Post 103 – Gratitude – Daughters

I am grateful for my daughters. I lied in bed the night before last, waiting, knowing it was the last night of our visit, the last night of my children returning to the nest so I could pretend they had never left. I know they are meant to leave, are meant to stretch their wings so the air can lift them from the branch, but part of my “mother soul” is stuck on repeat and I still want to tuck them into bed and hear their stories and lean in for the whispers of what matters to them and fall asleep knowing they are safe. I want to tie their shoes and brush their hair and assure them nothing can harm them while they are on my knee.

But of course, time marches on and they are mothers themselves and I watch with wonder and awe at their patience and capacity to love. I see the Mother Bear in them, the shoot-first-ask-questions-later when it comes to protecting their child, along with the teaching of life’s lessons of sharing, that is never easy for anyone under three feet tall, and sometimes not easy for those of any height, and lessons about waiting their turn and eating their dinner and brushing their teeth and learning to walk and trying to talk. I saw the look in my daughters eyes, the look they give in brief moments when raising toddlers, a look that says I’m not sure I’m going to survive motherhood. They will.

There were squabbles about who was playing with what first and there were tears of frustration, but there was laughter, the kind of laughter that soaks through your skin and you never want it to stop. It is the most precious of sounds, the sound of children and fun. I am still able to close my eyes and hear my own wee ones, their laughter shaking their bellies, their eyes sparkling with joy and I freeze-frame those moments to carry me through the winters of life, when I sit back in my chair, the light coming over my shoulder and shining just right on the pages of my favourite book. I lie my head back, forgetting the words in front of me and remembering instead the sounds, the moments when a hug solved all wounds, when baking their favourite cake was the absolute best thing, when humming a familiar song with their head against my chest made sleep simple and swift and dragging my fingers through their long hair soothed all the demons that raged.

And when they have gone, for a moment in the silence and among the scattered toys and forgotten socks and scuffs on the wall and fingerprints on every surface, I can’t remember who I am.

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Post 102 – Gratitude – Jason Bateman

I am grateful for Jason Bateman. I love Jason Bateman. Well, I don’t love love him, but I love the character he is in all his movies and I like to think, and I do so with reasonable certainty, that he is cast as the dependable good guy because he is just that. So when the director shouts out ACTION, Jason merely has to be himself.

There are so few things we can count on these days and we need to be able to depend that some things won’t change without our bidding. For example, Diet Coke. When I was drinking Diet Coke, which I’m not. Well, not that often. Hardly ever, but I digress. Diet Coke changed its recipe without even running it by me and if they had I would have said don’t mess with it, it’s just fine the way it is. Why is everyone compelled to change things? And if you would like to know what my impression of the new and improved Diet Coke is: Bleh. It’s not easy to write a word for the noise I am making.

One minute coffee is going to kill us off in the next few hours and then the experts are telling us coffee is going to lengthen our lives. I’ve quit listening to the debate on should we or should we not use coconut oil. All I really know is that Jason Bateman’s character makes me laugh. And I love to laugh. I just watched his latest film Game Night and he and Rachel McAdams made me laugh right out loud.

All my daughters are coming for a visit, the first of which arrives tomorrow. It is Aimee’s birthday and so I have baked her our traditional birthday cake that dates back to my Grandma Stewart so suffice to say the cake recipe has been around for a long time and we have never had the urge to change it, to muss with it, to try and better it. It is just perfect the way it is. The recipe is precise and it’s been called Ishgy-Gishgy Cake for as long as my memory goes back. I think the official name was Chocolate Chip Cake, but that hardly does it justice, besides the fact that none of us are really sure how to spell its name, which adds a certain delicious mystery.

I know change in life is inevitable. I assure you I’m well aware how age is messing with things and changing the things I used to count on, first and foremost my eyesight. But most of the time I don’t care about that. When I see a movie with Jason Bateman in it, I want it to be classic Jason Bateman. I don’t want him pursuing any roles that stretch his creative experience. I want him just as he is and then I can handle all the other stuff that swirls around in a fury of nothing lasts forever.

