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Well, yesterday was World Poetry Day. It always strikes me as funny when I see it posted on Facebook because I often see April as the most divine month of the year. None of this T.S. Eliot-y “April is the cruellest month” stuff. It’s National Poetry Month in Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States. For poets, it’s an important month. I think of it as a creative month, time to celebrate the richness and diversity that is poetry, historically and presently, looking forward to the future of younger poets, too. The other thing that strikes me is that, for me, every day is a poetry day. Sounds cliché and corny, I know, but it’s true. If you’re a poet at heart, you know what I’m talking about, how you see light in new ways at different points in the day, how a shadow shifts, how freezing rain sounds itself out when wind pushes at it in new directions. It’s like non-stop sensory awareness and (sometimes) overload. Maybe that’s why quiet and solitude is such a part of writing….

So, here’s the thing: I have mostly always thought of myself as only a poet. I’m proud to be a poet, am certainly sure now in my craft and study. I love reading it, thinking about it, writing it, and then performing it in public. It’s intrinsic to who I am. I’ve always written short stories, too, and was blessed to have worked with Timothy Findley as my mentor back in the late 1990s through the Humber School for Writers. We worked on my stories. I was uncertain, he was supportive and kind. As with Seamus Heaney, I miss knowing he’s no longer on this planet. He’s around, as is Heaney, I’m sure, in some etheric realm. These two are my guiding stars in poetry and prose. I feel them with me whenever I write. Mr. Findley always encouraged me to continue with my prose work, but I’ve let it slide into the background for the past fourteen or fifteen years. Lately, though, it’s re-emerged. He’s sort of re-emerged, too, in my mind and heart, in new ways. (Funny how that works…as we get older).

I’ve begun a novel, set in Creighton Mine, near to Sudbury, and born of a family story that I’m completely changing and fictionalizing. I’m imagining people and conversations….it’s all very exciting and new for me as a writer. It’s also very different from writing poetry; with poems, I can focus on the kernel of an idea and twist it round, as if I’m looking at the sky through a prism of crystal. This novel writing thing is more of a flowing river of ideas and images. When I sit to write, I may not rise for a few hours, so that my two dogs look at me impatiently for a walk. I know where I’m going, but I don’t map it out too closely. I use the GPS, I guess you could say, when I feel like I’m a bit lost, referring to my novel premise notes and brief point-form outline. But, mostly, I like to let the story tell itself to me. It’s pretty amazing. If I stop to think too closely about the process, as with writing poems, well, it sort of freaks me out. Where does all of this come from? Muses? The ether? A mixture of mind and spirit? Who knows….all I know is that it is all a wondrous melange of language and that I’ll marinate in it for a while, keeping the reality of a sometimes harsh world at bay for a few more hours.

I was also really privileged to have worked with Matthew Heiti at the Sudbury Theatre Centre in the fall, through a four-week intro to writing plays in Playwrights Junction 2. I met other local writers and thought a lot about my creative process as a writer. It was an attempt to see if I could create life-like dialogues between characters. I learned a lot, and it’s helping me to actually write through my novel right now. The play sits there, and I fiddle with it, feeling out of my element, just as I do with this novel writing wave. I also have a novel-writing guide in the person of Marnie Woodrow, who is an excellent mentor. She sees my strengths when I often do not. That, too, is something that Tiff did for me, and I’m thankful yet again to be working with great teachers and writers. I think back to my time at Sage Hill last summer, working with Ken Babstock as my poetry mentor, and then getting to have great and inspiring conversations about writing (and ticks!) with Larry Hill and Helen Humphreys. I was also blessed to meet so many writers, of different ilks, and have stayed in touch with them via Facebook. They are my friends and ‘family’ now….and I kind of hope they feel the same way, too. That’s how deeply that experience in Saskatchewan touched me, changed me as a writer.

