Archive for November, 2015

This was a week for memory in Canada. Wednesday was Remembrance Day and it always makes me melancholy. I remember my friend, Ernie Schroeder, who was a World War II veteran. I met him back in the late 90s, while I was working in fundraising at the Cancer Centre here in town. He had a great sense of humour and a real love for life. He had lived through hell during the war and he knew what it meant to value the things we so often take for granted if we haven’t been to war ourselves. I still remember sitting with him, one day in a board room, interviewing him for a direct mail campaign we were doing one Christmas time. I had to interview him in order to write his story as a cancer survivor. His work with the Royal Canadian Legion also allowed me to enter into that world, to see the fine work veterans do for their brothers and sisters. (I’m hopeful that this new government will treat veterans with greater compassion and gratitude.)

Our conversation turned to his time in Europe. He talked of liberating a concentration camp. He spoke of people who were like skeletons, barely able to stand or speak. He spoke of carrying children to safety. Then he wept, his body wracked with sobs. He is the person I think of each November 11th, when others may not have someone to remember. I remember him. He was a friend. I miss him now that he’s gone. Cancer is not a kind companion, by any means, and he taught me a great deal about how to live in the world while facing health challenges and pain.

I think, this weekend, of what Ernie would make of this strange, new world. I know he would be saddened by the carnage, by how suicide bombings and mass carnage in Beirut and Paris would likely shock him. He always said he hoped that there wouldn’t be another world war. He prayed for that. Seeing the photos of both tragedies, a human could not help but be shocked. This new war is one in which the battlefield shifts without warning. It comes to us when we least expect it, and it spreads fear where there was love.

I haven’t been to Paris. I’m a fan of traveling, though, so I’ve been to many places in Europe. I’m always amazed by the vibrancy of the cultures and the beauty that travel brings to me. I grow by leaps and bounds when I travel, as I’m sure many do. (My friends Michelle and Dan are on a round-the-world trip right now and I follow their postings with great interest.) I’m thinking of everyone who has lost someone, and I’m making a conscious decision to send light to those broken cities. We cannot let light dim. Instead, we need to be light. We need to try and not be fearful or filled with hate. We are better than that, I think….and, for the sake of the world, fear and hate does nothing but destroy and malign the beauty of humanity.

In the face of brutality, I try to root myself in art, music and literature, reminding myself of the great potential we have as humans, to lift spirits and face hatred with love and peace in our daily lives. It’s not an easy task, to be sure, and many would think it too idealistic, but I will choose light, hope, and prayer over darkness any day.

Tomorrow is what would have been my mum and dad’s 47th wedding anniversary, so I’m also thinking of them. They showed me how friendship and love works when the worst things are happening in your life, when you’re pushed down by your own poor health. They taught me to value each hour, to keep them both in my heart and mind each day, and to choose love over fear. I miss them, but they taught me well.

I hope we can all choose love over fear as we move forward. I don’t know what this new world will look like, but I know that ISIS may (ironically) spur us to be even better humans, in sharing our compassion in a local and international way.

Praying for those who lost loved ones; sending them light.


Read Full Post »

Losing a student at the school where you teach is traumatic. We lost a young girl, just seventeen, to a terrible car accident about a week and a half ago. I knew who she was, but I had not had the pleasure of teaching her. I have taught her sister, though, and I keep thinking of her in all of this grief. I only have one sister, too, and even though we may not always see eye to eye, she is still my sister. The bond is there, and bonds don’t break.

We also lost a fine young woman, a graduate, in the winter months of this year, too. Deidre Urso Paulin was a bright star, much too young to have passed in yet another tragic accident. She was the mother of two young boys. It hit those of us who had taught her years ago very hard. I learned that, even if it’s been years since you taught a student, they sit in your heart and hold space there. You see them, years later, in grocery stores or in Chapters at the check-out counter. (My most recent encounter was with a girl who now is in her late twenties. She introduced me to her two little girls, both under five years of age.) I remember thinking, ‘where has the time gone?’ and ‘look how she’s grown up!’ Even though I don’t have kids of my own, these girls are mine. You don’t easily forget them, your students.

