“I’m OK Drinking Alone”

I copped this line from a friend’s recent blog. It was how she closed her essay on the impacts of living for eighteen months with a pandemic. When it arrived in my inbox last week, a quick glance told me – and I emailed her – this was one post I’d need to take slowly. That her candor deserved my time and reflection. And while I didn’t read it with the glass of wine I’d suggested, or our mutually enjoyed prosecco, sitting here on a cool fall afternoon, with Annie napping beside me, the space heater on, and a mug of now cold tea within reach, I was right. “So poignantly on point. Evoking what’s both deep inside and right on the surface,” is how I ended my reply to her.

Yes, I am OK with drinking alone and yet after cancelling another dinner with friends as our “best summer ever” descends into the hell of a “WTF” fall I’m not so sure I should be – drinking alone, or even drinking, that is.

Alberta is a mess. Last week our premier – absent for the better part of August – finally made a public appearance to announce – guess what – we’re re-instating a fourth wave public health state of emergency and imposing another round of restrictions. While his $100 a jab incentive announced a few weeks ago didn’t get much uptake, this week’s commencement of a vaccine “passport” resulted in vaccination rates soaring 300% in 24 hours. We have the highest numbers of hospitalizations and ICU admissions across the country and since the pandemic was officially announced eighteen months ago. And this didn’t just happen. We the people made this mess with decisions and choices made, or not made, and actions taken, or not taken.

This past week I was politically vocal every day on social media, angered by the impacts on our beleaguered health care professionals, people I know and don’t having medical interventions and surgeries cancelled, protests happening outside our hospitals. Atypical in that I am purposeful in using social media to uplift the good, the true, and the beautiful, believing, akin to John O’Donohue and others, that beauty is an antidote to the tragic, terror, and destructive in our world. After a few days, I deleted those posts, my outrage tempered by my intent and vision.

In response to a recent Facebook friend’s plight while travelling, we sensing a kinship, I offered:

“…with covid and all that stuff, I feel I have lost myself – the woman I knew myself to be – pretty confident, kind but fierce, irreverent at times…now I can hardly make a decision, and the anxiety, free floating and homed in – so much I am not doing. Many days any pretense of discipline and commitment gives way to ennui. …I think covid has messed with many of us in very insidious ways, and it’s not until we attempt “re-entry” that we feel how significant the impacts….

And what I have a very strong hunch about, that no one is talking about, is that all the virtual stuff – Zoom and such – while it has been very helpful and necessary, I think it is activating deep attachment trauma anxiety – seeing you and yet, not feeling you…that confusing abandonment. I once wrote after a women’s circle that I hosted – for myself and 4 others – “I miss you in my bones and by my body” – that ZOOM just didn’t do it for me, though better than not, or was it???”

Tomorrow we fly. Our first flight since returning from Spain two weeks before the world as we knew it changed. We’re taking one flight into a little airport, renting a car, and driving down the highway to visit our families. It’s been nearly two years. I’m anticipating change – in my elderly parents, blessedly healthy and still living in their own home; in great nephews growing from infancy to daycare, from toddler to kindergarten. And while we won’t be socializing away from home, I’ll enjoy toasting to life – as we know it now -together with family, in my bones and by my body.

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

Falling Apart

“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 –

Not so much a poem, but words that bring solace from its simple, utter truthfulness. In many places around the world, we are riding another covid wave – the fourth, perhaps even the fifth. Variants and vaccinations, closures, masks, crowded ICUs…
Several months ago my mother wondered if she’d live through to the other side of this virus. I thought it was a wise observation, to which I had no answer. To which there is no solving. Things come together, fall apart, come together again and fall apart again. And so it goes. And so we let there be room. For it al
l.

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

The End Times

THE END TIMES

We knew it would come crashing down,
but now we are in the clatter –
fire, drought, flood, smoke, heat,
the million and one ways
that beings cry out. We thought
there would be more time.
We pretended that we didn’t know.
We squandered so much
that we might have saved,
and for what? Trinkets. Glitter.
The pleasures of ignorance
and a basket full of Happy Meals.

