westcoast snow on holly

Celebrate a Snow Day

“I am going to keep having fun every day I have left, because there is no other way of life. You just have to decide whether you are a Tigger or an Eeyore.” Randy Pausch

 

News travels fast.

Schools in Ottawa closed today. Furthurmore, Universities, public buildings, community centres and more, gave notice they will close as well, due to excessive snow and high winds.   Although we get lots of snow in Ottawa, schools don’t close.  Adults and children jumped for joy,  delighted with this extraordinary event. It was a snow day! How will we celebrate?

Of course this same news spells trouble for travellers as one flight after another gets cancelled in Ottawa, Montreal and Toronto and planes are diverted to Quebec City.  Yet, the inconvenience and worry of winter travel also creates a wealth of stories with which we can regale our  friends and family, when we finally do meet up.

Since weather is uncontrollable, we may as well find a way to enjoy it and even take advantage of  a “snow day.” A bowl of popcorn and a good book. Snowshoeing down the street. (No cars out and about.) Stirring up a pan of favourite cookies. Calling friends to come celebrate this crazy white stuff.

Or follow the example of this man who lives on Gabriola where they usually don’t get snow. His advice is to sit by the fire; read; listen to an opera; play the piano  and then have a nap. Some people know how to live.

Or, better yet, he says, “drag out your old Austrian schlitten, (sled) hop on and ride down the hill to the snow covered beach.

Now this is a rare and beautiful sight on a gulf Island.

It strikes me that finding joy is oftentimes going to the trouble to create fun. Bundling up and going outside in the elements is not particularly convenient.  And when we feel that winter cold and snow on our face, it can inspire complaint, or something to celebrate. Depends on your point of view.

Yet, whatever point of view you take, we are all soothed and welcomed the moment we step back inside  the comfort of our home.

Kids know what to do.

They fling themselves, with abandon, into a day like this.  Tobogganing; shoveling (yes, a matter of perspective) building snow forts and angels. Adults are well served to find a kid and get lessons on how to have fun in all kinds of weather.

In fact we need to celebrate not just snow but fun in general. As Randy Pausch adds  “Never, ever underestimate the importance of having fun.”

May you all create something fun to do this week and tell me about it. Warmly, Trudy

Note 1:) On September 18, 2007, Carnegie Mellon professor and alumnus Randy Pausch delivered a one-of-a-kind last lecture that made the world stop and pay attention. It became an internet sensation viewed by millions, an international media story, and a best-selling book that has been published in more than 35 languages. If you want to see the Carnegie Mellon Page on Randy click And it all started with Randy »

If you only want to watch The Last Lecture. Here you go. Be forewarned that it is long. One hour and sixteen minutes.

Note 2:)  Photos, thanks to Gottfried M. The irony is not lost on me that I used mostly west coast snow photos.

Note 3:) Thanks as always, for reading this blog.

 

 

lanterns tokyo

Sometimes Yes and Sometimes No

Ten years ago I was teaching an eight week  program at Wellspring Calgary, on Living Well With Illness. My co-facilitator, colleague  and precious friend John Stephure and I, were wrapping up the last evening. Just before we shutdown, a participant asked me for the name of my favourite book.

As a lover of books it was like being asked to name my favourite child. Impossible. However, a book title had sprung to mind. I confidently announced that one of my most favourite and important books was the Power of A Positive No by William Ury.

To my complete and utter surprise I heard John, who was standing by my side, say to our group,” Trudy has never read that book.”

I turned to face him with a look of disbelief on my face and then turned to the participants and announced –  “Of course I have read that book. I read it twice.”

There was a split second of silence followed by John’s clear and direct response: “you could have fooled me.”

Everyone laughed. Me too.

Yet, something had burned into my brain. It felt as though I had been hit by a stick, compliments of a Zen master. It rattled me.

Life can change in a moment. This was the last official thing that John and I did together. Four weeks later he had died as a result of his cancer that had been predicted to end his life ten  years earlier. Consequently, those words became an important part of John’s legacy in my life.

For instance, I experienced a challenging and proud moment two years later when I declined an offer to participate in a project that I would have thoroughly enjoyed. A former colleague invited me to sit on a committee doing work that I believed in.

I was, however, involved in the deeply meaningful work of caring for my young grandchildren and regaining my own health. My commitment was to be fully present at that stage of their young lives so I chose to say no to the generous offer. Competing purposes, even good ones, would have been a detriment, at that time.

