Monday, 19 December 2016

Advent Done Badly



I sat at home alone yesterday morning, while my husband bundled up our two sons and took them out to mass on his own.  For the third Sunday in a row.

I did try.  I got up, got dressed, had coffee and even got in the car but in the end, I came home.

I walked through the front door, threw my coat over the back of the nearest chair and fell gracelessly onto our red couch, where the day before we found the body of our beloved cat who had died peacefully in her sleep.  I looked around and saw the advent candles, all still the same size they were at the beginning of advent.  The Christmas tree that I have to say looks beautiful because William decorated it on his own, stimming with excitement after putting on each ornament, all the bottom branches boasting three or four glittery balls.

I put my head in my hands in exhaustion and thought of all the plans I'd had to make this advent THE advent.  The most peaceful, the most spiritual, the most beautiful one yet.  In my mind we would gather around the dark wooden dining room table in the evenings, light a candle, I'd read a Christmas story in my most gentle and motherly voice.  My sons would listen.  It would be magic.

And in regards to myself, I had decided confidently at the beginning of advent I would grow so much spiritually.  I would meditate on the first Christmas, I would journey with the Holy Family.  I would pray the rosary and be filled with unshakable peace and joy.  I would be generous and not yell or get angry or judge people or focus on myself.

As I read back what I have written, maybe therein lies the irony.  I would not focus on myself.  What were all my great plans and expectations, if not the ultimate focusing on myself?  How good I'd be and how I'd be that spiritual and good all on my own.  All because I decided to and I had the strength and discipline to carry it out.

How I would benefit from an advent full of quiet peace.  A cozy, candlelit, storybook preparation for the sacred birth of our Lord.

Then I could hand the Lord these things at the end of Advent and say "Look how perfectly I've preformed!  Look what I have done!"

However, the reality has been that I haven't made it to even one mass this advent.  I did maybe six reflections with the kids and then the books I laid out with such good intentions, sat unopened.  I have been so tired and worn down that I have complained every day.  This advent has passed in a flurry of changing sheets, illness, exhaustion, impatience, trying to calm meltdowns, trying to explain the death of a much loved animal to a little boy who thinks the cat died because we didn't pet her enough.
 
Yet nothing catastrophic has happened.  Only daily distractions, small daily failures and sorrows.  Somehow the spiritual got all lost in the mundane.

Some wise friends helped me to remember though, that the spiritual is also found in the mundane.  I tend to separate the two.  As in, if I am a success at spiritual living, all aspects of my life will fall into place and I will no doubt awe others with the transcendent glow that surrounds me.  If I am not successful, well then, it all falls apart.

Deep in my heart, I know it all falls apart anyway.  I can't make anything perfect.  Not myself, not my children, or my home, or my prayer life.  I don't have that sort of power or control.

Maybe I approach this Christmas with hands full of ugly, imperfect offerings.  Approach the stable tired and a little disillusioned. With only unsuccessful attempts as gifts.  Here's all my impatience Lord.  Here's my quick temper.  My sharp tongue.  Here's all the yelling and exasperation that my kids didn't deserve.  Here's my grief, yes, grief, over the loss of our cat.  Here are all the things I put before you.  Here are all my other gods.

Maybe I approach with these imperfect gifts but I don't leave empty handed.

I know the soft glow of joy that is found in uncomfortable circumstances.  The knowledge that failure isn't always as it appears.  The promise that we can be made new.  Again and again if need be.  And need be.  In this season of Advent, rather than give, I can ask for healing, for humility, for gentleness, for all the things I lack.

I can keep trying.


Wednesday, 17 August 2016

The Mug That Said "Embrace Change": The Aftermath of a Meltdown



I wipe down the counter.  After putting away the things that don't belong there, I stop and look.
What's left?  A grapefruit.  A folded blue cloth.  A fat mug with words "Embrace Change" written on it.

I feel a sudden irrational rush of resentment.

I feel, unfairly, that those words failed me, owed me something and let me down.

