The lake was inexplicably absent of life. Not a bird in sight when this time last year thousands graced our view at any given time. I got out of bed and took a photo this morning and sent it to my best friend up north who just yesterday said the same thing about her lake. She said normally Bufflehead ducks have arrived on Couchiching followed a week or two later by Goldeneye. This year…nothing.
I went back to bed contemplating dire circumstances, forming a science fiction story frighteningly more like true-life. Not my familiar genre but the thought intrigued me.
From there, I digressed into smartphone land, scrolling through my feeds for news and friend updates, a relentless distraction that is the worst of time-thieves.
As I skimmed through Twitter, one of the writers I follow asked for suggestions for a feminist reader she is assembling. Took me two seconds to offer up Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own. I’ve given a copy of this book to many young women, recommended it for countless reasons not the least of which is Woolf’s statement that a woman must have money in her pocket and a room of her own to write fiction, or as I dare suggest, simply to be self-sufficient. Also, thanks to the life-sucking social mores of her time, she cleverly wrote that Anon was probably a woman.
Anyway, I tweeted my reply then put the phone down on my lap. I love lying in bed in the early morning, I thought, waiting for these old bones to give me permission to rise, thinking, contemplating ideas. Remembering.
I thought of Maddie.
I remembered how I was immediately drawn to her raw strength, her passion, and loyalty. She had just turned eighteen and was smart, beautiful, and a force to be reckoned with. The daughter of my now-partner, she accepted me at face value from the moment we met, leaving it to me to prove myself true. I hope I did.
Early on, I gave her a copy of the book, which she devoured. Her mom said she was a voracious reader from the moment her hands touched their first book. We talked endlessly about literature, Woolf in particular, but other writers too. She was so enamoured with Woolf that she bought every available title from her cousin’s second-hand bookstore. How many she read, I’ll never know.
She was taken from us violently, hurling everything in our world into unknown, unexpected, intolerable darkness. The light that began to shine through, over time, is from the memories that have surfaced through the cracks of grief.
When I said my final goodbye to her, I touched her face as she lay forever still and laid beside her a copy of Norton’s Anthology of Literature by Women, my graduation gift for her. It was not how I had wanted her to receive it.
“You can read this now, sweet girl. Start at the beginning and travel through time.”
At her service, I offered these words from A Room:
“‘The beauty of the world, which is so soon to perish, has two edges, one of laughter, one of anguish, cutting the heart asunder.’ Virginia Woolf.”
The lake birds may be gone but a cardinal wakes us up every morning, its sweet, shrill song always a reminder. Some say cardinals are a loved-one returned. Let that be true-life, not fiction.
She looked very nice standing at my front door, smiling. Her face was lightly made up, cheeks rosy from the cold, and a faux-fur-lined winter coat tied at the waist added to a good first impression. Her husband stood down one step, dressed just as nicely, sporting a dark coat open at the collar revealing a neat dress shirt and perfectly knotted tie.
They walk our street often, going door-to-door clutching their rumpled book with pamphlets jutting out from between the pages, always immaculately dressed. Most times I hide and let the dogs be the burglar alarm and then regret missing the debate.
This time I chose to answer and they welcomed my acknowledgment warmly. We both had missions.
The predictable dialogue carried on too long. Nothing I said would change their faith; certainly, nothing they said would, rather could change me. No debate about carefully selected scripture, no faith logic.
But when he cited a verse from Corinthians, bunching me in with murderers and thieves while he smiled—“but worry not, they are forgiven”—he unleashed my inner beast.
It took all I had to remain calm and suggest that if he was going to quote Corinthians he might move right along to 1:13.
Lump me in with murderers?
My family lives with the impact of murder every breathing moment. It is not insidious. It is a full-blown life-destroying monster whose tentacles easily regenerate even when you think you’ve conquered one. It breathes loss and grief into unexpected moments without apology. It is irreversible and it magnifies unkindness.
And it is as timeless as it is relentless.
Why just a few weeks ago, almost six years after my step-daughter’s violent death, I was dumbstruck when verbal sticks and stones were publicly thrown at my partner. Yes, the mother of a murdered child was publicly castigated in an out-of-place offensive comment for not offering comfort or recognizing everyone else’s grief. For rendering others invisible, as if it had been intentional.
