Safe Journey

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It’s a gift to share someone’s journey towards death.

I was sitting outside eating a piece of toast at around 2:00 this morning.

The night is a private place. A current of air passed my cheek like a breath. The moisture falling through the trees touched my skin and hair. I sat in the sentient darkness, and I could hear the distant, restless murmur of the sea. The night was so still I could almost feel the beating of its heart.

Then I began to pick up other night sounds. A shuffling of feathers as a bird wakened briefly and settled itself again. A fruit bat snapping up the moths fluttering at the curtained window where I’d left the bedroom light on. Something rustled in the underbrush. Probably a raccoon eating the orange I’d cut up and put on a log by the compost.

IMG_2448-1I looked up and saw the moon through a break in the trees. I thought about a friend who is waiting for an operation, and another friend who is dying.

I said goodbye to John yesterday. This morning he was transferred to a palliative care facility on the mainland. As I walked over to his house, I prayed that I would find the right words to say.

He was sleeping when I got there. I spent a couple of hours with him while he dozed. When he woke, he was immediately lucid. We talked, mostly about old movies and books, and he’d come up with a title or the name of a character while I was still groping around in what passes for my long-term memory.

IMG_9728-Edit-1His physical form is a shell, paper thin and almost translucent. It reminds me of my grandmother’s teacups that came from China. They are called bodiless ware or eggshell porcelain, and if you hold them up to the light, you can see through them.

Most of the time, John hovers between waking and sleeping. I see no signs of pain or struggle in his face. He lingers peacefully in that tenuous borderland where birth and death are scarcely a breath apart. Not a place of darkness but of light and continuous, joyous renewal.

It’s a gift to share someone’s journey towards death. To watch them move closer to the Source where all life begins and to which it returns. In the presence of such great mystery, I am filled with something that’s close to reverence.

John asks if I brought him a smoothie, and I take it out of the fridge. He wants to know what kind it is, and I tell him to guess.

He savours it with closed eyes imitating an oenologist. “Strawberry-mango,” he says.

“Bingo!” He never gets it wrong.

He tells me he wants chocolate in the next one. “Chocolate with raspberries.”

I promise him a chocolate-raspberry smoothie that there won’t be time to make. The ambulance is picking him up first thing in the morning.

I hear a car in the driveway. It’s time to say goodbye. I was hoping to come up with something deep and illuminating. “I love you,” I say, and it sounds about right.

“Love you,” John replies, and the thing has completed itself.

In the end, it’s love that matters. It’s what the Universe is made of and why we are here. To love and be loved. Without that, your net worth doesn’t amount to a hill of beans.

IMG_0233-1I kiss John’s forehead and whisper, “Safe journey.” He closes his eyes and smiles. I let go of his hand.

Walking home, I hear an osprey circling overhead. I hope that John can hear it too.

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Three Kinds Of Magic

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“It is the small deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay …. small acts of kindness and love.” Gandalf

Yesterday I received a petition about a lion cub that was being starved in order to keep him small enough so that circus goers could pose with him for cute selfies. Every 20 minutes an African elephant is killed for its tusks. Pesticides are destroying the world population of honey bees, and terrorists continue to commit acts of numbing horror.

Some days the terribleness of what we do to each other, to our fellow creatures, and to the environment is so overwhelming that the weight of it almost pulls you under. On those days I have a hard time convincing myself to get out of bed.

I think the only person who has any hope of saving us is Dr. Who, but I’m not sure he’d consider us worth saving. I wouldn’t blame him.

How on earth can we heal all this suffering? Are we going to pursue the path of our own destruction until all that’s left is a couple of mutant viruses, a grotesque species of giant cockroach with 3 heads, and a wrecked planet limping around the sun until the light finally goes out?

Before this train of thought leaps off the rails and I’m tempted to end it all with a chocolate overdose, something shifts, and I catch myself sitting on the kitchen floor with a batch of brownies that I’ve fished out of the freezer and 3 bars of Green & Black’s organic dark chocolate. It’s guaranteed to contain a minimum of 85% cocoa solids. That’s the chocolate counterpart of Screech.*

At this point, I’m way beyond a hug and a cup of tea. What I need is Gandalf.

He said that it is the small deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay …. small acts of kindness and love. In other words, magic.

imageI decide to give my chocolate brownies to a neighbour. This will involve getting out of my pyjamas. Ten minutes later, I go out the back gate and cut through the woods.

That’s the second kind of magic. Some of our trees are hundreds of years old. Winter storms tear at them and break off huge branches, but they endure and endure. They are so deeply rooted in the certainty. I stand under them, and they always bring me to the same place. Peace.

When I get back, I decide to check on some geraniums that are over-wintering in the potting shed. It smells of earth and dried lavender. Planting something works another kind of magic. I bought trilliums last week for my woodland garden, and wild cyclamen with their tiny, orchid-shaped flowers that sometimes blossom in the snow. I turn over the soil and gently pat them into the ground.   image

I grieve for the lion cub and the elephants, and send cheques that are too small to save them. I sign another petition against Monsanto.

Tomorrow I will finish cleaning up my raised beds and plant carrots and sweet peas. I will feed the birds, put up the bee house, and wait for the light to come back. It always does, and things will start to grow again.

* Screech is a lethal alcoholic beverage for which Newfoundland is famous.

LOVE, AURAS, AND THE WEATHER REPORT

Rainy DaysAround here, precipitation has killed far more marriages than infidelity.

