Sunday, August 21, 2016

The Gospel According to Gord

Last night,  along with the rest of Canada, I experienced The Tragically Hip play their last show.  Even though I was one of the lucky ones to get tickets to see them play live in Winnipeg a few weeks ago, I knew I had to be a part of the last show as part of the wider community of people who loved them.

Mike and I brought our girls with us to watch the show.  It wasn't a tough sell.  The girls have grown up listening to The Hip.  No road trip for our family was ever complete without The Tragically Hip joining us on our soundtrack.  But for me, it wasn't just about the music.  It was about them experiencing a piece of Canadian history that will always be remembered, and having them deposit their own memories into their vaults of "Where were you when The Hip played their last show?"  It was about them being swallowed up into a crowd of people who knew this was more than a show.  It was about them touching the emotional experience you get when you say goodbye to someone you love, and being part of something so much bigger than yourself.  And so, there they sat with us

It was an unforgettable night, that's true.  Though obviously weary and worn, Gord brought it all to the stage in Kingston last night and offered it up to the people.  I've always been intrigued by fans of the band.  Going to their live shows, you'll see a little bit of  everything and everyone.  Maybe that's a part of what's made them so Canadian.  Last night at the Lyric, the crowd was no different.  A cross-section of Canada where you have a place.  Trades people and academics, high school drop-outs and historians, and everyone in between.  There was a Hip song that everyone could relate to; everyone could claim as their own.

There were moments for me, last night, when time stood still for a moment.  One image I'll never forget is Gord kissing his friends and band-mates on the mouth with tender affection.  This is how he started the show backstage, and how he ended the show on stage.  These are more than his friends, they have been his journey mates and spiritual pilgrims through 30 years of life and music.  But in an age where men are still working their way out of social norms that have painted them into too-small boxes of expectations, to see Gord hold his friend's faces in his hands and kiss them said, "Don't be afraid.   Live what you feel.  Make sure people know.  Love deeply, openly, and exuberantly.  Do what needs to be done.  To hell with what people think."

The most heartbreaking and compelling song for me was Grace, Too.  Gord taught us all something about living, grieving, and dying all in a 4 minute song.  Near the end, supported by his friends as they played, Gord screamed again and again, without restraint.  The tears poured down his cheeks.  He lived in that moment.  What he must have been feeling could only be communicated with  screams that came from his depths.  He didn't control it, didn't save it for later, didn't cover his face with his hands, or choose to withdraw from the pit of his pain.  His tears flowed unabashedly for the entire country to see. What a message he lived, our rock-star, crying and feeling openly with no shame.  I will never forget it.

In all the interviews and commentary I've seen of Gord, one thing that is always paramount is his humility.  Last night this was so present, but it went even deeper than that.  There he stood, with the mic in his hand, saying what he wanted to convey to the entire country.  He could have talked about his career, his life, his memories, his disease, his fame.  Instead, he talked about "the least of these"- the Indigenous people of Canada who have had everything taken away, yet continue to remind us of their resilience and their fortitude.  When Gord talked about Canadians being trained our whole lives to forget and dismiss the Indigenous community I got goosebumps.   How many spend their last season on earth using their time to remember and respond to someone or something else?  This left an indelible mark on me.

Thank you Gord.  It's been a pleasure doing business with you.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

What Together Looks LIke

They've been together for 69 years.
Lived a lifetime and raised some kids.
Now those kids have kids and those kids have kids, and on and on their story will go.
It's been a long and full story -
Young love, jobs, moves, children, dreams, adventures...
Until it's finally just the two of them again.

It's been just the two of them for awhile now.
They slowed their stride and knew the best years had already come and gone.

She only leaves him, now, when there is someone else with him.
He's prone to wander, and she feels the fear in places only she knows.
She lays out his clothes and helps him with the hard parts -
The buttons and the zippers.
The parts that need to be held together for fear of falling apart.
As she bustles around their apartment he follows on her heels.
Just wants to be close, just wants to stay connected.
So does she.
But it's hard sometimes, to always have someone underfoot.
To never be able to just "get it done".
After all those years of needing him to keep them afloat, now she's the one he clings onto.