When I delivered my gracious no, with thanks for the invitation, my colleague said:

“John would be proud of you.”

During John’s last ten years he devoted himself to help establish Wellspring Calgary, a free resource centre for anyone affected by cancer, including caregivers. It continues to provide a wealth of  gold standard programs and services for individuals, families and friends. His vision never wavered from his purpose that no one need face cancer alone and that all services had to be free.

Yes to Life

John said YES to life and invitations of all kinds but he also filtered them through what he called his Four F’s: Family, Friends, Faith and Fun. He was clear on his purposes and what he wanted to accomplish, see, and do, while he could. It appeared to me that his purposes fell under the category he named Faith. He took his work seriously. And his “yes” was always, without exception the faithful “yes.” In other words, yes was a promise, and he kept his promises.

 He also said No

The Four F’s became his filter to help with those decisions.  He would sometimes say no, if the request didn’t fall into one of his important categories. Take golf as a Fun  example. John loved golf and winters in Calgary are long and cold. You would not find John sitting in a meeting during July and August. Meetings could happen ten months of the year but not in the summertime. His filter of Fun was never taken for granted.

Many of us are awkward around the word no. When my children were growing up I let them know they could ask me for anything as long as they considered no an acceptable answer. I, on the other hand, found saying no disconcerting in most other instances. Illness was an excellent teacher to help me develop the skill of how and when to say a gracious no.

When our calendar fills up with tests, treatments and appointments and we are fatigued and unwell, we have a so called “acceptable” reason to decline requests, including ones we would enjoy. Furthermore, we get immediate feedback for uttering too many yes’s. Our bodies and minds let us know that a mistake was made.

Yet, we need to learn to say NO when the reason may not suit others. As good health returns it is easy to slip back into the same old habits. And then the words of the poet, Naomi Shihab Nye come to mind:

Know you could tumble any second.
Then decide what to do with your time.

 

William Ury, learned to say no because of his young daughter’s serious illness.  No to unnecessary tests and intrusive examinations. Yet, he needed her medical team to  engage and connect with his daughter and the family. How to navigate this delicate balance and not fracture important relationships was the challenge. And it became the learning that produced the Power of A Positive No

The wisdom of saying yes, is indisputable for a full and engaging life.  And NO is part of that. We can look at it this way. In order to be faithful to the yes’s we have already given, there are times when we need to say no. This is a valuable skill worth learning, if we aren’t good at it yet. How to say no without fracturing our most important relationships. How to say no in order to preserve the time for what is most important to each of us. Saying no can be nerve wracking and learning to do so graciously can be a game changer.

 

“All too often we cannot bring ourselves to say No when we want to and know we should.” William Ury

 

Note 1: William Ury is the co-founder of the Negotiation Project at Harvard and he has always been a “say yes” and “get past no” expert. In contrast, he discovered the power and necessity of the positive no during a medical crisis.  He described it something like this: We need to be able to say a gracious and firm no, in order to say yes to something more important. And ultimately, that NO will get to YES. Ten years later I still recommend his book, The Power of A Positive No.

Note 2: Full disclosure: I am no expert at this yet but I am so much better than I used to be. Mostly, I have learned to give myself a pause rather than to jump in and say yes, if I am uncertain. Life keeps offering us so many choices, things we would love to do.  Yet, we have limited time and resources. Now, I sleep on the offers, and that has made all the difference.

Note 3: It is best not to mention the weather this week.  I didn’t join the hail and hearty crowd, after all. Sigh. Thanks for taking the time to read my blog. Until next week, Trudy

 

 

The World Continues to Support Us

Warning: this is longer than usual – about 4 min. I am sorry.

Living well is not about ignoring our difficulties or even our grumpiness. We get important information from these facts and feelings that often help us see what needs to be done.  Yet there is more to the story then solving problems. We can actively seek out the kernels of goodness each day and use our attention to see all the surprising ways we are being helped. One example is to become an armchair anthropologist and track down all the people and events that make it possible for us to enjoy a cup of hot coffee or tea, as just one example.

For instance, this morning I ordered an Americano at Wild Oats, a bakery café in the neighbourhood where I live. With even a quick overview I can see dozens of hands that helped me receive this delicious cup of coffee.

  • JP –  the barista, greeted me and immediately started making my coffee;
  • the city ensured there was clean water;
  • many growers of the beans;
  • harvesters, truck drivers and pilots;
  • local distributors and suppliers;
  • Ottawa road crews who cleared away mountains of snow so the delivery truck could deliver the beans;
  • elements of sunshine, soil and rain in the country of origin where the the coffee bean started out;
  • patrons of Wild Oats who provide resources for the owners to stay open.

