Space for Grace

The other day, surrounded by the chaos of a thousand boxes, in the middle of sorting it out, I was struck by the truth that there is at times more room in my life for stuff and information and self-indulgence than there is for grace, grace in every sense of the word: generosity of spirit, empathy, beauty, humility, gentleness, kindness, letting go.

Grace is fluid. It flows our way, and through us, and out to others, if we permit it to, if we have our feet solidly on the earth, if our lives are uncluttered enough.

We take in so much—food, affirmation, information, criticism, material things. It does not matter what; we must ultimately break it down, assimilate the helpful, eliminate that which isn’t and which will, if held on to, ultimately become toxic.

Taking in too much, and taking in without taking the time to sort and assimilate and eliminate, without occasional excursions into the desert, will eventually result in an excess that saps our vitality, makes us sluggish, heavy, anxious, egocentric. It will begin to choke out breath and awareness and gratitude and empathy and deep sleep, which are all things we need to repair and heal our lives.

Major repairs, I’m learning, whether they be broken bones or a crushed spirit, can only happen in the absence of gluttony, in the presence of clear water and fresh air and quiet. New cells, new ideas, new ways of relating and functioning—all are best born after the death and proper clearing out of the old, after periods of dormancy.

Grace needs breathing room, white space.

The pruning process, like the removal of a tumour (which like excesses of all kinds serves no lasting purpose), can be exhausting and difficult. But it is, in my experience, absolutely necessary if we are to breathe deeply, to be free of congestion and bitterness, to have space for grace and love and compassion, to have the clarity of mind necessary for restful and plentiful sleep.

I think I may be nearing the end of a fairly dramatic pruning process that has been going on for what feels like a very long time now. It began with my cancer diagnosis nearly two years ago and should now, with this move and the paring down of my physical world, be winding down.

I’m pretty tired, but I couldn’t be happier about the coming winter.


The Kitchen Table

Last night, at the freshly-cleaned patio table, now sitting in the kitchen (the kitchen table gone to its new owner), over perhaps the weirdest impromptu menu ever—flatbread and hummus, cheese and crackers, tomatoes, sushi, shrimp, and, for old-time’s sake, Delissio pizza—served on tiny paper plates, and over wine and champagne served in water glasses, we bade the empty rooms and now-supremely-clean showers and closets good-bye.

How we emptied the many rooms was via Kijiji, and what a lovely and horrible tool it is. How many hundreds of email did I respond to before we sold the extra beds and too-big tables and all the rest? No matter that the ads we posted contained measurements and photos and descriptions and prices. The inquiries kept coming: “How wide is it? How deep? How tall? What kind of shape is it in? What colour?”

Do they not know how to read, I wondered, and are they colour-blind? And are they really too busy to get themselves over here to have a look at the item they’re interested in?

My favourite inquiries: “I don’t have much money; will you give it to me? And I don’t have a truck; will you deliver?” Noooo, I’m afraid not, I don’t have a truck either, and unless you’re a close friend we’re not giving it away; we’d like to take a teensy bit of cash away from this to help replace the over-sized table and chairs and get something that will fit into our new little space.

So we patiently persevered and sold a ton of stuff. And then last night, with the help of a little wine and the two family members living in town and their significant others, we remembered our decade here. The countless conversations at the kitchen table, the bocce games, the parties, the Christmases, the bad-word Scrabble games over which the young-adult blended family bonded. Laughter and love and chaos. We remembered how small the trees out back were when we first came here, how they provided neither privacy, nor shelter from the giant sprinklers beyond the fence, which would sometimes soak sleeping girls on the trampoline in the wee hours.

We remembered a handful of dramatic and unforgettable conflicts. Some mistakes. Christmas vacation two years ago, days before we imparted the news of my cancer to the family, truly having remembered only the love and laughter and completely having forgotten the plot and the ending, we showed The Family Stone.

In the privacy of my room in the early hours of this morning, I said good-bye to a few truly excruciating moments, moments of serious illness with one or the other, moments of relational agony, moments I very much want to leave behind.

It was the good times we focussed on last night though, which is how it ought to be, and for which I’m deeply thankful. Pain comes and goes and, as long as the lessons remain, doesn’t need to be held; it’ll come around again soon enough. But the love, the joy, those are worth chasing and holding close.

So we laughed and ate, shed a few tears, said good-bye to an era, and turned our faces to the new one.

