Let It Be

The good thing about the frigid winds this week, I decided last night, is that they make you walk quickly, and then the walk is lovely in the end, bracing and invigorating, even though the initial temptation was to stay by the fire. And there’s nothing like an invigorating walk to help keep things in focus. Well, actually, now that I think of it, there are many things that help bring things into focus, and Paul McCartney the other night was another.

The walk truly was though, as many thankfully are, a lovely moment. Other moments are nothing short of divine, others still utterly horrid. But most, I find, are a bit of a potpourri, the delectable and unpalatable, the delightful and agonizing, the lovely and unlovely, all present side by side in a split second.

“Let it be,” sang Paul McCartney as I wept. Words of wisdom, yes, words I do my best to heed every day of my life, but sometimes fail miserably at. I don’t want to let some things be, I don’t, I don’t, not the big huge frightening things, nor the completely trivial but annoying ones. I want to be in control of my life.

But we’re not in control, I just keep forgetting, and life is a little random and unpredictable, quite the ride at times.  And though I loved roller coasters when I was a little younger, I no longer do, not since they have a few times unmercifully dumped me out into a terrifying freefall followed by a hard, hard landing.

I don’t want to visit my oncologist next week again, nor do I want to fight not to think about it every second of every day between now and then.

Infinitely more trivial, but surprisingly powerful in its own weird way, I didn’t want to get a party dress this Christmas either, because I have trouble letting things be. I have not, I realize, accepted my post-ovarian, post-chemo depletion and lumpiness, and shopping for underwear to go under pretty dresses is my new definition of misery.

But Let it Be inspired me. First thing next morning, I went out, walked into a store, and told the clerk to help me find a dress that did not require a waistline to look good in. (I’ve truthfully never had much of one for much of my life, but now, well now it’s even worse, and menopause seems like a good thing to blame it on.) I asked the lovely young woman helping me to do it quickly too, before I changed my mind and opted for the couch and a movie instead of the party.

These young and beautiful fashion experts may often just be filling in time, but sometimes they are saints. She found me a dress, and I’m going to the party. And that, as trivial as it may sound, is not at all trivial. It represents the power of music, and kind and generous spirits, and another small victory in letting it be.

Pure, white Light

I’m glad I went. Yesterday, I thought I wouldn’t be able to bear the sight of that charming and lovely little six-year-old seriously ill and hospitalized again. I didn’t want to feel the pain her parents and grandparents carry. But it turns out that, after facing the initial blunt and frightening reality of things, and despite the power sorrow and pain can carry, we were powerfully inspired and fortified by the essence of the people present in the room.

She was sleeping when we walked in, her grandma sitting on the bed next to her. The side of her face visible to us was so swollen she didn’t look remotely like the little girl I knew, and between that and the look on her grandma’s face, tears stung my eyes immediately. But then she woke up, turned her head a little toward her grandma, and said “hi Grandma, I want peach yogurt.”

She ate a little, and sang a few lines of Michael row your boat ashore, and fell asleep again. Her parents returned from a brief outing they’d been urged to take, to get a badly needed break from the bedside, and I felt the lump in my throat again. But they hugged us, and smiled, and filled us in a little more: their daughter’s pain threshold is so high that infections like this can get really, really bad before they’re diagnosed. Surgery may now be their only option.

I marvel at their coping ability. “For her, around her,” her mom tells me, “I try to stay positive and happy. I don’t want to distress her by crying.”

They tell us about their youngest daughter’s wardrobe preferences, her sharp three-year-old mind, her outspoken ways and the lovely ways she looks out for her older but infinitely more vulnerable sister. The stories make us laugh: they have clearly managed to retain their sense of humour, and share a very happy family life with their two young daughters even in the face of the burden they’ve carried since their baptism into the harsh reality of life with a seriously handicapped child.

Annika wakes up again, asks for some more yogurt, sings a little more of Michael row your boat ashore, eats some more yogurt, sings yet a little more. At one point, when asked how she’s feeling, she responds with “I feel happy.” In response to some utterly necessary and boring suggestion or another, she says, “that’s a great idea!”

I wish for the millionth time in my life that I could simply implant that kind of positive, grateful, joyful personality into my being. (I do work on it, truly, I do.)

We caught up some more with her parents and grandparents, and when we left felt as though we’d been in the presence of pure Light: courage, joy, hope, love, optimism, generosity–all things that so often elude me in my ordinary and comfortable life, but present here in the face of so much sorrow.


The Crucible, and the Party

Sometimes, it’s almost too much to witness. I know there’s nothing to be done for life’s cruelties but look them in the eye, square your shoulders, and do your best to bear them with a modicum of grace. But I’ve had a lifetime of practice and I still resist—shouldn’t the young be spared, or at least be given practice with much smaller cruelties?

Maybe, if I were in charge, but I’m not, and the universe appears to be a little random, and the young are clearly not spared, never have been. Young mothers lose their babies, children lose siblings and parents and friends, or come into the world facing a lifetime of pain. They have oncologists and neurologists and psychiatrists and endocrinologists, or a parent or child with one (or all) of these.

They exchange the happy carefree optimism I stubbornly (and naively) believe the young are entitled to for the daily reality of their illness and grief, and their young shoulders begin to broaden, their faces begin to develop lines.

Some of us, both young and old, can no longer bear it, and end it all, leaving behind others to try and bear it. But somehow, amazingly, most of us find that we’re resilient, that though we may begin to stoop, we also begin, with time, to make friends with the heart-broken face in the mirror. We begin to understand what love really is. We make a semblance of peace with our daily pain and medication, our child’s handicap, our needles, our dead dreams and missing pieces and grief.

We may, if we’re one of the lucky ones, eventually be given a pass from the pain, go into remission, face a second chance, or a third one, feel strong again. We may again be presented with the marvelous gifts of clarity, life, joy, love, reasons to laugh from deep within. Our party dresses may no longer look or fit like they once did, but we’ll be at the party again.

Much love to my young adult friends in the crucible right now. You know who you are, and though you may or may not at this moment feel like you can bear it, you probably can, and will, hopefully soon, find yourself in a softer, kinder place again.

Determination, and Convocation

English: A publicity photo of the Davis Concer...

This morning at the gorgeous Winspear Centre, which was practically bursting with the majesty of the pipe organ and the excitement of those gathered, I eagerly watched the procession for the face of my sister.

Somehow, in the face of full time work, a busy family life, friends, her husband’s triple bypass surgery, and having to put it all on hold for many months to recover from a serious bleed on her brain a few years ago, she managed to rally the determination to recover fully, sacrifice her weekends for writing papers, and earn a degree from Grant MacEwan University.

She was smiling when I spotted her under her cap.

I was deeply moved from the first second of the ceremony. The vulnerable and terrifying months after the hospital came back to me for a moment, and then made room for relief and pride and joy. And awe. Like my sister, many of those graduating didn’t party their way through university at someone else’s expense; they worked hard to clear all kinds of hurdles, big hurdles. One young woman had earned her certificate in the face of an obvious developmental disability.

Being there to witness this moment made me proud to be a human being.

You did good, little sister, earning this now, after all these years, and all these reasons not to persevere.

Afterwards, my brother-in-law took us all out to the Pampa Brazilian Steakhouse, where we imbibed a little more abandon than we normally might on a Tuesday afternoon, and then we went back to our ordinary lives, the reality of rubbing along with family, co-workers, friends, domestics. But the memory of the morning will linger.