Recently, I was standing in the kitchen with a spoonful of tahini in my hand when I became conscious of my last thought; just in case.
Frowning, I replayed the tape in my head. Better not put the tahini in yet, just in case.
My partner Shannon was at the clinic on a foggy Tuesday morning and I was making hummus, my mind wandering around aimlessly, when that thought jabbed through the fog in my head.
I asked myself, Just in case of what?
And then I realized, that the extension of that thought was, just in case Shan gets bad news.
She was due back from the clinic any minute, and I didn’t want to be up to my elbows in the food processor if she needed a hug when she came home. Or if she had news. Or if our lives were going to be thrown back into chaos.
Wow! It has been almost eight years of positive check-ups since Shan’s transplant, and I still have an unconscious emotional “ready-stance” whenever she is at a clinic or hospital, regardless of the benign and unrelated nature of her visit.
Immediately following our return to Cortes after the six months in Vancouver for the transplant, my alert response to check-ups was strong – emotionally, mentally, and physically. It was also understandable, given the possibility of rejection issues. When she goes for her annual oncology check-up now, I am unaware of worry until the all-clear sounds and I note, yet again, the depth of my relief. That, I understand.
But this? A little visit with the doctor over nothing, comparatively speaking, and I am on red alert.
What’s the lesson, I wonder?
Trauma leaves residue, and fear is a big part of that light film that covers our days, whether we see it or not.
The friend who introduced me to meditation would say this: take it to the cushion. Sit there and let the fear come and then acknowledge it. This feeling is my fear for Shan’s health.
Things without names, without acknowledgement, have a tendency to get bigger and bigger, don’t they? (This is why we say there is an elephant in the living room rather than a poodle or a hedgehog.)
Now, to be clear, when there is a present danger or threat to our safety, fear is important. But I’m not talking about that innate fear response that helps to keep us safe, I’m talking about the fear we conjure up – apparently without even knowing it – when our minds wander into the landscape of our soul that is shadowed by past trauma.
Yesterday, Shannon and I went for a bike ride. We were riding on a trail close to the community hall where people were preparing for a Celebration of Life for Paul, a man who passed away recently. He was part of our ambulance service and we knew him only through that; when he came to our house one day to help after I fell off a ladder. Stitches and concussion; not such a big deal in the end but at the time, I was knocked out, wasn’t breathing at first, then took a gasping breath, convulsed a bit and regained consciousness but not awareness. I remember nothing. Shannon remembers it all. She watched the whole scary thing.
As we rode our bikes close to the hall yesterday, she suddenly pulled up. I stopped beside her and was surprised to find her crying softly.
She’d been thinking about Paul, which reminded her of the accident and suddenly, she was experiencing that traumatic day all over again.
What I’m wondering is this: how do we deal with the normal traumas of life? We have accidents and sometimes they are scary. We all experience illness and sometimes that is scary. How do we best heal from those traumas we all carry with us?
Me? I write. Even when I can’t remember what I need to write about – and I still can’t remember my accident – I write anyway. I write to explore it, feel it and put it away again. Every time I take my traumas out for a spin, whether I am talking or writing, I am keeping them a manageable size. (Who can carry an elephant?)
I can see the beginning and end if I tell or write the story. This is how I heal.
But then again, there are as many ways to heal as there are people in this world. I hope you’re finding yours.
Click below to read a piece I wrote about the accident while attending a writing/meditation workshop. (Molting was originally published in The Chaos Journal of Personal Narrative in the Winter, 2017 edition.)
We know, theoretically, that a happy life requires a balance in physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health.
Our culture, it seems to me, is a little imbalanced in what it promotes. We are reminded constantly to care for our physical selves. We are talking more and more about our emotional well-being and at long last, mental health is an acceptable topic of conversation. But there is no “spiritual health” month and if you ask someone how they are doing, they are unlikely to tell you about the current status of their spiritual life.
