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Middle of Nowhere

Posted by Cheryl on Jan 7, 2012 in Main Categories

I haven’t blogged since last summer when my Dad’s health really took a serious downturn. He passed away in October – and I guess it’s taken me til now to just begin to move forward, through this bewildering, sort of surreal time for dealing with that loss and change. I’ve been feeling a bit lost.

One way that my Dad’s death has affected me is that I have this increased determination to be sure to be living life. My life. So that takes me to a place of deep reflection about how I already do that, and where and how I don’t. It brings up alot of questions for me and, naturally, also reveals my own self-inflicted barriers and fears. All that said, I know I’m in a place of figuring some of that out – and I know that’s a really good thing, even though sometimes it sort of pinches! But it’s a great gift to be aware of it all. And to find comfort in amongst it all. This blog is a message of welcome to this new year. And a message of thanks to my father, who taught me lots of lessons — many of them about courage.

The Middle of Nowhere

Between the old and the new, there is a place that is a kind of nowhere-land and it is one of the most challenging places to be. It can be lonely and is full of uncertainty and tensions. These feelings come from the need to let go of the old and familiar and intentionally make the leap towards the new. It’s an uncomfortable ‘space’ but it is always part of the journey; a ‘nowhere’ that means we’re in between. I want to feel more at peace with this ‘nowhere’ space in 2012.

Anyone I know who’s gone through big change in their lives (and that’s pretty much EVERYONE I know) vividly recalls experiencing, at some point, the unnerving sense of being lost, far from shore, compass-less. The most difficult part about feeling that you’re nowhere is that it is so full of uncertainty – but this very uncertainty is a necessary, productive, rich part of the process of growing, of meeting life changes head on, of truly opening up to imagining what’s next. I’ve listened to my brilliant colleague, Frances Westley, encourage students of social change to rest in ‘not knowing’ for as long as it takes a truly innovative idea to emerge – she reminds us over and over again that there is a direct correlation between a person’s capacity to tolerate uncertainty and the capacity for creating something new in the world. We need to know that it’s not only okay to feel lost for a time in nowhere-land, but that nowhere is a kind of gift with much to teach us about ourselves, our work, our lives. Wagoner’s beautiful poem, “Lost”’ encourages explorers to ‘stand still’ and to remember that although you may feel lost, the forest always knows where you are.

In 2012, I will allow myself to spend time more deliberately in “the middle of nowhere”; sometimes dancing elegantly, certainly also falling from time to time. I want to rest in those spaces of uncertainty and unknowingness because that is where creativity, authenticity, and courage live. The last few years have been big ones for me in terms of change – moving from the familiar to the brand new. This has had to do with home, work, relationships, even life and death. I’m entering a more intentional time of being open to some personal transformation – preparing for the next stage of my life. I have a lot of questions and almost no answers. I simply have some hunches, some threads, and, of course, some loving friends and family – more than enough to begin. Which is always the most important step.

Walking, even if a bit wobbly-legged, in the Middle of Nowhere offers up really good questions and, ultimately, reveals new ideas about what the answers might be. This year, I’m going to practice letting go and living for awhile with not knowing. Just long enough to open up to possibility, to who I am now, and to how I want to move forward. Just long enough for my courage and commitment to my own life to be strengthened. To those of you who also find yourself wandering in the middle of nowhere – take heart. And let’s keep an eye out for each other – there’s no need to do this all alone.
Happy New Year.

 
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Two Roads

Posted by Cheryl on Sep 5, 2011 in Main Categories

I’d like to make a pitch for the road less travelled. Because, cialis sale listen, sick can you hear that? That’s the sound of the September Expressway and we’re all travelling up the on ramp! Smack into the hustle and bustle of one of the busiest times of year for just about everyone – exciting, productive, all good but hectic and kind of harried. For anyone who’s been fortunate enough to jump off the treadmill for some lazier, summertime solace, well, pretty soon we’ll be speeding up the main thoroughfare of life and work again; stay on track, keep up the pace, keep your eyes on the road, and above all, keep moving! It’s a good time of year, lots of important stuff going on; but it can take over everything and that doesn’t always feel good or healthy. So right now, I’m making myself a promise to remember that it’s not ALL about life being a highway.