I am a happy embracer of change, I really am, I want to say out loud to someone.  My adult life has been spent adapting to all sorts of changes.  I am good at change, I think stubbornly.  I don't resist it, I roll with it.

This time though, my heart contracts and the words on the mug become blurry.  I think, rather unreasonably, Stupid mug!  What do you know about change?  I glare at it and its pretty flowers and calm color.

I step back.  One physical step only but much further away in my mind.

Until all things large and small become distant.

Time stops.

There has been another tornado.  My palms turned upwards in dismay.  It's left miles and miles of damage and debris.  Things got broken.  Time seemed to stand still.  For awhile we just existed in the eye of the storm.

A gentle question.  How was it?  Were you afraid?

Yes.

 It was...unspeakable.  Inconceivable.  It seemed to come from nowhere.  The sky had been calm for a month. Nothing!  I had looked out my window, there were no small funnel clouds hovering menacingly over fields.  There was no darkening of the sky.  The wind didn't even pick up.  There were no alarms ringing in the air, telling us to run.  Get somewhere safe. To be somewhere safe.

I live where this sort of thing happens sometimes.  But even so, I forget pretty easily.  Second guess myself.  After awhile, when all evidence of the storm is gone, I go about my day, I smile to myself.  Maybe... it wasn't so bad, that last time.  It takes on the quality of a dream...of something not quite real...

But that's the weather for you.  That's life for you.  Isn't it?  

Later, there's a lot of discussion.  A lot of explaining the details.  A lot of words on paper.  A lot of change on the horizon.

In the aftermath, everything feels suspended.  Tender.

There is a little, still so little really, black haired boy skipping down the road ahead of me, a lopsided backpack half the size of his body, hanging off his shoulders.  Turning, peering at me over his shoulder.

"Mommy?  Do you still love me?"

"There's nothing you can do that would make me stop."

And silently I think "I've got this.  I've got you.  Don't worry.  We are going to take care of this somehow."



Friday, 27 May 2016

Schoolyard Bullying



Bullying.  A word that has only gained in intensity and power despite its frequent use.  Everyone is outraged by bullying. It is the hot topic at parent meetings and "zero tolerance for bullying" has become every school's catch phrase.

And rightly so.  Consistent bullying is intolerable and can lead to horrific situations and leave lifelong wounds, especially on the heart of a small child, unequipped to make sense of a situation that would baffle most adults.  We have all read the stories, horror stories really,  of children and teenagers who take their own lives as a result of prolonged, systematic bullying.

We read these stories and try to convince ourselves that these things couldn't touch us on such a devastating level.  

We tell ourselves that a child who is bullied so badly that they take their own life must not receive the necessary love or attention at home to overcome the bullying by their peers.  A child who would take their own life must not have really been taught how great their worth was, how precious and irreplaceable they were.  However, if we are honest, we know that this is not always the case.  It's far more complex than that.  A child who is terrorized daily on the playground may have vulnerabilities in other areas already and may not have the capacity to cope with or process the trauma they are enduring.

Sometimes the most loving home in the world can't save a child who has been made to feel so utterly worthless.  

It is frightening to acknowledge that sometimes the most secure home isn't enough.

Bullying is intolerable.  

Schools should have a zero tolerance policy.  These words instill confidence, the idea that something is being done right, but is there substance behind these words?  

Sometimes a concern about bullying is met with something frighteningly similar to victim blaming.  "I am sorry but your child isn't like other children.  I'm sorry but your child doesn't read social situations very well.  I am sorry but..."

In essence, I'm sorry but somehow your child has brought this upon himself.

The bottom line is that these "I'm sorry but" comments are essentially contradictory to the idea of having a zero tolerance for bullying policy in the first place.  These comments in fact, contribute to bullying rather than lead to finding a solution.  The message given is that children could avoid being bullied if they would just conform to a standard notion of normal.  If they could manage to become just like everyone so as not to stand out in any way.

Is this what we want for our children?  It isn't what I want for mine.  The answer to bullying is not conformity or eliminating differences or the very things that make someone an individual.  As my children grow, I don't want to teach them to blend in and not stand out.  I want to teach them to stand up and be who they are and were created to be, even if who they are is a little bit quirky, a little bit different.  