Five AM Tea

The soft dark velvet of sleep out of reach, I become ever more conscious with each breath. Conscious of the heart-break our friends are tolerating and trying to make sense of right now. Cancer. Conscious of the terror it strikes in me. Conscious of my uncharacteristically racing brain—I’m sensitive to my environment and am at the moment surrounded by physical chaos and to-do lists.

Breathing it in, and out, letting it flow through me. An hour later, I’m still breathing, letting it flow through me, calm, but fully alert.

It’s 5 AM. The moon is dark. It seems as good a time as any to make some address changes, pick away at the to-do list, have a cup of tea, give thanks for the moment.

Because this moment, whether exceedingly happy, or heart-breaking, or simply (as most are) somewhere tolerably in between, is, after all, all we ever have. This moment, this day, the next step.

Holding hands

The hole had already been dug by the time we arrived, a mound of black soil and broken roots and clay sitting next to it. The Mountain Ash was sitting nearby waiting for its new home, a spot where our friends will readily see it from their living room window. Huddling around the hole was a small group who’d come to plant the tree in honor of our friend’s loss, as a reminder of her father’s life.

The fresh cold air and the scent of soil and wet leaves under the early fall dusting of snow was invigorating, and a stark contrast to the dusty-closet, cardboard-box atmosphere I’d been immersed in for weeks now, packing for our upcoming move. One of those present in this little eclectic group—an impressive eighty-something-year-old—was as invigorating for me as the cold air. He’d purchased the tree and bags of compost and soil and brought large buckets of water (this plot of land on which our friends are building a home has no running water), and carried it all as though it weighed no more than a bag of popcorn.

We fine-tuned the hole and planted the tree, and—aging hippies that we are—stood in a circle around the tree holding hands, and tried to find words with which to honor the crucible our friends had been thrown into with this loss, a loss in this case amplified by its suddenness, and the tormenting questions suicide leaves in its wake.

Afterwards, we went into town for some Vietnamese food, to warm up and fill up and keep our tradition of a glass or two of wine. But before we did that we went inside to look at the pine home our friends are building (which incidentally, turns out to be perfect timing—work and reclusion hold much healing power for them.) This will be perfect, I see: open pine ceilings, trees just outside the windows, the loft already finished to a shine, gleaming. And now a Mountain Ash out the front window, as a reminder of the healing power of love and community, a reminder that our friend’s father lives on, a reminder that although he is no longer physically present, what he has given remains with her forever.



I wanted this, so why am I awake at 5 a.m., weeping? I’ve felt more and more for several years now that we’ve outgrown this home, that it’s too big for us now, too expensive and time-consuming to maintain. Still endings are sad, and this move will mark the end of an era.

I expected a degree of sorrow, and anxiety is normal with a big change. The guilt has been a bit of a surprise though. It feels like a large black muddy weight, the scale of which I’ve only ever felt once before, when I had no choice but to admit to a failed marriage. It’s guilt that we will no longer be providing the soft cushion our many-roomed home has been for the family, guilt that what I want to buy now is beautiful and new. And perhaps guilt that goes back to a lifetime of falling short, I don’t know; my personality does that sometimes, unravel the whole ball of wool.

We have three weeks. Three weeks to sort through a lifetime of things. Anxiety about that is predictable. (And were we insane to agree to that kind of short possession date?) But it goes much beyond this. I’m anxious that the kids will be disappointed, (even though they’re all adults and well on their way), anxious that I won’t be able to manage all the changes ahead. Anxious that the choice we’ve made isn’t financially conservative enough. Worried that my health will fail, and that the new place won’t feel homey. Anxious about the silliest things, too: that I’ll be the oldest person in a building of strong, young and accomplished men and women, the only one hiding gray hair. Hoping we made the right decision. It’s all happened so quickly.

Anxious and sad and trapped is what I feel this morning—this place too big and unwieldy now that most of the rooms are empty, too loaded with a role that no longer fits; the new beautiful but small, and foreign, and in an unfamiliar part of town.

It will become home, I tell myself. I still have a balcony, and will still be able to step out to smell the rain and watch the storm clouds roll in, or have a cup of tea in the fall sunshine. Without these I would be utterly heart-broken. I’ll be able to walk to the river, or the coffee shop, even the grocery store. There will be many lovely things, less of the quiet isolation I feel in this suburban neighbourhood, more time for new pursuits. It will be an adventure.

Still, it will involve saying good-bye to so many boxes of memories. So I sit here and weep while I wait for the mercy of daybreak. …which has now, a cup of tea and piece of toast later, arrived. A wet, windy, cold October morning, the yellow on the trees out back announcing a new season.