Gratitude

I came away with questions for myself. Looking back from this week at ways I’d interact. Look slowly and kindly. Allow I had my faults. Not the ones screamed at me, but choices, habits, fears sit close upon memory and I want to look at them. Mainly because I’m writing. Memoir. Pieces of myself, my story. They are part of it, the story.

Sometimes I think my main goal must be to see how many unused drafts I can stare at in my Drafts folder; fifteen so far. The small paragraph above is one of them. Dated January 9, 2022, it resonates hope. While I have no recollection of the week in question, my encouragement to myself in these words is to look at and look past faults, choices, habits and fears., reasons I have used to let things sit, because doing so is who I am and moving beyond is breaking a terrible rule.

February brought an email accepting a poem for a local publication; online this year again as pandemic changes brought about more blog than paper publication of items. March brought another opportunity for essay to be included in an anthology on Gratitude. That one was hard. I fought with it as I fought the topic the past two years in memoir, struggling with what to say. You can’t always repeat thoughts of pain and sorrow. After a while they get wearing even to the writer. Time, as they say, bring change, allows perspective, optimism or hope. I don’t like flogging that last one either. The whole topic reminds me of days in very good mental health groups as both participant and support where I’d struggle with our common leave-taking. Expression of gratitude.

I love the gratitude of walking among trees, sitting by streams, icecream in two flavour stacks on a double cone. The tangible moments that tug at my heart, add colour to the day, draw out my senses, calling like echoes of remembrance to places within. Words are not needed for gratitude, and though I talk to the wind, the sky and the birds, it’s not required by any of us. My favourite memories are smiles and looks that share some moment of grace. The world open up and suddenly a space holds its breath, allowing the wait. Yes, these are the moments I value the most.

And this, at best, is where I sat two silent months waiting for what, I did not know. Some call it writer’s block. Perhaps, at times. But I found so many words bursting within for other places, nowhere at all. They just didn’t fit, and I’ve learned not to force them, though it is hard to sit. My time increased at work, just touching 28 hours. Enough to keep me full-time. Not enough to keep me afloat. I think perhaps writing stalls in the places of loss, where I haven’t chosen career, haven’t braved the risk of siren’s call ‘Monetize Your Blog – three easy steps.” No. I’m pretty sure it’s more than three, and nothing wrong with doing so for those with a plan to earn a living in this way. I’m a bit off topic, but connected still.

Readiness – to write, to paint, to aim for a career – it may need more gratitude than I’ve let myself feel. I joke with fellow writers, once again ‘this year’ is the year I will risk, will submit, will step past the barricade and allow myself to be .. what? There lies the issue. I don’t know what, and a lifetime of habit has taught me to be small, and not even that. One ongoing conversation a decade back questioned the reasons within relationship, to significant other, I fought the judgement I was too big and too small. Not significant enough, but too high and mighty for his daily mood. A bad fit. A poor example, a multitude of labels, and ultimately as my mother assessed it, just the wrong personality for him.

Gratitude. I learned something this year. Looked it up. Not just in my favourite etymology site, which simply defines it as ‘pleasing, thankful’, but in heart’s home, curiosity. This time wanting to know how my love saw it, what it meant in the good places I’d found recent years, encouraged to find myself and grow, being loved as I did. And so, I asked our favourite Google how gratitude was seen in the Hebrew meaning. I found myself among trees, sitting by streams, letting memory ache with the longing of joy, places I’d touched, but not this past year. Places I need to go again, to listen to the wind, let water bugs curl in the waves by my feet. Let this place speak to me its words of tender care. A moment of grief in a lifetime of love.

I am not stuck. I may not always move forward well, but slow, like a turtle or the snails I sat by two summers past, I will get where I’m going. In writing. In life. The moments of connection with present memories allow space for me to listen and to learn. The Hebrew form of gratefulness, like I found with my love, who worked hard with me at relationship, and announced it with a smile, “we worked through some tuff stuff and built a strong relationship”. Yes, Jack, we did, and celebrated it along the way with simple smiles.

Gratitude. I looked it up. I found the Hebrew meaning in several sites, two words ‘hakarat hatov’ with their translation into English. Something beautiful to read. I like the phrase and I like the story I found in one site giving more, an example that touches my heart. Harakat hatov ‘to recognize the good’. It is a gift I will hold onto and learn to live well. And the story, possibly urban legend, about a performance by Itzhak Perlman used to demonstrate what it means.

It seems to be that year, gratitude wants to smile. I’ll wait, I’ll listen and know the good is there. What else is there to say, but thank you for this day.