In the afternoon he needs his rest.
She needs a break - some space -
Only he won't lie down in their bed unless she lies down beside him.
Once her head is on her pillow, and her body beside his, his breath slows and his eyes close.
He is safe now, he has all he needs.

Walking down the hallway, he won't use a walker, or a cane, or even the railing.
He holds her hand fast and tight, leaning in just a little.
"It's the way we've always walked together", he says.
"I just need to hold onto you".

Sometimes she wants to run away- loosen the grip and find space and time.
But she loves him.
Whether he remembers what happened yesterday or five minutes ago - this much she knows.
She holds out her hand, and he holds on for dear life.

This is what together looks like.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

223 Names Not Forgotten

Each year, at Christmas, our family dedicates a small tree in our dining room to a cause or an issue that we want to learn more about, remind others not to forget, or both.  It's never very hard to come up with the issue for the tree.  There is enough tragedy and injustice in this world to fill every tree in every corner.  This year, I knew the tree had to be about missing girls...

On April 14,  2014, 276  girls were abducted from their school in Nigeria by Boko Haram, an Islamist Terrorist group.  Amazingly, 53 managed to escape.  Christmas day marked 255 days since they were taken.

At the beginning, this story was in the news.  You heard details.  People talked about it and posted stories about it.  Not anymore.  It's almost as though the world has gone silent.

On Mother's Day, the five of us went to the Manitoba Legislature for the rally organized by the Nigerian Community in Winnipeg.  There was singing and dancing and impassioned pleas for the safe return of the girls.  I felt honored to be there - to stand side to side with those from the Nigerian community who spoke and pleaded for the girls to be found and returned.  There was a long line-up of local politicians waiting for their 5 minutes at the microphone at that rally, and it disturbed me.  It was opportunistic and self-serving.  I haven't heard from any of them since.

As the five of us talked about the missing girls and society's collective failure in not keeping their story alive, we talked about why the world might have gone silent about it.  I asked my own three girls why they thought the media and the governments of the world don't seem to care.  We came up with a few different guesses...

        Those who are missing are black and are female.
         If 223 white boys were taken from their school, would we be silent?  I have a hard time believing that if the same story happened at a private boy's school in the UK or North America the media would forget about it.

        The girls are citizens of an African nation which has little of value to offer the West.
        If the West had something to gain or a vested interest in the resources or political climate of the    country they were taken from, would the story have played out differently?

        It's old news.  It happened so long ago, people just don't care.  
If people don't care, media outlents aren't going to report it.  I wonder about the flipside of this - would we still care if the media hadn't stopped?

      Those were our explanations.   You may want to share some of your own.  In the end, it all felt hopeless and overwhelming as we read through the list of 223 names and thought where they likely ended up.

Yesterday morning I read a news report of another massacre by Boko Haram in Nigeria and it sickened me.  No one was talking about it or posting about it.  The world was mostly silent over the slaughter.  Although I agree that loss of life anywhere under violent means is a terrible tragedy, I wondered why the world continues to talk about the 12 dead in Paris and cease to mention the 223 girls missing in Nigeria.  The questions haunted me all day and I couldn't let them go.

In all honesty, I don't think those girls are ever coming home.  The anthem of the tragedy, "Bring Back Our Girls" has a bit of a hollow ring for me now.  But even though those girls are lost, we cannot let them be forgotten.  I don't want to forget.  I don't want you to either.   How can I not hold space with the mothers and fathers whose daughters may never return?

In some of my reading yesterday, I came across a story which wouldn't let me go.  In the time since the girls were abducted, 11 of the parents have died; some of high blood pressure, heart attacks and similar ailments.  Others must have simply died of broken hearts.  The story specifically spoke of one father who, as he lay dying, spoke his daughter's name over and over and over again, even as he took his last breath.