It’s time to ask the dying
what they know. What will you give up
to cure what is killing you?
What do you pursue
when your days are numbered?
Gaze into the eyes
of a beloved old dog.
Bury your face in her neck
and engrave the scent on your memory.
Let your heart break open.
Learn to cherish what remains.

– Lynn Ungar –

Lynn Ungar first came to my attention last year with her “viral” poem, Pandemic. Straight to the point and heart, her words pierce with truthfulness. A week ago, our beloved Annie dog went under for a brief diagnostic procedure. Thankfully an “all OK” diagnosis, she returned home that day woozy and with a package each of probiotics and antacids, hopefully to curb the somedays’ frantic rush to eat grass. But with eleven and a half years under her belt, and a decade this month with us, I know the times we walk together are ever precious. But isn’t it so for each of us – how life changes on a dime? Once again, around the world, we see how precarious, precious, and fragile our circumstances.
Reading Radical Regeneration: Birthing the New Human in the Age of Extinction (2020) by Andrew Harvey and Carolyn Baker makes the unequivocal point that we are living in the end times. The posthumous One Drum (2019) by Richard Wagamese cites ancient prophesy of a time “when words would fly like lightning bolts across the sky, and ” when “the human family would move farther apart and that this separation, the break in energy, would cause great stress upon the Earth… floods, titanic storms, famine, earthquakes, the departure of animals, strange diseases, and turmoil among all peoples.” (22)

It is time to learn to cherish what remains.

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.



This Beauty

“In difficult times you should always carry something beautiful in your mind.”

Blaise Pascal

August has arrived in a heat wave, though not the “dome” that brought in July. Wave, dome – both feel pretty damn hot with a bit of wind blowing, deluding one into thinking “ahhh, it’s cooler now.” Cloudless skies continue, but the persistent blue of a month ago has given way to haze with smoke from the still burning forest fires that have disintegrated villages and have others on evacuation notice. Sun glowing red in the morning, redder at night, now later to rise and earlier to set.

Though less now, I’m still attuned to school year rhythms, where notions of work would begin to appear on the horizon, readying for start-up later in the month. It was a few years ago I wrote that August – always for us in the northern hemisphere, the last month of summer – feels to me like one long Sunday night. Today, Sunday, this first day in August – almost a decade since I left full-time employment to free-lance – I still feel that flutter in my belly. A cocktail of anxiety, ambivalence, anticipation, acceptance – the ingredients in this order, though amounts may vary.

I’ve alluded to and explicitly written over the past several weeks, that it’s been a “wobbly” time, difficult even some days. Writ large: the world trying to move beyond a virus that simply will not let us go, mutating faster, and exponentially more contagious. Here and abroad, again a season of relentless burning and unprecedented flooding, evidence that while the world was in retreat for eighteen months, climate change was not. Fractured and collapsed infrastructures. An apocalyptic unveiling of grievous global injustice and racism. Right now to my way of thinking, the Tokyo Summer Olympic Games appear the perfect metaphor. Writ small: me trying to find footing in a “re-opened” community, and province deciding to toss out all covid public health protocols, where I continue to monitor if and who to hug, how close to sit, where and when to wear masks, when to travel to see my parents. Sleep disrupted by the heat and a habit of worrying about unknown “what nexts”? Sensing another turn of the wheel and breaking of the “kitsugi” bowl to allow something – yet defined – room to emerge, then to be mended with gold. Sitting in such threshold space is often difficult for me when it activates old trauma reactions that vacillate between brittle anxiety and a listless, deadening loss of focus – both leaving me wrung out.

“The beauty that emerges from woundedness is a beauty infused with feeling.”

John O’Donohue, Beauty: The Invisible Embrace, 2004

And so I turn to gazing into the backyard sky and trees, onto the garden beds that are finally reviving. I walk Annie early before it’s too hot, enjoying the silence of our slowly waking streets. I listen to the water falling in the fountain – and while a far cry from my beloved Niagara River – let it soothe. I light the kitchen candle when loss’ grief comes calling. I take pen to page, not as often, and often reluctantly, to write anew or, as below, resurrect a piece hidden on just found, older pages:

This Beauty

So big I missed it.
So messy when my expectations of it are
that it fit a frame of perfect proportion.