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Post 101 – Gratitude – Winnie the Pooh

I am grateful for the wisdom of a bear, a very wise bear.

My father called me Winnie Pooh when I was little, dropping “the” so as not to be accused of violating copyright laws. I’m sure that was the reason. When I re-read the letters he wrote to me just before he died, letters I’ve read at least a hundred times, he started each letter with “Dear Pooh”, simplifying the name even more and willingly copying the habit of those referring to Winnie the Pooh. Though Pooh was considered by his creator and admirers to be “naïve and slow-witted”, I consider Winnie the Pooh to be the smartest bear I know, smarter in fact than most people I know, certainly smarter than me, but he helps me strive to see life as clearly and as simply as he. He has what few of us do, common sense.

Winnie the Pooh is a humble bear who takes on the problems of the day with a hum, a good strategy we should all adopt. Winnie the Pooh, like me, is aging, but unlike me, he is unchanging, connecting with children for the past ninety-two years, an honour that his creator had no idea of.

Canada plays an important role in the creation of Winnie the Pooh, more specifically a Canadian soldier, a veterinarian Harry Colebourn. Harry bought a black bear cub for twenty dollars at the train station in Eagle River on his way overseas to serve in World War I. The bear became the mascot of the 2nd Canadian Infantry Brigade. When Harry was dispatched to France he loaned Winnie, named after his adopted hometown of Winnipeg, to the London Zoo where she became a beloved resident. A.A. Milne took his son Christopher to the zoo to visit Winnie the black bear and the rest, as they say, is history

A.A. Milne, Alan Alexander Milne, brought Winnie the Pooh to life for his son. Milne was born in London in 1882. He had one son whose name was none other than Christopher Robin, born in 1920. Christopher Robin lives on in the pages of A. A. Milne’s books, a timeless character for whom many feel great affection. Milne studied mathematics and then became a successful playwright before he started penning his tales with Winnie the Pooh, but his previous work was seriously overshadowed with the adventures of a bear and almost entirely forgotten and it is said he didn’t really want to be known as an author of children’s literature. But that’s where he’s wrong. I think the older we get the greater lessons we see that occurred in The Hundred Acre Wood.

Pooh shared the fact that a river knows this: there is no hurry. We shall get there one day. I grew up next to a river and knew exactly what Pooh meant; hurrying doesn’t change anything.

Perhaps his greatest wisdom is this:

What day is it, asked Pooh.

            It’s today, squeaked Piglet.

            My favourite day, said Pooh.  

I think I’ll go and read my dad’s letters over again. Just because today is the best sort of day to do such things.

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Post 100 – Gratitude – Full Moons

I am grateful for a full moon. It was a full moon on my birthday, April 29th.

My mother used to sing a song to Aimee, my eldest daughter, when Aimee was little. My mother may have adjusted the lyrics slightly, combined a couple of verses together, but this is how we remember it. And I doubt very much if Robert Meredith Willson would mind my mother taking artistic license with his song.

I see the moon, the moon sees me

Over the mountain, over the sea

Back where my heart is longing to be

Back to the one I love.

A full moon is thought to bring us awareness and clarity, but one must be in a calm state to reap the benefits of the moon. Meditating during a full moon, outside under its light can harness a calm and understanding that seems to go to our very cells, so I’ve read. A full moon is said to propel writers to have a deeper connection with his/her writing. One can only hope. The downside of a full moon, “experts” say, is our personality defects can be enhanced by a full moon, hence the unusual circumstances that bring people to the emergency rooms in great numbers when the moon’s light is full. The Fundy tides surge and swell during a full moon, often spilling over. The power of the moon is visible.

There are more theories and stories and myths about a full moon than one would want to bother counting, but I find a full moon calming, restorative. It makes any problems that I think I might have shrink and become hardly worth bothering about. I leave my blinds up on a full moon night and let the light wash into my bedroom and wake me, if I happen to be asleep, so I can go out on the deck, weather permitting, and soak up that glorious light.

