Blueberry Hazelnut Chocolate Afternoons

It’s a blueberry hazelnut chocolate afternoon. Work will have to wait a moment.

I know. I’ve had a number of (fairly brief) purist stages in my life, but as they have never really yielded the desired results I no longer have them, and anyhow, chocolate and weather go together.

The rain outside the open window is drenching and gorgeous, the open windows in my mind stimulating, energizing. The memory of last night’s deeply restorative sleep is equally as gorgeous as the rain, as is the memory of the day we spent together yesterday, you and I, talking and reading and lunching in the warm, moist, soft summer air.

We’re bigger inside than we thought, wiser, stronger. We only sometimes, as when we have temporarily lost our grip on the things that have anchored us in the past, need to be reminded of this by another. And thank goodness for those who do remind us, and who can help us create new anchors for ourselves in our new realities. Thank goodness for the power of validation, for the medical doctor and the mental health professional who simply say, Yes, what has happened to you is familiar to me, and it is utterly debilitating; you are not crazy or weak, and I have a few tricks up my sleeve that have helped many others in your shoes.

Nothing is lost forever, just altered, and change is always pregnant with potential.

It’s still raining hard, gorgeously. There is nothing like drenching rain to bring to mind images of the seashore, images of ropes and anchors. I think I’ll go buy myself a new piece of jewelry.

A Good Evening

I make myself go shopping for jeans, finally. I realize that, along with my old jeans, I’ve outgrown white lace, sheer chiffon shirts, five inch heals, and my old eagerness for weather that demands shorts. The skies open when I have finished, making this spring’s purchase of a raincoat with a hood the best thing ever.

It’s a good evening to wash the dishes, fold a little laundry, clean the bathroom sink, and then decide to ignore the cloudy shower glass and ever-present dust bunnies. It’s a good evening to skip the always-planned, sometimes-realized, rigorous after-dinner walk and stair-climbing, and have a bath instead, a good evening to watch a movie in my rainbow coloured polka-dot pajamas, open the door wide, and leave it open, to listen to the rain.

It’s a good evening to remember how desperately people want to feel alive and vital, connected and understood and part of something bigger than themselves, and that this is why they are sometimes drawn in by those promising enlightenment, love, depth of experience.

It’s a good evening to be thankful that despite the endless irritations and stresses inherent in most days, I still know how to laugh, and that laughing when you’re not supposed to, as was the case for me the other night, makes you laugh that much harder, and that this, though potentially disrespectful and perhaps even juvenile, is excellent medicine, and forgivable.

It’s a good evening to remember that we all let each other down sometimes, and that forgiveness, though sometimes necessarily slow and difficult, is available for anything, when the time is right.

It’s a good evening to remind myself that our bodies are more valuable than our retirement plans, that our souls are more valuable than our bodies, and that sometimes, for brief moments, we might even have our hands on all three, but that this is not a given.

It’s a good evening to be thankful for friends that invite me into their worlds, and are happy also to enter into mine.

It’s a good evening—an excellent evening—to be proud of my son, whose convocation we attended this morning, a good evening to remember how much hard work and persistence it takes to achieve our goals, and that we need start again, over and over, throughout life. It’s a good evening to remember that it is time spent in solitude that revives and fortifies us for the next hill in our path.

It’s a good evening to step outside and feel the breeze on my face, because a breeze on my face and the smell of rain always make me feel alive, real, connected to the universe.


Happy Father’s Day

me on dad's shouldersI’m so happy to be making you a Father’s Day cake today—it’s the first time in many, many years I have you close by enough to do this, and what a pleasure it is. I know you had put down deep, deep roots after over twenty years in B.C, and that leaving there broke your heart. I know that moving is an enormous stress, even for the very young. I know too that you did it for others, for Mom, for us, so we could all be a little closer geographically now. Thank you.

Mom told me a couple of weeks ago that when she was in the dark crucible of intense pain with her sciatica and it seemed nobody had any relief for her, you’d simply look at her face, see her pain, and be heart-broken for her. Your love for her has always been an immense and beautiful gift to us.

So welcome to Alberta; it’s so nice to have you close by, to get to see you laugh often, as you were the other day with your sister sitting at your kitchen table in her robe, tickling your funny bone like nobody else does. And it’s so nice to be able to see you nesting in your office, with your dear books, and your stash of tools in the closet, and the bigger one yet in the storage room downstairs. It’s so nice to see those shelves you’re building, to be able to check in easily to say hi, to hear more of the everyday stories that are the fabric of our lives.

Like the one Mom told me the other day, about how you had the cheque for the floor installer sitting by the phone with the phone number neatly attached, ready as always to clear it up the moment you’d transferred the money into your chequing account. I told you once that I didn’t quite inherit your tendency to get the job done efficiently and quickly, but I’ve decided that’s not true; I think I actually do tend to take things by the horns much like you do, and it’s a trait that has served me well, so thank you.

