Naming a Brokenness

I first wrote this post six months ago, before the pandemic, before life as any of us had known it would come to an abrupt stop. I kept it the draft folder, thought about it every week. I had just created this blog, A Wabi Sabi Life, wherein the beauty of my imperfect, sometimes broken, mostly well-lived life is acknowledged and honoured. Like my previous blog, A Moment Rescued, it’s premised on knowing that by naming and noticing life’s bits, one makes meaning and gives value to life. And this time, it’s the committed space to keep my promise to write, for if I am to become a writer, then write I must.

Six months ago I felt too vulnerable posting this. But after writing some about grief – mine, and loneliness – mine, while feeling no less vulnerable, I now have a bit more in the guts and gumption department to pull it out, dust it off and press “publish.” And too, knowing I have the companionship of others who have felt similarly in these covid days helps me call out “anxiety” as my on again, off again companion.

Arriving mostly unbidden…it’s like a cloud covering the sun, turning it suddenly chilly. Or the wind that moves through the just-a-moment-ago-motionless spruce and willows, as darkness gives over to dawn. Subtle. Nuanced. Insidious. And then, there it is, colouring my insides like an ink drop in water. Chest tightens. Thoughts on overdrive. Adrenaline racing. Washed over with dread and wrung out. And too, the gnawing visceral pain. During its visits, I’d often withdraw socially, mustering energy enough to get by and through to other side. In its aftermath, often the lingering fatigue and yes, shame.

“Sweetheart, you are in pain. Relax, take a breath.” 

Sylvia Boorstein

For as long as I can remember, I’ve worried, been told I over-think, over-analyze. Told myself it’s a habit of mind that I was convinced helped me make sense and stable, the senseless and chaotic. Realized it’s like an addiction wreaking havoc with my energy, focus, and sleep; wasting my time, which becomes more precious with every day; withering my enjoyment and enthusiasm for life.

Named it anxiety. Now have learned it’s a manifestation, and not exaggeration, of “trauma.”

“Trauma is not an event.
Trauma is the body’s protective response to an event – or a series of events- that it perceives as potentially dangerous. This perception may be accurate, inaccurate, or entirely imaginary.”

Resmaa Menakem, My Grandmother’s Hands, 2017

These words too, like those of Dr. Vivek Murthy’s on loneliness, are a stone dropped into the pond, rippling out in concentric circles of awareness, connection, awakening, and compassion.

These words, and others of Menakem’s – “we can have a trauma response to anything we perceive as a threat, not only to our physical safety, but to what we do, say, think, care about, believe in, or yearn for” – pretty well cover, for many of us, the territory of living, particularly now during the pandemic. Recognizing when something happens too fast, too much, too soon to the body, and causes it overwhelm, may create trauma. Understanding a body-embedded trauma response manifests as fight, flee, freeze, or as a combination of constriction, pain, fear, dread, anxiety, unpleasant thoughts, reactive behaviors, and other physical sensations. 

Bessel van der Kolk, a global expert in the field of trauma research and treatment, and Rachel Yehuda‘s work on epigenetics, or cross generational trauma, brought a contemporary lens to my growing understanding. And Canadian physician Gabor Mate’s study of addiction, attachment-attunement, stress and illness, make more connections within and across disciplines and experiences.

“Trauma really does confront you with the best and the worst…
you also see resiliency, the power of love,

the power of caring, the power of commitment to oneself,
the knowledge that there are things that are larger than
our individual survival.
And in some ways, I don’t think you can appreciate the glory of life unless you also know the dark side of life.”

Bessel van der Kolk, On Being with Krista Tippet, July 13, 2013

When I feel anxiety’s pain, relax, take a breath and ask “Sweetheart, are you feeling safe?” I create a sliver of space and that space, for a moment, makes possible a different story, and invites in a kindness.

 “There is a crack in everything,
that’s how the light gets in.”

Leonard Cohen

I’ve grown to appreciate, too, that I’m sensitive and empathic. True, the wounded healer‘s cocktail when mixed with anxiety, but not without bearing several double-edged gifts: a certain “prescience,” the ability to listen into the silence of words not spoken, to notice and name elements of the emotional field for people to feel deeply seen and heard, and to see connections and patterns among the disparate and barely perceptible, helping identify root causes.

