Before Words

Before Time – mixed media on canvas – 30 x 24″

Both on the canvas and on the page, immersed in colour and texture, tone and feelings, words and imagery, I find myself coming home to a place I didn’t know existed before I became immersed in it all.

And then…. I read the news and must find my way back to that place where I find myself grounded in the darkness and the light, the ugly and the beautiful, the intolerable and the harmony.

This morning, I read the news. Story after story of unease and confusion and injustice and racism and phobias too unbearable to name, deaths too heavy to endure, history to unbearable to uncover.

And the muse pushes me to write it out. To name it. Feel it. Know it. See it. Bear it. Even when the words are too dark to see or feel too heavy to bear in the dim light cast by the news. To write it out and bear witness to it all so that in all of it, the mystery, the awe, the ineffable beauty of life can shine through.

In keeping with the Before Time poem from yesterday, this morning’s poem is titled, “Before Words”. (and the painting is the finished version of yesterday’s share.)

Before Words
by Louise Gallagher

Before words
man had no name
for who he was
or who the others were
who shared this human 
state
without a name.

Without a name
he could not name
the things he saw
that were the same
yet different
and lived within the mystery
of the world
for which he had no name.

And then words came
and labelled all that man was
all that man created
all that man did
as wanted/unwanted
beautiful/ugly
funny/sad
curious/dreaded
intriguing/frightening
right/wrong
us/them.

And in the naming of it all
man became black or white
dark/light
rich/poor
believer/nonbeliever
love/hate.


And in the names
man called 'them'
there were no words
to label the things he did not
understand
or know
and so he named them all
The Other.

There was no room
for the others
who did not fit into man’s tidy
labels
designed to keep the others
out
until fear grew 
wild
hatred flourished 
fierce
and man became
the one 
to fear the most.

About the artwork: When I began this painting it was an overpainting of an old piece that did not please me. It was going to be flowers and then, the evolution of time began to unfold and this is what appeared.

She Could Not Let The Gods Die

My mother was born in India of Euro-Asian descent. At the time, Pondicherry was a French Protectorate with a very vibrant and strong Catholic community.

Devoutly Catholic, she affixed crucifixes above doors and kept statues of the Virgin Mary and Jesus by her bed. She also ensured there were statues of Vishnu and Lakshmi and other gods all around the house, just in case.

The words of a prayer were never far from her lips, especially if one of us four children lost something or tested her patience (read mostly me). Where I was concerned, it didn’t take much provocation for her to quickly launch into a prayer to St. Jude, the Saint of Lost Causes.

I remember once, we were camping and my sister and I were using one of my father’s favourite camping pots as a bucket. We would scoop water out of the river and then throw the water back in as if it were raining. I was scooping and throwing and accidentally let the bucket go as I was throwing the water back in. I remember watching, aghast, as the bucket bobbed along the surface of the water, out of reach. My mother made me pray with her to St. Jude and a few minutes later, the pot was found safely tucked in between two rocks a bit further downstream. She was convinced it was St. Jude answering our prayers, just as she was convinced, God and St. Jude would never give up on me.

Yesterday, I read Agah Shahid Ali’s poem, “Lenox Hill” which arrived in my Inbox via The Poetry Foundation. Reading his powerful and provocative words, I was reminded of my mother and her many gods and goddesses and her deep abiding faith in the God of her faith.

This poem was born…

She Could Not Let The Gods Die
By Louise Gallagher

Tired now,
she prayed feverishly
to her Lord
God of her faith
committed 
to following His way
to the other side.

It was the way 
of the cross
she’d carried away
from the land of her birth
when she’d left
to follow the way
of a man
who appeared
like one of the gods
she could not let
die.

She carried her faith like a cross
but could not let the gods
of her land of birth
die
just in case.

You never know when you might need
a god of another colour
she whispered into the shroud
of mystery
that encircled her
in the dead of night.
You never know who will meet you
at the door
of Heaven or Hell or Svarga loka.