I imagine lots of people get out of bed a little stiffly and remind themselves they are due for a stretch or a swim or a trip to the gym. Many people may get out of bed and think about the things they do to maintain their emotional and mental health. But what does spiritual health even mean? While we can acknowledge the mind-body connection in terms of mental and emotional well-being, do we think about the connection between our physical and spiritual vitality? And even if we are willing to acknowledge the reality of that connection, again, what does spiritual health mean?
Richard Wagamese said this about spirituality:
It seems to me the act of being spiritual is simply the act of allowing myself to feel my spirit move.
The Dalai Lama says this about spirituality:
Spirituality, I take to be concerned with those qualities of the human spirit – such as love and compassion, patience, tolerance, forgiveness, contentment, a sense of responsibility, a sense of harmony – which bring happiness to both self and others.
But for those of us who don’t find our spirituality in any of the pre-fab forms (religion), where do we begin?
Here is my basic philosophy on religion: Figure out what works for you and don’t tell anybody! As soon as people start grouping together around religious ideology, we get into trouble! We laugh, but I’m not really joking.
I think this is partly because none of us know how to develop and maintain our own spiritual fitness. Education about spiritual health is not readily available and as a result, we tend to look to religion. And that works for millions of people. Good on ya!
However, what about those of us for whom it does not work? I was raised as a Christian and I may have been able to maintain my spiritual health using that particular “gym”, but I had my membership revoked when I broke one of the club rules. (The gay one.)
Now, membership requirements are different and I could easily find a Christian church that would grant me membership, but the exercise of being booted to the outside made me take a closer look at my spiritual health club and it turns out, it doesn’t meet my needs.
So, where do we start to find support for our spiritual growth? If we are starting from scratch, maybe the thing to do would be to treat it like our physical health. We know we need to rest, nourish and exercise our bodies. So maybe that’s a good place to start with our spiritual self.
I wonder if spiritual rest is built into sleep? That seems like a good design thing, doesn’t it?
I have often felt that I was working out emotional issues in my dreams. I don’t necessarily need to understand what every dream means or be able to articulate “the lesson”. I just trust that my soul is doing some spiritual good work while I’m sleeping.
And what about conscious rest? If Richard is right and spirituality is the act of allowing myself to feel my spirit move, then I must spend some time everyday paying attention to the things in my daily life that move me; the kindness of my friends, the joy of my pet, the love of my partner, the beauty of my surroundings. As a writer, I have finally learned to understand and acknowledge the importance of time to daydream. We know our children need time to play and imagine; to have vast quantities of unstructured time. Why do we deny our adult selves this important part of our rest?
When I moved to Cortes Island, I finally learned about food. My first lesson was picking up “greens” for a friend from the store. She looked into the bag I handed her, saw iceberg lettuce and shoved it back at me, refusing to eat it. She didn’t know anyone who ate iceberg lettuce. I didn’t know there were other kinds. Thus began my education about nutrition.
What I give my body for sustenance is no more important than what I give my spirit for sustenance. Physically, I need more protein and have to stay away from carbs, while you may need to avoid dairy and can get by with very little protein. So also, we both need to find out, through trial and error, what works best for us spiritually. I am learning what spiritual practices give me sustenance. I like the meditation of Buddhism. I like the nature connection of First Nations spirituality. These things feed me and with the right balance of these as well as swimming and art and all the little things that move my spirit, I find the optimum performance of my spiritual health.
Daily exercise. Everyday, I have to exercise my spirituality; love and compassion, patience, tolerance, forgiveness, contentment, a sense of responsibility, a sense of harmony – which bring happiness to both self and others. (Dalai Lama)
Again, your exercise program is a very individual thing. Some of us need to work out vigorously to stay fit, others just need to walk the dog every day. My physical body needs a good workout every day and so does my spiritual body. If I don’t work the bod, I gain weight and if I don’t work the spirit, I get judgmental. That’s me. We’re all different. I have to work harder at certain aspects of those things that “bring happiness to both self and others” and you might have to focus on different aspects, but self-awareness is the key.
