Monday, June 25, 2007

Thoughts for someone who is dying

A dear friend is dying.
There I wrote it.
I'm not saying he is sick anymore.
He has been given three months to live.
He is Scottish.
He sings Al Jolson as if he were channelling him.
His hair has never looked like it needed a haircut or a comb run through it.
He is a lifelong smoker.
He gets angry if you ever suggest he quit.
I haven't in about five years.
He hasn't had a drink in twenty two years. He used to have twenty two drinks a day.
He had a son when he was eighteen and he didn't love the mother of the boy so he left Scotland fifty years ago with the woman he did love and subsequently married.
The son connected with him ten years ago and B wanted to establish a relationship with the boy who was the spit of himself and the teenage grandson he never knew he had.
M, his wife, said absolutely no way. If he did, she was gone. He turned his back on his son and grandson. His heart was broken. But he loved M too much.
M couldn't give him a child and that was her heartbreak. She felt very threatened by the mini-me son. She said it wouldn't be so bad if he wasn't the head off B. But he was and she found the torture of this reminder too much to bear. This huge intrusion into their love.
B&M took care of their elderly mothers in their own home until they both died within five years of each other.
M was diagnosed with Parkinson's five years ago and dreaded dying before B.
B was very angry about his diagnosis but now he is more accepting of it. Blood transfusions and mild chemo are giving him some quality of life for these final three months.
I phone him and talk with him and joke with him.
I tell him I'd walk a million miles for one of his smiles.
And I made him one of my special cards and I sent it to him today.
He has always loved my special cards.
But now I say what is honestly and openly in my heart for this man who has done the best he could with what he had.
Like all of us.

The following is the poem I wrote for the card and the picture is one of the edge of my property.


Around the fields, around the shore.
Keeping you out and me in.
Around the heart and around the mind.
So no one can walk inside.
We bring the fences down,
You and I.
A board, a stake, a wire
At a time.
And laugh and cry in the
Wide open spaces of each other’s souls.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Running smack dab into my own faulty assumptions

I can form snap judgements on people which are invariably incorrect.

This was proven to me a few nights ago when I invited someone I know (but not very well) in, who was walking by on the road. I told her I had a really good blend of coffee and there was some to spare if she was interested.

She came in and we sat and chatted. She is a simple woman. I will call her Annie as the village where I have my house is very small. She was widowed young and left with seven children and she is six months older than me. Though in that way I have of looking at others of my age group, I view her as quite elderly.

Her husband and his brother were in their late twenties and out on a batter and got drunk and had a bad accident. The brother survived without a scratch. The husband died instantly. Co-incidentally the survivor’s the man who does all the handiwork around the house here, very gifted with woodworking, fishing, hunting, and digging holes for septic tank problems and installing stoves. A veritable genius.

She harbours no illwill against her brother-in-law. You can’t in a small village, she says. It teaches you to get over it and get along and to do all that with speed as you could wind up demented and alone if you took something like that on.

She has lived on welfare all her adult life since being widowed and says she should have been born a man as she never could get her head around the womanly things, like baking and dressmaking and housework. She built a house for her son, though, she couldn’t afford the backhoe so she dug out his basement by hand and then put the rest of it together from what she’s observed about housebuilding.

We took a walk after our coffee, Annie and I and my dog. Annie likes the bit of company she says, It’s not good to walk alone, the time goes faster when you have company. I agreed. I remarked on the good condition of the lane by the shore, how the hedges were so nicely trimmed and the grass kept down and the erosion halted by careful stone and plant placement.

“Oh, I do all that,” she said casually.

I was astonished. I thought she was joking.

“Ah no, I’m not”, she said, “The government has been good to me, all these years taking care of me and the children so to speak. I cut all the grass on the lane and keep the bushes trimmed, and I noticed the ocean was eating away at the edges of the lane so I stopped it. The old way my father taught me. Plants and rocks and seaweed.”

And no, she doesn't get paid for it. It's just her way of giving back.

