Those Moments where We Stop and Blink

Sometimes there are small quotes from books, another person’s gift of weaving images and metaphors in such a way that sums up exactly what is going on in the readers reality without clinically spelling it out.

One of the most poignant novels I’ve read is The Secret Scripture by Sabastian Barry. It’s the type of novel that must be read slowly, each paragraph sipped and held in your mouth until you really taste and appreciate the significance and intricacies of its style. The novel is filled with beautifully written paragraphs that cause the reader to stop and actually wonder how an author can so eloquently present a truth.

One such paragraph is:

“And the river itself, the Garrovoge, swelling up, the beautiful swans taken by surprise, riding the torrent, being swept down under the bridge and reappearing the other side like unsuccessful suicides, their mysterious eyes shocked and black, their mysterious grace unassailed” (page 125).

How often in life are we like these swans where we’re taken by surprise, and are uncontrollably swept under a bridge of sorts, tumbled and shocked and surprised to have actually made it to the other side? An event, or a circumstance in our life where, while in the midst, we wonder if we ever will make it through without crumbling and shattering to pieces?

But we do.

What I find to be the beauty of the paragraph is the image of the swan at the other side of the bridge. The harrowing tumultuousness of being sucked under, out of control and at the mercy of someone or something else, but yet making it through with an “unassailable” grace.

At the moment there are several people in my life who are being swept under bridges.

But in every case, EVERY case, each person I know will be like the swan and make it through to the other side. They may blink their eyes in surprise, but they will maintain a sense of grace through it all and be all the stronger.

Grace.IMG_3538

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Oh to be young again

I teach in a high school.
Where there is a lot of energy. And excitement. And enthusiasm.
You’d think that spending every work day with young people would make me feel young. And most days it does. But quite often being juxtaposed beside such exuberance reminds me

of how old I really am.

When you are young, you approach life with a sense of curiosity and optimism. You have that “shell-shocked”, “deer in a headlight” look

but it is more a look of innocence than one of terror.

When you are young, the idea that you may fail, or come in “second place” tickles around the periphery of you mind but

not enough to scare you into immobility or incapacitation.

No, you are excited at the prospect of learning and growing, and performing, and creating.

But

when you get old, it’s just easier to do what you’ve always done.

Because you know how to do it.

It’s safe. And you know that you will succeed

or that your skill is passable enough to escape criticism.

When you are young, you think you can do anything.

Having no frame of reference is scary. It’s like flying around not knowing

where it is safe to land.

But land you do, and listen to constructive criticism of coaches and teachers and adjudicators then go away

and practice and practice and practice so that next time you improve your odds.

And feel all the more confident when you do so.

I wish I had my the courage some of my students show.

I did once.

When I was young and trying to figure out what I was good at … and what I wasn’t good at. My fear of failure wasn’t incapacitating. Rather it fuelled my intention for being.

Encore: The Wrath of Chubby Chicken

When I was a kid I was chubby.

The kids in my class used to call me “Chubby Chicken”.

The words stung, but they didn’t scar

and I remember crying but not sobbing.

I would lie awake at night because the insult itched but I never allowed myself to scratch it raw…

because I knew the sadness would pass,

all I needed was patience.

I don’t really know where the patience came from. It could have been because I had a family I knew loved me unconditionally.

Maybe it was because I had a few loyal friends and therefore was not utterly alone.

It could be in part because I had stuff to do (chores and homework and piano practice) that kept me busy enough that the insults didn’t weigh on my mind every minute of every hour and only when I lay silent and still in my bed at night.

Was it because I had books and could escape into the lives of others- those characters that faced brutality leagues above my own hurt feelings (Jane Eyre, Ann Frank, the March sisters?) or witness those who caused undue pain on others to suffered the wrath of an unassuming hero, (Hercule Poirot)?

I think it was because I realized that

those spewing their hurtful opinion were people of no significance so their opinion amounted to

nothing but the hot air they used to move the words from their lips.

Indifference was the best revenge.

It pains me to see kids at the school I teach hide behind their hair, or under their hat, and skulk away in fear of being teased.

And I wish they would believe me when I tell them

this too will pass

and that puberty can be purgatory. But it will pass.

It will pass.

And that most of the time the words of others don’t have to be sharp as stings, but rather as unsubstantial as hot air.