Was I hearing things? Did small-minded unkindness make them feel good?
This still-broken woman, whose heart remains heavy every day, whose entire being has been torn to shreds in pieces too fragile to ever put back together, could barely breathe for weeks. She was paralyzed by trauma, by the unknown, by loss. Grief could barely surface. Surely even strangers could grasp that?
And I knew our door was never closed to anyone who loved our girl because I was the one who held it open.
Still reeling from my muscles' tight grip I shook the memories from my head and returned my focus to this well-intentioned couple. So many sides to a story.
For this one, I found my voice.
“Your words cut to the bone. You judge when your scripture says judge not, you pray for lost souls who are, in fact, quite found. You preach exclusion and unkindness and, yes, words do hurt. Whether you mean them to or not, they do. I’ve lived my whole life with this…but not on my doorstep.”
“I know you’ll go off now and pray that I change.”
I looked at her, then him, and said, “I will do the same for you.”
25 years ago, a male colleague of mine, lateral in the hierarchy, applied for a promotion. He was a tall, handsome man who used his physical attributes in that jockish superior manner to intimidate alleged adversaries.
Assuming I had applied too (I hadn't - didn't want that job) he approached me and announced - and this is verbatim (not the kind of thing one forgets) -
"You won't get this job. I will. You should be home raising children, where women belong."
He did not get the job.
Ten years later, when I had moved up the chain and away from TO, I had need of a senior manager. The president & CEO called me confidentially to ask/recommend a certain person. Guess who.
My reply was two sentences:
"Ten years ago your candidate said this to me." Sentence two—the candidate's words.
The president's reply:
"Pretend I did not make this call."
International Women's Day, for me, is human rights day. Basic human rights regardless of obvious and newly-recognized needs.
I hope - always hope - that someday conversations like this old chestnut (one of too many I had throughout my career) will simply disappear into clean, thin air.
May your IWD bring you a fresh breath of fairness and a life free of discriminatory bias.
I think Rona Maynard is a national treasure. Her writing is inspiring and humbling. I follow her on Facebook with a mixture of awe and envy.
Years ago, I attended a luncheon at the Chateau Laurier in Ottawa when she spoke. I was struck by how open and frank she was telling her truth to a waiting-list-only audience. I’ll admit that I was awestruck, a neophyte newspaper publisher in a world where the sisterhood was, well, let’s just say limited, and there stood this accomplished woman leaving sound bites that fed me. She was one of the high profile women who graced the podium over a period of months—women of substance and influence. I was drawn to the series, not because of their fame and stature but because of the personal stories they dared tell.
And…one can dream.
But I digress.
The other day Ms. Maynard posted that she tells memoir students that writing doesn’t always have to be about something profound. Nothing’s too weird or trivial, or gross.
Take, for example, dog poop she wrote…and left her followers to find their story.
I’d write about dog poop except that the resulting guilt would drive me into the frozen tundra for the dreaded three-dog cleanup. And…I’d lose my writing mojo. Enough said.
On the same day as her post, CBC sent out a writing tip that said ‘Make Boring Topics Interesting; write fascinatingly about the mundane rather than mundanely about the fascinating.
We all have stories. They need not be big to matter. Joy, pain, happiness, sadness, devastation… hope. All these stitch our lives together and rip us open with equal abandon.
“Grandma, watch me, watch me,” shouts H from the edge of the pool’s deep end.
He’s so proud of himself and knows exactly what he’s doing. I know that. I close my eyes momentarily and see him hitting his head or worse. Open them up, and there he floats, massive grin on his face as he shakes his head, waving to make sure I’m paying attention.
I smile my pride right back at him, hiding my fear in the bowels of my trauma basement.
See what I mean? Everything’s all wound together like a ball of wool. Sometimes it’s soft and easy to handle, ready for the next stitch; sometimes it’s so tight the wool loses its lustre; sometimes it falls leaving a long trail across the floor as it rolls, and you need patience and god knows what else to wind it all back together again.
Like life’s twists and turns. The pull of emotions is compelling, not mundane.
A life story bears witness to a memory and is a testament to a person's truth. It offers a glimpse through a different lens, which can clarify, sometimes redefine an experience for both the writer and reader.
