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.

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The New Moon

fall trailI’m waiting this week, waiting, waiting, waiting. Preparing to say good-bye to the perfection of bare feet and hot coffee outdoors on fresh mornings, cool air sneaking in under my robe. Making peace with the arrival of yellow wet leaves on the ground, preparing for colder skies on the horizon.

At times like this, with the light getting thinner daily, my body tells me to check the impulse to chase hard after what I want. It tells me—demands, really—I need to take a step back and gather my energies, tidy up, regroup, allow the wind at my back to gain some momentum again, and wait for the images and thoughts crossing the terrain of my brain to sort themselves out a little.

So I cleaned the hard water deposits from the shower glass, and put the thin cotton dresses to the back of the closet, and tied up some loose ends on projects nearly finished. But the big projects in early stages—those that require a clear mind and abundant creative energy—those I’ve put on hold as I exhale and, once again, try to surrender. Surrender to the reality of some mountains now too big to climb, the reality of failures that have left in their wake very real limitations or a club of shame, the reality of nighttime dreams that leave a bruise.

I walked in the cool air, and picked up fresh produce for a fall soup. The beauty of fall is stunning. How is it that beauty sometimes heightens the visibility of tarnish and erosion?

Clear in my mind today are the faces of friends and family, the faces of those bearing fresh wounds, and the faces of those who have lost over and over again, for decades, lines now deeply etched into their skin. The faces of those who have lost—or watched horrible injury to—a parent, or a lover, or a child. The faces of those who have borne witness to, over and over again, those trying to manage these heavy burdens.

Someone reminded me last night that neither our lives nor those of our children are truly ours to cling to with ownership. Still. The faces of our babies sometimes seem as much a part of us as our arms and legs and hands and feet, our beating hearts. We want them joyously alive.

Warmth is thinner now; my skin seems thinner too. But alongside the chill, and equally real, is the warmth of those among us who have a stunning capacity to hold the grief of others alongside their own, literally hold it for a while, for those who need a moment’s rest. I love them for this, this ability to be the moon when the one in the sky is yet too new to be visible.

 

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.

 

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.

 

For Sarah


A gorgeous gown, glowing smiles, eager anticipation and love, fresh young faces on the brink of their lives together: Beauty. Guests in their finery, laughing and hugging, happy to see familiar but rarely-seen faces, happy to step into the magic with the couple of the day for a few short hours.

For the second time this summer, immersed in the joy of the moment, I was also aware of the many stories, both happy and sad, leading up to this day. And despite our divorce rates and widespread disillusionment with the institution of marriage, I’m happy we’re still getting married—I believe there is great value in the public affirmation of and community support for the melding of two lives.

I remember this particular young woman as an infant, a spirited child who knew what she wanted and didn’t want, and was unafraid to say so, through tears, through smiles, through whatever. Mother-toddler exchanges were mostly some variation of the following: “You’re tired/hungry/need to use the washroom,” met by an instant and determined “I am not, I am not, I am not.” I remember well her easy expression of affection and emotion, sorrow and joy.

I hope you’re able to keep that spiritedness alive, dear Sarah. Trust your intuitions. And I hope you’re able to keep your sense of fun going, to pursue and find whatever it is that will have the power to drive your smile through all the different stages of life. Because though the path ahead will hold plenty that will demand thoughtful earnest responses, fun is essential. Fun, actually the sharing of our laughter and our tears, is the best of relational glues, stronger than a will of steel. I know from experience that if you’re well-matched, which you truly seem to be, it is possible to keep much of today’s joy and optimism alive. The secret lies in chasing pleasure often enough that the good times outweigh the grind of work and familiarity.

 

TEDxEdmonton

Yesterday, at TEDxEdmonton I discovered I may still have superhero potential after all, at least by neuroscientist Paul Zehr’s logic. It requires not extraordinary giftedness, he says, but rather years of being a decent human being, and rather than being unusually good at any one thing, being pretty good at a wide range of things. This is good news to me, being a decent human being, but very unspecialized in our highly specialized world.

The event was an independently organized TED event held in Edmonton every year in the spirit of TED’s mission—ideas worth spreading—and, while the quality of the presentations varied, it delivered some really great ideas truly worth spreading.

It was an excellent reminder that the seeds and the soil provided by our poets and artists are as essential to innovation as the expertise and talent of our scientists and entrepreneurs. The ideas come first, then the technology, which made the poetry of Mary Pinkoski  the perfect beginning and end to the day’s presentations.

Edmontonian Gerry Morita of Mile Zero Dance also captured this essential but often-overlooked truth about the value of the arts, with her focus on creative collaboration, as did Kris Pearn of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs fame, who presented a marvelously entertaining illustration of using art to turn failure into success.

Randy Marsden of Cleankeys brilliance illustrated beautifully how scientists who know little about biology can come up with a solution to our seriously high risk of hospital acquired infections, which is our fourth leading cause of death. Darrell Kopke of Lululemon success presented a convincing case for the value putting generosity before profits, and that this order of values need not be in opposition to profitable ventures.

There was much more, and the day’s pleasures included taking in some of the Pride Festivities at lunchtime, and a yummy lunch provided by Elm Cafe’s Nate Box, sitting at a little table in the street outside in the sunshine.

After it all, inspired and energized but slightly stiff from sitting for so long, we pretended to be French and enjoyed a lovely glass of champagne, and then went to check out the street festivities. The rain put a damper on things, quite literally, but we had a fine supper and soaked in the energy of Edmontonians happy to end their season of hibernation. The evening ended on the pleasure of watching my friend (whose strappy sandals had begun to hurt) run barefoot through the rainy wet streets of downtown Edmonton. She’d been complaining of feeling her age and not enjoying being the oldest patrons at Lit. Who cares about age, I wish I’d have thought to say; you’re at least as much fun as the young crowd.