Connecting Moments

As I drove up the mountain to my friend’s house, to edit the final chapter, the CBC reporter on the radio announced, “Grief councillors are recommending people reach out to talk to each other for support.”

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This post is a guest submission from my friend Sarah who is an incredible young mom of two beautiful children and wife of a lovely man.  At one time she was headed to be an astronaut!  Life took a turn, as it is known to do, and now she helps students as a Councillor at Acadia University.  Sarah is also an incredibly gifted yoga teacher who has studied under a Guru in India.  She is one of those friends who is so good, you hope it will rub off on you.  As you can tell, I cherish her.  Once I was speaking to her Dad who was in yoga class and I pointed out that he was visiting again from Ottawa, how nice.  He told me he needed to get his fix of his Sarah.  He missed her so much.  I think a tear rolled down my cheek when I returned to my mat, I was so touched by that.  A good Dad.

A couple of years ago, Sarah took up a pen and began to write.  Here is a submission which includes, in part, a tragedy that has just rocked this sea bound coastal province of Nova Scotia.

Almost a decade ago, when I had a horrible set-back with psychosis, after yoga class one evening I asked Sarah, whom I barely knew then, if she would come to my house and sit with me because I was feeling very badly.  She came and sat quietly by me while I tried desperately to quiet my mind.  I remember thinking that she was an angel.

Here is Sarah’s story:

            I actually just tasted my coffee. Like, tasted the taste of it. Since beginning my new job counselling in September, I have been drinking coffee routinely as I start my work day; I’m not sure I’ve even been tasting it. Now, its delicious: hot, smooth, with a slightly heavy and bitter finish. Can I really taste the rose that’s described on the tasting notes on the bag under the fist being pumped into the air: Viva La Resistencia! coffeebag.pngMy partner visits these grower co-ops and walks the steep mountain sides to pick the berries after being awoken at 4 a.m. when the women rise to begin making the tortillas to fuel the next day’s harvest. How does that raised fist live in them? Do they ever taste their coffee?

And no, I can’t taste the rose…but I can taste berries.

Plus, I got the amount of milk perfect: it’s the exact shade of my mother’s and grandmother’s tea.

“Shall we put the kettle on?” was always their way of coming together, of making time, of soothing the fatigue of so much caring; a moment to offer something back to themselves, together. I wonder how often they tasted it?

             Before making my coffee, I was meditating on my purple kidney-shaped cushion, my grey tea-cosy-shaped toque on my head, my grandmother’s light blue knit afghan on my lap.  The fire crackled. I felt my breath—short, ragged—and I couldn’t get my head into the right position. Translate: I felt a lot of unpleasant sensations in my neck and where the back of my skull meets my spine. I experimented with small adjustments: it didn’t really change. I lifted the eyebrows above my eye and ears (if there were ones there too), and the muscles on the top of my head lifted off like a helmet: relief! Then they immediately returned, as though they needed to protect my head, in case I randomly tripped and fell.

            And yet, it felt so good to be sitting, early in the day, quiet. And it felt good because of what preceded it: three snow days in a row, a busy weekend, my partner leaving for a conference, and my parents-in-law taking my son, so that I woke up in bed with my daughter curled up tightly behind me, almost pushing me off of the bed this morning, got her on her bus, and then on a Monday, I find myself alone at home with a day to myself.

teacup

            With my perfect cup of coffee beside me, I sit down to write, and a bird lands outside my window, just out of sight, and when it ruffles its feathers one of its wings appears in the window. I stand up and lean over my desk to press the side of my face to the window trying to see it. It’s gone. When I look down, I see a little dead army of lady-bug-look-a-likes that appear on the window sills in the top floor of our house this time of year– smaller, more spots than their famous counterparts — some of which have curled up in a ball, some rolled over, some with their wings spread as they colonize the sill.  Why are there so many dead insects in my writing space? Because writing time is too precious to spending vacuuming them up.

            I sit back down. Outside, a chickadee hops, flutters, from frozen broccoli plant to frozen broccoli plant, then onto the bare kale stalks in the next bed that look like mini palm trees, but in the snow. I ate one of the frozen baby heads of broccoli that were still left on the plant yesterday: soft and sweet. Beside the broccoli are three frozen heads of cauliflower, bowing down towards the snow with their frozen weight. How could I have missed them?! Not to mention the garlic, which is still sitting in a silver bowl in our back hall, waiting, waiting, more patiently than I, as I raked the snow off of the bed yesterday hoping it might melt more quickly. I may have to use precious greenhouse space if it doesn’t melt.      