My self-as-poet is evolving, becoming a writer self, broader, stronger, more aware of different dimensions of creativity. The world of words is bigger than I ever imagined and my creative self is on fire. It’s life affirming, joyous, and divinely inspired. I feel blessed and I thank God, the universe, and whomever else might be involved in this writerly evolution of mine. It’s pretty amazing to be ‘awake’ and aware of the growth in creative process….and to learn more and more about yourself as a writer, and as a person. My year has been one filled with words, new friends, and thought provoking teachers. I’m feeling blessed.

While I sometimes feel I’m cheating on poetry, I want also to say that the love affair continues. I’m one of the judges in the Northern Intiative for Social Action (NISA) Brainstorm Poetry Contest for the Open Minds Quarterly journal this month and I’ve spent a day or two of my March Break sifting through some amazing poems. The journal is an important one in my mind, as someone who has survived depression, and as a writer, as its mandate is “built on the premise that consumer/survivors of the mental health services are intelligent, creative, and can make valuable contributions to society if given the opportunity to do so.” It’s also got a fabulous editor in the person of Dinah Laprairie, a leader in our local community who cultivates creativity. The work she does is so important, and I’m reminded again, reading all of these poems, that poetry can express so much, and that it can lift up spirit and heal. It has a wonder and power about it. If you’re interested in reading some wonderful work, and in seeing a fantastic journal, you should check out the website at: http://www.openmindsquarterly.com You may even want to submit work! I’m honoured to have been asked to be a judge. :)

Finally for today, with sun shining in windows and dogs asleep and snoring at my feet, just a little note to ‘save the date’ for what will be an amazing evening of poetry. The (W)rites of Spring last took place here in Sudbury in the late 1990s, shepherded by local poet Roger Nash. I sussed out the notion of reviving it this year, to celebrate National Poetry Month, and it is being revived! There will be five poets reading, thanks to sponsorship from the League of Canadian Poets and the Canada Council for the Arts. I’ll be reading, alongside Roger, who was the first official Poet Laureate of Sudbury, Tom Leduc (current Poet Laureate), Susan McMaster (a brilliant poet from Ottawa) and Tanya Neumeyer (a fantastic performance poet friend of mine from Toronto). It’ll be held on Friday, April 17th at 7pm at Marymount Academy. CBC’s Morning North host, Markus Schwabe, will be there as our Master of Ceremonies, so we’re all pretty (and poetically) excited! There’s plenty of free parking, so we’re hoping that we see a lot of people come out to hear our poems. Why not celebrate National Poetry Month in true poetic fashion?! If you follow me on Facebook, I’ll put more notices up to remind you! :) Hope to see some of you there! :)

So, perhaps I’m not cheating on poetry. I’m still in love with poetry, after all is said and done. In fact, upon reflection, if poetry were a man, I’d marry him! :)

peace, friends. k.

I’m not married and I don’t have kids of my own. Someone rudely asked me a few years ago whether or not I regretted not having kids. To be honest, it wasn’t a choice. I haven’t met the right man yet, I guess, and I have never really felt a deep need to have children. I often wonder if that is partially because I’m a teacher and I see “my kids” every day at work. I’ve been working in secondary schools for fourteen years now, so I’ve taught lots and lots of students. Some of them have blurred in my memory, but a number have stayed with me, lodged deeply in my heart and mind.

This past week has been hard. The school I teach at is a fantastic all-girls school that was built in the 1950s. It’s rooted in tradition and history. I started working at Marymount in 2004, three years after I began teaching. I got my B.Ed. at the age of thirty, which is a bit late for starting in a career. A lot of teachers began in teaching, jumping right in after university. Not me. I took the long route, taking an M.A. in English, and then working at the Art Gallery of Sudbury and then the Cancer Centre. :) I graduated from Marymount in 1989. It’s been twenty-six years since I graduated! Hard to believe!

