Gratitude makes the journey better and so does kindness

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You Are Human Before Anything Else; It’s What’s Left Behind

Originally published as a column on CFJC Today Kamloops and Armchair Mayor News on October 16, 2017 

Saturday was a cold, wet, and slightly dreary day, though rain was such precious commodity during the summer that I cannot get myself to dislike it, no matter how much I miss the sun. On our way to the farmer’s market, my oldest son and I bumped into Vaughn Warren, who was as enthusiastic as ever about the time capsule that was about to be attached to the new Freemont Block sign he was recently commissioned to restore. Come by the Makerspace between 3 and 5 today, he said, so you can sign a postcard for the time capsule.

Most of the day had already been scheduled for a few activities but we made it there a few minutes before 5. The sign looked beautifully vibrant and the table next to it was full of cards, photos, and other mementos to be sealed in the time capsule. We signed the guest book and then proceeded to write something on the card before writing down our names.

I had to stop a while and think. This was something that someone, a hundred years from now, will read and think about for a few moments. Much like I was taking my time trying to stretch my thoughts to the other side of the hundred years, that person, or people, will be trying to imagine what it was all like here, now.

An exercise in humbleness if you will. A hundred years from now on I will be long gone, and so will my sons, most likely. Sobering indeed. It’s a thought that makes you hear all the noises in the room suddenly, and makes you see everything around in a different light. It makes you shudder, too. there is a finality attached to you and your life, and there’s no two ways about it. It’s part of the deal. A rainy, cold day is the day you’re in, a gift like no other, and not a dreary time slot you can’t wait to be done with.

The day was already inviting to a lot of reflection regarding the thin line between life and death we’re all due to cross at some point. It was my late friend Richard Wagamese’s birthday (he would’ve turned 62,) and it was the day chosen for Christopher Seguin’s funeral service. Their passing, as well as the passing of some many people I’ve known over the years, my parents and other close relatives included, left me with a cloud of questions: What matters after all, what is worth striving for while you’re alive and what will the others remember of you once you’re gone?

From all that I’ve seen so far, it’s not the material things but the heart matters that live on. They do not only linger, but continue to grow and fill that empty space one leaves behind once they’re gone. The things we do because we choose to show and wear our humanity with pride and gratefulness is what matters; it’s what will inspire those who miss us to keep on going, choose to act with courage and joy, and leave a mark on the world by allowing their humanity to shine through as they live their days.

It is the whole range of acts that count, not just the ones that are news-worthy. It’s the mark we leave behind us when no one’s watching. The gestures, big or small, that can restore someone’s smile, restore someone’s trust in humanity and change the way people around us choose their next steps, so that their hearts show through.

When we choose to live heartfully and with compassion, there’s glowing that transcends your immediate presence. It’s the kind of hopeful shiny stuff that guides those left behind you towards decisions better suited for the greater good, less judgment and more compassion towards those who need it.

A few days ago, I read about an incident in Williams Lake. An elderly man was lying on the ground in a parking lot after having suffered a heart attack, and though many people passed by, no one stopped. Eventually, a woman stopped and called an ambulance, informed the man’s family south of the border about his condition, and took care of his vehicle and boat (the man was on his way to an annual fishing trip with friends.)

Whatever accomplishments the woman who saved his life has achieved so far or will from now on, that she showed her humanity at a time when someone needed it the most is something she will be remembered forever by the man she saved and by his family. Perhaps she will inspire many to be compassionate rather than judge.

Visuals can be awfully deceptive at times. Wearing one’s heart to be seen as we walk through life never is. That’s what I hope a hundred years from now people will still value and strive for. Because before w are anything else, we are human. That is the gift that is handed to us when we’re born, the one we’re supposed to make the most of while we’re alive, and the one we’re leaving behind when we go. That’s what I’ve learned so far from those who lived letting their hearts walk alongside. It’s the kind of legacy humans ought to bestow onto humans.

In Memoriam Christopher Seguin – Living To The Fullest, Giving To The Fullest

Originally published as a column on CFJC Today Kamloops and Armchair Mayor News on Monday, September 25, 2017. 

On Friday morning during a hike with a friend and our dogs, the conversation drifted towards what it means to live with gratefulness and to not take people for granted. I carried those thoughts with me throughout the day, wondering yet again, how to best convey what is of value and worthiness to my sons, so they can build their journeys in a way that matters. Not just to themselves, but to those they love and are loved by, as well as to countless others they can help along the way. Because that’s what makes everything worthwhile. Because life is not a solitary, selfish pursuit.

