Cherry Picking: A Story of Community

Sitting in a business meeting, first one back from a summer pause,

enormous heavy rectangle of wood makes circle conversation a challenge.

As is our practice, my partner invites a check-in,

“Share an experience of community.”

Talking piece chosen.  Stories begin.

 

Hearing five thousand international drummers and pipers play on the field in Glasgow.

Having her picture taken dozens of times on the Great Wall by scores of Chinese students, and loving it – this photo shy, tall and fair haired woman.

Witnessing her neighbor’s family bring an experience of “Canadian cabin county”  to the recently settled Syrian family.

Celebrating every summer weekend festival our Festival City has on offer.

 

Mine, a simple tale – embellished here – of walking in my neighborhood and the moment of community that unfolded. 

Usually accompanied by our Annie dog, these past weeks I’ve gone solo as she’s been at dog camp, running to her heart’s content over the prairies.  Depending on our route, I can pass by a bungalow with a beautiful cherry tree in the front yard.

Spring time, my attention is caught by its bursting white blossoms, their soft fragrance adding to the gift of our encounter.

Weeks pass, I’m lost in my thoughts, or noticing the shift of clouds, or the remarkably early tulips and lilacs and forsythia.  Not much happening on the cherry tree I notice, giving it a passing glance, until a few weeks ago.

Suddenly this elegantly shaped tree is now lusciously full of glistening scarlet globes nestled among emerald green leaves, a regal standout against the azure sky.  Evans cherries, a prairie-hardy sour variety, rediscovered a few decades ago just north of here.  Wished I’d had my phone to take a picture. Wished I had an invitation to pick some for a pie.

Then a week ago, just that happened.  I had my phone and poised to snap a picture I heard, “Do you wanna pick some cherries?”

Hand shielding my eyes from the setting sun, I hear before I see,  Janet, the owner of the tree.

“I have a ladder and could help you, if you want to pick the rest of these.  I have my fill.”

Well, I tell her, I’d love to, in fact, this is a dream come true as I’d thought of knocking on her door to ask if I may.  I take her phone number and promise to call before coming over the next day.

Loaded with a dishpan and couple of pails – whatever I could find as good enough cherry containers – I made the three-minute drive and there was Janet, ready to help me pick.

Not like saskatoon berries, or strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries, where you could eat as much as you pick, this tart fruit tempted only an occasional taste as we filled the pails, as I filled on Janet’s stories…

…of the old family homestead an hour east of here, and the inherited section she still farms.

…of recipes and tips for cherry soup and jam and jelly and pie.

…of her husband’s short lived retirement because, when all is said and done, he thrives on his work.

…of her daughter returning home with her grandson and loving having him close by, happy to provide refuge for them both.

…of being a traditional prairie daughter, wife, sister and mother who loves her life.

 

When we finished, with fruit still on the tree,

and me as full as the pails,

with love for this woman’s generosity for sharing the bounty of her tree, her life,

I asked to hug her my thanks and my good-bye.

 

And as we embraced, I knew this to be the feeling of community

as she sweetly, wondrously whispered,

“I think I just made a friend.”

Tending with Grace

Quote

Sisters of the heart, my heart.

Each a sweet heart, dear heart.

 

Life

challenging them to dig down deep

inviting them to reach up high

for strength, and courage, and tenacity, and hope,

for clear heads and open hearts, when

 

Cruel concoction of cancer genes crushes newly hatched dreams.

Life long disease debilitates body, mind, speech and spirit.

Wave upon wave of endings tosses family like flotsam.

 

Sisters of the heart, my heart.

Each the eldest.

Knowing what that means, 

responsible, and caring, and achieving, and sensitive, and

 

Juggling onerous professional obligation

with overwhelming personal need

an attuned sense of balance for what is

right and true

good and beautiful

centred and aligned

for thee and thine.

 

I watch, and listen, and wonder

How does she do it?

Tending with grace, the near impossible.

 

How would I do it?

 

“…the ultimate touchstone of friendship is witness, the privilege of having been seen by someone and the equal privilege of being granted the sight of the essence of another, to have walked with them and to have believed in them, and sometimes just to have accompanied them for however brief a span, on a journey impossible to accomplish alone.”

 

Tending with grace, my sisters of the heart.

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Quote from “Friendship,” in Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words, David Whyte, 2015.

The Moments I Rescue

August.  That feeling of “one long Sunday night” persists despite being away four years from a workplace governed by the rhythm of summers off, and new starts in September.  That habitual anxiety arising when one thinks of so much to do before the new season is upon us.

