A Thousand Not-Yets

When you’ve been blinded by the sun,
when three months of struggle have turned into eighteen,
one drug to second, to a third, to a fourth
and your monsters have not yet been defeated,
when your bones sprout blender knives that turn themselves on at will,

when spring rains never came, but fires did
and the earth is now not only parched,
but scorched,
when your skin has become equally parched and scorched
when your dear friend, too, has been blinded by the sun,
screamed a thousand not-yets,
and now lies awaiting her passage
What then?

You are wowed by the brilliancy and strength of those called to sit vigil.
You talk to friends who make you smile,
perhaps indulge in an afternoon G & T,
sleep when you hadn’t planned to
lie awake while others sleep.
You cry,
and hold each other close.
You wait.

For rain,
for thicker skin,
for joy,
for summer.sun2

Textured Beauty and Joy

mall ceilingIt was lovely, the abundance of the week, but so is this right now, this quiet Saturday morning in the wake of it all. It was lovely, the intensity of a short but delicious visit from my son, the abundance of turkey and rouladen and dirty mashed potatoes piled high, of family with all its limps, of spirits and sweets and thoughtful gifts and silliness in the forefront, grief in the wings. But so is this, right now, just the two of us, our space, our love, our music and books and comfy cottons, a glass of water, a cup of coffee, some sit-ups, a few stretches, last night’s wonderfully crisp beer and juicy bacon avocado hamburger still resonating in my memory.

It was very powerful cracking those coconuts the other night too, with the full moon, just before the winter solstice, as a way to explore the concept of our souls. The loud noise, the milk spilling out, the instant awareness that to be alive is to be loudly cracked open, to have chips, to be uneven and raw and nourishing all at once. It was a brilliant metaphor, thank you, Tara!

Every year the sun stops, and we feel the darkness, and we light candles and think about the birth of hope, and how babies embody perfectly the beauty, strength, determination, and resilience of our humanity, how they embody perfectly our vulnerability, our dependence, our endless hunger, our existential loneliness, our desire, our need for connection.

Your new granddaughter, by the way, so much like you dear Jeff, is stunningly gorgeous.

I feel so lucky. I am so lucky. There is the confusion and fear and insecurity that comes with consciousness, but there’s also this: so much love, and the wonderful gift you give when you allow me to articulate my truth, my grief—the complicated grief we all have and are conscious of to varying degrees. The wonderful gift you, dear Robyn, give when you invite me to sync my vagus nerve to yours, when you listen with insight and wisdom and empathy. The wonderful gift you, dear Jeff, give with your presence, your arms around me, your truth, your edgy humour, your tears and self-disclosure.

Let’s do it again, and again—open our eyes wide and speak the truth—as long and as well as we can, because though consciousness, like all good things, is fragile and easily lost, it is what makes laughter and love possible, what makes it all so textured and rich and big and interesting and wonderful.

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.

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.


Everyday, Cheap Antidepressants

It’s been a few days of working on projects-in-process, spinning my wheels, frustration. Of feeling inept, inadequate, insufficient, empty. Then: An argument, a mild disagreement really, with a family member. I hate these. They sink me to the bottom of the muddy pond that is my life some days. Neither of us meant to offend; we both offended, both felt offended.

The result of this very mild disagreement: I can’t bring myself to work on any of those projects-in-process. Nor can I bring myself to look for new projects. I can’t bring myself to do anything.

I have this thing though—have always had it, but since my little dance with cancer, even more so—today is what matters, right now. It’s all any of us ever have, and I want it to be good. I don’t want to cry over spilt milk, or buried pain, or my dead-and-gone ovaries (good riddance, they were malignant, but still, they used to give me wonderful little chemicals that made life sparkle). I don’t want to delay gratification or relief. I want to enjoy this moment. I need to get out, I decide.

So I contact a couple of friends; one of these efforts lands in their junk email. Nobody else seems to be available. I have a moment of panic: just me again, my little world, my ghosts? I don’t want to face them today, and I especially don’t want to face them alone.

So I start grasping. Lunch. I eat scrap of leftover steak and some cold roasted cauliflower from last night’s supper, and have a cup of coffee. Food and caffeine have some antidepressant properties, I discover again.

I take a Scrabble turn. (Yes, I’m still dabbling with that love affair, which began in earnest with my cancer treatment two years ago.) I’m losing this particular game by a lot; there are two tiles left in the bag. I stare and stare at the board, determined. And then I see it: BOUQUETS. On a triple, and it is, for 131 points, perhaps the nicest bingo I’ve ever played.

Then, a text message from my daughter: do you have time for a cup of tea? What was it I was trying to make headway with earlier? Nothing important, I decide. I walk to Elm Café, which I didn’t realize was a take-out place mostly without seating, but we sit on the hard backless metal stools at the counter meant to be used for the length of time it takes them to make a coffee, and talk. Conversation, and walking, don’t let anyone ever tell you otherwise, are excellent antidepressants.

A new Mac mini and 2012 on rewind

Starting with today, but other than that in no particular order, some of what of 2012 brought my way:

Another Mac mini. (Apparently one Mac mini, plus an Apple TV, an iPad, and two MacBooks wasn’t quite enough to give us complete access to our entertainment options.)