And here I was thinking what on earth could a simple woman who has been on welfare all her life and me, who hasn’t, possibly have to talk about?

Well, like, loads. Life lessons. Forgiveness. The environment. Recycling. Housebuilding. And that's just for starters.

Picture taken a week ago in Cape St. Mary's

Saturday, June 16, 2007


Brain riff on the topic of keys today.

A funny line I read once was that if you see someone with a huge bunch of keys you can be sure they don't open anything (s)he actually owns.

I was brought up short by my key ring today.

Two keys.

One to my car.

One to my house.

I've never had only two keys in my life. I always had a heavy key ring. Garage, house, back door, front door, apartment in house, office at back of house, keys to my daughter's house, my friend's house, client offices.

I was important obviously.

Slight identity crisis took place.

Who am I now?

Almost keyless.

I'm not important.

I should be tasting a new freedom. But I'm not. My reaction was fearful.

No one has given a safekeeping key to me.

I can't go anywhere else but here without permission.

I am really, really alone.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Road Trip Part 3

Travelling all the way to the core of our beings. How many of us get this chance? There are always so many distractions in my life. My work, my writing, my family, community, volunteer, theatre, friends, music. Whirl.

I needed this trip to be alone with myself. An old woman once said to me that to be truly successful in a relationship we first of all need to be totally comfortable with our own vibrations. Four days on the road presented the opportunity to me. Anonymous motel rooms, Carole King and her Tapestry album. J.J. Cale. Christy Moore. Beethoven's Fantasia, the precursor to his glorious Ninth. And on. Backdrop to my thoughts.

I've travelled a lot with others. Partners, family. Sometimes alone. But rarely this alone, no home to leave, the future so uncertain.

My father and I travelled around the Northern United States and Maritime Canada together, many times. I reflected on those times with him. We were thrown together a lot and this normally reticent, proud man would open up to me as much as he was able.

He was a long standing widower, a daily Mass attender, a Knight of Columbanus, a Vincent de Paul collector. He didn't believe in re-marriage although he assured me he had lots of opportunities. Parish priests in Ireland in that era presented him with many available women. I would like to think that it was the undying love for my mother that kept him devoted and celibate to her memory(and of that I have no doubt). But that would not be the truth at all. My father's firm belief was that remarriage created havoc with the original children and he wasn't going to have that kind of discomfort in his life. Plus he'd be taking a chance that it mightn't work out and the neighbours would have a field day with his troubles. So he confided. And I've no reason not to believe him for the time that it was in Ireland then.

I don't want to live his life and wind up as he did with his faith shattered by the freshly erupting scandals in the Catholic Church in Ireland then. Shaken to the core particularly by the Bishop Casey scandal (he worshipped Casey). My compassion for Dad was great. He was literally gutted by it all and I do believe his faith in God and the hereafter left him. And I think that in some ways he must have felt he missed all sorts of opportunities that were lost with the noose of his formerly strong faith around his neck. He was a broken man at the end.

I don't want to end up my days alone like him, cursing the darkness and my own belief system that has held me to this independent walkabout. I saw my own defects quite clearly on this trip. I saw him in me also. My rigidity, not suffering fools gladly when they have equal rights on this planet. My intellectual snobbery which intimidates, my "ICanTopThatitis" which is distancing and self-defeating. My thoughtlessness. My arrogance which can be downright funny when I think of it. I need to pay more attention to everyone and everything more often. I need to be more humble.

Thank you, Dad.

(picture taken a few days ago near my house in Newfoundland)

Monday, June 11, 2007

Road Trip Part 2

There was a lot of hustle and bustle here in the last few days. A beloved niece and her toddler were here and that kept me engaged and busy. She is twenty-eight and her mother, my sister-in-law, died when she was thirteen. At the age of forty-two.

We are very close, this wonderful young woman and I, she is closer to me than my own daughters, we have no emotional baggage, we just love each other to pieces. And share our lives with openness and honesty. We also recognise that this is a rare gift in this world, this special relationship we have.

