could be the small intestine, colon, rectum, or bladder. Most people hear about patients with cancer having ostomies. However, patients with common diseases, like Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, diverticulitis, familial polyposis, neurogenic bladder disease, and birth defects, may require ostomy surgery at some point in their life. Every year, 130,000 people in America undergo life-saving ostomy surgery. I learned that Dwight D. Eisenhower was an ostomate, as well as Napoleon Bonaparte, and some professional athletes.



Margaret is head of an ostomy support group from the Lehigh Valley which meets in a New Jersey hospital, right over the state line, four times a year. I had to believe that she knew what she was doing asking me to share my messages from The World is our Classroom.


There were about 15 folks of all ages who attended. Ostomates are folks who have had ostomies and live with an external bag. I could not tell at all from looking at my audience, who had one and who was there for support. They were a lively, gregarious group and Margaret was a warm, caring leader.


I was speaking to the choir on one hand, for these folks were forced to continue with their life-long learning since life had thrown them a curve ball and severely altered their lives. Some had lived with their ostomy for decades, but one young man was fresh from his surgery. He still looked shaken and concerned and he had a lot of questions. My job was to deliver some hope. I could do that.  I tailored my talk to ways that anyone, even with limitations like an ostomy, could seek to live a bigger, more adventurous life. Every topic I covered- Learning from animals, living history, our ancestors, nature experiences, world cultures, and all the rest of my new book’s chapters, I scaled it back to examples of having these experiences close to home.


Needless to say, it was an amazing morning of sharing. I left in awe of the strength of the human spirit and their courage to continue on and seek to live life to the fullest. And in sincere admiration of Ostomy Nurse Margaret, whose huge heart and gift of deep insight, enabled her to step outside the box and invite me to speak. Together we found a way to help and inspire her people, no matter how unusual or unconventional it might have first seemed. What a great honor. Thank you Margaret, and all your ostomates for sharing.


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