Monday, December 15, 2014

Even the Strongest Armor...can fail you

So once again, two innocent people are dead as a result of a deranged, angry, sickened mind. I am referring to the hostage taking here yesterday in Australia at the Lindt Cafe in Sydney. This country waited and watched yesterday and into the night as these events unfolded. We are still waiting for details and answers, but we do know this. The outcome was tragic for the families and friends of the two hostages that did not come out alive. Our hearts ache for them. 

And what of the man, the perpetrator who held these people against their will inside that cafe? Why do I not feel bad about his death? Does anyone? Should we? From what we have learned about him so far, he was not a law-abiding citizen. He was known to police and was involved in an ongoing legal battle and has been charged as an accessory to murdering his ex-wife along with his current girlfriend. He was convicted of writing offensive letters to the families of dead Australian soldiers, among other offenses. Clearly Man Haron Monis was a loose cannon, who finally came unhinged yesterday in Sydney. It is almost impossible not to judge him.

This sort of event is not unique. People come unhinged everyday all over the world. They do not necessarily act out in such a violent manner, but often they do. As I sit here in the peaceful comfort of my home and tranquil life, it is difficult to fathom the minds of these lost souls and relate to them in any way whatsoever. While I am tending to my flowers and herbs in the garden, or creating a healthful recipe for dinner, or walking through the park and appreciating the beauty of nature around me, there are people all over the world on the brink of madness. The contrast is so vast between people like "them" and people like me. When we are jolted out of our peaceful existence by events such as this, it is easy to allow the actions of a few to weigh our hearts down with sadness, anger and grief. It is as though suddenly, all the negativity that has led a man like that to such a severe state of hatred and anger begins to cross over to us, like an energy transfer.  It is difficult to feel any compassion for him or to feel sorry that he too died. We tend to see him as a worthless human being. Maybe he was. 

Maybe. I do doubt however, that he emerged from the womb as the evil perpetrator he grew into. What led him, or others like him down the wrong path? These are the questions I cannot answer. What is our fascination with these murderers and criminals in our midst? It is as though if we can have some insight into their inner workings, maybe we can spot it in someone and then avoid them, or get them, before they get us. I suppose it is a form of self-preservation. Know thy enemy and all that. But, no matter how much we may step out into the world with all our armor on day after day, you never know when there will be a mad man standing next to you in line at the coffee shop. The two innocent people who did that very thing yesterday, despite any armor they may have been wearing, are still dead. It could have happened to any of us, so all I can suggest is we all just better embrace every minute, every hour, every day and let go of the endless list of worries or grudges or fears or whatever negativity you may be hanging onto and go for the joy...

...whatever that means to you. Today. Tomorrow. Next week. Next year.

Right now. 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Look in the Mirror, who do you See?

I woke up in the wee hours this morning and like a minor epiphany, it occurred to me that I am always fascinated by the same sort of woman. As I laid awake thinking about my most recent heroine, it came to me. 

It started in the early eighties after I saw the movie Out of Africa. I was smitten with the character played by Meryl Streep - Karen Von Blixen. She was exactly the sort of woman I admired. Strong, quirkily beautiful, courageous, adventurous and hopelessly romantic. She was a writer, a business woman, an advocate for the local people and a poet all wrapped up in one dynamic woman. The movie was based on her memoir written under the pen name Isak Dinesen. 

She became Baroness von Blixen-Finecke when she set off for Kenya to marry her Swedish second cousin, Bror von Blixen-Finecke in 1913 at the age of 27. She wrote of her 17 year adventure in British East Africa (as it was known then) in the memoir published in 1937. Her years there were not without hardships including her struggles with her coffee plantation, her failed marriage, the shame brought upon her by her philandering husband and her less than popular views of how the Kikuyu ( the local tribespeople) should be treated. 

She was determined, tenacious and fiercely independent. 

In Baroness Blixen’s descriptions of the Africa she knew, a note of mourning for this irretrievably lost world frequently colours her stories of magnificent isolation and the redemptive qualities of a life lived in partnership with nature.[13]

The quote above struck such an enormous chord with me when I read it, as I have always felt that no matter how difficult your life can get, the "redemptive qualities" of nature can eventually heal even the deepest wounds. 

After her, it took years before I came across anyone who even came close to her ideal, until I read Eat Pray Love and Elizabeth Gilbert joined her in my mind and heart. She did not face the same sort of adversity, but she had followed her gut and lived her truth and it required courage and soul searching and several missteps before she came out the other side knowing her most authentic self and is/was determined to live that way.

Joining Karen and Liz currently in my list of admired women is Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild. Another brave and courageous gal who faced her demons and came out stronger after hiking the Pacific Crest Trail following the death of her mother and her own downward spiral of self-abuse. She stepped off the beaten track and endured hardships of an entirely different nature alone and unprepared. She did it with nothing more than sheer determination to face herself and consequently save herself. 