Friday night came with the heartbreaking news of Christopher Seguin’s sudden passing. He was an active, wholehearted presence in our community, but most of all, he was known as a loving husband and father to two young sons.

The sad news touched me deeply as I have lived through the sudden death of my loved ones. I remember feeling guilty for looking at the blue sky and for being able to smell flowers and wake up to another day. I was angry for all that was taken away from me too soon, and too suddenly. It was hard to make sense of something that was senseless, unchangeable, and yet a part of life.

In losing many loved ones starting from an early age, I have grown into someone who does not value things (to a fault, really,) but time and presence. I grieved for my children losing their maternal grandparents before they had a chance to build enough or any memories with them. I grieved for all the things I wanted to share with my parents about my life as an adult, and as a parent myself.

Healing meant passing on the stories my parents once told me, going back to those words of wisdom heard over many a cup of coffee and long-drawn dinners, and sharing that with my sons, in hope to keep their grandparents’ presence palpable.

Without being a fatalist, I often remind myself and my family that what we have is now. We can guess about tomorrow, but we do not have much of it in our grasp. That we do not is not discouraging but reinforcing the fact that making every moment count is what matters in the end. There is no telling when that last day comes.

We find healing through honouring our loved ones’ legacies and making them an integral part of our lives. A mesh of sorts that carries adversity, courage, kindness, humbleness, heartbreak, joy, and resilience. A mesh we inherit, add to, pass on, and thus contribute to that big picture we know nothing of when we first arrive and we marvel at during our journey.

Christopher Seguin’s legacy is one that much can be built on. He helped many through his hard work and dedication, he lent his time, energy, and heart to many causes, and he left a most beautiful and indelible mark on this world through the love for his family.

In a beautiful message to his son from the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro he said ‘It is adversity that evolves us… It is through carrying the heavy loads that we grow stronger, and it is only through solving the world’s problems that we grow smarter…’. He contributed a lot to solving some of the world’ problems by helping many in the community and beyond, and now his legacy inspires all of us to continue his good work.

Rest in peace, Christopher Seguin. Thank you for being a big heart in this community. You are a role model Kamloops is fortunate to have had and to continue to learn from.

Please consider contributing to a trust fund account for his two young sons at any Kamloops CIBC branch.  

Sliced Mango… And Yes, That

brightThat morning the boys asked for mango for breakfast. ‘Cut in squares Mom, you know how you do that, with the peel still on.’ I do. Squares. Orange yellow, a colour so deep that it draws you in. It smelled fresh and it reminded me of summer mornings, of this year, of last year, of so many summers we leave behind never to look at again because life takes us too fast, too far, too rushed.

They ate the mango, square by square. Yellow mustaches, peels left on the side of the plate.

Then it was time for school. We walked to the bus stop, little boy and I, today’s book ready. Peter Pan. A world of boyish everything, following swiftly after Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. ‘Read, Mom, please.’ Yes.

We snuggle, the sun budges in like it should on this mango-bright morning, and we read. I read for both of us.

We get off the bus and the book is not done. We walk and I read… ‘When a baby laughs for the first time, a fairy is born.’

‘You know, I caught your first laugh. Your brother’s too’… Little boy looks at me, smiles. ‘Really, you did? How?’ I knew it will come, so I waited… and they did. Shy and small like a seedling finding its way towards the world. those first laughs make the world I open my eyes to every morning. So much grew out of them since…

Big little boy and I do school later on. We’re outside on the sun-drenched porch, then in the garden, picking things up, measuring, observing, learning. ‘Mom, I love this. How we talk like this.’ I do too. We’re fortunate. Seedlings to grow… We go for a hike, we breathe in sunshine and make it ours. To have and to hold.

LeftThat night little boy looked straight into my eyes for a brief few seconds before another hug laced his sweet smelling hair all over my face. ‘I don’t want to grow up Mom, because when I do you will grow old and die one day, and I do not want that. I cannot live without you.’

I smelled his hair. His words, like summer birds touched by a sudden winter chill, sat silent in between us, cradled between two deep breaths. Where to from here?

‘It’s a long way away my love…’

It sounded almost ridiculous. I am never ready for this. Big little boy once said the same, a few years ago and a few times since. It chilled me the same and I mumbled the (now you know) ridiculous ‘oh, i will be so old by then…’

Hugs fix something like this. Soul patches of some sort, pain over joy and joy over pain, like a game where you keep building wondering if the tower will topple soon. But what if you don’t? What if you know that it does topple at some point, but you’ll build another. And then another.

boyA game is all, children most of all know that. Thoughts come and go, like river waves lapping over shores. But a river is not just the waves. It’s the many shades of blue and green, it’s the murkiness, it’s the breeze and the skies of blue that ask for a bit of peace so that a mirror can be for a bit, it’s the sound of birds that live alongside and keep alive because of it and more.