We can try to teach ourselves and our children courage, empathy and hard things like how to stand up for someone who is being hurt or made fun of.  We can try to help them understand that a person is allowed to be different.  

It's important to keep teaching children that there are obvious differences we see at once.  For example, we may remember to teach our children that we don't bully a child who has a different skin color or who speaks with an accent.  We may remember to teach them not to make fun of someone who has uses a wheelchair or a child who has a visible disability.

It's also important to teach our children and perhaps ourselves, that there are less obvious differences as well.  Disabilities or syndromes we don't see or understand fully because a child seems "normal" on the surface.  The little boy who is bright and engaging but obsesses over one thing and repeats himself constantly.  The child who is sitting quietly in class and suddenly has a series of noticeable vocal or motor tics.  A child with sensory issues who has trouble processing the light, feel, noise, and speed of the world around them and experiences meltdowns or shutdowns.  All of these things may seem funny to classmates until someone sits down and explains to them what is actually happening to the child experiencing these things.  

That that child may just think a little differently and understand and experience the world a little differently.  Most importantly, that there is room in the world for everyone and it's ok to be a little different.  It's a pretty good lesson to take with us as we go through life.

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Things I Would Like To Control



Tonight I am not looking to produce a brilliant piece of writing.
I am just looking to control the things I can control.
It's been the worst.
The most overwhelming.
I feel like between this and that, I can't quite reach the surface to draw breath.
I find myself wanting to scream at innocent people saying normal things
The words I always so smugly deemed as arrogant:
You don't understand.
But of course, I bite my tongue.
I had this urge tonight to smash my fist into a wall in frustration.
Or to see it fly through glass.
I, the peace loving, non confrontational, smiling optimist.
But of course, I kept my fists to myself.

Because I have to be emotionally stable now.
I don't get the luxury of hurling raw emotions all over the place
And leaving others to wade through the debris.

I am just looking to control the things I can control.
It's how I know when I am overwhelmed.

I struggle with a sweeping desire for clarity,
And when I can't find it.
I feel the panic burning in my throat and I want it gone.
Everything.  Every excess thing.
I want it all gone from my sight, gone from my home.

I keep hoping that in one of these purging binges, I find it.
That I will raise my eyebrows, give a rueful laugh,
Oh there it is!  Clarity was just hiding in the back of my overstuffed closet!

Material things, they make it so I can't breathe.

As soon as life starts spiraling, I start trying to breathe by throwing clothing into bags to give to a friend, by piling books on the floor to give to the library, by tossing papers and pictures into the garbage.  I open up my cupboards and slam them shut again, take a deep breath, overwhelmed by the excess...

Each thing that leaves the house gives me a rush of vivid relief.
A heady injection of the illusion of control.

The truth of it is this:
Material things are things I can control.

Things I can't control:
I can't stop someone from hurting,  Not even someone who is my world, my heart.

Walking home from dropping my son off at school in the morning, my stomach in knots, my heart pounding heartbreak, there's so much I can't control.

I can't keep him safe.  I can't protect him from the laughter, and fists, and words.

I can't keep his shining exuberance intact.  I can't wrap my arms around him and keep him from being hurt.

And this is when it hits me, the helplessness I feel.  I wish there was a contract I could have signed.
Between God and I when I became a parent.

It would have asked me to confirm please,
Am I willing to take all the pain, all the needless suffering this child might experience, on myself,
Let him get through life whole, unscathed?
Sign and date below.

I would have done it.  I would have said, yes anything.  Just let him keep his smile.

If that were a thing I could control.