To Dance on Canada Day

Today I wanted to dance to “Oh Canada”

But I didn’t,

thinking it would be disrespectful.

So I kept the urge quiet.

Its tune made me happy

Maybe it was because I was exhausted and I found the tune soothing.

Maybe because I was happy it was summer

And any melodious trembling made me want to sway and swirl

But I think it is because I am proud to live where I do

and grateful for what others have done

facing death for an ideal

Just so I could be free to stand

At attention and listen

And dance in my imagination

To the swells of that proud melody

My Dad

In honour of Father’s Day I thought I’d share some little things my father used to do that made my sisters and I feel loved:

1. He would sharpen our pencil crayons with his jack-knife.

2. When my sisters and I would come home off the school bus he’d leave us a little note on the counter telling us where he was working on the farm. He’d always include a little stick drawing of himself and the cat.

3. Every morning he’d wake us up for school and keep us company while we ate breakfast. He’d be the one to dollop porridge in our bowls.

4. He’d find where the mother cat had her kittens, or where the dog had her puppies and would crawl in prickly, cramped, claustrophobic places to pluck out the babies so we could hold them…even it if was only for a minute or two.

5. He’d make Cheez Whiz toast for us when we were sick, and cut the bread into four equal quarters.

6. He’d shovel off the dugout in the bush so we would have our own little skating rink.

7. He’d make sure the night-light was always lit.

8. Every morning during the school year he’d watch us toddle out to the end of the driveway and cross the road . He’d then patiently wait until we all safely got on the school bus.

9. He would be more gentle than my mother when taking out splinters.

10. He would discover baby mice or partridge eggs or newly hatched ducklings and would always find the time to share his discoveries with us.

Oh he did all the grandiose fatherly things too like put food on the table, teach us to drive and help pay for our education…

but it’s the little things that stick closest to the heart.

Reposting “Lessons my Mother Taught Me”

In honour of Mother’s Day, here are some of the many, many lessons I’ve learned from my beautiful mother:

1.Try to look your best when you go out in public. Now grant it I don’t follow through with this one ALL of the time especially Saturday mornings after a long week at work when sweat pants, a t-shirt and a ponytail suffice. Washing the crud out of my eyes and the application of deodorant are dependent upon the amount of caffeine consumed that morning. As kids, mom used to curl our hair with hard plastic yellow curlers, wrap our head in a babushka Saturday night so that we’d have curls in time for church Sunday morning. My sisters and I celebrated the day the curling iron came to town because we no longer had to sleep in the Babushka Of Hell. My mom ALWAYS looks the lady in public. Fixing her hair . Wearing earrings. Filing her nails. I wish to be as graceful and classy when I reach her age.

2.When someone breaks your heart, take the time to pamper yourself in order to remind yourself that you’re pretty darn special even if you feel like a rejected loser. When I was in my early twenties the boy I was dating for four years and I broke up. I was living in Edmonton taking a summer school course. I was away from family and friends and I was simply and profoundly sad (insert mournful violin music here). My mom came to Edmonton just to spend time with me. She took me out for supper and bought me a pretty sweater. I still remember what that sweater looked like. It was dark plum in colour and had a beige lace collar. I remember that sweater because to me it symbolized that someone cared and that I was special and loved even though I really REALLY didn’t feel like it at the time.

3.Reading is as important as breathing. When I was a little kid our home possessed a little library. Before she was married, my mom was a part of a book of the month club and had acquired quite a little collection of classics. Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Jamaica Inn just to name a few. Then, while we were growing up, she bought other classics like Little Women, Huckleberry Finn, Treasure Island. I owe my love of literature to my mother. Throughout my life, reading has been a saving grace helping me through times of sorrow and stress and loneliness. It’s also served as a bridge for friendships and a bond with family.

4.You must always maintain a relationship with your sisters no matter how annoying you might find them. The ties with siblings are often the only ones that survive an entire lifetime. My mom has proven this. Throughout the years (about fifty!) her and her brothers and sister have always stayed in touch. Phoning on birthdays, meeting at weddings, and sadly now, meeting at funerals. As the years go by I notice the heartache and loss my mom feels as she loses her siblings in their passing. The people you share a history with, the people who have seen you throughout EVERY stage of your life hold an emotional power that no words can describe. Now, of course I love my sisters, but what’s really notable is that I’m at a time in my life where I really quite like them a lot as well! But there is no doubting that there were times growing up that I wanted to stuff both of them in the laundry hamper and shift them off to the dump.

