The Gift of a Smiling Face
With just your being there,
The atmosphere somehow brightens.
With just your being there,
Everyone feels at ease.
I yearn to be just like you.
“This is my favorite poem by calligrapher Mitsu Aida. It means that when we are with other people, even if we cannot think of anything clever to say, we should try by our very presence to brighten the surroundings and make everyone comfortable. I am incredibly happy when I come across a person who does that. I gaze at him or her lovingly and wish I could do the same.” an excerpt from Rev Shundo Aoyama, author of a favourite book, Zen Seeds: Reflections of a Female Priest
My sweetest of all possible Mother’s, departed this earth on Sunday afternoon, July 26th, on beautiful Gabriola Island. She was 100 years and three months. She was fully alive up to the moment of death and had the most loving, joyful, grateful and peaceful two weeks imaginable, with her beloved family.
As you may imagine, there are many wondrous stories to be told. Today is not yet the time.
What I will leave you with is this. This was a profound experience for all of us, including the great grandchildren. We are returning to our homes with loving memories and joy-filled moments in our hearts, reflecting on what it means to live a good life and inspired to do a little tweaking.
Nothing was left unsaid.
Thank you for the many good wishes that you have sent to me/us over this past week. with appreciation and love, Trudy
What is most precious that money can’t buy?
To love and be loved
I have had a chance to re-discover this secret during the past ten days on Gabriola Island. We are here as a family, with My Mother, whose hospital bed has the place of honour in the living room, overlooking Georgia Strait, on the westcoast of Canada.
Here, each day begins for Mom as she opens her eyes to the splendour of the rising sun, eagles soaring against the ever changing palette of pinks, reds, oranges and gold, as the sun brushes a path of gold, directly to the foot of her bed.
The commonplace sounds of a door opening, water running and grinding coffeebeans, are experienced anew, as the house slowly awakens and people tread lightly, not wanting to disturb each other. One person slips into the study for a zoom meeting at 5:30 AM (8:30 ET) while another notices “Grandma” is awake and stops for a chat.
As for me, I slip out to the deck with a steaming cup of coffee to admire the wonders of nature unfolding before my eyes as I gaze anew at the bald headed eagles circling in front of me. And always the light. The way it strikes the lavender or hi-lights half the clump of daisies. Sometimes I glance and see, at that moment, the bark of the tree is aflame with morning light.
Shortly afterwards I go inside and laugh with my Mother over something silly. It is wonderful to be able to find so much levity as her life nears the end. And even more to hear nothing but words of gratitude, love and how lucky she feels to have such a loving family.
The sheer ordinariness of daily life, blind spots and all, heightened by the knowledge of mortality has me looking with fresh eyes at absolutely everything. Daily life is out of this world profound! We may not notice unless we really stop and pay attention. What we often do is take the ordinary for granted, until we don’t have it. And we won’t have it indefinitely. Death focuses the mind.
My Mother’s legacy in our extended family is simple. Lead your ordinary everyday lives extraordinarily well in all the ways that count. Do what needs doing and always be kind.
As her great-nephew, Derek, wrote to her: “You’re kind to everyone, and you treat all with love, kindness, and respect… I’ve been reminded, by observing you, there is a form of humble leadership rooted in love, respect, and sacrifice that is vastly more powerful than most of what I see in the world right now. This is comforting.”
My Mother receives many calls and emails from family young and old. As I read these letters with her, I see that unbeknownst to her she is seen as the anchor of the family. Everyone likes to be around her and they make sacrifices to do so. Why? Because she radiates strength, peace, acceptance, (not passivity) love, and action, while always being kind. They respect what they see as her wisdom, curiosity and joy in learning and they tell her so. They like how she takes risks and puts herself out for others, while never looking for credit. The way she thinks and acts anchors them. But that’s not all.
They also see her as a springboard. A person who doesn’t waste time on the uncontrollable but looks for the things we can do within our circle of influence. Creative, resourceful and fun. Turning over every stone. Convinced that obstacles have solutions. Expecting the best around the corner. Always inspiring and encouraging others to dream. We all see this through her actions. and they inspire ours.