Within a few seconds,  all of you could add to this very partial list. In truth it is almost endless.

It may seem a waste of time with no practical reason to consider such matters. Instead, just drop the $2.75 plus a tip on the counter, say thanks and go. What more is there to do? My inclination, however, is that when we notice, even once in a while, the true cost of what we buy and receive, including people and things required,  we will be awestruck. And there is more. What did it take, in this moment, to have the coins in our pocket to pay for that cup of steaming hot coffee?

I bet we could list dozens and dozens of people and events in our lives that contributed to our ability to pay. Remember the person who taught us to read or gave us our first job? What about those who formally and informally taught us life skills and professional skills? It is a mind blowing experience to truly see the depth and breadth of our support and good fortune. It isn’t about being grateful for everything but it is about noticing.

I think about this trail of breadcrumbs when it comes to medicine, and the lucky era we happen to live in. Anyone diagnosed with a serious illness today has more options  than ever before. In my own case, there is a good chance I wouldn’t be sitting here writing these words had I been diagnosed, three years earlier than I was. Why? The drug that saved/extended my life wasn’t yet available for a case like mine.

It would be amazing to see the list of names who contributed, over the years, to the research, development and testing of the many lifesaving drugs and procedures we now use. Even though we wish we didn’t need them,  where would we be without them? What about those who then fought to make them available? The list goes on.

So, here is a fun suggestion.  How about a laundry list of  names of people and or things that have been helpful to you in any part of your life. Perhaps trace the specific lineage of your success. Who was on your team? Sometimes it is a surprise to spot a person or circumstance that you had previously not noticed. Don’t forget everyday things like a hot shower or a laptop readily  taken for granted, until a power outage strikes.

You may consider small things that make your life better, like a toothbrush. What about the vital role of the person who picks up the trash? Or those who stock the shelves in the grocery store, or take your blood in the lab? Nothing is too small or too large for your list and it may surprise you how easy this is to do, once you get in the flow.

It takes time and effort to notice all the ways we are supported. If we don’t pay attention or only notice all that is wrong, so much of our lives disappear into the background, unnoticed and unappreciated. When we pay attention to the support we receive our world expands and we have more fun.

Be assured that reflecting on these things does not take away from the effects of a terrible diagnosis and treatment. It isn’t about undermining our own effort and  hard work in these daily transactions of life. It may, however, give us pause for thought as we see the bigger picture.

Possible side effects include moments of spontaneous gratitude, pure joy, a desire to live fully while we can, and an urge to give back.

 

 

Note 1: It is a constant, continuous, spectacular world we live in, and every day you see things that just knock you out if you pay attention, Robert Irwin, artist

Wild oatsNote 2: To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work. (Our beloved poet, Mary Oliver, who died this January)

Note 3: I notice that long-time residents of Ottawa rarely complain about the winter cold and snow. They are busy either enjoying what winter has to offer, or, they are cozily snuggled up in front of a fire. They know it is all about how you dress (took me too long to figure that out) and they direct their attention to the beauty of this season. Like right now, as I write, beautiful distinct snowflakes are falling on the pristine backyard. There are a pair of cardinals on a tree branch. The fireplace provides comfort to body and soul. I want to become more like these hale and hearty winter people with no complaints whatsoever.

Note4: People who live in Ottawa aren’t super human; they get tired, of course, driving in snow banks, with no place to park and long commutes, but they don’t complain about winter. Only mentioning, in passing, the occasional downsides of all this snow.

Note 5: I laughed out loud when I heard Alan Neal, discuss the weather during an interview, this afternoon on CBC radio, All In in a Day.  He was waxing poetic about winter and all of its beauty, while turning a blind eye to the inconveniences. As I was saying in Note 3… that’s Ottawa.

snow in yellowknife

ring the bells

The Element of Surprise and Caring

One year ago this January, on a cold winter day, there was an unexpected knock on my daughter’s door. I was greeted by a stranger delivering flowers. Turns out they were for me.

Christmas was in the past and my Birthday was nine months away. Who on earth would send me flowers for no reason whatsoever?

Inside the brown florist wrapper were a dozen exquisite white tulips, from my friend, in Victoria. I had done nothing to warrant this gift, which made the beauty of the moment all the more wondrous.

