Archive for February, 2013

I’ve been in a self-imposed cocoon a bit this last week and a half, mostly because I’ve been dealing with a feisty, swollen elbow on my dominant side. Nothing like the Universe telling you to take a step back, to reflect, than through the medium of your own body. It might just be the only way I ever listen that deeply. Only when my elbow has swollen up to include its own personal air bag (or water bed!) will I slow down a bit.

It’s only a case of bursitis, but it’s set me back, slowed me down, showed me that I can’t control certain things (again!). I’ve discovered that Naproxen and I don’t really mix that well. It kills the pain, but doesn’t seem to be reducing the inflammation. It also gives me persistent rumbles of headache. The worst part, though, is the difficulty I’ve been having with sleeping. I prop myself up on a tower of fat pillows and ice the heck out of the elbow in question on another tower of fat pillows. It’s not the most restful of poses! So, I’ve spent the weekend in my polar bear pjs, icing the joint in question, and just being more aware of how much we need our body parts to make the whole thing work in concert.

The lesson, though, is the thing I always search for at times like these. I like to be busy. Maybe too busy, sometimes. A friend said to me on Friday, “The Universe has been telling you to stop for a while now, and you wouldn’t, so it’s just making sure that you do!” She was right, I thought, upon reflection. I’m a bit stubborn, trying to find a purpose behind everything I do in life, trying to make a difference in everything I take part in. People often ask me to join volunteer committees and I love feeling that I can help others in that way. Last week, I said ‘no’ to a new request, even though I was flattered to be asked to take part.

Saying ‘no’ is relatively new to me, something I never did before I dealt with a serious case of major depressive disorder that peaked in 2008-09. After walking through those dark places, unsure I’d ever really emerge from the shadows, I’ve learned that saying ‘no’ is a healthy response for me. It doesn’t make you popular when you say ‘no’, especially in a workplace, but sometimes it’s the only thing you can do to help yourself. (Those of you who have dealt with depression, and who are, or ever were, ‘people pleasers,’ will absolutely understand what I’m saying. The rest should consider themselves lucky….)

So, this whole episode has made me ask myself: why do I need to keep busy so much of the time? Why do I feel the need to say ‘yes’ to every request for dinner out or coffee with friends and acquaintances? Why do I not look out for my own well being as well as I should do? I don’t have all of the answers, but I’m beginning to find that sometimes looking out for my own well being means that I might very well piss off people I like, or even love. It’s a strange new epiphany, a shifting of self, a shedding of skin, but it’s starting to settle in.

The last two weeks have been ‘ripply,’ as if I’m a bit removed from the regular rhythm of my world. It may have nothing to do with the bursitis, but in a poetic and metaphorical sense, it may very well be that the bursitis is causing me to slow down to ask myself these questions. So, thanks to my friend, Charmaine, I’ve learned that I need to just listen to my body, my soul, the Universe, and lean into the flow…Rather than repress any leftover grief or upset from the last few years, I need to acknowledge it and let it go. Rather than ‘clench up’ in a spiritual and emotional sense, I need to let go and trust…it’s a big lesson.

One of my favourite poems, which I first heard read by my yoga teacher, Willa, is a piece by Wendell Berry. It’s called “A Spiritual Journey.” It’s short, but sweet…and I share it with my senior English students every semester…because it inspires me. I’ve posted it above my desk at work, so I can remind myself of its message on the rougher, more challenging days:

And the world cannot be discovered by a journey of miles,
no matter how long,
but only by a spiritual journey,
a journey of one inch,
very arduous and humbling and joyful,
by which we arrive at the ground at our feet,
and learn to be at home.

Berry’s words always comfort me. They remind me that we can learn from our own personal experiences, without even leaving our own spaces and places. The work, the transformation, takes place inside. You only need to be willing. Once open to it all, the soul blows through and clears out those things that might impair your own growth.

So, I’m off to ice the elbow again…and to hope it is almost done teaching me this lesson as I’m craving a good night’s sleep. 🙂


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I lost a friend last week. I wrote about him in the Robbie Burns post a couple of weeks back. I knew he wasn’t well. Still, he left much too quickly, and there’s a void in the world because of his going.

