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.

To Have Enough Room

BLESSING THAT BECOMES EMPTY AS IT GOES

This blessing
keeps nothing
for itself.
You can find it
by following the path
of what it has let go,
of what it has learned
it can live without.

Say this blessing out loud
a few times
and you will hear
the hollow places
within it,
how it echoes
in a way
that gives your voice
back to you
as if you had never
heard it before.

Yet this blessing
would not be mistaken
for any other,
as if,
in its emptying,
it had lost
what makes it
most itself.

It simply desires
to have room enough
to welcome
what comes.

Today,
it’s you.

So come and sit
in this place
made holy
by its hollows.
You think you have
too much to do,
too little time,
too great a weight
of responsibility
that none but you
can carry.

I tell you,
lay it down.
Just for a moment,
if that’s what you
can manage at first.
Five minutes.
Lift up your voice—
in laughter,
in weeping,
it does not matter—
and let it ring against
these spacious walls.

Do this
until you can hear
the spaces within
your own breathing.
Do this
until you can feel
the hollow in your heart
where something
is letting go,
where something
is making way.

– Jan Richardson –
Circle of Grace: A Book of Blessings for the Seasons

Day 2 and then some

It’s happened. In the last two days I’ve learned of people I know having their lives impacted by COVID-19. Up until now it’s been something “out there.” Now it’s landed on my doorstep, making these past six months less surreal.

A few weeks ago, while walking Annie, I listened to the second season opener of Brene Brown’s Unlocking Us podcasts. Titled “Day 2” she describes how now, six months into the pandemic, it’s not getting any easier for us. In fact, in a counter-intuitive way, it’s harder. We tell ourselves we should be getting the hang of it, but no. Like the Day 2 of her three-day training events, or what in my profession’s parlance we call the “groan zone”: when, after settling in and getting to know each other, playing around with new concepts and ideas with everything “out there”, the rubber hits the road when we realize, often with resistance, that for any traction and way forward to occur, we need to do a lot of internal pushing, shifting, and changing. We feel awkward, anxious, angry. Tired. Doubting. We want to turn around, get out, and dust ourselves off.

“…let me tell you,
day two of these three-day trainings sucked.
I mean sucked. So not only in terms of the curriculum,
day two meant that we were moving into some of the really tough content, like shame and worthiness, but people were also kind of feeling raw. The first day of anything like the first day of school, the first day of a training, the first day of your work, you’re like, I get the badge and everything’s shiny, and everything feels like a new undertaking, and there’s this sparkle of possibility. By day two, this is dulled. And now you’re kind of in this dense fog where you don’t have the shiny possibility of day one or the running toward the finish line of day three. It’s like hitting the wall.”

Brene Brown, “Day 2,” on Unlocking Us, September 2, 2020

I’d been feeling and saying pretty much the same thing this summer. And while I didn’t think I had a timeline for this thing, knew enough to cancel a September return to Morocco way back in March, heard about the “second wave”, in all honesty, in some deep place, I was holding out hope we’d be seeing the light at the end of the tunnel by now, driving towards it. Instead it feels as messy as ever. But now, since yesterday, much more real.

“…we’re in the dark, the doors close behind us,
we’re too far in to turn around and
not close enough to the end to see the light…”

Brene Brown, “Day 2,” on Unlocking Us, September 2, 2020

Yesterday I went to the store to fetch groceries for my friend, and I swear to God, as I put the mask on my face, my brain fell out. I couldn’t make sense of the store aisle arrows, of how close or far I was to the next person. My glasses kept fogging up. When I finally got ready to checkout, I started placing my items on the conveyor belt before the customer ahead had finished. Yes, I was safely distanced, but the clerk kindly asked me to wait until she had sprayed and wiped the entire belt making it safe and ready for me. Of course, I should have known that. Then I told her I needed two receipts, different bags – theirs they’d pack, mine I needed bag myself – where was my store card? my credit card? Flustered, I finally confessed, “I’m usually pretty competent, but today, I can’t multitask worth a damn.” She laughed with me. Grateful for her kindness, I muddled through, got outside, whipped off my mask, and breathing deep while sitting in my car, realized how rattled I was and why. COVID-19 had arrived on my doorstep.