The game is real.

You can’t complain that time does not deal a fair hand. You take what you get and make the best of it. Now is what we have. Now is ours. Mine, yours. Time is not to worry about, because you should know, time is what we tell it to be.

Time gameWe deal time our own hand you know, and a measure of worthiness. It’s a game, but it’s real.

Life Like A River We’re Better At Paddling Together

Initially published as a column in the Armchair Mayor News on August 29, 2014. 

Two days ago I wrote an obituary; my father’s. It’s never an easy thing, even when you know that people wanted to move on because suffering was taking too much out of them.

The hard part is seeing the world reshaping itself after they are in it no more. It’s a feeling we learn to fear, and we forget that the rhythm of life could not be a harmonious one unless we acknowledge death is part of it.

The last few days have been a whirlwind of emotions, ups and down of awakenings, staring reality in the face, knowing that it is the only way to do it right.

Through this and many other rollercoaster jolts life had in store lately, clouds crowding a sky I wanted blue and serene thinking it is mine to decide, I was reminded of the one thing that matters the most: I am not alone. No one really is.

My family has been guarding my well-being with love and patience, keeping guard from winds that would’ve kept me down for too long. Close friends made their presence known and felt, ever so gently, ever so unconditionally bringing themselves into our lives, knowing that when we make room for joy, sorrowful as it was at times, the rough seas will let me see the silver lining. They did.

I went through piles of photos, I dug out my dad’s memories, us four, mom, dad, my sister and I, and through telling stories to my soon-to-be husband and sons, and to our friends, I relived a childhood that was magically beautiful and fully belonging to me.

I’ve been sailing many waters since, walking through sunsets that had me tear up or jump high with the expectations of tomorrow. You soar high one day, and then you tumble and dust off your knees the next.

My dad’s passing, preceded by my mother’s eight years ago, reminded me of the journey they hoped and wished for me when they brought me into the world. It reminded me of how my sons came, started their own and of the flurry of hope I padded their wings with and keep on doing so every day.

My dad’s passing was a sad reminder of how nothing is permanent, and that only makes every day worth more than we are often able to realize and it also reminded me that we are not alone. The most cynical of us will say that we come alone and we leave alone, and that has truth to it. Life is a singular affair by default, at the entry and exit points. But the in between does not need to be.

I have friends holding my heart through this, and I have the kind of family I wish upon everyone. They are present because I let them, because I no longer hold the secrets of life to myself and by doing that I open up doors that all of us know the contour of too well.

There is a wealth of goodness in people around. They open up arms and hearts and through hiccups of discovering who’s in for the long haul and who is not – a necessary part of it all, we learn that being alive is something we never do alone, and it should not be. We all have stories we carry around, we all need to share them because when we do, we give permission to others to share theirs and we find that though details may differ, we build life towers with the same building blocks, we see the same sunsets and sunrises, we love and let go, and through it all, we keep on going no matter what because going while someone is there to share the journey makes it all better.

Losing people we love dearly hurts, it always does and the pain may grow dull but it will never go away. There will be times when you want to throw in the towel, when you think it all unfair, but through the thick of it all, the silver lining makes itself seen brighter than expected: it is all worth it, every moment of it.

Crepes For Breakfast

FuzzyI wanted to go out for a morning ride, I had the itinerary in mind and was all dressed, but I could not get myself to leave the house before the boys woke up. I’d miss the first hug, the nestling of little boy on my lap, the hug from big boy, their hair every which way and eyes drowsily braving the morning light.

Early mornings work for sneaking out and coming back before the wild boys wake up, but late night reading often bites into earliness and leaves me hanging like this.

The day is cool, a relief after days of breathing hot air like we’re inhabiting an oven. It’s too hot, the boys often say; I cannot allow for summer hating though. Summer is the peach tree branches hanging low, heavy with fruit, and tomatoes that turn red and the bumblebees that are all confused about the disappearing of their favorite snack: tomato flower pollen. Everything becomes something before our eyes…

My ride today is short, I follow the river; its surface mirrors a sky that is unglamorous, but why would that matter. Thoughts bounce off the surface of my own rivers flowing relentlessly towards seas of life I have yet to discover. Rivers of thoughts, they need to be taken out each day, they synchronize their incessant dance with that of the real ones…

Summer is apricot jam made yesterday and laid inside hot crepes today, memories of my childhood when my great aunt would make platefuls of them in the outdoor oven, the smell of wood adding hotness to air already hot… I never complained because I knew what came next: tummies full of warmth, sweetness stuck to cheeks and the lazy afternoon to follow. The countryside I miss.

