Friday, July 14, 2017
For several months now, I have had a severe case of writer's block...or maybe life was just getting in the way. Either way, today I got the kick in the pants that I needed to put a few words down on a clean fresh page.
It is not exactly the kick in the pants one wishes for, but death can be funny that way. It kinda makes you want to kick start life as it reminds you how little time we really have here on this planet.
The world lost a good one today. Bloody cancer. Hate that bastard. Cancer came knocking on John Shields door about 21 years ago. Back then he managed to kick it to the curb, only to come face to face once again a couple of years ago in a different form. Fighting it at 60 was different than fighting it at 80. This time he lost the battle.
On this grey and rainy morning here in Ontario, I got the news that he had passed. My wonderful partner's dad had died on the other side of the world. It was dark there too, literally and figuratively. The Shields men were all gathered and had all seen him before he left this world, and left some pretty big shoes to fill as well.
I met John Shields in 2012. Not that long ago. I did however, meet his eldest son in 1977. His son is an honest, hard-working, strong, funny, fiercely loyal man. A giver. The apple did not fall far from the tree. I was a little nervous to meet his dad. I was worried he would not embrace the idea of me - a woman from Canada that threatened to lure his number one son away from Australia. He was close to his two boys. Who was I to come along and upset the applecart? Turns out I had nothing to fear. Turns out he not only embraced me, he loved me. I know he loved me because he told me so every time we saw each other. Yup, that's right. This crusty old, tough-skinned Aussie man had a soft and gentle side that came as the most welcome surprise.
Every time we visited in his home or ours, he would take me aside and ask, "Is he treating you alright?" I would always smile and assure him that his boy was absolutely "treating me well". He brought me plants from his well-tended garden to help brighten my own new garden. He supplied me with fresh basil - huge bunches of it, that he never used in his own kitchen. He just loved the smell of it, so he grew it. He grew lemons and oranges and paw paw's and generously shared them too. Everyone called him Pop. It suited him.
The first time he came to our little house, he glanced around and said I kept a nice home. I think it pleased him that his son was living in a love-filled home again after a few years of post-divorce bachelor living. I liked that he liked it. I wanted him to feel assured that I loved his boy as much as he loved me. Doesn't every parent hope for that? I'm glad he died knowing that.
When his darling Rita's Alzheimers became too debilitating and he had to move her into a care facility, I watched the man's heart break a little more each day. He went to see her every day, his love for her unfaltering. He was a testament to enduring love. True love. As I said, he was a giver. Generous to a fault. He lived a simple, humble life and gave to his family always. He was a story-teller, with a cache of expressions that made me laugh out loud. He was a character, a truly memorable one. I do regret I never got to hear him play his accordion - even though I have been told it was something I really did not want to hear!
He and Rita raised two wonderful sons and I feel fortunate to be spending the rest of my life with one of his offspring. There is something comforting knowing that a part of John Shields lives on in my life through his son. I am grateful I got to know him these last few years. It is clear to me that he had a very positive influence on his entire family and sadly, a bright light went out today.
Hope you're resting easy now Pop.
Love you too.
Monday, January 9, 2017
As always I over packed for my current adventure. I am a "just in case" packer. You would think that after this many trips overseas, I would have scaled it back by now, but alas, I still find myself the day before I depart adding and subtracting items from my suitcase until I am hovering within ounces of the airline's allowable weight limit for my baggage.
Inevitably, I arrive at my destination with a suitcase full of "just in case" clothing that I never end up wearing. I also end up wishing I had packed the odd thing that I hadn't. Case in point. Something that I tend to use almost daily as I am getting older is this amazing little tool called a magnifying glass! The one we have at home is not just any magnifying glass, it is lightweight with a tri-pod handle and lights up at the touch of a button to illuminate whatever it is we are trying to see clearly.
Unlike a cane or a hearing aid that is visible to the outside world instantly announcing "aging baby boomer", this aid to our aging vision is like a little secret we use behind closed doors to read labels (can the print get any smaller?!), observe imperfections on our bodies (I was sure I had a melanoma on my toe recently!), or to just be able to take a good solid look at a myriad of everyday eensie weensie items that a decade ago seemed much larger.
Packing that useful tool occurred to me, but since Mick was not joining me until a few weeks later, I did the noble thing and left it for him (after all, he is a year older!). I think it was only a matter of days after landing on North American soil again before I missed that damn thing...and Mick too as a matter of fact. So, the only solution was to pick one up over here (a magnifying glass, not a new Mick). I came across this really cool mini - almost steam punk looking one called Little Helper. It is much more complex than the one back in Oz, but it looks interesting and has these little clips attached that can hold any item you are looking at which is advantageous if you are the least bit shaky or looking at something super small. It was meant to be a belated Christmas gift for Mick, but I had to free it from its box today so I could read the fine print on my "welcome to Ottawa" parking ticket. Turns out I may be able to have it forgiven as a non-resident and generally unaware idiot from Toronto, but that remains to be seen.