And when the time came
for her to pass over
through the gates
of an unseen world
she held tight
to the rosary she’d carried
with her from the land of her birth
as her lips silently moved,
praying feverishly for her soul
to achieve enlightenment.

I have never let you die,
she whispered with her dying breath
where karma met Moksha on the way
of the cross
releasing her from all earthly ties
free
to live in peace
forever 
on the other side.

Always Leave Heartprints

Before my mother met my father, she had every intention of becoming a nun. And then, this dark-haired fly-boy rode in on a southbound train and swept her off her feet.

Years later, when she was a couple of years older than I am now, I asked her if she had any regrets. “I regret leaving my mother and father in India,” she said. “I promised to always take care of them and I didn’t.”

She didn’t regret not taking her vows. Her life, while often difficult after leaving India, was full of her family. Though, after returning to Canada in the late 70s, she wished she still lived closer to her brothers and sisters, most of whom were in France.

But she was deeply devoted to her son and granddaughters and never wanted to be far from them. When my brother left this world in 1997, a year and a half after my father, she was shattered.

It is the one thing she struggled with for the rest of her life; to understand the tragedy of his death and the loss of all contact with her two eldest granddaughters which followed.

Yet, no matter how devastated she was by her losses, her faith never faltered and she never questioned God’s will.

I often admired my mother’s deep faith. It gave her such certitude and grace. There was no doubt in her mind that God would take care of her and in that certainty, she sometimes wondered about ‘the why’, she never questioned God’s Grand Design. She never felt alone because God was always with her.

On Friday, I attended the funeral of my friend Bev, Tamara’s mother.

It is in such heart-breaking moments that I wonder if I had faith such as my mother’s would my heart ache so much. Yet, I know it would because loss is not about faith. It’s about sorrow. And the only thing to ease sorrow, is Love.

Because of Covid, there were only 10 of us at the service. Tamara, her aunt, cousin and seven friends. We were seated far apart from each other, masks on, no opportunity to hug, to support one another, to share our love, stories and strength with her beautiful daughter.

I am so deeply grateful for the gift of being able to be there for Tamara and to wish Bev a safe passage in this, her final adventure. But, the restrictions of Covid felt so heavy and binding and so very uncomfortable.

What struck me most was the realization of how important ‘gathering’ is when someone’s physical body leaves this world. How being there to say one last good-bye is vital. As is being able to walk alongside their loved ones in close community, to support them and to love on them.

With Covid there, it made the loving on them more distant and remote.

When my cousin Linda succumbed to Covid April 30th of 2020, my cousins in France could not gather. I was saddened by how difficult those days were for them, but didn’t fully comprehend just how tragic it would have felt until Friday, when I left the gathering, got in my car and drove towards home.

It was a beautiful, warm spring day. The leaves were budding. People were out and about. The sky was crystal blue clear.

My eyes were cloudy. My heart heavy.

Not just for Tamara’s loss and pain. But also because, as we sat in the sanctuary and bid Bev good-bye, Covid was present in our midst simply because of its restrictions and we were unable to give the one thing I know we all seven friends wanted to give Tamara and her family. A hug.

And so, this morning, I know in my heart, I must chose to seek the value in all things. To find the beauty amidst the aches that cloud my heartfelt view of the world on this beautiful spring morning.

This ache is a reminder to savour the moment and to treasure those I love and let them know how very, very deeply I love them and their beautiful gift in my life.

To live life with passion, purpose and presence.

To give. Love. Laughter. Compassion. Hope. Kindness.

Freely. Completely. Always.

And… to have faith… In Love. Always.

I do not share my mother’s deep faith in a God I never came to love as she did. It is not my way.

My way is to Love. Always. Completely. Freely.

And so I shall.

Love all things. Including this ache that reminds me that life is a precious gift to be savoured, tended to and cherished in every moment. Just the way it is. Just the way I am. And to be shared, freely and completely, with those I love.