The boys eat with their mouths full, they ask for more and I remember my own eagerness to skip talking just so I could eat more. Funny how snippets of life past ask to be revived. The sharing I do with my boys, life in big yummy bites, life I can make them smile about. But there’s more sides to life. Life is never just smiles.

We talk about school, the topic just tumbled in the midst of another conversation about living in the wilderness… The boys tell how going to school makes many children unhappy for the time they’re there. Not unhappy with learning, but unhappy with other things. Rushed, impatient figures, playing power games with children. The boys see through much of it. My fault, for peeling eyes open and inviting to thinking.

We talk and daydream about schools to grow in. Stunted growth is what I often see instead. Why not schools where wide-eyed innocence breeds joy and curiosity is the very ground children step on? Wings unclipped. Could it be? Why not nowadays? We know so much about what makes the mind soar, why let children fall through the cracks?

The boys have insights that humble, they share as I share. This is not complaining but facing perspective as it presents itself to us and adjusting ourselves to have the courage to take unforeseen, unscheduled leaps, should the said perspective become too narrow for how we envision life.

Growing up is a together adventure, I never pictured my boys being in someone else’s care more than my own. Not when they’re shaken at times and becoming distrustful. Finding the way, the right way, the fair way, as a parent, that is the biggest challenge of all. It makes me both fearful and brave at the same time. What’s the next step? The together adventure is no joke.

Wild boys run into the back yard to play. There’s loud voices, whispers, hiding, laughter, sneaking around and some scraped knees.

Little boy runs up the stairs and hands over a tiny dandelion. ‘From us, the smallest one’ … Mop of sun-bleached hair dances as he runs back in the yard for more playing. Will I ever be able to define gratefulness the right way? It’ll never be enough. Some words will only live on the inside, padding the corners only I know about.

I sit down, check the day’s news and get reminded of a sad story. The ice cream store owner downtown told us about yesterday. ‘Oh, you don’t know? Robin Williams died today.’ I don’t get to ask why. He says it out loud: suicide. The boys’ eyes grow big. Too much information? Little boy frowns. How do people commit suicide? Why?

He was funny, they argued. He made people laugh. How did he with all the struggles he faced at times? The dance we can never enough of, the dance we’re sick of so often…Life. Unkind and monstrous at times, we are its pawns and ride good waves, but a few bad ones can make most people lose their way. People sometimes do that when they’re sad and discouraged and depressed, I tell the boys. Not just sad, but awfully sad. That makes loneliness darker than dark. No one knows, no one should be judged…

TearsIt’s a grip you let go of. In that moment of darkness, all is distorted. The boys listen, ponder… Do they understand? Do we?…

I take their lead; they live in the moment. More playing, getting hungry, eating peaches off the tree, asking for treats to be baked later in the day, arguing, finding common ground, trading sticks and Lego pieces. Life. They don’t think too much of it but live it fully. I do though. Too much is a side effect, enough is what I hope for just so I can have them live theirs with joy.

Crepes for breakfast? Why not?

Life Is Only A Part Of It All

Passing onThe mood is somber today. The two guinea pigs that squeaked their way into our lives for the last four years died suddenly, one after another.

Digging a grave, no matter how small, is not a small thing. It just isn’t.

But I had to. One last night and one this morning. We chose the spot under the lilacs, it’s out of the way and lilacs are suitable guardians.

The ground was soft at first but then it turned rock hard. All I could think of was digging a real grave, it’s overwhelming in all possible ways. It was a flurry of convoluted feelings that ruffled my mood for a long time.

You can’t think further than that, there is a lot of murky stuff you don’t know how to approach. Life, as real as it gets. Life and death are the opposite image of each other, continuations of each other, complementing each other.

Every day, all around us, life grows roots in what was alive yesterday and dead today. It feeds the next blooms, it powers the next laughter and it reminds of the only thing we hold solidly at all times: the moment we’re in. A short, revealing ownership that carries us into what’s next.

I dig, we lay the piglets in, the boys cover and we hug. It makes everything easier. They had a good life, we all agree. And passed the five-year-old mark, which many say it’s a good age for a guinea pig. We made small crosses out of wood and twine, the boys wanted to.