And as Ms. Maynard suggests … worthy stories surround us.
When my daughter was in grade six and I was a single mother, we lived in a cute little north Toronto ‘war home’ built in the 50’s. It was all I could afford. Its bright red door and matching shutters set it apart from the long row of similar story-and-a-half houses. We loved it. It was one block off the school bus grid, so she had a long walk each day.
White blonde hair and cornflower blue eyes, my beautiful child, only eleven, knew I loved her without condition. She had her own key, and called me the minute she was home so I knew she was safe.
Wrong version of safe.
One morning before school, before either of us were even dressed, she came into my room fussing uncharacteristically.
“Mummy, I don’t feel good.” We sat close together at the foot of my bed.
“In your tummy?” I asked, as I pressed my lips to her forehead. No fever.
“Mummy, I hear voices, and one is telling me bad things. It’s saying I shouldn’t be here anymore. It’s telling me I should die ... but the good one says no.”
I froze, shocked and unable to process what she was saying, then my mind raced to find the right questions. It was just the two of us and had been for almost five years, and she was the happiest little thing, albeit taller and more filled out than her peers. Her close friends were lovely, and we did lots of fun things. Plus she took the requisite lessons: piano, ballet, swimming, dance, voice...and even made an unfortunate attempt at Brownies. So this revelation was so far beyond my understanding, I didn’t know what to do.
“I don’t want to go to school,” she said, crying a little.
“Tell you what, sweet girl,” I said, pulling her into my arms, hugging her, hoping she could not sense my panic, “let’s get you ready to go, and I’ll take you today. This morning I’m going to figure out what to do, how to help, and this afternoon we’ll talk about everything. How does that sound?”
I hadn’t resolved a single thing. I was just stalling, praying that later our good old familiar strategy would work. I would say, What’s the best solution to stress? ... and she’d shout out, Action! It felt hollow that morning, but I clung to it.
Feeling helpless, but determined to do something—anything—to fix this, I took her to school, watched her little curly blonde head disappear into the classroom, and dissolved in the hall. I found my way to the principal’s office and told him what had happened. He assured me that he would talk confidentially to her teacher, and together they would keep an eye on her and call me if there was need.
From my car I called my GP, who always listened intently and acted quickly. He had more contacts than God and within minutes had connected me to the psychologist who worked with a private girls’ school in Toronto. After I recounted the entire morning to the psychologist, he said he didn’t feel that it was a crisis.
“Reassure her, let her know that you heard her, and that it matters to you. Tell her to always talk to you about those feelings. If you sense that she feels no relief from your attention, call me again. But it sounds to me like you’ve done everything right.”
Everything right? Was he out of his mind? Somehow I had missed every sign that led to my eleven-year-old daughter feeling like she should die. I was not with her twenty-four hours a day and clearly had no clue about what went on at school, or with her friends, or with those who were not her friends. But it was my responsibility. I had completely failed to protect her. I had not done everything right.
That afternoon when she saw me standing at her classroom door after the bell rang, I saw the surprised smile on her face, and it drove home that I would stop at nothing to protect this child.
Following that psychologist’s advice, we went home, and I let her talk. This was not a time to be a waspish mother and leave things unsaid. No. This was time for full-out hands-on heart with smarts. I remember how helpless I felt, and how alone, and how all that mattered to me was that she was okay. But I also remember the wave of relief that spread through me, as I watched her worried face relax with each word, as if by my listening she was shedding the demons that had haunted her. If only I had known that she was being teased and bullied by unkind kids who thrived on their assumed power for kicks. Little bastards.
I grew up in an era before mental health was discussed, when it was treated as a weakness, when differences of all sorts cast shadows over lives, rendering people to suffer in silence, socially marginalizing them. A gay child of the fifties, I understood the unspoken internal and external pain and stigma of being different, of living with a dark secret buried so deep inside that you almost kept it from yourself, fearful of being cast as a criminal or deviant. No longer worthy of love. I did what I could, but I had gained no skills, no language to help my own daughter.
Only hope and the whisper of courage.
I must have been out of my mind. But in a world overcome with fear, after two commercial aircraft intentionally hit the towers of New York, taking on a Fuck them, they won’t change how I live attitude felt empowering.
