Still True a Year Later

You and Annie come home today.

Annie, who now has a waist, you say,

who’ll be even more persistent in her call for supper,

given the habits she’s learned from the other kids with fur at summer camp!

I’ve made you a pot of beef ‘n barley soup to fill you when I’m away.

I’ve laid out Annie’s food mat and bowl of water to welcome her home.

Annie at Dog Camp

So much water under the bridge since I last wrote you…

We got the news we prayed for: my membership in the 30% club.

Drank a bottle of amarone with a friend to celebrate.

Gratitude and relief deep as its taste as red as my blood.

Now, how easily I’m moved to tears.

An item in the news.

A sunrise.  The birds gathering to fly to their winter home.

The green now golden glow of trees and grass in our backyard, my healing summer sanctuary.

A love song reminding me of you.

Roses at the End of Time

Winding down to the end of the line
And the falling of the curtain
I’ll be yours and you’ll be mine
Of that one truth I’m certain
I will give you roses fair
For every secret you did share
For all your words that flowed like wine
Roses at the end of time

Tonight I bless the hands of fate
That brought you to my doorway
Weary, worn and worth the wait
So willing to explore me
One rose for every vow you kept
One for every tear you wept
For all the moments you were kind
Roses at the end of time

One rose for every dream you dared
One for every wrong repaired
For all that bound your heart to mine
Roses at the end of time
Roses…

Eliza Gilkyson

The need to simply do quite a bit of not a lot.

It’s a statement I typed in an email to a friend last week.  Unbidden.  True.

I relish the sudden spontaneous emergence of such pithy truths.

Like the time when I asked another friend for the gift of her skillful deep listening as I weighed a hefty matter needing decisive action.  “Winnowing to essence,” came my reply, as I described the simplicity I was after.

Since then, those words have become a mantra for the gradual process of letting go of a lot of my life’s trappings, and committing to exchange things for experiences.

“Quite a bit of not a lot.”

Zen ThingsI like the roll of this in my mouth, piqued by a bit of paradox.  Like a lemon lime lollipop, sweet and tangy.  Evoking, or perhaps subliminally inspired by, this recent Facebook “share.”

It makes deep and abiding sense.

It feels good and right in my body, the reservoir of wordless wisdom.

And it comes.  Remarkably quite easily.  Ceasing blind urgency and habitual headlong over-ride and over-drive.  Giving over to long moments gazing out the window into the now fully green trees.  Pausing between paragraphs and pages of the latest book to wonder into white clouds suspended in signature azure skies.  Going to bed earlier and sleeping later, serenaded by robins.

Winnowing to essence.  Quite a bit of not a lot.

Mirroring for each other an innate way of being, born of aging.

Dreamscape Two – a holy communion

Now the one about the older woman…

She is old.  While taller, by feeling she resembles my Oma, my father’s mother who loved her son, her grandchildren and great grandchildren fiercely.

Always independent, as her husband lay dying of cancer, Oma, in her sixties, learned to drive, maneuvering the freeways, charming the immigration officers as she crossed the bridge to Canada, to us, with her VW Rabbit stuffed with gifts and groceries.  Decades earlier, in the little Black Forest town of Germany, during and after World War II, she worked three jobs to support herself and my father.  Those were her best years, the ones she storied for us with joy, pride and determination.  Until she came to live her last years in Canada, close to her family.

But this woman of my dream is my height and stature.  And she is Italian.

I am in Italy.  I have just finished a simple, homemade, delicious dinner.  I may be with a friend.  I have been staying here for a while, long enough to have become familiar with, close even to the Nonna who prepared this meal.

She has been a teacher to me.  I feel a deep love and appreciation for her in my life.  In my broken Italian, I thank her for the good, good food.  We laugh together at my attempts to say just how good…

”Insalata, ahhhh…. buonissimo!  Si?”

She encourages me, asks me what else I’ll eat.

“Il dolce?” she asks and playfully hugs and tugs at my body to see if I can afford to let myself have this sweet, the sweetest part of the meal, of life?

I hug her and say in Italian “I love you” through the tears I am now crying, through an even deeper sadness that is suddenly coming up from my depths.

Holding her, despite her strength, suddenly I know she is dying.  I see her face and while she is not my Oma, Oma is evoked.  I love this woman very much.  Again, I say, in Italian, “I love you.”

Again, and again.

Epilogue

Last October I awoke quietly crying from this dream.  I was on a favourite island in the Pacific Northwest – it has become one of my heart places – where, without fail, I spend most nights immersed in vivid dreamscapes.

The convergence of mountain, sea and sky energies are a great catalyst for my dream maker’s talents, though I’m not always able to retrieve her creations, so plentiful that I often awake feeling tired for the travelling.  However, that pre-dawn morning, the dream and feelings it evoked, deeply moved me, and stayed with me for hours, making it easy for me to journal, to contemplate, and finally to glean its gift. Even now as I write, it’s easy for me to conjure the scene and its characters, to step back into the story, to taste those feelings.

With reflection I realized that in my dream, in my broken Italian, I had said to this Nonna, “Mi’amo,”  thinking I was saying “I love you” when really I was saying, over and over, “I love me.”  The dream maker never errs.  This was not a Freudian slip.

This wise old woman, this Nonna-Oma feeds me, loves me, plays with me, teaches me.  I eat her food.  I take in her love, her joy, her playfulness.

I ingest her.  I take her into me.  She becomes me and in so doing, is dying.

A holy communion.

A few weeks later, I read a dear wise woman words about the necessity for us each to take back and eat the hope we have projected onto others, to nourish ourselves so as to become our own hope, our own leaders, and our own fiercely loving, joyful, playful Nonna-Omas.

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