Then I thought of the power and importance of names.  That father chose a name for his daughter at her birth.  It was gifted to her, attached to her, and she was known by it.  I started to wonder what we may have lost by always referring to the missing as "The Nigerian school girls".  After all, there are 223 individual girls with names, families, and stories.  They are not just school girls.  They are each their own, and they deserved to be thought of that way.

And so, I started writing.  I began to write the names of each of the girls who are still missing, each on her own small white square.  I wrote their names deliberately.  I said them each out loud as my script followed along.  I paused to think of the individuality and beauty of each name and the person it reprsented.  At the end, I was overwhelmed by the enormity of the stack of names I was left with.

I had a vision of stringing the names up for a visual symbol of who has not returned home.  As I punched holes, and began pulling yarn through each one, the names went around my entire living and dining room.  

These names.  These girls.  Who is remembering them?
If we don't, who will?


Friday, October 24, 2014

Always Learning

I've been at my new job for nearly two months now.  It came after a traumatic end to my last job, followed by a few months of recovery, and a few months of searching for something new.  I had almost given up when this one came around.  I was tired, frustrated, and beginning to doubt my skill-set and my abilities.  I always pictured myself working with children, teens, or young people.  And now I go to work and sit across from people with grey and white hair who are older than my parents.  I love how life ends up being what you don't expect and how those surprises are often what give you the most joy and satisfaction.

I'm working at a non-profit independent living seniors residence.  My official job title is "Resident Care Coordinator", but in actuality I'm a family counsellor.  I get to spend my days with clients who have a myriad of issues and struggles - most of who just want someone to talk to.  I get to work with clients in their 60's, all the way up to their late 90's.  I get to problem-solve and work together with their families, and consult and case-manage with health care professionals.   My clients all have sharp cognition, most are busy, active, and living really full lives.  Some are on the cusp of a move to more supportive housing and need extra support to get to the next step.  I see it all, and I'm always learning.

In just the past two months....

I've learned that sometimes what people come to talk to you about has nothing to do with what they really want to talk to you about.  You can have three sessions about doctor's appointments and the hum-drum of life and then ask the right question and know you've hit gold.  Regrets, disappointments, and shame will rise to the surface and then the work begins.

I've learned that it's never too late to begin.  You can be in your late 80's and know the time is right to do personal work to make your life better or easier, or make your load lighter.

I've learned that shame is so prevalent.

I've learned that you can keep secrets for a very long time.  I've sat with clients who tell me things they've never spoken out loud in over 70 years.  There are times I sit feeling like I'm sitting on the most sacred ground as things are uncovered, spoken, and brought to light.  Sometimes it's like I can see the heavy burden lifting.

I've learned that older people are just like you and me.

I've learned that you can pretend your whole life, but it will all catch up with you eventually.

I've learned to sometimes speak really really loudly and enunciate my words very very clearly.  I've also learned that there are times when my voice needs to be soft and soothing, just above a whisper.

I've learned that 95 year olds still like to read romantic fiction and that if you drive a scooter and get a flat tire, CAA will come to the rescue.

I've learned to not expect certain ideas, opinions or lines of thinking from people just because they're old.  Age means nothing.

I've learned that in some ways, age means everything... especially when you think your memory is failing, or judgement is going, and you're scared you're losing yourself.

I've learned that you're never too old to fall in love.

I've learned to trust myself and go with my hunches.

I've learned to remind people that it's OK to need someone to help, especially when those people have lived their entire lives proving to everyone that they are self-sufficient and don't need anyone.

I've learned that you can be young in age but very very old in disposition, or old in age and as youthful as they come.

I've learned that people usually reap what they sow.  If you're alone and isolated, there is almost always a reason.

I've learned to value stories more than I did before.

I've learned that I love working with seniors.
I am reminded every single day at work that my job is a gift and the conversations I have are sacred.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Personal is Political

Tomorrow marks the end of an era for my family.  It's the first time in 32 years that my dad's name has not been on a ballot for the municipal election in the community I'm from.

