Fields of Gold

In June, I determinedly announced that this was going to be the ‘summer of Louise’. Unexpectedly in my hometown for the long summer months ahead, I was eager to spend precious time with my university aged son and daughter , take short trips to visit out of town friends, lounge in the parks at summer festivals, outdoor concerts, impromptu dinners, the promise of some time for deep introspection and the shifting towards the next important phase of my life. All this was going to be punctuated with the visiting of my dear friend Danielle. A friend since high school, Danielle’s life of adventure and accomplishment had taken her from undercover work as an RCMP officer in British Columbia, to working in orphanages in Thailand and Malaysia, travel throughout much of the world, media work with the RCMP, and policy analysis in Ottawa, now her summer was also anchored in our hometown. Five years ago, this phenomenal woman was given the most cruel news – a diagnosis of ALS ( Lou Gehrig’s disease).

We had kept in touch sporadically since high school, sometimes going 2 – 3 years without hearing from each other. About 12 years ago she contacted me, we enjoyed a rare long visit, reconnected, and determined to stay in better touch.  And we did. Emails, visits on the odd occasion we were in the same city, letters and photos. As the disease ravaged her body, Danielle’s big life was increasingly diminished in mobility although never in scope. She may have become less mobile, lost her independent living, but never her expectations for herself or others. As the disease unjustly took over her body, Danielle had no option but to move back to our hometown and be in the care of her extraordinary family. And yet, her  joie de vivre was not lost. For ALS robs your body of mobility and function, but not your mind. Your essence is left intact, to witness your physical decay. When I was in town, we would go out – her hands/arms were the first to be rendered useless; initially she could walk aided, then needed assistance with a wheelchair, too soon could not leave her wheelchair, speaking became difficult and finally no longer able to breathe on her own, was mostly confined to her family home – a sanctuary they created for her with gardens, paintings, a vibrant blue Buddha, photos, colours, laughter, underscored by all  the traditional and non-traditional medical communities options available.

A wonderful and true friend Barb, part of our Grade 10 triumvirate, was also keeping in very close contact. In mid-June, Barb and I began our soon to become ritual of Sunday morning coffee with Danielle. Barb and I would meet at Starbucks, get Danielle’s favourite Americano, and head to Danielle’s for our weekly visit.  Between offering Danielle sips of coffee through a straw that one of us would hold up to her, the three of us laughed hysterically, talked in hushed tones, cried together, discussed our pressing concerns – in some ways things had not changed since Grade 10! Barb and I also continued to visit Danielle on our own. And as July progressed, these visits became more frequent, and longer. The last Thursday in July I took dinner for all of us, and spent a luxurious visit with Danielle and her family. Even after many hours I had a very difficult time pulling myself away.  I was on my way to NYC for a week and was really going to miss her! As I walked home, I reminisced about how the summer was unfolding and realized that it had become the ‘summer of Danielle’.

I landed in Toronto after my week away, to an urgent phone call from Barb; our Danielle was in crisis. Learning she had been taken to the hospital, we waited throughout Friday for news, and Saturday received a call on behalf of Danielle, asking Barb and I to come to say good-bye. And we did. Our final intimate moments will remain private,  but I will reveal that in this most darkest of times, Danielle still remained the truest and sweetest of friends. In the worst moment of her life, at the instant she knew that it was her time to die, she looked to all of us who loved her and gave us the opportunity for a bit of peace.

An architect of her life from the beginning, Danielle managed her final years with the same tenacity and heart that had propelled her throughout the world. She not only fought to live, she fought off death. An incredible amount of strength that I will forever be in awe of. Courage, heart, truth, that resulted in an example of how it is to really live in this world. Nora Ephron determined at the end, that she wanted to ‘write her own story’. And so it is with Danielle.   Thus, on this Sunday morning, I am sitting in Starbuck’s, having an Americano, missing her greatly and deeply. Treasuring in the privilege of my summer of Danielle.

Sucking out the Marrow!

This hot hot hot July weather has insisted a slowing down of the pace of the past busy months. Leaps of Faith require rejuvenation! And I have found it with some dear old friends – namely  Emerson, Whitman and, today’s favourite, Thoreau. Truly, there is something quite meaningful about sitting in the cool shade of a tree, pondering ‘what the heck does it all mean’ and reading this excerpt, almost as if for the first time:

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion.