When I get up in the morning, I can generally tell if I should focus on stretching and flexibility or if I need a good, sweaty workout. I am getting better at knowing if I need a new challenge in my life to stimulate my mind. I can tell if I’m feeling blue and need to get some sunlight in my eyes or if I need a hug.
And one day, I hope to wake up, rub my eyes and know exactly what my spirit needs. Until then, I will stick with what I know; rest, nourishment, exercise.
Although I have never really been completely “in the closet,” I recently realized that I have never actually come out publicly. I’m tired of watching what I say; scanning the room for people who might react negatively. So, at the tender age of 52, let me say once and for all, that I am a Toronto Maple Leaf’s fan.
This will not come as news to my family and friends. They have known for a long time and while it has caused some tension, for the most part, everyone accepts this part of who I am.
For those of you who are shocked by this revelation, let me suggest that you probably know lots of Leaf fans. Your boss, your cousin, maybe even someone in your immediate family. We are everywhere. And while we have been silent for a long time, we are finding our voices. We are standing up and declaring with pride that we will love who we love.
And we love the Leafs.
Yes, I can hear you cynics out there. Sure, now you come out. Now that they have a good team and are headed for the playoffs.
Admittedly, it’s easier to be a fan these days. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t pay my dues. We had some tough times. I remember the days when we sought each other out furtively to whisper about Palmateer’s twelfth knee surgery; to trash-talk Harold Ballard; to relive Sittler’s ten-point-game.
People ask me when I knew for sure that I was a Leaf’s fan. I guess, on some level, I have always known. I remember watching games when I was just a little girl. There was something about that blue maple leaf that spoke to me like nothing else. I have tried to do what was expected of me; I cheered for the local team as I moved from province to province. But I knew it wasn’t real. Somewhere deep inside me, a whisper chanted softly, Go Leafs, go.
I don’t anticipate a backlash. Except maybe from the far right (Montreal), but I have confidence it will be okay. When I came out about that other thing in my twenties, I was happily surprised to find most people were supportive.
So here I am. I can cheer for all Canadian teams, really. But my hockey truth is blue and white. My heart is with my Maple Buds.
WE’RE HERE. WE CHEER. GET USED TO IT.
Does everyone else see object lessons everywhere or is that just me? Maybe it’s just those of us who went to Sunday School.
If you're new to the concept, an example of an object lesson would be the recently revived one about how to fill the jar (which is your time) with important things first. For those of you who haven’t seen this object lesson and would like to, here you go: rocks, pebbles, sand: object lesson.
I remember seeing a LOT of object lessons at church. In fact, I seem to recall my own mom delivering many of them. I liked them. For me, the connection between a concept and a visual representation of that concept was an ideal learning tool. I think that's why I love metaphor in writing, and why I can’t plan a lesson for students without some kind of visual or hands-on component. Or just a good old-fashioned object lesson.
The problem with object lessons is that once you have that medium in your head, you can’t stop seeing object lessons everywhere.
This line-up at the grocery store represents my life journey; I rushed around filling my basket with everything I want and now I’m sitting here, weighed down by the burden of my materialism and greed, knowing that I will have to pay for it in the end. (rainy day version)
This line-up at the grocery store represents my life journey; I have filled my basket with things that nourish me and now wait patiently to take my gifts out into the world. (sunny day version)
Shoveling up dog poop in the backyard represents life; some tasks are not fun or enriching, but if you don’t take care of them regularly, they can really start to pile up. (There is no sunny day version of poop-scooping. Just FYI.)
I bet I could think of one right now. I’m sitting in front of the woodstove. Give me a minute. Go have some toast. No, you stay here and read. I’ll go have toast.
Okay, I’m back. (By the way, toast is like writing; you take some boring bread (story), make it into something more appealing by toasting it (a tiny exaggeration or two), then jazz it up with peanut butter (a whopper of a lie), and voila, you have something everybody loves. See? Easy.)