32 years isn't just a season, or a good run.  It truly is an era.

When I was 8 years old my dad took his first stab at local politics, putting his hat in the race to become a school board trustee.   It's interesting to me that he was younger then, than I am now, when he got his start.  He won his position handily that year and continued to sit as a member of the Garden Valley School Division Board of Trustees for 10 years.  Looking back, I love the poetic irony of it all.  Here was a man who hadn't graduated from high school himself sitting in a seat working to make the decision and policies for the schools in the community he loved.  No one that voted for him cared that he had never graduated.  They cared that he said what he believed and he didn't waiver.  He cared about the school system because it represented the future of his town, and it was educating his own two kids.  10 years later his youngest child had graduated from high school and it was time to move on a new battle.

22 years ago my dad continued his political adventure and ran for what was then the position of town counsellor for what is now the city of Winkler.   His connections, friendships, and passion won him that election, and every one since.  In every way and in every opportunity he made his mark on council.    My dad's never been known as someone to sit idly by when something is happening that he doesn't agree with or believe in.  If he's passionate about something, you'll know about it.  If he thinks something is happening that is underhanded or not in the best interest of the community, you'll know about that too.  If he disagrees with you, you'll most definitely know about it.  He made his positions crystal clear during his time on council, sometimes offending, usually challenging, often stirring-the-pot, but always promoting the community he loves.

My dad has never backed down from a battle or a fight he believes in, even if it wasn't the  politically astute thing to do.  He has championed the underdog and the forgotten, never agreeing to something just for political gain.   His mantra has always been that "I'm not a politician".  He's fashioned himself as a blue-collar, "every man's man" who remembers the ones that many have forgotten about.  He's taken his lumps in the media and on the street, but he's never stepped back when his integrity is on the line.

I get my passion for politics and my willingness to engage in battle from my dad.  It's not an easy row to hoe, but if it's how you're built, you can't help yourself.   Much to his chagrin, my political stripes are vastly different than his in many ways.  We disagree on many issues on many fronts... religion, politics, world events, ideology, just to name a few.  We can spar and verbally banter until the heat is on, and our tempers are flaring.  And then we agree to disagree, shake hands, and wait for our next chance to do do battle.  He taught me well.

This past year I was engaged in a situation where my integrity and beliefs resulted in me loosing a job I really cared about.  I knew that lots of people would question my decisions, my motives, and my actions,  but I never wondered if my dad would support me.  I knew he would, because standing up for what he has believed in is how he's done politics his whole life.   It's how he started, and tonight - after 32 years in municipal politics,  it's how he's ending.

Well done, dad.  You did your community, and yourself, proud.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Home is Wherever You (and They) Are

Something funny happens when your kids grow up.  They grow bigger.  And they also have more stuff.  In the past year our house has felt like the walls have been closing in on us a bit.  Our house is relatively small for a family of 5 by typical North American standards.  It's a 1065 square foot bungalow with no garage.  When we  bought it 13 1/2 years ago it felt really big to us.  We only had wee Hannah and there were a few rooms to fill.  Now we fill them up and are usually overflowing.

It was the "overflowing" part (as well as the lack of garage) that prompted us to start looking for a different house last Spring.  We had really specific parameters, as well as a really specific geographic location that we'd consider.  This was a move that was supposed to make our lives simpler and less cluttered with more room to breathe and less ice to chip off of the windshield.  We said we wouldn't move unless it was the "perfect house in the perfect location" (something that probably doesn't really exist), because there was too much good about where we were.

We've spent the past several months weeding through listings and seeing houses.  I'd say we've seen about 15 houses in since April, with the last one, for the second time just this afternoon.  Until this afternoon we were pretty sure we would be putting in an offer on this one.  Some things seemed perfect.  It had 4 bedrooms upstairs, it had lots of room in the living room, dining room, and family room for people.  We knew just how we'd gut the kitchen and start it all over again, and the yard and gazebo were beautiful.  The extra-wide double garage was big enough for our vehicles and our bikes.  It wasn't in the area we really wanted to live in, but we thought we could over-look that to get the other stuff.