This is the point, isn’t it? This is what keeps us searching, looking, testing, trying, because to leave it un-turned or untried, means that we didn’t rout all that was not life. Digging deep to find the truth, the core, ‘its’ and therefore, ‘our’ reason for living. The idea of ‘sucking out all the marrow of life’ resonates with me – I’m the kind of girl that gnaws on the bone of a particularly delicious steak or pork chop, to be sure to get every last bit of yummyness. Don’t be offended, I do the same with a salad. I love my salad. See what I mean? It’s all delicious!

From these marrow-sucking experiences we learn what we like, what we don’t, where we succeed best and what makes us the happiest. We learn to live sturdily, and  Spartan-like as Thoreau states. This resonates with my love of beautiful things – both in nature and man-made, like art in all its forms. I no longer have a lot of ‘stuff’ but what I do have seems excessive in its abundance because of its meaningfulness to me! ‘Less is truly more’ if there is meaning in the ‘less’.

Hot summer days spent in the shade of a tree or with my feet in the cooling edge of the beach seem like the most sublime way to enjoy the marrow. Especially when shared with a sturdy stalwart friend. Thanks Thoreau for once again being there. You’re the best!

Leaping Locusts!

Since early in the New Year I have been awoken almost every night, with terrible nightmares – vivid, violent, anger filled, not my typical sleep pattern. The final and most jarring was  a couple of weeks ago.

I was sitting on a moss-covered rock surrounded by a metre wide swath of water that was rushing towards a waterfall in front of me. It was dusk and getting darker. I looked up to see hundreds of thousands of forms falling from the sky. As they fell closer they began to take shape – looking almost human.  Were they aliens? Spirits? They landed on the ground on the other side of the water, on top of each, more and more, falling and falling. Not humans, not aliens, but locusts. Hundreds of thousands of locusts. Dark grey grasshoppers with big eyes, that now sat poised and waiting. I was freaked out and woke out of breath. What was going on? Why was I continuing to have these very unsettling dreams?

Needing some sort of clarity, I researched the elements of my dream knowing already information about water, rocks, waterfalls: it was the plague of locusts that I was most curious and unsure about.  With great relief my research on locusts/grasshoppers as totems revealed that the beliefs say they are a very positive message to be receiving. And should I be surprised to learn that their message is ‘leap of faith’… OK, wait a minute. Have I not been pondering and writing about leaps of faith for the past 6 months? Am I not getting the message, or am I fooling myself into thinking that my present state of living is the leap?

A week ago I attended the  wackiest wedding in gorgeous Myrtle Beach SC. The weekend of miscommunication, no wedding rehearsal, and all around hilarity culminated in half of the guests, the groom, and the groom’s family, arriving one hour late to the evening beach wedding.  (Note to those heading to the altar – GPS without a proper address will not work, most especially for a beach wedding) The convoy of cars arrived in a frantic state rushing to park, calm the frazzled nerves of the bride, everyone doing their best to keep it all together. We traipsed over the dunes arriving at the most extraordinary  setting; the ocean and grey soft sand, framed by the bluest of skies with the moon already in orb above. As the officiate spoke in calm meaningful tones, I drew closer to listen to the exchanging of vows. All the rushing ended. There was a ‘pause’ in the comedy of errors that had defined the weekend, as the waves rolled, children kicked up sand, guests laughed and the couple kissed.  It struck me, yes their wedding had the craziest ride to get to this moment, but then, so did their relationship and why should I have expected anything different? With the same abandonment and carefree spirit that had defined their life, together they took perhaps the biggest leap of faith possible. (God love them!) Seriously though I am lucky that I got to witness that moment when saner heads did not prevail.

I suppose that leaps of faith shouldn’t really be measured by anything other than what it means personally. Each leap leads to the next, and while perhaps my leaps in contrast to this crazy couple, are baby steps, they’ve given me a bit more courage to each time,  jump again. Not because they turned out as I expected, but because I leapt, landed and lived to tell the tale!