When instead, it demands 
spilling out and over in 
delicious, voluptuous abandon.
And all I can do, is be 
- thankfully - 
awed and amazed,
enthralled and embraced.

This Beauty 
that seeps through the cracks
through the shame and hurt and secret places,
to rest in the space between letting go
to fill up the letting come.

This Beauty
that holds and beckons us
to live alive,
again and again.

This Beauty
so big it fills my heart to bursting
a million exquisite pieces 
of dance and song and dream,
of praise and appreciation,
of joy and sorrow,
of life and love,
and yes, 

This Beauty.
imagine a whisper of a breath

“Beauty enchants us, renews us, and conquers death.

Piero Ferrucci, Beauty and the Soul, 2009

Wishing you all that is good and true and beautiful in your lives, dear friends.
Much love and kindest regards.

A Poem Becomes a Poem

The Buddha’s Last Instruction

“Make of yourself a light”
said the Buddha,
before he died.
I think of this every morning
as the east begins
to tear off its many clouds
of darkness, to send up the first
signal — a white fan
streaked with pink and violet,
even green.
An old man, he lay down
between two sala trees,
and he might have said anything,
knowing it was his final hour.
The light burns upward,
it thickens and settles over the fields.
Around him, the villagers gathered
and stretched forward to listen.
Even before the sun itself
hangs, disattached, in the blue air,
I am touched every
whereby its ocean of yellow waves.
No doubt he thought of everything
that had happened in his difficult life.
And then I feel the sun itself
as it blazes over the hills,
like a million flowers on fire —
clearly I’m not needed,
yet I feel myself turning
into something of inexplicable value.
Slowly, beneath the branches,
he raised his head.
He looked into the faces of that frightened crowd.

– Mary Oliver –

From poet-theologian Pádraig Ó Tuama, I learned different ways to read and hear a poem. This one below, a re-created, very abridged version from Mary Oliver’s above offering, using the last word of every line. A poem becomes a poem.

light Buddha died
morning begins
clouds first fan
violet
green down trees
anything hour
upward
fields gathered
listen itself
air
every waves
everything life itself
hills fire
needed
turning
value
branches head
crowd

– KW –

A New Moment

“I keep having variations on the same conversation with friends and strangers and colleagues. How extraordinary it feels, for those of us in places of the world that are opening up, to do ordinary things like hug people and walk unmasked into common spaces and even just be at the office. Yet: how strangely, puzzlingly unnerving it all also can feel.”

Krista Tippett, The Pause, July 17, 2021

Yes. Yes. Yes. How extraordinary to hug my friends; to dine out last night inside a favourite restaurant, one buzzing with the energy and enjoyment of patrons at every table. Yet strange, puzzling and unnerving. Yes.

I continue to vacillate between wanting full out engagement (in my introverted, socially anxious way) to remaining cocooned in my backyard. The once ordinary still suspended, not yet settled. Last night we were shown our table, the only one remaining, positioned at the entrance, one I would have typically refused for its situation on the threshold between its comings and goings. However, it had the most space around it, wasn’t as noisy, and oddly enough, provided comfort consistent with my lived experience of the world on a threshold, between its comings and goings.

A lesson in this for me: that what I had previously relied on and looked for – both out there and in here (I type, pointing to my body) – for comfort and confidence, to have capability and competency, for helping me to show up well in my life, is now up for review, reconsideration, and revision. That there’s an invitation in the subtle discomfort arising from being and doing that no longer feels quite right.

“We are, on many levels, in a new chapter — following on the multiple chapters of the past 18 months. This is a time of transition. It’s a liminal space emotionally, psychologically, physically, institutionally, relationally.”