Apples ripen, mountain ash berries redden, cottonwoods golden, crows gather, geese honk.  Dawn that breaks now an hour later.  Dark that comes now an hour earlier.  These reliable, predictable portents.

A month or so ago I wrote about that particular morning’s fullness, holding the possibility and promise that comes with the beginning of summer.  The day before, my first “official” mentoring conversation to begin editing my collection of love letters to poets.  This morning, an utter stillness among the trees as I listen to poetry by Billy Collins, he to be included in those love letters.  Hearing “This Much I Do Remember,” I am as inexplicably, as deeply moved today as the first time I heard it.  The moment he had rescued within that poem became inspiration for my collection of moments rescued within this blog.

‘This much I do Remember’ by Billy Collins

It was after dinner.
You were talking to me across the table
about something or other,
a greyhound you had seen that day
or a song you liked,

and I was looking past you
over your bare shoulder
at the three oranges lying
on the kitchen counter
next to the small electric bean grinder,
which was also orange,
and the orange and white cruets for vinegar and oil.

All of which converged
into a random still life,
so fastened together by the hasp of color,
and so fixed behind the animated
foreground of your
talking and smiling,
gesturing and pouring wine,
and the camber of your shoulders

that I could feel it being painted within me,
brushed on the wall of my skull,
while the tone of your voice
lifted and fell in its flight,
and the three oranges
remained fixed on the counter
the way that stars are said
to be fixed in the universe.

Then all of the moments of the past
began to line up behind that moment
and all of the moments to come
assembled in front of it in a long row,
giving me reason to believe
that this was a moment I had rescued
from millions that rush out of sight
into a darkness behind the eyes.

Even after I have forgotten what year it is,
my middle name,
and the meaning of money,
I will still carry in my pocket
the small coin of that moment,
minted in the kingdom
that we pace through every day.

What are the moments we rescue?

Four years ago, that first summer after I finished work, as an attempt to create a threshold ritual, I began reading through three decades’ worth of journals to notice and consolidate patterns and dreams into a single volume.  A decade in and a month later, I stopped, bored with my self absorption, embarrassed by my chronic complaining, pained by pages of self doubt and criticism.  On a fall full moon, I made ceremony, burned those pages, and released the stories I had told myself about flaws and shortcomings, mine and others.

With remarkable synchronicity, four years later, to the day, I resumed reading and noticing, this time bringing more compassion and curiosity to the task.  Still pages of self absorption and complaining, self doubt and criticism, but now mixed with occasional moments of gratitude, appreciation, wonder and beauty.  An occasional subtle shift in perspective from old pain to new possibility.  Even a foreshadowing of futures to be realized, like when I wrote in 2004 that I’d finish work in 2012, that I’d travel to Italy during the sabbatical seven years hence.

I still have several volumes to go and I suspect that less-than-conscious pattern will persist. But today, as I take pen to journal, I choose to be more deliberate in noticing what I notice. To more intentionally – without denial but with discernment – rescue on those pages the moments that reveal beauty, that ring good and true, and that tell a story of a life well and wholly lived and loved.

 

 

This Morning Feels Full Today

This morning feels full today, in contrast to the many mostly still and almost silent ones.  A steady breeze stirs the air, sweet and cool and heavy with moisture from yesterday’s mid afternoon thundershower.  Prayer flags strung between fence posts, then sodden, now flutter.  For a few minutes I hear birds, sparrows and chickadees chirping, crows and magpies’ hoarse and scratching, and then notice my favourite robin song is missing.  Errant males must have finally found their mates. 

This morning feels full today, with eager anticipation.  Travel plans, vacation to-dos, home care projects, restaurant and cafes to sample and savour, friends to entertain, hopefully “al fresco” in gardens now flourishing from early spring warmth and summer rain, now flush with fragrant and heady blooms. Two whole summer months of possibility and promise.

This morning feels full today, outside and in.  I finally make sense of the malaise and migraines that have weighed heavy since the first of June.  Like that first peek of sunshine, the anniversary of my own leave-taking four years ago.  Then I thought I knew my place.  Now feeling the precarious straddling on another threshold.  Then and now.  Certain and uncertain.  A new place, what and where?

This morning feels full today, though somewhat lighter, too.

Perfume of a Pink and Purple Prairie Summer Morn

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Top Notes

Cool water fragrant with thin slices of near translucent cucumber.

Tender pink of a wild rose petal.

Tiny teaspoon of lemon ice, softened for a moment by the rising sun.

Middle – Heart – Notes

One hour later, brighter, deeper into the dawn

Herbaceous green of freshly cut grass.

Spicy geranium and day lily, subtly turning their sleepy fuchsia and saffron heads to the east.