I love you all and am grateful for your presence here, and in my life.

Namaste

.

The Choice.

The Choice — mixed media page — Learning to Fly art journal

Yesterday, I took a risk.

I’m glad I did.

The affirmation, confirmation and support I received filled my heart with gratitude and joy. I felt alive.

Which got me wondering… Do I take enough risks?

Oh, not the jump out of an airplane or ski down virgin terrain on a steep backcountry mountain kind of risk but the emotional, spiritual, deeply personal risk of vulnerability.

Sadly, I think the answer may be… not often enough.

Which is why I write here.

To teach myself to live life wide open. My heart unlocked. My psyche unsheathed. My entire being unarmoured-up.

To stretch my vulnerability muscles, to expand my willingness to be real, authentic, known. To increase my capacity to live outside my comfort zone – I must choose vulnerability.

‘Cause in many instances, that’s what living ‘sheltered’ behind our protective walls and habitual nature of hiding our ‘true nature’ is – A fear response to dangers unknown about which we are constantly negative fortune-telling in order to protect ourselves from hurts we experienced in the past and fear will happen again.

It is such a convoluted story we tell ourselves about what could happen. And because we don’t want it to happen, we tell ourselves we have to armour-up when in reality, disposing of our armour and allowing ourselves to be wholly present and vulnerable is what keeps us safe.

I remember when, after being released from a relationship that was killing me, I received a call one morning telling me that the man who wanted me gone had escaped from jail. “We don’t know where he is,” the detective told me on the phone, “but we figure he’s probably going to try to find you.”

In one instant all my hard won peace of mind evaporated and I was catapulted into a raging storm of fear engulfing every cell of my being. I remember taking Ellie, my Golden Retriever who had gone through much of that journey with me and been my ballast and comfort for so much of it, for a walk in the forest where we had walked every day since his arrest.

Suddenly, every rustle of leaf, every crack of twig, every shadow was ‘him’ waiting to leap out of the bushes and drag me back into the past.

I remember standing amidst the towering pines and crying, trying to force myself to keep walking further along the path. I couldn’t do it. I turned and ran back to my apartment, slamming the door shut and lying on my bed sobbing.

And then… it struck me.

He had absolutely no idea where I was and had no way of finding out. We had had zero contact since his arrest months before.

While he was a danger, he was not a real and present danger. It was my thoughts playing havoc with reality.

I had a choice. Live behind locked doors or go out into the sunshine. I unlocked the door and Ellie and I went for our walk.

Sure, there were niggles of fear wafting around me but I chose to risk facing them rather than armour-up against them.

It has been a constant learning in my life. To un-armour myself when my mind is screaming at me to raise the drawbridge, man the ramparts and take cover.

And the only way I know to do that is to face what I fear and risk — being vulnerable, real, authentic — and… to love myself, all of me, warts and wisdom, darkness and light, beauty and the beast.

And so… I write it out.

What about you? Are you willing to take a risk today?

Art Journal Entry, August 26, 2014

In a burst of exuberance, the wind swept down from the mountains 
whispering stories of faraway places.

“Runaway with me and I will show you the world!” the wind called out.

And Coyote laughed. “Here is where I run free,” he told the wind.

And the wind blew on and Coyote ran free.

https://dareboldly.com/2014/08/27/a-gift-from-the-quiet-hours-before-the-dawn

There was a time when she believed if she could just be somewhere else other than where she was, everything would be okay.

There was a time when she wished for nothing more than to be someone else other than who she was.

What she couldn’t see in looking for another way of being is that no matter what she wished for, she could never be anyone else other than who she was.

What she couldn’t see was that the parts of her that didn’t fit her well in this place, would not fit her any better in another.

Fearful that she would never find her way, she attempted to jettison her past, extricate herself from being herself to become someone she thought others wanted her to be. “Perhaps if you change directions, or even just your clothes, you’ll find yourself another way,” her nimble mind whispered like the wind blowing down from the mountains, calling her to run away.