 “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, disconnection, 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

Today is a better day. In fact, the whole of last week was grand, even yesterday, grocery shopping aside, or maybe, paradoxically, because of it. September on the prairies can be a glorious month, and after our second wet, cold summer, she’s pulling out all the stops for us. And October is looking pretty good, too. Every day I walk, I’m enthralled with what I see around me. My basic, single lens phone camera is working a surprising magic.

And those plans I’d put in place – in anticipation of this messy middle, to help me flourish after having felt fallow for months – are panning out beautifully. I’ll write more about that in weeks to come. But for now, I’ll give Brene the last word:

“The middle is messy, but it’s also where the magic happens.
If we believe in ourselves, if we reach out together,
and if we lean into a little bit of that grace that says,
‘We can get through this.'”

Brene Brown, “Day 2,” on Unlocking Us, September 2, 2020

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

Holy Alchemy

“Praying. It doesn’t have to be the blue iris,
it could be weeds in a vacant lot, or a few small stones;
just pay attention, then patch a few words together
and don’t try to make them elaborate,
this isn’t a contest but the doorway into thanks,
and a silence in which another voice may speak.”

Mary Oliver

I pray. Not so often in that formal, elaborate, church going way. But when I think of Anne Lamott’s two best prayers, “Help me, help me, help me,” and “Thank you, thank you, thank you,” I’m devout.

Too, when I sit during my favourite time of day, in the still and quiet morning, before sunrise – which comes earlier now – and look out onto the trees, now still full of leaves, but soon, soon, bare limbed and yes, snow covered. Or when I’m beside Annie on “her” sofa, my hand resting on her head, her front paw resting on my arm. Those count too, I think.

I’ve written about more consciously living my life as prayer since the pandemic, one of its gifts. Though when I posted about getting lost during my medicine walk, how I’d managed to manifest into the 3D physical, my interior lostness, I now admit to having felt shy to say that I’d prayed as I’d been taught, it being part of the preparation for a medicine walk and fasting quest. To offer thanks, to ask for guidance and protection at the threshold between one’s urban, more mundane life and the wilder, nature bound, sacred space beyond. Anne Lamott’s “thank you, help me” kind of prayer. And I chanted on the trail for hundreds of steps, the Buddhist mantra “om mani padme hum,” to keep myself company, and let anyone out there, hidden in the woods, know I was around. My vocal version of a bear bell.

Truth be told, I absolutely believe those prayers helped me get found, safe and sound. Helped me avoid any wildlife encounters beyond bird song, dragonflies, and scat. Like when I realized I’d lost the diamond stud earring, a cherished gift from my husband, and prayed for its return. Three days later, after retracing all my steps and stops, I took a chance to revisit the gym where I’d played pickleball. Earlier when I’d called to ask if it had been found, I’d been told they’d taken down the nets, swept the floors, and installed equipment and inflatables for children coming to play during spring break, but I persisted. Walking carefully, head bent, l traced the room’s periphery, breaking the rule to cross beyond the “stay away” sign to where the inflatable was plugged in. There it was, on the floor, inches away from the socket. How it had not been spotted by anyone plugging in and pulling out that cord for several days, was my answered prayer. Admittedly trivial in the scheme of life, with its tragedy, so much going seemingly from bad to worse every day, especially this year, but for me a vivid, visceral reminder.

When I somewhat sheepishly shared my lost on the Lost Lake trail story with my friends who had served as my quest guides last year, they said that what shone through was my recognition of prayer and its power. That yes, I had been held safe by an ancient benevolent wisdom found in nature. That I had surrendered to it when I knew I didn’t have the balance to cross the fallen tree across the “how deep” stream. Had I, I would have become even further astray. That I had remembered a line of poetry to tell me to stand still in the forest when I knew I was lost. That I had a phone and service. That I’d taken the map with emergency contact numbers. That the warden was back from vacation just that very day. That she was in that particular park, given her area of responsibility is all the public spaces spanning hundreds of kilometres to the west. That she could come and get me with her truck. That I hadn’t been stalked by the coyotes that had stalked another woman and her dogs on the same trail. That the sun shone and breeze blew comfortably. That the shots I heard fired by hunters were well beyond into another neck of the woods. That I had water, food, and time. Yes, I had prepared, and yes, I had been heard.