Learning to claim and cherish my quirks and qualities, my flaws and features, naming this particular brokenness of anxiety and trauma gives me rest and brings me comfort. Perhaps in naming it here, you, too, may come to name and cherish those of yours.

With love and kindest regards.

“There are days I drop words of comfort on myself like falling rain and remember it is enough to be taken care of
by my self.”

Brian Andreas, StoryPeople

A Homemade, Handmade Life

Last night as we ate dinner my husband remarked that it was all homemade. Yes, I had cooked and composed while he grilled, but what he meant was that every ingredient, except the seasonings and Italian olive oil and parmesan cheese, was locally produced. From the Hutterite grown potatoes, boiled and smashed, then mottled pink with a sauté of chopped beet greens and garlic scapes from our bi-weekly CSA bag of freshly harvested vegetables, and topped with a grating of that Italian cheese; to the grilled “cowboy” thick-cut pork chops purchased from our local butcher and CSA drop-off, smeared with a piquant carrot-top chimichurri; to the salad of brilliant green leaf lettuce and dark wild arugula, topped with cherry tomatoes and cucumbers, dressed in a light vineagrette. Every mouthful bursting with colour, alive with freshness, deeply satisfying.

Several years ago I won the big prize of a basket of locally produced good for the night’s best tweet, “live local with love.” Since, it’s become my slogan and hashtag for supporting local producers, artists, entrepreneurs and efforts. During the pandemic, it’s become the basis for choices and decisions to spend our resources of time, energy and money on these local mainstays, hopefully to ensure their current and future livelihood.

Last week, when a member of the CSA Facebook community mentioned the smallness that week’s harvest, I took a moment to kindly reply:

Purchasing this CSA means helping “share” the risks that our producers take on for us. Bringing that risk to my doorstep, not having it anonymously “out there.” Sometimes that might mean abundance in the bag, other times it might mean fallow. Regardless, I am surprised, delighted, curious and appreciative. And I feel good knowing I am, in a very small way, doing what I can to say thank you, that what you (and other local producers we support) do matters a great deal. I notice your efforts. I care.

Yesterday, walking Annie, I enjoyed a spontaneous conversation with a couple walking their dog. From across the street he recognized Annie and asked if sometimes we rode her off a bicycle.  Yes, that’s my husband’s way of exercising both him and her, and that she, as have all our dogs, love the pull and rigor of it. One thing led to another and we started talking about life in these pandemic days, how we were coping, the gratitude for the companionship of our aging dogs, theirs, twelve years, ours ten. Then we talked food and the pleasure we take from its sourcing and preparation. Wine and meat, bagels and bread, cheese and fruit, we flitted on the surface, landing lightly on where to find, how to make, what to enjoy.

Bidding them a good day, I reveled in the sweetness of this brief encounter with strangers, who like me, love their dog, good food, and wine. I savored the knowing that cooking has been a main source of creative expression and consolation these many weeks. I felt the love for my Oma whose presence watches over me as I cook with utensils from her kitchen, shipped off to me years ago in her meticulously wrapped “care packages,” and with whom I pulled my first carrots from the warmth of her garden during cherieshed childhood summers spent at her home in New York state. And for a few moments, I welcomed back the grief of missing her, and of being unable to share a lovingly prepared homemade meal with friends, as now so much depends on weather to cooperate to be safe.

And in it all, choosing to hold up one of the things I mused on last time:

“When you learn to make things with your hands,
you begin to awaken an awareness of
the beauty and value of things in your life.
Handmaking teaches us about slowness:
the antidote to brevity and efficiency.
It shows us, through the patience of our own hands,
what goes into a thing.
When we put those long efforts into bringing beauty into the world,
we are honouring that which made us by creating
as we have been created.
We are taught to respect the slow, attentive piecing together

of the life we yearn for.”

Toko-pa Turner, Belonging, 2017

With much kindness and more love, dear friends.

Loneliness

Today’s blog is late.  Moved to write, I got up at four, and while I finished before my usual 7 am posting time, I needed to sit awhile with this before pressing “publish.”

