Thoughts from A-Broad

Travel makes one modest, you see what a tiny place you occupy in the world. Gustave Flaubert

People travel to faraway places to watch, in fascination, the kind of people they ignore at home. Dagobert D. RunesDSC_0186

When I was a child I spoke like I child, I acted like a child, but when I became an adult, I stayed in the neighbourhood, I dwelt in the safety zone … until one day … I left, I realized there was more to life than security.

My daughter expresses continual surprise at how different the childhood of her children is, as compared to her own. My daughter went to the same elementary school as I had. (I think most of the teachers had left by then.)

My grandchildren live in North Africa, in a country with French as the second language, after Arabic. Minimal English is spoken in their Muslim neighbourhood. My nine year old grand-daughter rises grumpily for an 8am start at a local private school. Do not think Western style private school. The reason my granddaughter had been keen on this school was because this one had real washrooms, not a converted house bathroom that still had a bath-tub; there were four stalls for girls and four stalls for boys.

IMG_3193It was with great fanfare and delight that I initiated a doubles ride on the single speed bicycle as a way of getting her to school fairly quickly, which was very important last year when she was an eight year old who dawdled efficiently. “We are rocking the hood,” I said to her, as we pedalled the sandy partially paved street, dodging large stones and garbage. She perched on the mounted rear rack keeping her feet slightly apart, holding on to my seat with as firm a grip as her still small fingers could. Like clockwork, our traveling bicycle circus passed the local high school at their arrival time, forcing us to navigate at least two hundred students crossing the street. The head-scarfed girls were thrilled to say a bonjour-presuming I must be French. That day as we pedalled, I responded to a few of the greetings with a smile and either Allo or bonjour. Some of the boys made comments and my granddaughter said “Grandma they’re making fun of us, let’s just get out of here.” As I could not understand the Arabic comments, and saw only smiles and laughter in eyes; I didn’t think they were making fun of us. We were a novelty in their monolithic landscape, this mature blonde woman, with red streaks in her hair. (She couldn’t be a grandmother, for grandmothers would be fully covered in their long jellabas, and never on a bicycle.)

Don’t worry Maisha,” I said, “they’re not being unkind. They’re just not comfortable in their own skin.”

I don’t get it … You’re not a snake grandma, you don’t shed your skin. What do you mean?”

Sometimes people aren’t comfortable with who they are, and then they make fun of other people, to feel better. If you feel okay about who you are, you don’t have to make fun of other people.”

Ah, my dear girl, (I thought) perhaps shedding skin is exactly what we need to do to become who we wantIMG_4854 to be.

Mark Twain’s words ring true: Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, especially as one shares peanut laden strong tea with new friends. 

Jocelyn is the author of Who Is Talking Out of My Head, Grief as an Out of Body Experience.

Travel from room to room

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The work to forget, can be as difficult as the trying to remember.

Frederick Buechner

“The time is ripe for looking back over the day, the week, the year, and trying to figure out where we have come from and where we are going to, for sifting through the things we have done and the things we have left undone for a clue to who we are and who, for better or worse, we are becoming. But again and again we avoid the long thoughts….We cling to the present out of wariness of the past. And why not, after all? We get confused. We need such escape as we can find. But there is a deeper need yet, I think, and that is the need—not all the time, surely, but from time to time—to enter that still room within us all where the past lives on as a part of the present, where the dead are alive again, where we are most alive ourselves to turnings and to where our journeys have brought us. The name of the room is Remember—the room where with patience, with charity, with quietness of heart, we remember consciously to remember the lives we have lived.”
Frederick Buechner, A Room Called Remember: Uncollected Pieces
Four years ago on the first of September, I landed in an unknown hometown. A wary excitement filled me for this new beginning, a fourth new beginning of what had been a series of unrequested life events. I remember the excitement of seeing the mountains from my dining room window, this prairie girl with prairie bicycle legs. A town in the shadows of the Rocky Mountains was a scenery change of significant elevation.
Landscapes of the physical variety are easier to modify than the minefields of the mind. For many people, it seems easier to plod on in a difficult known, than to move into the unknown.
And yet radical life changes require radical responses. Radical choices.
My mother of ninety-one lives in the room to remember. She may not remember what she had for lunch, but, start her up on a memory lane conversation and she can tell you how the fly ball felt as it smacked into her bare hands to clinch the game. She was the hero of her country school! Of the days of her drinking husband, she says: “Those were hard times, but we got through them.”
She has a selective memory. Memory can be revisited.
I would like to remember my life as worthwhile and wonderful.
The past is a foundation for the day, the future gives hope. The past and future collide into this IMG_6694moment of today, this present, which is exactly that – a present moment, a gift to be opened and deeply appreciated. I want to live my life in such a way, that when I am my mother’s age, my room to remember will be positively full. For today I am here, in this moment celebrating the lives I have lived!
Here’s to the anniversaries you celebrate today. A reason to be grateful. Thanks to my sister-in-law for introducing me to this musical artist, Josh Garrels, and this song about understanding further along:  Check out this song!
Jocelyn is the Author of Who is Talking out Of My Head, Grief as an out of Body experience. 