Bottom – Base – Notes

Earth damp from the sudden thunderstorm.

Dew drops warming, trailing behind an iridescent veil.

Robin, sparrow, chickadee, even crow and magpie song and call, waft across the barely-there breeze, awakening sense and presence.

Close your eyes and breathe.

Open your eyes and see.

Watching a Full Life Come Full Circle

Circle-of-Life-635x476A few decades ago, once a month for a week for a few years, I’d pack my bag, drive up the road to the Nechi Institute: Centre of Indigenous Learning and co-teach modules for their Advanced Counsellor Training program.  Sometimes I’d be paired with the same staff trainer, making the dance of co-teaching more fluid with time.  On other occasions, when those trainers were taking Nechi’s programs to other parts of Canada and beyond, I’d be partnered with guest faculty.  Always a rich learning experience taking me to my edges as I immersed in First Nations-Metis culture and came face to face with anxiety, prejudice and racism – mine, theirs, ours.  I remember particularly the week I worked with Vera, an Eastern Cree medicine woman.

We were studying individual and families.  Drawing from my clinical social work training, my role was to give theoretical credibility to the curricula, introducing established clinical frames.  I looked to my co-teachers and students for help to contextualize this into indigenous worldview.  In this case, Vera helped us see how a life fully lived comes full circle: that we leave the world much as we came into it, small and frail, with the characteristics of an infant, depending on others for life.

20081013circleoflife

A few weeks ago, The Scientist and I made the trip “home” to visit our families, to celebrate my father’s 85th birthday, to spend time with his parents.  Both in their nineties, in January they made the overnight move from the house they purchased after emigrating from Germany in the mid 1950’s, into a retirement-care facility to support his father’s declining health.  A farm mechanic who finally applied his trade as after serving in WW II and being taken prisoner of war – “came home no longer a boy, but a man who I fell in love with,” blushes his wife – Dad still received calls for help from the Niagara farmers well into his eighties. Two summers ago, still vibrant with a strong embrace and hearty laugh.  Now, small and frail, using a walker, eating pureed food.  When not sleeping, looking around with wide-eyed curiosity, yet less and less present to in-the-moment conversations.  One foot in this world and the other in the next.

As I bent to kiss him good-bye on the cheek, I thought of Vera’s lesson and saw the truth of it in my father-in-law, a man who now was becoming more child-like in appearance and disposition.

As we drove to the airport to make our return home debriefing the highs and lows of our visit, The Scientist said he heard his father quietly say in a moment of crystal clarity, with his family bustling around as he sat at the kitchen table,  “I’m happy.”

The simple, sweet statement of what has always given him joy.

For Old Age

May the light of your soul mind you.

May all your worry and anxiousness about your age

Be transfigured.

May you be given wisdom for the eyes of your soul

To see this as a time of gracious harvesting.

May you have the passion to heal what has hurt you,

And allow it to come closer and become one with you.

May you have great dignity,

Sense how free you are:

Above all, may you be given the wonderful gift

Of meeting the eternal light that is within you.

May you be blessed;

And may you find a wonderful love

In your self for your self.

John O’Donohue

 

Self Portrait Emerging

This year I began writing about my current threshold, transitioning from a career to creative oriented life, another of life’s letting go to let come.  A few posts ago, I framed it as the shift from ambition to meaning, and shared some internal signposts that pointed the direction to this new path.

Since then I’ve gotten a good bill of heart health.  And while my crown and bite are still off a bit (the metaphor isn’t lost), I’m optimistic this will resolve in right time.  I’m feeling rested, waking with sweet anticipation for the day like I did those mornings when I lived in Germany for three months, five years ago. I’ve taken up with a flamenco teacher whose “deconstructed” approach to this complex dance form fits better now at this point in my practice.  I celebrated my echoing day in this new eldering decade.  And to celebrate a dear friend’s new decade, I finally found the way into creating the artwork for a story she had written a few years back.  Ta Da…I finished and sent in for a first draft read my collection of love letters to poets.  Right now, I’m participating in a global online dream walker’s course, reviving a practice I know bears fruit, and a couple of weeks ago I attended a most lovely workshop on poetry and photography hosted by local writer-poet, Shawna Lemay.

During the winter interim after registering for BeComing, I read some of Shawna’s work,   her novel, Rumi and the Red Hand Bag (an alluring title with a deep fondness for both) and her latest collection of poetry, Asking.  There, she introduced me to the “poem-essay,” a form  that totally synchs with my way of thinking and writing.  And not a page turned without feeling a quickening of recognition, a jolt to my senses that here is another who is kindred.  When during the workshop, I wrote and recited my quick reflection to her prompt Wabi Sabi, she looked across the room in recognition.  Sources of appreciation and inspiration discovered.  We draw from the same well.  Again the evidence of an earlier realization: everything I need for a life well-lived lies in my own backyard.