For those who wish to read the story, I’ll link it here. Enjoy if you will or just wait for your own moment of gratitude, your example, your breeze.

https://jewishcamp.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/5/2017/04/Gratitude_-_Mussar_Institute.pdf

Always, a journey.

September. I didn’t post. One lonely draft on a list abandoned in the before. It doesn’t say much, just a nod to the difficulties of healing. It’s been three months, but pick up there still struggling with grief and loss experienced in May and then June when I passed out and injured my body as well as my soul.

I’ve been even more concerned with healing in the days since. Healing is hard. What do I say? I’ve been working at healing most of my life and if I was any good at it, I’d be in a different place than I am now. But healing, I see is priorities. Do I care for my body or my mind? Both hurt and need care, but my current plan, or perhaps current actions taken towards health don’t line the two up very well.

Three times this week, I caught myself telling an old story. Funny? I’m not sure. I do use humour at times to cope, but this, I think, is more irony. “If you show me a rock and hard place, I’ll find the crack and dive in.” It speaks to my frustration. And maybe my strength. I don’t know how or why, but life often managed to leave me wedged between; where others had to face the rock or hard place in more clear cut ways, I was forced to deal with both and the weight of the crack and all it contained. My attempt at humour still held too much complaint. I struggled with the weight of things I carried, unsure why or how I managed it. And, if I am honest, have a ridiculous ability to find life there.

Stubborn. Scottish. I acknowledge it now. A culture I don’t know and tried to resist. “You are what your grandfather was,” my dad would say determined I would own it. I heard them speak so strongly of their home and people growing up. Scottish. They seemed to have so much more strength than I. They lived through wars and tough things, their memories of it clear and strong. They knew the names and dates and histories of kings and queens and clans. The clans were important, more so than kings. That was my thought. Your name, your clan, your family and connections. The occasional story of a black sheep, an uncle a generation or two from me, sent here by family. His wife and any children held behind. He was abusive I think. Their solution sharp and final, a good surgical cut. It frightened me that people could do that to someone, so literally cut them off from their family. I didn’t know I may wish that myself through divorce in later years. But cutting off, I couldn’t do. I lean to others needs and still do.

I’m good at waiting, but don’t believe patience is a strong point. I’d laugh and tell people I’m not patient, just stubborn. And that has carried me through the past few months. I’m not sure stubborn counts as healing. But it’s held on and kept me going through days of 8/10 pain and learning to read the pain scale in Lego faces my son sent to me. Acknowledging feeling, listening to my body, vehemently disagreeing with it at times and coming out worse for it at the end. Learning to listen and cut life to bare minimum. Work 6 hours come home and sleep. Hydrate. Eat a little. Hydrate more. And sleep. Some days that’s all I did and woke less sore but frustrated that’s what my body demanded of me. It’s hard to be kind to myself when it remains so foreign. Still untangling the years of fear when sick, facing anger, insults and reprimands that taught me to punish myself internally for doing wrong. It isn’t wrong to heal. Not even when I take far too long. Healing is a process of listening and learning to give or to accept, maybe to receive what is needed to restore.

For the first time in life, the last few years have allowed space to talk to my doctor and slowly accept that medications may help. I am afraid of drugs, even prescription ones. It’s a habit, this fear. The first few times I had to take some came with the anger and judgement and disgust. I had to do it – thyroid out, medication required. But I ‘knew’ it was wrong. Wrong to help my body live. Wrong to cost money to do it. Healing requires purging the old ways, old thoughts, old words and judgements followed. Healing it seems is about learning to relax. To allow. To accept. To trust. To interact.

I feel bad being quiet here for several months. Even this post, had to wait. I found it lingering from the start of November, and it was recognizing a beginning in September, early fall. The time my EI was running out and I knew I wasn’t ready to pull the full weight. I’m still not there. Hovering just below. But I’m determined, perhaps that Scottish trait again. I am determined to get there, and will in the end.

Healing is a journey, at times without a map. I guess I just keep following the trail and see what it will bring.

Life. Always a journey.

I don’t know

I’m tired of being tired. Dragging and dragged over rocks of grief. Realizing the many ways and places this grief is laid out over years of unmet grief.

July 15

My first day back to work. Four hours. Folding clothes. I may not make it, there are updates to online training that need to be completed. That’s easy. I can do those. It’s the floor that scares me.

July 20

Yesterday, day three. I shook. Forced myself through four hours. Kindnesses of staff.

