When the email arrived carrying a link to ‘The Gift’ I wasn’t really expecting it.
Sure, when Ian Hanchet (the gift giver) commented on my poem “If I Could...” he wrote, “I was inspired to immediately pick up my guitar and melody flowed from me. I recorded it on my phone, but I need to become more acquainted with the rhythms of your poem so that I may do each phrase justice. Too bad my life just got super busy. Maybe Next week I can return to this work of wonder.” When I read his words I thought, ‘how lovely’ and promptly wrote back to thank him and to let him know how excited I was he liked the poem that much.
And then, I let it go.
Yesterday, Ian emailed to say he’d finished the song and included the audio link.
I cried as I listened to it. Not just because Ian is a talented musician with the kind of voice that makes me feel like I am sipping an after-midnight scotch in a moody, crowded jazz bar somewhere along a dimly lit side-street in Soho only those who ‘know’ can get to after going down a flight of stairs leading to a deep red door that opens into the mystical world of late-night jazz, but also because in his gift I received something beautiful and precious — The gift ofbeing seen.
I wrote back to Ian after listening to what he calls, ‘our song’ – which in and of itself feels like a rare gem to be treasured always – and told him how special his gift is.
Ian’s gift also carried me back in memory to another gift of a song I received years ago from my dear friend, artist, musician, writer Max C.
In 2014, when I changed the name of this blog to Dare Boldly, Max had read my declaration of identity and felt inspired to send me a piece of music he’d written to accompany it. He asked me to record my voice reading the declaration and then, he put it to hismusic.
Like Ian’s gift, Max made me feel ‘seen’.
I hadn’t forgotten about Max’s gift, though I hadn’t thought of it in a long while. What I had forgotten, however, was my declaration of identity – it’s the one I share at the top of this post.
That’s what Ian’s gift brings me. Full circle back to remembering – I am the song. My song.
What a powerful and liberating gift. To remember…
We are each ‘the song’ of our life.
We are each, The Song Maker. The Song Singer. The Song.
Let us always sing outloud. Let us each sing of truth, beauty, kindness, hospitality, generosity of spirit, Love.
Let us sing each other awake in a world we create together of beauty, awe and wonder.
The results of the US election had stunned us. Taken us by surprise and lead us down a dark alley towards a sea of confusion.
Jazz Vespers was the antidote to our despair.
I still remember the words of Rev. Gary Pattison who led the service. “Jesus Christ loves Donald Trump,” he said. “I’m glad he does because I’m not there. Yet.”
Four years later I wonder if Gary got there.
I feel compassion for the child who never knew love. I pray for a miracle to heal the man. But love him?
I take a breath.
I do not write of politics. I do not write of religion or the economy or issues that consume weeks of headline news. I write of our human condition. Because, no matter the political, religious or economic times, it is we, the humans of this world, who create the climate for goodness, or darkness, to prevail.
Which is whyI am not writing about the man. I am writing of my response to how I felt yesterday as I sat and watched the inauguration of Joseph Biden as the 46th President of the United States of America. Our neighbours. Our closest ally. Our partners along the longest undefended border in the world.
I didn’t watch the inauguration on the same date in 2017.
I was far from Rev. Pattison’s kind of love and far from being able to do what a professor in a social justice course I took long ago said was necessary to change the world. “Until you love the Hitler in you,” he said, “you cannot love all humanity.”
I so want to be that person. The one who can love the human condition without falling into measuring someone’s worth as lacking because I am standing on my self-righteous pulpit judging their humanity and deeming it unworthy of redemption.
We are all worthy of redemption. And I wonder, is redemption the miracle that transforms blindness to sight, deafness to hearing and heartlessness to giving a damn?
And I hear the sinister whisper of my self-righteousness crawling across my skin. It is vile, that whisper. It would have me believe that it is The Man who makes the country. The Man who determines the heart of its people. The Man who is everything.
On that November day in 2016, when Rev. Pattison gave his homily at Jazz Vespers he stated, clearly and unequivocally, “We must stand with strong backs and soft fronts.”