I’m lonely.

I think this might be, in part, why I’ve been having a hard time finding words, why I’ve been feeling fallow of late. Realizing this, admitting this, to myself, here, feels vulnerable. Yet it’s absolutely true. And perhaps in doing so, words might now come easier for me. I don’t know.

I do know, that when I walked Annie last week and I listened to Brene Brown’s podcast with Dr. Vivek Murthy, the 19th Surgeon General of the United States and author of Together: The Healing Power of Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World, I felt a big penny drop deep inside. In mid-April, a month into the global COVID-19 lockdown, they talked about loneliness and its huge physical and emotional toll on social connection. Three months later and I’m feeling its price.

The early days of COVID-19, when winter hung on with its snow and cold, the days had not yet appeared significantly lighter and longer, I enjoyed the prolonged cocooning it invited. While odd to see few cars on the streets, and even fewer folks around, I felt comfortable and at home in the stillness and quiet that would only come during those occasional holydays or snow days when everyone stayed home. But now, four months later, into summer with its longer days, and our staged re-entry, I find it harder to navigate. Each week it becomes more apparent that life as I have come to know it, with its felt rhythms and routines, conversations and connections, is no longer, at least not yet. Too, the utter uncertainty as to what I might next conjure in the way of work baffles and confounds.

Grief. I’ve spoken of it here on this platform over the months.

But when I heard Dr. Murthy define loneliness as the gap between the connections that you need and the social connections that you currently have, I knew “I am lonely.”

Murthy describes three dimensions of loneliness to reflect the particular type of relationship we might be missing:

  1. Emotional loneliness is missing that close confidant or intimate partner with whom you share a deep mutual bond of affection and trust.
  2. Relational or social loneliness is the yearning for quality friendships and social companionship and support.
  3. Collective loneliness is the hunger for a network or community of people who share your sense of purpose and interests.

“Loneliness is not a concept, it is the body constellating,
attempting to become proximate and even join with other bodies, through physical touch, through conversation or
the mediation of the intellect and the imagination.”

David Whyte, “Loneliness, ” in Consolations:
The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words, 2015

So despite, blessedly, having a loving, steadfast husband of forty years, and family including my healthy, alert, fully engaged parents, I feel lonely.

I have dear friends, near and far. We stay in touch. Yet, I feel lonely for the in person, physical, face to face, exchange of energy and ideas and feelings and smiles and tears and embraces. For that “mediation of the intellect and the imagination.”

Now living into a different age and stage of life, my felt sense of community has shifted. Those ready-made places and affiliations, conveniently arrived at through work, are no longer. So how to create new connections? And how to do so under these peculiar circumstances induced by the pandemic?

As I’m writing this, I feel my body sigh in relief, with recognition. And, too, the toll. Anxiety that hurts. Insomnia, most often for me early morning waking at two or three. Lethargy. Lack of focus. Aimlessness.

In the last few days, I’ve begun to talk about this.

I’m reaching out to friends to find ways to “safely” meet together, in real time, in our real bodies.  

I have “professional” support. When I arrived home from three months living in Europe, culture shocked, rattled to the bone by family upheavals, destabilized with the news my position at work had been “abolished,” grieving the passing of our Lady dog, I sank. And from that place I reached out to make an appointment with a therapist I’d once recommended to friend. I knew I needed to take my own advice. I’ve been seeing her ever since. Ten times a year. Like a zen sitting – calming, soothing, regulating. Having myself worked as a therapist, and years ago been involved in analytic process work, I recognize how the practice has changed, now informed by research in trauma and its neuro-physiological-emotional impacts. That hour, with me and her, helps me show up well in this world. I smile imagining I’ll maintain this part of my self-care practice for the rest of my days.

“Allow your loneliness time
To dissolve the shell of dross
That had closed around you;
Choose in this severe silence
To hear the one true voice
Your rushed life fears:
Cradle yourself like a child
Learning to trust what emerges,
So that gradually
You may come to know
That deep in that black hole
You will find the blue flower
That holds the mystical light
Which will illuminate in you
The glimmer of springtime.”