5.You don’t need band-aids for every scrape you receive. In the literal sense my mom was pretty stingy with the Band-Aids. As a kid I longed to wear a Band-Aid because I thought wearing one was like wearing a badge of honour. Wow, you must have REALLY hurt yourself if your wound warranted one. Sometimes I’d pick the scabs off my mosquito bites so that I could get one. But Mom would just apply the rubbing alcohol and tell me to “let the air get at it” so that it could heal properly. In the figurative sense this taught me that not every emotional bruise I was going to receive was going to be the end all and the be all. That I couldn’t really experience happiness unless I experienced sadness. That I couldn’t recognize joy unless I witnessed pain.

6.A love for learning. When my sisters and I took piano lessons, my mom learned how to play even if it was just a little bit. She even braved a quartet with us for one of our recitals. When I was in high school, I remember watching my mom study for her Early Childhood certificate. Spending evenings at the dining room table writing papers and working on projects. I also remember my mom buying “how to teach yourself how to type” books along with a typewriter. Over the last few years my mom has learned how to quilt. I consider her a master quilter even though I’m sure she begs to differ. I see her finding joy and excitement in learning new things and more importantly creating beautiful kaleidoscopic manifestations of this learning and sharing them with others.

7.You can do it on your own. My mom, during a time in history when it wasn’t all that easy for women to be independent, trained to be a teacher, got jobs, paid her bills and bought a car pretty much on her own. She didn’t NEED anyone to make it on her own in the world and she instilled this confidence in her daughters. A gift for which I will always be grateful.

8.True love is unconditional and constant. Life is filled with inconsistencies and crapshoots. But one of the few things I’ve always been absolutely indubitably sure of is the fact that my mother loves me. I don’t have to see it in her actions, I don’t have to even hear it in her words. All I have to do is be in her presence and I can feel the profound love she has for me. And this has been the most valuable lesson of all.

Happy, happy Mother’s Day to all you moms out there!

Those Moments where we Stop and Blink

Sometimes there are small quotes from books, another person’s gift of weaving images and metaphors in such a way that sums up exactly what is going on in the readers reality without clinically spelling it out.

One of the most poignant novels I’ve read is The Secret Scripture by Sabastian Barry. It’s the type of novel that must be read slowly, each paragraph sipped and held in your mouth until you really taste and appreciate the significance and intricacies of its style. The novel is filled with beautifully written paragraphs that cause the reader to stop and actually wonder how an author can so eloquently present a truth.

One such paragraph is:

“And the river itself, the Garrovoge, swelling up, the beautiful swans taken by surprise, riding the torrent, being swept down under the bridge and reappearing the other side like unsuccessful suicides, their mysterious eyes shocked and black, their mysterious grace unassailed” (page 125).

How often in life are we like these swans where we’re taken by surprise, and are uncontrollably swept under a bridge of sorts, tumbled and shocked and surprised to have actually made it to the other side? An event, or a circumstance in our life where, while in the midst, we wonder if we ever will make it through without crumbling and shattering to pieces?

But we do.

What I find to be the beauty of the paragraph is the image of the swan at the other side of the bridge. The harrowing tumultuousness of being sucked under, out of control and at the mercy of someone or something else, but yet making it through with an “unassailable” grace.

At the moment there are several people in my life who are being swept under bridges.

But in every case, EVERY case, each person I know will be like the swan and make it through to the other side. They may blink their eyes in surprise, but they will maintain a sense of grace through it all and be all the stronger.

Grace.

Car Wash Conundrums

I washed my RAV the other day. It’s the first longish spell of springtime weather and I’ve got the windows opened, the condo is clean the vehicle…the RAV WAS clean.

I KNEW it was going to happen.

That little niggling voice at the back of my brain kept warning me “don’t do it. It’s puddley out. The forecast calls for more snow. Water is running down the streets”. All the evidence pointed towards a shiny vehicle short-lived. Mother Nature was shouting “DON”T DO IT! IT”S NOT TIME!” But did I listen?

No.

I wanted shine and sparkle to go along with the opened sunroof. Instead I got dirt grime and muddied windows.