The light from that magnificent moon can unite those separated by geography, as you both stare up in wonder and send your very best wishes and thoughts to float on those beams of light to find their way into the heart of the other. The next full moon is May 29th. Be ready.

Science says the sun is the past, the earth is the present and the moon is the future. Perhaps this is why we gaze at it, our breath halted as we bathe in its light and imagine all the possibilities that are yet to come. If we miss it, if the clouds obstruct our view, if the rain keeps us indoors, take comfort. Another is coming.

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Post 99 – Gratitude – Car Rides

I am grateful for car rides. Just the other day I was remembering Sunday drives from my childhood, the whole family piled into the car, only a brief argument about who got stuck in the middle. Me. The burden of being the youngest. Erma Bombeck said never have more children than you have car windows. She was right. Sometimes those drives would be quiet, everyone lost in their own thoughts, and other times the conversation was lively, stories spilling, one into another, everyone having a chance to be heard.

The car is a perfect place for conversation, for sharing. There are no interruptions aside of the driver keeping her eyes on the road and doing her best not to careen into the ditch. You can share the really big stuff in a car, the hard bits, the deep stories that take a few hundred miles to get at. With no eye contact, other than a few glances, you can really hear, listen to the words, the tone, to get to the guts of what you are talking about. It’s a captive audience, literally. No one is going to jump from a moving car to avoid a particular topic. There is an ease in road trip conversation with its inherent privacy and intimacy.

My sister and I did a road trip not so many years ago, from Kelowna, BC to Fort Frances. We laughed a lot, cried a little, and listened to each other’s take-away from childhood, differing in some perspectives and mirrored in others. Our sisterhood was refreshed with common stories and memories, our uniqueness springing from a shared starting place.

A car ride conversation is a bit like being in the psychiatrist’s office, lying on her couch, she sitting behind you, out of view, probably because she’s writing her grocery list or playing Sudoku, but you don’t know that. You have to trust she’s paying attention. She probably is. And I’m not sure it matters, because it’s all about getting the “stuff” from deep inside out to where you can see it.

Maybe we could solve some of the world’s problems if people went for a car ride. Trump and Kim Jong-un would have to drive around the planet several times before they stopped spitting at each other and got to the truth. Israel and Palestine could stand to do some listening, each taking a turn. A car ride might be perfect for that.

I don’t mean to make light of serious matters, but I’m not sure it should be so difficult to get along, to see another person’s perspective, even those at cross-purposes to our own. I watched a film not long ago about the difficulties between Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom, the centuries old siege pitting Catholics and Protestants against one another. The leaders of the opposing “teams” ended up in a car together due to weather and the premise was they would begin to understand the opposing side, which led to a calming of the conflict. Made perfect sense to me. You can’t hold a grudge for long in a car; not the way you can when you’re hiding behind walls and rhetoric.

I’d love a car ride today. I’d like to escape and have a conversation of the heart. William Butler Yeats said it right: “Come, Fairies, take me out of this dull world, for I would ride with you upon the wind and dance upon the mountains like a flame.” What he was really saying was, let’s go for a car ride.

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Post 98 – Gratitude – Community

For Will and his family:

I am grateful to be part of a community, a community who has known you since you were little, when they saw you on the street and were surprised at how you’d changed, how you’d grown, how you can ride a bike, drive a car, get a job.

I think when we are young we maybe take the idea of community for granted, feel the burden of the ordinary, wanting at some point to fly, fly alone and shed who we were to get a glimpse of who we might be. Community can know our stories before we do, putting their own spin on the facts at times.