Anyway, back to the woodstove. Let’s go with an obvious metaphor; the fire is my power source - as a writer. It represents all the things my soul requires to feel safe and balanced and ready to work. It is the heart of my creativity.
On top of the stove, we always have a kettle and a fan. The fan is one of those that is powered by heat energy. No motor. When the fire gets going, the fan starts whirring; when the fire gets going, the kettle gets warm. The fan circulates the warm air into the room, and the kettle adds moisture to that air.
This morning, the sun was glinting off the flying blades of the fan and getting in my eyes. Also, it was making a slight ticking noise that was annoying me. So, I took it off the stove and put it on the floor. Of course, it stopped working. It is four inches away from its power source and it is just sitting there doing nothing.
The kettle on the other hand, never annoys me. It isn’t the whistling type. Just sits there day after day doing its job. An important job, mind you. Wood heat is dry and our little humidifier tea pot is necessary. As long as you fill it with water every now and again, it will consistently do what we need it to do.
Hmm. Me thinks I am the fan. I have been discouraged in my writing life lately. And, aside from complaining to you, I am doing a lot of fan-impersonating during my Spring Break – just sitting here doing nothing. How did I get away from my inspiration? What moved me those crucial few inches from my source of power?
Sometimes I wish I was the kettle. Never annoying anyone, just sitting there inconspicuously, doing my job quietly and consistently. Everyday.
Got it! Be the fan and the kettle!
Do my job every day: write. Use my writing to figure out why I have lost touch with my creativity. Then get my flashy fan-self, back up onto the stove and start annoying people again.
You know, Richard Wagamese said, To be creative, you have to get in touch with the creator.
I will start there. I have my ways of trying to touch base with Creator. They are probably not the same as yours, but I will find my source again. I can and I will.
Spooky p.s. (*goose bump warning)
When I closed my computer, I went to smudge and sit and I opened Embers (Richard Wagamese) to this:
Question: How do I find Creator?
Answer: You decide what Creator is. If you decide She is peace, love, humility, and non-judgment, you decide to work toward embodying those qualities in your walkabout world. The closer you get to that, the closer you are to finding Creator. That’s what our ceremonies are for. To teach you that Creator is in you, that She always was and always will be. (p.122)
Well, here we are again at the Annual Festival of Confusing the Children.
I watched a clip of a child trying to figure the whole thing out the other day. She asked her dad, "So are Jesus and the Easter Bunny best friends, or what?"
We all know by now that Easter is a Christianization of a pagan spring celebration, thus the eggs and bunnies. (Wink, wink, say no more.)
I have been wracking my brain trying to remember how this was explained to me in my Christian home while I was painting hard-boiled eggs and anticipating snarfing down my annual chocolate bunny.
I imagine it must have gone something like this:
Me: Yo, 'sup with the bunny theme? (Okay, that might be a stretch. I'll start again.)
Me: Why do we get chocolate at Easter?
Older sister: Don't rock the boat.
Me: But seriously, what does chocolate have to do with Easter?
Sis: What does chocolate have to do with anything? Stop bugging me.
Me: Hey, big brother, why do we paint eggs at Easter?
Older Brother: Um, because the eggs remind of us, um. Go away.
Me: Mom, what do bunnies have to do with Easter?
Mom: Maybe there were bunnies at Golgotha. Go take a bath.
Me: Dad, why does the Easter Bunny give us treats to celebrate Jesus dying?
Dad: We're not celebrating that. We're celebrating the resurrection.
Me: With chocolate?
Dad: Yes, that's right. With chocolate. Chocolate makes you happy, right?
Dad: Do bunnies make you happy?
Me: Well, yes. Except when you butcher them and we eat them.
Dad: Bad example. Forget the bunnies. Go back to the treats that make you happy.
