Story is the song line of a person’s life. We need to sing it and we need someone to hear the singing. Story told, story heard, story written, story read, create the web of life in words.

Christina Baldwin

Storycatcher, 2005


Sunday, 20 December 2015

The Journey. A Short Story for You.

The Journey

It was dusk when the girl walked into camp. Everyone was busy, bustling here and there, gathering wood, stirring pots, preparing the evening meal.The girl knew exactly what she wanted. She looked into all the faces, well, not all the faces. Only the old ones. She remembered what the villagers had told when they directed her to the camp. “When you arrive, look for the Old One,” said the first, “ The Ancient One,” said another. The girl asked: “A man, or woman?” They had told her no more. 
So she walked for most of the day through field and forest, her bonnet and shawl little protection against the bitter wind. And now here she was, in the camp, searching for the Old One, who just might hold the answer to the question in her heart.
Night fell quickly, and the girl was bone cold. A group had gathered at the far corner of the camp around a great fire. Instinctively, the girl approached. She scanned everyone who stood, sat, or walked around the blaze. She knew she would see what she came to see. Suddenly, she stopped. A flood of warmth shot up through her body. Her feet tingled in joy. There, in front of her, across from the fire, was The Old One. She was sitting quietly, her eyes closed, her presence radiating across the space. The girl made her way slowly and deliberately around the circle, her eyes fixed on the woman. Suddenly, she found herself standing right beside the woman. The girl, trembling with excitement, sat down beside The Ancient One and waited. 
After a time, the Old Woman spoke, without opening her eyes, or moving her head. “You came,” she said. Then gently, slowly, the woman turned and looked directly into the child’s face. With tears in her eyes, her voice barely a whisper, the girl said: “May I ask a question?” The Old Woman leaned toward the girl in response. The child sat up and whispered into the old woman’s ear. The Ancient One sat back and thought a good long time. Then slowly, deliberately, with a gesture she had done a thousand times before, The Old One reached down, and in one graceful swoop gathered a handful of dried herbs from a satchel by her side. Suddenly, she suddenly tossed the herbs into the fire. There was a great sputtering and crackling of the flames, and smoke shot up high, high into the night sky. The Old One watched the smoke for the longest time. She watched until there was nothing there but the great, wide dark. That was all the girl could see. Then the Old One turned to the child and spoke: “Go home,” she said, “go home.” The Ancient One then held out her hand as if to bless the girl, but in one elegant movement lifted herself up to standing. The girl bolted up in turn, wanting to hear more. The Old One walked away. Suddenly, she stopped and turned. She looked into the face of the child who had come such a long, long way, and said: “Be not afraid. You have everything you need.” The Old One turned, and walked into the dark night. 
The girl stood motionless, her eyes wide in wonder, and pain, and joy. After a moment, she began to breathe again. The child asked: “Was this why I came? Was there no more? What now?” All of these questions hung in the air.
        In the morning, the girl left the camp and followed the Ancient One’s advice. She did go home. And over time, not a short time, nor a long time, she did remember.

            And so ends my tale.

            I wish you Dear Reader, each and every one, a beautiful 
            holiday season of peace, of joy, and… a time to remember.