Monday, 11 April 2016

Blogging: Succeeding At The Things That Don't Matter

“Our greatest fear should not be of failure but of succeeding at things in life that don't matter.”  - Francis Chan

I first started blogging in 2007 when my husband and I first decided to adopt.  I began a blog called "Carpe Diem, Gorgeous!" and simply wrote. That was really all I did with the blog.  I didn't worry much about stats aside from thinking it was great fun to see the various countries those who visited it came from.  I didn't spend time on blog promotion groups, I don't even think they existed then.  I may have occasionally shared a post to my personal Facebook page but rarely.  Getting things shared on social media wasn't yet a "thing".  I never heard someone mention "going viral" or having that as a goal.  I never heard of blogging goals at all.  I never thought about my blog "making it big".  In fact, the main reason I stopped blogging at Carpe Diem was because I felt I had too many readers (in reality, not a huge amount!) and I didn't want it to become more about the readers than about the actual writing.  This isn't vanity speaking, this stems from the fact that although I love writing and publish many personal things, I also have a deep, contradictory need for privacy.  

Looking back, I think that we had more fun blogging then.  Blogging was more relaxed.  Many wrote simply for the pleasure of writing.  This can be argued of course since it is only a personal opinion but it's how it felt.  We all connected then through browsing and truly enjoying other's blogs, commenting and building strong relationships.  After a couple years of blogging, I had a good readership and a strong, close group of people that I interacted with (and interact with still in may cases) and many of those people became friends.  

I took a break from blogging (not writing) for several years and came back to discover blogging is business now.  Blogging is serious and competitive.  Blogging is less than ever about personal interaction and more about numbers of followers on social media.  Much (not all) content has become quite bland or on the contrary, purposely controversial.  Less about actual writing and more about succeeding at blogging itself.  I find that I have trouble making myself care about all these things blogging is now supposed to be.  I just want an emotional and creative outlet.

I care about writing and authenticity.  I care about reading what other people are genuinely concerned about or what touches their hearts.  I care about beautiful, interesting, clever, creative writing.  I care about the people behind the words.  I care about interaction and sharing.  I care about reaching people.

I like to write serious things and I like to have fun with writing.  I like a little, unprofessional, non- trendy blog.

The articles I send out into the world for publication are one thing.  I write them because I want people to share and read them.  What I write here is different. Sometimes I want to write things here that are more private, that I don't want to be shared many times or seen by many people. Things that are just for me.  

In the end, people may like or dislike what I write but I am the one who knows whether I am satisfied with what I have written.  That knowledge has to come from inside myself.  

Writers need to have a combination of assurance and uncertainty to maintain authenticity and vulnerability.  Blogging is one thing.  Writing another.  And sometimes, people manage to combine the two.        

Happy writing!  I'm still having fun!:)

Monday, 14 March 2016

Now You've Got To Be Strong



Now you've got to draw close.
Wrap your arms around your body, use you hands to
Protect your heart.
Create some sort of barrier.
Do the hard things you aren't sure you can do.

Now you've got be strong.
Not give anything away.
Hold your hand across your mouth
And not give fear a voice.

Now you're going to become familiar with a new sort of chaos.
With things that will hurt and damage.
Familiar with watching someone you love more than yourself fall apart.
Familiar with distance and not being able to reach them sometimes.

Now your heart will break
And you will cry a million private tears,
Into towels in the bathroom
While you do your makeup.
Into pillows.
Into your hands.
At any time of day.
And maybe no one believes you.
Or maybe they think it's your fault.
You haven't done enough.
You have done too much,
In any case, you can never win.
There will always be those who see the ways you have failed with this.

But now you have to focus.
On moments.  The small singular softer moments.
On loving and loving and reassuring that you love,

Now you must become the safest harbor there is.
The very safest place you could ever imagine
For someone who is hurting in ways you don't understand.
Now you have to open your arms
And make room for all this sorrow.
You slowly kneel on the floor and collect shattered pieces of everything broken.
Lego. Glass. Hearts.
All in disarray.
Now you have to try
To put everything back together,

Now you've got to be stronger than you expected you'd need to be.
And you can be.
You can be
Both warrior and peacemaker
Both a storm and a safe place
For the ones you love.


Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Accepting Norway



It's funny that come July I will have lived in Norway for 12 years and yet I have devoted little time to writing about my life here.

Maybe because Norway and I have had a rather rocky relationship at times or rather, when I look at it now with eyes wide open, because I have struggled through some trying and difficult human relationships here and wrongly held Norway the country to blame for personal attitudes I found restrictive and narrow.