For the past four years, I struggled to stand with a soft and open heart while keeping my back strong so that I could stand up for what was right and just without tearing down those who stood against me. Just as I struggled to believe there was hope in the darkness, a light at the end of the tunnel.
For the past four years, I have lost heart.
Yesterday, I was reminded that the sun is not gone because clouds cover the sky nor does my heart stop beating while I’m sleeping nor when I’m afraid.
Yesterday, I felt the delicate embers of hope begin to burn in my heart again. The embers that had begun to glow when Mr. Biden was declared President Elect last November.
Yesterday, I felt myself exhale and breathe in deeply.
Neither Trump nor Biden are my President.
But as a citizen of this world, as a neighbour to America, I look at what is called the self-evident truths of their declaration of independence as a beacon of hope in a sometimes dark and messy world. And while their path to equality and freedom has been fraught with missteps and peril, the intent to get there, the commitment to do the hard things was always part of what I believed was possible. Because, I believed America would do the right thing, even when it was hard.
For the past four years I have doubted. I have faltered.
I have hope again.
Yesterday, I watched the inauguration of Joseph Biden as the 46th President of the United States of America and Kamala Harris as Vice-President.
I cried. I smiled. I cheered. I bowed my head and prayed.
Today, I stand strong of back, soft of front. Today, I believe all things are possible.
As to loving Donald Trump. I leave that up to God.
It is hard sometimes, to look at ourselves in the mirror with our eyes wide-open and say, loud and clear so our heart can hear, “I Love You.”
Go stand in front of a mirror, look yourself in the eyes, deep into your eyes, take a deep breath and clearly state (keep your eyes open and looking into your heart) “I Love You.”
And, if it’s hard, if you hesitate or want to shut your eyes, or cry or shake your head from side-to-side in disbelief, ask yourself, “What is so unloveable about me?”
And, if the answer comes easy, if you have a list of ready-to-speak reasons why not loving yourself makes perfect sense, start there. Start in that painful, awkward, uneasy place where unself-love resides. Start right there to love those broken, ugly, untouchable places where you tell yourself you do not deserve Love.
We all deserve Love.
We all deserve to love ourselves. Many of us have not been taught it’s important. Or many of us have been taught it’s selfish or conceited. But, if we don’t love ourselves, how will we teach our children to love themselves enough to do the loving things? To treat their life, all life, as precious? To treat themselves and others with dignity and respect?
And, if we cannot love ourselves enough to speak the words today, how will we speak to ourselves in the tough times? In the times when we need tender loving care to get through the rough spots on our road? Or when life hits us with one of its curveballs and we just want to curl up into a ball and turn the world off? How will we take care of our heart, and the hearts of everyone we love, if we are beating ourselves up with Unlove?
Years ago, when my mother was around 85 and living in an assisted living centre, my then-teenage daughters and I went to visit her one evening. As she shared some of her life-story with us one of my daughters asked her, “Do you love yourself Nana?”
Mum blinked her eyes. Fluttered her hands around her face as she always did when she was nervous or uncomfortable and replied with something like, “What a silly question.”
My daughter did not back down. “Do you?”
Mum breathed out. Kept laughing nervously.
At this point both my daughters knew what was necessary.
The pushed her wheelchair to the full-length mirror in her entryway. They said, “Try it. Look at yourself and say, “I Love You.”
My mother was taken aback. She giggled and replied. “Oh no. No. I can’t do that.”
The girls were adamant. “Of course you can.” And each of them demonstrated how ‘easy’ it was to do and say.
“You do it too, mum,” they called out to me.
So, following in my daughters footsteps, I demonstrated ‘the how’ to my 85-year-old mother.
Still she hesitated. With encouragement, she finally looked at herself in the mirror and said, “I Love You.”
And then, she fluttered her hands around her face and exclaimed, “Oooh La La!”
It was such a sweet, tender moment, and at the same time, poignant and sad.
To be 85 and never to have told yourself, “I Love you.”