I just drove over 4000 kilometres out to Halifax and back so I’ve spent hours and days this past week on some of the major highways across five of our provinces. Five instead of four because, two thirds of the way there, we decided to abandon the original plan for the day which was to jump back on the main highway and get to Halifax as quickly as possible. Instead, we turned east, drove down a small, windy road, across Confederation Bridge, and went to have lunch on Prince Edward Island. Fish and chips with my son, on a sundrenched deck by the ocean – such a great idea! It was just one of the little side trips we spontaneously journeyed down when we decided that we could and/or needed to slow down a bit and see what life could be like just off the main road. The day before, we had taken a left turn and had breakfast at a sweet little café, way down by the St. Lawrence River in the artist colony of St. Jean Port Joli; then ended the day bypassing Moncton to travel a smaller road which took us just outside the village of Shediac. We got there in time to drive to the end of a point of land and sit silently together to watch the sun set on the Atlantic.

After making sure Sebastian was happy and settled back in his own life at university, I headed out to make the return trip to Ontario; had to be back before the post Labour Day rush. Early on the second morning, I left my hotel in Fredericton and asked the desk clerk if there was a road west that followed the St. John River, instead of going back up onto the highway. She looked at me completely confused; surely you want directions to the provincial highway, she said – it’s new, it’s big, it’s faster! You’ll get where you’re going in no time! No, I explained, I want a small, slower road that’s been around for awhile – this morning, I don’t want to get “there” in “no time” – I actually want…..here…..and….. time.

Her good intentions were not much help at all, but I found the road anyway. My coffee and I and some Italian morning music set out for the road less travelled. The views of this ancient river in the morning light were just glorious. There weren’t that many cars so I could drive at a speed that gave me time to really look around. I could feel my heart rate slow and I took a deep breath. My eyes lingered on all the elements of this space, so very different from the efficient highway whose only purpose is to get from A to B. On this road, the path itself is part of the place and ALL of it is part of the journey and the people who are making it. I became more conscious of myself, alive and happy on this beautiful morning, travelling peacefully on this quiet byway.

I slowed down a bit as I passed close by a small, simple cemetery. The collection of weathered headstones announced the souls that had lived in this community probably a couple of hundred years ago. I swear I could hear them whisper, “We were once here.” Around a few curves and over a hill, high up on a rock face only a metre from the road, I came across a different kind of memorial. Painted for everyone to see was a declaration of young love – “Phil and Cathy, Forever” – all enclosed in a big heart, holding that youthful certainty safe, absolutely positive that, “We will be here!”

It wasn’t long before my drive along the river came to a close and I reluctantly hit the blinker to turn left; time to return to the main highway. I took one last look at those flowing waters and I promised myself to hold on to some of the wisdom offered to me along that short side route. Honour and respect the past; imagine and believe fiercely in the future; and every once in awhile, make a short detour, whatever that might look like, and take the time to feel fully present. Just BE for a little while – remember, and say out loud, “I am here.”

 
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Name it Gratitude

Posted by Cheryl on Aug 27, 2011 in Main Categories

When little niece and nephew, were here this summer, I explained to them that my car’s name is Grace. “Why do you name your car?” they asked? Not sure but that’s her name. They totally got into it and they even had a few conversations with Gracie while they were visiting. That week, I also introduced them to my brand new bicycle whose name is Arabella. Then, on the last morning they were at my home in Kitchener, we were out loading suitcases into Grace at sunrise, and they got to see and meet the neighbourhood cardinal, Godfrey. Godfrey is a skinny little male cardinal who perches in the same spot outside my house every single morning and announces daybreak with the most incredible song! His passionate warbling makes me smile, and sometimes I even say out loud, “Thank you, Godfrey!” And to whoever or whatever might be listening to my thoughts, I follow up with, “Thank you for another day.”