Leaps of faith have been my focus for a few months. I’m looking forward to a new perspective – perhaps it will be ‘the view from mid-leap’ or ‘I’ve leapt and landed, let the games begin!’… time will tell, but what I do know is that I am eager to see what unfolds. I’m taking my cue from two nutty newlyweds who live moment to moment without much of a plan. I will still be my same disciplined self – there are some things that just can’t be changed, but there will most definitely be times when I will lighten up and just go with it.

Leaps of Faith as Viable Modes of Transportation

Sometimes your only available transportation is a leap of faith’ (Margaret Shepherd).  Six months ago when the seemingly far off time of my children leaving home to pursue their big bold lives actually arrived, the exciting next phases of my big bold life were revealed. Work, life, relationships, travel… Following the paths of possibility meant giving up my grounding to jump into the unknown in much the same way I was encouraging my university aged kids to.

In what seemed to many an extreme series of decisions, I gave up my residence, packed my life into storage and bought  plane, train, and bus tickets that took me to locales across North America. The idea of being so free of stuff made me giddy! Keeping my laptop always within reach I was able to work from (almost) anywhere, although not always with the gracefulness I would have liked.  Truthfully, the first week was hell. I was uneasy, nervous, a tad nauseous, as I tried not to fret about how this new phase was going to unfold. The second week was incredible – lighter, clearer, slightly more trusting, it was surprising how accustomed I was becoming to the reality of being untethered.

Since I was unsure as to what my final destination was, I had absolutely no idea how I was going to find it and then get there. Sure the travel tickets meant I was constantly ‘on the go’ but was I actually headed somewhere? What I did know was that by staying where I was I wasn’t going anywhere. So, I leapt. I held tight to the thin bumper of my faith in myself, and went for it… Crazy!

Not surprising, a few realizations have surfaced along this journey.  It turns out that my leap wasn’t without many nets as encouraging friends were prepared to help me land wherever that turned out to be. I don’t know if I would have truly realized the extensive network of love I have around me, if I had not stepped out of my comfort zone. Work continues as it alway has, only richer from the advantage of looking through new perspectives. What a gift – I wish this experience for everyone.

The most unexpected result has been the new found trust in myself. Turns out that a) you can’t trust everyone, and that’s not your fault; b) you can trust yourself and that is your fault; c) if you are prepared to truly believe in yourself, to be mindful of the lessons you have learned, to acknowledge that ultimately the only control you have comes down to how you handle the moments of your life as they unfold, then having a life comprised of leaps of faith is not only viable, it may be all you need.

Courage to Stand in Your Truth

 The root of the word ‘Courage’ is the latin ‘Cor’ meaning ‘heart’. Even Dorothy, in that terrifyingly unfamiliar place somewhere over the rainbow, knew that deep in the heart of the Cowardly Lion lay courage.

I have been watching with wonder these past few weeks, as a collective energy of progress, decisions, outcomes has overtaken many of my friends and colleagues. Have you felt it? This is more than the delicious outcome of dedicated work or the begrudging realization that we are the catalysts of personal change. Each has made a courageous choice to stand and live in the truth that is their life. By doing so, by giving themselves permission to acknowledge what they want & who they are, by firmly standing in this honest place they open the possibility for their greatest potential! Writers acknowledging ‘I have something worthwhile to say’; Singers/Songwriters believing their music is going to find an even wider audience; Friends committing to decisions that will drastically alter their lives; realize indeed the best is then yet to come…

I believe that to be able to tell your story of who you are with your whole heart, is the ultimate definition of Courage. Standing in our truths can seem difficult, almost impossible, when we feel responsibilities and obligations to colleagues, friends and loved ones. It has been, at times, for me. Yet I am reminded, somewhere over the rainbow in a place that beckons which is unfamiliar, scary, exciting and irresistable, when I find enough courage to stand in my truth, I will be more rooted then ever, strong enough to face the wondrous potential ahead of me. Heart in my hand, story in my song, feet firmly planted in my truth, ready to launch into my next leap of faith!

This photo is my son Nate, courageously launching himself into an abyss of unknown, trusting that wherever he lands he will have the strength to face it!