Gifts wrapped in Loss

All day yesterday I resisted a powerful urge in my right shoulder to throw something, something soft, like eggs, or words, though something hard might be even more satisfying. I have several targets in mind: The universe, for its random injustice, dishing out a fresh new cancer hell for my friend who has already had more than her share. The power-hungry, determined to remove from their path all with human instincts. The sociopathic entity that is corporate capitalism. The enablers among us, enabling the self-absorbed to continue on their path of destruction. (Yes, I’ve been guilty at times.) Those determined to silence others when it meets their need. Those determined to keep the rest of us a little off balance, unsure of their worth, floundering—even, so often, in the name of love.

I’ve been shushed too often too count, and usually at crisis moments, often after having been silent about things for years. (Yes, this is what one counsellor offered me many years ago when I went to him to pour out my sorrow over my marriage falling apart: “reign in your tongue”. And yes, it was pastoral counsel in keeping with the patriarchy the institution is rooted in.)

This is not unique; the shushed, and those who do the silencing are as common as dirt. (I didn’t, by the way, take his counsel, and it was the best thing I’ve ever done for myself.)

Restoring to balance the give-and-take in our interactions is crucial to our personal well-being, and to the health of our relationships. We speak and listen, offer and receive empathy, lead and follow. When our needs conflict directly, we compromise and take turns deferring to each other. And when the scales of giving and receiving are tipped for too long in one direction (the exception being the parent/child relationship), it severely damages the fabric of the thing.

Now that I’ve started this line of thought though, I see that the current impulsive ache in my shoulder is pointless: the targets I have in mind are too numerous, and too powerful. The universe simply holds trump cards we don’t, and the other targets, the human ones, they wouldn’t in a million years get the message or change a thing about their way of being. The action of hurling something their way would simply once again underscore their right to victimhood, and my satisfaction would be fleeting.

Something more constructive perhaps? Like simply refusing to be silenced? Like refusing to believe others have the power to defeat us, and persevering with our goals and desires in spite of the craters in the ground when the floor falls away? And when those who insist on nothing but silent acquiescence finally sever the relationship in response to our refusal to be silenced, it is perhaps a gift. A gift wrapped in loss, but a gift nonetheless.


dad baby carriage

“I have to get my pacemaker replaced,” my father told me the other night on the phone, “the battery only lasts so long.” I, being strongly averse to needles and knives breaking my skin, immediately murmured an empathetic “oh no, I’m so sorry,” to which he responded with, “Oh it’s not a big deal, just a local anesthetic, and I can watch the whole thing on a TV screen. It’s more fun than going to the dentist or watching a football game.”

I laughed, and decided that his perspective may have a little something to do with things like having lived on potato scraps from the garbage cans of the elite when food was nearly impossible to come by in Germany all those years ago. Or with his beginnings here in Canada: a menial job, an utterly foreign language, dinner out of a can placed directly on the heat source.

He graduated to a better job, got married, and took out a loan to build his growing family a home, which he spent his evenings building, and which he paid off entirely in eleven years. He rode his bike to work in southern Alberta hurricane-strength winds and frigid temperatures. (Now, at almost 85, he still rides his bike around town.) He’d known deep, deep hunger, and, determined that none of his children ever would, he planted a garden big enough to feed an entire village. He taught us the joys of simple things: a sun-warmed fresh ripe tomato off the vine for a snack, sweet peas, crisp cucumber, corn-on-the cob.

On holiday Mondays, he and my mother took us all hiking at Waterton National Park, and, on hot summer weekends, on picnic suppers and to go swimming in the local pond to cool down. When I was ten, he bought me a bike, which I adored. In winter, he pulled us to church on a sled. Eventually he bought a Valiant, in which we went camping every summer after that, all seven of us piling in, alongside an orange canvas tent the size of a hotel and everything else we’d need for two weeks. We were sardines in the back seat, wedged in on top of sleeping bags that filled all available foot space, but we loved our time at the lake.

After he’d taught me how to drive that Valiant with its moody clutch, he once forgave me for parking it on a hill without putting it in gear or engaging the parking brake, landing it squarely in the branches of a tree while I was in City Hall taking care of something I now have no memory of.

He taught me to love pickled herring, dark heavy bread (which my mother baked weekly), potatoes drizzled with oil or butter, fresh garden vegetables. Together with my mother, he taught me the value of community and faith, of visiting the sick and the imprisoned. He taught me the value of hard work, of honesty and integrity. (For as far back as I can remember, he’d refuse a glass of wine based on principle: for his insurance rate or something of that nature, he’d said he didn’t drink, so he never did, the only exception being the tiniest sip of communion wine at church.) He taught me the beauty of books, classical music, hymns sung in glorious four-part harmony. He taught me that there is a story beyond our own, and showed me what it looks like for a man to love a woman unfailingly and deeply.

For this, and much more, thank-you Dad; I love you and happy Father’s Day.

The Rhythms of the Universe

alberta springA few weeks ago, with early morning insomnia, with psychic reaching and stretching, longing for my creative muse, I remember: the moon is dark. Like all life, we belong to the rhythms of the universe.

Since then: suppers with friends, a birthday dinner with the kids, a number of long intimate conversations. Love. Reasons to celebrate. A brightly-coloured and exuberant parade. A shared and perfect Reuben. The Fault in Our Stars, walking home afterwards holding my husband’s hand tightly, desperately willing my own cells’ propensity for runaway replication not to return, willing the universe to be kind to us, to our love, to the children.

On Sunday: sunshine on my feet, a breeze on my face, my book. A hike, and a picnic for two: croissants with chicken and cucumbers, an exquisite bottle of Viognier, a bar of dark cranberry chocolate. Afterwards, deliciously fatigued, and satiated, a bath, open doors and windows, breezes, no mosquitoes, the sound of voices outside, neighbours enjoying the early summer weather. Perfection.

Yesterday, drenching rain. Tired again, but in our wake, my daughter’s and mine, gleaming fridges and stoves and tiles, a sense of achievement, and now, not one but two deeply cleaned apartments, the old and the new. A hot shower. Dried out fingernails and skin (I never remember gloves), body butter to soothe. A hot cup of coffee. A terrible view, but flowers on the balcony, and the scent of rain.

A nearly full moon in the sky tonight. Another cycle of love and creativity almost complete, another cycle of aching backs and hearts and feet, of comfort and love and laughter and music and pleasure. Another cycle of the ordinary and extraordinary, all winding down again, preparing to shed, to take a long slow breath, take stock, and start all over again.

A quiet evening. Gratitude. Then, a phone-call, frightening news for a friend. Stabbing fear, railing against, tears. Outside, another drenching rain. In the morning, thick fog, much thicker than the one blanketing the ground.