Krista Tippett, The Pause, July 17, 2021

In the past few weeks, since my province “opened up” and relaxed all public health restrictions, I’ve had several anxious filled dreams each with the theme of identity – lost, stolen, awakened – from being confronted on the “conflict of interest” within myself and with community; to having my wallet with my driver’s license and health cards, and my passport stolen; to having my home overtaken by technicians and researchers, there to rewire it and me.  This, as my country awakens, yet again, to its history and horrific impacts of the identity “theft” and “rewiring” of its First Peoples via the Indian Act and residential schools. This, as our world awakens in the aftermath of the life altering pandemic.

“Part of what we need to do now is rest, as we are able. To let ourselves fall apart, perhaps. Throughout the pandemic, it’s been hard to fully articulate what was happening inside us and how that was ricocheting between us. Now, we are in a new moment, called to feel what we need to feel, to find words and new intelligence of practice in all the spaces we inhabit and work in and relate in. To acknowledge what we’ve survived, what we’ve lost, what we’ve begun to learn.”

Krista Tippett, The Pause, July 17, 2021

In the past few days I have been incredibly tired. Perhaps a run of nights of fitful sleep under a “heat dome” is finally taking its toll. Too, I have been filled with sadness beyond plausible attribution. While I have been pretty good at processing throughout the pandemic – here, in my journal, and in conversation – as the once immediate focus on covid is wrestled away by staggering climate catastrophes near and far, and other innumerable violence and tragedies, grief – in all its spaces and places – continues to seek my acknowledgement and its expression.

To help me find the wisdom in this liminal time.
To shape anew myself, my relationships with others, and with my world.
To do so without quite knowing how.

“Grief is not so much a process that we “make it through” and come out the other side fully intact, but a non-linear, purifying midwife of the unknown.”

Matt Licata, personal blog, June 16, 2021

Another one of these posts that pauses to simply notice and somewhat name.

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

Not Languishing, Though…

“When death is near, or when time forces us into binaries that are dangerous and ungenerous, we wish for such spaciousness, so that we continue the difficult work of preserving life in this world.”

Pádraig Ó Tuama, “The Pause,” On Being Newsletter, Saturday, May 22, 2021

Reading these words from my current, favourite poet I felt a deep thud land in my heart. I won’t say “languishing,” though it’s a word I’ve heard friends use to self-describe since the recent article named it as another quality of pandemic living.  For me, it’s more the ebb and flow, waxing and waning, ups and downs that make some days heavier than others. “Corrosive,” my husband calls it.

Still, the buoyancy from my last post announcing that sweet writing gig and having a short piece published. And since then, I’ve submitted a six-poem collection and five-chapter poem to contests. Admittedly a very, very long shot to even be long listed, but the way I see it, it’s practice in taking myself seriously as a writer, and in learning the art of rolling with rejections.

So maybe it’s the recent resurgence of fighting in Israel, the bombing and killing of so many innocents, including children. I’m staggered by the fact that no sooner had Israel so quickly achieved the world’s most significant vaccination rate, when the fighting resumed. I know I’m adding 2 + 2 and coming up with 35, but is this what post covid “getting back to normal” looks like? And I wonder, “WTF, if anything, have we learned this past year?” Admittedly I’m feeling a holy outrage and holy grief.

Maybe it’s the snowstorm that came suddenly last week after a much needed day of straight ‘n steady rain – the day after a full-out gorgeous, sunny and warm spring day. Those thick wet flakes weighed heavy on the just greening trees, so much so, that when I went to bed that night, the wind blowing white all around, the leaning tree limbs and laden branches looked as if I could touch them from the upper deck. An optical illusion but enough to fall asleep praying all would be well, that we’d not have the kind of breakage our trees had suffered several years ago during an similar, late spring snowstorm. Upon waking, except for a few tender broken bits scattered on the snow’s surface, all appeared OK until Sunday, when we noticed a cracked, newly risen mound of soil around the base of my beloved laurel leaf willow. The heft of this near fifty-year old beauty, together with the leaning of its mass and the weight of snow have begun to lift the tree by its roots, making it just a matter of time before it lets go, meaning its removal is urgent and imminent.