A week after 9/11, several newspapers in the United States received brown envelopes containing deadly anthrax spores that killed five people and harmed many more. ‘Brown envelopes’ were a journalist’s dream, usually filled with anonymous tips about a story that might not otherwise surface. No one cared or worried about the lack of return address. That was the point. Over to the journalist to fact find and determine the story’s authenticity.
That changed. Fear spread like wildfire and no amount of logical thinking or fact-checking could change the new reality that, for newspapers and other media outlets, brown envelopes now meant something different - something that could threaten, unexpectedly harm, or destroy a life.
At the time I was Publisher and CEO of the Ottawa Sun. I’d been with the company for more than 20 years, mostly in Toronto, but found my niche in Ottawa. My colleagues were passionate news hounds and frankly, thankfully, the Ottawa paper had a different feel to it than its sister papers in other Canadian cities. I was the first female publisher in the company’s history, which, as an unexpected benefit gave me some notoriety in the city, and access to people that I otherwise might not have had. Many of those connections helped me remain focused, and offered important perspective when, in the space of a 9/11 minute, fear took over the city, and the nation’s capital fell under our journalists’ microscope.
But when fear took over our newsroom a week later, the well-being of these passionate, extraordinary people fell under mine.
I rented a small U-Haul trailer that was placed outside the building. It was there that our mail would be delivered and sorted to ensure everyone’s safety. At a brief planning meeting we discussed how this would happen and someone in the group asked who the hell would do it?
“Me,” I said, allowing no discussion.
“I’m coming with you,” said Silvana, the passionate, tenacious, outspoken woman who ran the business office, not by position but by character.
“No fucking terrorist is going to tell me how to live my life,” she said.
So there we were, several days later, Silvana and I, inside the small trailer, ready to sort the mail. It was piled high on one side in a disorganized mess of small and large envelopes and parcels. We stood together preparing to go through it, the trailer door shut. Gloves donned, masks over our faces held on by a loose-fitting pliable metal band over the nose, feeling secure in our armour, we started. We opened a few business envelopes, sorted them in appropriate piles. Easy.
Then I cut the top of my first large envelope - brown manila – turned it to pull out the contents and white powder poured down the front of my navy suit.
My face numbed as my blood drained. What the hell had I been thinking, so cavalier and reckless?
I thought of my daughter.
“Silvana…step back,” I managed, with a calm that belied my pounding heart. “Get out of the trailer and call for help. Keep everyone away.”
The fear in her eyes when she saw why said it all.
Then when I moved my hand slightly, the powder that lined the latex gloves poured down my sleeve.
Two tough broads taken down by talc. Our laughter was hollow.
“I think I believe in the power of prayer.”
Could have knocked me over with a feather.
Mum in her familiar yellow cardigan and blue wool skirt spoke softly from her comfy chair, as we watched the TV, she almost eighty, me visiting from Ottawa, nearing fifty.
I never once doubted she loved me but she was a pragmatist, warm but not openly generous with affection. She had had a handful with us three kids, and managed to put up with a rigid disciplinarian although family-loving husband. If she had faith in anything, it was held quietly to her chest. But she did make me go to Sunday school, dropping me off or sending me out the door to walk. I railed in vain at the unfairness.
“Why do I have to go when you don’t,” I’d dare occasionally.
It was pretty much a because-I-say-so thing although once she confessed her distaste for the hypocrisy of some church ladies: “They just go on Christmas and Easter to show off their coats and hats.”
To get out of going, I faked sick once but when I heard Mum and my sister too loudly sharing their delight about the cake they were pretending to devour I flew downstairs in a rage cause I was missing out.
They laughed, as the door hit me in the arse on my way out, resentful and humiliated. I’m sure god was just thrilled to see me.
Looking across the room at this time-weary version of my strong, intelligent mother, I asked, “What makes you say that?” writhing in some discomfort at her unusual emotional disclosure.
“Because nothing else could have stopped what was happening to your brother.”
At the age of thirteen, literally overnight, my brother was stricken with transverse myelitis. Full out track training Friday afternoon, paralyzed Saturday morning. This devastating disease’s nickname is travelling’ paralysis because it strikes without warning and quickly works its way through the body leaving in its path a wake of destruction. If it reaches the respiratory track, an iron lung is the only survival option.