Anyway, I digress. What struck me about the need for this aid was how it relates to life as we approach our 60's. As I near the final third of my life, it is not only my eyes that need a little assistance. I want to see everything with more clarity. My soul yearns to ramp up the intensity of my spiritual journey. I am reminded almost daily now that there is an end to this life. 2016 was especially loud and clear on this with the death of so many of my own age or younger. How can I make this final third count? How can I move through life with more compassion? More joy? What can I offer to help? Where can I offer help? Can I keep up with technology in a way that enhances my life? As a society, are we sliding down a slippery slope into electronic communication that creates a gaping chasm where personal direct interaction with one another once existed? Will I have the energy to embrace the constant change coming at me? Some days it seems endless and overwhelming. Is that why we die? Do we just stop giving a shit about this new thing and that new way. Do our cells finally just burn out from it all?
There are many seniors in my own life who have chosen to stop learning. They have put the brakes on life in a way that leaves them in a cloudy state of disconnect from the world. They don't own a computer. If they own a mobile phone, it is only used for emergencies and when said emergency arises, they forget how to use it or it has lost its charge, so what's the point? They miss out on instant communication with their children, their grandchildren and even their peers who have kept up. With each passing year, I find I have more empathy for these old timers who have decided to remain in the past. It's easier for them. However, this is not likely to be an option for aging boomers. We already bought in long ago. Once our elders are gone, the companies and services that still cater to the techno-challenged will make that type of enabling obsolete, forcing anyone who wants to opt out to stick with the program or die. I don't mean die literally. I mean die in terms of living so disconnected from the rest of the world, that day to day functioning becomes impossible. You will not be able to survive without an email address. Paper bills will not be an option.
Who would have imagined a tweeting president or the ability to access the answer to almost any question on a device you carry in your pocket? I graduated from Ryerson's School of Journalism in 1985. It was the year before computers were introduced. We typed our reports on IBM self-correcting typewriters in triplicate. There was no spell check. We had to flip through a dictionary if we wanted to check the spelling of a word. We did that a lot because if we handed in a story with a spelling mistake it got an automatic "F". We took spiral notebooks to interviews. We used pens. How is it that all of this seems archaic now? Will the way we do things now seem old fashioned in another 30 years or so? Will I become one of those old folks that gets left behind in the dust of obsolete devices? Will my current iPhone seem "retro" in 2047?
Maybe in the next 30 years I will begin to care more about how I spend my remaining years and it will seem wasteful to obsess over the latest gadget. Meaning will replace knowing. Optimizing joy will outweigh mastering Apple's latest must-have techno tool. I already prefer observing birds at the feeder over anything technology related. Is this what happens? Do we hit a wall one day? Is that the definition of "slowing down"? Will being current and relevant reveal itself as a time thief? Will I become that strange old woman feeding pigeons on a park bench? Will young people pass by with glances of disdain and pity?
And will I care?
That bench is becoming more and more tempting some days... or more understood at any rate.
Friday, December 30, 2016
I dragged the old Louis XV chair closer to the window this morning here in my daughter's first apartment so I could look out across the snow-covered rooftops while I sipped my coffee and ate my soft-boiled egg. She still needs a small kitchen table, so I had to create a makeshift dining nook. As she slept, I reflected. Her apartment is a small walk-up and is much like one I lived in back in the 80's. I had forgotten what it was like to have to walk several flights up the stairs with groceries or down to the laundry room after rummaging for coins. It took me back to those days and memories of my first marriage when we lived in that apartment.
It was a short-lived affair in the grand scheme of my life. We were married just four years. We met in university. He was two years younger in actual years, but at least a decade younger from a maturity standpoint. We never should have tied the knot in retrospect. My trip down memory lane has been compounded now as I received an "out of the blue" message from his sister yesterday. I had not known what had become of his family and it was so strange that she should find me at this moment when I am staying in this apartment with all it's similarities to the past.
My entire month back in Canada has been a series of endings and closures. Literally. Many of my old reliable shops and services are gone. The mall I always frequented has been renovated beyond recognition. My favourite dress shop in Port Credit - gone! It is as though I was away for far more than three years. Even my old house is completely changed - renovated to the nines. So, in some ways it was comforting to see a few of my old bits of furniture and china finding new life in my daughter's first solo living space.