I name things. I name cars, bikes, houses, birds, trees, plants, stuff. I invest them with character and personality, it just happens. I’m sitting in my living room right now looking at this incredible Norwich Pine plant that was an unexpected housewarming gift, generously left for me by the previous tenants; long, luscious, elegant fronds extended just so – the moment I saw her, I knew her name was Isadora (you know, like dancer, Isadora Duncan, of course). Let me assure you I know a lot of real, live, human people! Family, friends, neighbours, colleagues. It’s not for lack of people – it’s compelled by something else.

The kids made me stop and think for awhile on their question; why the hell DO I go around naming stuff? Am I kooky? Quirky? Lonely? Bored? I remember that I’ve done it for a lot of my life; at ten, my new, green bicycle was definitely, Josephine. Now that I’m really conscious of it, it has set me to wondering what it’s all about. And here’s what I’ve come up with. I’m pretty sure it’s not a pull for attention, or me just trying to be ‘a character’. No. I’m almost positive, it’s because I feel a deep sense of gratitude for these things in my life. They are a bit like an unexpected bonus in my day to day. I have done without often enough and I have survived my share of dark times, so I know that I could get along without these little perks. But I’m grateful that I don’t have to. I appreciate them so much and view them as gifts. I sort of respond to them, well, as friends. I’m grateful to know them in my life.

And, for me, gratitude has a different feeling than thankfulness. Thanks, probably from deep-seated childhood training, has an entitlement about it, a social obligation –it’s clearly what you’re supposed to feel and express. Gratitude comes from a deeper place for me. It’s a sentiment that feels so genuine and it wells up unbidden from some place in my heart that has learned to notice the little things that matter – the things that add to the colour and flavour of my relationships and life. And for me, that sense of gratitude probably takes many forms, but one is the spontaneous christening of things that I don’t want to take for granted – so I name them. That impulsive act of bestowing a name on something, welcomes it. Honours it as a blessing.

Skinny, red-feathered Godfrey is singing away, perched high up in Frances. That’s the tall fir tree standing guard in the front yard, giving shade and shelter to me and my family and my home. Thank you, Godfrey. And, to whatever spirit may be listening, thank you for another day.

 
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Mix Well; Repeat.

Posted by Cheryl on Aug 14, 2011 in Main Categories

Recipe for summer vacation to remember; carefully choose one five year old boy and one six year old girl (preferably still attached to their mother); any type of these will probably do but try to get your personal favourites because it makes all the difference to the end result. Assemble and fold into a small car. On high speed, cure add a thousand to fifteen hundred kilometers (or more, ampoule to taste), sift in four or five well-aged towns, then carefully add at least a hundred relatives of various sizes and flavours. Once all is assembled, simply drive until all is thoroughly combined – then let rest, covered with special blankets. Repeat.

Take care not to over stir the ingredients. They’re best left to blend on their own in a hot, humid environment (some in Ontario call this ‘summer’). For best results, tend to the main items in the recipe, the little boy and girl, as they require special attention to keep them from turning sour during the process. Experiment with different specialty items in order to enhance their natural sweetness; mints and candies are old standards but may end up scattered throughout, markers can be effective however you must watch for them turning into lipstick. Some are certain that sleep will nicely do the trick but it is, in fact, completely optional. Lengthy songs and silly riddles are usually your best bet. At times the boy and girl ingredients may separate, like oil and water, but with some time, a few choice words, and a trip through a drive-through window, this usually dissipates.

If, like me, this is your first time trying such a recipe in quite awhile, you will undoubtedly be surprised by how quickly the technique comes back to you. Prepare for singing a song about ducks, sweating while kicking a ball, cursing under your breath, followed by laughing behind your hand. Notice the reintroduction of car seats, colouring books, lego people, Barbie dolls, story books, and bubble wands. Your senses will become attuned again to the daily repetition, over and over again, of certain phrases. Such as the spicy, “She started it!” Or the often over-used, “ Are we there yet?” But also, the simply delicious, “I love you.”

Repeat.