To make matters worse, we were at our cottage, isolated from quick access to Toronto’s health care, leaving it all to, well, as mum now suggested, God.
Somehow the disease stopped in its tracks at his waist before assaulting his lungs. Medically, scientifically, little else could explain why.
I knew prayers for his recovery were said from every walk of life, every religious doctrine, agnostic, atheist, believers, non-believers, all in their own way. And I knew this from my inherited collection of the more than four hundred postcards my brother received while he was hospitalized. Cards from friends, doctors, the parents of patients who met him as their children travelled through their own journey – all grateful for having had the chance to meet this young boy of miracles, whose own faith grew and carried many more over the years.
Without another word, she turned back to watch the show.
I watched her for a moment, this frail reminiscing mother of mine. I always thought she looked like the queen, and sitting there, wrapped in the comfort of her floral armchair, she was gently regal in all the ways I loved. And in her vintage style, one cryptic statement said more than a thousand words of mine ever could.
I’m sitting in Starbucks nursing my tall dark roast, the crumpled, crinkly bag with remnant gingerbread crumbs hidden behind my laptop. I’m trying to concentrate on my to do list, knock off a few items while I wait for my car to be winterized. But my inner storywriter, okay, nosiness, has surfaced and instead, I am eavesdropping.
Two women sit at a small table huddled into each other; one listens intently while the other quietly shares her story of radiation and surgery. It is intimate and private and I do not belong amidst their words so I move to the man who, not quietly, pontificates to the woman across from him about predictions of imminent doom because ‘Jesus is the saviour’ and not enough of us believe.
“It could happen tomorrow.”
She’s damned if she leaves, damned if she doesn’t.
Six retired GM assembly workers opine about the good old days on the line, each one attempting to outdo the other by correcting, topping stories with their own, or speaking louder. They argue, laugh, debate, and then, as if on cue, set off into their days with a ‘see you tomorrow’.
Or twenty-something Dalton, sitting with an older woman with beautiful dark skin so smooth it’s difficult not to stare. Dalton isn’t a coffee drinker. I know this because he was ahead of me in the lineup.
“What do you like?” asked the barista.
“What do you have?”
I’m thinking, it’s Starbucks sweetheart, they have coffee.
“I’m not a coffee drinker,” he tells her.
He hesitates and I butt in and suggest a London Fog, a delicious Earl Gray concoction. Hard on the wallet but addictive.
Apparently Dalton likes suggestions so he ordered one. I said I’d pay if he didn’t like it.
Now he’s sitting with the beauty, and I’m nosy enough to want to know if he likes it and I wouldn’t mind a closer at her, as I have complexion envy.
Two women sit on each side of me lost in their screens while I snoop, and read news and flow aimlessly through my bookmarks. I imagine they are doing heady work. Meaningful writing. Accomplishing things while I listen and write stories in my head.
I scan the crowd again.
A few loners are sprinkled throughout the large, vibrant space—no computers, no book, no newspaper. An older woman, seventy-something I guess, sits with both hands tightly clutching her coffee cup, as if for warmth. Her head is bowed, her shoulders hunched. She quietly stares at nothing. A rip in her stained overcoat exposes layers of tattered clothes, a maroon sweater with sleeves that stretch beyond the cuff wraps her wrists.
The rips and tears expose more than layers. In the lonely scene this story writes for me, she lives as she sits—unseen.
A slight current of energy vibrates the counter and I am jolted back into my own life. Your car is ready illuminates the screen of my phone, the great interrupter.
I toss my empty coffee cup but I leave with more than I had.
A tiny red balloon hangs from a thin red ribbon tied to the wreath on our front door. It’s pathetic. Not the usual colourful birthday cluster I fuss over.
It’s Ethan’s 5th birthday; our miracle boy is 5.
My daughter texted me earlier in the week to say she had goofed. She got a store-bought cake and it went over like a lead balloon because it wasn’t shaped like a train. Never in my life have I baked anything remotely decorative but I googled train cakes and came up with a combination of engine, candy-laden cars, and a station complete with a smartie-shingled roof.