Moreover, there was a second part to the surprise, which surprised me even more. My reaction.

White Tulips HBFor days I marvelled at the beauty of the tulips. They struck me as the most beautiful tulips I had ever seen. They lit up my life in the most extraordinary ways. I had more energy, saw beauty everywhere, minded the cold less and had unadulterated waves of joy. I felt lucky, blessed and grateful.

The power of kindness is evident over and over again from our friends, family and strangers. I swear those dozen white tulips, boosted my immune system.

Going a step further, however, I read an article in the New York Times, this morning, on a number of studies, showing the power of caring physicians to improve health outcomes. This research, including Stanford University, corroborates my direct experience while going through cancer treatment.

My medical team are brilliant physicians and specialists. Furthermore, they are caring. They provided me with almost immediate access to them, should I think I needed it. They did extra research on my behalf, to help with my decision making; their interest in my family and grandchildren was an unexpected surprise; there was always enough time for one more question. Never rushed. My opinions were respected and they generously offered both humour and personal anecdotes, along with all the tests.

I am convinced that their personal interest and caring made my treatment more effective and certainly less stressful. I believe it still.

The authors of the NYTimes article concludeWe often think the only parts of medical care that really matter are the “active” ingredients of medicine: the diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment. But focusing only on these ingredients leaves important components of care underappreciated and underutilized. To really help people flourish, health care works better when it includes caring.”

I believe that this kind of caring  is essential and particularly important for anyone with a chronic condition. If that is you and you don’t have it, ask others for recommendations. Turn over every stone to find it. It can change everything.

And even beyond the medical, don’t you all notice how life affirming it is to work with people who care. Take my webmaster, as an example. Thanks to Margaret Rode, I do not live in fear of all that can go wrong. Her steady hand, sharp mind and kindness allow me to be confident that any mistake I make can be fixed. And even better we have a lovely supportive friendship. All of her clients feel that way. Once caring is involved it is no longer just a transaction, it is a relationship.

We do better in all parts of our life when we are in the circle of giving, receiving and caring relationships. They are worth looking for and cultivating.

List of suggested articles this week:

Can a Caring Doctor Make Treatments More Effective NYTimes

We Will All Leave a Legacy – whether we like it or not Globe and Mail

When Happens When Your Doctor Blames You Washington Post

Note 1: Thank you taking the time to read these posts. Sending my best wishes and see you next week. Trudy

hope

Zen Seeds – an excerpt

There is a small book I like called Zen Seeds, written by a female priest, Shundo Aoyama. This is a favourite reflection.

“Everyone desires to be rich rather than poor. Everyone wishes to be healthy rather than ill. Everyone wants to be a success rather than a failure. No matter how hard you work during your lifetime, there may be times when you have to go without food for the day. No matter how much you complain of illness, you have to be ill when the time comes. Even if it is an illness you will die from, you cannot escape it. No matter how much confidence or capability you have, there may be failures.

Happiness that depends on what you acquire or become is only conditional happiness, not true happiness. No matter what happens, it is all right. If you become ill, just be ill; if you are poor, than just be poor. Unless you accept your present circumstances, happiness cannot be attained. To face any situation and accept it with open arms if it “can not be avoided” molds the attitude enabling you to see that such a wonderful way of living is possible. This is indeed something of consequence. As soon as this attitude is achieved, you have reached paradise, anytime, anywhere, and in any circumstances.”

Note 1: Thank you for continuing to read my blog. In truth I have struggled this past two days to say what I wanted to say. I then recalled this excerpt and realized that it perfectly expressed my thoughts. No reason to say another word. Warm regards and see you again next week, Trudy

 

Humour, Hope and Nasrudin

Another photo from Gottfried’s collection, with thanks. Hawaii rainbow.

Humour, from my understanding and experience boosts our spirits, if not our immune system. Granted, there is so much we don’t know for sure, but we all seem to benefit when we can have a good laugh. Funnily enough, we don’t all laugh at the same things.

Take laughter yoga, for instance. This highly popular program that is offered for people with illness, does nothing for me. I tried it and didn’t relate to the humour at all. Yet, we offered it at Wellspring, where many participants loved it.  We are all different and it is important that each of us pay attention to our direct experience, so we know what works for us and what doesn’t.

Life gives us opportunities to try new things. A curious mind can serve us well. Dr. Itami, the founder of Meaningful Life Therapy, used humour as a daily part of his non-medical prescriptions for his seriously ill cancer patients.