I teach Grade 11s and 12s, so many of them were friends of this young girl. Kodee had touched so many spirits at school, and the girls were broken. The day after the accident was awful, surreal and deeply sad. There is such a sense of loss when a young person dies before their time. Her friends were bereft, the teachers tried to offer balance, as well as open hugs and listening ears, but even we were adrift. How do you explain or make sense of such a tragedy? Even adults have a hard time….

Her friends loved her so deeply; the stories they told me touched my heart. Sometimes, they just wanted to talk. Other times, they just wanted to weep, or to get a hug. They needed to grieve. For most of them, this was the first death they had encountered in their lives. Anyone’s first encounter with death, especially tragic and sudden death, is shocking and surreal. It never makes sense, no matter how hard you try to make sense of it in your head. Your heart breaks, taking precedence over the head. Emotion overtakes logic and you get to see the raw human soul that people try (so often, too often) to hide when they go about their day to day business at work or school. (Why are we so afraid of truly seeing one another, I often wonder?)

This past week, on the day of the funeral and the day afterwards, the girls were empty, flat, exhausted. The next day, they were wired and spinning with energy. I found the contrast sharp and bittersweet. They were on a roller coaster of emotion and there was no real manual for dealing with loss. Some fell asleep in class, some looked out the window with grief etched on their faces, while others seemed hyper. My Grade 12 class was spinning, so I tried a session of guided meditation. Some of the girls thought it was silly, but I told them it was one way I find peace in a frantic day. Whether you are angry, saddened, afraid, or excited….finding even five to ten minutes of mindfulness through meditation can root you to your own breath. Sometimes, it seems to me, our breath is the safest anchor in the day.

At first, they grumbled and moaned, saying that it was ‘silly’ and ‘not part of the curriculum.’ It was a resistance that I had expected. Once I asked them all to close their eyes, though, explaining that no one else would be looking at them, they did close their eyes. What I saw, as the guided meditation went on, was a sense of relief passing over their faces. They were exhausted. Having five minutes to just be in their bodies, to just focus on their breathing patterns, gave them respite from constant movement and thought. Afterwards, when I asked them what they thought of it, they asked if we could do it once a week. They said they felt peaceful, centred, less frantic. It didn’t mean that they escaped the pain of the grief they were living through (and still are living through)….it just meant that they could breathe again, without thinking, for just a few minutes of that one day.

My meditation this week has been raking leaves. It is not one of my most favourite autumn tasks, but I turned it into a meditation on movement as I went over the grief of the week in my head and heart. My two dogs, Gully and Sable, snuffled through leaf piles, chewed (illegally, I might add!) on pieces of twigs and leaves, and then stood looking through the backyard fence at passersby. I focused on raking: the stretch and the reach of the arms and shoulders, the pulling backwards, the drawing in, and then the reaching out again. I watched the green of the lawn emerge from under a sea of golden leaves. Patch by patch, I found a centring and calming force. My breath slowed, my body moving in motion with my breath, until I had finished raking. With each drawing in, of gathering leaves together, I thanked Mother Earth for the gift of the trees. I thanked Gaia for the shade in summer, for the birds that had been housed there, and even for the crazy little black squirrels who natter at one another in overhead branches. I gave thanks to the earth for a season of growth, offering it rest and helping to put the earth “to bed” for winter.

Tomorrow, I’ll come home after work and plant a few spring bulbs in my flower beds. I’ll forget where they are planted, I know, but I’ll enjoy the springing up when they arise in April or May to surprise me. In a season of endings, there are always beginnings. In a cycle of nature, energy doesn’t dissipate but it transforms. As we all move forward, again, with each new breath, I know that Kodee’s spirit continues on, in bright light, with those she loves, watching over those who are here still. I wish her family, her parents, and her sister, Jenny, especially, peace in this sorrowful time.

Remember, friends, to love the ones you’re with….and to tell those you love that you do love them. We never know what a day or night will bring us, and we need to, more often I think, bare our souls more openly. We are here to be light, so why are we so afraid to share that?

Beam brightly.

peace and blessings,

Read Full Post »