I’ve met lots of great kids over the fourteen years I’ve been teaching, both at St. Charles College and at Marymount Academy. My first year at Marymount, though, is imprinted on my memory with great clarity. I remember, on the first day, lugging too many book bags and new binders, and then falling *up* the main stairwell. It was unbelievably embarrassing! I also remember meeting a group of girls who seemed to be so well matched, like soul sisters. A number (but not all!) of them played volleyball. They were in my Grade 12 English class. Here is what I remember of them, as a group: they were spirited, extremely funny and very brilliant. They weren’t afraid of taking risks in their lives, didn’t have parents who helicoptered in every five minutes, and had the biggest hearts I’ve ever encountered. There are so many excellent stories I could tell you, but there are almost too many, and I kind of want to keep those memories to myself.

This past weekend, I lost my first student. Other teacher friends who have lost past students have told me how those losses have affected them, but I couldn’t understand until it happened. The news came over Facebook, in a message from another former student. I was shocked, and couldn’t stop shaking for two hours. Deidre was one of the first girls I taught all of those years ago at Marymount. They cluster together in my heart….and I have the sincere pleasure of working alongside one of them, Brittany, as a colleague now. To hear that Deidre had died, and in a shocking snowmobile accident, seemed surreal. Even now, as I write this, tears rise up and I shake without warning.

My memories of Deidre are many. I will always hold them dear. I remember her bright smile, her laugh, and her kind heart. That first year at Marymount, she created a small book of poems for me, with a cover made of Christmas paper and a note thanking me for being her teacher. She and I shared Irish heritage, so we often talked about that in conversations before or after classes. We stayed in touch via Facebook over the last decade, and I watched her marry and have two little boys. She went to school and then became an ECE with our Board. She was living her life with great joy, reveling in the wonder of what her boys said or did, posting it all on Facebook and letting us all take part in her spirited life. In every photo, she smiled. In every photo, others smiled with her. She was that kind of girl…a girl who became a grand woman, and a woman who pulled you into her presence of joy and love of life. On the last day of school that year, as she was graduating, she began to cry in the gym. I’ll never forget that day. I was standing next to her, so I offered her a hug. “I don’t want to leave,” she told me. “I love it here.” I hugged her tight and told her what I so often tell our girls: “Once a Regal, always a Regal.” I, after all, had gone to school at Marymount and then returned to teach there. It’s in my blood. The values I learned at Marymount, through the Sisters of St. Joseph and my teachers, well, they are a large part of what makes me who I am today.

Two weeks ago, Deidre posted a beautiful photo of herself on Facebook. I messaged her and told her that she had grown up beautifully, inside and out. Within a brief period of time, she messaged me back and told me that I had made a big impact in her life. Reading that, two weeks ago, well, it made me get weepy. Sometimes, as a teacher, you don’t really know the impact you’ve made, so, when a student you resonated with tells you so, years later, well, it hits you in the heart. Hearing of her death last Sunday morning left me listless, shoveling the driveway with tears in my eyes, mopping the floor, making supper. She just never left me on that first day.

This week has been hard. I hope to never lose another student of mine. They don’t stop being ‘my kids’ even if they’ve grown up and married and had kids of their own. They stay in my heart. I watch them grow, post photos of their families, hear news of joys and sorrows, and pray for them all. I even get Christmas cards, mailed from far off places. So, while I don’t have kids of my own, my kids, especially my girls from Marymount, are my own. Even if they don’t know it, I keep them in my prayers while I teach them, and afterwards, as they move forward in their lives. I love to see how they blossom and grow.

Tonight, I’m wondering where the purpose is in all of this….as I often do when awful things happen. I wonder why this has happened. It so hurts my heart to think of her husband and two little boys. It hurts my heart to think of her family, especially her mum, and of her dearest friends, who loved her so very deeply. The pain in that funeral home, and in the church, was palpable. I’ve been thinking a lot about The Little Prince, and of how much of that story speaks to the power of the spirit and of the unseen world. Antoine de Saint Exupery wrote: “In one of the stars I shall be living. In one of them I shall be laughing. And so it will be as if all the stars were laughing, when you look at the sky at night.” I can’t imagine anything other than this for Deidre. She deserves the very joy that she embodied in life. I know God walks with her, as always, and I know that she will never leave my heart for as long as I live.