I told her of this road-trip and my thoughts and longings. And the wide open spaces in my soul. And how all the relationships in my life had brought me to this point of not really knowing how to be in a successful relationship.

She is in the same boat. For such a young woman she's had a series of rocky heartbreaking liaisons. And we tossed all that around for hours, our difficulties in:

(A) Being attracted to men who treat us badly
(B) Wanting the 'nice' guys who don't seem to want us.

Why not? we pondered. Conclusion: we give off these independent woman not needing a man kind of aura. We are not honest when we like someone, we back off. Our signals are extremely mixed. For instance, I've had a few compliments from R, my widower friend, which I've dismissed, as I always do. Examples:

R: I really like the way you're wearing your hair at the moment.
Me: Oh I only do this with it when it needs a haircut, I call it my emergency upsweep.
R: I could get your car road-worthy for your trip if you like.
Me: No worries. Jack the mechanic takes care of all that.

I'm beginning to get it. Slow learner this strong independent woman.
The more I'm immersed in the beauty all around me here, the wider my heart is becoming and I'm finding that I may have to untangle all the ropes of past relationships and start over from scratch. And just risk, risk saying what I mean, flirt again, allow men to do things for me. Cease this endless solitary plodding.

I invited R here to spend some time alone with me.
He has accepted. Sometime in August as July was conflicted for each of us.
No matter what happens in August, I am prepared to risk now. To permeate this tough old exterior I've spent so many years growing. To sand off all the battle-wounds and scar tissues of past relationships and feel renewed and maybe hopeful again. To allow someone in. To be gracious. To not worry about outcomes or expectations. To be in the moments that R and I can give each other and to be honest about all the tumbling feelings I've had on this trip.

And my niece? She's gone back to her home today, ready to invite this rather nice client of hers home for a cup of tea on their next appointment at her office.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

The end of a very long road trip, Part 1

And here I am in what is the closest thing to paradise, in my book anyway, Newfoundland. Foggy in this part, but I drove 900 KM of it today and the weather varied between snowy mountains, a tropical Gander region and now fog.

I had the oddest sensation today, walking out of the restaurant after breakfast. I was surrounded on three sides by mountains and on the third by the majestic ocean. I looked up at the mountains, still speckled with the winter snows, and down at a gorge gushing over the granite and crashing into the sea. I felt really, really tiny, insignificant. I never get this feeling in the madding hoards of the city. Never. But today, walking in solitary splendour across the parking lot, I was merely a pin prick on some huge sprawling canvas.

Driving from Toronto to Sydney, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia is quite the hike even with another driver. Solo (with apologies to my faithful dog)it is a challenge. Although I love driving and playing my collection of CDs and staying at sundry motels. This time it was different. I was outnumbered by couples of my age, in cars, in restaurants, walking, checking in. It made sense, we are all sans children, semi-retired or retired, free to come and go. I felt very much the odd one out. The misfit, the reject. I'm not foolish enough to think that these relationships are all perfect, in fact, some of them were rather snappish, some were silent, others superficial and some involved holding hands and/or touching. And that is what I miss the most. The touching, the light stroke of the hand on the arm. The sheer contentedness of companionship, the shared experience.

Travelling alone I get the opportunity to think, sometimes saddening up, reflecting on the loves no longer here, or gone on to other relationships, or the ones that did not work out at all. Even though I wish some had. I am surprised at the intensity of my sexual desire at times. I consulted with my "shaman-guru-in locus mater" who is ninety and she tells me it never leaves, this sensual, sensuous, sexual yearning. Oh my.

I think of my dear friend who lost his wife last year and fire up a needle of hope. Would it be possible? Who can tell? We e-mail/call each other daily. We are the best of friends but lovers? A bit of a head spin that. Is it because I am lonely for the physical, lonely for the touch, that I place him front and centre in my brain as a possibility?

Spending so much time with myself has loosened all the bats in my belfry obviously. This is to be continued, if you're up for it.

Picture is of St. Bride's, Newfoundland, taken by www.