            I have just finished co-writing a chapter of a about succulent sustainability: how does making use of precious greenhouse space for garlic make any sense? As I drove up the mountain to my friend’s house, to edit the final chapter, the CBC reporter on the radio announced, “Grief councillors are recommending people reach out to talk to each other for support.”

            “Mom, can you turn the radio off?” my nearly-seven year old daughter asked from the back seat.

            “Of course,” I said, looking back in my rearview mirror to see her serious face beneath a grey slouchy toque that’s standing straight up. I suddenly remembered that she also absorbs the news, only the holes in her sieve are bigger.

            “It’s just so sad all the time,” she says.

            “I know,” I say, looking back at her again. Our eyes meet.

            “Did you hear the part about the little girl?” I asked.

            She nods, “What happened?”

            “Well, she was at the Santa Claus parade and she was running beside one of the floats, and she must have slipped and fell and got hit.” I paused. “Like hit by a car, and she died.”

            She nodded very seriously.

            “What also feels really sad to me,” I said, “Is that there were so many people who saw it. They were right there, but it happened so fast that no one could do anything about it.”

            The weight of the non-reversal of time, of finality, hovered between us. In a little over 24 hours later, when she found herself stuck in the washing machine, while I pulled on one of her legs, trying to birth her from it, she might feel it again.

            “Who was it?” she asks.

            “I don’t know yet. They often don’t release the name until the family has been able to tell others on their own time. Once we know, do you think we should send the family something?” I asked.

            “Do you know them?” she asked.

            “No, but it would be nice to send them a card just the same.”

             Two weeks ago, I sat down with five students in our weekly mindfulness group at Acadia in the basement of the chapel.  We are facing each other in a circle, sitting on bolsters, cushions. I am sitting on a block, hard under my sitting bones. We have sat for 20 minutes, walked for 5, and sat again. My instructions are body-focused: how do we come into direct contact with the body? Can we feel particular sensations without constructing a narrative; can we feel directly rather than through an image?

            My students have asked me to speak about positive body image in relation to what we’ve been practicing.

            I’m not sure I’m the one to do this. The person I think of as being qualified stands in the mirror, praising themselves with how they look, satisfied, content, untouchable by self-doubt, self-consciousness, social pressures. I laugh. I did feel like that once, but that version of myself was perhaps the most confused, and could never speak to this or imagine the place that I am at now.

            This has been a major area of practice for me. And, for the first time, it feels like an invitation I can meet. The night before I had an initiation dream: metal pikes pierced through my toes.

            Fifteen year before, I rolled out my orange yoga mat on the tatami floor of our Shikoku apartment, four patches of my mat worn thin where my hands and feet landed in downward dog. Part of my practice was driven towards maintaining my body at a particular size (in a determination, I see now, to avoid painful feelings of shame, which I also now appreciate as a measure of how deeply we care), and simultaneously I was seeing, really seeing, painfully seeing, and experimenting to figure out how to work with the way controlling my body in this way was impacting me. The practice was simultaneously co-opted by my patterns, while also letting me see them….actually, I think that’s exactly how it’s supposed to work: entangled and healing, at the same time. This practice was it for me: learning to see what was happening, feeling it directly, so that I could attend to what was happening.

            Sitting with the group, my chest is fluttering, and my mind is trying to take the reins, but I keep coming back to my breath, to the firmness of the block..

            In these moments, my own struggles are a gift. The same way that my perfect cup of coffee came together this morning, so did these struggles. All of these conditions make it impossible to control, and hard to find somewhere to place blame; all of these conditions are so helpful because there are so many entry points to healing.

            Two weeks ago a dear friend wrote on her facebook post, on her 22nd birthday, about her struggles with eating as a teen. When I wrote her a message about how I deeply admired her courage, she wrote back thanking me for being a support towards healing. At that time, it took the form of coming over to snuggle with a baby and drink chamomile tea while wrestling through pre-calculus problems at our kitchen table.