Not only that, he encouraged them to find something funny in their present condition. Not because their illness was funny, far from it. But as a shift of attention in learning to cope with the reality of where they found themselves.  A relief for that moment or two when they shared their story with others, and sometimes a longer relief as they went looking for humour.

And when that was an impossible task for some, they researched funny tales to tell each other, in their weekly study group.

When we cultivate a sense of humour, our lives improve. We probably all have people with whom we laugh a lot. I have one friend that as soon as she answers the phone we start laughing. Why? Who knows. But it has something to do with the irony of life; the cosmic jokes…we always feel better, when we hang up, even when we have been discussing a dire situation.

 I discovered Sufi tales, thirty years ago, and was introduced to the inimitable Mulla Nasrudin, who soon became my go to person to make me laugh. I have already included two of his stories in this blog and today I am giving you another favourite.

 

What you hadn’t thought of – from a collection by Idries Shah

If someone doesn’t say something to entertain me, shouted a tyrannical and effete king, ‘I’ll cut off the heads of everyone at court.’

Mulla Nasrudin immediately stepped forward.

‘Majesty, don’t cut off my head – I’ll do something.’

‘And what can you do?’

‘I can teach a donkey to read and write!’

The king said:

‘You’d better do it, or I’ll flay you alive!’

‘I’ll do it,’ said Nasrudin, ‘but it will take me ten years.’

‘Very well,’ said the king, ‘you can have ten years.’

When the court was over for the day, the grandees (persons of high rank) crowded around Nasrudin.

‘Mulla,’ they said, ‘can you really teach a donkey to read and write?’

‘No,’ said Nasrudin.

‘Then,’ said the wisest courtier, ‘you have only bought a decade’s tension and anxiety, for you will surely be done to death. Oh, what folly to prefer ten years suffering and contemplation of death to a quick flash of the headman’s axe…’

‘You have overlooked just one thing,’ said the Mulla.

‘The king is seventy-five years old, and I am eighty. Long before the time is up, other elements will have entered the story…’

I love this story. And it also reminds me about a reason to hope. Reality always contains an element of surprise – sometimes good and sometimes bad. David Steindl Rast and my Mother are my teacher’s on hope. Rast says: “To have hope is to remain open to the possibility of surprise even when everything turns out worse than we could ever imagine. Despair assigns reality a deadline, whereas hope knows that there are no deadlines.” My Mother, well, she always believes there will be something better around the corner. The surprising thing is,  because she expects it, she always finds it.

It seems to me that no matter what we do we will experience suffering in our lives. We can isolate ourselves and do our best to protect ourselves from pain. But to live fully we will ultimately experience it all, the full catastrophe, as Zorba the Greek puts it.  But we also experience the hope and joy, the love and laughter and if we stay open,  all the amazing imperfectly perfect people in our lives. And that is what counts the most, in the end.

Let’s find ways to enjoy our lives, and gently encourage each other along, while we can!

Note1: Here is a link to humour and other learning elements of this perspective, on my website  

Note 2:  And a link to Laughter is the best Medicine from my June posting, for those who didn’t see it.

Note 3: I haven’t forgotten my online workshop. I am picking up the threads this week and more information forthcoming.

Note 4: Thanks again, for reading my blog posts. If you know of others who may be interested, please be free to forward them on. See you next week, Trudy

Greetings for the New Year 2019

Aurora Borealis 2002 – photo by Gottfried Mitteregger on New Year’s Eve in Yellowknife

Ten years ago my friend sent me the following stanza by poet Marge Piercy from her poem, The Spring Offensive of the Snail. She also added this note, “This is a great poem to start off the New Year. There is also a ceremony among some First Nations people, which involves throwing water over their backs seven times. In doing so, they wash away any habits or thoughts no longer beneficial for growth.  People forgive those who have harmed them and ask forgiveness of those they have harmed.  Now they are ready to start the year anew.”

“…But remember to bury
all old quarrels
behind the garage for compost.
Forgive who insulted you.
Forgive yourself for being wrong.
You will do it again
for nothing living
resembles a straight line,
certainly not this journey
to and fro, zigzagging
you there and me here
making our own road onward
as the snail does…”   excerpt from Marge Piercy’s poem

I wish you all a 2019 filled with many meaningful moments of joy, purpose, courage, generosity, health, awareness, adventures, laughter and lots of time with the ones you love. Let’s stay open to the element of surprise. We never know what might happen around the corner.

