Heart Balm

It’s been a tough week.

On Monday we found ourselves having to make the “no choice choice” of escorting our beloved Peggy dog to her final visit to the vet.  Perhaps the kindest, most loving act, to give her the assistance to make this final transition.  Yet how I dreaded it.  How I often I had prayed these last weeks and months, “Please let her pass in her sleep, or as she sleeps beside me on the sofa in the morning.”  “Please help me know when the time has come for us to intervene.”

So Monday morning, after watching her the day before in the backyard, wandering blindly in circles, stumbling into rose bushes, entrapped in dogwood branches, right hind leg foot limping, and then distressed and agitated with having messed in her kennel as she slept that night, we knew the time had come.  We feared for her physical safety.  We knew the quality of her life was at an all-time low, she the once meticulous self groomer, now being restricted to the kitchen, the sofa, our office, her kennel.  We assumed she was in pain, though our little braveheart never complained. The Scientist made the call.  We held vigil as she slept in the living room sunbeam, told her repeatedly how much we loved her. Then the final drive, holding, whispers and kisses.  Now living the paradox of grief and relief, of feeling the fullness of her absence in every room of our home and hearts.  Gentle Annie, our five year old Setter, has been at a loss, never having lived without kennel mates.  And this is now the first time in over twenty years that we’ve shared our lives with only one “kid with fur.”

Come Wednesday, I co-hosted process at my monthly community of practice.  As no one had stepped in, I volunteered the week earlier before knowing how my week was to unfold. I was eager to experiment with an elegant and simple process I’d discovered and I knew this gathering would be a safe space in which to try.

Lectio Poetica is a contemporary re-working of the ancient practice called Lectio Divina, or sacred reading, wherein sacred texts were slowly whispered, repeated and contemplated to hear the small, quiet voice of the divine within.  During medieval times, it became formalized into four steps, or “movements,” and now, using poetry, into seven movements where grounding, considering one’s current life situation, posing a question, reading, reflecting, and deep listening to self and others bring insight and action.

I’ve relied on poetry both personally and professionally to help myself and others, find a way into and through the challenging, perplexing, complex and bitter-sweetness of life and work.  Little did I know it would be my heart’s balm that night.

Wednesday brought sunshine, warmth and the absence of most of our snow.  Eighteen of us convened in the St. James Room at a local church, a perfect place for what was to unfold.  As anticipated, the “right poem” arrived that morning, a “simple to recite and listen to” by Leonard Nathan, posted on Facebook by Parker Palmer:


So you aren’t Tolstoy or St. Francis

or even a well-known singer

of popular songs and will never read Greek

or speak French fluently

will never see something no one else

has seen before through a lens

or with the naked eye.


You’ve been given just the one life

in this world that matters

and upon which every other life

somehow depends as long as you live,

and also given the costly gifts of hunger,

choice, and pain with which to raise

a modest shrine to meaning.

The warm and appreciative reception encouraged me to use the process as the cornerstone in next week’s session on self-care for social workers.  And I was inspired to set aside four Wednesday afternoons in April, and invite seven people to partake in a gently hosted circle, to create the space for “the ultimate meeting place.”

“It is said — here, now — that one of the great markers of spiritual kinship is a love for the same poetry. For if two souls are equally moved by the same pulsating constellation of metaphor and meaning, they are not only bound by a common language and a shared sensibility but also exist in the same dimension of truth and possibility. Poetry, after all, is the ultimate meeting place.” – Maria Popova, founder of Brain Pickings

You are welcome.  Your place is waiting.  Simply click here to register.

PS – Today we’re in the midst of Spring’s caprice, an Alberta snowstorm. Thinking about this post, I remembered phone photos I took of Peggy and Annie last year during a similar snowy spring morning.

Peggy Spring Snow 2014 TRIMAnnie Spring Snow 2014 TRIM

Consciously Attending to My New Year

Perspectives with Panache, 2014It’s been a long time since I last wrote here.  I’d started a piece on my heart’s response to being in Turkey, how I didn’t really let myself know fully “Why Turkey?” until a kind and gentle Muslim friend asked me over coffee and pastries at the Duchess one morning upon my return.  Why Turkey?  “Because of Rumi,” was my most truthful, heartful reply, as tears came suddenly.  She nodded a deep knowing.  For a good month upon my return, I reverberated with that energy, experiencing what another friend recently called “post trip stress disorder,” PTSD of a different sort, wherein we experience a range of reactions to having our paradigms and hearts cracked open.  A good thing she offered, because it means we’ve been open to the experience, letting something new come in and touch us.  Whew! So much more than just jet lag!