            Now, it’s a group waiting for me to begin.

            “So,” I began, “I was asked to talk about positive body image and how it relates to what we’ve been practicing. And, what I might suggest, what if we’re to leave the image altogether? What if, instead,we use this practice to help us cultivate a relationship that’s curious, caring, mutual, attuned? What if we notice and make space for pleasure?”    

             Thomas Merton said, “The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image. Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them”.

                As I sat this morning, a faint squeaking of metal and scuttle of little feet arose. There was a mouse inside the bottom of the stove, shitting and storing food in the metal runners of the bottom drawer. I opened my eyes and banged on the floor three times: “I’m here!” my banging proclaimed, asserting my presence.

            It was silent for a few minutes. I realized how loud and terrifying the sound must have been to the mouse. I settled back on my breath feeling annoyed about the mess under the stove and ashamed for my reaction. A few minutes later, I heard it again, but without the metal clinking. I opened my eyes and saw its tail hanging out of a little crack beside the dishwasher. The tail bobbed up and down once, and then disappeared. I smiled. I closed my eyes, settled again. When I got up a few minutes later and put on the kettle for coffee, I got down on my hands and knees to look for the hole. It’s only about 3 or 4 mm wide. How did it do that? I looked around at the floor under the overhang of the cupboards. Ugh. I’d have to clean the floors, but for now, I stuck with making my coffee.       

By Sarah Smolkin

penny beach (2)

 

 

(Photos by moi, except for the fist on the coffee bag which is from JustUs Coffee Roasters in Grand Pre, Nova Scotia and the coffee cup is from google images. Thank you!)

 

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Remembering Matt

Wilson L. Matthew Jan 14, 1966 – Dec 1, 2003
brother, uncle, teacher and friend
Nothing loved is ever lost and he was loved so much

After reading the previous post by Al Kinsella about the loss of his father, Eric commented about the power of the poem Al had written.  I took the opportunity to then ask Eric if he had a story for my blog and here is what he offered.  It is a story about a mutual friend who lost his life suddenly and way too early.
A guest submission by Eric van Wesenbeeck:
Writing this was a way of dealing with the grief of a lost friend, who left us way too early in life…

 

A while ago, I was invited to a surprise birthday party for Jim’s mother. Jim O is an old high school friend whom I still keep in touch with. In fact, we were neighbours for a few years when our kids where just young and even now we live in the same town. A mutual friend of ours, Matt, planned to come up to Barrie for the weekend to join the Saturday evening festivities. Matt lived in Bradford where he worked at his dream job as a high school English/Drama teacher. We saw Matt a few times a year when he would come to Barrie to visit friends and I looked forward to seeing him again, soon.

He first came to our house for dinner with me, my wife, Chris and our three kids. As always, Matt brought his old guitar with him and entertained the kids (okay, all of us) with a few of the hundreds of songs he had filed away in that jukebox brain of his. Afterwards, we headed off, guitar in hand, to Jim’s parents’ house for the party. On the way, Matt and I chewed the fat, toasting our common interest in music and pop culture, savouring the latest gossip of our many mutual old high school friends and digesting hearty servings of what life had recently dished up for the two of us. Matt had just broken up with his latest girlfriend and, although he hid it well, I could tell he was heartbroken. Matt had had a few serious relationships but unfortunately for him, none had worked out in the long term. I figured the evening’s party may be a convenient distraction for Matt on what may have otherwise been a cold, lonely November Saturday night.

We had great time at this Irish birthday party and a happy surprise it was for Jim’s mother! Her friends and relatives from Ireland, New York City and next door joined in to celebrate. The Irish beer and whiskey flowed and it wasn’t long before the atmosphere in the rec-room had transformed to that of an Irish pub with card games, darts, billiards, laughter and song. Ah yes, song. One of Jim’s aunts sang a few haunting Irish folk songs that mesmerized the gathering. Of course, Matt had brought in his guitar and it wasn’t long before he had many of us singing along as he pounded out the chords on his trusty Gibson six-string. As he wound down his “set”, Matt called me over to help him sing the next song, “I’m One” by the Who. Going back over twenty years to grade eleven, the love of music was something that closely bonded Matt and me. The only difference was that he could play and sing it – I could most definitely NOT. Consequently, I awkwardly stumbled through the verses and then enthusiastically helped Matt belt out the chorus in my tone-deaf voice. We had a great time.