In that same conversation, we talked about the world, about their country, its upcoming presidential election, the pandemic impacts of COVID-19 and racism. It was before the forest fires burned into three states, leaving death and destruction, orange skies and zero visibility in their wake. I shared feeling that tension of wanting to do something to help and not knowing what. I emailed to them the next day:

… I realized I have felt “spellbound” by thinking I must do something, and not knowing what TO DO. But knowing, I do know how to pray. 

Many times it seems my thinking is foggy and lazy, that it isn’t “cogent” or coherent, that I can’t put together a compelling argument of defense. And then it came to me, this is the feminine way – to feel my way through a depth of complexity that is dark and foggy, that isn’t necessarily, yet, cogent nor coherent.

You wrote to me, gifted me, once with the invocation that I recognize with increasing vividness that I know what I know, that find myself less and less inclined to self-doubt, meekness and hesitation.

So, yes, I know the power of prayer.

I know too, the making of beauty.

Let the beauty that you love be what you do.

Rumi

I know the power of prayer and the making of beauty are my offerings for social action, for social change.

And this I know is holy alchemy.

With love and kindest regards, dear friends.

Praise Song for the Pandemic

Season's End, Perspectives with Panache, 2019

PRAISE SONG FOR THE PANDEMIC

Praise be the nurses and doctors, every medical staff bent over flesh to offer care, for lives saved and lives lost, for showing up either way,

Praise for the farmers, tilling soil, planting seeds so food can grow, an act of hope if ever there was,

Praise be the janitors and garbage collectors, the grocery store clerks, and the truck drivers barreling through long quiet nights,

Give thanks for bus drivers, delivery persons, postal workers, and all those keeping an eye on water, gas, and electricity,

Blessings on our leaders, making hard choices for the common good, offering words of assurance,

Celebrate the scientists, working away to understand the thing that plagues us, to find an antidote, all the medicine makers, praise be the journalists keeping us informed,

Praise be the teachers, finding new ways to educate children from afar, and blessings on parents holding it together for them,

Blessed are the elderly and those with weakened immune systems, all those who worry for their health, praise for those who stay at home to protect them,

Blessed are the domestic violence victims, on lock down with abusers, the homeless and refugees,

Praise for the poets and artists, the singers and storytellers, all those who nourish with words and sound and color,

Blessed are the ministers and therapists of every kind, bringing words of comfort,

Blessed are the ones whose jobs are lost, who have no savings, who feel fear of the unknown gnawing,

Blessed are those in grief, especially who mourn alone, blessed are those who have passed into the Great Night,

Praise for police and firefighters, paramedics, and all who work to keep us safe, praise for all the workers and caregivers of every kind,

Praise for the sound of notifications, messages from friends reaching across the distance, give thanks for laughter and kindness,

Praise be our four-footed companions, with no forethought or anxiety, responding only in love,

Praise for the seas and rivers, forests and stones who teach us to endure,

Give thanks for your ancestors, for the wars and plagues they endured and survived, their resilience is in your bones, your blood,

Blessed is the water that flows over our hands and the soap that helps keep them clean, each time a baptism,

Praise every moment of stillness and silence, so new voices can be heard, praise the chance at slowness,

Praise be the birds who continue to sing the sky awake each day, praise for the primrose poking yellow petals from dark earth, blessed is the air clearing overhead so one day we can breathe deeply again,

And when this has passed may we say that love spread more quickly than any virus ever could, may we say this was not just an ending but also a place to begin.

– Christine Valters Paintner –
Abbey of the Arts
2020

As we head into our 7th month of living in the pandemic, I wanted to share this poem, now making special mention of all the teachers around the world, who as another lovely poet wrote this week: “To All the Teachers, we see you turning your hearts into classrooms where not even masks can block out your love.” bentlily by Samantha Reynolds

Praise be the teachers.

With love and kindest regards, dear friends.