They also see that life is not an endurance test for her. She loves life and her extended family squared. She knows when to say yes. She understands that no is an acceptable answer. She sees when her work is done and others can steer the ship.
Discernment – the ability to judge well.
This is the quality I see shining through in my Mother throughout her 100 years, and in particular at this time. Her courage to choose her own way, time and time again.
I am convinced that in the end it is the simple acts of daily living that have the biggest impact. None of us really know what the impact is. That’s not our job to know. It is our job to do our part and to do it kindly. And in the end to be surprised and delighted with how it turned out and bask in all the love surrounding us.
Note: 1) This Island paradise has blessed us, by sheer good luck, with perfect weather every single day.
Note: 2) Keep your eyes open. There is beauty everywhere.
Note: 3) Photos taken by family, and friend, Karen, who took the beauty below. Thank you.
Note: 4) Thank you for all of your many wonderful well wishes and encouraging words. Please accept my deepest appreciation. Do the best you can to stay safe during these particular times. Warmly, Trudy
One of my favourite teachers is Darlene Cohen, who I have quoted before in my blog. And today a friend sent me the following excerpt, which has applicability to many situations in my life, and I suspect in the lives of others.
It boils down to letting go. Of course we make plans and include contingencies, hoping we have thought of everything. And then life in all of its complexity intervenes. The unexpected happens.
And when it does we can double down on attempting to control the uncontrollable or we can let go of what we wanted and expected and devote ourselves to working with the situation at hand: responsively; kindly; lovingly, creatively, and open heartedly.
Depending on the option we choose we will increase or decrease our suffering and the suffering of others in the room.
I found this excerpt from Darlene to be a good reminder that when we are in a vulnerable and emotionally laden situation, it is worthwhile to consider her words. Of course without practice we can’t turn this better response on and off, which is why we may want to work with the smaller everyday intrusions on our plans that can sometimes send us into a tizzy.Handling the “grain of sand in our shoe,” teaches us how to scale the mountains ahead, one foot after another.
Many of us tend to bombard a difficult situation with a compulsive and blind effort that buries its particulars in all the flailing about. Making much too much effort all the time in every situation is not only exhausting, but it is a way of avoiding true engagement with our lives. We’re so involved in our response, we can’t tell what’s actually going on in the situation we’re reacting to. This strategy has all the earmarks of panic. We strive and we struggle and apply ourselves utterly, which eliminates all opportunities to actually experience the often distressing hills and gullies of a demanding situation.My own experience of doing this is that it protects me from feeling my fear at not being able to handle the situation; I can’t bear to actually feel that twinge of terror that seizes my stomach, especially if the outcome is important.A big part of what you must learn if you’re to be less worried about controlling everything is how to let go of your compulsive need to feel in control. You would be better off making the effort it takes to learn when to stop making effort, when to allow things to just happen.”– Darlene Cohen
Note 1:) I am now on beautiful Gabriola Island with my Mother and the rest of my family. The weather is spectacular and everyday I awaken at sunrise to the golden sun painting a path across the water. And as the sounds of a new day emerge with the variety of bird calls; the waves lapping on the shore from the wake of a ferry; the grind of the coffee beans on the other side of the screen door and murmurings as one after another the people in the house arise and greet the day. I can only bow in all directions with gratitude.
Note 2:) My wonderful Mother has a hospital bed in the living room overlooking the ocean and the sunrise. She is so happy to be here with all of us as we are to be with her. It is amazing to see the devotion from her entire family of all ages, and the effort she puts out to be fully present with each of us. A lifetime of love and attention and good cheer.
Note 3:) Thank you for taking the time to stop by here. I am honoured by your attention to my scribbles and all the kind and encouraging notes you send. I look forward to Wednesdays no matter where I find myself. Please take care of yourselves during this time of heightened uncertainty in the world. Warmly, trudy
The bee and the blue flower photo is thanks to son, Rob. From his front yard.
A Special Convocation
In the spring of 2004, a special convocation was held in Vancouver where Honourary Degrees from both Simon Fraser University and the University of British Columbia were bestowed on three Nobel Laureates, who had all won the Peace Prize. The recipients were the Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu, and Shirin Ebadi.