But back to this chair. This antique Louis XV chair that now finds itself in unfamiliar surroundings is not unlike this old broad sitting gazing out the third floor window of an apartment in Ottawa - a city she does not know well at all. The old chair used to sit upon a proper Persian carpet, one of a pair that flanked the fireplace in the old Montgomery house in Toronto. I had pined for those chairs for months, maybe years, visiting the antique shop where they sat waiting for a new home. I kept popping into that shop hoping for a price reduction, haggling with the owner to no avail and just as I was about to give up on ever owning them, it happened. The shop was closing and everything was being cleared out. I got them for half of the original asking price (even that was steep) and they were what finally completed the look I had been trying to achieve for years. It strikes me as almost comical now. I had been trying to create some crazy mini Versailles in my Etobicoke home and by the time those chairs were plunked down into the living room, I was over it. I wasn't completely over it, but I already knew my tastes were heading in a new direction and my love affair with everything Louis was fizzling out like a spent Canada Day sparkler.
I see this chair now as a turning point in my life. It represents where I have been and who I was or who I was trying to be. I recall how it made me feel like I had arrived somewhere. I was an adult. Only an adult would own such a chair, let alone a pair of them! Was that to be it? Was my journey in life over with the acquisition of those chairs? Had I reached some sort of pinnacle? Had I realized the ultimate furniture dream? Would owning those chairs finally make me ridiculously happy? There may have been a part of me that saw it that way then. I don't know really. I am in such a different place in my life now, although at that time I didn't see that coming either. I cannot even imagine "longing" for a piece of furniture now. My longings have evolved.
This chair reminds me now, just how much.
Monday, October 3, 2016
Bromeliad in my garden
One week later. Countless mossie and madness making midgie bites. Forearms that look like I just adopted half a dozen kittens, thanks to bromeliads and their spikey-edged leaves, I am on the home stretch with these rock garden borders that surround our old swimming hole.
I have been forced to take a break today once again because this old bod of mine is demanding a day of rest. I have about another 12-14 feet of border to complete. I had left this section with the hardest packed soil for last and in retrospect, maybe I should have conquered that bit first when I was still fresh. The rocks in this last section are buried under hard packed clay-like soil and are clinging to their long-buried positions like a dog with a bone. They are mingled with old roots and I am uncovering ant's nests and native gecko hidey holes with every other stab of my spade and I am praying I don't come across any spiders or snakes that have possibly taken up residence as well. This section is also mostly under cover of a tree that produces an extremely toxic milky sap that can cause serious injury if it drips on your bare skin or gets in your eyes. It is called a pencil cactus or stick tree - a euphorbia that adds a gorgeous focal point in the corner but whatever you do, don't snap off any of the sticks as they will punish you with their sap. A couple months ago my Mick was pruning a few branches and got some on his hands and even though he washed his hands, the sticky residue remained and he touched his eye and we ended up in the emergency room at the hospital for an evening getting his eye treated for what amounted to a chemical burn. So, you can see why I left this section until last.
The excavation continues
I have to do most of the work hunched over to avoid this miserable tree coming into contact with my body. The ants are furious with me. The soil is unrelenting and I am really beginning to wonder if I took on more than I could handle. On the up side, the result of all this toil is such a dramatic transformation that it is driving me to carry on.
Gardening in the semi-tropics is no walk in the park. I absolutely pine for my moist earth and cloudy skies of my Vancouver garden. I have given up trying to recreate my past floral choices. It may be possible in the southern states here, but it is like working against the grain to do it in Queensland. My neighbour stubbornly grows plants that have no business in a tropical garden, but she is in her garden 7 days a week nurturing and tending to her delicate specimens to keep them alive. I don't have her stamina or weathered alligator skin. I needed something that didn't need my constant attention. Hence, my venture in the world of Bromeliads. I have been researching these plants that are new to me. I can see that they could become an obsession, kind of like orchids. There are so many varieties - it's mind-boggling. For now I am making do with cast-off pups from friends and neighbours plants and taking what I can get for free. This way, I reckon if they don't thrive, as least I have not invested too much moola.
Bromeliads in their new homes
I am surprised they make such a stunning statement. Getting them into the ground is like wrestling kittens as I mentioned earlier. My poor arms and hands are a fright! We upset a gorgeous green frog who was nestled in the cool pool of water inside the inner cup of one of the broms we dug up next door. I am hoping he finds his way to my garden to resume his position inside the plant that now lives in my rock garden.
It is truly a learning curve for me here. Who would have imagined I would be surrounded by palm trees, agaves, crotons and bromeliads? I am still a novice and learning the names of all these new plants and trees and figuring out their needs. My neighbour is a great source of information. I was agog last week when I visited her garden and saw a spectacular display of about two dozen assorted amaryllis in gorgeous shades of pink and red and coral and peach. It still amazes me that these are grown outside as perennials here. When they die off, they are replaced with masses of Cosmos and Shasta daisies in that particular bed, so she has a constant riot of colour all year round.