A coworker called me brave. I was negating myself again; fear of change, fear of loss. Berating myself for falling, hitting my head, struggling to heal. Knowing I’m not okay. Missing Jack. Showing up triggers me. Too many memories of waiting for him to come through the doors. Working apart. Not able to go to him. Listening to people yell or complain about petty things. I’m afraid. I can’t go back to listening to it right now. Doing this … staying alive and learning to grieve … it does not play fair. I had no idea.

I live with levels of stress accumulated in decades of abuse. Crisis a daily reality. I thought pain would go when I left my ex, slide back into something others call ‘normal’. I would laugh off that word telling people “normal is just the fat part of the graph. Statistics.” But this is not funny. Dissociation is a common experience of abuse, of PTSD. So are the panic attacks that wake me at 2am shaking from dreams or something I don’t remember. It’s strange how …. thoughts lost.

July 25

I had rough days this week. More than rough. I get angry at myself for them, for their unpredictability, for not being able to control myself or the days. Long hanging silences on calls to the crisis line, then sobbing because I’m frozen in bed, my body a lump of shock, sizzling. Blood pressure high, pills taken, bathroom done, back to bed, lay and shake. And so I call,

“hello, my name is …. how can I help you?”

“I, um I …” my mind and thoughts racing with guilt and grief and disasters past and pending.

The thoughts freeze in my head. Instinct. Fear; of living, being, lost and labelled. Something my ex would say, A negative judgement on who and how I am. And I can’t do it. Getting it out takes a breath, and sometimes that’s where they start. But first I give my name, the basics of identity. Then the call.

I talk and talk, through getting up, getting going, going to work. Even with the fear. A rational irrational place where emotion and action don’t fit the norm, but given the circumstances I understand. Tears or not, I have to go. I push too hard. Don’t overdo. Am warned. Holding myself back from demanding full hours. I don’t want to hurt myself again. The side of my head that hit the floor is ok, but not ok. Numb or tingles at times. Stress?

There is so much I can’t predict, so much I just don’t know. I’m trying to be ok with that; not knowing. Living and being is the hard job right now. The rest will ease in slowly, not smoothly. I hope, but am learning I can’t expect it. My body needs to purge the grief, but also years of pent up grief or things attached to it. Chaos of layers, interwoven connections, years forming. I’m just taking it a day or two at a time. Feeling useless, but knowing I’m not. Telling myself to be quiet when I want to rebuff the kindnesses and compliments of others. Still so much fear letting others in. I understood that far too well, Jack. We were kind to each other’s broken places. Love lingers in the tenderness.

Sanctuary.

Writing Life

I started May’s blog post several times. Got nowhere. The long post I eventually arrived at by June 3rd has been saved to files and deleted here.

7:30am June 6th and I’m starting fresh, though that’s a strange word for the circumstances and my now chronic lack of sleep. I passed out sometime shortly after 6pm and retrieved laundry from the dryer down the hallway around midnight when I awoke. Today, I have an essay to tidy and send off to a magazine whose current theme of ‘ancestors’ finally got coherent words from my tired and broken heart.

That said, this will be short. Off the cuff.

I emailed a note to a local councilor, telling her that I’d like to talk about a request to name or re-name several local streets in honour of persons with indigenous heritage. I have never put such a request forward before. This one flows out of grief, in honour of someone to whom it mattered greatly, and who was still pursuing a request made several years ago.

The past five years (or nearly) I have had the joy of being in a relationship with a man named Jack who died over the May long weekend pursuing another love of his life, whitewater paddling.

Jack was away teaching in a Cree community in northern Quebec. We spoke every day by text or in Facebook. I started to share my loss here, but found it becoming too poetic. I have written actual poems to Jack these last few years and may write a few more. He was an amazing man, the kindest, most gentle and generous man I know. Honest. Full of compassion and integrity. He brushed it off when I told him so, “Then you’re the only person who knows. Most people think I’m a pain.” I don’t believe that, and would reply, “If so then they aren’t listening.”

It’s still too soon after hearing you died, Jack. I wake shaking some days in shock. I read back through conversations shared and look at how many video calls show up on your side of the conversation thread. I’m glad you wanted so much to talk to me, to share your hopes and joys. To let me know how surprised you are it took you so long to say you love me. I shared it with one of your sons last week, and continue to grieve with him that it wasn’t your way to say it more. I understand why it was so hard for you, and why I said it too much. We shared places in our pasts I’m finally digging deep to understand.

I’m listening now, as I write, to Gabor Mate; a recommended listen from someone I volunteer with in mental health. Wisdom I’ll come back to more this year.