 

Summertime Blues (the cure)

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 IMG_4182phone 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.

IMG_4084That 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 The Climb

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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.IMG_3298

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 DRDsDeep 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.

And then we spot them … the wild orchids.IMG_3352

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.IMG_4011

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.

IMG_3995“I will not die an unlived life.

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,
more accessible;
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
Dawna Markova, I Will Not Die an Unlived Life: Reclaiming Purpose and Passion

The Climb, sung by Miley Cyrus, written byJessi Alexander, Jon Mabe.

Earth Beauty, Ever Ancient, Ever New

For the Beauty of the earth, Ever ancient, ever new …

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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.

 

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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.

IMG_2879Although 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

This is the 45th international Earth Day … a reason to celebrate. Get out and enjoy the beauty, dig in the dirt, pick up some garbage, be barefoot, look for signs of spring, go for a walk. Smile.apollo8-earthrise

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

 

Pushing Through to Pushing up Daisies

Since we cannot change reality, let us change the eyes that see reality.IMG_0001

Nikos Kazantzakis

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.” 

Before I start to push up daisies, I want to smell and plant the roses.primaryImage_opt

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

International Happy Day :)

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I was surprised to hear that March 20 was international happiness day—did you know? Did it make a difference to your sense of well being? Is this like the World series baseball, that caters only to North American teams … can this be called international when the songs for this event are all English?

But I do not want to be the naysayer only … my friend suggested that I not blog not only sad posts … The majority of time, I am an upbeat person, I have experienced sadness though. I am not alone in that.

Leo Tolstoy said “If you want to be happy, be.”

Is it that simple?
What do you think? Dr Seuss said “unslumping oneself is not easily done.

Please, give me your best unslumping tips.

My tips would include, but not limited to: Distraction, practice laughter, connect with people, connect with yourself, listen to positive music, travel. A tip from a sister – “Think less, drink more.”

The fog is closing in here on this first day of spring, and the close of international Happiness day, and the dog upstairs continues to bark. Perhaps I could write the sequel to the curious incident of the dog in the night-time. (Mark Haddon)

Some of my favourite quotes on happiness:

“Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know.”
Ernest Hemingway

“Folks are usually about as happy as they make their minds up to be.”
Abraham Lincoln

“For every minute you are angry you lose sixty seconds of happiness.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

“They say a person needs just three things to be truly happy in this world: someone to love, something to do, and something to hope for.”
Tom Bodett

“You cannot protect yourself from sadness without protecting yourself from happiness.”
Jonathan Safran Foer

“Sanity and happiness are an impossible combination.”
Mark Twain

“And I can’t be running back and fourth forever between grief and high delight.”
J.D. Salinger, Franny and Zooey

“Happiness is not a goal…it’s a by-product of a life well lived.”
Eleanor Roosevelt

“So we shall let the reader answer this question for himself: who is the happier man, he who has braved the storm of life and lived or he who has stayed securely on shore and merely existed?”