 

 
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Blessings Bank

Posted by Cheryl on Jul 23, 2011 in Main Categories

“Work to create moments of joy.” That’s the advice I got last week from Art, while I was sitting in the kitchen of the hospice where my Dad is living out the last part of his journey. I was chatting a bit with Art, a palliative care-worker, and he started talking about the powerful, lasting effects that even a brief experience of real joy can have on a person’s overall sense of well-being. It was the day after my Dad’s 75th birthday; I was thanking them for all they’d done to make it a truly special occasion. For his birthday lunch, they’d prepared a favourite meal for Dad, and when he told them he’d really prefer to have lunch in his bedroom, they just made that happen. Wheeled in a table and set it all up for Dad and me and my brother, brought in beautiful china plates and patterned linen napkins. Set one golden flower from the garden in a crystal vase in the centre, and then they left us to privately eat and visit. But after lunch, they invaded the place! I knew only a couple of the staff that crowded into the tiny room – nine of them in all! Chocolate cake in hand, candles forming a circle around the blue icing wishing, “Happy Birthday, Ralph!”, and all of them smiling, singing loudly, looking straight into the face of my father, who they’d only met weeks before.

I couldn’t take my eyes off my Dad. He sat still and quiet on his bed, his eyes moving slowly from one to the other of these people who are complete strangers to him. Nine of them crowded into the bedroom he accepts as his own; he believes he’s in some sort of retirement home. He has a condition that has almost completely robbed him of his short term memory, so he simply does not, cannot, recognize people or environments unless he’s known them for a very long time. But in the unexpected celebration they were gifting him with, it didn’t seem to matter. His face relaxed, softened, and he took on a look which can only be described as joyful. Because he can recognize care and love, for sure. He got over the surprise and his eyes never left them, and when the singing and clapping stopped, he stared at them happily in complete silence for a few seconds more. And then he put his hand to his heart and slowly said, “I thank each and every one of you! I thank you very much, indeed.”

Art told me that there’s research showing that creating a moment of joy for a person whose mind is somehow locking out memory has the most amazing long-term benefits. Even though they are not able to remember the specific moment for any space of time, the feeling of joy, the sensation of happiness, continues long after the actual event. And therefore, for days or weeks after even a short but positive, heartfelt interaction, the mind and the body continue to experience positive energy. This also works for great memories that can be conjured up from the past. Just thinking about those really happy times floods our systems with long lasting goodness.

I’ve been reflecting on that ever since, and I realize how incredibly lucky I am that I can sit here today, back in my own home, and immediately conjure up exceptional moments of joy from my lifetime. First thing that jumps into my mind is sledding on an old wooden tobaggan, years ago with my kids on a winter night in the field in front of our Quebec country home; the only ones out playing in the cold, shrieking as we sailed down the hill and laughing together in the dark, falling off and getting tangled up in each other, covered in snow….. absolute JOY! And there are so many others. I’m going to make sure I keep filling up that bank of blessings. And, when the time comes that I am old and many days are a struggle, should I be confused and unsure of what’s real and true, someone please remind me of sledding with the children in the starlight.

 
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Family Ties

Posted by Cheryl on Jul 11, 2011 in Main Categories

My youngest son, store home for the summer from university on the east coast, see has been planning to take some time for travelling this summer before he hits the books again. He’s been talking about Rome or London. But then, cheap about a month ago, he instead booked a train ticket to journey across the country to spend time with his older brother and sister who both live on the west coast. He doesn’t get to see them much, being years younger and especially now that they’ve both settled thousands of kilometers away from where they all grew up. I was kind of surprised when be chose BC over Europe – but quietly pleased as punch that he felt that impulse to stay connected to his family.