Let’s just say I don’t have the craft gene and leave it at that. Nonetheless he’ll see a train on tracks that run through the green countryside (a foil-covered board with green glaze and black icing) pulling six cars behind it laden with goodies. He won’t see the smudges, the wrinkles, the mess.
He’s the middle kid. I often wonder how he sees the world, with a big brother whose first-born attention draws everyone in and a little sister who’s the queen of every moment. Ethan, sandwiched in the middle, is the daredevil; that kid who wears a bruise with pride and sports an ear-to-ear grin with a hint of the devil in his soft blue eyes.
This sweet little boy, who struggles to communicate not for any reason other than a physical misallocation of muscle in his throat making some sounds impossible to form, is a thief.
One smile and your heart is gone.
Sounds that come naturally to most are out of his range. F and S, for starters. Seems simple? Not when there’s muscle missing. Never mind what you have to do to make C and K sounds. Speech therapy has helped but the discipline required is enormous and a four-year-old turning five can become easily frustrated and attention spans aren’t a strong suit. He tries so hard to be understood. Sometimes we default to his older brother who just gets it and translates accordingly.
The what ifs are the real worry. What if he’s hurting? Or Sick? Or afraid? He can’t articulate his needs. It’s enough to tear your heart out.
Traumatic and painful corrective surgery last February didn’t work.
“The hole didn’t close so we’ll have to redo it but not for at least six months,” the surgeon said after one look into his throat two weeks after the operation. Frightened just at the thought of the hospital, Ethan was too young and too upset to understand the news.
His mother however listened in disbelief.
Two months later, for moral support, I went with them to his next check-up. With some guilt, we tricked Ethan into believing that all three of us were on our way for a throat check-up and how lucky were we to have such a fabulous doctor to keep us healthy. Because any hint of a hospital visit sent him into a panic. As a mother and grandmother, I’ve seen enough tantrums to last a lifetime. Panic in a child is different, and frankly, so heartbreaking it is beyond my ability to articulate.
We made it an adventure and promised a well-deserved restaurant lunch afterward. It calmed him, and that giant smile swept across his face as he relaxed in his seat.
I wept inside.
McMaster’s cleft palate team is world-renowned, and once a child is part of the ‘team’, they are embraced in extraordinary care until they’re twenty-something.
The clinic waiting room is always cluttered with toys and smart games and books and small little chairs. Ethan flew over to his favourite game table while his mom and I sat watching, both feeling a little like Goldilocks in the baby bear’s seat.
Children played, parents worried, the mix of tension and love was palpable.
“Ethan,” came the call.
We went into a small, sterile examination room. Tension’s iron grip on my muscles competed with my heart rate but I kept my mouth shut. One glance at my daughter clinched it. I knew she kept a tighter lid on her fear than I could imagine and Ethan drew strength from her.
The doctor flew in the room with a quick hello, chart in hand.
“Why don’t we let Grandma go first,” said my daughter before he could speak.
I opened my mouth with an exaggerated ‘Ahhhh’, and without missing a beat the doctor played along, examining my throat and repeating the same thing on Kate while Ethan watched and giggled.
Next was his turn, and as he lay on the examination table, the surgeon bent over and praised Ethan, who miraculously played along without any objections to the probing tongue depressor.
“Holy sh…” said the surgeon, and stopped himself from finishing… “forgive my language but…” and he bent over Ethan and checked again.
He stood up, sat Ethan back up, turned to us.
“Well, I don’t know what to tell you but the hole is gone. It’s simply gone. I can’t explain it,” paused, then said, “but he’s fine. You don’t need to come back again. Work hard a speech therapy, it won’t happen overnight but no more surgery is necessary.”
He has made remarkable progress thanks to twice-weekly speech therapy sessions done right at his school. He leaves his classroom for an hour and comes right back in. His JK classmates are now also translators when he can’t get his message across.
Kids are amazing. We worried about bullies, and while that’s not out of reach, turns out he has real friends who have stepped up to help, recognizing at the ripe old ages of five, that everyone is unique and kindness feels good.
That balloon is pitiful. I hesitate for a moment and think it’s not the right thing to do, that maybe he’ll notice it’s not up to my usual fine standards and feel cheated.