That tree, with its large and languid presence, has been a source of inspiration and healing. As I’ve noted here and in my other blogs, most mornings find me sitting in our living room before dawn, watching that tree and the day begin. Recovering from Bells Palsy, too shocked and vulnerable to see anyone, and a few years later when recovering from a complete thyroidectomy and waiting for the “verdict,” I’d spent hours sitting outside basking in its healing green. I’ve written to it, about it, and in the last month, even submitted for consideration, a piece to an anthology on trees. Titled “A Laud to A Laurel Leaf Willow,” it now feels like an eulogy. First thing tomorrow we’ll search for an arborist skilled in tree climbing to carefully “dismember” it. Right now, as I type, I feel such deep sadness for its loss when it is still so vibrant and alive. I’ve thought about how to stabilize it, but the paradox is we have carefully tended to it for these many years, willingly investing in its regular trimming, and now it’s so massive, its girth so wide, that cable lines would need to stretch through and past our home to secure it. There must be a metaphor in all of this, but right now it escapes me. I simply feel sad.

Maybe it’s that dear friends have moved to start new life chapters with new life partners in other provinces. Pragmatically, the pandemic has oddly prepared me for their absence, as this past year seeing each of them has been very episodic, if at all. But I feel that familiar pandemic-induced “missing them in my bones and by my body.” I know the changed reality of relationships signified by such relocations, as forty plus years ago, we did the same thing and friendships were never the same.

And maybe it’s that rather suddenly – both to us and to them – our next-door neighbors moved, too. Yesterday! He’d been working out of province, unable to find work here since the pandemic. For months, she tended the home fires, including all their DIY renovations. Finally, the home of her dreams and then the decision to move and sell – in that order. I came home Friday to see people sorting through stuff in the garage, assuming it was a version of spring cleaning. Then a moving van and a quick, across the fence conversation confirming the obvious to everyone but me! Several months earlier I’d acknowledged my lack of sociability towards her. Nothing personal, I assured, I had been cordial but regretted it was not what it might have been. Now I wonder if the Universe might be giving me a second chance.

No maybe’s about it, I was so disappointed not be to with my father yesterday to celebrate his 90th birthday. Last year, he – my “glass half full” parent – optimistically announced we’d have a big party for him this year. Our German “sister” had promised to fly over to celebrate with us, as she had for his 80th. Thankfully, he and my mother worked through the decision to abandon the party idea a few months ago, as currently, their region of Ontario is in very restrictive lockdowns. Flowers and a cupcake with candles over a video call would have to do. And once again, with his signature optimism, he asked for a rain check and said he’s dealing in for another five healthy years, at least. That made me smile. I have a lot to learn from him, still.

The wish for spaciousness to hold it all.
The knowing that it’s all true and that this, too, will pass, until the next time.
Choosing the half full glass of generosity while acknowledging the grief.
And signing off as I started:

“Friends, in all your circumstances this week, we pray that love, and a generous reading of time can guide you and center you towards justice and life.”

Pádraig Ó Tuama, “The Pause,” On Being Newsletter, Saturday, May 15, 2021

With much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

Our First Panniversary

That’s what I’m calling this past week – our global first – and may it be our last except in memory only – “panniversary” – when a world wide pandemic was issued, the world locked down, most everything stopped, and many people were dying.

And while we couldn’t go out for our own big one last summer, last night my husband and I went out for dinner as a nod to one year of pandemic life –  our first since that exceptional sunny, warm evening last fall when we ate “al fresco” at a favourite local café and remarked that had been the first time since our winter sojourn in Spain, the one where we got home just in the nick of time, before the world as we all knew it shut down. This time, seduced the night before by a TV commercial showing a couple dining out and digging into their shared dessert, he made the reservation and suggested we get “dolled up” for a date. Proud to say, he was by far the best dressed fellow there.

