The work to forget, can be as difficult as the trying to remember.
― Frederick Buechner,
The work to forget, can be as difficult as the trying to remember.
We unlearn desire. Quietly, over time, we succumb to the dependable script of the expected life and become masters of the middle way … after a while we no longer even notice the pathways off to the side … John O’Donohue (Beauty)
“The summer is almost over,” my 91 year old mother declares with authority on our weekly Sunday phone call. I already know her next line: “Before you know it, it’s going to snow. It will be Christmas.”
A writing course had occupied my spring and when I hit “Submit” for my final paper on June 30, I also hit “Break Free” for the summer … and here she states the truth: Summer is Short.
In Canada it is very short, and also the reason it is full of outdoor activity. Canadians know its brevity. As if to verify my mother’s words the picture of last September’s snow came to mind. For the sake of the course, I had put off my summer and now my days were numbered.
Three days ago I picked up a friend from the airport, who is returning to be in the presence of an aunt in the final stages of cancer. The struggle was closing in. Last summer, another dear friend lost the battle with a heart issue, her family motherless before the end of August.
Oh the summertime blues. The life time blues … it comes and it goes. Life, breath, beauty, flowers, illness and departure; like the river current moving toward a final destiny.
My own grandchildren come to visit in a week. I have been anticipating this time for what seems ages, and before I write my next blog that moment-in-the-sun will have passed.
The elusive speedy nature has me either lamenting or rejoicing.
So what will I do now that the summer is almost over? … I plan to enjoy every remaining moment as much as I can. It begins with cleaning off of my small patio, setting up the deck water fountain, planting the flowers I got on the end of the season sale.
I want to build good memories that will warm those cold winter days. I want to connect with nature as much as I can. Listen to the music. Enjoy the richness with those that cross my path. There is only one summer of 2015. I want to smell the flowers.
Above all else, I want to practice gratitude.
That gratitude that started July first, where in a moment of unprecedented Canadian patriotism, I joined a small town crowd for the raising of the flag, the singing of Oh Canada, the picture taking with two handsome red-suited mounties. To quote my mother: “I am so thankful for the country that we live in.” She is thankful; she has health care, she feels looked after. She feels safe. My only on-the-planet daughter lives in a region where recent terrorism has taken a deadly toll.
Below a black squirrel hops across the traffic filled street, only mindful that he needs to live in this summer moment, oblivious to the cars that will soon sweep his path … he pauses in the middle of the street, I think he winks at me and scurries to his destination. My pot of recently planted petunias smile at me in shades of blue-lavender. A dahlia from a friend adds the exclamation mark.
Life like summer is brief. Gratitude precedes the joy … The thunder heads will roll in, we had hail on Saturday, but for this moment, this brief spell, I want to Be in The Beauty, the beauty of a summer morning ripe with anticipation.
It’s about The Climb
Sunday afternoon with the promise of poutine to follow, I invited two international University of Calgary students to join me for a little walk. They come from Africa and want to experience as much of Canada as possible, on their meagre student budget. I can show them sections of the nearby Rocky Mountains. This particular hike, I did almost two years ago, and thought it to be fairly easy. Early on, the 27 year old from Malawi slightly short of breath states, we need to pace ourselves, and take time to enjoy the scenery. We come to a fork in the road.
They suggest the easy option, but I had read the reviews: the more difficult is the more scenic route. Since I am buying the poutine, they agree to go left. They have each had an intense year of studies, are here for the long haul, unable to return home, but thankful for technology which connects them to loved ones in Malawi and Zimbabwe. Our in-depth conversations have been labelled as DRDs—Deep Reality Discourses … we talk about life, the expectations of women in their countries, to be bearing children at this stage of life and the singleness issue. We talk about cultural differences, the loss of fathers for each of them, we always venture into spirituality. I love these DRDs.
I take many photos, another hiker passes us, and I point them out to her. She and I marvel at their intricacy. My students admire them, but do not appreciate the rarity of the sighting. The hiker informs us of an owl nesting in a rocky opening at the top of the hike. She continues her way down and we continue our climb. We dip our hands in the mountain stream, drink of its water, the younger woman expresses her desire to spend a day with her journal next to the sound of a mountain waterfall. We marvel at the aqua green colour of the lake, and search for the great grey owl that appeared to have been waiting for us.