It was a week long event with enormous gatherings of 30,000; smaller gatherings of 1000 and one special gathering of 300, where the Dalai Lama made an appearance. My Mother was one of the lucky ones, along with my sister, a few friends and myself. We all received the white scarf, his blessing and a memorable moment for a lifetime. My take away was: “Never resist a generous impulse,” and “My religion is kindness,” which is the same religion as my Mother’s.
I was thinking of the Dalai Lama as his 85th Birthday was this week and I had recently watched a documentary about him (which I highly recommend) called In His Own Words. It is wonderful and I hope to show it to my Mother, later this month.
It brought me back to that extraordinary week in Vancouver 16 years ago, where we also met many other amazing teachers and writers representing all of the wisdom traditions.
It’s all a Blessing
Rabbi Zalman Schachter, was one of them. He wrote the book, From Age-ing to Sage-ing, amongst many others. Several of us became interested in his warm and enlivening concepts, to turn ageing into a meaningful, lively and joyful time of life while passing on wisdom to the younger generation.
Rabbi Schachter wrote a blessing that my Mother loved and loves to this day. She keeps it out in plain sight so it is readily available.
I dedicate this blessing to my Mother who has showered us with blessings for 100 years. And to everyone, doing the very best they can do with challenging situations. You all have my highest admiration.
“Whether the golden sun warms you to the core or the bitter cold wind stings your face, it is all a blessing. Whether you are surrounded by pleasure or immersed in toil and strife, every moment is a thing that carries boundless beauty and possibility.
Take each moment as it comes to you and give your best to it. Resenting the pain will only make it more painful, and hoarding the pleasure will only prevent you from experiencing its joy.
Give your attention and your energy to where you are. For when you truly appreciate the value of where you are and what you have, it opens you up to a world of possibilities.
Move beyond your own arbitrary judgments, and things that were once difficult and intolerable can become far easier to bear. Consider that much of what makes something difficult is the way you think and feel about it.
Rather than seeing yourself as enduring something unpleasant, see yourself as contributing your very best to a challenging and energizing situation. Rather than waiting for something better to come along, take the initiative and find a way to make something better actually happen.
Every moment is a truly unique and valuable blessing when you see it as such.”
Rabbi Zalman Schachter
Note 1:) Rabbi Schachter, was the author of many books, a founder of the Jewish Renewal movement, an innovator in ecumenical dialogue and a revered as well as a controversial figure in the overlapping circles of his life.
Note 2:) My Mother’s strength is “to take the initiative and find a way to make something better actually happen.”
Note 3:) Speaking of my Mother, (as hinted in my title today) she is in the hospital until Monday, July 13th. I am flying out on Sunday and we will be together with our family bubble, until the end of July on beautiful Gabriola Island. Is that not happiness!
Note 4:) I appreciate you dear readers. You are simply the best. Many thanks and the warmest of wishes. Take care of yourselves and make the most of everyday. Remember to allow lots of time for beauty in your life. We need that now, or so it seems to me. See you next week. Trudy
Greetings dear people:
Today, July 1st, is Canada Day in this country and it is Poetry day on my blog. This post is dedicated to my Mother who is in the hospital recovering from a fractured hip. My love of poetry is thanks to her so I chose a few (well, 8, and a few are a teeny bit long) that make me think of my Mother and a few where I can hear my Mother’s voice reading them to me. If you don’t care for poetry feel free to skip to the end and find a couple of things in the notes that you may enjoy.
Even after all this time
The sun never says to the earth,
“You owe Me.”
Look what happens with
a love like that,
It lights the whole Sky.
From The Gift by Hafiz-Version by D. Ladinsky
I stalked her
in the grocery store: her crown
of snowy braids held in place by a great silver clip,
her erect bearing, radiating tenderness,
the way she placed yogurt and avocados in her basket,
beaming peace like the North Star.
I wanted to ask, “What aisle did you find
your serenity in, do you know
how to be married for fifty years or how to live alone,
excuse me for interrupting, but you seem to possess
some knowledge that makes the earth turn and burn on its axis—“
But we don’t request such things from strangers
nowadays. So I said, “I love your hair.”