Just the other day, I noticed an orchid reaching up out of a clump of ginger that grows out near my patio. I had tossed my old spent store bought pots of orchids into the clump where they were pretty much ignored for a year or so other than the odd bit of water that may have reached them and now there are two blooming again. I lifted them up and out of their less than deserving locations and promoted them to more prominent positions where they will bring me a second round of joy for the next few weeks. In Canada I never had a spot to keep my dormant orchids and would toss them. I love that I can just tuck them into the garden and forget about them here until they are ready to perform once again.
Ginger clump to the left of the chair where I toss my orchids and the new growth beauty that graces my outdoor coffee table now
Ready for her close-up!
Tuesday, September 27, 2016
Between the Orchid Show two weeks ago and the local garden tour this past weekend, I finally got the inspiration I needed to start tackling the neglected gardens here at our house. I got further inspired this past week as I read The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F...k by Mark Manson - particularly his bit about doing the hard yards. He talks a lot about how we all want our dreams and fantasies to manifest, but how many of us are actually willing to do what it takes to actualize these dreams?
He uses the example of how when he was a kid he wanted to be a rock star. (who doesn't?) He wanted it for years, but he came to realize that the truth was, he was not interested in the years and years of practice and rejection and hardship that paved the road to that moment on stage in front of his adoring audience. He wanted the destination - not the journey. We all do this. We want the goal but aren't too interested in the skill development required to score.
Hence, my present project. I wanted my garden to look great, but the task seemed so daunting, I kept avoiding it until Monday. When I got home on Sunday afternoon after touring some local residential gardens, I knew that the only way my garden was going to get restored to it's former glory was to roll up my sleeves and "git er done". Having hung up the paint brushes and rollers after completing the inside of this "fixer upper" we call home, it was time to start the whole process over again outside. Now, when it comes to gardening, I didn't "just fall off the turnip truck" as Dr. Phil used to say. In my past life in Canada, I had tackled two pretty major garden renovations already. My first foray was in North Vancouver and that is where I got myself educated. I immersed myself in everything botanical and lived and breathed the creation of my west coast patch of paradise. I went so far as to learn most of the Latin names of all my plantings. I memorized what plant needed which nutrients and which soils were required for my roses to thrive. I became a bit obsessed. When my daughter was born, I would take her baby monitor outside while she napped to care for what had then been demoted to my second baby.
Just when I felt I had perfected my Deep Cove plot, up went the "for sale" sign and I left my creation behind to head east and start all over again - this time in Toronto. I fell for what the real estate brochure described as "a charming character home with lovely English Gardens". Believe me when I say it was a stretch. The home had character alright and the sellers were English, but I think the adjective "charming" and the word "gardens" were exaggerations. It was indeed a fixer upper and I was able to see the potential. I am not sure if this ability of mine is a blessing or a curse. I keep saying I will never buy another old house but here I am again in yet my third "has potential" dwelling. Will I ever learn?
Admittedly, there is a sense of accomplishment associated with turning lemons into lemonade, but it is harder to do the squeezing with each passing decade. That is why this morning I am sitting here at my kitchen table gazing out at my half finished rock garden renovation and writing this blog instead of excavating rocks from under layers of soil and mulch. After two days of said task, my body is insisting I take a break. My glutes remind me every time I stand or sit that I am not 32 anymore, my knuckles are bruised, my triceps are tender to the touch and I have what is surely a case of dehydration headache. Ouch. It is one thing to garden in Canada, but it is an entirely different kettle of fish working in the semi-tropics with a shovel and Palm Tree roots.
The beds I am improving have not been maintained for many years. Some of the plantings are re-usable and mature now but the rocks that would have been used instead of mulch originally have sunk and become covered in plant and leaf debris and dirt. The only way to bring this baby back to its former glory is to clear the debris, remove thousands of rocks, improve the soil, re-position some of the plants, add a few new ones and then re-use the rocks. It means doing the hard yards. Since paying someone to do this was out of the question, it was up to me. Was I willing (or able) to re-create these beds? Willing - sort of. Able - unknown. It has been awhile since I have summoned my major inner Manual Labour. Was he up for the task? Manual and I once removed an entire pool deck consisting of heavy interlocking bricks over a long weekend back in 2002. It was back-breaking work but worth the few grand it would have cost to have it done. Manual is 14 years older now. This morning I can see and feel he needs a siesta. The mind is willing but the body is rebelling.
This job will get done, but at a slower pace than it might have moved along 14 years ago. Like anyone, I love a quick fix. There is only one way to the desired result in life. You must do the work. Sometimes money can help move things along quicker. However, there was a story I read once about gardening that I have always remembered. Mick Jagger bought an old country estate and hired the famous English Gardener - Penelope Hobhouse to design his English Gardens, paid the money and went away. He came back a few weeks later to see what he envisioned as lush blooming borders of colourful flowers and was devastated when he saw what amounted to smallish seedlings spaced apart, with gaping chunks of bare soil. He was furious. Where was his beautiful garden -the one from the plans? What had happened? He had no idea that it takes from 5-7 years for a garden to mature.