Later that evening, as the revelry wound down, Matt drove me back home. Before leaving to crash for the night at Jim’s house, Matt stood in my driveway with me and we chatted for a long time. Matt was usually up-beat and lighthearted and rarely exposed his darker corners but that night he was particularly reflective and nostalgic and it seemed, just a little melancholy. Chronic health problems had caused him several setbacks in life, back as far as I could remember. He divulged to me a drug habit that he had only recently wrestled into control. He lamented that yet another relationship had failed. He felt that he was missing out on a certain part of life as he watched his friends get married and raise families of their own. Matt loved kids and I think he longed to be a father. I felt bad for Matt and tried to comfort him with my words. I reminded him of all the kids at school who loved him – he was an extremely popular teacher because of his gift for connecting with the students with whom he was so involved. I reminded him of all his siblings and the many nieces and nephews who looked up to “Uncle Matt”. I (regretfully) suppressed an urge to reach out and give him a hug. It was getting late, so Matt, feeling a little comforted, hopped in the car and drove across town to Jim’s house.

As Matt drove away and I made my way to bed, the tune “I’m One” kept playing in my head. I hadn’t listened to that album in years and Matt’s rendition of it had rekindled the flame I carried for this old “favorite band”. The next day, I pulled my “Quadrophenia” CD out of the dusty archives and threw it in my car for future listening.

Two weeks later, on a Monday morning while at work, I got a call from Jim. Jim somberly announced to me that our friend Matt had passed away. I sat in silence, stunned. Jim explained that Matt had gone to the hospital by himself on the weekend, not feeling well. He must have been feeling awful because with all his past health problems Matt had spend too much time in hospitals and now hated going there. He wouldn’t go unless he really wasn’t well. He passed away two nights later with congestive heart failure. Just like that, Matt was gone. I was shaken and had to leave work to clear my head. I got in the car and drove to the lakeshore and stared silently out onto the foreboding gray waters. I thought about Matt. About the conversation we had only two weeks ago. About the years we had spent together in school. About the music, friends, parties, camaraderie and life we had shared. I remembered him singing recently at the party. I loaded the CD I had left in the car and listened to “I’m One”. I listened to the track again and again. Suddenly, the lyrics spoke to me with such clarity. Matt had sung them so passionately and now I knew why. This angst ridden song of a misfit trying so hard to fit in somewhere and be “someone”, reflected perfectly what Matt was feeling. Matt felt he was only “one” and he wanted so badly to be more than that…

matt grave

It’s seems to me, that Matt never realized that he had, in fact, become more than that. There were over 400 people at his visitation, funeral and interment. Standing room only. Many were students, who felt like they had lost a big brother. Through his classroom enthusiasm and antics, his passionate dramatic creations and his rousing participation in floor hockey, Matt had so closely touched so many students. Matt was awarded, posthumously, an award for teaching excellence. A student achievement award was created and named in his honour.

I won’t easily forget Matt. I visit his grave occasionally and take a few moments to recognize all the good things in my life, even if, at that moment, things may seem kind of bleak. I remind myself to enjoy each day to the fullest because each one is precious and a chance to leave a positive impression on those I meet. In the end, we are all just “one” and that’s really not so bad, is it?

~Submission and photo by Eric van Wesenbeeck…thank you)

__________________________________

For me, Matt was one of those school friends that I met in kindergarten in 1971 and besides grade 10, we spent our all of our school days together right up until grade 13.  Matt and I served on the student’s council at St Mary’s together, we hung out in groups on weekends and we played ball on the paved (yes, paved) yard at recess, after school and sometimes on weekends.  Matt loved ball.  He knew all the calls the hand signs the lingo.  He could be very dramatic and it was contagious.  We lived a couple of streets away from each other and attended the same masses at St Mary’s church.  Losing Matt felt like a blow to my stomach and a dark inner pain that just wouldn’t stop.  Dean, Leo and I were in Honduras on Roatan when I received the email from Flo that Matt had died. ‘WHAT??’ I exclaimed and my fist flew to my mouth with the shock of the news.  When you are school friends for so many years, back when people just did not move away, you really got to know someone and it is profound how much they feel like a part of you.  How well they knew and understood you.  They would just have to.  Matt used to call me ‘Marth’ and he was the only one who would.  I’ll never forget him.  He was a good friend and will always be missed.  Go well Matt.  Rest in Peace.