I wish we had more time to enjoy each other’s laughter, the gentleness we shared, ways we gave each other space and were discovering some of the things this man describes that need to heal. Not complicating them with demands, just offering understanding and giving each other permission to ‘not fix’. You said that to me early on, ‘don’t fix’. One of the reasons I told you I thought you were wise. So much of my life was responsibility and demands to fix things not mine to touch. You healed me in a way, just giving me space and telling me I need to respect myself and follow my dreams. Then showing me how, letting me watch you and admire your bravery.

I wonder if we messed that up just a bit at the end. You pushed yourself too hard at times. Your wrist was hurting from last time out. I was afraid you were going again too soon.

We had just four weeks to wait until you were home. You told me every day, soon, and let me know how excited you were coming back me. But the short time pressed against your list of things you wished you’d done last fall when the weather allowed you out on the waters. I understood it from the rush of photos you shared, the video rides you took me on coming back from the land. Waiting for open water. “I wish you could come up.” But the borders had been closed. “I wanted you to see.” I wanted that too. You did your best.

And now, I have to wait a little longer still. I love you, Jack.

Waiting for Spring

April is spring and flowers and beauty and outdoors and sitting on my back deck watching the squirrels chase their way around the pole to the feeder. There is peace in watching the small things. So many birds and small animals grace the yard.

The store is quieter with lockdowns, but there are still shoppers. I’m longing for spring. Seeds and potted plants in many sizes leave looking for gardens every day. I want them. Some already fill spots in front or back garden, and I can picture them, anticipate the colours that will fill the gardens in the coming months.  

We talk as they ring things through. Sometimes I mention the longing, how I miss my house, the bond that forms between gardener and growth, a shock of realization for me, home was outside. The plants held my heart in place.  Not only the peace of times spent there, but the can and can’t of some of the work. My sons doing harder digging or moving of things than I could do. My sons, anchored in that place, house and garden – memories, good and bad, held in context of the places they occurred.

Memories feel tangible; I remember the warmth of a smile, a look, a movement made, the tone of voice, the way a room, the deck, garden, plant or soil felt. Warmed by sun or darkened by mood. Remember.

Someone may ask how I do it. They often do. Ask. Did. Ask.

How do you get Jacob to communicate with you. How do you stand the abuse, the hours put in at two schools balancing needs, the physical effort of Jacob hanging on you, your own injuries.

How do you smile so much. Laughter. If you didn’t have your quirky sense of humour, you’d probably be dead.

I wonder. If the flowers still grow. If the bird feeder is still there. Do the rabbits come, and squirrels. Do blue jays have fights over fresh poured seeds. I saw the fence was gone. New windows stared at me. I wonder. Do you spend time in the gardens? See the same miracles of spring. Wonder. Do you think of me.

Never met. May never meet. Still I think of you. I miss my house, the gardens most. At times I cry for wanting. Remembering comes hard. Distance and the longer view remind me there were things I loved. Beauty comes in many forms. Even our broken places held beauty. Too fragile to not break.

We live apart. Shattered. Borrowed space. Concrete walls. I wish for the world, the great outdoors. Cohesive. The only lines it draws form waterways, cliff edge, a tree line.

Balcony plants. Can’t feed the birds. Don’t tie anything to the posts. Behind the screen of tempered glass. There is no grass to touch my feet, no buzzing bees to hum me tunes. Tiny birds dart quickly past. Red heads where once yellow bright as the corn, came bold within an arms length.

I must climb down. On my own. Cross lanes of concrete. Man-made lights still glowing in the break of day. Walk to find where houses still hold space for sharing. Where trees are tall enough to climb and host nests to birds and squirrels. Open doors for calling. Sounds of spring. Lingering.

Beneath your trees. At sidewalk edge. I hover. Waiting for spring.

Imperfections

February’s been a rough month. March too. I ping between okay and ‘oh so over it’. I’ve hit the wall. All I have left is to write about it.

On one hand, I have a small box called apartment. It’s crammed full of left over bits of past life and the one I’m trying to live now. Creativity wages war with it daily; art and writing supplies, music all fight for space.

I write regularly, paint occasionally. Mostly my keyboard and guitar cower against one wall, asking me to practice. I paid for a month of guitar lessons, tossed a penny into the well of expectation and hope it brings good things. Last week, encouraging words from my teacher assured me that regardless of my frustration with ‘only’ practicing one song and one scale, I have done a good job. Okay. I’ll bite. I’ve done well. Now believe it.