We took the girls, and Mike's long-suffering kitchen-designing sister Corina, to see it yesterday.  We spent an hour pouring through the house, taking some measurements, imagining where we'd put things and who would get which room.   We came home and made lists and crunched numbers and anticipated what different repairs and upgrades would cost us.   Although there were things about the house the girls liked, they made it very clear to us that they really didn't want to move.  We've heard this loop on repeat since last Spring.  Anytime a move seems closer or a house seems better, their refrain gets louder.  They don't care if their bedrooms are minuscule or if they almost tumble down the basement stairs when there is more than one person getting their shoes on at the same time, they tell us. They like where we are and they don't want to leave.  We spent some time yesterday reassuring them that we will always try our very best to make decisions for our family that are for the best for everyone, and if we went ahead and bought this house, they would have to trust us to know it was a good decision for all of us.

Then this afternoon Mike and I went back alone to the Open House to take one last look.  We went expecting to be more convinced than ever that it was perfect.  Only when we got there, that wasn't the feeling we got.  We noticed the work that would need to be done, and not the space.  Our eyes found the cracks and the curling shingles instead of place our couch would go.  But it wasn't just that.  It was the packing and the planning, and the fixing things here to get ready to sell this house.  It was the boxes and the expense, the tightened budget, the inability to take big family vacations and sign our kids up for extra saxophone lessons if they want them.  As that mountain of things accumulated, all of the good things about the house got smaller and smaller.  By the time we got into our car, we both agreed that we don't have it in us right now and that sometimes, maybe our girls are smarter than we are.

Somehow we always think bigger is better, and sometimes it really is.  There is nothing wrong with bigger.  But there is something good and satisfying about keeping things simple and manageable and consistent.  (Remind me that I said this when I'm chipping a few inches of ice off the van in January when we're already late for school.)  For now, our girls crave familiarity.  They don't care if their room is tiny, or if we have to leave the house in shifts.  They aren't unsatisfied.  They need memories and holidays and things to remember and laugh about.  We'd have those in the new house too, but they would likely be interspersed with more talk about budgets and dread of anything breaking down or falling apart.

For now, this is where we're staying.  It's small and squishy, but we're all together.  We have places to visit and things to do.  We have neighbors we love and friend's houses that we can bike to.  We have people to car-pool with, and relieved kids.  For now, that's all we need.  In a year it might look different.  But for now, this is enough.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Forty Things

I'm forty today.  Interestingly, it's a day I've been looking forward to.   My twenties weren't great.  My thirties had some rough patches, but they were better.  If the pattern holds, I know that the forties will be even sweeter.  In honor of my forty years, here are forty random thoughts about life as I know it, who I am now, how I've changed, and other somewhat useless drivel.

1.  I got asked in my MFT class last night which of the roles that I play I am most proud of.  I didn't have to hesitate for a second.  Being a mom.  No question.  It's been the hardest job in the world, but the one that makes me most grateful.  I'm not great at it.  I mess up a lot.  I make people cry sometimes.  But I know that they know I love them.  I'm also pretty good at saying "I'm sorry".    If you can do those two things, you're probably doing OK.

2.  I'm more content with mess than I've ever been.  Some people might think that's not a good thing!

3.  I'm getting better at saying "no" without explanation.

4.  I swear like a sailor.  I'm not proud of it, but neither am I ashamed of it.  It's just more of me I've come to say "yes" to.

5.  I will never belong to a church or organization that values me less than others because I am female.

6.  I like staying home a lot.  I used to want to spend my evenings and weekends out and about.  Now I just want to be home.

7.  When I turned 30 I was pregnant with Sasha.  I'm glad I'm not pregnant with anyone today.  I like our trio just the way it is.

