At most of my presentations, I talk about making connections to something or someone other than yourself to build a community of shared spirit, because it’s those connections that get you through the hard times. In the Q and A that follows, I’m often asked whether this is a plea for God and religiosity in one’s life. I say it doesn’t matter what you connect to — it can be whales, old-growth forests, Greenpeace, your ancestral homeland — they may all be names for God. It could even be a gang of pierced, tattooed punk rockers.

I read about Andrea Collins Smith, a 37-year-old punk rocker. She is a mother of six and a college graduate who a year ago was diagnosed with a particularly virulent form of breast cancer. She had a bilateral mastectomy which was followed by chemotherapy and radiation. Four months later, the cancer had spread to her spine, and the bills mounted.

The whole Philadelphia punk, grunge, self-styled outcasts, rockers, and tattoo artists came together in community. They cook, clean, run errands and drive to Andrea to doctors appointments. They sponsor fund-raisers from auctions to bake sales; the School of Rock in Philadelphia put on a concert, and a burlesque group called the Bawdy Girls peeled down to pasties and G-strings in a benefit striptease.

Several months ago, Andrea and began a personal blog ( as a way of keeping family and friends informed. What happened, however, is that it has become the online version of Tuesdays with Morrie. Sometimes her postings are painful, sometimes they make me laugh, and they always make me think and connect lovingly to her. Andrea says, “I’ve come to understand that life is very short. None of us knows how long we have. That’s part of the plan I don’t have any information about. You can sit around and wonder why me? But do you ever ask yourself that when good things happen?”

Last week Andrea discovered the swollen lymph nodes in her neck were cancerous. She will undergo repeated chemotherapy. Her community continues to rally, and Andrea tells us every time she writes that she loves us and gives thanks for the support.

I’m no punk rocker, but I am connected to this community because I love the love that surrounds her. I love Andrea’s courage in inviting us to share this most personal journey; her truth helps us make sense of the process of our lives. Communities of shared spirit break down old boundaries, and I say thank you to all my new relations.

Mi Takuye Oyacin. We are all together.