I want to improve my art. Create paintings I love and learn to part with them. To do that, I need a better grip on money and budgets both for home and sales. Even if it’s just for fun, I’d like enough to replenish supplies, I need to let myself learn the basics of give and take, hobby or business.

I want to release things I’ve written. Send them further out. Not just the one or two places I know who are open to it. I want to push past the barriers and broaden my reach.

What scares me about writing? People tell me I’m good, I have a raw way of writing. It draws people. They see it in pieces I’m doing for a memoir. Say, I have a strong, staccato style to my poetry. I read a list of possible literary magazines suggested to me. I probed their online offerings and re-read. Decided to write a cover letter and choose some poems to send.

But then, a tangible restraint on my arms. typing has weight. sleep falls upon me, passing out like with a migraine. and less obvious shut down, internal, my body folds in on itself, origami folding into invisibility. impossible. i need to move. i need to …. submit …. ringing past intentions, rules that bind. breathe swallowed up within lungs that strain hesitation.

Words. They lean towards poetry. They leap at opportunity, but cringe at expectation. Dear words, can you help? I want you to know full expression. I hope this year to let you fly.

Counting Time: 3, 5, 7

February 3, 2021

I’m tired.

People will tell you that is my standard answer. It’s often true, but not always. January felt heavy and I was tired too often. Falling asleep at 6:30 leads to waking at 2:00 and days where the hours slide sideways down the clock. I still think in analogue even though I read digital in both 12 and 24 hour formats. Work and home, home and work; even my battery clock is analogue designed with a false tick, tick, tock. Some nights it comforts me, others it annoys. The month slid by all comfort and annoyance.

Today I will go to work. This is my middle day. Tuesdays and Thursdays I have off, but Wednesday sits wobbling in between. Those who regularly see me in the morning will ask next time why I wasn’t there, whether I’d been off work, and I will say no. I worked afternoon to evening. Not a favourite shift, but not the worst. I’d rather open and then have the afternoon to walk and write or do art. I would if the energy didn’t drain so quickly, The last few weeks, I have done less than I want and my brain says none at all. I’m writing here so that can’t be true. I do write, just not the things I feel are creative or that fit my goals. I’d like to focus more when I have the time and accomplish things I’m struggling to achieve; poem, book or blog.

But I don’t practice enough. Not art, not music, not even words. Want is a strange thing. I want to play songs, but I don’t practice the notes enough to give them flow. I want to do art that sells, but I haven’t offered any to the few people who show interest. I want to be a writer, but I submit so seldom even though I look and look at places where I could send. Why? Is it fear, laziness, lack of skill or desire? Asking pumps adrenaline through my system, grabbing all of my attention, stealing it away from paint, sounds, and story. Images and words spin around me, I hang like a child in the Tilt-a-Whirl, remnants of childhood and challenges faced. Hold on, hold on, the ride will end. The ticket booth not far away.

Getting through January was exhilarating and exhausting. Irritating. I struggle on at work and want to see friends who are still living home bubbles. One day we will sit over tea and reminisce. At the moment, my contacts and connections are all digital or work related. My life, my experience.

I want to do some writing. Get Coursera finished. Write a poem. Finish my memoir. Nothing is moving. I tried here in WordPress and ended up making some notes into my phone.

Why do I have so many words and why do they feel so useless?

The world is a-kilter. Does it kill? I feel tipped over. But we aren’t allowed that relief, tipping over is a symptom of the current times. As are coughing, sneezing, sweating, being tired. Walk carefully. I see runners and we try to avoid each other. I’d avoid them anyway, but this year we mask everything, avoiding as much as we can, and feel guilty if we make eye contact with those we pass on the random trips around the corner for a change of view and fresher air than lives inside the boxes of rest and activity that are home and work.

Listening to Anne Lamott as I type is soothing. She’s talking about jealousy and ravaged bodies. It’s an old scene in YouTube talking about her life and efforts in writing. Not yet at bird by bird but living it. I think she’s reading from it in draft?  There is clapping and laughter. I like laughter. A friend telling me he likes my laugh. Tell me you like my laugh. It makes me smile even more.

February 7, 2021

The week, like my night, blurs. I sat on the couch with my phone waiting for 8pm when a ‘saved event’ was to start. The reminder arrived at 7:30, a good half hour before the event. I left it idling while I played with French in Duolingo. Found both at 1 am still idling but now tucked down inside of the couch. By 4 am all I have achieved is a few thoughts in my phone, some articles forwarded to myself to read again later (my newsfeed may hold them, but I don’t count on it), and this – realizing a work week has passed since I began this post. I found the Anne Lamott video half finished where I left it in YouTube and let another 5 to ten minutes of it play while I write here. Time seems too long and too short this year. I wrote a note at work Friday to prompt myself for a new post. Imperfections. It made me smile Odd. There are so many and lately we are so aware (and still unaware?).