Even his money could not hurry mother nature along. He had expected an instant garden.
Clearly there had been a miscommunication between them because I suppose he could have paid for fully mature plantings, but she was old school and she did things the old school way.
I took a few photos of my project. I am doing it in chunks. Here are some before and afters. There will be a new fence at some stage. For now, at least the beds will "rock it"!
Before - Mother-in-law tongue taking over, rocks buried beneath debris
Before - Removal of all debris and digging up of rocks to re-use later
After - Weeded, leveled, soil refreshed, rocks replaced
After - Mature Agave given new life
New Bromeliads planted - generously donated by my neighbour
Fun with rocks...will erect a proper Inuksuk soon!
Friday, September 9, 2016
The only solution to my Love Warrior hangover this morning is to write about it. I am just going to set aside my own messy life momentarily and ponder and absorb someone else's journey in relation to my own.
If you have not yet heard about this book by author, blogger (Momastery.com) and speaker - Glennon Doyle Melton, you soon will. I knew several weeks ago that this book was coming. I even had a pretty good idea of what to expect. I knew she was a recovered alcoholic/addict and had suffered with bulimia for years and had dealt with crisis in her marriage. I already liked her blog. I even reckoned I would not learn much more by reading her new book. I was wrong. Her book dives way deeper into the pain and consequent self-examination than you can imagine.
She does not hold back. Her story is a compelling, raw, gut-wrenching account of rock bottom to redemption but it is not all tied up with a bow at the end. There is hope, but no guarantee of happily ever after and that is what makes it real and relatable and honest. Or her word - "brutiful". Shortly after this book went to press, she actually separated from her husband, so clearly, no Hollywood ending here.
A constant theme that resonated with me was her use of writing to heal or "blog as confessional" as I like to call it. She learns to wear her failures like a badges of honour and so she should. We all should. Sadly, most of us, including her, try to gloss over the messy bits. We hide behind what Doyle Melton refers to as "our representative" - the person we present to the world. We send that fake version of ourself out into the world while our real self remains hidden and unknown. Unknown, yet desperate to be known. She talks about how our culture has created a world full of women who spend so much time looking in the mirror at their supposed flaws and trying to fix them, it leaves little time or self-confidence to live meaningful lives and utilize their real talents and gifts. Amen sista!
I predict this book will become a new anthem for women everywhere. Especially young women - the women who need this message more than ever. We need to stop sending that false self out into the world. That curated life. We need to stop buying into the bullshit. Stop pretending. Stop acting like we have it all figured out. We need to lift and support each other and stop competing and just be our "brutiful" selves. We need to speak the words. We need to communicate better in our relationships. What do I need? What do you need? What do we need? Say it. Spell it out. Kick the fear to the curb.
If you are up for the challenge, start with this book for inspiration.
Wednesday, August 24, 2016
sings a sad song
There she goes
and foreign lands
back to learning
her own wings
that no longer
fit in this nest
The momma bird
pecks at the
examines the tidbits
but the lifeless quality
of the tags and bags and boxes
she will repair the nest
today is too soon
she needs to linger
come to terms
once more with the
loss and grief she feels
She tilts her head up
but her eagle eye
through the heavy clouds
that suit her heavy heart
Farewell and see you soon
are no consolation
to stop the tears that fall
a salty concoction of
sorrow and pain
laughter and joy
and shared genes
chirp the other birds
She will find her new flock again
like she has before
her wings stronger each time
she leaves this nest
The momma bird shivers
ruffles her feathers
composes herself now
There is work to do
food to gather
but not before she
sings a love song
releasing it up into the sky
for her baby bird
a sweet collection of notes
to carry her and support her
and catch her when she falls
and lift her to heights
she is yet to climb
assuring her how far she can soar
How far she will
Tuesday, August 23, 2016
a grey day
in this land of relentless sunshine
Roots that lie
north of the equator
long for moisture
a poet's soul
mark the footpaths
where rain fell
in the night
Bird seed turned to porridge
Yet they come
for a breakfast of gruel
as I plunge my morning fix
Write about us!
screech the cockies
The galahs doth protest
While the laughing one
this will be his story
his victory verse
How does he know
he is favoured
above the others?
the more colourful
the more animated
the seed eaters
this confident king
his merriment obvious
loud and proud
the high branches of gum trees
and him alone
And so he laughs
his bush king status
despite that green and red one
that plots daily
to dethrone him
Those complimentary colours
no match for his
subtle aqua swath
Monday, August 22, 2016
The Unmade Bed
Everything about this moment
Light, shadow and beauty
demanding my attention
their subtle flirtations
Make the time
see the art
I am far from ordinary
if you'll just pause
A soft mist rises
from the dewy lawn
sneak through the
crack between the blind
my dream-filled head
Don't make me perfect
Look at how perfect
I am right now
at fifty eight
like you were
and thirty two
Like you have been
but were too hurried
or too young
or too unbelieving
viewing the unmade bed
while the world outside this gallery
I frame this moment
my private Louvre
See the beauty no one else can see
I won't be here long
so don't ignore me
Monday, July 18, 2016
I begin with a deeeeep s i g h h h h.