Teaching, it seems I’ve learned more painfully this week, isn’t just about having a career; it’s a vocation, a calling to help guide kids so they evolve and grow, so that they question and think, so that they love themselves and others, and so that they give all of themselves to the world by living fully. Deidre did all this and more. In her message to me two weeks ago, I was reminded that, even though they go off into the world, and even if I don’t see them all very often in person, they are part of me, and of who I’ve become in the last fourteen years. They have become my teachers in so many ways….and how blessed I feel to have encountered them all.

I’m keeping Deidre, her family and her friends so close to me in my heart and in my prayers these days. It is all I can do.

peace,
k.

In case you weren’t aware, February 1st is St. Brigid’s Day. She’s an Irish saint, the patron saint of poetry, and is known for having founded a number of convents in Ireland. She actually started the first double monastery, where monks and nuns studied together. Brigid has a number of names, including Mary of the Gael, which always strikes me as interesting. A lot of saints in Ireland have roots in a druidic and Celtic past. The Catholic stuff is always built on top of (or very near) holy wells. One thing I love about Ireland is how, as you’re driving down the twisty roadways, you’ll come across a statue of Mary, with fresh flowers at her feet, snuggled in amidst a tuft of wild green grass or tucked into a little cluster of rocks. Mary happens to be my home girl and one of the reasons I like being Catholic. It may not be “hip” for most people my age, but I pray to Mary a lot. I love saying the rosary before I go to sleep at night and I often ask her for help when I’m in dire straits.

So, when I had to chance to attend an event that would celebrate Brigid’s spirit and essence, I was all in for it. I wasn’t sure completely what I was in for, but I was willing to honour the woman with whom I have always felt connected. In my 20s, when I lived in Ottawa, I found a copy of Danta Ban: Poems of Irish Women in one of those quirky bookshops in the Glebe. I come from a family of strong Irish women. It was all matriarchal magic, storytelling, and no nonsense Irish Catholic, on my mum’s side. Really, it sort of makes sense that I’d be drawn to Irish goddesses and saints. My own great aunts, the Kelly Girls, were strong and feisty. My grandmother and my mum had both been women to reckon with if you ticked them off, or if you crossed them. For both of them, well, family was everything. I miss that a lot these days. My grandma, in particular, was the glue that kept everyone together. Her going was a loss and I think of her almost every day, even though she died over seventeen years ago.

When I first started teaching, the art teacher in my school had an art show. I looked at a variety of paintings, but found one that spoke to me. I knew right away it was a likeness of a goddess, all female fire and fury. I bought it from the artist and it’s still a cherished piece. Then, later in life, a friend gifted me with Bridget Mary Meehan and Regina Madonna’s book, Praying with Celtic Holy Women. I’ve read about Irish legends and lore, know a lot about traditional Irish music, and just generally love storytelling of all sorts (but especially poetry).

Anne Kathleen McLaughlin has written and now performs her one-woman play, “Wooing of the Soul,” which is set on Tara Hill, in Ireland. I’ve been to Tara Hill, so seeing a play that was set there appealed to me on a basic level of curiosity that needed to be satisfied. When I visited there in the summer of 2012, I had just lost my dad a few months earlier, was climbing up out of a depression, and was searching for some kind of origin so that I could move forward in my life. I’d spent years being dutiful and loving, taking care of ill parents, but leaving myself aside too thoughtlessly. Now I had begun to reclaim my true self. Tara Hill resonated with me. It shivered. And then I shivered. (I know it sounds nuts, but if you go to these ancient sacred sites in Ireland, well, tell me you don’t feel that the land and air shivers!) The faery tree off to the base of the hill had ribbons that rippled in the wind, offerings left by local people asking for the faeries’ intervention. It’s a space in place where the veil is thin, and I love how the soul shivers in a such a place. That same day I visited Newgrange and, as I journeyed into the dark centre of that passage tomb, I felt I’d been there before. None of it is logical, but a lot of it is intense. I’m still working out that day in my head and heart, using memory and mind to make sense of it all.