By Alison Luterman
I wandered lonely as a Cloud
The Peace of Wild Things
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
by Wendell Berry
The Lanyard by Billy Collins
The other day as I was ricocheting slowly
off the pale blue walls of this room,
bouncing from typewriter to piano,
from bookshelf to an envelope lying on the floor,
I found myself in the L section of the dictionary
where my eyes fell upon the word lanyard.
No cookie nibbled by a French novelist
could send one more suddenly into the past—-
a past where I sat at a workbench at a camp
by a deep Adirondack lake
learning how to braid thin plastic strips
into a lanyard, a gift for my mother.
I had never seen anyone use a lanyard
or wear one, if that’s what you did with them,
but that did not keep me from crossing
strand over strand again and again
until I had made a boxy
red and white one for my mother.
She gave me life and milk from her breasts,
and I gave her a lanyard.
She nursed me in many a sickroom,
lifted teaspoons of medicine to my lips,
set cold face-cloths on my forehead,
and then let me out into the airy light
and taught me to walk and swim,
and I, in turn, presented her with a lanyard,
Here are thousands of meals, she said,
and here is your clothing and a good education.
And here is your lanyard, I replied,
which I made with a little help from a camp counsellor.
Here is a breathing body and a beating heart,
strong legs, bones and teeth,
and two clear eyes to read the world, she whispered,
and here, I said, is the lanyard I made at camp.
And here, I wish to say to her now,
Is a smaller gift-not the archaic truth
that you can never repay your mother.
but the rueful admission that when she took
the two-tone lanyard from my hands,
I was as sure as a
boy girl could be
that this useless, worthless thing I wove
out of boredom would be enough to make us even.
Billy Collins (former US Poet Laureate) from The Trouble with Poetry
The Place I Want To Get Back To
the place I want to get back to is where
in the pinewoods
in the moments between
and first light
came walking down the hill
and when they saw me
they said to each other, okay,
this one is okay,
let’s see who she is
and why she is sitting
on the ground like that,
so quiet, as if
asleep, or in a dream,
but, anyway, harmless;
and so they came
on their slender legs
and gazed upon me
not unlike the way
I go out to the dunes and look
and look and look
into the faces of the flowers;
and then one of them leaned forward
and nuzzled my hand, and what can my life
bring to me that could exceed
that brief moment?
For twenty years
I have gone every day to the same woods,
not waiting, exactly, just lingering.
Such gifts, bestowed,
can’t be repeated.
If you want to talk about this
come to visit. I live in the house
near the corner, which I have named
by Mary Oliver, from Thirst
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!
by Rudyard Kipling
Gusty and Warm
I saw the season’s first bluebird
this morning, one month ahead
of it’s scheduled arrival.
Lucky I am
to go off to my cancer appointment
having been given a bluebird, and,
for a lifetime, having been given
By Ted Hooser – former US Poet Laureate
Note 1:) Claudia Zoe Bedrick , the founder of Enchanted Lion Books in the US, is an immense poetry-lover. She became besotted with poetry early and has remained bewitched for life. She tells her story like this. For my 8th birthday, my dad gave me a book called Reflections on a Gift of Watermelon Pickle: a book that now sits on my teenage son’s shelf. His inscription: Stories are a meal. But poetry is a glass of water, perhaps even a single drop that will save your life. At the age of eight, I didn’t fully understand what he meant, but I came to, and have ever since thought of poetry as water: essential, calm, churning, a vortex of light and shadow, refreshingly cool, pleasingly warm, and sometimes just hot enough or cold enough to jolt, charge, render slightly uncomfortable, and bring one fully, deeply to life once again.
Note 2:) Here is a beautiful Ted Talk on Nature Beauty and Gratitude I posted it over a year ago but it is always inspiring to watch.
Note 3:) I truly enjoyed this classic French song, by the Laval Youth Choir in Quebec. The song is about friendship, and how we need each other to help see us through our difficulties. And how we can warm each other’s hearts with our tender caring of each other.
Note 4:) Thank you for your good wishes for My Mother. I pass on every one. Everyday, her emails arrive bearing some good news, along with the reality of life with a broken hip at 100. Thank you once again for stopping by here to read this blog. Stay safe and enjoy everyday. Warmest wishes, trudy