My shift today is afternoon/evening. I’ll come back to my thoughts on imperfections later. For now. Another run at sleep. I’ve turned off the 5:15 alarm. If I can manage to grab an hour or two it may not help, but may ward off falling asleep on my feet before end of shift. Today will go like hundreds of others the past year or two. I’ll head to work hoping the day is kind, hoping I don’t fall asleep the moment I get home, hoping for life and laughter to be the things I remember well. I’ll tell people I’m tired, and be told I always am. I’ll spend more time than I wish too close to strangers, a little time talking to to those who ask if I’m ever not there, those glad I am there, and those who ask earnestly how I am; glad I’m still doing okay. Mostly I’ll give thanks for the online conversations I get to have with those who love me, who make me smile in ways that reach my core and laugh at outrageous or trivial things in our day.

Today, like every other day (if you believe those who say so), people will ask how I am and I will tell them I am tired. It will be true. I will push myself through it again. I may fall asleep too early tonight and repeat this pattern. But at 4 am my end of day reasons to smile still exist in the smiling faces of those who love me, the occasional memes or jokes they send me through the day, and their appreciation of my laughter.

I may yawn behind my mask, but I’ll laugh. I love laughter and the many ways those who love me realize it. And these are the things that count.

Is it Over yet?

The end of a year is time for reflection. Like tradition, we all do it, size up the year past and wonder what the next one brings.

It’s not quite official. There are a few hours to go, but I’ve been wondering the last few weeks what I’d think and feel as the year draws to a close. I’ve heard others say for months now they will be glad to see this year go, but if I’m honest I’m not sure how I feel about it. I wouldn’t choose to do it again, but I’m proud of getting through and oddly a little guilty.

We go blindly into each year with resolutions, making ourselves promises. I came into 2020 telling myself ‘this year, I’ll do all the hard stuff.’ I thought about that all year as Covid demanded more and more. I wanted to face some fears, improve my writing, follow through on goals for submitting to magazines or other opportunities. I wanted to write songs, to practice guitar more, do more painting; maybe even sell some. I met some of the goals, not others. I feel an odd regret in the out of synch places my life reversed that of friends stuck home during the lockdowns. Those who wrote whole books, learned online skills, or like many of my customers cleaned out whole areas of retail lugging home storage systems. Those are still on my wish list and may live there for a time. Like I said, go slow. The real challenge is learn to live with it.

Some things I wanted to do because they addressed self- esteem areas, places of grief where I live with a longer sense of missed opportunities. I wanted to be brave and maybe look at other jobs, see if I could find something that pushed me back to using skills for teaching or the social aspects of autism. I applied a few places and scared myself receiving one response at almost year end asking me to reapply to an alternate position. I did think about it seriously. Still think about it. Self-worth and self-esteem are areas still healing after years struggling to love myself in the places I didn’t step up to things – like the other half of teacher’s college I never went back to complete, an art career I was afraid to start. The book I may or may not write?

I don’t switch gears easily. I have it on good authority that I over think things. I research possibilities I’m afraid to try. I take on too many things at once and don’t see it coming. I stare at boxes still littering my living space and don’t want to let go of them because it took so much out of me paring down 35 years of life to the little that fit into 500 sq.ft. of space.

March and April threw me into coping mode. Extra hours at work (one of two people who stayed). End of the winter snow, plows and stress throwing sleep out the window. Work demands and Covid rules changed weekly. I learned to speak up, about cleaning products, personal needs, physical distance, how to handle the challenges and face my fears. Work asked and I assured them I was okay. Crisis is a known place to me, ask when it’s over. I anticipated a few months, this long dragged out season reminds me too often of life before leaving. Abuse and things I haven’t quite solved in real time yet.

I’m starting to believe, or maybe understand, those who told me I am tough. I’ve had to face things in myself I don’t like and haven’t let go. I don’t like feeling afraid and I don’t like not being in control of it. In December, I kept saying to myself ten months. It was hard to believe it has been that long or that I did so well. I am tired. I need to admit that or the next round will hurt worse than the last.