All three of these women have resonated with me on a level that feels eerily personal, as though their stories are now carried within me and have become a part of me. I may not be alone in this considering their stories are available to anyone who wishes to explore them, but it is clear to me that their adventures have had an impact on me. They have buoyed me when I felt like I could not move forward and put my obstacles in perspective.

My epiphany regarding these women and my admiration for them was interesting in its simplicity. They seem like me. Or rather, I seem like them. And by loving them, does that mean that for once and for all, I really love me? Have I finally forgiven myself?  Don't get me wrong here. I am not comparing the scale of their accomplishments with mine. No. What I am comparing are some of their traits. And not just the admirable qualities. As courageous as they were they could be stubborn. As adventurous as they seem, they were oft filled with fear. As romantic as they were, they failed as often as they succeeded with love. As strong as they were, they could be weak. They faced financial adversity as well as abundance. They questioned their motives as often as they felt assured. But in the end, they were all perfectly imperfect.

And it was OK. 

More than OK.

So, I will leave  you with this, one of my favourite poet's quotes, another voice that often rises up in me at just the right moment...

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do 
with your one wild and precious life?”

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Dusky Senses

Oh you
mellow moments
Wash me with your
cool, calm ambiance

Fill my vision
with rich amber light
My ears
with birdsong
My body
with release

Fiery skies sink into
mauvey grey horizons
Crickets begin their
one note chorus
Relieving breezes introduce
the evening star and its
Blurry Moon

Snippets of aromas
Wafting roasts
Spicy curries
The neighbours prepare
their feasts
Do they smell mine?

Soon it's time
to light the lamps
plate the meals
Share our day
Clink a glass
Give thanks

But for a moment more
I bask
This dusky peace
A gift,
An honour, to receive
Again today.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Red and White and no longer Blue

December. It is here again. You would think I would be ready. After all, I have been around for a few of them by now. And, like snowflakes, there are no two alike. There have been small pockets of Decembers in my life that have been fairly reliable in terms of how they played out. When I was little, when my daughter was little. That was all about Santa and candy and magic. I have always leaned toward a fondness for tradition and that is what makes my new Decembers a bit difficult.

Any vision I used to carry about the big family gathering around a long table with a giant roasted turkey being carved by the patriarch of the clan at the head need to be put to rest now. That is not likely a scene that will ever realistically play out for me in this lifetime. Those dreams died with the end of my marriage a few years ago and thinking back, they really never even came close to the vision then either. There was no large clan. My family was dispersed across the country. There was only one child. None of it conducive to that Walton's Family scene I kept in my head for so many years. 

The loss of that dream can still sometimes cause me to feel sad. As this festive season starts gearing up here in tropical Queensland, it is easier to put that vision aside. They still blair Christmas songs in the malls and it always catches me off guard. Why the hell are they playing this music in the middle of summer? That is my initial thought, before I realize with a heavy heart that Christmas is coming again. The traditional Santa themes are present here too. I see the Photo with Santa area in the malls set up much like it would be in Canada and I wonder how jolly that poor fellow must really feel in that get up when the mercury is hovering in the thirties just outside the doors. 

I am slowly adapting to the differences, but this one is going to take some time. I quiz my partner about growing up here. What was it like for him? For his kids? What did they eat? What did they do on Christmas Day? Did they hang  stockings on the barbeque? Did the patriarch of the family demonstrate the art of peeling prawns at the head of the table instead of turkey carving? I am trying to understand. To assimilate. When in Rome....and all that.

Thoughts of recreating my northern hemisphere festivities swirl around in my head, like visions of sugar plums, but then they melt away as fast as an early snowfall. It would be like moving to an English speaking country not knowing the language and refusing to learn it. So, I observe. This is my second go round now. Still early stages. Last Christmas we entertained his whole clan. We were house sitting a friend's ranch and all I can say is thank gawd for walk-in refrigeration. I spent a bit of time in that fridge. Every time I could no longer bear the trickles of perspiration running down my spine and legs and brow, I would step inside that chilly Nirvana and close my eyes and imagine Canada. How we used to chill our wine bottles in a snow bank outside the back door, or sweep the snow off the front steps for the third time that evening to keep them clear and safe for guests. How the oven would be working overtime in the weeks leading up to the big day with all the baking. BAKING! Forget about that now. Turning the oven on here is to be avoided like the plague. As much as I would love to regale my new friends and family with my Christmas baking and my grandmother's genuine Tourtiere recipe, it just ain't worth the pain.

Last year I attempted a real Christmas tree, but it did not really work out, its thirst was unquenchable and the needles dropped faster than a hooker's knickers at a bachelor party. No, this year, I have gone with fake trees. One home made from pallets at the front door and another inside our small lounge. It is actually one of those cherry blossom trees with lights that you see everywhere now in the shops. I decorated it and arranged the branches into a more conical shape and turns out I like it. It suits the room and my inability or desire to care for a living tree in this climate. 