I spent the time and energy (and $11.95 I’ll have you know) on something that only lasted two days.

And as I came to this understanding I realized that quite often this type of thing happens in life.

Remember when you were in high school and you liked a certain boy. So you make sure you’re in his line of vision in class or at a game. You buy a new shirt that you just happen to know is his favorite colour. Day after day you wake up two hours earlier so you can curl your hair (or I guess the girls nowadays are straightening theirs) and look as pretty as can be and…

…. back to the car wash you go, because he asked out ANOTHER girl.

As a teacher, you spend time and time and time preparing a lesson on, oh, let’s say, how to write a thematic statement. You practice in class. You coach and encourage and create opportunities for learning and then an exam comes along and…

…back to the carwash you go to revamp the lesson.

Or you decide to be domestic and bake a batch of banana bread. You let the bananas get to the optimum ripeness required for baking. You buy the ingredients. Carefully follow the recipe. Make batter large enough so every member of your family and the entire floor of your condo (hey, you have moments of neighborliness) can have a loaf. Then you pull the pans out of the oven and realize you forgot to put in baking soda so you now have copious amounts of what looks like banana biscuits instead of banana loaf so…

…back to the carwash you go, this time just to dispose of the catastrophe and eat handfuls of leftover chocolate chips.

So, I figure if life is filled with returns to the carwash, you might as well go through the really BIG puddles and make it worth your while.

Valentines Day: A day of Bacteria, Calamity and Vexation

Ahhhh…

February 14.

A time when every store display is cinnamon heart red and a Pepto Bismol pink.

Jittery line-ups at flower shops and jewelry stores.

A time when school children get their parents to buy kits of cards or crates of craft paper, enough for ALL the kids in the class. When I was little, we’d spend an art class making “mailboxes” for our Valentines. Each child would bring to school an empty cereal or tissue box to decorate with paper and stickers and glitter and bows. I once made mine with little “barn” doors. At the end of the day we’d all traipse up and down the aisles of desks, playing mailman with our bundle of cards and dropping them in the appropriate boxes.

The number of Valentines you recieved was VERY important. It didn’t matter who they were from, just as long as you had more than the snotty pretty girl who sat at the front of the class in her new red velvet dress and black patent leather shoes.

I can’t ever remember LOVING Valentines Day. Sure, I’ve received roses and cards and chocolate and jewelry. Once a beau of mine even presented me with seat covers for my truck (yeah… no points, not even for originality, for that one.) All these gifts seemed “romantic” at the time but looking back they were just candy floss sugary sweet and dissolved just as quickly.

Which brings me to the legend of St. Valentine. There are a couple of stories about the guy. My favorite is the one where he, in defiance of Emperor Claudius II, married Christian couples in secret. Valentine was a shit disturber! He was a fellow who decided to go against the edict of the emperor (a tyrant from what I’ve read). He recognized an injustice that stood in the way of goodness and decided to something about it.

Heroic, not self-serving.

St. Valentine. The patron Saint of love. But, ironically, he is also the patron saint of the plague. Dictionary.com’s definitions of plague are:

1. an epidemic disease that causes high mortality; pestilence.

2. an infectious, epidemic disease caused by a bacterium, Yersinia pestis, characterized by fever, chills, and prostration.

3. any widespread affliction, calamity

4. any cause of trouble, annoyance, or vexation.

Now thiiiiiink about this. Think honestly. Think carefully at your history with romantic love. Kinda fits some portions of these definitions doesn’t it? Especially in high school. Or University. Or well into adulthood for some of us. Funnily enough I was browsing through some ancient artifacts stored in my trunk. Journals from college and university that are filled with all sorts of insecure angst about boyfrienda nd I was reminded that many a time I flung myself prostrate on my bed wishing and wanting and wondering about a certain boy. AND many a time calamity, trouble, annoyance and most certainly vexation followed.

Since then, however, I haven’t been much of a romantic. I don’t think I’ve become hardened or stoic, I just think I’ve become a bit more introspective and sensible. (Well I should hope so at my age!)

Now I think the most romantic notion is…

consistency over time.

Not words.

Not purchases.

Not public proclamations on social networking sites.

But actions and decisiveness and dependability…

…oh, and undying devotion and adoration doesn’t hurt either! : )