John O’Donohue, “For Loneliness,” an excerpt in
To Bless the Space Between Us, 2008

Loneliness.
One of the hidden, insidious impacts of life during this pandemic.
Even more so. Because of it.

Paradoxically, I know I’m not alone with loneliness.
So, let’s not suffer this one alone. Talk about it. Reach out. Get help.

With love and kindest regards.

Beauty in a Hard Place

Good to Remember

Memories of traveling to Newfoundland five years ago were evoked this week, thanks to photos I’d posted on Face Book coming back to remind me, and viewing the beautifully shot episode “Strange & Familiar: Architecture on Fogo Island.” I didn’t get to Fogo Island then. Hadn’t even known about it. But it’s been on my list since, and visiting may come sooner than later as international travel might now be a thing of the past.

That trip, with its magnificent vistas of land, sea and sky, awakened a deep love for the wild and inspired words that remarkably won me a writing contest sponsored by the tour company.

It’s been good during these my fallow days – when the only vistas I’m seeing are those in my back yard and community, and the only words that come are few and far between – to remember back then, to trust in now.

Seeing Newfoundland in Six Vignettes

I
The Table Lands, Gros Morne
June 20, 2015

The vastness of this Island’s spirit,
holding the Earth’s very own heart
exposed to all the elements.

A paradox of deep beauty,
magnificence and awe,
with a cutting desperation for
survival.

A people who, fierce and proud –
despite what we mainlanders think –
know what matters.

This mater.

This Mother.

Earth.

II
Woody Point, Gros Morne
Early Sunday Summer Solstice Morn
June 21, 2015

A Bonne Bay full of Sun on this
Sacred Sunday Summer Solstice morn.

Shhhh…
the only sounds…

A choir of birds.
Robin singing, thrilling, trilling.
Black Crow cawing.
Meadow Lark warbling.
Red winged Blackbird wooing.

Blood red blossoms about to burst forth on
the front yard crab apple tree.

Water softly lapping on the stony shore.

Locals sitting on their front porch stoops,
sipping coffee,
smoking the day’s first cigarette.

The “from aways” their laughter and chatter
break the spell.

I stand on yet another threshold
looking for the middle way.

III
Norris Point, Gros Morne
Our Summer Solstice Prayer
June 21, 2015

Intention held in the hearts and minds of twelve women
wild to witness the whale,
grand dame of our species.

A blow…once, twice
seen along the rock and tree faced cliff.

Colour full kayaks skim the surface,
carry us Home.

Our hands drum the chant of welcome,
invoking her wisdom, calling her in.

A tail sighted…once, twice
breaking though the glassy bay.

A sudden breach.

Our collective Heart leaps with
the closeness of her show.

A prayer received and delivered.

IV
Woody Point, Gros Morne
Last Breakfast at the Granite Cafe
June 22, 2015

“I’d be nervous all the time,” explains the sweet young server
(can’t be more than twenty-two,
eyebrow piercing twinkles a delicate blue,
matches her eyes),
sharing a bit about her baby girl,
why she’ll stay put on Woody Point,
where the closest traffic light is in Corner Brook,
so Adrianna can run
free.

V
Western Brook Pond, Gros Morne
June 22, 2015

At last.

That long-awaited landscape.
The one I first saw on TV.
You know, the one that grabbed my Heart and fired my Imagination.
The one with the cliffs.

“I’d like to go there one day.”

So what fired the Imagination of those ancient mariners?
The ones whose fjords evoke
the very one I’m travelling down
right now?

VI
Long Time Home
L’Anse aux Meadows and Home
July 7, 2015

Two days travelling then waiting.  Anticipation grows with the wish to be settled back home.  Thankful all uneventful, as a day later, and for several more, re-routing, premature landings, delays, all in response to bomb threats
on my airline.

 The world’s madness – is it more than ever, or the consequence of instantaneous connection – hits my consciousness broadside, closer to home.

And what of those ancient mariners and the many days’ and weeks’ and months’ anticipation and sailing across the ocean? 
What bold imagination and steel-hearted courage, madness even, drove them from their Nordic homeland to what we now call Iceland, Greenland?
And then further south, to be the first of their kind, my kind, to settle on this, my home and native land?