My mother was not, is not, alone in her silence.
We are a world of human beings who have never learned to say those words to ourselves.
Have you? Ever told yourself how much you love yourself?
When you stand in front of the mirror, who do you see reflected back?
A woman or man of integrity, humility, honour, beauty, strength, courage, passion, dignity, truth, wisdom, compassion, caring….
Or do you just not look? At yourself? Deep into yourself?
Do you just brush your teeth and hair and put your make-up on (and maybe notice with dismay a new wrinkle or two) or shave and avoid looking deep into your eyes?
Whatever you do in front of that mirror, that’s what you do in the world. So, if you want to change the world, start by changing how you look at yourself in the mirror and what you say to yourself.
Start by practicing, “I Love You.”
You’ll be amazed by what happens.
And PS — if it’s too hard to say the words, get a crayon that writes on glass and start by writing it out and reading it to yourself every day until you’re ready to claim the truth.
Sometimes, self-love starts with baby-steps…
About the artwork:
I am fascinated with carving stamps. I created the botanical on the left by first imprinting it with vaseline on the page (the vaseline acts as a resist to the paint) and then using the same stamp to print it on the right with black ink.
The little botanical is also a stamp I carved.
The background is watercolour and acrylic inks – the ‘mesh’ is created by using drywall tape as a stencil and dabbing paint through it.
Mixed media 8 x 10″ on canvas paper
The words were put in place in Photoshop (not physically printed on the page)
I stand on the platform of the small observation deck built into the side of the hilltop, just before the path dips down into the valley below.
In the distant horizon, the rising sun bathes the mountains in morning’s glory. A Chinook Arch stretches itself across the sky like a blanket thrown across the frozen ground to warm it up.
I want to capture the moment. To freeze it under the klieg lights of my attention as if in its frozen image I will find myself free of thought, fully present here.
Still, my mind chatters. I wish I’d put my hat on. My ears are cold. Don’t forget to drop that canvas off at JD’s today for our Zoom visit Friday. I wonder if I turned the coffee on before Beaumont and I left for our morning walk. I must remember to call the dog groomer’s today.
A Canada Goose, floating on the river below, honks loudly. repeatedly. In its cacophony, I hear it saying, ‘Stop listening to your brain chatter. Listen. Listen deep to the world around you.”
I give my head a shake. Beaumont keeps sniffing at the snow along the trail.
I close my eyes. Breathe. In. Out. In. Out.
The thrum of a train heading west vibrates in the air. The hum of traffic plays like a counterpoint to the melody of the river below where as it rounds a curve downriver, the ice forces it to bunch up into a rushing stream racing to get through the narrower channel. A bird twitters somewhere in a tree.
I keep my eyes closed.
I listen. Deep.
I want to take it all in. To hold it all in one thought-filled moment. But it escapes, like steam from a pressure cooker being slowly released.
I breathe. Deep. And open my eyes.
Sunrise has slipped into day. The geese still float languidly on the surface of the water below. The river keeps flowing eastward. Time flows in all directions.
And I wonder. Where do my thoughts go when I stop listening to their chatter?
And I smile. It doesn’t matter where they go. What matters is, will I let them pull my attention away from being here, right now?
Will I follow the randomness of my mind or follow my heart’s desire to know stillness. Peace. Calm. Tranquility.
Beaumont the Sheepadoodle and I have a new routine. Instead of taking him outside every morning via the lower deck, I put my longest coat on over my pyjamas, don my boots and hat and gloves to ward off the chill of these winter mornings. I drape his harness over Beaumont’s head and attach the retractable leash and off we go into the darkness that is still morning this first week of January.
We walk out of our cul de sac, turn right onto the street that leads from the top of the hill down to the main road and, at the corner where it meets the main road, we turn right again and walk along the well-litpath leading to the pedestrian bridge over the river.
There is a spot about halfway across where someone has affixed a red plastic wreath. Inside it is a photo. It is of a man smiling. His smile is frozen in time. His body lost to the rushing waters some months ago when he leapt from the bridge and disappeared.