A couple of deep in and out breaths.
So here we are. And, like most of you I am feeling the heaviness. The weight of the messed up world on our shoulders and in our hearts. Like the quote I saw scroll through my newsfeed this morning:
JE SUIS SICK OF THIS SHIT!
With all that has been happening at what seems to be an acceleration of hate and violence around the globe, I have been turning inward on my own journey of growth and transformation these days, seeking ways to calm my own spirit and make sense of it if that is possible.
This past weekend I spent a day in Brisbane listening to Rob Bell speak on the ideas from his book - How to Be Here. I have been on a Rob Bell kick lately. His podcasts (The Robcast), are my constant companions while I cook or busy myself around the house. I read this latest book in preparation for the weekend. Devoured may be a better word than read, as I cannot seem to get enough of his wisdom lately.
His Australian tour could not have come at a better time for me. There are periods in my life that seem to come when I find myself needing to gorge on some soul food. Now is one of those seasons. He did not disappoint. Many people I talk to do not know who Rob Bell is and I find myself having to explain a bit about him. He is a motivational speaker, former pastor and author and was touted as one of the top 100 influential people in the world by Time Magazine in 2011. He has toured with Oprah and Deepak Chopra and is a member of the Compassion Collective, a group of 5 authors including Elizabeth Gilbert, Glennon Doyle Melton, Brene Brown and Cheryl Strayed. The group was formed to raise money for Syrian refugees and continues to fundraise for various causes.
This group is like the Brat Pack of Conscious Living. They are so on fire right now, it is hard to imagine their flame getting extinguished. With any luck, it will just continue to spread and keep raising awareness and dollars for those in need. The world needs their energy and insight more than ever and I for one have jumped on their introspective bandwagon on my own spiritual journey with renewed fervor. Since 2007 and the release of Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, slowly but surely, my own life has steadily transformed. Next came Brene Brown's epic Daring Greatly showing us how vulnerability and the courage to allow it in our lives could be a game-changer. That pushed me up another stair. Around the same time, Wild author Cheryl Strayed shared her story of her solo journey of over 1,000 miles on the Pacific Coast Trail that took bravery and courage to a whole new level of what it takes to heal for some. In so many ways these three women accompanied me on my own trail of transformation and now, more recently, I have discovered Glennon Doyle Melton and her blog - Momastery and found her story compelling and inspiring. She gives hope to anyone who has ever faced addictions. And now, as I embrace the wisdom of Rob Bell, I find myself elevated to an entirely new level of growth.
He has helped me make sense of the journey. Until now, it never felt like the big questions had answers. Why am I here? What is the meaning of it all? What is the point? I watched Rob Bell's video called Everything is Spiritual 2016 and it was like a lifetime of seeking and searching had finally hit pay dirt. So I started to dig deeper and read more of his books and listened to more of his podcasts and I am so happy to have found some teachings and conversations that address the big questions that combine science and spirituality, allowing them to co-exist in a way that makes logical sense to me, without the attached dogma of organized religion.
There is a great story that Rob Bell tells that also gives me a way to explain to people who he is better than I can, if that makes sense. Hear me out.
He went to his mailbox one day to collect his mail and found a small painting inside. It was done by an artist who lived in his neighbourhood. He was familiar with this dude's work as he had seen it in a gallery. The guy does paintings on sandpaper of all things. The painting he made for Rob was of a hand emerging from the earth holding a bunch of strings. The strings were attached to clouds like a bunch of helium filled balloons hovering up in the sky. Rob asked the artist what the painting meant. The artist told him that he wondered who Rob was and what he did. So, in order to find out, he attended one of Rob's events. After the event, he created the painting to give to him. He told Rob that after hearing him speak, he now understood what exactly it was he did for a living. He told him that he tied up the clouds for people. He took all those thought bubbles we have floating around up in our heads and pulled them together.
Yes! That is what he does folks. It is what he has done for me and it feels amazing. I could not have explained it any better than that. It also helps that he is an engaging, funny and captivating speaker. This energetic, enthusiastic man is bringing a positive, forward-thinking interpretation of Christian values into the world that deserve air time. I will attach a few links here for anyone who is interested in taking a look.
Thursday, July 7, 2016
Sunday, July 3, 2016
I heard some news yesterday that came as a shock and surprise to me. For the past 24 hrs, it has been weighing on me as I have been processing my feelings around it. It has nothing to do with me personally, so you would think I would just shrug it off and carry on, but it has opened up the whole conversation about relationships and how they ebb and flow and if left to flounder without effort from both sides can lead to extreme pain and heartbreak for everyone concerned.