Dad: Jesus rising from the dead makes us happy right?
Dad: There you go. Go to bed.
Whatever you believe and however you explain it, Happy Easter!
My partner, Shanny, walked into the house yesterday and raised her arms above her head. “Look at this score!” she cried with jubilation.
There in her hands, held aloft by pure joy, was a pile of newspapers.
Let me pause here and allow your imaginations to sort through the possibilities.
Was she referring to a sporting event? Nope.
Was someone we know on the front page, you wonder. Nope.
Had some ground-breaking innovation been launched into the world through the media? A medical breakthrough? A political triumph? Nope, nope, nope.
Let me stop you right there. The content of the newspapers in question was not the hot issue. (Never is, really, given our “daily news” arrives on-island a day after it is news.)
Let us return to the scene.
“Look at this score!” Shanny cried, and dropped the pile of papers into the cardboard box beside the woodstove where we keep the paper for starting the fire.
Don’t laugh; if you’re cold enough and you can’t find any paper in the morning, you too might consider burning cash. (The new plasticized money probably wouldn’t burn very well, though.)
Anyhoooo, as I witnessed her joy over being at the store at just the right moment, I got to thinking about simple pleasures. Well, not a pile of old newspapers necessarily, but the little things in life.
This morning, as I made the fire, cavalierly scrunching page after page of newsprint and feeling decadent and opulent, I wondered again about the little things that can give us joy if we slow down and notice them. So, I tried to pay more attention on my walk with Jed today. I was rewarded with a rare golden eagle sighting.
But I also noticed a lot of things I see, hear, and smell every day, but often fail to appreciate. I won’t list them - that might cause a riot with readers still up to their bra straps in snow.
Point is, there are all kinds of moments in my day – and yours – that can inspire wonder and joy if we are paying attention.
I think now more than ever, we need to slow down and focus on the little things that bring us joy and I’ll tell you why. It’s not an epiphany, it’s just common sense; when we live in joy, we contribute joy to our world, just as we contribute fear when we live in fear or anger when we live in anger. I don’t want to get all 60’s on you, but what the world needs now . . . you know the rest. We need the love, people. And the joy.
When asked what the purpose of life is, the Dalai Lama replied that it is to be happy. Imagine this world, if everyone’s number one goal was to be happy. Not instant gratification happy. I think he meant contentment happy. (I also wonder if I am happy because I am content, or if I am content because I am happy? Chicken? Egg?)
'Point is, if everyone was committed to feeling content and happy, imagine the shift in the world. If, rather than getting up and watching the world going to hell in a hand basket on CNN, you did something positive in your little corner of the world, what then? Ghandi said we must be the change we want to see in the world. I can’t volunteer for the International Red Cross or run for political office. I sometimes feel like I can’t do anything about the condition of this crazy world. I can’t do much, but I can get up every day and try my best to send joy into my world instead of fear or anger or criticism. Even when, like today, I have a cold and feel more like a mucus factory than a human being. Even when, like today, I am discouraged by unresponsive editors and piling rejection letters. Even when, like today, I am nervous about a job interview. Even when I carry the sadness of others in my heart, I will try to find the little miracles in my day that spark my joy, even for a moment.
Because I need it.
Because my world needs it.
As you may recall from previous 'episodes' of “Wondering Allowed”, I live in paradise!
Now, before you say “Ugh” (or worse) and move on to other things, I thought you might like to know that even here in paradise, ovens need to be cleaned.
As I walked Geriatric Jeddy this morning, I realized I was moving more slowly than he was. Today’s chore list was not one I was in a hurry to get back to. This “not-quite-day” with its dull hue and leaking sky was sucking the life out of my spirit. We have had a lot of rain in the past while. About 9000 days in a row. Okay, not really, but it starts to feel that way when there are more grey days than sunny ones. I think my spirit is overly sensitive to barometric pressure.
Anyhoooo, add the crappy sleeps of menopause and you have the fixings for a miserable day.