Like this photo that was taken by Gottfried Mitteregger in Yellowknife, 2002, at New Year’s. He was there with Dr. Itami and a group of cancer patients from Japan. They had come to see the Aurora Borealis and experience a traditional healing ceremony performed by a Shaman. Everyone was surprised by the extraordinary display of nature and the significance and joy of the nurturing ceremony they had experienced. Consequently, healing can happen, even when cure doesn’t.

It has been my experience that there is always help during times of distress and great difficulty. Sometimes we don’t even need to ask for help. It arrives unbidden. Sometimes we need to seek it out. Knock on doors. Write letters. Make calls.

And, even with all of our pro activeness, it doesn’t imply we solve the problem. Yet, we often find comfort, strength and new information. It is important to seek out what you need. Sometimes the locked door opens, even a crack, and allows some light to get in. Sometimes it doesn’t and, yet, our efforts and the efforts of others keep us from being alone.

2019 awaits us with 365 brand new pages for our book of life. Let’s all live them fully, in the best way we know how. “Zigzagging (along) you there, me here…as the snail does.”

With love and gratitude and a thousand good wishes for you all. Trudy

Note 1: In July of this brand New Year, some of the Japanese who went to Yellowknife in 2002 will arrive in Calgary to hike in the Rockies for four days and visit Wellspring Calgary where they will give a presentation and participate in Wellspring activities. There will be 13 participants, including Yoshie, the cousin of Dr. Itami. All are in their 60’s and 70’s; several have had cancer or been a caregiver. Even more, their purpose is to remind themselves and others that you can have cancer or other serious illness, be over 60 and still live fully. I am very happy that they chose Calgary for this year’s adventure. Last year it was Mt Blanc.

Note 2: Some of you will read this today as I will be flying home, tomorrow, so will post this early.

Note 3: Here you see a bit of one of the teepee’s, in the bottom left corner.

Christmas moonlight in Parksville

A Shift of Perspective

Moonlight glow Christmas 2018 – photo by favourite and one and only son, Rob Gaudet

“We spend January 1st walking through our lives, room by room, drawing up a list of work to be done, cracks to be patched. Maybe this year, to balance the list, we ought to walk through the rooms of our lives…not looking for flaws, but for potential.” ― Ellen Goodman

There is value in this thought of Ellen Goodman’s, and as this year draws to a close and I enter a reflective time I want to offer a suggestion.  Rather than even looking at “potential,” what about setting aside some time with paper and pencil to record a laundry list of things we did this year that gave us satisfaction. The actions we took that we are proud of.

I am not talking about pleasure, happiness, easy or getting our own way. Rather, I am speaking here of things that may have been hard, challenging, or risky. Things we didn’t even want to do but needed to be done and we rose to the challenge. The times that we overcame “resistance” or “fear” or “inertia” to start or stop something that we deemed necessary.  I might add, things we even desired to do and were still a struggle to begin.

As a consequence of doing them we experienced satisfaction, meaning, relief, joy, delight…and we could say to ourselves, “good work.” I did it.

I can imagine that we all have something to write down. No life is free of challenge. No life goes along smoothly from day to day without disruption. Once in awhile we can be our own disruptor and tackle the task or the situation we have been ignoring. And then we have the heady rush of completion, or, if not finished yet, we see the light at the end of that tunnel.

Why not devote a little time to this idea. I’m going to do it when I finish this blog post. I have a few things already surfacing as I write these words. And I will use the encouragement of what I did do, to pick up the pieces of what needs doing in 2019.

I have reconciled myself to the fact that my inbox will never be empty.  I will never be able to do everything or even repair everything in my life that is calling out my name. Instead I am going to celebrate small victories.  This won’t keep me from attempting all kinds of things that I think are important but it will allow me to honour the effort, which is the only thing we can do anything about.

I say, congratulations to all of us, for the things we did, or, in some cases, did not do in 2018. The conversations we had; the books we read; the meals we cooked; the problems we solved; the help we offered; the thank-you’s we gave; the apologies we offered; the kms we walked; the harsh words we avoided that one particular time; the times we said yes;  the times we said no in order to say yes to some other purpose; the tasks we completed; or started; the sock drawer tidied up; the excess  we gave away; the laughter and kindness and tears we brought to the table – our vulnerability.

Let’s be kind to each other including ourselves. This is nothing about deserving. Who deserves anything, the good or the bad, when you think about it? As I have said before, quoting Hafiz, “No more throwing sticks at our own heart.”