Across media this week there have been multiple reminiscings about this remarkable, unforgettable year. Many countries paused to formally acknowledge those who lost their lives to Covid-19, in some cases, the tens and hundreds of thousands – family member, friend, neighbor, community member, colleague. Every one essential. Every one deeply grieved.

Of note for me was falling off the kindness wagon. First, the phone call to our local butcher to say the pre-seasoned roast I’d bought for dinner was too salty to eat. His daughter, naturally defending her dad’s business said it was the way it’s done, and no one had ever complained before. Not so much a complaint as wondering with her, but I could feel the impasse growing as we went back and forth a couple of times. So I thanked her and hung up. She immediately called back to tell me she didn’t appreciate my hanging up when she was about to tell me to come in for an unseasoned replacement. Not necessary, I said, but thank you and let’s just let it be. But I couldn’t. Headed upstairs and felt awful that I hadn’t brought my best self to the conversation. I knew I needed to make amends. This time, I called her back to apologize for my abruptness, to acknowledge her and her father’s efforts and service. Suddenly I was overcome with emotion and then crying. “If you came in right now, I’d give you a hug,” she said. “Next time I’m in, I’ll say hello,” I replied. Heart to heart. The balance restored.

Samantha Reynolds as bentlily

Later in the week I went to the local registry to renew my driver’s license. Nothing new: mask affixed, met by the sign telling me how many people are allowed in,arrows directing me where to stand,directed to the counter and begin the process. Straightforward until I ask for the photo from my expired licence. Since they shred it, a simple request, a quirk to have these mementos of time passing tucked in my wallet. No, she shook her head, this was not possible. Why not? She goes to ask and I see more heads shaking no. Do I press the matter? No, let it go.

Then, how would I like to pay? Visa. Oh, that will cost me an extra 4%. What are my options? Cash or debit. Any charge? No. Fine, debit it is. That done, then I’m told to take a seat, which I don’t because there a couple of fellows standing too close. But quickly I’m called for my photo and am told I have take off my glasses – no problem – but then I have to remove my neck scarf from inside my sweater and expose my throat (to the wolf? I wonder) And no smiling. Oh, like passports. “Government wouldn’t want too many happy folks,” I mutter just loudly enough. Next told to push my hair behind my ears. I fiddle. She persists. I resist, literally half complying. She invites me to see the photo. Good enough. Thank you. Mask back on and I leave.

By the time I walk the dozen steps to my car, yanking the mask off my face, I’m furious, swearing to myself. Once settled inside, I’m still swearing but realize quickly, whoa this is way out of proportion to the incident. Quickly registered that I had had it with being told – by the government – what to do and when, how, and why to do it. It’s been a year’s worth and I have willingly accepted and consciously complied, but the straw broke in the face of what felt to me as unilateral, nonsensical rules for my driver’s license. I admit, I reacted with in moment with some oppositional deviance.

Deep breath taken, I headed out to continue my errand run, but at the lights instead chose to drive home. Went inside and called the registry to once again acknowledge and apologize. And once again I was met with an empathy, patience or kindness I regret I didn’t have or offer in that moment.

Before sitting down to write today, I did an early morning scroll on social media, and a skim of an recently published article on the cognitive affects of pandemic, What the Pandemic Is Doing to Our Brains – The Atlantic.

“Living through a pandemic—even for those who are doing so in relative comfort—“is exposing people to microdoses of unpredictable stress all the time,” and stress changes the brain regions that control executive function, learning, and memory.”

Then I discovered findings reported this week from a peer-reviewed study published in Scientific Reports indicating that our cognitive abilities have been negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, including our decision-making ability, risk avoidance and civic-mindedness or altruism. Hmmm, this explains, but doesn’t excuse, my lapse.

I think back to a post I wrote before our first pandemic Christmas, about the need “to be tender and kind. Especially to oneself. Especially now when there’s so much out there, unabated, for so long.”

I remind myself:

“If your compassion does not include yourself,
it is incomplete.”