And she ran, and ran and still she found herself where ever she was at, trying to run away from the one she could never leave behind, herself.

“Perhaps if you simply stand true to who you are, stay present to what is here in this moment, you’ll find yourself right where you’re at,” her loving heart whispered into the howling of the wind.

Frightened by her heart’s calling and tired of constantly running away, she fell to the ground and rested right where she was at. And in her sleep, her heart beat strong, and her mind grew restful as the truth of who she is set her free to run wild like the wind through her dreams.

“There is nothing to fear in being you,” her heart whispered. “Who you are is who you’ve always been. Perfectly human in all your human imperfections. Beauty and the beast. Loving and loved. A child of the universe, seeking her way into the light of her own brilliance shining brightly on the path of her creation.”

Like coyote and the wind, there is always a calling to venture into another space, some distant place where what is here will not be there. It isn’t until we quit searching for somewhere else to be that we discover, everything we need to be free is here right now, because, no matter where we go, we are where ever we go.

__________________________

This piece originally appeared on my blog August 27, 2014. There is more to it if you want to read the rest — CLICK HERE

My original plan was not to write about body image this morning. But, a facetime call with my eldest daughter this morning where I shared part of a conversation I had yesterday with a beautiful friend who dropped to pick something up redirected my thinking.

My friend and I were talking about body image (why do I feel compelled to ensure you know we did it ‘safely’?) I was telling my friend how I had found some photos of me with my eldest daughter when she was born and I mentioned how I was surprised to see I wasn’t ‘fat’!

“Why did I always think I was fat?” I asked my friend. Now let me caveat that statement — I am not fond of that word ‘fat’. It is not a loving way to describe or to view myself but, honesty and speaking truth is vital to change. I can’t think of a time in my life when I didn’t think I was fat.

Now, I should also mention that much of my life I always thought of myself as very fit — which I was — but it didn’t matter how much I ran or swam or skied or climbed or worked out — I always thought I was fat!

My social and psychological conditioning as well as media representations of ‘beauty’ have instilled some really dysfunctional ideas around body image that I continue to work on unravelling — it is a huge challenge. These ideas and attitudes are deeply embedded in my psyche.

My friend replied that she too shares the same issues. She is a good 8 inches taller than me and has always been beautiful in my eyes. In her own, not so much.

It is said that “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”.

When we look in the mirror, we are beholding ourselves.

How beautiful do you see yourself?

Do you see your natural beauty or do you compare yourself to some media instilled measurement of beauty and find yourself less than, other than, an artificial construct of beauty?

Twiggy was the standard-bearer of my age, I told my daughter this morning. She defined beauty when I was in my teens.

Kate Moss was mine, she replied.

We are both under 5’3″ tall. Supermodel status was never in our genes. Yet, through the power of media and peer pressure and social conditioning, (and air-brushing) we, like millions of our peers, wanted desperately to emulate a way of ‘looking’ that was/is unachievable.

And there’s the catch. ‘Looking’ like someone else’s definition of beauty is not sustainable nor loving.

Being who I am, being myself as I am and loving myself from the inside out without judging how I ‘look’ and finding myself wanting – that’s the measurement of success and beauty I want to live by.

What about you?

Who/what defines beauty for you?

Do you love yourself completely, just the way you are?

It’s a tall order. To love yourself completely, just the way you are. I’m still working on it.

Namaste

Love Makes It So

I don’t often share a link to another person’s post without first writing about whatever is awoken within me by what another has written.

This morning. I’m changing it up. Mostly because… Brian Pearson’s lastest post, “Justice on the Journey” rings so deeply true within me, I feel compelled to offer it up for everyone else to read.

I hope you read it and come back to comment — I’d love to know how it resonates with you.

His opening paragraph grabbed me and just kept pulling me inward to the bare truth of his final statement,

"The spiritual journey requires us to be as engaged with the wounds of the world as with our own wounds. Justice, in other words, is part of the journey. And love makes it so."