So, I have decided to do two things. First, I thought I should tell you that even here in paradise, some days are dreary. We’re all keen to share our best days and quick to turtle when we feel lousy. So . . . paradise: dreary.
Second, I decided to choose joy. Now that I have done number one, you can help me do number two (so to speak – generally I can do number two all by myself.)
I have gone to get my Vitamin G Journal, where I will list ten things I am grateful for in this particular moment. I’m trying to do this every day.
Here is my list for this moment in my life:
I am grateful for . . .
Does he look chilly to you?
There, good. Where was I?
4. my achy hip (because it reminds me not to sit with my legs crossed which could give me varicose veins. I have no idea if that’s true, but it seemed logical when I heard it)
5. being such a sloppy painter (because I wrecked my clothes while painting the bathroom and now I have something to wear for jobs like cleaning the oven)
6. my new lap desk (because it gives me another comfortable place to work. Also, it’s very cool. Wanna see pictures?
7. my iPad (because how else would I be taking all these pictures for you?)
8. fir (because alder burns too fast. Hang on while I feed the fire)
9. oven cleaner (because I would have been scrubbing like a maniac this whole time I have been talking to you, instead of letting the cleaner do the work. Don’t tell anyone I use oven cleaner. There is probably some concoction of tree sap and rosemary that I should be using)
10. my Vitamin G Journal (because the difference between how I felt at #1 and how I feel here at #10 is pretty amazing)
I’m going to go take a picture from the deck (because maybe this day isn't dreary; maybe it's just a different kind of beautiful).
I choose joy.
I'll keep saying it until I feel it.
Yep, that’s right - I stole this blog title from Miriam Toews, but the way I see it, if someone already said it perfectly, why not borrow it? Incidentally, if you haven’t read, All my puny sorrows, what are you waiting for? Janelle Brown of the Los Angeles Times called it a “life-affirming romp through death”. The story is somewhat autobiographical, Miriam Toews having lost both her sister and father to suicide. Out of such unimaginable pain, comes a hopeful book. Now that is lighting a candle rather than cursing the darkness. (Yes, I know. Also stolen. Thank you, Eleanor Roosevelt. See previous rationalization for borrowing.)
This morning, as I sit by the fire listening to Mr. Wiggle-bottom snore (that’s the dog for you newcomers), I’m thinking about that very thing. Finding light in the darkness, joy in pain, sun behind the fog.
The weather has been stormy in the past month. Like this:
Typical for this time of year. Many days in November served up a big helping of wind, rain, and darkness. Let’s face it, you can only sit in front of the fake daylight lamp, scarfing Vitamin D, for so long before you crack. I needed some sunshine and the forecast was promising plenty. A whole row of those beautiful little sun symbols on the week-long forecast page. My eyes blurred with tears just to see it. I got out of bed yesterday morning, eager to work. I ran to the window and threw open the curtains expecting to find this:
Okay, I didn't expect the flowers so much; it is December, after all. But someone promised me sun and that was what I anticipated as I pulled back the curtains.
And saw this:
Somehow, knowing the sun is there, just on the other side of the fog, is almost worse.
However, I just got to work, ignored the weather and had a pretty good day.
I got out of bed this morning, eager to work. I ran to the window and threw open the curtains . . . more fog. So, I sat right down in this chair and started thinking about the stupid fog. And I thought about my sore back, and I thought about the pile of unexpected bills for house repairs we’ve had lately, and I thought about another day on Weight Watchers while my crazy menopausal body gains weight anyhow.
Then, I remembered last summer, swimming in the beautiful lake on a perfect day and confidently telling my dear friend that joy is a practice.
“Joy is a practice,” says I.
“What the heck does that mean?” says he.
“It means you choose it,” says I.
So, here I sit in my complaining chair, getting revved up for a good grump, and I’m faced with a choice. I’m not grieving, nor am I ill. My worries are minor, and I have not (knock on wood) dealt with depression in my life. Ergo, there is no reason why I cannot be happy today.
