Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Mulling peace

What is peace?

In recent years, I've spent a lot of time exploring, reading about, and mulling over what it means to live a life of peace.

It's a question I dodged for most of my early adult years in an ultimately fruitless quest to outrun my inner demons of fear of failure and of not being enough. I thought focused achievements and a carefully polished image would outrun those demons.  They didn't.  It only left me physically and emotionally exhausted, my life bereft of authentic peace.

The past few years as I've surrendered to a path towards peace, one of the most profound lessons I've learned is that peace begins inside and through me.

There's just so much hurt in our world on a vast scale.....bombings in Brussels, rising hostilities between nations, generation after generation of children the world over who grow up knowing only poverty, pain, and violence. While these are all terrible things, in many ways they (especially the first two) are outside of the sphere of influence that most of us as regular individuals have.

But what is within my reach—within the reach of us all—is the peace that comes from within us. The peace that starts with me and you and ripples on outwards. When we live in peace, we bring peace to others around us. One person at a time.

With every person we encounter as we go about our lives, we have a choice.  We can choose to interact with gentleness, compassion, and fairness. That is peace.

When we choose kindness with a family member whose actions are difficult...that is peace.  When we smile at the grocery cashier, wave across to a neighbour, or nod hello instead of averting our eyes when we encounter a person who is homeless...that is peace.  When we walk in nature, truly appreciating our connection with nature...that is peace.  When we look beyond ourselves to the needs of another creature...that is perhaps the greatest peace of all.

It's like a smooth stone thrown onto a clear lake on a hot summer's day that strikes the surface and then goes skimming across the water.  You never know quite where it will touch down or what the impact will be, but the rock goes on and on.  Peace shared person to person is like that: we may never know the true impact but that doesn't mean it doesn't continue on beyond our lives and what we can see.

If we truly want to impact the world for good, it doesn't start with devoting our lives to ourselves, and crafting an image of perfectionism that is absolutely non-reflective of our true lives and personal struggles.  It starts with peace and genuine love, person to person, humanity to humanity. From there it ripples on outward. It is not always easy, but to be a small catalyst for peace is one of the greatest gifts and privileges offered to our lives. I think that is how we change the world for good.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

An open letter to the strangers I met today: what you didn't know

Dear Strangers:
You didn't know today was only the third time I took Sophia (as I've named my new power wheelchair) out, and the first time I rode her on the few blocks trek to the local corner store.

You didn't know I was still learning to navigate Sophia- stop smoothly, go around obstacles, and (when on an empty, safe stretch of sidewalk) go top speed just for the great fun of it. More crucially, you didn't know I was learning to navigate my sense of self, figuring who I am given the changes and challenges of the last months. That, ultra-attuned to others’ reactions, I hoped desperately people would see me in that chair.

You didn't know my story of how for 16 years I've battled a condition that causes severe chronic pain and other symptoms, nor how an injury to my leg caused mobility struggles the past few months. You didn't know how home-trapped I've been, nor how I've dreamed of the day I would once again go to that corner store. You couldn't have known how that simple trip to the store meant more than almost anything. 

A lot was riding on this trip I took today beyond what you could see- a lady wearing a purple-knit owl hat riding in a wheelchair. A lady who at various times on that first journey to the store needed help with unanticipated wrinkles.  A lady who you jumped right in to help without even being asked.

- Thank you to the mother and her cute little daughter who saw me ride up to the store, then be foiled by a heavy, non-automatic door that couldn’t be pulled open from a wheelchair. Just as I tried to figure out how I'd get inside, you ran back to open the door for me.

- Thank you to every person in the store who made eye contact with me and smiled at me just as if I was like any other customer.  Maybe some might think it strange or even wrong for me to thank you for this, that I should have the confidence to know in my soul that I am the same as any other customer. That I should not seek validation for my worth from the responses of others. I get that.  But.... my self-image has been shaken up along my journey, like a mailed packaged that arrives dented and torn. The polite gentleness with which you treated me felt like soothing body butter on my cracked, dry sense of self.

Thank you to the grocery store cashier and customer ahead of me in line, a woman wearing the coolest green running shoes. They saw I’d dropped my credit card on the floor and was struggling to reach it, and immediately both raced over to help.

- Thank you to the kind man who was driving beside me on a semi busy street as I rode Sophia home. My sweater had fallen out the side of my chair, onto the curb. You must have seen me fruitlessly trying to pick it up, because the next thing I knew you had stopped your car, jumped out, and handed it to me. I barely had time to write thank you on my communication board because another car had stopped behind you and you had to run back to your car. But I hope you know how much your kind actions meant.  