After the promised poutine rated as the best west of Montreal, (La Belle Patate) we return back to our normal lives, feeling a slight connection to Miley Cyrus in knowing that there’s always gonna be another mountain and it ain’t how fast we get there, it’s The Climb. At the end of the day, students returned, I marvel at the beauty of the day, the gift of the orchids, the owls and that I could keep pace with these two young women. I hope to return soon.
I will not live in fear
of falling or catching fire.
I choose to inhabit my days,
to allow my living to open me,
to make me less afraid,
to loosen my heart
until it becomes a wing,
a torch, a promise.
I choose to risk my significance,
to live so that which came to me as seed
goes to the next as blossom,
and that which came to me as blossom,
goes on as fruit.”
― Dawna Markova, I Will Not Die an Unlived Life: Reclaiming Purpose and Passion
The Climb, sung by Miley Cyrus, written byJessi Alexander, Jon Mabe.
If you want to feed your insecurities, stand naked in the pool shower. But if you want to feel okay about yourself, also stand naked in the pool shower. There are many body shapes and sizes … get over yourself. You can also shower with your bathing suit on.
One morning a group of grade one students arrived after my aqua-size class was done. Most of the ladies in the class are in their sixties with real grandma bodies, soft and comfortable for hugs, with a little extra pudding. It is freeing to be among these women who are comfortable with their bodies, and peculiar vein-marked appendages. The six year old girls chattered non-stop while they got their swim suits on … the chatter continued as they marched towards the pool, you have to walk past the showers to get to the pool … as they rounded the corner they went dead silent, their mouths stopped mid-word, they could not take their eyes off the nakeds in the showers. Somehow I think this was not the picture of grandma they envisioned. Each wave of girls repeated the sequence of chatter, silence, eyes wide-open fixated on the marshmallow ladies. The grannies had their own chuckles after the education session.
Some mornings the lanes are labelled … Slow, Medium, FAST. With only four lanes, I tend to choose medium or slow. But, after the triathletes have vacated their fast lane, I choose it, and discreetly nudge the fast sign to the edge of adjoining lane. This morning as I joined in, my lane partner said “I’m not that strong a swimmer, I do some swimming and some jogging back and forth.”
“Whatever works,” I said. She jogged on and I front crawled past her. I wondered why she told me that. After half a lane, I realized, she was apologizing for herself. She was in the lane swim, but not doing the standard strokes.
How many times hadn’t I felt out of place when I started at the pool? People would lap me again and again. When I swam alone, I didn’t care, but when there were two or three other swimmers in the lane, I felt the need to apologize each time my arm or leg bumped into another swimmer. So sorry to have been in your space. I stopped at the end of the lane, lifted my goggles from my eyes. I was not in this for their sakes, I was here for myself. We all had a right to be there, and as I stopped comparing myself to others the more buoyant I became.
One stroke of pool luck … I have found a solution for my increasing facial wrinkle count. This morning as I struggled to get a swim cap on – yes, I wear a swim cap to keep my ear plugs in, and the water out of my ears, as I pulled this girdle like cap on my head, I could feel my scalp sucking upwards … then I smiled as I noticed my skin pulled tight, a face lift without surgery. Hmmm, I wonder if my navy swim cap goes with my little black dress?
For the Beauty of the earth, Ever ancient, ever new …
It’s International Earth Day … and I recall an answer I have given to people:
There are many things in my life that I would not have chosen, but there is still much beauty in this world.
The most universal gift is the beauty all around us. In my travels I have never come to a place bereft of beauty. Even though garbage littered, the dusty less than desirable path on the way to my grandchildren’s school in N Africa … it had been named the secret garden. After a spatter of rain, it burst forth with yellow blossoms … Dump turned flower garden! The eyes of children opened mine to see beauty in the midst of ugly.