L’Anse aux Meadows, the very tip of Newfoundland’s northern most shore. 
One thousand years ago.  We now know centuries before the likes of men we call Cabot, Columbus, Cartier.

When I recall the day I disembarked from the van, set foot on and looked out over that first “from away settlement,” over the bare expanse of naked land and sea and sky – cold and windy and grey and raining – I can hardly imagine, in a thousand years, their first reaction to seeing and setting foot. 
Unless I search in my own DNA and evoke that of my father’s,
when he first saw, from the ship carrying him across the ocean
from post-war Germany, and set foot on the land that he would claim
and make home, that day over a mid-century ago.

Words That Might Matter

I have none.

For the past few weeks I’ve struggled to find any words that might matter both inside and out there. A few weeks back, the words of others helped me find my way through to some of mine. But right now I need to admit, as I did in reply to a friend’s ever thoughtful and beautiful blog post, that I am feeling emptied of words that might matter.

Quite paradoxical, that with the bigness, muchness, fullness of everything in the world right now, for this past quarter year living in this Covid-19 pandemic, now doubled-down with as insidious and deadly a pandemic, racism, I am empty.

I read, I watch, I listen to people whose voices I need to hear and need to learn from. And in response, I have lost mine.

Perhaps it’s a matter of laying fallow, much as I have felt myself to be these past weeks, when I suddenly realized that for the first time in my five decades’ long working life, I am now without and see no “what next.” Again, the paradox that with the full blush and burst of spring, and now summer’s arrival, at least by the calendar’s indication, I feel myself more to be in the late fall, early winter. One of life’s many liminal spaces and places.

Or perhaps it’s like this. An excerpt from John O’Donohue’s blessing for a father, sent in reply to a long lost friend, and to my own father for today, Father’s Day.

“There are many things
We could have said,
But words never wanted
To name them;
And perhaps a world
That is quietly sensed
Across the air
In another’s heart
Becomes the inner companion
To one’s own unknown.”

John O’Donohue, To Bless The Space Between Us, 2008

Dance

Dance, when you’re broken open.
Dance, if you’ve torn the bandage off.
Dance in the middle of fighting.
Dance in your blood.
Dance, when you’re perfectly free.

– Rumi –
translated by Coleman Barks in The Essential Rumi, 1995

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Sweet synchronicity – no sooner had I written this post when I heard a musical interpretation of these verses. Composer Anna Clyne created an orchestral arrangement featuring the cello, titled DANCE. Listen to the fourth movement, “in your blood,” with cellist Inbal Segev and the London Philharmonic Orchestra.

My Necessary Counterpoint

Today, like every other day, we wake up empty
and frightened. Don’t open the door to the study
and begin reading. Take down a musical instrument.

Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.

– Rumi –
translated by Coleman Barks in The Essential Rumi, 1995

Well and Weary

It’s been a good two months living in this history making Covid-19 time. Socially distanced. Compassionately retreated. Many of us are baking bread, Marie Kondo-ing our homes, cleaning our yards, walking, taking photos or organizing those we took, ordering take-out, reading, streaming movies, watching YouTube travel videos, zooming meetings, face-timing our family and friends.

We adapt. It’s one of our long and strong suits.

On the surface, life in and around our home is pretty much the same as it ever was. Quiet, with few interruptions except for a parcel delivery, and Annie “guard dogging” with her barks whenever anyone walks by, or rings the doorbell. Funny thing, she doesn’t differentiate if it’s the same person walking by. A neighbor has taken to walking circuits around the green space in our cul de sac. Every five minutes or so, there he goes past our house, and there she goes. We could set a timer with her barking.

And yet, truth be told, in the past week I’ve been feeling weary. Well yes, and weary. This cycle of growing daylight interrupts my sleep patterns. Finally, I’ve learned to keep my sleep mask under my pillow if not on my head. Several recent episodes of early morning insomnia in the past week, like right now, when I’ve been awake since two. Four hours sleep, and if I’m lucky, perhaps a couple more as the sun rises and the robins lullaby me into dreamtime.

“Things falling apart is a kind of testing
and also a kind of healing.
We think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved.
They come together and they fall apart.
Then they come together again and fall apart again.
It’s just like that.
The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.”

Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart, 1996

But this is different. Last week, I listened to the news that Alberta’s honey production has been seriously impacted by the loss of 50,000 hives and how would they be replaced given pandemic-imposed travel restrictions. This became another proverbial straw this time broke on the back of knowing each day more and more of the pandemic’s pervasive personal and global impacts and implications. Using as metaphor from one of those travel YouTube videos I’d been watching, I feel like I’m on a train travelling through a mountain tunnel. It’s dark as pitch, and while I trust there will be a light at the end, I have no idea how wide the mountain we burrowing through, how long before I see light, nor will I recognize anything once through and on the other side?





Ever late to the party, last week I started walking Annie and listening to podcasts. I heard Krista Tippett from her OnBeing podcasts speak to the very real fatigue of virtually connecting.  Calling it “zoomzaustion,” our heads and hearts feel good seeing and hearing each other on our devices, but our bodies miss the very real enlivening energy flow we give and get only when in the physical presence of others. These months of not being physically present with friends, unable to visit family are exacting a toll, even though I’m home in good loving company.

During the weekend we dined on take out. It’s our commitment to “live local with love” and support local chefs by once a week ordering in dinner. A mix up with the order meant I sat and waited in the empty but for chef and staff restaurant as our food was prepared. First time visit, I was struck by the attractive décor, the open kitchen, the hip music. Staff were pleasant, apologetic, offered me a glass of BC sparkling wine to pass the time. Food delivered, bill paid, goodbyes and well wishes exchanged, once home and chowing down, my husband and I both remarked on the heart and soul put into creating that space, making this food, serving their customers, realizing a vision; on the questionable future to sustain themselves under their current pivot business plan, as opening under the province’s re-entry plan, with 50% capacity and the required 2 metre distance between tables would ensure bankruptcy.

“The only time we ever know what’s really going on
is when the rug’s been pulled out and we can’t find anywhere to land. We use these situations either to wake ourselves up or
to put ourselves to sleep.
Right now — in the very instant of groundlessness — is
the seed of taking care of those who need our care and
of discovering our goodness.”

Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart, 1996

Today, I’d hoped to have a “safe distance” walk with my friend in celebration of her birthday. “Thick rain” meant we cancelled, for now. So I’ll make chile cheese cornbread muffins to go with the “beerbutt” chicken my husband will grill for supper. I’ll call a friend grieving the passing of her mother. Tomorrow, I’ll purchase a CSA from a local greenhouse. Then I’ll see my chiropractor for a long overdue tune-up. All of us masked and gloved.

This weariness ebbs and flows.
I stay open to the vulnerable tenderness of this life.

“When things are shaky and nothing is working,
we might realize that we are on the verge of something.
We might realize that this is a very vulnerable

and tender place, and that tenderness can go either way.
We can shut down and feel resentful or
we can touch in on that throbbing quality.”

Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart, 1996

Holy Outrage

“You have been telling people that this is the Eleventh Hour,
now you must go back and tell people that this is the Hour.
And there are things to be considered…

Where are you living?
What are you doing?
What are your relationships?
Are you in right relation?

Know your garden.
It is time to speak your truth.
Create your community.
Be good to each other.
And do not look outside yourself for your leader…

Hopi Elders’ Prophecy, June 8, 2000

This is not the post I had been thinking of writing for today. I thought I’d be writing about the multitude of invitations everywhere I look to make the best of these times by either learning something new (a language, sourdough, a craft, sourdough, a home haircut, sourdough, a cocktail), or streaming culture and entertainment (architecture, travel sites, theatre, film), or becoming the person I’d always wanted to be, so on and so forth. I’ll save that one for another day as I don’t think they, nor my reactions are going away any time too soon.

Nor is this the kind of post I typically write, instead choosing to use this space to reflect and write about the beauty of my imperfect, sometimes broken, and mostly well-lived life. Maybe uplifting, enlightening and inspiring others in the process. But yesterday (I’m writing this on the Friday before Monday’s post), something broke through.