I didn’t anticipate losing one job, pushing through the year on just retail and repeating ‘nose above water’ feeling lucky to have something. I’m more than lucky, I’m resilient. I’ve been told that a time or two (maybe more) the last few years and this year has challenged me to show it. I begged all year for hours to try to make up the ones I lost, then struggled with the challenge of taking physically exhausting hours in place of office hours that allowed me space and opportunity to recoup. My balanced life of retail, physio and mental health volunteering fell apart. It wasn’t until summer that I had conversations to get back on track with the volunteer role, and not until then or early fall that I saw my former workplace while attending a personal physio appointment.

I started begging for full-time retail as the company took on its promised thousands of new workers. Some stayed, some went, some just didn’t show up. Those with other jobs suspended wanted something to do that felt like it helped. Students home from school took on their normal summer hours, though none of it was really normal. All of us faced the confusion of open/closed, safely distanced unreality. I was desperate for anything besides the concrete walls and floors of work and home, my personal determination to limit exposure (mine or others) gave way to a desperate need for green and blue. Walks around the block or on local trails, carefully avoiding others, carrying mask to don when needed yet dropping it to taste the fresh smells of air and earth. Sitting beside the river, watching the ripples of water and life in the plants and animals thriving. I needed this look at life. I watched others grasping at it too.  

Inside too much of the grasping felt like strands of greed twisted between layers of generosity. The angry, selfish people yelling about limits, empty shelves, other shoppers, the masks and rules the stores tried to impose in polite ways while staying in line with confusing expectations I and coworkers tried to follow. I felt out of sorts with myself at times, angry at mistreatment by some customers, not ever sure (besides my regulars) who was local and who wasn’t. Only the ones who identified as out of town while demanding that I give them rights beyond what was allowed.

There were the angry ones. Like a lady who lashed out at me for saying she couldn’t have a second case of water and then heaved one of them at me. A quick jump and it missed me, a shock, but not a major event. People yelling about masks or refusing to distance. Some who wanted to tell me it was all a hoax or blown out of proportion. A few got angry, and pulled off their masks, yelling at me about rules and restrictions outside my control. People telling me they drove from Toronto, Orangeville, Brampton, Owen Sound, Milton, Cambridge, London looking for things they wanted to buy. I couldn’t understand why. Some who struggled all year buying multiple orders as they shopped for themselves, older family and neighbours. Kind people, going out of their way and bearing up under shifting restrictions, who felt they needed to explain themselves again and again. I loved those people and tried to balance rules and kindness.  

We got through. We held up. We still are as we head into 2021.

Resilience I suppose is keeping going when you want to stop, picking up the phone when you need to talk, listening to others and seeing need, advocating for resources, laughing even when it hurts, smiling and speaking kindly as often as possible.

This year reminds me of the people who believe in me, those who encourage me. Some of them family or friends, some known through work or community, some offering support in meals, conversations, occasional walks. I am grateful for every one. I’ve been blessed to have many people willing to tell me the good things they see in me and encourage me to continue being my best self.

As we go into next year, I hope I remember the things I’ve learned in the one just past. I can do more than I believed. I am kind to others. I need to be kind to myself. I have pushed through difficult places and will again. I’ll enter into next year with humility and hope. Resilience will be there when I need it. Friends will have my back.

I won’t ask a lot of myself in resolutions. I’ve written down ‘go slow’ and ‘allow failure’. I’ve been afraid of both and faced both this past year. I’m tired but good for another round.

Heading into 2021 will be interesting. Welcome New Year. Let’s see what you have to offer.

Old Buildings

Old buildings. Old people. Memories that tell me stories of life and love. I’m collecting their moods in my heart. 

I love old buildings. At times I take walks along the downtown where history lives. Stone faces and wide trimmed windows. Old wood and brick somehow comfort me. Things slow down and I can breathe.

Walks take me out and away. Both provide and alleviate distractions. The stone in my shoe, a twinge in my hip. Fibromyalgia biting at me. Deal with it. Walk. I love to walk. Look around. Reflect on life.

Today, my walk starts indoors. Shopping. And a customer who likes to chat.

Oh you jumped the fence today, did yah?

I laugh. Yes. I jumped the fence, but I’m in later to work the afternoon shift.

A sweet man. Always friendly. He talks happily about visiting family, going to meet his newest great grandchild. Moments of joy. He will get tested (Covid) before he goes, just to be safe. He’s looking forward to turning 89 next June. Why that year, I’m not sure, but tell him he’s the same age as my mom. She’s aiming high too. He bought pastry shells to make butter tarts. Loves to cook. I knew that about him. He reminds me of growing up, having my parents and grandparents around me, soft smells of home.