Each of you, dear strangers, was going about your regular afternoon activities when you took a moment to help me. None were condescending, just friendly. You treated me with both dignity and kindness, and in doing so made a huge difference in not just how this first outing to the grocery store went, but in the confidence I'll have the next time I go out. As I re-figure out who I am as a person whose life and abilities have dramatically changed, your simple acts of kindness meant so much. To you, these acts may have seemed small, but what I'm sure you don't know is that you changed my life.


Saturday, March 19, 2016

Riding in the morning

For all my life, going on long walks-- be they in nature or down rambling, twisting side streets-- has been one of my favourite activities. There's nothing quite like exploring  a new ravine, discovering a hidden pathway, or happening upon a  back alleyway filled with secreted-away treasures like interesting antique cars and hand-built birdhouses to add joy and pizazz to one's days.

Its not just that these jaunts are a  great way  to exercise, de-stress, and have quiet time to think; for me to go out on a walk in either nature or an urban setting is to intimately connect with the Earth as my natural home. It is to remember that I am but a small dancer in a dance so much bigger than my own life.

There is something about my feet skimming over fresh earth-ground that sends my spirit running to Gaia, Earth Mother, to receive her ancient embrace. My spirit calms, becomes more in balance with life's harmony. It recognizes the breathtaking privilege it is to walk alongside Creation as it dances out its destiny in the form of tiny plants, gently chirping baby birds, and the creek's labour- moan as she breaks free from Winter Ice, giving birth to Early Spring. It is to walk in the hallowed corners of the Creator's reach.

Just half a block away is the entrance to Mill Creek, a beautiful little creek running through a gorgeous ravine.  How I love that place!  I harbour many happy memories from every season of the year in that beloved creek, from snowy nighttime walks, bundled like the abominable snow woman against a minus 35 degree chill to warm summer afternoons spent watching Samamtha laugh with glee as she splashed and played in it's summer waters.

Even in recent years as my health deteriorated, going  for little walks still played a special role in my life. That is until two and a half months ago (when because of a knee injury whose slow recovery is complicated by my chronic health issues) I lost the ability to walk more than a few steps.  Since then, I cannot walk across my kitchen, much less go on a nature walk. Yes, I've treasured a special time each day when I wheel/ hobble to my front steps, and then sink down and soak in the late winter sun. But, as spring approaches, I've felt a deep yearning to return to walking.

While an actual walk is still a ways away, now I can go on rolls!  Now that I have Sophia, as I've named my trusty new (borrowed) power wheelchair, when I'm up to it I can go for little rides around the neighborhood. After so many weeks essentially trapped in my home, to be able to leave my home independently for a little ride around the block is life changing!

Yesterday morning was the first time I took Sophia out on my own, the first time since January 25th where I was the one who decided when I left my home and where I went instead of having someone else push me in the wheelchair down the street.

It was a particularly sunny morning, with sunshine highlighting every little leaf, twig, hedge, and nook and cranny.  After spending so much time stranded in my home, I found myself near tears at the ordinary beauty of my street.

Riding down my street to the entrance into the creek (a cute little spot I've named the boardwalk) I parked Sophia carefully, before standing up and taking a few steps to the boardwalk's entrance. Even though I couldn't walk down the steps into the ravine. just standing there on the edge looking down was an amazing gift.  I could hear nearby a flock of waxwings, as well as the pattering of a woodpecker, and some sort of warbler bird I couldn't identify.

The.sun brightly shone on my face. The whispering of Gaia, hibernating these  past few months, returned, hugging my heart.

It was a moment of pure joy, eclipsed only by the day I married Eric and the day we met Sammie. Freedom is a wonderful thing. All I could do was bow my heart and say thank you.

(Photos used throughout this post were all taken on yesterday's morning ride).

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

A superhero with a hammer instead of a cape

Anyone flying  over the Edmonton city skyline earlier tonight just might have gotten a little blinded by the giant beaming-wattage smile blaring out from my super delighted face.  You see, tonight i got to take my inaugural ride around the block in my new (borrowed) power chair!

The chair was generously lent to me by my Occupational Therapist and her parents the other week.  It was incredibly kind, thoughtful, and generous of them and I am so grateful. It makes a true difference in my life.

The chair needed a special leg support built and attached before I could ride it.  So, yesterday my wonderful dad pulled out his tools, went into his garage, and a few hours later had a perfectly crafted leg support.