Saturday, 24 October 2015

Breaking The Shell

Summer 2015 has come and gone, a child’s kiss on my cheek, soft, sweet and fleeting. I loved this summer. It was one of my favourites. It was also my summer of “letting go.”
On August third, I put my kayak and assorted gear for sale online: paddles, flotation device, booties, gloves and car-racks. The entire package sold within twenty-four hours. Gone. All of it. I was in shock at the sudden loss of my boat, and also felt surprisingly free. The kayak had been a huge part of my life for over twenty-five years.
I bought The Green Otter (The G.O.) second-hand, in Toronto in 1988.  Made by Natural Design in Seattle, she was seventeen feet of green fiberglass, with a large comfortable cockpit. She had no rudder, no bulkheads, and was beautifully stable. The G.O. was solid and proudly moved through any water. I loved that boat. And every time I moved, The G.O. came with me. She lived in barns, garages, and carports. At one time, I seriously considered storing her on my living room wall.  When I first bought her, I knew very little about kayaks and even less about kayaking. In the summer of 1988, I took a wonderful introductory workshop on kayaking with White Squall, in southern Georgian Bay. That was the very first time I sat in a solo kayak. I gently slipped into the boat and paddled out into the bay. Immediately, I was filled with a quiet feeling of coming home. The kayak felt like an extension of me, as if I had grown a great fin or mermaid’s tail! “You paddle a canoe,” said Noel, “ but you wear a kayak.” Yes, and I couldn’t wait to get my own boat. Within two weeks, I found her. Minutes after buying The G.O., we loaded her onto the roof of my car. The young woman who sold it to me wept and waved goodbye to her baby as we drove away. This past August, I came full circle with The G.O. A young family bought my boat and, as they rounded our corner, The G.O. strapped snuggly to the roof of their car, I wept and waved goodbye. The torch was passed. This was no small doing. For years, I stoutly refused to part with that boat. This fin had guided me through Georgian Bay waters in Ontario, up the Indian Arm near Vancouver, through sunset paddles and moon rise trips in Departure Bay, Nanaimo. Year after year, I refused to let go of the boat. Although paddling excursions had become few and far between, I clung to that boat like a shield. She was my past, my life in Ontario, and the symbol of all the joys of being in and on the water. And then she was gone. Letting go of The Green Otter was swift, clean and good. A shift occurred. I started to let go of so much more: books, CD’s, clothes, puppets and storytelling gear, the “stuff” I had accumulated over the years. A lightness came over me. “You’re making way for something new,” said Valentina. ‘And to do that, you have to let go of the old.”
In his marvelous collection: The Book of Awakening, poet Mark Nepo shares a Polynesian creation story. Taaora wakes to find himself in a shell. He stretches and breaks the shell and the Earth is created.  He continues to grow and finds himself in a new shell. Once again, Taaora stretches and breaks the shell and the Moon is created. Again, Taaora keeps growing and is contained by yet another shell. This time as he stretches, he breaks the shell and the Stars are born. And so on, each new shell is broken only to reveal a new creation, a new beginning, a new world. Mark Nepo says that this ancient story helps us see “ that we each grow in this life by breaking successive shells…In this way, life becomes a living of who we are until that form of self can no longer hold us, and, like Taaora in his shell, we must break the forms that contain us in order to birth our way into the next self.” Beautiful.
I have new work now: to open to this beginning and not tighten and seize in the face of possibility.
I wish you a gentle season of discovery.

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Unwrapping the Gift of Grief

June has arrived. Over the past three months, we said goodbye to several dear friends, Bob, Peter and Jack. I add my own goodbye to Lexie-Known-As-Bob, my grey cat. If we choose, each passing allows us to dip into that deep pool of grief, to give it space, and to honour it. Today, my story is about Lexie.

Alex, “Lexie,” Bob Murphy died at 4:44 pm on April 30th, 2015. Lexie-Known-As-Bob, was my most beloved grey cat. He was two months shy of his nineteenth birthday. The pain and the peace of his passing are part of his many gifts to me.

In August 1996, my sister-in-law Bev and I were shopping for fabric. I wanted to recover a sofa our Aunt Olive had given me. We found some beautiful material and were heading for lunch, when Bev stopped in at her favourite pet store. In a large wire kennel at the front of the store, was a tumbling mass of very young kittens, mostly greys and two blacks. I have never had a pet. When I was about eight, a “pet” turtle got out of his bowl and crawled up my mother’s leg, and that put an end to any pets living in our home ever again. For years, I played with and enjoyed pets that belonged to friends and family, but never adopted one of my own. Yet that day, in that shop, without hesitation, my hands and arms reached out and picked up a little grey bundle. And that, as they say, was that!
There are moments in life that are so sure and easy, they quietly amaze me. I just know: this is the next step; this, is a yes.  Saying yes to Noel was such a moment. Another "yes" came as I walked into our new home for the first time. Large and small, the knowing moments are precious. Holding that small furry grey bundle in my arms on that August afternoon, was another such moment. I said yes to the kitten, and I couldn’t put him down.