Let’s end our year not just counting our blessings or emphasizing what we neglected, but noticing the things we actually got right. Let’s encourage each other along, including ourselves.

Note 1: A want to acknowledge the hydro men and women who have been working tirelessly around the clock to restore power to the 700,000 residents, on the coast and lower mainland of BC,  who lost power one week ago this morning. They and their families need our deepest appreciation for this endless effort over the holidays. And they are working still. The estimate is that by New Year’s Eve they will be done. A deep bow!

Note 2: Because of the lengthy power outage my small family moved to the seaside town of Parksville where we had our Christmas gathering. Grateful for the warmth, light, and Christmas dinner provided. My son Rob took the photo used here, of the beautiful moon reflected on the ocean in front of our suite.  Thank you for reading my blog posts! Warmest greetings to you all, and see you next year, Trudy 

 

A Small Steadying Sail of Love

Early morning winter light on Gabriola Island – December 18, 2018

 

  A Small Steadying Sail of Love: a small book of poetry 

On the back of the cover, poet,  Nancy Gibbs Richards writes: “When a sailboat is in dangerously heavy weather,all the sails that move the boat forward are taken down, and a very small storm or steadying sail is raised. The purpose of this small sail is not forward motion, but to keep the boat headed into the wind so that it will not capsize. It is my hope that, for you, who open the pages of this book, these words and images will become a small steadying sail of love in your journey through life.”

 This book came to me one poem at a time,  from a friend, when I was in rough waters,  followed by the actual book a few weeks later. The seven poems I have copied out for you here, are amongst my most favourite and I have added some photos to accompany them. These small verses truly were my steadying sail for a time and I was grateful to have received them.

This season is not joyful for everyone. There are many where the lights and good cheer exacerbate their deeply personal sorrows. I am thinking of you, in particular, as I write this post.

 All except one of the poems is untitled and I pass these gentle words on to you. They are short little poems so it will take you only a few moments to read them. If one speaks to you, copy it out and read it again. For those who need them, may they be a balm for the soul.

 

On seas of grief

my boat and I

weather storms

of terrible sorrow

with a small

steadying sail of love.

 

The comfort of friends

There is evidence 

threaded throughout my life story

 that I have been strengthened

 and guided at every turning.

 Now is the time to trust

that this will continue to be true.

 

 

 

 

I cannot save the world

or heal another’s hurts,

but I can offer

one small act of kindness

 at a time.

 

 

In this time of waiting

 and not knowing

how things will unfold,

 may you find a pool of calm,

a place of peace and rest

deep within your soul.

 

It is a challenge

to accept the truth

of what no longer is possible.

 and yet embrace all that still can be.

 

 

 This also is true:

it may be possible

to meet

in a place of tenderness

with a person

whose troubles trouble you.

 

Can You Hear Me?

We are separated by the wild river

of all that is unspoken.

With this small rock

I throw the first line across.

Tie it securely.

Let the building of the bridge begin.

 

Note 1: I recently arrived on the beautiful west coast and love walking in the rain everyday. Yes, its true. My skin is unwrinkling with all the moisture and the loveliest part is that it doesn’t turn to ice. And you see from the photo that even on rainy days, there is the beautiful golden light that arrives early and although it doesn’t last long, it is pure magic while it shines. Warmest wishes to you all, Trudy

I Want to be Remembered for This

Four years ago, when I was baking special Christmas cookies called Basler Brunsli, made from almonds, chocolate, sugar, egg whites and spices (hmm, I guess this makes them gluten free as well as delicious) my grandchildren Sophie and Rowan were close at hand, faces aglow, as I removed them from the oven. They were four and eight, at the time.

Sophie, leaned over and  quietly said this to her younger brother, as he eyed the tray of small, chocolate bears. “Rowan, you need to know that Nana turns a blind eye to the cookies at Christmas.”

At that moment, I felt pure delight if not enlightened. Like I had done something so supremely good in the world that I hadn’t even been aware of. As I looked into the faces of these dear children, I was grateful to be the one who “turned a blind eye to the cookies at Christmas.” They were unaware that I had overheard the conversation. I thought then, as I still think now, that is enough for me. This is what I want to be remembered for.

And it isn’t completely about the cookies.

It is about the confidence they have in me that at Christmas time they can enjoy these special little cookies with ease and joy and on their own terms. When I open the freezer and see crumbs scattered and the container not fully closed, I smile to myself.