But it’s just another trick because while that chincy red balloon is what he’ll see first, he’s going to walk into Grandma’s house and see three giant helium balloons— Batman, Spiderman – his favourite super heroes—and a blue monster of unknown origin with a giant 5 on it. And candles will light a train cake loaded with candies, and he’ll get presents.
He likes rocks. I also found him a shiny stone at the balloon store. Etched into it, glimmering in gold enamel, is the word miracle.
We lost a friend this weekend. She was not someone I knew well but my partner and her children spent many years with her in their lives. It was a life that mattered, and a loss with wide ripples.
It is the second loss in a short time, a sign, I fear, of our generation’s time.
Sometimes we all need to escape from life at large.
Me, I close my eyes and go to my quiet, peaceful place of solace where the sunlight reflects off the ripples of my beloved Lake Rosseau as I sit on the old flagstone patio at the cottage. It has always been my sanctuary, saving me from dentist drills, manic nighttime ravings, and fear for things I cannot control. It restores my balance.
We sold the cottage a few years ago but that image will always calm me. When I sat there, listening to the wind in the pines, watching the playful sunlight, the breeze wafting sweet grass through the air, I would feel as if this was always my centre, the place from where my life flowed.
Last night I watched the super moon from the deck of our home on another lake. It’s always beautiful out there in the dark, the far-off lights across the water flicker a steady glow of uninterrupted urban living. Abstract like paint on a Pollock canvass, plane lights decorate the sky.
But last night was different. The lights across twinkled their colours, and the sky was in movement but to the east where there are no artificial interruptions, rose the moon. Round and perfect, and soft yet brilliant orange, it rose in the black sky casting its hues over the water in a long, rippling path hidden in parts by the shoreline’s trees, endless and magnificent. I was mesmerized and drawn to it, staying outside in the cold night air for as long as I could.
As it rose, its brilliance diminished changing the water path it had created along with it, turning from orange to white then finally lifting off the waves to light the sky alone.
Different than feeling that it centred me, I realized instead that I was watching time. Time, in all its glory, passing. A beautiful creation, ever-changing as it rises. I felt the familiar race of thoughts begin in my head, my muscles tightened their grip as a sense of slight panic brewed unexpectedly.
Don’t go, I thought, howling to the full moon in my head. Don’t end.
Then with a good kick in the ass scolding, I got a grip. I lifted my head to look again. I had missed the point. I thought of those we’ve just lost, of their strength in life, their joy at being alive, of breathing. It wasn’t just time I had witnessed.
I think it was their time. Their passage – their fitting, peaceful, moving passage.
These past few months have been a long moment in time. Life’s push and pull inevitably has steered me towards an unchosen path and I’ve had some challenges getting back on course. So be it. I’ve learned that making a commitment to discipline risks disappointment, so I have avoided it. That’s wrong, at so many levels, but that is a discussion inside my head for another time.
Yesterday I was at a funeral, or really a celebration of a life. A very worthy, enviable life.
A long drive north through beautiful farmland some would find bleak, I found restorative: the pale, tan landscape blended with old brick century farms, the roadside grass swayed in the wind still fighting for life.
I was the first to arrive at the church and, typical for these days, found myself unwilling to sit and watch the pews fill so I sat outside on a park bench in the sun, waiting for my brother and sister-in-law to arrive.
For the second time that morning, I felt surprised by a glimpse of inner peace. Perhaps it was the sunlight on my face.
When the church filled, I found my place, and let the service and celebration of a kind, loving man take me away.
I love music, and the congregation’s singular voice singing some good old chestnuts infiltrated by a few shrill sopranos - like the old ladies of my childhood who sang as if they were Callas herself, and their husbands whose resonating, monotone bass added character – was moving.
I haven’t made it through a hymn once since my sister died. By the time the second or third verse comes, I’m choked and pathetic. Yesterday was no exception. But still, it moves me.
Yesterday’s closing hymn near did me in but its final verse was the trifecta for that faint return of hope of inner peace. My relationship with death is complicated yet simple. I fear less for my own than I do for those I love. Somehow these poetic words gave me comfort:
Hold thou thy cross before my closing eyes;
Shine through the gloom, and point me to the skies;
Heaven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee:
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.
My faith is just that – mine. It needs no defense nor means no offense. It is not contained in a box others want recycled; it is not one thing.
Its foundation is hope.