Hunter S. Thompson

“… the secret to joy is to keep seeking God where we doubt He is.”

Ann Voskamp 

“Sadness gives depth. Happiness gives height. Sadness gives roots. Happiness gives branches. Happiness is like a tree going into the sky, and sadness is like the roots going down into the womb of the earth. Both are needed, and the higher a tree goes, the deeper it goes, simultaneously. The bigger the tree, the bigger will be its roots. In fact, it is always in proportion. That’s its balance.”

Osho, Everyday Osho: 365 Daily Meditations for the Here and Now

This last quote by Osho, made sense to me … this was a concept a good friend and I discussed, how the parallel happiness-wallpapers-free-downloadtracks of life, Joy and Sorrow hold hands to make our lives richer. We can only fully appreciate happiness, when we have known its absence.

And let me know what makes you happy. The  laughter of children always works for me.

Pablo Casals said: “Music is the divine way to tell beautiful, poetic things to the heart,”      Here are links to poetic messages for your heart’s happiness.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y6Sxv-sUYtM (Pharrell Williams Happy song)

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02m5w5p (The BBC’s list of songs for International Happiness Day.)

Knocking on Heaven’s Door

The Power of the Ask

Ask and it shall be given to you, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you.  IMG_4745   (Matt 7:7 NIV)

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.

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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:

DSC_0878The danger is that the soul should persuade itself that it is not hungry. It can only persuade itself of this by lying.

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.

Travel Tips from A Broad

The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page. ** SaintAugustineIMG_2383

Trains, planes and automobiles … all in a day, plus bumping carry-ons over cobblestone streets. A privilege to be reading pages from the book of Four Great Cities of Eastern Europe: Dubrovnik, Budapest, Prague and Vienna. The destination is only a part of the journey. Four weeks of travel and what have I learned:

Communication, communication, communication.

The barrier of language,

The connection of smiles,

but precise words can direct you to the correct train platform.

A face tells a story. (Be in charge of its cover.)

Titles are deceiving, and customer service does not guarantee anything,

Information desks may or may not dispense accurate information.

Travel with a friend is joy doubled.  IMG_2706

Be prepared, travel light.

(Prepared for what?)

Be prepared to be flexible, and always have tissue in your bag.

Judgements over differences can arise quickly,

Open travellers practice seeing the world with the eyes of the heart,

Culture bleeds into opinions, even when we feel we are open-minded.

There are countless ways of living life, the wise traveller practices

Giving up the need to be right.

Smiling faces at arrival gates dissipate travel weariness. (Especially if they are grandchildren)

“This world is not my home, I’m just a passing through.” (And I want to pass through as much of it as I can.)

The 3 minute egg versus the 5 minute egg:  “Would you like a 3 minute egg or a 5 minute?” The blank look on my face gave evidence that I did not understand my Austrian host’s question, so she repeated it. I opted for the 5 minute, egg … we are called to breakfast 6 min later, with a boiled egg in a white egg cup, a white plate for bread, a white bowl for fruit. Cheese, meat and jam set on the table alongside fresh squeezed orange juice. We began, and as I approached my 5 minute egg my host corrected my angle of attack with an expression of horror. (There is in an egg cup for a purpose.) When I confess that we usually shell our 8 minute eggs in Canada, I am informed that 8 minute eggs are eaten only at Easter. I like to think that I carry the hope of Easter all year round, perhaps that explains my egg eating habits?  With an outer smile and an inner grimace I recognize there are numerous ways of getting egg on one’s face.

Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends. **

Maya Angelou

**Read more at http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/topics/topic_travel.html

The Inch Worm

Downsizing of Dreams

My life moves ahead in Fits and Starts 

I am the Inch Worm

  Folding in half for each step ahead

    Vulnerable, easily squished

      But I am not the Inch Worm

        Because I have Skin

          A backbone that aches

            Pain lets me know

              That I am alive

                I taste Joy in this

                  Velvet Morning

                    Pink Skies give Way

                      To a Brand New Day

                        To Inch Ahead.

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Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.

Vaclav Havel-Czech Playwright and President