I know you’ll miss many things about your old home and community, but I’m certain you’ll put down roots again here too. Some of the familiar threads will help—that 60-year-old wooden ladder that made the moving cuts, and the 60-year-old world map too large to fit on any wall, but present in the basement, and of course your books and tools. And then there’s the fact of those sweeter-than-life great-grandkids close by, and their infectious joy. And your sisters. And us, some of the kids and the grandkids. The rest will fall into place too, and you’ll soon find a new church home, and be buddies with some kindred spirits next door, perhaps not the pool-playing ones, but maybe others who like the workshop, or who have bicycles tucked into their garage space. It’s a pretty cool 83-year-old who moves his bike to Alberta by the way, though you might want to try it out soon, before the snows come again.

The cake’s cooling now; can’t wait to share it with you. Happy Father’s Day.







Invisible Loyalties

me babyThey took her baby, a beautiful, blue-eyed baby girl I’m told, to the infirmary for medical care. It appeared to be nothing serious at all though in the end, so she told them she thought her little girl was well enough to be with her, rather than in their care.

They told her to come back in the morning; they would discharge her then. She went back in the morning, and they told her that her infant had died in the night. They never did produce a body though. I can’t imagine the horror.

Many decades later, a Family Constellations therapist tells me my grandmother suffered the loss of a baby, possibly two, one of them definitely a girl. I resist the statement, argue a little with him, tell him he could have no way of knowing this. But afterwards, I call my cousin to find out.

He was right, and suddenly my grandmother’s life—the magnitude of her losses and their impact on her family, on all of us in her tribe—came into focus. She’d lost her firstborn too, to SIDS or childhood illness of some sort, and then years later, was taken into a prisoner of war camp and separated from more of her children, not knowing whether they were dead or alive, utterly helpless to protect them or feed them or reassure them in the ways mothers are desperate to do for their children.

The story explains the tidal wave of pain that landed in our home when my grandmother moved in to live with us for a number of years. It explains what split her in two, what kept much of her soul hidden beneath a brittle, impervious, irritable outer layer. Why she saw not so much the unique beauty of her grandchildren when she looked at us, but rather only loss.

The story explains why she wandered the hallway outside my bedroom in the night when I was a child, why she’d stand in the shadows to watch us sleep, and why she turned gruffly away when aware she’d been noticed. It explains why she accused me of stealing things from her bedroom, even though I was too afraid to go into it, and why she disliked me utterly, for nothing more than having a runny nose. It explains, at least in part, why I wanted so desperately, even back then, to protect my mother. Why I loved her fried potatoes, but disliked my grandmother’s.

It explains why my grandmother and I never bonded even though she lived with us, and why I never thought to go to her funeral at her passing when I was seventeen years old. It explains why it took almost four decades for me to experience her as a human being, to weep for her losses, and for the way they have continued to ripple out into the lives of those who have come after her.

My grandmother was one of thousands who suffered this, I’ve learned—12,000 perfect babies were taken from their mothers during this time, to further the supposedly superior Aryan race. Many thousands of families on all sides were torn apart in a million ways during that horrible war. The aftershocks that have continued to impact so many are difficult for me to wrap my mind around.

But somehow the psychological legacy left by these experiences now makes perfect sense to me. It explains my inordinately powerful desire to protect children, parents, anyone that seems vulnerable. It explains invisible loyalties to vague but powerful feelings of guilt and failure. It explains my terror of being charged with negligence somehow, and potentially having to live with an unbearable sense of shame and self-recrimination. It explains the ever-ready flight-or-fight response so common in the family, the energy that goes into avoiding pain and conflict, my resistance to systems that claim authority and demand allegiance.

They say, in the simplest of epigenetic explanations, that our genes literally show the famines our grandmothers suffered. Do these tendencies then, present in so many variations in so many of us in the extended family, not make perfect sense in light of the fact that my grandmother was utterly impotent in the face of the thieves that tore apart her family and life?

In the weeks since my family’s story has come to my awareness, I’ve felt sorrow, but I’ve ironically also been basking in a warm glow of something I can’t quite find words for. It involves, of course, admiration and gratitude and love for my parents, for the courage, determination and resilience they have so tenaciously clung to.

But it is also a warm glow of gratitude and affection for the woman who has lent her professional skills to help me unravel some of the knots of my life, my family’s life, and who has held out hope that no matter how many and large the knots, no matter how strong the hold of the reflexes that have carried us, there is a way to undo them. I understand the term transference, and though she’s not mentioned it, I’m sure it’s apt for how I feel right now. But I also don’t know anything more appropriate than gratitude and affection in response to the depth of my experience with her.

Being deeply understood by another is profoundly moving and hopeful. And the experience of having my story move her—though it is one of countless many she has heard—is equally profound. How can I feel anything but gratitude and affection?