I am such a Princess sometimes

I am such a princess sometimes. Yes, I’ve done more unpaid and underpaid work in my life than any man I know. Yes, much of it has been thankless, even when it’s been physically and mentally and rigorous, emotionally exhausting. Yes, my cancer and treatment has taken much from me and left me altered, unable to recover much of what I’d princessstill hoped to recover even at midlife. Yes, I have permitted others to steal from me, and I have regrets. Yes, midlife for me, as for most of us, is a lake of incompletely lived life and broken dreams. Yes. But.

All of this, I saw close-up yesterday when I met my new student, is nothing in light of what some people face.

“You live close?” she asked, at least I think that’s what she asked. “Yes,” I told her, to which she responded by saying she has no home.

To be homeless and injured and unemployed and alone in a country whose language you don’t speak, whose ways you don’t know… I can’t even imagine. To begin again at midlife with the most basic building blocks of language and literally everything, when you’ve been traumatized beyond anything most of us can even imagine, to have virtually no education, to be at the bottom of our society’s pecking order, to be disadvantaged and invisible… this I have difficulty processing. Here, hope and silver linings become elusive.

She is alive, and safe here now, in Canada, but still. My parents did this too, but they were young, they had each other, and they came from a culture that had, in many ways, equipped them to adapt. They also had a vibrant community of others in the same situation, and they worked hard, learned quickly, and made new lives for themselves. Meeting my new student overwhelmed me.

I know our lives—whatever shape they’ve taken—can be a grind, and I don’t want to take away from anyone’s pain in any way. I know that the disadvantage of others does little to mitigate our own frustrations and losses and loneliness. I know that we all lack in one way or another, we all hunger for strong minds and bodies, for intimacy, for respect and fulfillment in our work, a place in our communities.

But sometimes the best way for me to ward off my own despair–to make at least a temporary peace with my own struggles and defeats and to clear a little space for gratitude and empathy–is to spend a little time with those whose losses and challenges are infinitely greater than my own and share a little in their struggle and hope.

You are so Beautiful

The flame in our centre wobbles with our breath, but perseveres. The faces in the room begin to soften, skin and eyes seem clearer than when we began an hour ago—breath and focus and careful quiet words must be exfoliating and clarifying agents, I decide, capable of clearing away the detritus, permitting light to pass through, creating an environment in which buried pain and fear might surface, in which color and story might take shape.

Lying in bed afterwards, the memory of the tapestry we’ve begun to weave fresh in my mind, listening to January rain melt chunks of ice and snow off the roof, I felt strength and joy pulsing in my core. It’s a tapestry taking shape from thick rough scratchy charcoal and brown threads, thinner and brighter and smoother gold and purple and red ones, threads of grief and joy and love brought with us into that sacred space.

We had candles lit for each of us present, and for those powerfully on our minds. Your good friend, gone now, forever and far too soon from her babies, your own grief fresh on your face. The grand-baby that was supposed to arrive in this world this Christmas and didn’t. The baby lost at birth all those many years ago, and still somehow present now. The child struck down by a car, the parents and friends laying down their torch to illness or old age, the ordinary women living with the ghosts of common cancers. The fierce love and protection mothers feel for their babies, and the fear and denial it can give birth to. The strength it can also give birth to, strength and intuition that eventually puncture denial and know when enough suffering has been enough. The fear of knowing deeply there is much beyond our control, that we have little choice as to when we must say good-bye to a mother, a father, a friend or husband or wife, a son or a daughter.

So many threads of our souls added to the tapestry that evening. It’s a good gathering though when we can bring these with a mind to cover the walls and floors of our lives with colors and textures as rich as this. You are beautiful and unusual and brave, my fellow sojourners, and these threads have added so much.