For the past week, since receiving a lovely “touch in” email, I’ve been reading the posts from a woman whose way of being in the world I highly regard. Jennifer is a radiant truth-teller. She dives deep in her life, in her work. She rides the edges, weaving together a way of sense making from various disciplines and much research. Being on that edge, as a bright, intuitive, feeling type, her perceptions and perspectives can perturb and create push-back in others. I see in her, a younger, albeit refreshingly less tamed version of myself. Perhaps that’s how I’m able to “see” her, to notice and name for her. And we both know and appreciate how essential this is to our becoming.

She’s been challenging herself, and by way of posting, me and others, to stay awake to the unintended – and perhaps, even, insidious – consequences to government responses to this pandemic. I was already sensitized to the “war” metaphor being used in the messaging at home and globally. But when I first read her words and sat with her questions, I felt agitated and shaken in my gut. My head tried to make sense of what she wrote, which only made me feel more anxious. I took a deep breath, paused, and consciously stepped away until I could process more of what she had invited. Yesterday I stepped back in and saw with new eyes.

In the morning paper, in rapid succession, this drew my attention, though most every page had something that sparked with a new light:

“Liberal minister Dominic LeBlanc told CBC News that he’s already been in discussion with cabinet members, including Justice Minister David Lametti, to bring in some form of legislation to tackle online misinformation regarding COVID-19.”

And I’m thinking, holy cow, we’ve never walked this path before. What we and our international and federal health so-called experts are learning about this virus shifts on a dime. We raking them over the coals for not knowing everything and then for changing their tunes, and for perhaps, even, being in cahoots with China. So, who in hell is going to determine what is and is not accurate in social media? And is this not, despite what MPs are quoted as saying, censoring and a violation of our right to free speech?

Then on the same page this headline, “Harsh tactics wrong path?” wherein:

“experts in criminology and law are pushing back against conventional wisdom that giving police the power to levy heavy fines will make people safer…arguing that health directives are unclear…”

While I get the need for monitoring, en-force-ment (translate: with force) and discretion being given to bylaw and police officers deeply concerns me. In my country and others, we’ve witnessed, and may even know first hand, the grave misuse and abuse of power by such officials.

And on the previous page of the same paper, commenting on the hypocrisy of our Prime Minister’s Easter time-out with his family after saying physical distancing is for everyone, Lorne Gunter makes reference to a local woman who reported to Alberta Health she saw more people leaving a church than allowed under these new public health regulations. He opines:

“I hope we are not becoming a nation of snitches.”

My immediate reaction was the sudden flash memory of hearing stories about Eastern Germany, where family, friends and neighbors “snitched” on each other to the Stasi, resulting in extremes of cruelty and torture, broken trust, and a terrorized-traumatized people and country, the reverberations of which are still felt.

Call it synchronicity, but right after reading, I received an email from a friend inviting me to sign a petition to rescind Alberta’s Bill 10, legislation designed to give unbridled and unchecked rights to the government, for an indeterminate length of time, to enact and revise legislation deemed necessary to fighting this war on this pandemic. Weeks earlier, the federal government was stopped trying to enact similar legislation. Signed and sent, I then edited and customized, referencing my read of the news, the email template to send to friends for their consideration and action.

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A few hours later I left our safe cocoon to run some errands, the first time in over a week. Yes, we are self isolating, or as I prefer to say, in “compassionate retreat.” Yes, we are wearing face masks when venturing out into peopled spaces. And while this may seem contrary, we feel it is prudent, and probably should have heeded our own research and knowing to have done so earlier.

Dropping off “love parcels” to my friend and her young children, I was suddenly worried that being masked, I’d frighten the children. We managed, carefully keeping our distance, wishing we could hug. They knew me. It was OK, maybe.

In the grocery store, I felt the “sur-reality” of seeing more people than not wearing masks (except the staff, which I’ve learned in many stores have been advised not to wear. WTF why not!?!), of floors marked with direction arrows, and safe distance boxes. To soothe my growing anxiety, I had to convince myself that while out of the ordinary here, wearing face masks is “de riguer” in Tokyo. I know I was too close to people in the aisles, and touched too many vegetables, albeit in gloved hands. By the time I left, disposing those gloves in the small mouthed waste bin, washing my hands at the cleverly designed portable station, I was overcome with tears for this all. And once home, told my husband, he could resume the “hunting and gathering” for us. I’ll stick to the cooking.