Every morning since I began this new routine just before Christmas Day, I stand below the wreath, close my eyes and take a breath. A deep one.
Beaumont sniffs in the snow that covers the pathway, pulling on the leash as long as I let him. And then he stops and stands watching me. Patiently waiting. As if he knows this is a moment of reverence.
I listen to the river. Its flow is fast and furious in the winter. The ice island keeps growing larger between the two buttresses sunk deep into the water to support the bridgedeck. Between the buttresses, where an ice island has formed in the centre of the river, the flow is blocked, forcing it to either side. It pushes and shoves its way through the narrower waterway, slipping off the ice where it grows outward from the shore towards the centre and from the centre of the river out. Ice locked.
I stand, eyes closed, heart open, breath stirring deep in my belly and listen to the river. I stand and say a silent prayer for this man for whom life became too great a burden.
I stand and say a prayer for all those who will today let go of the burden of their lives and fall into the everlasting.
I stand and say a prayer for all those fighting to cling to life with every breath they take and for those who stand by their bedsides giving aid and comfort. They are standing in for the ones who cannot be there. They carry their pain.
I stand and say a prayer for this world. So hurting. So bruised and battered. Battle weary. For the leafless trees standing sentinel in the dark along the river banks. For the geese honking and flapping their wings somewhere out on the ice island. And for the river and the ice and the mountains and the sands, the oceans and the seas. I stand and say a prayer.
I stand and say a prayer for those who are sick or for whom the separation of these days sits like a heavy cloak upon their shoulders, bending their backs.
I stand and say a prayer for those who are struggling, who are feeling lost and alone. Frightened or confused by these days of solitude.
And then, I bring my prayers back home to my heart.
I stand and say a silent prayer for those close to me and far away, I stand and say a prayer for my mother and my father and brother, his wife, my family members who are gone and my cousin who lost the battle to Covid and all those who will lose the battle today.
I stand in the stillness between each breath and say a prayer.
My mother taught me the power of prayer.
It is teaching me how to be present in the grace of stillness.
I originally titled this post – 2020! Need I say more?
But then I wondered… what if it’s not about 2020 anymore? (Which btw it isn’t when I look at the calendar)
What if it’s all about 2021? We (as in the entire planet) sure are expecting a lot from it.
How will it ever live up to our expectations? Especially, if as the saying goes, “Expectations are premeditated disappointments.”
Which got me thinking that perhaps the best thing I can do is to stay out of the field of expectations and instead, water the seeds of Love growing in the garden of my heart.
That garden is the one I must tend to, no matter the season, the times, the weather, the state of the world around me. No matter if Covid beats a hasty retreat and we are free to embrace one another again without fearing the worst, the state of the garden of Love in my heart keeps me rooted in grace and gratitude. It opens me up and brings me into the beauty of this moment in which I find myself breathing freely.
May the garden of your heart be full of beauty growing wild and free in all the colours of the rainbow. May you awaken to Love blossoming with every breath you take.
She flows. I open. Myself. The floodgates. The doors. The windows. The entrances to my heart, my mind, my body, my being present. Here.
And in all that is opened up I lose the need to know what word, what thought, what idea comes next and simply allow. The word, the thought, the idea to appear.
This morning, I sat at my desk. My final eggnog latte of the season steamed in my Christmas mug, (final because the container is empty). Beaumont the Sheepadoodle curled up at my feet, piano music played softly all around, the furnace hummed, my husband slept in our bed.
Outside my window, the sun was kissing the night good-bye with rose-streaked kisses.
I sat at my desk and welcomed in the morning with a soul-satisfying breath. It sank, deep, deep into my belly. Softly, silently, it flowed with ease into my lungs, down, down into the crucible of my body, And as I breathed in, then out, I felt my conscious mind sinking down, down into the presence of the sacredness of this life-giving ritual of breathing. With each breath, in and out, I felt my entire being expand into every cell of my body bringing me effortlessly into the hallowed nature of this moment at the edge of day dawning.