Everyone has stuff, something that could be better … a deviation not chosen, and the heart grows weary with constant struggle. John O’Donohue, an Irish poet/theologian has written about beauty:
Much of the stress and emptiness that haunts us can be traced back to our lack of attention to beauty. Internally, the mind becomes coarse and dull if it remains unvisited by images and thoughts which hold the radiance of beauty. … Beauty offers us an invitation to order, coherence and unity.
Although my home province Manitoba claims the prairie crocus as its provincial flower, I saw very few wild ones there … but here in Alberta, perhaps with more uncultivated soil, they are more prevalent. I have been admiring them since Easter Monday … they are my current heroes. While snow lingers they push through dead grasses and debris of winter to breathe hope into the soul. The fragile flower displays an inner strength adding its blue lavender beauty to the landscape, the first delights of spring. Other wild flowers soon follow suit.
To behold beauty dignifies your life; it heals you and calls you out beyond the smallness of your own self-limitations to experience new horizons. To experience beauty is to have your life enlarged. John O’Donohue
Earth rises above the lunar horizon against the backdrop of deep space on Dec. 24, 1968. the image, snapped by astronaut Bill Anders during the first manned mission to the moon, evokes both a sense of solitude and intimacy. From livescience.
Beauty The Invisible Embrace, by John O’Donohue, HarperCollins, 2005
Daffodil tips have poked through dry ground outside my front entrance. My first robins were spotted today, and this past week the early skies have debuted with fifty shades of sunrise on at least five separate days. As I type this a mourning dove perches on my patio, seeking a quieter spot out of the wind. A video clip sent yesterday with my grand children waving palm branches; all the above tell me that spring and the Easter season are here.
For the past few weeks my mind has been debating ideas for an upcoming talk I have been asked to give to college age students … What do I have to say to them on the topic of Through Thick and Thin, that they can connect to? My guess is that the majority of them have not been through major life difficulties, yet … or have they?
At this point they are busy pushing through their studies to get on with real life. A misconception … real life is wherever you are, at the moment, now. It is not in the future. The dilemma is—how do I prepare for the future while living /keeping the focus on the present? This is a never ending debate, and for them it would come from someone considered to have more years in history, than in futures. And yet both the young and the more mature—I can’t bring myself to say old—have only this day. I hear the challenge repeatedly to live in the now … and still I find myself pushing through this moment, in order to arrive at the next. Only to find that the next thing is what I then push through.
Childhood offers a reprieve from the tyranny to push through, largely because the parents do the pushing. The goal to get through teething, sleeping through the night, toilet training, talking, starting school, getting through junior high, and so on and on. Adults perpetuate the myth that the next phase will be better, forfeiting the joy of today. And the cycle continues … as we live in anticipation or dread of the next thing.
At the local garden nursery this week on a no wind, fifteen degree sunshine spring day, I made a comment to the owner as he packed up my purchase –Isn’t it a gorgeous day? Must be good for business, it gets people thinking about gardens early. Without a smile, it was “Well as long as we get some good weather, when we’re supposed to get it, doesn’t help much now.”
The one time I recommend pushing through is in grief, or a very difficult time, even though much can be learned in hardship. We long for spring to push back the winter of the soul. Pushing through doubts and disappointments make it possible to discover a foundation of faith and food for the soul.
Sunday morning I heard the question asked—why was much hype made over Christmas, while Easter was played down? Wasn’t this the final exclamation point the followers of Jesus had? Yes it was … what the resurrection did was It pushed through death. And that has made all the difference, especially for those who have experienced grief. Easter week Blessings!
Daisy image from: http://isleofwight.com/whats-on/pushing-up-the-daisies
Jocelyn is the author of Who is Talking out of My Head? Grief as an Out of Body Experience
Is forever and always a part of you.
Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints. Ps 116:15 NIV
Ten years ago … the world lost three wonderful young people, my son, my daughter, my future daughter-in-law … leaving a massive vacancy.