At the post office, there to drop off another “love parcel” to a friend before she enters the holy month of Ramadan, the gloved clerk, behind the plexiglass safety barrier, asked if I’d be paying by credit or debit. In the moment that struck me as odd, off. When he opened the cash drawer, I worked up the courage to ask “Are you not accepting cash payment?” and was told, no, that their boss had told them not to accept cash, unless that was all the customer had. “This is dangerous,” I replied, though agreed that yes, in this immediate context, probably safer not to handle cash, but in the long term, what could be the consequences of a cashless society?

Still masked, on to the bank to deposit my GST refund. Again, my first time experiencing their safety protocol. Happy for the sun and warmth to stand outside, a woman my age complimented me on my jacket, broke the ice for a quick exchange on the oddity of these times. I shared my experiences of the morning, how shaken I felt. Not wearing a mask, she braved to share her take, could this be the move for a one world government, she offered, a theory I’d studied over the years. Then she described watching a recent documentary where Swedes and corporate employees are now micro-chipped to ease security access into workplaces and gyms, to buy train tickets, to go cashless. “The internalized smart watch,” I’m thinking. “Marked by the beast,” she suggested, eyebrows raised.

Finally, driving home, I listen to our national radio station playing a favourite classical composition, Handel’s Water Music, and in a flash, it dawns on me, “We’re being placated while all hell is breaking lose around us. Let’s soothe the masses, like when then President Bush suggested the American people go shopping to cope with immediate aftermath of 9-11.” Like hearing the sudden “chirpiness” in our local news anchors on Monday, an about face from their typical style during this period. Why? Why now? And who initiated this shift in public presence?

By the time I walk through the door, whoosh, outrage had broken through weeks of disbelief, grief, and fear. Describing my experiences to my husband as we put away the groceries, I remembered that eery but fascinating sixties TV show, The Prisoner, where throughout the sinister story line in each episode, lovely music played throughout the village.

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Like my friend, there is so much about all of this that I don’t know. I do know none of us, including the people we elected to our governments and appointed to oversight agencies (WHO), have never walked quite this path before. But there have been similar journeys, when those in charge made pronouncements and plans to ready us better for next time, but once the urgency passed, are forgotten or deemed unimportant. Not unlike most of us, relapsing to ease, complacency even. I see our remarkable ability to adapt and “pivot” in our understanding and responses to “flatten the curve.” I’m of two minds when it comes to “re-opening the economy.” I don’t want us to move too quickly “getting back to normal” because the risks might be too great, the new insights lost, the promises broken. On the other hand, there is so much suffering now, including and beyond the pandemic’s fatalities and their grieving family and friends. 

“We will not go back to normal. Normal never was.
Our pre-corona existence was not normal other than
we normalized greed, inequity, exhaustion, depletion, extraction,
confusion, rage, hoarding, hate and lack.
We should not long to return, my friends.
We are being given the opportunity to stitch a new garment.
One that fits all of humanity and nature.

Sonya Renee Taylor, Over Grow the System, 2020

Holy outrage can inspire holy acts of inner and outer change…

…By noticing what is odd or off or no longer fits.

…By asking and calling out what is suddenly incongruous.

…By staying alert to the barely emerging patterns, and as, if not more, importantly, to the spaces in between. Focusing so much energy exclusively on the pandemic, has me wonder what am I being distracted from seeing? What else of real significance do we need to be attending?

…By burning through the mind numbing fog of “settling for and with” to illumine the fullness of what needs to be seen and known.

…By daring feel the discomfort and distress of being dis-illusioned into speaking a new truth, couraged into writing a new story, stitching together a new garment.

Since my holy outrage broke thorough, I haven’t felt nearly as namelessly agitated, anxious, scared or angry. I have felt the energy, the clarity, the focus, and the unequivocal knowing that a more beautiful “what next” is not only possible, but is in the making right now, with every breath I take, every choice I make.

Now to keep my fires stoked.

Perspectives with Panache, 2010

That is the gift of my holy outrage. What is the gift of yours?

#mylifeasprayer
#holygriefholygratitudeholylove

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