A community at its best, wraps its collective arms around those who are hurting, those who feel the overwhelming life-sucking pain of loss. Community bakes casseroles and cakes. It sends notes and flowers, and it places hands on caved in shoulders and cheeks against tear-stained faces. It prays silently in the late hours and early morning light, prays for understanding and relief when there is none. A community knows when we have been knocked down, broken, and it puts out its hand to pull the wounded back up, to brace our back, and become a human crutch so we might walk upright even for a few moments, for two breaths, for a heartbeat, to remind us we will indeed walk upright again, not today, but some day. A community breathes for us when we can’t, fills and empties our lungs when we have no strength to do it ourselves.

A community helps us heal, knows that though we smile, though we return to work, though we do our banking and pick up our mail and go about the every day business of living, appearing as though we might still be alive, if only just, knows we are forever changed. We have been to the edge and are trying to find our way back. A community leaves the light on for us, the door unlocked, arms open to welcome us in upon our return.

A community reminds us of when we laughed, laughed easily and sincerely, when we were the best version of ourselves. And a community remembers when we have gone, when we left too early, before the story had its natural ending. A community raises a hand of farewell, especially when it wants us back.

For those of us whose geography has changed, our hearts join the team of “our once was home” community. We join the soldiers who guard the wall from a distance, who call out in the dark across the too many miles to say we wish this weren’t so, we wish it with all our hearts.

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Post 97 – Garnet Angeconeb

I am grateful for Garnet Angeconeb.

I was thinking of heroes the other day while I was walking in the snow. Mighty Mouse was important when I was little. He was a good guy, as most flying mice tend to be. He was always ready to save the day; he even said so in his theme song, if you remember. Tonto and The Lone Ranger qualified as heroes, if for no other reason than the fact that a horse was their preferred mode of transportation and I so desperately wanted a horse like Scout, Tonto’s horse. It goes without saying that Annie was always my hero and always will be, for an abundance of reasons.

We all have a list of people who inspired us, left their indelible mark, altered the trajectory of our life in a positive way, became an oasis, a resting place from which to start again, people whose contributions to our life is forever sealed within us, and all too often those individuals never know of their hero status.

I met a hero this past summer, a hero new to me, but certainly not a newcomer to heroism. His photo sits on my desk, a photo I look at each time I sit down to write, to inspire me, but more than that to draw strength from when I am filled with self-doubt, a writer’s constant companion, and to feel hopeful when despair is lurking. He is Garnet Angeconeb.

Garnet and I were born the same year. While I was attending Alberton Central School, Garnet was taken from his home at the age of seven and placed in Pelican Residential School, forty miles from his home, where he ceased being Shebagosh, his Anishnaabe name meaning “rebirth under the leaves”, and became instead Number 22.

Garnet and 150,000 children like him were forced into Residential Schools in this country between 1840 and 1996. These children were in greater risk of death (1 in 25: CBC News June 2015) than Canadians killed in World War II. It took us 150 years to come to our senses, but not before generations of families had been decimated, language and culture lost, childhoods forever interrupted.

I often hear Canadians from both sides of the story saying things such as get over it, it happened a long time ago. But how exactly does one “get over it”? How would any of us get over the loss of our childhood, the loss of family, the loss of the very essence of who we are. Most of us wouldn’t. Garnet Angeconeb did and like every wound that goes to the very core of us, he will continue to get over it as long as he is breathing.

The details of Garnet’s life can be found on his website in the form of a video memoir, a moving and thoughtful tribute to the truth of his life and how he continues to search for healing in his own life, as well as healing for those he encounters in his work, work that earned him a place with The Order of Canada, the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal and the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal, but most importantly has earned him the recognition of himself, that he has resilience, that he is proud to be Anishinaabe despite the years of a system that tried to educate those very qualities out of him.

Garnet is gentle, speaks quietly, with a laugh at the ready. He is kind. He welcomed me into his home to hear his story, an honour for me. The battle is long and wearying, it takes its toll but Garnet continues, not with a voice that flings blame, but rather one that points to the truth and says this is the way to reconciliation.

Garnet wonders at times if anyone is listening. I would say to him: Many are listening. I am listening. I am proud, so very proud to be his friend.

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