This wasn't always so.  When I first came to Norway, I threw myself into being there.  I was enthusiastic about the people I met and the country itself.  I was 18 years old.  My hair was streaked blond and I was wearing an old grey and red school sweater and jeans.  I stepped into the cool autumn air and smiled at my friend Alyssa, my partner in crime, my fellow adventurer.  Oslo.  It felt so grand. So far away.  Feeling edgy and grown up, I slung my back pack over my shoulders and stepped on to the busy street, cupping my hands around my mouth and shouted to anyone listening "Can anyone point us in the direction of a church?"

We planned to take shelter in a church, we thought we could sleep there for the night.  Because we had very little money we thought this was quite a clever plan.

A beautiful black haired woman stopped in front of me.  "A church?"  Her eyes curious, her mouth forming a surprised "o".  I explained we needed somewhere to sleep and she smiled and motioned with her lovely, manicured hand to follow her.  She had somewhere we could stay,  

We were jet-lagged and optimistic.  We followed her down some winding unfamiliar streets.  She spoke to man outside a building, he led us to a room upstairs.  It was expensive but by this point we were too tired to care.

We slept there one night and moved on, not thinking about it again until I told a Norwegian man where we had stayed our first night in Norway and he snorted with laughter.  "You stayed there? That place is known for prostitution and drug dealers!"

To this day I still haven't slept in a church in Norway but at least I have this great achievement to brag about.

I digress but I came to Norway at 18 prepared to love it.  I visited again several times before moving here "for good" at the age of 24.  Every time I visited I told my Norwegian friends to find me a job and I would stay.

And that is funny in itself, because I often feel it would have made more sense given my personality and way of thinking to be drawn somewhere else.  Somewhere vibrant and colorful and diverse. Instead at that time in my life, I was drawn here.  

I was drawn here by love eventually and the thing is that after 12 years somewhere, you come to know yourself to be at home in a place, whether you like it or not really.  Whether you intend to feel at home or not.  The thing is the lines get blurred.  Home, family, missing, loneliness.  You come to see it's all a journey.  You are home here. You are home there.  It is not clear cut or easy to define anymore because you give up one home to create another and yet home is inside yourself.  Home is anywhere now.  

Living in a country is nothing like traveling, even extended traveling.  Living somewhere is a whole other story. 

I see now, finally, that Norway has borne the brunt of so many of my emotions that were really directed toward other people.  People who rather than welcome me or helping my transition here, made it more difficult.  People from whom I expected far too much.  Now for me, the lovely thing is, this is all done in my head and heart.  

I simply accept what is at this moment in time and I don't worry about the rest. 

Some days I feel that this beautiful country lacks something essential for holding the soul together.  I will never be fully Norwegian but nor am I really fully Canadian.  I have trouble identifying a place I really identify with,  But perhaps this is a great blessing.  I am not afraid.  I am not attached to just one place.  I can move through the world with great ease.  

I can be here.  I can be there.  My home is not a tangible place.  




Monday, 22 February 2016

A Letter To Those Mothers Who Have Given Up A Child For Adoption



Dear Mothers of Loss to Adoption,

I don't know if you will want to hear from me, a mother through adoption but the beauty of the internet is that we all have a voice.  We can all be heard.

I read some of the comments you wrote about my recent article on infertility that was posted on your Facebook page.  One of you said I was disgusting and another said that it was impossible to mourn what I'd never lost.  One wrote that your sympathy for those experiencing infertility ended when a woman thought she could take the child of another mother and try to make it her own.  One person commenting likened adoption to wanting a Porsche and feeling entitled to one and so simply taking one that rightfully belonged to someone else.  One woman shared her belief that the only real mother is a birth mother.

Reading those comments didn't make feel me angry, defensive or even offended, but they did make we wish that there was some way I could reach out to you.  Just as each birth mother is unique and has her own story, so is each adoptive mother.  We are not all the same.  I won't try to make less of your grief. You have every right to it.  We all have our own stories and those stories are our truths.

