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.