Old buildings. Old people. Memories that tell me stories of life and love. I’m collecting their moods in my heart. Letting them fill me with strength and joy. I’m building my own stories. People I love, those who love me. Times and means of being together in this wild year, riding out the unknowns. Alone is better shared. Every puzzle can be solved. Even this one.

It’s hard to believe March is so far behind us. It’s been a choppy ride and promises a few more whitecaps before we’re done. Balance is important. Friends, neighbours, co-workers, customers all contribute and test my balance. Some kind, others … they rock things hard.

Old buildings, long walks, pacing myself. The smiles work their way up from inside. Little bursts of joy to measure the day. Giving myself space to react and remember there were older times and older ways and older folks who lived and loved and steadied themselves in rough times. They made it through. I can too.

One day, the old ways will be mine and others will look back at me and smile.

Fragile

Posts have gotten behind. Wanting yet not wanting to be said, things I think and say to myself. Here inside my room, they are safe. But outside in the world, hopes and fears become more real.

I still think about uncertainty. Around me and in the news. Up close and farther away. The shifts in attention, lens contracting, opening, closing, its focus shifting between my life and world.

Racism. Covid. Politics. Beliefs. Trust. Lack of trust. Distancing. Not distancing. Numbers. Decisions. Fear. Uncertainty. Anger.

Exasperation. I hear it in the people around me. Those overfilling carts, taking more than they need, some out of fear and some greed. Those who will post it for sale online at greater cost to those who couldn’t get it in the rush, those stuck in low pay or waiting for a monthly cheque. Selfishness and fear. I feel it in the tension of shoppers distancing, not distancing. Not sure what to do or where to look. Some little faces, tense behind their masks. And I think of my little ones, now grown. Our lives our hopes. Past, present, future.

A customer comes through buying a coat. He’s working here today and didn’t bring one. He scans the coat as he talks, then gestures towards the nail salon.

When did the real estate leave? I shrug. He tells me he used to live here.

I’m not sure. I only lived here a few years.

Oh, where did you live before?

He turns as I tell him. And gives a nod.

Oh, Acton. Did you live there when the KKK sign was on side of the highway?

OMG yes. I told people there was a sign there, but they didn’t believe me.

No. It’s true. It was there. My friend lived nearby. I saw it often when I visited.

I’m not sure how to feel. A short, quick conversation in the rush of day. It rattled me. Rattled some memories and my sense of truth. I shook my head as he left. Disbelief. I’m thrown a distance, a former place.

I think, or want to think, I live in a good place, a good country, but every day I see or learn things that question it. I try to stand tall, believe in hope, smile and treat everyone with respect. I lived through abuse and like to think it’s not common. There are kind people, generous people. But I’ve also heard horrible things said by shoppers going through my work area. Some just generally bad, others more ugly, targeting people; family, friends, strangers. Some wanting me to agree with their caustic beliefs and behaviours. I won’t. And I cringe at how little impact my determination towards good has on them. It shakes my faith in people. It shakes my faith in myself. I think of some little faces, unsure whether to smile at me, and I wonder if it’s a natural shyness or the colour of my skin.

Memories kicked loose skitter through my thoughts. There were skinheads at my son’s school. His justice raged against their presence. I was shocked when he told me, shared some of the words and attitudes he ran into there. We lived in a tiny town. Seven churches. Good people. I couldn’t understand the dichotomy, the smiles and kindnesses, yet ugliness interwoven. It shook my faith. It shook his faith too. I watched the grief and anger go through him every time injustice appeared. Watched his heart break.

Our hearts broke so often through the years. Gentle justice is not an easy place. Home was hard enough. The world is a weight that needs many more hearts and much love.

Perception. I feel naive. There are bad things everywhere. Racism, hatred, abuse hurts everyone. Even where we think we are sheltered, there is no shelter. These things shake the ground under our feet. Put us off balance, impact our actions. Seeing and doing nothing dulls us like the frog in a pot, the end comes but all we see is the illusion.

At times things seem calm, the news is busy with other things. I wish that was an indication of change. I’ve prayed for change longer than a decade or maybe two. On a personal level, for our family to move beyond the abuse we faced. On a community level, for equality to be given a fair chance. For attitudes to shift. For strength to fight for it. To stand firm. I wanted and feared the process.

Change feels so fragile. My efforts like wisps. They blow with every wind. Dust kicked up in their place. Please G-d send some love on us. Hope for a new day. At times it’s wanting. I know you’ve heard it too many times, but believe me, we are so fragile and hope is getting sparce. Fill us again.