Chuck Murray was the kindest man I’ve ever met. Seriously. I’ve met lots of men in my forty-two years on the planet, but I have yet to meet someone who cared as deeply, for his wife, and for others, as Chuck did. He rarely made it into the local newspaper, didn’t wave flags getting people to notice his contributions, but instead worked on the sidelines, quietly, to make a difference. He did….make a difference.

I met Chuck and his wife Nancy when my dad went into a complex care facility here in Sudbury. Right away, Chuck was there with a smile and a kind word, from the very first day that Dad arrived. Chuck must’ve seen that I was overwhelmed because he was soon there to offer me advice on how to navigate the often challenging, and sometimes unkind, long term health care system that exists in Ontario these days. He wasn’t afraid to speak up for his wife’s care, and offered his voice of protest to make a positive difference for others who didn’t have family members to advocate for them during stressful times. Chuck became a guiding angel and mentor for me. I visited my dad every day, and Chuck was always there, too. He and Nancy had a matter-of-fact view of health issues. They played the cards they were dealt. They taught me how to do so, too, with some semblance of grace.

The first time I knew that Chuck was special was when we had a chat about what was wrong with the long term care system. We griped a bit together, finding solace in shared struggle, but I soon figured out that Chuck was about so much more than just whining and griping. He was not someone who would whinge. He was someone who would right a wrong, who would slay a dragon, or perish trying. I loved that about him. Some of the nurses used to refer to me as my dad’s “terrier” because I was pretty stubborn (and very vocal!) about anything that didn’t seem proper about his care. Whereas some may have used the “terrier” tag to describe me in a negative manner, Chuck just smiled and told me I was doing the right thing by my dad. His praise, at a time when I felt broken and tired, was all I needed. I looked forward to seeing he and Nancy when I went to visit Dad. I have so many fond memories of conversations in the common area, overlooking stands of birch trees and the blue waters of Lake Ramsey. It makes me sad to think I’ve lost both Dad and Chuck now, but I know they’re likely up in heaven together, having a beer. No doubt. They enjoyed each other and were buddies.

What I didn’t know about Chuck, but what I soon found out, was that he was the President of the Sudbury Manitoulin Children’s Foundation for over twenty years. As his obituary states: “Chuck believed that all children deserve the opportunity to experience the outdoors through the “Send-A-Kid to Camp” program and the opportunity for academic advancement through the Bursary program. In addition, Chuck was a fierce advocate and supporter for those in the community facing long-term health challenges. Chuck was recognized throughout the Greater Sudbury area for his exceptional volunteerism, community involvement and embodiment of service above self.” That last part strikes a chord with me. He was the embodiment of service above self.

I invited him to my book launch in December, and he rang me up one night a couple of days before, just to touch base. He apologized for not being able to attend the launch. “I’m not really that strong right now. In remission, but weak. Getting better soon, though.” His voice was wavery and weaker than normal. Even then, as he was struggling with his health, his only worry was his wife. “It’s bad for me, but it’s hell for Nance.” That broke my heart. Even then, in our last conversation together, he wasn’t thinking of himself….but always, as usual, of others.

These last few weeks, as I’ve prayed for his better health, and for his peaceful ending, when that became clearer to me, I’ve been less and less tolerant of people around me who whine. (I even find myself so irritated that I need to leave the room, or discussion, once in a while.) I’ve actually said “Why whine about it? It’s out of your control.” I’ve found that people tend to whine about little things, things that have nothing to do with life and death issues, things that have nothing to do with who loves you, or with whom you love. These are the things that matter….not the whining and complaining of everyday life. If only we could all focus on “service above self,” the world would be less of an ego-based place. It would be lighter, brighter, more uplifting.

This is the gift that life has given me….Having encountered death too many times, I’ve learned that it teaches you the sweetness of life. If you haven’t felt the deep loss, then you can’t know the power of love. I haven’t learned that lesson from death. Instead, I’ve learned it from the people who have left my life….they’ve been the best teachers.

So, my friend, I will miss knowing you are around in this dimension, in this place, in this space. Still, I think of Matthew 25:23, the words of the well known Bible passage ringing in my ears: “His Lord said unto him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.’ ”

I know I will see him again, as I will so many others who are my ‘lost ones.’ As they go, they sit ever more firmly in my heart and soul. Their going makes me ever more faithful, more connected to some greater power, more aware of God’s grace in both dark and light times.