This morning, my still-on-the-planet daughter called to remember the day of loss … she told me how she and her husband had been at a cafe and were speaking to their three children about the remembering. And the sadness felt because the children never got to meet their auntie and uncle … My daughter was getting teary and her five year old asked “Why are you crying Mom?” She explained the loss, and my granddaughter(8) spoke up to say … “Oh we’ll meet them already.” “Really?” asks Zech (5) “when?” “In heaven,” his sister explained confidently. “Oh,” he said, down cast, “That’s like in a hundred years.”
I can tell you Zecher, I feel that way too, sometimes. But, for me, having two treasures in heaven, makes the prospect of eternity, that much more tangible.
I know there are many others that carry the weight of sorrow, and loss … May you be blessed this day.
Hold on to Hope, it is a gift.
Hope has given me my voice
to question to doubt, to scream to shout
Hope has been in the midst
as a spark, as a river
a cause to shiver
Hope behind, hope before
Hope surrounds as it opens and shuts the door
The taste of hope and I want more
More of the source, more of the truth,
more of the grace it has given
I want Hope on this earth
And a taste of Heaven.
The edges of God are tragedy. The depths of God are joy, beauty, resurrection, life. Resurrection answers crucifixion; life answers death. Marjorie Hewitt Suchoki
IN remembrance of Brittany Jane Marie, Jordan David Isaac, Jamie K, all three shone like the stars of heaven … you are missed more than words can say.
Jocelyn is the author of: Who is Talking out of My Head – Grief as an Out of Body Experience
The Power of the Ask
I had arrived in Perth, Australia, the day before, time-zoned out by fourteen hours.
Still in the excitement phase, I tried not to think of the new realities that I: was on my own, did not know a soul here, was to start a new job in ten days, and had no place to live. I had booked into a hostel for two weeks, hoping that would give me enough time to find an apartment, before my nursing job began.
A sense of expectancy, filled me as I headed downtown under the vivid blue Australian skies—I had come from a prairie winter, where minus twenty was the norm. This felt beautiful, warm and friendly. Two things I remember clearly that welcomed me. Next to a brown brick church with large wooden doors, a group of teenagers stood over the green grass carrying “Free Hugs” signs. (I had a video of my youngest daughter holding a same message.) I went to receive my free hug. The unwrinkled arms that wrapped my traveled soul, had no idea that I believed that my daughter had orchestrated this hug from heaven.
Wiping the tears from my eyes (I never saw those free huggers again) … I explored further down the road and chanced upon a young woman busker with a guitar of dreams. Cross-legged, she sang two songs while I stood near by—Knocking on Heaven’s Door, and I can see Clearly Now the Rain is gone … I can see all obstacles in my way. Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind, it’s gonna be a bright, bright sun-shiney day. I looked all around to nothing but blue skies.
“You must be very brave to move half way around the world.” people said …. or desperate, I thought.
Perhaps that is the best approach to the Father. I usually come desperate … hungry for the blessing.
The power of the ask … I had asked, I had knocked on heaven’s doors, I had been a regular at the gate … “Should I go, or should I stay?”
That was five years ago. Although I have returned to Canada, that move changed my life. I am forever grateful that I responded to the inner voice that said Go. Ask for direction.
The response did not come in a type written detailed memo—oh I wished it had. But in hindsight I can see that many doors opened for me as I continued to search, and I met some wonderful people along the way. It did not come easily. Seek and you will find.
Sometimes, I don’t know what it is I seek … but, I know there are questions that the soul propels me to ask and to explore. Simone Weil has said it well:
Oh I can see clearly now, the snow has gone … but I know rain and snow showers will return, and I will experience more storms, but, I will keep asking, and the spirit will guide. That really is the best.
Photos by author, painting of woman by Kristen N D.
“There are eight million stories in the naked city. This has been one of them.” I can still hear those words as each episode of NYPD’s 65th Precinct came to conclusion. I realize the series ended in 1963, likely the time a black and white television arrived in our home.
Earlier this week I heard a story that would not have made the Naked City episodes as there was no official crime involved, unless neglect and regret count.
After swimming lengths in the overcrowded lanes, I met a woman as we headed to the showers of the local pool. We started with weather chit-chat, of how nice the January chinook was and we ended with her sharing the story of her under valued mother-in-law, whom they had buried about ten days earlier.