8.  I've grown comfortable with having a raw and  disheveled appearance in public.  Make up is often over-rated.  I don't necessarily want to run into everyone I know while raw and disheveled and out in public, but I'll happily pick up my kids at school.

9.  I wasn't remotely sporty as a kid, but I love watching my girls play sports.  I stand up and scream and yell and may even be considered obnoxious at times.  I didn't see that coming.

10.  Don't expect what's not realistic.  Half of the hard days in my life are because I didn't follow this mantra.

11.  I fall asleep almost the second my head hits the pillow at night.  There is almost nothing I love more than a glorious nap in the middle of the day.  Sleep is beautiful.  There have been times in my life I've used sleep as a way to cope or escape.  I still fall back into that sometimes.

12.  I didn't think I'd be forty and part of an Anglican church.

13.  A few years ago I never thought I'd be part of any church again.

14.  I am most relaxed and at peace when no one has expectations of me.

15.  I know I've mentioned this a million times, but my life's favorite book is Anne Lamott's Travelling Mercies.  I go back to it all the time.  That book kept me afloat when little else could have.

16.  I wouldn't go back to my twenties for a million dollars.  I finally have a lot of compassion for my twenty year old self.

17.  My two favorite gelato flavours are pistachio and coconut.  Having them together is a match made in heaven.

18.  Getting rid of things energizes me.  When I fill a bag up to donate and can lift it out of my car, I feel 20 pounds lighter.

19.  I miss living in Vancouver.  I miss our friends.  I miss the abundance of spectacular beauty.  I miss the simple life we were able to lead.  I don't get to talk to those friends often, but I hold them so close.

20.  My closest friends from elementary and high school are still close to me.  I think this is a great and miraculous treasure.  In fact, to celebrate our fortieth birthdays,  I'm meeting 3 of them in Las Vegas for a wild weekend in October.  I've been dreaming of this trip for years and I could care less where we're going, as long as we're together.

21.  I still don't really feel like an adult.  I waste a lot of time on frivolous things and don't often keep up with the "work" real adults do.

22.  One of my favorite things to do in the morning is go into Sasha and Ellie's bedroom to wake them up.  I always go in ten minutes before the have to get up for the day and I crawl under the covers with Sasha on the bottom bunk.  I snuggle right into her and breath in the smell of her neck and savour the warmth and slow breaths of her body.

23.  I  secretly wish just one of the Dugger children would rebel.

24.  Does number 23 "out me" as someone who occasionally watches "19 Kids and Counting"?  Damn.

25.  I see the sacred all around me in ways I never used to.

26.  I'm glad I married someone who cries during episodes of Little House on the Prairie and Derek.

27.  I say weekly that if Mike ever dies while our girls are still in school, they're screwed.  I can't even help Ellie with grade 6 Math.

28.  The older I get, the less time and tolerance I have for people who aren't interested in anything but their own stories.

29.  There are very few people who know me well enough,  to stop my  unending questions and make me talk about me.  There are then even fewer people who I trust enough to tell the gritty parts of my story.

30.  I like lemon more than chocolate.

31.  I can't believe some of our friend's kids are grown ups.

32.  I hope our girls chase their dreams instead of being hung up on what's practical.

33.  I hope I have the sense to help them do that.

34.  I will never be an e-book reader.  I love holding real books in my hands.  I think books are a little bit like trophies.  Part of what I like about going to other people's houses is seeing the type of books they have out and about in their home.  It tells me a lot about them.  I'm probably definitely a bit of a book snob.

35.  I spent my 40th birthday evening with my family doing  what we always do, and what I love best... eating pizza and watching a movie.  I love tradition.

36.  Mike should be grateful I'm so low-maintenance.

37.  I think forty sounds a lot younger than it did when I was a kid.

38.  I'm getting better at being mindful and compartmentalizing what I'm feeling.

39.  I base my prayers on Anne Lamott's book Help, Thanks, Wow.  Really, what more is there to say?

40.  I'd really like a "pause" button, because this is a pretty sweet spot in life.