Family is a big theme for me this summer. For one thing, both sides of my family will have reunions of sorts this summer and many will gather just to spend a bit of time together; time where we’ll reconnect and reminisce and rejuvenate by feeling definitely not alone on the journey. Even my sister will force her young children onto an airplane for the first time so that they can be introduced to this large web of family that they’ve never met! At their age, it will be not much more than bewildering, but their presence will be a treat for the rest of us – more threads on the web, and therefore a sense of strengthening our bonds. We will miss those who can’t be there. A few weeks ago my dear Great-Aunt Zita passed away; my Father’s Aunt and Godmother, and the very last relative from my grandparents’ generation to leave us. Her passing felt like the closing of a chapter and I was struck with nostalgia for those people and moments with them that I remember over the years; the stories they told, meals we shared, songs they loved, the challenges they met as they aged and inched towards the final stage of their lives – the insights they offered on life, sometimes on my life, but usually just on life and living, and in the end, on dying. I don’t mean to over romanticize these people or times – some moments were close to perfect and lots were laced with our own brand of dysfunction. What I’m saying is I wouldn’t have missed it or them. With one entire generation now gone from our earthly lives, it has jarred the passage of time into my consciousness, as well as slipped a sense of personal grounding more deeply into my heart.

And when I, myself, just weeks after Zita’s funeral, became a first time Great-Aunt, my brother’s daughter’s daughter, well the lesson was brought home even more. These relationships are reborn; I’m learning that there can be a great sense of comforting continuity to family. Meaning. Place. I can see, all the more as I get older, that I have a place on a path that stretches far ahead of my time and which will continue far after my time. There is a timelessness to the best that is held at the core of the word ‘family’; and it feels both loving and purposeful.

When my youngest, Sebastian made his decision to take a few weeks to camp out on the sofas of his brother and sister in Vancouver and Victoria, to witness their lives, and to share some of where he’s at in his, he explained it like this. He said “Mom, you know how you’ve told me that as I get older, family would become more and more important to me? Well, you might be right.”

I know I am.

 
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Calendar Calling

Posted by Cheryl on Jul 1, 2011 in Main Categories

“Anyone can tell how badly you really want something by what you’re doing to get it.” That line got thrown in my face today, physician July 1, view by a soup-stained, ask perpetual calendar that’s been hanging around my kitchen for the past twenty years. Shit! Called onto the carpet by a calendar! So, is it too late for New Year’s resolutions? At the halfway point in the year, I’m thinking it wouldn’t hurt to consider a sort of ‘act two’ version of personal goal setting for 2011. Because there’s one thing that I’ve always wanted to do, and that I talk about doing all the time, and that I dream about spending part of my life doing……..but which I hardly ever do at all. And that’s writing. I’m in love with words, with books, with poems, with writers. I want to write for fun, for understanding, for connection with others, for the hell of it JUST because I know it’s an important part of me that doesn’t get out to play very much! Why don’t I just write if I want to write? No idea. Okay, I have lots of ideas around why. Just last week, my friend Jane and I were walking early one morning, talking about why there are some important things in our life that we long to do but we just DON’T. (I’ve had this same conversation with many people over the years.) It’s easy to come up with reasons; the easiest, most relied upon, knee-jerk response is we don’t have any time. But that’s such a big cop out. So then we came up with three real reasons that hide under all our moaning about time; fear, ego, laziness. Afraid a part of our truest selves will be judged to be not good enough; protective of our middle-aged egos that have worked hard to be healthy and seen as successful; and then just plain, old laziness, as in, “ I could work on that big dream of mine………or I could lie on the couch and watch TV.” A sad truth. But here’s another true thing. For as long as I can remember, way back to me as a 9 or 10 year old girl, I have always loved to write; write poetry, write stories, write letters, write a column, write a book or three. And damn that stupid calendar , but today I feel inspired to just shut up and do it! Inspired by a new month, a glorious and free July 1, exactly half way through this year, calling me to make the most of the next seasons. Inspired by Jane, my friend, who walks beside me and talks and sighs and laughs with me about feeling afraid of failure….and also of success. And truly inspired by artists like my cousin Pirkko who creates a unique drawing every week and posts it on the web for all to see – she does it for herself, but through her art she sends a weekly message to us that creating is part of living – and sharing the creative side of our lives is so deeply human. I’ve tuning up by blog and will be posting regularly now that I’ve been crazy enough to write it here out loud. I’m doing it for myself – and to honour the painter, dancer, carver, actor, musician, chef, photographer, the ARTIST that lives in each of us. See you out there.

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