I never finished that piece.  I had trouble finding the words to express myself, and then time had passed with more water under the bridge.  I’ve noticed that since keeping a journal more regularly, that process holds some of what I might previously written here.  How many times I’ve noted there an even deeper appreciation for, a need for the quiet and silence that greets me in those early morning moments, and I sense this has slipped and seeped into discerning, whether or not I choose to write “out here.”

Like around Remembrance Day, I found myself pondering if and how we make space to remember those who fought on the other side, who were “the enemy.”  The notion of legitimate-illegitimate grief had been stirring inside for a couple of months, prompted by the passing of my chosen namesake. My paternal grandfather, my opa, was a German soldier killed in action and buried in France.  My father knew him for only a few short years of childhood, due to a stubborn estrangement between his parents.  Several years ago, pieces came together to help my father finally visit his father’s final resting place, taking with him his mother’s ashes, making for reconciliation, and peace.  My husband’s father, too, a young German soldier, taken as prisoner of war to England and Texas, who still eats with military-issued cutlery.  How, or do we grant those close to our hearts the honor of remembering when they have been called “enemy”?  How do we illuminate this shadowed grief and give it legitimacy? 

While questions worthy of posing here, I heeded an inner caution to take time to hold them close inside and steep in their tension.  Many times I think about Rumi’s poem, The Guest House, as it reminds me the way to reconciliation and peace “out here,” is to welcome as guest, the “enemy” inside:

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

Perspectives with PanacheQuiet and silence.  We’ve been having less these past weeks as our dear Peggy dog, now in her seventeenth year, has developed dementia, compounding her deafness and partial blindness.  This means she paces aimlessly through the house, nails tapping on hard wood floors, grating like nails on a chalkboard, or when cordoned off in the kitchen, ceaselessly doing laps around the table.  Sometimes we find her standing still, with her head in a corner, or open cupboard, peering into space.  Stairways, once agilely manoeuvered, now require our assistance and constant attention so she doesn’t fall. Diapers, baby food to entice her appetite, daily bathing and laundering to keep her clean, rearranging furniture and schedules, all adaptations we’re learning to make to keep safe and attend to this beloved being who has given us years of joyful companionship and wise lessons. “You’re preparing to lose her,” spoke a dear wise woman, affirming my deep sadness, both specific and amplified by the holydays.  We anticipate her time will come this year, and I make preparation to welcome that guest into my house.

It’s a grey, flat light morning here on the first day of 2015.  Right now, Peggy and our younger dog, Gentle Annie, are quiet and still, sleeping by the space heater as I write and The Scientist peruses financial forecasts.  Soon we’ll dress, have brunch, and take a family walk.  I’m thinking about my focus for the year ahead, “conscious attendant.”  It suddenly popped to mind a few days ago when, after reading my Haligonian heart-sister’s Facebook status, being reminded of her annual practice, I asked for a guiding touchstone.  A moment of discouraged disbelief, and then recognition that this so perfectly aligns with how I’ve defined myself “out here”: attending to the inner life, to live and lead with courage, clarity, compassion and creativity, and in which I am growing in comfort and confidence as I practice and value emerging gifts.  And to seal it, I discovered this thoughtful post from Parker Palmer about crossing the threshold into a new year.  Here, he references a beautiful poem by Anne Hillman, and gives us five beautiful and evocative questions to guide our crossing, and focus my attending:

  1. How can I let go of my need for fixed answers in favor of aliveness?
  2. What is my next challenge in daring to be human?
  3. How can I open myself to the beauty of nature and human nature?
  4. Who or what do I need to learn to love next? And next? And next?
  5. What is the new creation that wants to be born in and through me?

For the Solstice I wrote this blessing and offer it to you with my sustained love and appreciation as we cross into our new year:

May the gifts of these holydays be yours throughout the coming year…

love of and for your family and friends,

health of body, mind and spirit,

work that sustains and serves,

kindness for self and others, and peace.

May you know and be peace.