 After weeks of having to rely on others to push the manual wheelchair any time we went outside, it was downright exhilarating to have the independence and freedom of controlling and directing my own movements.

Superhero Grandpy Tom
Surprisingly, as i got on the chair for the first time, it uncannily reminded me of my former glory days of roller coaster riding. It felt a lot like that pit of the stomach- exciting feeling you get in the moments between being strapped into the coaster car and when it takes off on its assent up the track.

My hope and goal is my knee will recover over the next several weeks and months until i can once again regain one of my all time favourite hobbies, going for long walks.  Until that time arrives, i am so incredibly grateful to have this powerchair to take me on little rolls around the neighborhood.

It allows me to take a huge step forward, not just in terms of regaining independence but also dignity and quality of life.

From my heart, thanks Dad for building me the leg support.  And thank you again to Pat T. and her big-hearted parents.  You have changed my life. Returned my freedom. Thank you.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016


In recent years as I've begun to embrace my spirit's quietness, trees and nature have become increasingly meaningful to me.  I notice them now.  My eyes and heart seek them out as kindered spirits, embracing each other with the kind of soul- recognition usually reserved for the closest of friends. There is something about the quiet, steadiness of their elegant beauty that causes peace to well up in the part of my heart that often wonders if I am enough.

Tonight I discovered a poem on trees written by a winner of a Noble Prize in LiteratureIt touched me deeply and I thought you might enjoy it too....

                                                           By Hermann Hesse

    For me, trees have always been the most penetrating preachers. I revere them when they live in tribes and families, in forests and groves. And even more I revere them when they stand alone. They are like lonely persons. Not like hermits who have stolen away out of some weakness, but like great, solitary men, like Beethoven and Nietzsche. In their highest boughs the world rustles, their roots rest in infinity; but they do not lose themselves there, they struggle with all the force of their lives for one thing only: to fulfil themselves according to their own laws, to build up their own form, to represent themselves. Nothing is holier, nothing is more exemplary than a beautiful, strong tree.

When a tree is cut down and reveals its naked death-wound to the sun, one can read its whole history in the luminous, inscribed disk of its trunk: in the rings of its years, its scars, all the struggle, all the suffering, all the sickness, all the happiness and prosperity stand truly written, the narrow years and the luxurious years, the attacks withstood, the storms endured. And every young farmboy knows that the hardest and noblest wood has the narrowest rings, that high on the mountains and in continuing danger the most indestructible, the strongest, the ideal trees grow.

    Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach, undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life.

A tree says: A kernel is hidden in me, a spark, a thought, I am life from eternal life. The attempt and the risk that the eternal mother took with me is unique, unique the form and veins of my skin, unique the smallest play of leaves in my branches and the smallest scar on my bark. I was made to form and reveal the eternal in my smallest special detail.

A tree says: My strength is trust. I know nothing about my fathers, I know nothing about the thousand children that every year spring out of me. I live out the secret of my seed to the very end, and I care for nothing else. I trust that God is in me. I trust that my labor is holy. Out of this trust I live.

When we are stricken and cannot bear our lives any longer, then a tree has something to say to us: Be still! Be still! Look at me! Life is not easy, life is not difficult. Those are childish thoughts. Let God speak within you, and your thoughts will grow silent. You a re anxious because your path leads away from mother and home. But every step and every day lead you back again to the mother. Home is neither here nor there. Home is within you, or home is nowhere at all.

  A longing to wander tears my heart when I hear trees rustling in the wind at evening. If one listens to them silently for a long time, this longing reveals its kernel, its meaning. It is not so much a matter of escaping from one's suffering, though it may seem to be so. It is a longing for home, for a memory of the mother, for new metaphors for life. It leads home. Every path leads homeward, every step is birth, every step is death, every grave is mother. 
    So the tree rustles in the evening, when we stand uneasy before our own childish thoughts: Trees have long thoughts, long-breathing and restful, just as they have longer lives than ours. They are wiser than we are, as long as we do not listen to them. But when we have learned how to listen to trees, then the brevity and the quickness and the childlike hastiness of our thoughts achieve an incomparable joy. Whoever has learned how to listen to trees no longer wants to be a tree. He wants to be nothing except what he is. That is home. That is happiness.
Coming Soon: A brand new re-awakened Days of Grace blog!  Friends, please check back by the end of the week (ie by March 18) for the first new blog post. Just like spring, exciting bloggy happenings are right around the corner. Thanks for stopping by!