Farewell, my friend. You were such a good and faithful servant. Bless…


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The news out of Ireland today, which I first read via Twitter via the RTE feed, tells of Taoiseach Enda Kenny personally apologizing to the survivors of the Magdalene Laundries. If you’ve studied Irish history, or read Irish literature, you’ll likely know the story, but for those who don’t know the tale, I’ll give you an abridged version.

Obviously, when you think of Magdalene, you think of Mary Magdalene, the woman who supported Jesus at the crucifixion. For such a long time, Mary Magdalene was painted as a prostitute. The Catholic Church finally, in 1969, admitted that this may have been a misinterpretation of Magdalene’s role. There are reams of fascinating books out there on Mary Magdalene, but I’m not going to focus on that here.

The idea that Mary Magdalene was a “fallen” woman led to the phrasing of the “Magdalene Asylums” and, later, to the more common “Magdalene Laundries.” These were places where women who were deemed of immoral substance (some prostitutes, but not all) were housed. Some women simply had the extremely poor luck of having been born into poverty or were pregnant out of wedlock. Some women had been physically and mentally abused by their husbands, or sometimes even by their priests, and went to live in the asylums. They may have gone, initially, voluntarily, but sooner rather than later things became less voluntary in nature. Mentally and physically disabled women would also have fit into this category. Any woman who seemed to be (or have) a “problem” was directed, by priests, nuns and family members, to the asylums. The first such asylum was founded in Leeson Street, in Dublin, in 1767. They were supposed to help rehabilitate people who needed help, who were the very most marginalized of Irish society. They hardly served that purpose, but in fact only really ended up further marginalizing these women.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the asylums became ‘laundries’ and were parallel to what we might now think of as Dickensian and Victorian work houses. Women who lived there were virtually imprisoned, forced to live in substandard conditions, taking in industrial sized loads of laundry to wash, and doing needlework. For many, the chemicals used in the laundries would end up negatively affecting their health. A number who died in the laundries weren’t issued death certificates, have been lost to history, and were often buried in mass graves outside the buildings, with many of them being given pseudonyms like “Magdalene of Tears.” They were erased, in effect, simply because they were women. Simply because they were poor and marginalized.

Survivors of the 20th century laundries today say that Enda Kenny’s apology didn’t go far enough….that it wasn’t a full State apology. The whole thing reminded me of the apology that the Government of Canada gave to our First Nations peoples regarding the Residential Schools a few years back. How do you apologize, fully and properly, and sincerely for that matter, for something so very horrific, for the stripping of spirit? The release of the Magdalene Laundries report, and Enda Kenny’s attempt to sympathize with these women, is a start, but it’s only just that. Again, as in the case of Canada’s poor treatment of First Nations peoples, Protestant and Catholic churches were involved. As it was Ireland, we know we’re speaking mostly of the nuns who ran the laundries. There were reported incidents of abuse and demoralization, just as we’ve heard here in Canada. It’s a dark part of Irish history. The last laundry in Ireland closed in the early 1970s, while one in London, England, closed in 1996, so they’re not that long gone. The memory, especially for survivors, is marked in their hearts and souls. They won’t soon forget, apology or not.

Sometimes, I think it’s too easy to say “I’m sorry” these days. People dash it about lightheartedly, so as to just go on with their lives and feel less troubled by their conscience. Now, there’s certainly no way to know if the apology in Dublin is sincere and heartfelt, but it would be nice to think it was a start of sorts. It certainly speaks to bringing out an aspect of Irish history that might not always be known outside of Ireland. It also speaks to the power of the Catholic Church in Ireland, then. If you do research on how many Irish consider themselves practicing Catholics these days, you can see a shift away from the the traditional Church, especially amidst the young people. Sometimes, the institution doesn’t help…but drives away those who may have once been its best supporters.

There are films, songs and poems written about the laundries….but the best, I think, is Joni Mitchell’s “Magdalene Laundries.” You can hear the song on YouTube…here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m_KK6qOlb30. The song is also on a CD by The Chieftains called “The Wide World Over.”

I think, tonight, of those women in Ireland, and around the world, present and past, who have been victimized and oppressed by various institutions, whether religious or governmental. Their voices, so often silenced, now need to be heard. I pray they find some peace now that the truth is out. In speaking our truths, we free ourselves. If we don’t, we’re doomed to repeat….


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