I choose joy.
The practice of joy is a three-step program:
The first step is to look for joy in every ordinary moment of the day. Like when I overheard a little guy telling his lunch mates that, “the way [his] mom’s brain is wired, you can almost hear the fuse blow.” Or watching my dog swim, with his little tail wriggling with joy the whole time he is in the water (thus the name ‘Wiggle-bottom’). I can find joy in my partner’s laugh, in the peacefulness of our home, in a story of generosity between strangers. Small diamonds of joy are scattered across our paths, if we would only watch for them.
But it is easy to be distracted by our daily lives, our worries, our fast-paced world. To find joy, you sometimes have to seek it.
Secondly, once you find some joy, soak it up. Immerse yourself in the moment. Slow down and be present for it, however insignificant it might seem, however brief it might be. Inhabit it fully.
Lastly, be grateful. Say thank you to the nine-year-old with the quirky sense of humour, to your pet, to your partner. Say thank you to your deity. Even science acknowledges that gratitude is a positive factor in a long and healthy life. Vitamin G, baby!
Seek it, soak it up, say thanks!
My plan is simple and some days, impossibly difficult. But, when I do the work, it works for me.
I grew up with the song Count your Blessings rolling through my head on a regular basis and it is still something I do often; I list the things I’m grateful for. I do this when I’m feeling blessed and – more importantly – I do this when I’m feeling sorry for myself.
My bills are something to be grateful for because 13% of the world lives in abject poverty and would never dream of being so lucky as to own a home to repair. I’m grateful for this ample and healthy body. Particularly in light of the fact that 795 million people were undernourished last year. One in nine people in the world don’t get enough food to be healthy or lead an active life.
My aches and pains are nothing when I think of the approximately 400 million people who lack access to at least one of seven essential health services. And I’m certainly not going to complain about the weather, when over 650,000 people have died in natural disasters in the last seven years. And I’m sitting here safe and warm in my home! Did you know that 65.3 million people were displaced at the end of 2015? The tally comprises 21.3 million refugees, 3.2 million asylum seekers, and 40.8 million people internally displaced within their own countries.
Measured against the world’s population of 7.4 billion people, one in every 113 people globally is now either a refugee, an asylum-seeker or internally displaced. No more whining today!
Here’s the kicker: in the course of writing this piece, my computer froze twice, once losing my whole draft. Now, any of you who know me will attest to the fact that I do not handle tech glitches with any aplomb whatsoever. I’m impatient to begin with, and for a Virgo, losing a draft is akin to having your car stolen by angry clowns.
But guess what? I was so busy looking for diamonds, I just found the whole computer thing funny, given today’s topic.
In spite of the fog, in spite of everything, I had a good day and I’m glad I chose joy. Glad I decided to leave them in the complaining chair, all my puny sorrows.
*Thanks to Brigid Weiler for sharing the great picture of the old Cortes ferry, The Nimpkish.
* Statistics from World Health Organization, Global Trends, World Bank, and the United Nations
One day at the Regional Support Centre, a student having a rough morning was peppering his communication with more than the usual amount of colourful language. After several gentle reminders, the teaching assistant who was working with him, put this note on his report:
Junior can’t seem to stop the damn swearing.
That was Terry. She brought so much laughter to our classroom. She loved to laugh.
I’m sitting by the fire this Halloween morning thinking of Terry. Her name is written in my daybook today because it is her birthday. But this year, I will mark her birthday with a heavy heart because Terry died on October 14.
I knew Terry through work, so, it’s interesting that the word that comes to mind when I think of her is love.
Our classroom welcomed students with challenges in their lives that made it difficult for them to manage their emotions and therefore, their behavior. Sometimes, our students had burned all their bridges and were on their last chance for being in school. These were often angry children who lashed out from their pain. Most of the time they didn’t know what they needed or what they wanted. But they quickly learned that what they would get from Terry, also known as Captain Marshmallow, was love.