The first time I went to a local reiki practitioner, she told me that my husband has a golden aura. Mine was a sort of muddy brown at the time. The colour at the bottom of your coffee cup when you get home from work and find it sitting on the kitchen counter.

But Greg radiates goodness. It’s the first thing I noticed about him. His face is lit up by some sort of inner sun. He’s like the weather in Bali. A treat to live with.

The sight of him makes me smile. If I run into him unexpectedly, it fills me with irrepressible delight. I’d wag my tail if I could.

Greg is known as a natural problem solver. He fixes computers, bicycles, and remote control devices. He once fixed the satellite dish at a public television station.

If something isn’t working properly, I take it very personally. My first impulse is to throw it. This rarely helps, and it has resulted in a number of shattered iPad screens. To cut the cost of repairs, when Greg senses my temper rising, he gently takes the iPad out of my hands.

Edging Toward TomorrowYou need a compatible relationship in order to live on this island. You also have to be able to handle the weather. We get a lot of it here. Violent storms, fog, rain that lasts for months. It’s the rain that gets most people. Around here, precipitation has killed more marriages than infidelity.

We get more kinds of rain than you would have thought possible. Environment Canada has a special thesaurus just for rain. Light rain, periods of rain, steady rain, rain mixed with snow, showers, a few showers, drizzle.

There’s an important distinction between a few showers and drizzle. With a few showers, you might be able to go outside for half an hour without getting wet. With drizzle you can’t.

If the rain looks really bad, Environment Canada pluralizes it: Heavy rains, torrential rains, damaging rains. That’s the one to look out for. It means flooding, mudslides, trees and power lines coming down. For some people this is serious. It blocks the only road to the liquor store.

In the city, the weather is mostly in the background. Here it gets in your face. The power frequently goes out during the winter. At first we panicked. Then we bought a generator. Now we hold Power’s Out Potlucks.

Charlie in the SnowWhen it comes to the weather, unlike problem-solving, Greg and I have equal equanimity. If it’s sunny, we run outside with the dog. If it’s snowing, we run outside with the dog. If it’s raining we run outside but more slowly. The dog has to be dragged.

We love mist and fog. We go for walks and Greg takes pictures of it. He also takes pictures of lightening and snowfall, a curtain of rain moving across the water, a triple rainbow after a summer storm.

If the weather is really pissy, we opt for cocooning. Even before the power goes out, we stoke up the fire, light candles, and make a nest in the sunroom. Sometimes these are the best days. We set a pot of soup on the back burner to simmer. We let life and the weather take its course.

It’s taught us something. What we can’t control, for example everything. What we can do without. Running water, Facebook, television. And what we can do with. With acceptance, with patience, with a creative imagination. And most importantly, with love. The smallest amount, and like a candle in a dark room, it spreads light.

Spring BlossomsA spiritual teacher said that it doesn’t matter what you love, only that you love. Your garden. Your friends. Your cat. Your neighbour’s cat. People who are sad, or sick, or lonely. The courageous, the honest, the homeless, the ones who have hope, and the ones without hope on this suffering, broken planet.

We aren’t cut off from the world on this tiny island. If anything we feel more connected. To all our fellow creatures. There is no outside world. There’s just Our World.

Perhaps the island has helped us or healed us. It has certainly changed us. For one thing, my aura’s a much better colour.

Repose

Winter Fog

You don’t have to live on a small island to discover that winter is a journey.

So much for spring. The weather closed in last night, and when we got up this morning, the island was muffled in clouds. We feel disoriented, as if we’ve been set adrift.

We love the winter months. The soft greens and greys, and the deep silence. All you can hear is the rain hitting the skylights and the thrum, thrum of a freighter passing somewhere in the fog.

It’s a time for solitude and reflection. For allowing your mind to settle and your brain parts to stop randomly jumping around. Besides, there isn’t a lot to do on a small island in the winter. We’re experts at cocooning.

My husband makes lattes and brings them into the sunroom. I’ve already made a nest on the love seat. There’s a fire in the wood stove, and we settle in.

I love the word repose. It means to remain still. There’s something graceful about repose. Unlike rest, which is something you do after surgery or childbirth.

Rest often means taking a break. Breaks are sharp-edged and grudging, taken with one eye on your watch.

What happens at a meeting when someone says, “Let’s take a break”?

Do people meditate, do yoga, or go stand under a tree? Do they talk to one another, listen, make eye contact? No, they take out their cell phones.

Most of the time, you take a break from doing one thing in order to do several other things for five minutes. It’s hard to find rest during a break.

Repose also means resting, but resting in stillness. The mind chatter gradually ceases. The knots loosen. All the jumpy circuitry stops firing every 3 seconds, and your brain waves slow to smooth swells.

Your mind is like a settling pond. When you are still, the mental garbage — which means most of what’s swirling around in your head — sinks to the bottom. The pond clears. What’s important can then start rising to the surface. Things your mind may have forgotten but your heart has not.

You can’t do this while multi-tasking. That’s why periods of repose are necessary.
What are you doing with your one irreplaceable life? How are you spending your precious time?

There would be fewer divorces and mid-life crises if people sat still once in awhile.

Wintering here isn’t for everyone. If you hate the rain and the days when it gets dark by four o’clock, you’re better off in Mexico or Arizona. If you stay here, you’ll probably start drinking.

A lot of people pack up after Christmas and leave for 3 months. The island seems deserted. But if you stay, along with the storms and power outages, you may find a poet, or an artist, or a pilgrim inside you.

Of course, you don’t have to be on an island to do this. You can be anywhere and and discover that winter is a journey.