Last night as I lay on the lounge after dinner staring at the twinkly lights and reflecting colours, I got the notion to put on my favourite Christmas music. A wee voice in my head told me that might not be a good idea, but old habits die hard. I got about halfway through the CD - A Charlie Brown Christmas before my heartstrings were about to burst and turned it off. There is something about music that just transports me to other places and times. In this case, to Christmas's past and my beautiful memories of my sweet Emma's childhood years. You know, those moments that remain in your mind and heart forever. The ones that you wish you could hold on forever and repeat again and again. But that is life. Constantly moving forward no matter how much you wish you could freeze frame the moments. 

It brings to mind a quote I read recently that said "Don't look back, you're not going that way." Memories are wonderful things, but best not linger there too long. In that vein, I bring myself back into the now, this moment, and see I am surrounded by many beautiful things. The Agapanthus is blooming beside my front walk, the Poinciana trees are a riot of reddish orange blossoms, the Oleanders are peaking and the Frangipani trees are a sight to behold in the most glorious colours imaginable. None of these grow in Canada in December. This my new reality. And just when I think that there really are no comparable colours, I notice a vine in bloom right outside my window here in the most perfect red and white, like it was made for Christmas.

It is as though it was placed right there, right now, to appease my soul. To offer me a small token of my past and remind me that although this new version of Christmas is vastly different than what I am accustomed to, if you look around you eventually find what you are looking for, without even realizing you were.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Cracking up...Literally

Generally speaking, I am pretty healthy. I have had a couple of scares in the last couple of years with suspect calcifications in my breasts, but fortunately, I have managed to slip past a malignant diagnosis. I am so grateful it did not go the other way for me as it does for so many women. 

My immune system seems to be working well as I have rarely had a cold or flu in ages and my organs and body chug along without complaining most of the time. I am blessed. However, there is one area of my health that has given me some grief for the last few months and exposed me to chronic pain for the first time in my life. It seems I have arrived at the expiry date for some of my molars. They have been cracking at a rate of 1 a year for the last 4 years. Everytime this happens, I find myself in the endodontist chair undergoing yet another root canal. The first two worked out OK for the most part and the third one required some tweaking as it began to ache again. That required some pretty nasty surgery, but solved the issue.

The next molar to bite the dust was the last molar at the back of my lower left jaw. It did not look good and the experts reckoned it was not a good candidate for a root canal as the cracking was too severe, so that one was extracted. By then, I was hoping my tooth troubles were behind me, but no such luck. The pain continued and the source was difficult to pinpoint. Two dentists and two endodontists later and 3 months of Advil every 4 hours day and night and finally I got some relief last Monday. That was the fourth root canal. 

So, now that I have financed several vacations for my dental care providers, I am pain free for the first time in months. I feel like a new woman. Looking back on my journey of pain, I am struck by the fact that I have never really understood the battle many people face with chronic pain. It is not conducive to living life normally. My sleep was disrupted. My moods were erratic. My energy was low. I had trouble focusing and concentrating. I felt anxiety and panic if I found myself too far away from an Advil fix. I was on a roller coaster of pain and relief. I did not resort to anything stronger. The Advil did the trick for me, but I can certainly understand how easy it would be to become addicted to stronger pain meds.

So, now for the reason I am sharing all this with you. As you know, I am always searching for the meaning as to why things happen. What is my lesson? I think over the course of my lifetime, I have not been particularly good at empathy.  I would go so far as to say, I sucked at it most of the time. I have been intolerant of whiners and people who seem sickly to me. I was not completely horrible and if someone was genuinely suffering, I would feel badly for them, but there were times when I would secretly be thinking maybe they were just cry babies or pain intolerant or looking for attention and if someone seemed to be constantly ill or in one case addicted to pain meds, I saw them as weak. They needed to suck it up and move forward. I would label some people hypochondriac and lose patience with their constant whining. 

A small punitive voice in my head would try to suggest empathy to me, but I had no desire to listen to that voice. I was healthy and I would be damned if I was going to let these whiners drag me into their web of malaise. I have never liked hospitals or bedside tables lined with bottles of prescription drugs. The very thought would make me shudder. How did I become so jaded? So callous? Clearly, I would make a lousy nurse. 

These few weeks of pain have been a karmic wake-up for me. As I ask myself, how would I have wanted people to react to my ill dental health? Well, mostly, I would have asked for patience and understanding and for the most part that is what I got. I did not talk about it a lot, but there were times when I had to explain my behaviour by telling my tale. Pain takes it's toll on you. 

It has been a reminder that without your health, nothing else really matters. For anyone reading this who is suffering in any way, I wish you well and hope there is some relief coming your way soon. It has also made me think quite a bit about assisted suicide. If I had thought that I would have to spend the rest of my life with chronic pain, you can bet I would have been thinking about that as a way out. No one should have to live that way. 

But they should be able to die as they choose. 

Funny how walking a mile in someone else's shoes changes your perspective.