In my memory, I see those kids, mostly boys, leaned up against her, listening to her read. I see them giggling with her. I see them doing all sorts of things to have an excuse to be near her when they were hurting. I see them letting her wrap them up in a hug when they wouldn’t let anyone else touch them.
Terry gave them love. When they were obnoxious and rude and had all sorts of sharp edges jutting out everywhere, Captain Marshmallow just pushed on in and loved them up however she could.
I had a great conversation once with an adult who had been an at-risk youth. She told me that while she didn’t remember names, she remembered many faces of the helping adults who had been part of her tumultuous teen years. She remembered how that felt. Kids may not remember what we say, or what we do, but they will remember how we make them feel. (Maya Angelou)
And so, I think of all those former RSC students out there, living their lives. If they saw a picture of Terry today, they might not even remember how they knew her, but I think they would feel a rush of warmth and comfort. Like coming in from the cold to a warm fire and the aroma of baking bread. All those hearts carry the ‘Mark of the Marshmallow’!
And not just the kids, Terry. Thank you for everything. Peace to you, my friend.
In my reading this morning, a beautiful line from Richard Wagamese jumped out and grabbed me:
...parts of us exist in exile, and completeness is journeying to bring them home. *
I sat with that line for a long while, staring into the fire, thinking about the parts of me that exist in exile. Maybe there is no loss, only exile, and if I'm willing to do the work, I can have every part of me back home again.
I have a picture of my little self, standing up in my high chair looking directly into the camera, eyes shining, mouth wide open in a laugh. It's all right there: my curiosity, my trust, my open heart, my joy, my optimism.
It's not that I have lost parts of myself to trauma as so many children have. But a natural exile of innocence occurs as we grow up and experience life's inherent challenges and disappointments.
Add to that the death of a parent at an early age, loss of family and community at a crucial time in my life, rejection by people I needed most when I came out . . . every one of these little bumps caused me to take a piece of my heart, wrap it protectively, and jettison it away for safekeeping. I focused on survival, healing, and figuring out who I was. And slowly, over the years, I have embarked on journeys to find those exiled pieces of my heart and bring them home. Sometimes these journeys are unexpected and easy - a new friendship that brings back some little part of me, or a creative process that opens a locked door.
Sometimes these journeys are difficult - a challenging relationship that triggers me and I don't know why. Figuring out the why might hurt a little, and will likely require some change on my part, but there is a good likelihood that the process will bring another piece of my heart home.
When I worked at the Regional Support Centre, I became accustomed to running self-diagnostics on a daily basis. When I accompanied students on their journeys of self-understanding, I was quietly applying every lesson to my own life. Every day, I put my soul and psyche up on the hoist; regular maintenance was a built-in component of my counsellor/teacher role. As an added bonus, my bosses were excellent diagnosticians and I often availed myself of their expertise. They would help me find the origin of the problem, but everyone was responsible for their own repairs. (Every exiled part of me that I recovered while working at the RSC, I took home to my relationship. In fact, in my case, the RSC might well have stood for Relationship Service Centre).
This morning, as I was pondering all of this, my dog lay beside me, snoring gently. He used to wake himself up with his own snoring, but now, he is adjusting to life without his hearing. He does everything he did before, but with instinctive adaptations. Is he even conscious of the loss? Probably not.
So too, I have adapted to living my life without some of my original parts - the parts so clearly evident in the picture of the happy toddler in front of me. We all adapt. We function very nicely, thank you very much. But are we complete?
Today, I renew my commitment to keep journeying, to keep searching, to bring it all back home. Or as much as possible.
Watch for me: I'll be the one standing on my chair looking directly into the camera, eyes shining, mouth wide open in a laugh.
*Richard Wagamese, Embers, One Ojibway's Meditations. Douglas & McIntyre, 2016. (p.95)
Monica Nawrocki -