Anne Kathleen’s play is about one woman’s journey to Tara Hill, but it really speaks to how a woman finds herself while she journeys. I often find that traveling, the physical journey, cracks me open in a creative and soulful way. The woman in the play journeys to Tara and ends up finding out that the old Irish female storyteller is likely the sacred feminine part of herself, as represented by (I think) the essence of Brigid herself. What struck me most about the play was that, in the morning introduction, when Anne Kathleen spoke of Irish history and lore, she also spoke about how we might feel we are at a juncture in our own lives as women. There were many different women in attendance that day, of a variety of faiths, philosophies, ages, and experiences. We all, though, were journeying inwards. Anne Kathleen said that, when we are growing and evolving, we feel uncomfortable. It is as if we are inside a womb, as if we are growing, ready to be born in a new way. That spoke to me. These days, I’m more and more dedicated to my path as a writer, but my day job is demanding and draining. It pulls energy away from the reading and writing that I need to do for myself, as I strengthen my own writing skills. She spoke about us pressing up against the womb, of the discomfort, and of the need to end one kind of existence to begin another. That resonated with me. It does still a week and a half later.  It isn’t easy being a creative person in this too busy world, trying to balance what you are called to do, through your art, with what you do in society, to work in a field that may not be solely creative.  (There are always creative aspects that you can bring to your work each day, but it differs from the time you spend in your passion, whether that be writing or painting or dancing or playing an instrument or singing….)

It doesn’t matter, I thought, as I listened that day in honour of Brigid, which country or continent you speak of… there are examples of the sacred feminine in all world cultures. Whether you think of Mary in Catholicism, or Brigid in Celtic lore, or of the First Nations peoples of Canada, or of New Zealand’s Maori people…it doesn’t matter. We are all rooted, as women, in a strong matrilineal lineage that we cannot deny or ignore. Anne Kathleen’s story of searching inside ourselves, in finding out how to woo our own souls, is to learn how to find our own goddesses within.

I’m still searching for her, but I’m getting a better and clearer sense of my higher self. I know there’s a goddess in here somewhere….I catch glimpses of her soul fire on occasion and am impressed by her passion. She’s rising up now, so I’m looking forward to meeting her, to meeting myself, as I evolve.

I wish the same for all of you.

peace,
k.

Yup. That’s quite the mouthful, that there title. I feel like I ought to have a lasso, wrangle it to the ground, dust rising in clouds of chaos, and then try to keep said title quiet, but that wasn’t how the week went, so I’ll stay true to the initial impetus for the title, and this posting.

It all started a week ago Sunday, on the evening of January 18th. I had been writing all afternoon, after having marked English exams for most of the weekend. I needed an escape, and my novel provided me with the ability to slip into another time period and sensibility. So, as I’m saving on my usb stick, and then trying to go back into a document to revise again, a little tiny box appears near the top of my Word document. Some documents still seem to open, while others don’t, leaving me with a sense of impending doom as I try to save things. I am sure I looked like a kid trying to swim without her water wings for the very first time. In other words, I was a bit frantic. A cold, damp fear swept over me, from top of hobbit head to soles of feet, and as it swept through me, well, I knew it was a done deal. Something had been lost, without a doubt. Still frantic, I tried to do a system recover, setting the date of the computer back two weeks, but that didn’t work….and things fell apart.

I must admit that I wept. Out loud and lustily. I also cursed. My dogs looked worried. My sister kept saying, “Are you okay? Are you losing your mind?” I was, losing my mind I mean, but it was more my heart that I was worried about. You see, I’ve been thinking about my writing lately. I’ve just sort of re-committed to being a serious writer (even though I have a demanding day job as a teacher of teen girls), to seeing myself with new eyes, and so to have my computer crash was a wake-up call. I’ve started writing my first novel in earnest (how else can you do it, I wonder?), and am in the process of completing my next book of poems. I’ve always written, since I was a wee girl, but now I feel an internal nudge to get at it with more intensity and honour. I’m sure I may have lost one story, but I also have a sneaking suspicion that it’s printed out on paper somewhere. If it is gone into the ether, then I will re-write it, as it still lives on in my head. I may have lost a few poems. I haven’t lost much else.