Coffee, chocolate, ripe tomatoes, wine, cheese, spicy lamb stew. A little of everything, bitter and sour and sweet.

Arguments, hurt feelings.

Laughter, love, empathy, movies, books. Dancing, and muscles that hurt for an entire week afterwards, every time.

Awareness that the C-word crosses my brain at least once every hour.

Terror over an upcoming visit to the oncologist, and another cancer All-Clear celebration.

An exciting engagement dinner, and eventually, a cancelled engagement, broken dreams, grief. We our best to help her through.

A residency at Stanford for one of the kids; a graduation for the baby of the family.

A friend’s father takes his life. We don’t understand, and we do. But we can do nothing but watch her grief.

I’m happy to be alive. But unhappy with aspects of my new post-cancer life. I miss cellulite-free thighs, miss estrogen-soaked cells and hair that has a little shine to it, miss going to yoga or out dancing without having to suck Aspirin afterwards. But I’m happy to have hair again—it is, however meager, infinitely superior to having no hair.

I break down and acquire at least a few pieces of clothing a size bigger.

Vanity and whining, I know. Guilty. I weep for our niece, whose cancer is back. I weep for the innocent children who lost their lives to an out-of-control young man with a gun. I weep for their parents. For mothers who have no choice but to leave their children motherless because of a drunk driver, or because cancer cells gone crazy demand they do so. For parents who must live with the amputation the loss of a child is.

I decide we need to sell the six-bedroom family home and downsize. My husband has little choice but to come along for the ride. I’m rarely that assertive, but on this I was downright pushy. I decided, we put it on the market, sold in three weeks, and then had three weeks to find a replacement. I’m still tired, but we love the new smaller space and location. We can easily walk to the river valley now, and to any number of places that will make my coffee or supper for me.

Another cancer All-Clear.

A gorgeous wedding. And another.

Our grand-daughter comes for an extended visit, and we get to watch her perform in a short but lovely version of CATS.

Many, many bad hair and bad wardrobe days.

A baptism by music, on the hill in Edmonton, in the heat of August, under the spell of musicians like Bahamas.

Yet another magical wedding, this one family, in the most stunning west coast B.C. setting, and the first time since forever we have all the children together. I remind myself: we have children not to fulfill our dreams, but to encourage them to pursue theirs.

Many more bad hair and wardrobe days, another cancer All-Clear. Whining, terror, then ecstasy, again.

An extended visit from my parents. They’re amazing.

A new friend. Our bond: we’ve both met cancer.

Old friends. Lunches, coffees, dinners, arguments, agreements, laughter, tears.

Visits with the kids. So proud of all of them.

It’s all so ordinary, so painful and boring, and so amazingly wonderful. And I’m making plans for December 31, 2013 as I sit here, writing down what I want to see happen, who I want to become between now and then. Happy New Year to all of you.

Pure, white Light

I’m glad I went. Yesterday, I thought I wouldn’t be able to bear the sight of that charming and lovely little six-year-old seriously ill and hospitalized again. I didn’t want to feel the pain her parents and grandparents carry. But it turns out that, after facing the initial blunt and frightening reality of things, and despite the power sorrow and pain can carry, we were powerfully inspired and fortified by the essence of the people present in the room.

She was sleeping when we walked in, her grandma sitting on the bed next to her. The side of her face visible to us was so swollen she didn’t look remotely like the little girl I knew, and between that and the look on her grandma’s face, tears stung my eyes immediately. But then she woke up, turned her head a little toward her grandma, and said “hi Grandma, I want peach yogurt.”

She ate a little, and sang a few lines of Michael row your boat ashore, and fell asleep again. Her parents returned from a brief outing they’d been urged to take, to get a badly needed break from the bedside, and I felt the lump in my throat again. But they hugged us, and smiled, and filled us in a little more: their daughter’s pain threshold is so high that infections like this can get really, really bad before they’re diagnosed. Surgery may now be their only option.

I marvel at their coping ability. “For her, around her,” her mom tells me, “I try to stay positive and happy. I don’t want to distress her by crying.”

They tell us about their youngest daughter’s wardrobe preferences, her sharp three-year-old mind, her outspoken ways and the lovely ways she looks out for her older but infinitely more vulnerable sister. The stories make us laugh: they have clearly managed to retain their sense of humour, and share a very happy family life with their two young daughters even in the face of the burden they’ve carried since their baptism into the harsh reality of life with a seriously handicapped child.

Annika wakes up again, asks for some more yogurt, sings a little more of Michael row your boat ashore, eats some more yogurt, sings yet a little more. At one point, when asked how she’s feeling, she responds with “I feel happy.” In response to some utterly necessary and boring suggestion or another, she says, “that’s a great idea!”

I wish for the millionth time in my life that I could simply implant that kind of positive, grateful, joyful personality into my being. (I do work on it, truly, I do.)

We caught up some more with her parents and grandparents, and when we left felt as though we’d been in the presence of pure Light: courage, joy, hope, love, optimism, generosity–all things that so often elude me in my ordinary and comfortable life, but present here in the face of so much sorrow.