My truth is that I have thought about you from the moment that adoption first entered my mind. Before I even knew with certainty that we would try to adopt, it was you I wondered about.  I hurt for you because although I wasn't yet a mother myself and I knew nothing of your circumstances, I understood that this was not all joy and celebration.  There was immeasurable grief, loss, anguish involved too.  I knew my gain would be someone else's heart-shattering, lifelong loss.

I tried to imagine you.  My mind wouldn't rest.  I pictured you in an unfamiliar place, a world away from me.  Arms wrapped around yourself.  Hands resting on your belly.  I wondered how old you were.  If you were just a child, or a widow, or a woman my age.  I wondered if your family had abandoned you upon learning you were pregnant as so often happens in some countries even to this day.

I wondered what you felt when you learned you were pregnant.  Were you filled with a tentative joy? Did you hope against hope, pray for a possibility, however small, that you might not have to part with the precious child you carried inside?  Were you terrified, did you dread what was to come?  Did you feel full of resolve or full of despair?  Was the child you carried a product of love?  Anger?  War?  

I wondered when you would begin to think about me, a nameless woman in another country. Another world.  What would you want to tell me if you could?

Now I am writing this years later, I feel deeply the pain of adoption but I also see the beauty it can bring in some situations.  It is not a perfect answer or solution but it can be an option or answer for some.

Even at the beginning of this long journey, I wanted to promise you so much.  Mostly that I would not forget you, but more importantly, that I wouldn't let your child won't forget you either.  That we will always be a part of each other.  You will always be with me and with this child.

It is my hope that my children carry a love for their birth parents and their birth country in their hearts as they live.  I promise you I don't feel threatened by this.  There is enough love to cover this. Enough love to cover me and you.  It is my hope that one day we will meet you again.

I am stepping into the gap for this child although I am not perfect and can't do it all or know it all.

I can't apologize for the fact that my husband and I are parents through adoption.

But I promise you that I don't feel entitled to this child.  I know he is not fully mine.  He is fully his own and I have the honor and great responsibility to care for him as he grows and love him.  In this way, I hope to honor you too.

I picture myself standing before you, beside you, with you, someday.  I feel we are united.  This is your child. This is my child.  We are united in our love and responsibility to him, you and I.

As I said, I don't know if you wanted to hear from me but I wanted to tell you this.

Love, C.

(I wrote this in response to comments that were written under my article on infertility on one of the pages that shared it on Facebook.  I don't usually respond to those sorts of comments and did not want to engage in an argument no one can win on Facebook or in the comment section of Huffington Post but felt as though I could address it here.)




  

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

I Forgive You Fully But Will Maintain My Distance


“To forgive another person from the heart is an act of liberation. We set that person free from the negative bonds that exist between us. We say, “I no longer hold your offense against you” But there is more. We also free ourselves from the burden of being the “offended one.” As long as we do not forgive those who have wounded us, we carry them with us or, worse, pull them as a heavy load. The great temptation is to cling in anger to our enemies and then define ourselves as being offended and wounded by them. Forgiveness, therefore, liberates not only the other but also ourselves. It is the way to the freedom of the children of God.” – Henri Nouwen

To truly and fully forgive another person is a beautiful act of liberation as Henri Nouwen states.  The decision to forgive is a choice that does not depend on feelings alone and yet when we choose to forgive, we are often freed of our feelings of anger and negativity toward a person as well and that is true liberation of the spirit.

There is a common misconception that to forgive means that all goes back to the way it once was and that if it doesn't, forgiveness hasn't actually taken place.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  

Genuine and authentic forgiveness can take place while still maintaining distance in a relationship or even while severing ties altogether.

Another quote I like says that " forgiveness does not always lead to a restored relationship" and I feel that is an important point.  It can lead to a healed and restored relationship of course but forgiveness can still be present even when a relationship is not healed.