After the weeping (which actually sounds like a great book title!), my sister reminded me that there was absolutely nothing I could do about the loss of some of my pieces. My heart aches, still, but there is nothing more to do. When the computer place called three days ago to say it was all lost, well, I had already sort of felt it in my soul. (Yup, I’m an empathic and a sensitive soul, so usually my body tells me when something has gone awry. I’ll either get headaches, or feel exhausted and empty, or even dry heave if I’m totally upset about something but can’t figure out what. It’s so not attractive, but what can you do?!).

Picking up the laptop yesterday was weird. It has been stripped down naked, with basic programming put back on, but I can still write on it, like this blog entry right now! When I spoke to the technician, he said “It’s not your fault. It’s the Koreans.” I was stumped, a bit taken aback, thinking him racist. “What?” He chuckled. “Yup. It’s a Korean cryptovirus…they’re playing around now…” So, after the chaos of the Sony conundrum in the States just before Christmas break, and the release of “The Interview” on Netflix, I guess a bunch of Sheldon Cooper-ish hackers in Korea are out to get my small ghazal or sonnet. Sigh.

This brings me to my consideration of Elizabeth Bishop’s wonderful poem, “One Art.” No doubt I’ve written about this before, but the reason why this particular Bishop poem is one of my top ten favourite poems of all time is that the words are clear and precise. She speaks of learning how to lose so that it isn’t too traumatic, so that we can gather ourselves and our power. Bishop writes:

“The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.”

Yes, indeed. She goes on to mention tangible, every day things like door keys and her mother’s watch. Then, she goes all metaphorical on us, bringing in the ‘big guns’, to have us consider how we can lose things like
cities. It means that you can never be completely ‘safe’ in a community setting or workplace. You need to trust and let go. I know. It sounds like hooey. Still, when that final stanza rolls around, well, there is no more gorgeous place to be than in that little pocket of the world’s space. Bishop writes, profoundly, I think:

“—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.”

In my mind, in my world, my writing is my love. It haunts me on a daily basis, urging me to jot down notes on envelopes. Creative people will get what I mean, while others might think they know what it means. It is hard to even explain it. More than anything else, really, it is a relationship that speaks to freedom, creativity, and kindness. Seems to me that I ought to be putting more effort into the most dear relationship that exists in my world. Maybe the universe set me up for a computer crash, so that I’d realize I don’t just write “little poems or stories” (as I sometimes say).

We learn in the strangest of ways. I’ve learned that….well…that I need to take myself and my writing more seriously, that I need to just be in the moment, and that I can’t cry over all of that proverbial spilled milk. I’ve been looking backwards for too long…my neck has an ancient crick! :P The Korean hackers may be laughing, but I’ve beaten them in a weird way, by moving forward instead of getting stuck.

here’s to wishing you all forward movement….

peace,
k.

Waking up to deep, bone chilling cold in Northern Ontario this week has been trying, but waking up to turn on the news on CBC radio this morning was devastating. Again, writers and journalists were slaughtered. Why? Because they had strong views, because they spoke their minds, using satire and well chosen language? That it happened in France, where revolution is historically rooted, seems even more horrible. Long ago, under the reigns of opulent kings and queens, people questioned hierarchical and oppressive social structures, challenging previously established ideas and norms. Individualism and freedom were key tenets of that earlier revolution. People lost their heads. People gained new ideas and thoughts, learning to question.

As a writer, and as a teacher of young people, I believe questioning is key to learning. When you stop being curious, you stop learning. It doesn’t bode well for the future of this world if people follow along like sheep. (That reminds me of the song, “Sheep,” by The Housemartins. The lyrics speak of not following blindly, whether you follow politics, religion, or even a specific ideal or philosophy. It doesn’t mean you can’t be committed to an ideal, but it does suggest that you ought to be thinking more critically about our world, in an analytical way that questions why things happen the way they do.)