Please do go have a read – CLICK HERE.

_____________________

About the photos — The top photo was taken when my daughters were 3 and 4ish. We were on the way to a wedding and the girls were so excited to see the bride! I share it because ultimately, it is only Love that protected and carried us through out lives to this day where my relationship with my daughters is the one I’ve always dreamed of – and as this is our anniversary week… here is one from our wedding where I was the bride and my daughters walked me down the aisle and C.C.s son and daughter did the same for him. (Photo by Ross Tabalada)

She whispered to the sun and the moon and the sea and the trees, “Yes I can!” and the sun and the moon and the sea and the trees gave her wings courage.

And with every whispered, “Yes I can!” her dreams grew brighter and her wings grew stronger.

Heeding the call of her hart’s yarning for companionship on the way, she joined hands with her sisters and together, they created a better world for everyone.

While I do not think that ‘time’ is the healer, I do believe it makes space for healing. As in, my head is feeling better after getting bonked by a mirror a week ago.

I find this part of any healing journey fascinating. Each day there’s an incremental difference until one morning, like today, I wake up and feel like I’ve fallen over the side of ‘will this ever end’ and am now floating in a vast pool of sunlight where ‘this’ is no longer swimming right in front of my face but drifting off with the river’s flow. And though the bruising and cut are still visible, inside, where it matters most, I feel the sunshine bathing my face in its golden glory, the wind whispering sweet nothings through my hair and the cool crisp air of the morning dancing on sparkling rainbows of light on the river of life flowing freely all around me.

It’s a brand new day!

And I feel all new and shiny again.

Yeah!

Which also means, my postponed trip to help my daughter and son-in-love is back on. I’ll be leaving tomorrow morning, bright and early.

I am grateful.

It’s funny how tables, and life, turn. When my daughters were young, my mother was the last person I wanted to come and help me as there was too much angst, too much drama in our relationship to make her ‘help’ a welcome gift.

With my daughter, we have created a relationship where my help is welcome, where my presence is a gift for both of us. My mother’s heart flows full of gratitude for my daughter’s welcome embrace and willingness to constantly grow our relationship in Love.

I am blessed. Grateful and feeling full of the grace of life and love.

I won’t be online much for the next couple of weeks. I wish you a beautiful spring sojourn.

____________________

About the Artwork

This is spread 6 & 7 in my Learning to Fly art journal – as with all the pages, it is in response to my 20 Attitudes and Actions on living the life of your dreams — These pages are a response to Attitudes and Actions No.s 10 &11 –

10. Write down all the reasons you can. Post your list on the mirror, the fridge, somewhere you will see it every day—read it often—and add to it everyday.

11. Tell a friend/mentor what you plan on doing. Ask your friend/mentor to be your accountability buddy.

These are the moments – #ShePersisted – No 77

There are moments when the mundane feels so heavy, the woes so full of dark clouds gathering and the worries so close in, that I forget I have room to breathe. To move. To do. To be. To change.

In those close-in to the darkness moments, it’s easy to forget that I am part of something bigger than just these woes and worries illuminating my flaws with their 1,000 watt klieg-worthy glaring light. Or their words spewing out from TV newscasters mouths or plumping up Twitter threads full of bile or just cluttering up my day with their insistence I pay attention to all that is wrong with me and the world today. 

In those moments of forgetting all the room around me for other things to take up the space of woe and worry, I will tell myself, there’s nothing I can do. I am too flawed. Too tired. Too lost to change anything.

It is in those moments I must remind myself that I can breathe. Not just your everyday, ordinary take a gulp of air and keep on going kind of breath, but a deep, sinking into my toes, filling me from the bottoms up kind of breath that soothes and replenishes, nurtures and reminds me to Stop-Breathe-Listen-See-Feel-Be-Here-Now-I am the Breath of Life – kind of breath.