When I learned yesterday that author, Elizabeth Gilbert and her husband Jose (Felipe in Eat, Pray, Love) were separating, my own heart sunk. No, I thought, not them. Not them. Not them. If they can't make it, what hope is there for the rest of us? For those of you who are not familiar with their story, you might think I am over-reacting in my disappointment. For those of you who do know how carefully she entered her relationship with him after her very painful divorce, with trepidation and eyes wide open, you will likely be as stunned as I was that they were not able to go the distance.
It just speaks to the whole relationship journey and what a difficult road it is for many. No one goes into a marriage thinking it will end. We all dream of happily ever after and growing old together and celebrating loving milestones and having babies, maybe grand children, and creating a long and happy life as a team. I don't know why Liz and Jose are parting. I am sure there are many who are speculating as to why. No one really ever knows what goes on inside an intimate relationship. I know there are marriages that weather many storms and continue to thrive. There are marriages that last that really shouldn't. Some stay together for economic reasons (that's a biggie). There are marriages comprised of what appear to be couples who are more like roommates vs. intimate partners. There are so many marriages that are less than ideal unions. Is a mediocre marriage better than being alone? What are the necessary components of a great marriage? I often marvel at the long marriages. The couples who have been together for 50, 60, 70 years or more and seem happy. Note I said "seem". I am sure some are. But I think just as many of them are perhaps just too old and tired to bother making waves after 50 years. They have mastered the art of putting up and shutting up, or have carved out a sort of separate existence for themselves within the union. Besides, divorce is costly, and what would the kids say?
It is no doubt easier to step away from a spouse when money is not an issue. Like Liz. Perhaps they were not growing and evolving together or they no longer wanted the same lifestyle. Perhaps not having any children together made it easier to walk away. I would like to believe they just grew apart and that neither of them stepped outside the marriage with another, but even if that is what happened, we all know that a marriage is in trouble long before someone has an affair. So I guess what I am struggling with is how did they miss it? How did they miss the early unravelling? After all their past experiences with marriage and their vow to make it work this time, what happened? I think that is the crux of it. Knowing when you are no longer connecting in some area is the key. Recognizing that something is amiss is the first step. Both partners working through it, the second. Making concrete changes to re-connect is the third. Maybe they did all these things but could not reach a compromise.
If it really is true that we all just want to love and be loved, then why is that very love we so long for not enough to keep us together? Is it that we stop making the relationship a priority? I think that is pretty common. One spouse becomes so consumed by a career or cause or some other activity outside the marriage that the neglected partner starves to death. I just spoke to a woman yesterday who ended her marriage of 37 years last year. She told me she ran out of the strength to keep holding it together. In 37 years he had only told her he loved her 6 times. SIX. (she had kept count). Her eyes were glassy with unwept tears as she said that to me. She seemed so fragile and heartbroken I wanted to hug her but I barely know her. She is a friend of a friend, so I don't know their whole story, but what I do know is that she devoted 37 years of her life to a man who was incapable of expressing his love verbally and she was a woman that desperately needed to hear him say those words. Good GAWD! Why do we settle? Why do we keep hoping things will change? Why do we allow ourselves to accept less than we deserve? Is loneliness that bloody frightening? Is the thought of divorce that scary? Are our lives not worthy of more? Is a cake with Happy 50th Anniversary so damn important?
When Elizabeth Gilbert announced her separation yesterday, she was clearly speaking from a place of deep pain and heartache. No doubt her decision to not settle or remain in a marriage that was not making her happy is as painful, or more so, than staying. She said she would be absent from social media for a while as she stepped away to deal with her personal life. She reminded all of us that this was "not a story she was writing, it was a story she was living." She shared a poem with all of her fans that she felt was helping her through the pain. I will re-share it with you here now as it speaks profoundly to the notion that when a marriage ends, it is not necessarily a failure.
Monday, June 27, 2016
I have been thinking a lot lately about compassion. I struggle with it. More than anything I want to be a truly compassionate person but it does not come easily to me. If you consider the full spectrum of compassionate people we have known or know, there are the likes of Mother Teresa at one end, devoting her entire life to the art of compassion, with someone like Idi Amin at the opposite end - void of compassion.
Now, I know I am no Mother Teresa and I am certainly no brutal dictator and I like to think I am closer to the Mother Teresa end of the spectrum than the Idi Amin end, but I don't seem to be able to fully feel compassion for all. It's like that story/movie Dead Man Walking. I don't know how she did that. How did she feel genuine compassion for that man - a convicted murderer? I have difficulty feeling compassion for people who have never murdered anyone - people who have possibly been law-abiding citizens their entire lives but for some reason I find them annoying or boring or daft. I try to find it within myself to be less judgmental and to look for the goodness or flicker of light or inspiration in people, but I often fail. I do try. As I get older, I try even harder. I know that everyone has a story to tell. I will find myself in a conversation with another person consciously digging. Digging to mine a gem out of them. Digging to bring forth some jewel of wisdom or share something with me that reveals their essence but sometimes I get nothing.