Now, a couple of months later, a new invitation to consider this person I am becoming, in response to taking self portraits to see what is evoked, to dreaming images of light and shadow:

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Who is this person I am becoming?

Feet that carry me along the path

Made only by its walking to

God. Knows. Where.

 

It’s been said that by looking at one’s shadow

We come to see the face

We are before

We. Are. Born.

 

A spider crawls upon my hand

To write a web of possibility

To catch a moment of illumination.

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(Not a poem essay, instead a form borrowed from Alice Walker in her collection, Absolute Trust in the Goodness of the Earth.)

Wabi Sabi, Then and Now

Wabi Sabi.  No, not wasabi.

Though when you get a hit of it – wabi sabi, that is – before you know what it means – it’s like a heaping spoonful of wasabi.

               Hits you right in your solar plexus.

               You can hardly breathe.

               You cry.

               Think you’re gonna die.

I know.  Three years ago.  An April Sunday like today.

               Warm.

               Sunny.

               I feel like I’ve been hit by a truck.

And my mouth, like I’ve just come from the dentist and the freezing’s wearing off.

By the end of the day, I look like I’ve OD’D on botox.

               One half of my face frozen, falling down on my shoulder.

The other aged a decade, holding the ravages of stress and fear.

Oh my God. What’s happening?

The nurse in the group who I’ve been consulting since morning says now is the time to get to ER.

Eight hours later, unbeknownst to me, a differential diagnosis of stroke ruled out.

“Bells Palsy, we think.  We don’t know what brings it on.  There’s no cure.  Treatment – time, and oh yeah, here’s a script for prednisone.  Get it filled right away to reduce the inflammation of the facial nerve.”

Cracked my life open.  My whole life. Wide open.

Took some time before I could talk about it, let alone chew, smile, sip, blow bubbles, whistle, wink and do all the things, make all the expressions we take for granted with a fully functioning face.

“Wabi Sabi,” is how a friend described it, me.  The first I’d heard the phrase.  A gift really, both her introducing me to it, and what it means.

“Wabi Sabi,

a beauty of things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete.

a beauty of things modest and humble.

a beauty of things unconventional.”

Like the green dollop in the corner of the cracked white porcelain sushi plate.  The goose poop on the pristine patch of grass.

Life.

(A “poem essay” in response to the writing prompt, “wabi sabi” and a photograph of – yes, goose poop on the lawn of the Devonian Garden’s Japanese Garden – at BeComing, a poetry and photography workshop hosted by Shawna Lemay, held in the Japanese Pavillon at the Devonian Gardens, Sunday, April 17, 2016.  Posted on the third anniversary.)

The Paradox That is My April

A week or so ago, during an early morning meditation,

I sat

hearing the furnace blow its warmth

as the robin sang his heartsong,

watching snow flakes float and whiten

the new greening grass and purple and saffron crocus,

smelling the pungent perfume of lilies

now wilt and faded with days since gracing Easter’s joy.

 

Today, Friday, the echoing day of my birth,

when on another Friday, six decades past,

a Good Friday,

new life broke through like Cohen’s crack.

 

Sun and Moon dictate Easter’s arrival: the first Sunday following the first ecclesiastical full moon that occurs on or after the day of the vernal equinox

a Christian’s most celebrated day

but always foreshadowed by that Friday’s

death and darkness.

 

Regardless of the day on which my birthday falls,

I always feel the pull of my first birth day

primal as the ocean’s tide in response to the Moon

archetypal in symbol, suffering, surrender,

the promise of celebration.

9 - Easter

Born of star dust

from ocean waters

the full moon face of the new born,

then and now.

 

One Year Later

It’s morning. I’m quietly sipping coffee, reading a novel that features an ensemble of Victorian era ghosts who hover helplessly perplexed, lovingly hoping the protagonist solves a mystery that left her broken, and from which they seek ephemeral redemption and release.

Prompted by the passage describing a dissembled old long clock, I pause to listen to the tick-tock of my grandmother’s cuckoo clock.

A minute’s reverie back and forth in time, memory and grief, now broken by the call of wild geese just returned, a harbinger of spring.

I remember today is the anniversary of my dear dog’s passing.

I remember I don’t have to walk a hundred miles on my knees to know my place in the family of things.  (Thank you, Mary Oliver.)

Prairie Bound Peggy

            Prairie Bound Peggy at 15 years