What breaks my heart about what happened today in Paris is that ten writers and two police officers died senselessly. What lifts my heart, though, is watching the trends on social media tonight. The #jesuischarlie hash tag, and the photos of people defiantly holding candles and pens high in the air, in huge groups, shows that terrorism cannot defeat freedom of speech. Too many lives were lost today. Of that, there is no doubt in my mind. Too many thoughts, too many words, too many ideas and lives were slaughtered. But the ripple effect, the aftermath, speaks of the strength of the human spirit, and of the love of freedom of speech, thought, word, and life. Why don’t we value it more, I wonder? Maybe we get too caught up in our own daily rhythms when, half a world away, life is stopped violently, creativity and voice silenced.

The thing the terrorists forget, though, is that silencing one voice does not silence others. In fact, as proven by the vigils in France tonight, the pen is mightier than the sword, and the pen can inspire and motivate humanity to find a better way.

I only hope we find it soon. There have been enough killings in the name of religion and politics, and too many writers and journalists have died in the pursuit of truth.

peace,
k.

By wavelet or tsunami….

My heart is too soft. It is too broken. Words spoken, and even unspoken, wound me too easily. When I’m tired and ‘overdone,’ I am my own worst enemy. This week, I have been feeling what I like to call “crunchy” inside. It’s a discomfort, a niggling, painful, ache of a ripple that sits in my heart and makes me restless. All week, I have felt rubbed raw, as if my skin were not covering my bones. The world seems too big most days. Last week, I was good. What, I wondered, made the difference?

I’m sure, to my colleagues and friends, I might seem stand-offish (is that even a word?) or distant or grumpy. Inside, though, there is an anger that simmers and cannot be dampened. It rips me apart from the inside out. What is it and where does it come from? Why has everything irritated me? Noise, harsh or condescending words, a misplaced comment or question that makes me doubt myself (yet again). . .all of it piles up inside. Why this week, and not another? Why the sudden tidal pull or sea shift?

Ironically, it was sister Stacy who helped me figure it out tonight. We had supper together and she said. “It’s that time of year again. It affects you even when you don’t think it does, or when you think that enough time has passed to forget about it….” I almost started to weep. Of course. I had thought I had ‘beaten’ grief. No. It seems that, despite my intention to spend this Christmas season surrounded in more light than darkness, grief has had other plans. All week, my emotions have raged inside….so that I’ve pulled myself inwards like a turtle, listening to classical music at lunch in my office to re-centre myself between parts of the day. No point being around people when you’re so raw. Tears spring from nowhere, and then people wonder if you’re depressed or out of your tree. Nope. Just sad. Just missing people I loved….and dreading the empty space of two weeks off, without a routine to distract me from memory.

Driving home after supper, I wondered why today was the hardest day thus far this week….there have been other hard days over the past years, but today seemed harsher than most. It was the date. December 11th. I had forgotten. It marked the beginning of my mum’s final decline. It marked her departure from her life and her entrance into a palliative ending in hospital. It really marked the end of her being able to converse with us. She died on December 18th, but the week leading up to it is seared into my heart and mind. It seems, even though I had forgotten the date’s importance in terms of bookmarking the season, my body had not. It’s been presenting me with ittle sleep, a restless mind, and sharp stomach pains. Not the flu, as I’d imagined or rationalized, but grief rising up.

I think of C. S. Lewis’s lovely “A Grief Observed,” which helped me through both of my parents’ deaths. Maybe I need to re-read that this week. I’m not sure where the anger comes from. It’s not directed at anyone else but me. I wonder if it means that I wish I’d had more time with her, or that I feel angry that I can’t recall the sound of her voice or her mannerisms, or maybe I blame myself for something I can’t understand. My friend, a poet, says that grief is sometimes like a ‘wavelet,’ while at other times it’s a tsunami. There is no rationalizing it. Letting go of that expectation might help too. You’d think six years would be time enough to move forward. I have, but the words we didn’t speak likely haunt me when I don’t even think they do.