The next time I see such a person, I dread the contact. I dread the small talk. I try to avoid yet another exchange void of anything of value to me. I feel drained by these encounters. I feel my time is stolen. Does this mean I am not compassionate enough? I find I am being tested a lot lately, like I need to go take a course or something. Compassion 101. And it does not just apply to ordinary people in my midst. It applies - perhaps even more so - to people in the media. The Orlando shooter. Terrorists. Brexit leave voters. Racists. Homophobes. Trump. The Kardashians. You get the picture.
Then I wonder - is it necessary for me to be so compassionate? Maybe my stores of compassion are all used up with my family, friends and loved ones. Maybe we are only born with a finite dollop of the stuff. That makes more sense to me because I truly feel I am scraping the bottom of the jar some days. Perhaps there are those that do not deserve our compassion and by not receiving it, it forces them to examine themselves. "Gee, I wonder why Deb avoided me today? Maybe she doesn't like me. What doesn't she like about me?" This also makes sense because by withholding compassion, I have forced someone to look within. Of course there is no guarantee they will, but it definitely increases the odds.
So maybe compassion works that way. Sometimes we are and sometimes we aren't and the people who receive our compassion benefit in an opposite way from the people who don't. This may sound like I am trying to justify my less compassionate side. Perhaps I am. All I know is there are people who lift you, inspire you and are a joy to be around and it is only natural that we would want to spend the majority of our time with them. They do not require me to withdraw from my compassion account at all and in fact seem to make deposits. AHA! That's it! Maybe that is how it works. The more time we spend being filled, the more compassion we accumulate and when it comes time to spread some around we have plenty to share.
That speaks to the whole notion of being grateful as well. If we are grateful on a conscious level everyday (and I am), does that fuel compassion? I think it does. Do you ever notice when you have endured an experience with someone you find difficult to be around, you come away even more grateful for your life than you did a few moments earlier? I do.
Maybe compassion should be viewed as a gift. A gift we give or a gift we receive. So maybe we just aren't meant to go around giving it away willy nilly.
For now, dear readers, I will pause this contemplation on the art of compassion and come back to it another day as I think it is worthy of far more examination.
See? That was compassion. A small gift to you. You can go now. :-)
Thursday, June 2, 2016
I was told the other day that I was expert at something. Those were his exact words. "You're really expert at that darl." It has never occurred to me that I was an expert at anything really. I sort of believe that being expert means you are highly trained or educated in a particular subject matter or profession and that warrants an "expert" badge. You know, like a heart surgeon or a nuclear physicist - that kind of expert.
No, he was referring to me being an expert hostess. We have company coming for the weekend and so I was lamenting my "to do" list. The food planning and shopping, the preparation of the guest room and the organizing of activities and so on. Apparently I am an expert at making all these arrangements for guests. An expert at fussing so to speak. It made me wonder what would happen if I did not fuss. What would happen if the guest room was not prepared and the meals were not planned, the ice cube trays were empty and there were dead flowers in the vase?
Would the world end if I didn't make bliss balls and guacamole? What would happen if I threw a fresh set of sheets on the bed and said make up your own bed and help yourself to towels in the linen closet? What if I decided to let people help themselves to the food in the fridge and let everyone fend for themselves? What if I went about my business and did not shop and plan and organize? Would my guests feel less welcome? What would that be like?
The truth is, I have been doing "hostessing" for my whole adult life. By this stage, it is a bit like second nature. I guess you could say I have become expert at making people feel welcome and pampered when they stay with me in my home. It is something I have indeed become "expert" at over the years. I guess I just never looked at it as being something that one becomes "expert" at. It got me to thinking that perhaps it is something I do that is of value. I have been getting my "Martha" on for longer than I care to admit. We tend to diminish these simple gestures in our own minds as necessary tasks when in reality they are carefully thought out gestures of giving and caring we offer to the people we love. Don't we all love a clean and tidy bedroom with fresh linens and a comfy bed when we are away from home? Isn't it a treat to have someone else prepare our meals? I know for certain that I am genuinely appreciative of these welcoming niceties when I am a visitor.
Without realizing it, being told I am "expert" at something as simple as making guests feel welcome in my home is a pretty nice compliment and it made me realize my efforts do not go unnoticed. So, thanks Mick. I will take that compliment and wear my "expert" badge proudly this weekend, grateful in the knowing I have a partner who appreciates what I do and what I bring to the table of our life together.