A few steps away the garden abounds with green; growing, from the roots up. Continuation.

Pumpkins are in bloom, bright yellow, small suns staring into the big one in the sky. By afternoon, the flowers will start to wither, they only last a few hours… Right next to them, spinach, lush and green and loved by the piglets. Dandelion leaves, spinach and peppers were among their favourites.

The boys sighed… Now we have no more pets.

Indeed. I cannot be persuaded to buy any from the pet store and they don’t want that either. Hosting the piglets (SPCA-adopted orphans) made us think of how unfair it is to the animals. All the cuddles in the world and vitamin drops do not make up for freedom. A golden cage is still a cage.

Ours were not big on cuddles though. Just like bunnies, they are skittish creatures, guinea pigs, and like to be among their own kind. And who can blame them. Being prey animals, they also hide their sickness to not be vulnerable to predators, the ones who know write. It’s sad to know that. It means their instincts are still within, so the longing for freedom must be too… It’s unfair to restrict that.

The day moves along. I tend to the garden, the boys pick the slim strawberries harvest and they munch on baby carrots. I open a pea pod and they eat the bright green blobs. They’re sweet just like that, out of the pod, we’ll have some more for dinner.

The pods go in the compost, to die and live at the same time.

Life continues, it’s the circle that has no beginning and no end. Today we caught a glimpse of it, and we got to feel, again, how it rattles the illusion of permanence.

Once again, I am grateful for reminders, they are but soul dwellings where I stop and look to what’s behind and what’s in front of me. Life: to see, to heed, to be part of. We are.


This Is Also Part Of Life

(Originally published as a column in the AM News on Friday, April 18, 2014.)

Passing...It is the part of life that many of us only whisper about and parents often try to keep children protected from. Mine did. Because it hurts. But hurt is also part of life. Better processed when you’re not trying to make sense of it on your own as a kid, or dragging its shadows into adulthood.

I was six years old when my beloved maternal grandmother died suddenly. Something went wrong during a routine surgical operation that was meant to be just a couple-of-days-in-the-hospital procedure. I never got to say goodbye and no one else did because no one knew of what was to come.

When I was nine, my paternal grandfather passed away. I loved him dearly and had no clue about the long illness he was battling or about his impending death. I never got a chance to say goodbye.

As taxing as that would have been, it could’ve provided the kind of closure we need in order to process such events with grace.

My paternal grandparents died a few years later, and goodbyes were not said that time either.

My mom passed away suddenly eight years ago and though there was no typical goodbye, there was a premonitory conversation that included a farewell that had both closure of some sort and a good lesson in it.

My dad has been chronically ill for many years now and I have been given enough time to say some of the things people should say.

I had time to think of life as it slips away and appreciate its richness, its bittersweet flavor and its colorful shreds as I am trying to put them together to make sense of the tapestry we keep on weaving with every day that passes.

With my sons, I choose to celebrate both life and death. Choking on some words as they try to build themselves into sentences that describe life, understanding that they are becoming the very foundation we have to build today and all the tomorrows on, but most of all learning that appreciation of every day and of people we have around us can only be tangible if we are aware of both life and death as we go.

Withholding the reality of death from children is like not telling them of night because it brings darkness.

Giving ourselves and our children a chance to understand death and accept it helps us all appreciate life and better our ways as we go. It’s when we forget about the finality of it all that we can take it for granted.

My sons often play the game of ‘If you could have three magic powers, what would they be?’ and the one power I keep on pushing away from is to be immortal. It would make everything less worthwhile, I tell them.

They are puzzled every time. But think of all the things you get to do and never be afraid it all ending, they try to convince me.

But fear is, for once, an element that adds to life, I tell them.

If we choose to acknowledge it, it can guide us towards being grateful for every day as it comes and goes, and for people as they adjust their steps to match ours or walk in that tap-tapping cadence we share as we go through life, for as long as we do.

Awareness of an impending finality is what makes life precious. No season that lasts forever can bring the kind of joy that seasons as we know them do. Or sunsets. Or watching a child grow or sharing precious times with our loved ones.

We are strong in how we carry ourselves through life, in how we overcome challenges and in how we face new ones.

Knowing that everything ends somewhere adds the kind of humbleness that makes the journey worthwhile.

In building farewells as we go, we embrace time and people with all the gusto one can have knowing that we only have a limited time to make it happen. To make it last long after we’re gone. Because it will, as the ones we leave behind will carry it forward and make the best of it. Life, that is.

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