“Smokey,” whispered Bev excitedly: “Smokey would be a great name.” I looked at the store owner. “How old is he?” I asked. “The kittens were born July 1st, so he’s eight weeks old,” July 1st! Given that his birthday was Canada Day, I declared: “His name is Alexander, after Sir John A. MacDonald.” Ten minutes later, Alexander and I left the shop. I sat in the back seat of the car, holding him in my arms, singing to him. It was the beginning of great relationship, and it was the first and last day he was called Alexander. Over the years, he received many names. Alex morphed into Lexie, which in turn gave way to Lloyd, Lex Luther, Al, Cakee, Cakes, Grey-Man, and the most popular in recent years, Bob or Bobby. At the vets, he was ”Alex-Known-As-Bob,” on all his records.

I want this to be a tribute to Bob, of my gratitude for all the great and many moments we shared over the years. I want to acknowledge how Bob helped me through so many challenges and changes in his almost nineteen years. However, what is unfolding is the release of grief. I am astonished how Bob’s passing opened the door to my grief.

Our life together came to an end as it began, with me cradling Bob in my arms. Noel and I gather in the Willow Room at the vet’s office that April 30th. I hold Bob, as he gently, so gently, drifts away. Doctor Marnie Edwards, our remarkable vet, helps him on his journey. We thank Bob: for his companionship, for his crankiness, for his boundless curiosity, and for his delightful cleverness.
I look at Noel through my tears and say: this is how I want to go. Truly it was a gentle and peaceful passing, in the arms of a loved one. Bob is showing me the way. There is both pain and peace in that quiet moment. A short while later, we get into the car, drive through traffic, and the reality of the world moves back in. I return to the thrum of life.

Then I start to notice. I become aware that flu, fear and fatigue all look and feel alike in my body, with chills, headache and nausea. Now I know, it is also the same when I open the gift of grief. I find it remarkable that I can continue to function through grief. I can speak on the phone, finish some editing, I can cook, shop and drive, all through the grief. It took me a few days to realise that I was still holding onto Bob. I regretted his passing so much and thought I should have brought him home. We could have enjoyed him for a few more days, maybe even weeks. Then I realise this is regret. This is about me not wanting to let go. The holding is actually the pain, the fatigue and "the flu" in my body. But my heart is at peace. It will take my body some time to catch up.

Exactly one week after Bob’s death, we receive his ashes with a card that wraps me in comfort. It says: Grief is a gift that we hate to unwrap but it is the truest testament that we have known unconditional love. One week later, we receive a card from our compassionate vet: I just wanted to let you know that I have been thinking about you.  The notes fill me once again with peace and pain, but now, the pain is less acute. Unwrapping the gift of grief is a first step. Using the gift is now part of my journey.

A gentle June to all.

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Stillness Speaks

It is amazing. Today is Wednesday, July 30th, 2014. My last blog entry was a year ago. So it's an annual blog, is it? I am smiling as I write that. Canadian speaker coach Jane Atkinson had a guest on her webinar some time ago. When asked about the frequency of blogging, the seasoned coach recommended nothing less that two to three blogs per week. Oh my!  My "annual" posts would not fly. But here I am.

Over the past few weeks several friends and colleagues, and yes, Dear Noel too, have asked about my blog. But it is the gentle nudge from Nanaimo poet-writer Mary Ann Moore that got me back to the blog. Thank you Mary Ann. Please check out her own site at Mary Ann invites us to "be amazed at what comes out of the stillness." I love that phrase and crave the stillness. I fear it and crave it at the same time. In this glorious summer of 2014. In June, I thought I had all the time in the world. The whole summer lay ahead of me. And now I only have to tilt my head a little and August peers back. I am also finalizing some storytelling and speaking plans for September and October and think how far away that is. And we all know it is just around the corner.

Yesterday I spoke with Beloved Irma, my ninety-year-old cousin. She is recovering from a stroke.
My traveling, singing, artistic cousin is forced into stillness. Her language and movements are impeded by the challenges of her body. But her mind is bright and alert. I ached for her as she shared her story. And I send love and ease to Irma as she slowly heals. This too is a nudge, a reminder to take care and take time, for myself and my dreams.

And I am busy. It's not all work; it's fun and play-filled too. I sit on the patio and walk the sea-wall and check out the summer concerts in the park, and the sand sculptures in Parksville. I play mini golf and eat the best blueberries and cherries I have ever tasted. I even remember to walk the Labyrinth from time to time. And in a circle of loving friends, I created a vision board: every image, every picture calls me to stillness and remembering. Which I have been dodging and avoiding.