Maybe I just need to be quiet inside and try to find Mum again in a new way, where I can forgive myself and her. Maybe, as my sister wisely said tonight, I just need to be kinder to myself….to realize that none of this has to make sense, but that it must need walking through, to air out the memory, to dispatch it outwards so that I can gather up stars again….

Remember to hug your loved ones during this holy season, friends…
peace,
k.

A friend and colleague stopped me in the hallway at school this morning. I was frenzied and behind schedule. There was an ice storm last night, so I was late to work. The ice bubble that covered my little Toyota Yaris was like glue. It took longer to bite into it with my scraper than I’d expected. There were swear words and mutterings. I don’t like being late. I berate myself more than anyone else could. I’m my own worst enemy. Anyway, Dan stopped me in the hall and said, “Eva Olsson’s giving her talk tonight in the Valley.” I thought, “Oh, my morning has been horrible. I have lots of marking to do this week and a play to work on this weekend. I have a new writing group starting on Sunday. How will I find time?” But, as the day went on, I kept thinking….”Kim, she’s 90. She is a Holocaust survivor. Your ‘stuff’ can wait.”

So, I asked my sister to come along and we headed out to the Valley for 7pm. The next two hours changed my life and my view of the world. I love history. It was my minor at university. I learned about the Holocaust, but there is something raw about listening to a survivor. Just nineteen when taken to a concentration camp, Eva Olsson’s story is one that shakes you to the core. She speaks to school students each year. She’s 90, but you’d swear she was more like 66 or 70. How she tells her story over and over again is the question. How could you live through that sheer hell, that inhumane and evil torment, and still have a heart that opens and forgives so widely? It amazed me. If she can forgive the Nazis and Hitler for what they did to her, and to her family, how can I have issues about ‘little things’ on a daily basis? Her talk jerks you out of your self-involvement, asks you to question your own thought process in life. Eva says that no one should use the word “hate.” You can say “dislike,” but not “hate.” What she tries to do is to educate and banish hate, person by person, talk by talk. She succeeds.

Visiting schools, she speaks about the scourge of bullying, and of bystanders who are just as bad as the bullies. She calls on parents to raise children with love. She calls on teachers to speak up against bullies and to be role models. She says that, for her, each day is Remembrance Day. She thinks of her mother in the corner of a cattle car, on their way to Auschwitz-Birkenau, weeping. She recalls the women and children who waited, in clumps, outside the showers, not knowing that they were going to their deaths. Hearing these stories, not from a textbook or documentary, breaks you.

Born in 1924, she was a Hungarian Jew. (It makes me think of my uncle, Jeno Tihanyi, who escaped from Hungary during the Hungarian Revolution back in 1956. He escaped from the Communists, and I remember being amazed by his stories of hiding and escaping….but even those stories can’t even compare to Olsson’s horrors.) In May 1944, she and her family were taken to Auschwitz-Birkenau. She lost family members, as quickly as Mengele could direct people either to the left or right, separating the weak from those who were healthier. She spoke of human hair being taken and made into pieces of fabric, and of the ‘surprise soup’ fed to the prisoners and consisting of human hair and bone. Her recollections are far worse and harrowing than anything I had read or studied at university. Her talk was far more potent than any viewing of “Schindler’s List” or reading of Anne Frank’s diary.

Eva says, at the beginning and end of her talk, that she only hopes to reach one heart. From what I could tell tonight, in that old school gym, she touches far more than she expects to….and that ripple, one can hope, will shift outwards to our daily interactions with our fellow humans.

Be kind, she says. Be generous, she encourages. Speak up against injustice. Do not be a bystander….because, if you are a bystander, you are am accomplice. How can we not listen to her story? Recognize her bravery? Applaud her spirit and heart?

I wish everyone could hear her talk….I think the world would be a better place.

Bless her.

peace,
k.

You can read more about Eva’s life here….at http://www.evaolsson.ca

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