We Are

flowers 2We are flowers, reaching, reaching, napping in the September sun, warming our skin, unwilling to say good-bye. How many more days before it has travelled too far south to impart even an ounce of warmth?

We are the moon, hanging orange and low and pregnant, keeping quiet company in the dark, waiting for birth, for daylight, whispering that you were conceived in love and brightly shining hope.

We are the wind, invisible, lonely, unable to stay in one place, unaware of our power, at times troubling, at others soothing, at others yet fanning the coals of a cooling fire.

We are cloud and rain, watering and cooling, then pooling back into ourselves.

We are bright bursts of electricity and light; we are loud unsettling rumbles of thunder. We are weeping willows and whispering pines; we are raging hurricanes and crushing surf.

We are, you and I in turn, the grandeur of the Rockies, the mysterious depths of the sea, the solid chest to lean on, the child needing to lean. We are the earth, ready to nourish, and shelter, to offer a place for life to take root, sprout, and yield fruit and beauty.

We are the falling leaf, leaving naked branches to wait for spring. fall shadow

We are in turn hungry and impoverished, thankful for the milk of another, then full and generous, ready to give and forgive in measure greater than we have been given.

We are our mothers and fathers, optimistic and in love, burdened and splintered. We have our mother’s eyes, our father’s smile, her intuition, his power; we carry at our centre the power to breathe new life into the flickering flame yet again.

A Full Moon, Terra Firma, and a Full Life

Harvest MoonWe’ve had a full moon in the air this week, ripe with possibility, the unexpected and new, the birth of things that have been incubating for some time. The stale heavy air has been blown dry with fresh breezes, a bright sun and a bright moon. Days are still warm; nights have become cooler. I notice these things—the sun and the moon and the earth—because they ground me.

My psyche too has been incubating a few things, and, by way of the periodic dialysis I go for with the intuitive, kind, solid-as-a-rock and generous-beyond-words woman I turn to for this purpose, I think I may now once again be clear enough to turn from languid mid-summer days to welcome the changes in the air.

Earlier this summer, savouring the season’s sweetness—once over the most delectable backyard barbequed steak on a Cobb salad followed by the best homemade apple pie, and more recently with other friends over an equally delectable cedar plank salmon and paella followed by fresh U-pick raspberries on cheesecake—I’d sensed the first hints of fall. Not in the air yet on those evenings, but perhaps rather in the faces of our friends.

Change is usually bittersweet, but with the bitter aspect comes crisp, and bright, and a new kind of sweetness.  Yesterday, I saw so clearly days from 20 and 30 years ago, the days I first greeted the unspeakably sweet faces of my babies, the sunny magical days of promise, days overflowing with love, literally. These were days when my children’s kisses and laughter and fears and tears filled my days with purpose and joy, days when our little family was on the cusp of so much.

Today I see clearly again how deeply the earth sustains us through so many seasons and storms. She watches, listens, breathes, shelters. She is susceptible to erosion by wind and water and fire, but she absorbs, regenerates, heals, nourishes. She is solid, and provides beds of soil for growth, and beds for hydrating, cleansing streams of water. She is loyal and patient and forgiving. She whispers the truth: we are all made of star stuff, we are all connected—connected to her, to the universe, to each other, those who have come before us, and those will follow us.

What has been incubating for me in recent weeks is this message for my offspring: live fully, now, in the summer of your lives. Remember that the ordinary—everything from stepping out onto wet grass in bare feet to scrubbing the mineral deposits from your shower—can be grounding and nourishing, and remember that being well-nourished is what protects us from the ennui that can come along to haunt us at times.

So work hard, but take time to play too, and to rest, and to cry when it is the only thing to do, and take time to breathe and give your deepest self a hug. Remember that it is in inhaling and exhaling deeply that we are renewed, that this is how we slow down enough to take in all of reality, both bitter and sweet, which is what we need to do in order to digest it and allow it to dissipate, and keep it from weighing us down too much, and yes, nourish us and foster growth.

Remember these things, because along with the intellect and talent and energy and humour you have inherited from your parents and grandparents, you have also inherited their burdens, though it is your job to shed these, not bear them. It is your job to fly high, higher than we have, and leave something better than you were given. It is your job to chase your bliss, and to someday pass on to your own children their own bliss. So grab the ticket that is your birthright and go, chase your dreams with all your might. Don’t look back our way. We have all we need to find our own way through our own continually emptying and refilling seasons; you have all you need to find yours.

Mother and Child

me momIn the hours before coming back to consciousness, I was aware of one thing only: the warm and bright glow of love that belonged to a world in that moment removed from me. It came in the image of plump, small-child arms around my neck, those of my babies, all three of them in this moment babies again, their smooth and perfect faces burrowed in my neck. My husband was present too, his beautiful warm hands in mine. It was the most vivid and powerful sweetness—love, love that called me back to consciousness.

It was an anesthesia and morphine-induced trip, and exactly two years later, during the deepest of winters, it has come back to help me.

Winter this year brought with it a psychic winter for me, a slowing far beyond my normal northern-climate hibernation tendencies. I was fully aware that I was mourning the losses that accompanied my cancer treatment, but I slowly became aware that it was more than that. There was of course the abrupt withdrawal of estrogen and all hormones once gloriously energizing. There was the aching and wasting of muscles that once carried me easily, the passing of my youth, the passing of an acceptable quality of hair on my head, an empty nest, and underemployment. It was a feeling of having been tossed into a scrap-yard of sorts, one filled with elderly people lacking the vitality admired by society, the stamina required by employers.

But it was more than that, as my restless insomniac nights and the therapist I’d found slowly taught me. At her suggestion, I added to my toolkit the practice of meditation. What came to me as I stopped for a short time each day to focus on bringing warmth to the sore pocket within was a variation of the vision that had come to me in my post-surgical morphine-induced high two years earlier.