In that breath where I find myself breathing in the exquisite beauty of all there is Here-Now -in that breath empty of the flotsam of life swimming around in a sea of news and forgettable TV shows I watch only because I’ve forgotten I’m part of something so much bigger, so much greater, so much more mysterious, magical and mystical than this everyday life I tell myself is my burden I gotta keep trudging through, on and on and on, I am reminded – life is a gift. A beautiful, exquisite, priceless gift. Mysterious, magical, mystical, 4th of July fireworks exploding, rollercoaster-fast heart-pounding fierce, breathless kind of gift wrapped up in the miracle of life.

In that breath I am reminded, I Am Alive.

What a beautiful gift. To be alive. To be. Here. Now.

These are the moments to savour.

These are the moments to remember. To grab onto and never let go. To remind myself, I have power over me. I have power in me. I have power. To change. To get accountable. To not be ‘my flaws’ but to see my flaws as part of my beautiful, exquisite human magnificence.

And in those moments I get to choose.

To make excuses for how I am or celebrate who I am, right now, in all my human contradictions, complexities, curves and straight lines adding up to one amazing being who has the power to stand up, speak up, and take action to create change that matters. Change that could just save my own life from being my excuse for not living it truly, madly, deeply in love with all I am and all I do and all I have in this moment, right now.

These are the moments to live. Always.

And to remember to Breathe.

Breathe it all in

and Begin Again.

Breath by life-giving breath to stop making excuses for myself and start living fully accountable for this life that is so precious, so divinely orchestrated, so…. mine.

What Tears May Come

“What Tears May Come” – mixed media on canvas paper – 11 x 14″

“Sometimes, the only way to experience the journey fully

is to learn what the journey has to teach you.”

Lately, I feel like I’ve been swimming in a sea of Hope. Angst. Curiosity. Confusion. Sorrow… An alphabet soup of emotions that flow full of these times when my beloved and I wait to receive our first vaccination in 10 days mixed with the wonderment of what that could mean… How will things change? Will they change? Will I be different? Will the world feel safe?

I have learned a lot, grown a lot, experienced a lot throughout this past year of sequestered solitude. All of it is, as Ram Dass called it, “grist for the mill”.

Over the past two days, awash in that sea of alphabet emotions, I worked on the painting above. I had actually started it many months ago and set it aside – or at least the background part which had a heart on it which I really liked but wasn’t sure if I wanted to do more with it.

The background was in a pile I keep for those moments when I want to explore but have no clear starting point or idea of what I want to do. When I pulled it out, I set it beside an alcohol ink background that was waiting to be cut up and made into bookmarks.

“Ha! Why not sew flowers on the alcohol ink background, cut them up and collage them onto the other background?” a voice inside whispered. I’m not sure if it was the muse or the critter testing my resolve to let go of thinking some pieces I’d created were ‘precious’ or the inner voice of wisdom urging me to just be present in the process.

And then the voice said, “And while you’re at it, why not cut the heart out of the original background so you can affix it over the flowers?”

Whoever it was, I decided to heed them. I cut out the heart (Ouch. That was not easy!) I pulled out my sewing machine and got to work sewing flower shapes onto the Yupo paper (it’s a synthetic paper used with alcohol inks).

I liked the look of the flowers and began affixing them to the background with a gel medium.

And that’s when the yucky-messy ‘oh no what have I done’ happened.

See. Alcohol ink is not permanent unless you spray it with a fixative. I hadn’t done that. Suddenly the colours and patterns I’d liked so much began to bleed and blend and fade and mix and just get kind of all yucky. Okay. A lot yucky.

I wanted to throw the whole thing out but I’m also very stubborn.

So I kept digging in.

Two days later the piece is a testament to so much of what the past year has taught me.

Stay present in the process. Be here now. Be patient. Be curious. Be persistent. Let go of expectations. Let go of perfection. Don’t give up. Dive in. Keep going.

Teachings from the studio during a global pandemic

And then….