 

I’m One
Every year is the same
And I feel it again
I’m a loser, no chance to win
Leaves start fallin’
Come down is callin’
Loneliness starts sinking in
But I’m one
I am one
And I can see
That this is me
And I will be
You’ll all see
I’m the one
Where do you get
Those blue, blue jeans
Faded, patched secret so tight?
Where do you get
That walk oh so lean?
Your shoes and your shirt’s all just right
I’m one
I am one
And I can see
That this is me
And I will be
You’ll all see
I’m the one
I got a Gibson
Without a case
But I can’t get that even tanned look on my face
Ill fitting clothes
And I blend in the crowd
Fingers so clumsy
Voice too loud
But I’m one
I am one
And I can see
That this is me
And I will be
You’ll all see
I’m the one
I’m the one
I’m the one
Songwriters: Peter Den

 

While Sitting At Your Grave

Though things we knew not how
When it was clear and loud
I hope you’re watching now
I hope we do you proud….
~Allen Kinsella

Guest writer Al Kinsella…

Here is a poem I wrote a few years ago on a Nov 6th. Today would have been my father’s birthday. It would always require a visit to the cemetery where I do a ton of thinking. Well it’s that day again today – he has been gone for 6 years now and here is a poem I wrote in 2015 while sitting at his grave.

 

I thought of you today

I know you’re no longer here

Had so much left to say

I say in thoughts and tears

 

The more I think things different

The more they just don’t change

I find I’m more and more like you

is it funny or is it strange?

 

Though things we knew not how

When it was clear and loud

I hope you’re watching now

I hope we do you proud

 

Not a day goes by I don’t realize

You would never not bother

I think of you daily to my surprise

Happy Birthday Dad my Father

 

Although on this special day

when you are not here to celebrate

Watch over us and pray

And make our worlds illuminate!

 

 

 

*****

Photo by me (not Al)

Ode To The Joy Of A Parents’ Love

A poem by my eldest sister about the simple recipe of loving, guiding and nurturing a child…

parents with child on beach

Cradled warm

Soothing care

Guiding hand

Nudging gently

Show me a child adored

And I’ll show you

Peace in the world

Happiness in our homes

A positive definition of self

Everyone will want some

Yes, it’s a simple recipe!

~by Eva Player

 

 

(Images found on google images.  Thank you.)

 

 

Near Death Experiences

As I stand alone at the window
In search for what I cannot see
I wonder to what might show
Some of you or all about me.

This poem is a guest submission to my blog.  It was written by an old high school friend who, almost nine years ago, had a freak, totally sober accident with a patio door that, when it broke, nearly severed his arm.  He almost bled to death in front of his family.  How completely scary that at any moment, anything could happen to any of us.  Al explained to me that he had to learn to write with his other hand.  He said the body is an amazing machine.  Don’t I know it, Al.  Our bodies do so much for us and walk us on this Earth.  Al said he didn’t start writing poetry because of the accident, but, that his poetry became much deeper and intuitive because of it. Here’s his poem.

A Poem By:   Allan Edward (Po Po) Kinsella

 S E A R C H I N G – H I D I N G  B E H I N D  O F  M Y S E L F

As I stand all alone at the window

In search for what I cannot see

I wonder to what might show

Some of you or all about me.

I often will hide what I’m thinking

Or disguise it with something else

When in reality it is simple

I’m hiding behind of myself.

The sun and the moon I do turn too

For answers I simply can’t find

The thoughts and tears of a lifetime

Once left in a time way behind.

I realize the answers not out there

Not found in the moments gone by

To find them I need to stop searching

And look in the mirror inside.

AL
Al in high school

So, lately, I was looking through some old yearbooks and came across this adorable picture of Al. An old friend from high school in a place three provinces away.  I always liked Al.  Everyone likes Al.  Such an easy going, nice person.  Because I reached out to him, due to this picture, he is now going to bring out his poetry to be read by others.

You GO Al!

Leave a comment about your near death experience (or one from someone close to you).  Did it change you?  Did you learn something?  Tell me…I love it!