Now, my babies were on my shoulders again, their arms around my neck, but, as is possible only in these deeply relaxed altered states, I was at the same time present on my own mother’s shoulder, my arms around her neck, as was she on the shoulders of her mother, and she in turn on the shoulder of hers, as far back as the eye could see.

We inherit our mitochondrial DNA from our mothers, always, I’ve now learned, and much strength and healing lies in that long, long line of mothers that has gone before us.

My mother’s pain originated in large part with the tanks that rolled through her long-ago home in Germany. These tanks mercilessly scattered the family, leaving a bright-eyed, beautiful, playful young child without the safety and warmth of her mother and her large and safe family, and instead, on the run with one older sibling.

For months they slept in barns and begged a little food, and watched as soldiers poked their rifles into the hay, looking for beautiful young women. In the end, there was simply nothing for them to do with their trauma—they were mere children. So they stored it deep within, in order to survive. And much later, when they’d finally been reunited with their parents and siblings, they left it packed away, and boarded a ship to a far-away country, where they knew nobody and no way to communicate, and for a long time, only years of hard, hard work.

This is what my mother and I, without understanding it, were for so long afraid to see when we looked at each other, this was the substance of a veil that has at times obscured clear sight. What she survived had left a potent biochemical imprint, and the veil through which we looked at each other was a protective one, born of love.

Hope is, as we all know, resilient. My mother married, and her traumatized self gave birth to me, and then to four more children. She and my father made a new life for themselves in sunny and windy southern Alberta. They loved and cared for us and for each other with every ounce of energy human beings can possibly have. They worked endlessly to make ends meet. They built a home with their own hands, quite literally, and grew everything that could possibly be grown in the backyard, and then canned or froze enough to feed us all through the winter months.

We picnicked and went to church and sang and camped and spent long-weekends hiking in Waterton National Park. My mother baked and cooked and hosted guests and learned the language and ways of the new country. She let us make play-tents in the living room, and nursed us through chicken pox and measles and other nameless fevers. And after years and years of babies and growing bodies and hungry mouths, happy times and frightening times and sad times, and finally faced with an empty nest, my parents rallied once again and threw themselves into making blankets for those with none, sending food to the hungry, visiting those in prison. They volunteered at the second hand store, and took care of the babies in the church nursery.

The cold heartless machines that stole childhood from my mother took from my grandmother almost everything too. She came to the new country, but was too tired to learn the new language, and too tired to know where to begin with her vastly altered psyche, and so it, to a large extent, remained raw and sore.

A number of years ago I heard the term epigenetics, and learned that our genes reflect the pain our parents and grandparents lived. And then, in this dark winter that ironically followed a full eighteen months after going into remission from my cancer, I became ever more conscious of how desperately I loved my mother and my own children, how much the protective veil between us has at times blurred our vision, how much I missed looking into their eyes.

What these images were about—the one of the veil, and the one of my babies and my mother and all those many, many mothers and daughters and sons before us—was hope. Hope that on the shoulders of those who came before us, breathing in the divine essence of creation we become able to bear anything and heal those sore spots within.

My mother’s blue eyes have always held nothing but pure love.

Your Love is an Ocean

me and dadShe radiated energy and baptized us in joy. With her voice and her smile, her dancing and drumming, and all the rest. I couldn’t stop smiling. Thank you, Serena Ryder.

In the wake of all this loveliness and joy I had a vision, a memory of one of the many stories that comprise my experience of the world: A beautiful, young, dark-haired man on a bike, riding through European countryside towards the spot where his mother’s body lay buried. He lays his bike down on the ground, and then his body, to spend the night sleeping on her grave.

The man is my father, and today, within the echoes of all that stunning joy such a short time ago, I felt the echoes of his grief. Intensely. I wept for him on that night, and on those countless other nights where he bore the horror of his war-torn country and the uncertainty of his future on a frame reduced to the bare minimum of thin muscle and skin on bone, on a stomach empty but for potato peels found in the garbage. I wept for him, and for my mother, and for their parents, and my aunts and uncles and cousins—an entire tribe that in some ways still remembers and carries the pain and injury and horror of that time.

Many years later, when medical tests showed the record of those lean years in the form of much scar tissue in his stomach, my father simply said it’s a good reminder not to be wasteful or ungrateful for daily bread. It’s a hard reminder. But I am conscious again of how gratitude and pain are so often braided together, and of how these lumpy multi-textured braids make up the fabric of our experience.

I’m also conscious of how, if we are open to the undercurrents of our lives, these braids carry the potential to expand and enrich and strengthen our being. Running headlong into my mortality two years ago altered me, yes, in ways potentially wonderful, but in darker ways also. It has given me a heightened sensitivity to life and love and joy (it sounds trite, but I have never loved my husband more), but the heightened sensitivity is bittersweet, and includes sorrow, fear, and anger in doses I was not conscious of before.

You may at times want to shy away from my honesty about this place I’m in, and that’s fine, shy away if you’re not comfortable. But just as we all needed to talk about the heartbreak of young love many years ago, or the rigorous and relentless challenges of our sleepless babies and, later, our adolescents determined to find their own way in the world, I need words now also, to help me navigate this place of heightened awareness I am in some ways mostly alone with.

As the voice and drums and lyrics of a few short nights ago continue to echo in my body, I am conscious of the anchor writing is for me.  And you, my family and friends and readers, are the ocean into which I throw this anchor, because, as Serena Ryder so beautifully puts it, “Your love is like an ocean that always takes me home; whispering wind is blowing, telling me I’m not alone…I know that I’ll never drown.”

Your love is an ocean, it truly is.