The Buddha

I remind myself:

“…I forgive you. I forgive

you. I forgive you. For growing
a capacity for love that is great
but matched only, perhaps,
by your loneliness. For being unable

to forgive yourself first so you
could then forgive others and
at last find a way to become
the love that you want in this world.”

Dilruba Ahmed, “Phase One”

And I remind myself:

“My wish for you is that you continue.
Continue to be who you are,
to astonish a mean world with your acts of kindness.”

Maya Angelou

It’s our first Panniversary, dear friends. It’s been a long haul and we’re still not through to the other side. We’re still wading through uncertainty, stress, boredom, grief. So let’s remember to be tender and kind and patient with ourselves and each other.

May you and yours continue to be safe and well.
May you know and be and have the love you want in this world, today and everyday.

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

The Gift of Self Forgiveness

Finding the words for this blog has not come easy. I gave in to tiredness and wanting to spend “pack time” with my husband and our Annie dog on Sunday night when I usually sit in our office, tapping out my musings for Monday’s posting, music in the background. Monday, still stalled, I walked with Annie, and caught up listening to several episodes from my favourite poetry podcast, spiraling through several times, the dozen or so minutes of brilliance, both in the poet’s words, but also in host Pádraig Ó’Tuama’s commentary. One moved me to tears every time I heard it.

Maybe it’s the time of year. The coming of winter – though of late, ours has been remarkably warm, sunny, with snow and cold enough for chunky cross-country skiing and ice skating – can be unsettling for some. Personally, I grow each year in my love of the growing darkness…the stillness at dawn…the quiet muffling that a snowfall brings…the restful flat light and monochromatic colour exterior scheme.


So, it’s probably the month. December and all it evokes. Dreams of “Christmas Pasts” that can run the gambit emotionally, that for some us, can be anything but the Hallmark happily ever after. And this year, made all more so by a pandemic that is worsening world-wide as we grow more fatigued, complacent, desensitized and doubting. Just yesterday my province implemented a month-long lock down, including no social gathering, indoor and out, beyond family members living in the same home. And I wonder with a renewed and deepened empathy, how does one navigate when you know this will be your last Christmas with an ailing family member? Or you’re already neck, or even knee, deep in grief now most certainly unabated without the physical support and presence of those who care for you, those you trust?

“While your faces on the screen have to be enough,
I miss you in my bones and by my body.”

Since December’s arrival, it’s as if a switch goes on and I feel myself grow tense and tired and tearful. It doesn’t take much to trigger a “Christmas Past” memory and mood. Today a Christmas carol brought a near flood of tears as I wheeled the cart down the aisle of my favourite Italian grocery store, thankful for being only one of a handful of customers at that early hour. And then I take a deep breath and I remind myself of the guidance I’d offer every December to my colleagues working in schools. That in those ready-made relational fields, ripe to bursting with the emotional charge of personal narratives – known and unknown, lived and inherited – feelings and reactions, seemingly unapparent, become amplified with the resonance and echoing to our own stories.

So, it’s important – critical really – to be tender and kind. Especially to oneself. Especially now when there’s so much out there, unabated, for so long.

If your compassion does not include yourself,
it is incomplete.

The Buddha

That poem that brought me to tears, each and every time I heard Pádraig recite and interpret it – “Phase One” by Dilruba Ahmed – is about forgiving oneself. In it she spells out a litany of things she’s done, big and small, that she’s held against herself. And she writes, “I forgive you.”

“The really interesting thing in this poem is that the word “forgive” occurs 13 times. And then that phrase, “I forgive you,” occurs six times. The first time, it appears just as a single sentence. It occurs just by itself, those three words, “I forgive you.” And then the next time it appears, it occurs twice, “I forgive you. I forgive you.” And then the final time it appears, it’s three times: “I forgive you. I forgive you. I forgive you.” It’s like this poem is trying to learn a mantra to say to itself, and in the hope that a life can learn a mantra to say to itself, knowing that saying it once isn’t enough and, also, that forgiveness is something that we return to over and over again, even self-forgiveness — that it needs to be a mantra.”