My mother also wrote something once that I feel sums up the concept of forgiveness beautifully: "Forgiveness is a decision, not a feeling.  It does not always mean you forget, especially if you or others were deeply harmed.  Nor does it mean what happened means nothing now.  What happened, happened.  Whether you ever trust that person again or re-establish a relationship has NOTHING to with forgiveness.  Some relationships need to be severed.  How do we really know we have forgiven someone?  When we can ask God to bless that person with faith. good health and peace in their lives."

As for myself, I will not ever withhold forgiveness when asked for as I often need it myself.  I forgive fully with all my heart but believe things can presently remain as they are.  

The beauty is the lightness I feel in my heart, the liberation of letting go of anger and the very real knowledge that I wish the forgiven person every success and joy in their life.  I wish them peace, abundant love and good health for themselves and their family.  I wish them only the very best and will be happy for them when life treats them well and sorry when it doesn't.  I will pray for their success in every area of life.  

It's done for me.  I forgive you and I set you free.  I wish you only success and happiness.  

It's settled and I also am set free.  I no longer carry what you did with me.  I am not wounded or offended or angry or hurt.  I am free.  

I am thankful for the opportunity to forgive because I truly, deeply was in great need of it.  

Sunday, 10 January 2016

The Death of a Childhood Friend



I learned today that a dear childhood friend of mine died suddenly on the first day of this bright, hopeful new year.  She had just turned 36 years old two days before she died.  Her Facebook page was brimming first with cheerful happy birthday messages and then filled with somber messages of grief and heartbreak.

We were friends during grade school but had had no contact aside from an occasional like or comment here and there on Facebook in the intervening years.

Having had no close contact with her for so many years now, I don't want to try to claim a share in a grief that doesn't rightfully belong to me, a grief reserved for her heartbroken family and for those strong, cherished friendships she has built at this stage of her life.

Yet learning of her death shocked me.  I am deeply sorry to hear of it.

It sends my mind tumbling backward to long summer days and long evening phone calls.  To being a girl with a best friend.  To sleep overs and laughter and whispered secrets.  To notes left in lockers and giggling in class.  To posing for grainy photos on the porch in homemade Halloween costumes, grinning at the camera with pillowcases full of candy in our hands.  To comparing our puffy sleeved taffeta Christmas dresses and the magic of school Christmas concerts each year.  To skating at the community hall rink on New Year's Eve.  To childhood and young adolescence and small town innocence.

As it happens I don't remember the last time I saw her.  I don't have a clear memory of ever saying good bye.  We had several years of good friendship and then naturally drifted apart.  Such is life, but the friends of our childhoods rarely leave us entirely.  They stay in our hearts and heads.  They live on in the memories we speak of to our own children.

People die at all ages.  There is no guarantee that just because we are young, we will have many more years to do all we hope to do.  That we will have the great gift of time.  That we will be given the time to grow into the selves we wish to become.

I always imagine myself growing quite old.  Wrinkled and wise, after a full complete life.  I imagine I will have had the time to make things right, make amends, grow past my mistakes.  I see myself in the future easily.  I see being forgiven for the things I have done wrong because I will have a whole life ahead of me to make up for these things.

I see myself now and all the things I worry about.  All the things that drive my actions and thoughts. The petty competitions and jealousies.  The unkind words I can make up for tomorrow.  The impatience for the future, for the next adventure, the next big thing when what do I have before me now if not my life's "big thing"?  Two little boys looking up to me with love shining in their eyes.  A husband who loves me, a safe home, good health, numerous possibilities and freedoms.

I see the way I try to define myself.  The care I give to my clothing.  The way I get discouraged that I have gained weight.  The small things I focus on.  The books I have read, the shows I watch, the places I have traveled to that maybe give me this slight edge over you.

I see how it doesn't matter.

I do not think of my childhood friend this evening and think about the way she dressed or if she got to travel more than me.  I think of her face in the obituary notice.  I think of her face in the photos I have of us as young girls.  Her happy eyes.  Her cheerful smile.  Her kind heart.

I think now of what matters.

Monday, 4 January 2016

Haiku and the Fragmented Heart



I was always a girl in love with words.

I began a love affair with poetry in a second hand bookshop in the city near our small prairie town when I was around twelve.