“She just stopped moving. She didn’t have a real disease, it wasn’t like she had cancer or any real diagnosed illness. She didn’t move.” Sheila expressed guilt, that had she lived closer she could have been of more help, could have helped Annie up, taken her for walks, out shopping. She was convinced that her mother-in-law would be alive if more care had been shown. She expressed the group guilt they felt for having missed out by not knowing who this incredible woman truly was. More of the story spilled out as warm shower water washed over her sadness.
Annie had three sons, was a registered nurse, as well as a co-owner of several business she and her husband started. In the sixties, Annie was ahead of her time in that she worked alongside the men in the oilfields. She was tough and swore with the best of the men in the field. And yet according to my shower friend, Annie had a heart of gold, and only after she passed did they realize how much they would miss the woman who’d hidden behind the gruff facade. Annie was only forty-five when she lost her husband to a work related accident. In spite of that, she carried on and expanded the business with her sons, but it was always referred to as her husband’s business, even years after he died. Sheila held her tears as she expressed the sadness that they had never recognized mother-in-law as someone who wanted or needed affection. In order to survive, the tough exterior was presented, if any man tried to make advances, the sons made sure it did not happen. Annie never again experienced the power of a romantic love in her life—regret filled this daughter’s voice over the missed opportunities.
At 79, Annie just quit moving.
I think Annie decided to shut down her business, got tired of running it … got tired of feeling the need to be tough, the need to push hard, to pretend it didn’t hurt to live without love.
“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”
another Annie said that―Annie Dillard, (The Writing Life)
A few things I ponder: how to let my heart be open, before it is too late. Never presume the tough exterior is the true one, what is the story beneath it? The importance to keep on moving. Doing does not replace being or knowing.
I never met Annie, but I wished I had.
Things sneak into the closets of my mind …
Your house is your home only when you feel you have jurisdiction over the space. Joan Kron
Every year I am challenged to declutter and this year is no exception, and I have found that one of the best ways to avoid doing and to just talk about doing, is to do online research on the topic, and thus further avoid doing.
January is a busy month for donations at the second hand clothing store where I spend Tues afternoons. People are cleaning out closets. Out with the old and in with the new … and this is the time of year to question why I hang on to some unused items. (But I paid good money for it—and I know I might need it, someday.) While discussing with a friend about the stuff that collects so quickly, she hauled out Peter Walsh’s book, which I interpreted as a divine sign. (Note to self—she is organized and can find items immediately.) And No the clutter does not make my butt look fat, but it does make me feel heavy in spirit. While I have accepted that I will never be a Good Housekeeping poster child, a cluttered space carries a feeling of chaos, and I prefer a sense of calm in my home. And my calm is disrupted by my clutter. When I have trouble finding things, I know it’s time to re-organize. Most of my friends maintain their homes well, but I am acquainted with a range of house keeping habits, from one that vacuums three times a day, to a spinster librarian, with cats and cat food dishes located in bulk around her small house, to a dining room table that has not seen food for years, because it is covered with stuff. Twenty-one is the number of Srabble games she owns—just in case the church might ever hold a scrabble tournament. (Does no one else own scrabble?) Everyone of us has our own reason for clinging to unneeded items, and lately my reasoning has come into question.
MIT finds a correlation between smarts and messiness, but it’s MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) and the writer went on to suggest messy-desked people might be skewing the results in their favour. Anyways, they say that “Messiness is often associated with artistic, creative and scientific or mathematical genius, spontaneity, but also with carelessness, eccentricity, madness and unreliability.”
Cleanliness was next to Godliness in my childhood days … my sisters and I rushed through the Saturday morning chores so we could watch Dick Clark’s American Bandstand at noon. An automatic association for me is to clean and then celebrate with dance, not unlike a Guy Davis blues song —his line goes, had some old shoes on, got new shoes now, and I feel like dancing …. thinking old thoughts, got some new thoughts now, and I feel like dancing … Yes, decluttering the closet and the mind leads to dancing and an increased mood of feel good.
An immaculate home (or conception) has never been part of my story, but the closets have become slightly more organized and I feel like dancing.