Pádraig Ó’Tuama

Listening, I felt that resonance and echoing with my own harboured sins and shortcomings. But it was this that pierced my heart, that brought my tears:

“…I forgive you. I forgive

you. I forgive you. For growing
a capacity for love that is great
but matched only, perhaps,
by your loneliness. For being unable

to forgive yourself first so you
could then forgive others and
at last find a way to become
the love that you want in this world.”

Dilruba Ahmed, “Phase One”

My husband and I are practiced in the art of celebrating Christmas on our own and so can do this one easefully, though missing the joy of being with our friends. While we want for nothing, we are intent for good health to be our life long companion, relationships to enliven and encourage us, work and pastimes to fulfill and affirm us. And I, to become the love I want in this world, I give myself, over and over, the gift of forgiveness.

“My wish for you is that you continue.
Continue to be who you are,
to astonish a mean world with your acts of kindness.”

Maya Angelou

May this be yours, with, too, the gift of self-forgiveness.

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

To Be Astonished

In reflection to a prompt from last week’s theme in Way of the Monk, Path of the Artist – “Creative Work as Vocation and Holy Service” – a powerful memory was evoked of a group activity of deep listening and sensing into space and collective. Thirty or so of us standing in a room led by a famous percussionist were invited to make a brief improv musical composition using only six sounds, one of each assigned to each of us, to be used only once. Like the maestro, he signaled the start and as I listened, waiting for when to make my contribution with my sound, it became apparent that staying silent was most needed for the coherence of the emerging melody.

“Let me
keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,
which is mostly standing still and learning to be
astonished.”

Mary Oliver, The Messenger

Over the years, calling back that visceral experience has always been a profound, astonishing even, lesson of  the discernment and value of silence, stillness and spaciousness in works that matter.

Last week that memory gave me a fresh way into understanding my place right now. The waxing and waning between finally feeling – after several fallow and lost months of grieving my sudden, unexpected arrival at “retirement” –  for the first time in my life, a deep contentment with not working, AND, too,  missing the ways in which I had worked, been of service, made a living. Missing the known and felt meaning and value I gave and received for my work. Such missing occasionally “stings” as my circle of women friends are still so employed or creating their “encore” careers.

“Our daily work may rise out of our true calling in the world, or it may just pay the bills; either way, we each have a vocation. We each were given certain gifts to offer in service to others. Our calling is deeply connected to our creativity. The truths we long to express in the world and the way we feel moved to give form to beauty are signs of the Spirit at work in us. Vocation is a daily invitation to be fully who we are and to allow our lives to unfold in ways that are organic to this deepest identity.” 

Christine Valters Paintner, The Artist’s Rule, 2011

So how, now in my autumn years, will this unfamiliar “non work” become my “love made visible” in counter-cultural, less obvious, silent, still and spacious ways? How, as I find myself living a long-held dream of having expanses of time and space, unfettered by plans and obligation (thanks in part to the pandemic), may creativity emerge as vocation, take form as holy service? How do I learn to be astonished?

A cursory inventory:

  • Shifting my perspective to give value to home care, meal preparation, dog walking as my labors of love.
  • Trusting that the beauty I notice and express, via written word and photograph – in my blog, on social media, in my practice of hand writing note cards sent to friends – are an offering of my life as poem and prayer.
  • Remembering my meditation and prayer, a lit candle, and passing thought for another, known or unknown, are silent weavings for healing and community.
  • Giving space for my holy grief, holy gratitude and holy love creates space for others to do so.
  • Sitting with the questions of my heart, in the tension of knowing a greater plan is at work, revealed only – word by word, brush stroke by brush stroke, action by action – in the ordinary living into each day.
  • Learning to “move at the pace of guidance,” heeding the wisdom of energies seen and unseen.

“We make what we make, we give a gift, not only through what we make or do, but in the way we feel as we do, and even, in the way others witness us in our feeling and doing, giving to them as they give to us…a work and an identity that holds both together, not only for an end, but for every step that shapes an onward way.” 

David Whyte, “Work,” in Consolations, 2015

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.