So on this blogging day of days I honour the stillness and vow to take (at least) three minutes every day from today through August, to still my mind and body and open to what is. I invite you to join me in this adventure.

Gentle days to each and everyone.

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

A Circle in Time

Sweet summer is rolling along. It is deep July, and I am into something new.

I have just started walking the labyrinth. I knew of the labyrinth at the Bethlehem Retreat Centre, in Nanaimo BC, but I had never walked it, nor even seen it, although I’ve visited the Centre many times.  Several people have spoken to me about the labyrinth, and out of the blue, one late Saturday afternoon, 
I drove up to the Centre.

The day was hot and still. Yet when I turned into the shady driveway at the Centre, the air was cool and welcoming. I parked the car and walked over to the entrance. There was no one about. Just as I arrived at the front door, a woman opened the door and warmly smiled at me. It was Mary Ann, the Director of the Centre. Although we had met some time before, I introduced myself and asked if it was possible to walk the labyrinth. She smiled and said: “Of course.” I told her this was my first visit and she walked with me.

“I am so pleased people are using the labyrinth,” she said. “Last week I was working late and left the Centre around 10:00pm. I met a woman right here at the entrance of the labyrinth. She told me she walked it every night after work, on her way home. She said it was a great way to transition from one part of her day to another. She also said the labyrinth was a vortex of energy. I believe that.”
Suddenly we stopped along the path.
“And here we are.,” she said. “Enjoy your walk.”   
And Mary Ann continued on her way. I stood there looking around.  The first thing that caught my eye was a small wooden trellis or arbor. Just beside it stood a slim, white wooden post with a black lettering: “May Peace Prevail On Earth.” I would later find out that this is one of the few peace poles in the province.
Then I saw the stone circle, the labyrinth, and I was mesmerized.
It was bigger than I imagined, with a large centre.
I have walked a few labyrinths before, but never one that is outdoors. The great stone path was in deep shadow surrounded by tall fir trees and a single, elegant birch. But it was the small arbor at the entrance that caught my attention. It was beaming brightly in the late afternoon sunshine.
Once again, no one was about. It was just me, the trees, and the stone path. To begin my walk, I needed to pass through the shining arbor.
I stood under the arbor, transfixed, basking in the sunlight, both excited and comforted at the same time.
It was quite magical.
I remembered to stop and breathe.
I set my intention, more a question really, and began my walk.

Labyrinths have been around for over four thousand years. They are ancient paths that continue to attract  travellers all over the world.
Local author Carol Matthews says that labyrinths have a simple straightforward path, are unicursal - the way in is also the way out. She believes that trust and intuition guide the labyrinth walker.

In her book “Labyrinths of British Columbia, A Guide for Your Journey,” Aryana Rayne beautifully states:
“Within the labyrinth, confused states of mind dissolve. Answers simply appear. The theatre dressing of everyday life falls away to reveal simplicity, order and solutions.”
I love that last statement.
“The theatre dressing of everyday life falls away to reveal simplicity, order and solutions.”
I surround myself with theatre dressing, daily, and convince myself how relevant and necessary it is for my comfort and appearance.
The labyrinth cuts through all this protective veneer.

And this is what happened to me that quiet July afternoon on my labyrinth walk. I was transformed. Not with a great shout, or a cloudburst, not with mystical appearances or alchemy.
By simply walking a stone path in a gentle circle, I came to a wonderful realisation.

I had no sooner started the walk, when I felt drawn, compelled even, to get to the centre. I needed to be in the centre of that circle. I could physically feel my body pulling me toward the energy of the centre. My eyes were also riveted on that middle space. I then started walking sideways along the path, the better to face the centre, of course! I looked like I was doing some elaborate grapevine sidestep. I was even speeding up my pace in the excitement to get to the middle!

But I caught myself. And I stopped.
“What on earth are you doing?”
I burst out laughing.
“This is so me!” I said out loud to the trees.