After passing stacks of comic books, piles and piles of regency romance and popular mystery novels, I found several dusty shelves at the very back of the shop heavy with once well-loved and well read collections of poetry.  Thin volumes and thick, often in rich burgundy binding.  Visually beautiful.  I felt like a girl in a novel when I would reach up almost cautiously, hoping my fingers would land on just the right volume and lift it reverently off the shelf, gently wipe the dust from its cover.  Magic.

I had long had an affinity for old, forgotten things.  A legacy from my Icelandic grandfather who owned three antique\ junk shops in the Chatham area before he up and sold it all and moved to Haiti, where he remained for the rest of his life, building houses, writing letters, working with those who had nothing material to call their own.  He became known down on that ravaged island as their beloved "grand-père".  He wrote that the children would hold hands and dance after him wherever he walked or near wherever he worked singing about the kindness of their white grand-père.

My own memories of him begin with hot sunlight, dust billowing up behind his old rusty car as we drove down the dirt lanes of the prairies in search of dusty treasures for sale in someone's barn.  Some colorful beads, some unusual glassware, something strange and unexpected.  I was a very little girl but I remember clearly the thrill of possibility.

That thrill never quite left me.  The possibility of finding treasure in old bookshops is one that still makes my heart beat faster.

I spent a lot of my time reading poetry.  I began with what was easiest and most available to me, the flowery poems of the Romantic period.  I spent a long time reading them but the words never quite spoke to the deepest and purest part of my soul.  They never quite reached me.  I was simply reading the wrong sort of poetry for the person I am.

Many years later, I am discovering the poets that do.  I recognize them as though they were my dearest friends.  Soulmates of sorts. Their thoughts resonate deeply in my heart.  They make me set down my book, shut my eyes and repeat their words again and again until I feel my soul lift and heal.  The words aren't pretty or flowery but they are deeply, authentically beautiful.

We need this sort of thoughtful, painful beauty in our lives.  There is too much rushing, too much fragmentation of the soul, too much distraction and devoting our time to things that don't matter.  There is little time for art, for lingering, for simply being.

I also feel that along with poetry,  the art of the haiku, especially those of Japanese poet Basho, bring us back to the core of ourselves.  Their simplicity is staggering and profound.  Alluring.  The focus on nature puts our hearts where they are comfortable residing.  Through haiku we are able to focus on one thing at a time.  We are able to feel deeply.  This is peaceful and healing.

Basho's words in the following verse are hauntingly beautiful.

Deep autumn,
How does my neighbor live I wonder?

This verse was the first of Basho's I stumbled upon while reading the book "Under the Tuscan Sun" and like it touched the author of that book, it also touched me deeply.  As a girl in love with words, as a woman who feels we are often live disconnected from all life and from others although the desire for connection is at the heart of all we undertake, it spoke to me.

I began with this haiku and I sought out books of Basho's other work and it was like quenching a thirst.  I felt the world begin to whisper in my ears again.  In the same way it when I was a child.  In the same way it did before smart phones and technology conspired to keep our eyes glued to the screens in front of us and safely off the souls around us.  Keep us from the risk of feeling deeply.  Of loving even when it hurts and challenges us.  The hard work of living.

Haiku show us that the magic is still there.  In a leaping frog.  In a quiet village.  In a still pond.  In every bird that breaks our heart with its song.

                                --------------------------------------------------------------------

(I connect these words to my memories of my grandfather because he lived a life of deep commitment and connection to those he served through his work.  He saw how his neighbor (in his case, the people of Haiti) lived and set about meeting them where they were.  Loving them through the work he did, through the humor and simple acceptance he showed them, through his life of giving up in order than others could have.  It might seem odd for me to draw a connection between a wandering Buddhist monk\ poet with a deep love of nature and my workaholic, chain smoking Catholic Icelandic grandfather but it really isn't.  They share this.  Profound love, be it of nature or of others.  A disdain for material items.  A desire to do better than the minimum society tells us we should do.  They were both perhaps, unconventional.

Two men of deep thought and profound intelligence.  Men of both words and action.)