Am I worried that they will eat too many and get sick? Nope. I’m not. It hasn’t happened yet. My confidence in the ritual of certain traditions and the knowledge that chocolate is also a vitamin (vitamin CH) allows me to celebrate their joy.

And that is one of several reasons why I love Christmas. I also understand why Christmas gets a bad rap.  I mostly avoid those aspects by staying out of malls, not being caught up in the excesses of it all and concentrating on small things that mean something to me and my family. I claim my own traditions and ignore the rest.

The Christmas tree is another example. In the darkness of November and December, in our northern climate, we need to warm our bodies and souls. Lights, candles, fireplaces, good food and a beautiful green tree in the house does just that, for me, along with the good company of loved ones. The fragrance of the noble fir transports me to a wondrous place the moment I come in from the cold and my senses are greeted by that old, familiar smell.

As we decorate our tree, we dedicate the first few favourite ornaments to others, and say why. It turns the process into a reflective and fun event as we sometimes have tears and laughter in our remembering. After a couple of rounds we go back to finding just the right spot for whatever decoration we hold in our hands and then at random times one of us pauses (me, in this case) and says, “I want to dedicate this beautiful star to my friends in Calgary,” as an example. The children always remember their family who live in different areas of the country so Grandma and Grandpa, Opa and uncle Rob, Jonathan and Michael and Great Grandma and so on…they eventually all get named. If not this year, next.

Don’t get me wrong. I too can be overwhelmed at Christmas, and I still love it. This year, however, I have thought about a quieter Christmas. I will be out west, and we will be a small family gathering with time to sit and admire the tree and contemplate all the beautiful memories strung from bough to bough. There will be wonderful music and comfortable chairs to curl up into where we can read for a few hours. Maybe have a nap for those who like such things. And always the tree to glance at, in all its splendor.

Several years ago, a new friend was dismayed that I had a real tree in my home at Christmas.

“It must be a very small one,” she commented.

“No,” I said. “It is always very tall and beautiful.”

There was silence.

Despite her disapproval I could not disavow my love for the Christmas tree. I like to think the tree enjoys being in our home where it is so deeply admired and appreciated by all, every single day.

And so, the holidays have arrived, and all of us arrive with our own traditions of bringing light to the darkness.

However we choose to spend this time may it be with love and joy and yes, sadness, too for all of our losses. May we say yes to what is important and meaningful and no to the things that no longer matter to us.

I do urge you, nonetheless, to celebrate all that is good in your lives and not succumb to the cynicism and despair that can so easily gather in a crowd of sorrows. Find your people, those whom light you up, and be that light to others.

Warmest wishes, Trudy

Note 1: the big people in my family are just as excited about those cookies, so when I go out west on Saturday, the recipes come with me. I turn a blind eye to the adults too.

Note 2: Every year in December I haul out this reflection by GK Chesterton because I love it. It is a unique perspective on Santa/life/reality…you may enjoy it too. The photo of this tree was taken in Quebec City last December. Roaming around the old city was a fun filled afternoon with delightful surprises around every corner. This is my favourite image from that day. And here is Chesterton:

“What has happened to me has been the very reverse of what appears to be the experience of most of my friends. Instead of dwindling to a point, Santa Claus has grown larger and larger in my life until he fills almost the whole of it. It happened in this way.

As a child I was faced with a phenomenon requiring explanation.  I hung up at the end of my bed an empty stocking, which in the morning became a full stocking.  I had done nothing to produce the things that filled it.  I had not worked for them, or made them or helped to make them.  I had not even been good – far from it.

And the explanation was that a certain being whom people called Santa Claus was benevolently disposed toward me. . . .  What we believed was that a certain benevolent agency did give us those toys for nothing. And, as I say, I believe it still.  I have merely extended the idea.

Then I only wondered who put the toys in the stocking; now I wonder who put the stocking by the bed, and the bed in the room, and the room in the house, and the house on the planet, and the great planet in the void.

Once I only thanked Santa Claus for a few dollars and crackers. Now, I thank him for stars and street faces, and wine and the great sea. Once I thought it delightful and astonishing to find a present so big that it only went halfway into the stocking.  Now I am delighted and astonished every morning to find a present so big that it takes two stockings to hold it, and then leaves a great deal outside; it is the large and preposterous present of myself, as to the origin of which I can offer no suggestion except that Santa Claus gave it to me in a fit of peculiarly fantastic goodwill.”  G.K. Chesterton