This is all about me wanting to quickly get to my destination, to finally see the result, the goal, the end product.
I don’t want to know where I’m going or how I got there. I want to know when I’ve arrived!
So much so that I was no longer walking the path I was on, but walking the path where I wanted to be.
What a revelation! I couldn’t believe it.
The sidestepping was the awakening.

I do this a lot. I see only the expected goal, the anticipated result, not the journey.
I don’t trust the journey.
No wonder I trip and fall along the way. I don’t see the path I’m on. Right here in front of me.
And I smiled. I couldn’t stop smiling.

What a gift for my first visit to the labyrinth in Nanaimo. And I knew it was to be the first of many visits. On my way out from the centre of the labyrinth, I made a pact with myself. I will walk the labyrinth every week for the rest of the summer. Once a week, every week. This I will do for myself. To slow down, to pay attention, to breathe and to be.

Once again my hand is extended in invitation.
Will you join me in your own discoveries this summer?
Will you walk the labyrinth?

Saturday, 29 June 2013

Summer Mystery

The Heat is On. Finally. On the West Coast we are in beautiful summer.
Today I washed blankets and duvet covers and put away the flannel sheets. Yes that's right!
June 29th, I washed and folded flannel sheets and put them away for the season.
So I now know it's official. The heat has arrived. This is summer.
We forget on the coast that the true heat comes later than many areas. Every year we forget.
And then again, the whole thing can change. In the blink of an eye.
I was sitting at a cafe table and a woman sitting beside me leaned over and quietly said:
"Isn't it amazing how it can all change in the blink of an eye." Then she got up and left.
I didn't know her story. I didn't know what might have precipitated the comment.
What had happened to her? What changed in the blink of an eye? A mystery.

The month of June is just about over.
When I talk about this with friends and family, the same questions keeps coming back:
"But where did it go?" "What happened to June?"
I ask myself these very same questions at the end of every June. June seems to slip away on a cloud.
Aunt Olive always smiled when she asked: "What is so rare as a day in June?"
When I was a child I thought that was the beginning of a story. I waited for the answer, for the explanation to what really happened to June. " What indeed," was all she would say.
Now what was I supposed to make of that? Another mystery!

I listened to the gentle and powerful wisdom of Rachel Naomi Remen last Thursday evening.
If you are familiar with her, great.
If not, please do yourself a huge favor and read, "Kitchen Table Wisdom."
Doctor Remen, a medical doctor, celebrates Not Knowing. She reminds us that in this world where Mastery and Knowing have become the ideal, we might re-awaken to Mystery, and to open to Possibility.

I thought about all this.
I realised how attracted I am to the safety of neat, organised stories. I like a beginning, a middle, and an ending. Oh the story can get messy and convoluted, that's ok.
But I want the beginning, middle and end clearly marked out. I want to see the path.
Well guess what? It isn't. Always clear I mean.

But this business of Mystery intrigues and appeals to me.
So at this tender time, at end of June, I am opening to the possibility.
I am opening to Mystery in these delicious days of summer.
What about you?

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Happy New Year

It is the first day of 2013.
And I am full of yesterday, today and tomorrow thoughts on this first day of a very New Year.
But I had a chance to stop and think today, thanks to a young man in Ontario.
I watched a short clip on TV about Josh, a High School senior.
Josh is brave and he did a very brave thing.
He was being bullied and bothered at school and he decided to change things.
He decided he wanted to be seen in a new light. So he changed the way he was connecting with his peers.
He decided and he changed his actions. No blame. No pointing of fingers.
Josh did it gently and with kindness.
By holding a door open.
Yes, that's right. Every morning, Josh would hold a door open at school for his classmates, his peers, everyone. And he held it open. Not just for 10 or 20 seconds. I mean he stood there at the hall door and held it open for five, ten minutes. He greeted people, or nodded, or smiled, gently.
Soon, people were thanking him. Then they started to say hi to him at the door.
Then they started to greet him in the hall as they walked by.
They interviewed some of the other students about the "Doorman", as Josh was now nicknamed.
Some of the students said it made them smile, they felt welcomed when they walked through Josh's open door. Some of them said they found they were kinder to others now.

Risking with kindness. What a powerful, beautiful expression!
And it is a risk. To put yourself out there and meet and greet.
To open the door for others.
Thanks Josh.
Happy New Year. To all of you.