When I opened my laptop to work on the quote, I also stumbled across a poem I’d started awhile ago that I’d set aside. (Does anyone else have umpteen WORD documents left opened on their computer? Hmmm… I do and it’s always a lovely surprise to discover what I’ve started and not finished – okay so maybe ‘lovely’ isn’t the word but I’m going with it)

Anyway, I wrote the quote onto the painting and then started working on the poem that also represents so much of what this past year has taught me.

Don’t give up.

Dive in.

Keep going.

What Tears May Come
©2021 Louise Gallagher

There are moments when
the tears I fear
to shed
wallow in the spaces
behind all that I cannot see
in the world beyond my front door
as I sit feeling
trapped
inside
eyes closed
to hold back
the tears
I dare not release
for fear they will flow like the river
never ending.

In those moments
I must swallow
hard
the lump
of fear
jammed up against
the worry
pounding at the roots
of my angst
squaring off
against
thoughts threatening
to riot
amidst the litany
of all that has happened
all that has gone on
all that is lost and discarded
and missing
in these days
of being cut off
from the way things were
before,
before the pandemic
rolled in
and declared its presence
known
on the other side
of front doors
slammed shut
against its entry.

In those moments
I must remind myself
that one year is but a moment
in time’s great expanse
spanning all of life
with its threads of wonder
and awe and beauty
unfolding
whether I sit behind
closed doors
or walk the forest paths
alone
along the river
waiting for the time
when it is safe
to open the front door
and let go of fear.

Perhaps, as the river flows
and the seasons change
and this tiny microbe loses
its power over hearts
and lungs
my tears will flow free
falling
without fear
of never ending.

My Mother’s Many Gifts

Her prayers were known in the whispers of time. They are the memories that bind us. The love that holds us. The gift that lives on. — from My Mother’s Prayers – altered book art journal

Growing up, I was never particularly fond of the name Louise, though I did like its meaning, “Famous Warrior”. Named after my father, Louis, I felt trapped between my mother’s desire I be ‘a good girl’ and my father’s wish I be the second son he’d wanted.

I wanted to be Natasha. As in, a Russian Princess with black hair and piercing blue eyes and alabaster skin who wore rustling silk gowns and always got her way, and when she didn’t, threw tantrums and stomped her tiny slippered feet with impunity.

Or Rebekah. Grandmother to Joseph.  In the photos of her in the big, red-leather-bound book with the words, The Catholic Bible embossed in gold on the front that sat in a dominant place in our living room, Rebekah had black hair and dark eyes, like me. She looked beautiful, like I imagined my father’s mother to be. I never met my father’s mother, but she too was Jewish, which seemed exotic to my childlike mind. We seldom spoke of her. She divorced my grandfather when he was a child. The story my father told was that she didn’t want him so sent him away from London, England to boarding school in Gravelbourg, Saskatchewan, when he was eight, while his sister stayed to live with her in London. Many years later I would learn that wasn’t the full story, but it was the story we grew up with.

I loved the story of Rebekah in the bible. How she cemented her place in history, used her feminine wiles and wits to create a dynasty and a place in history for her favourite son. In a house where my sisters and I used to joke about our brother that, “the sun rose and set on the son”, I liked how Rebekah knew exactly what she wanted and was committed to do what she needed to get it.

Rebekah’s path did not sit well with my mother. Women don’t behave like that she’d insist whenever I’d ask to read Rebekah’s story. It’s not ladylike to be so domineering, she’d say, before turning to a page she preferred we read.

Looking back, I can understand why my mother insisted we read only the stories that extolled the virtues she deemed to be ladylike. I wanted to be the things she did not admire in women. Independent, strong, willful even, like Rebekah, but was often told I was petulant and demanding, bratty even, like Natasha, my Russian wanna-be namesake.

For many years, I got lost somewhere between the pages of that red-bound-leather bible and the confusing messages of the world around me. “Be smart, but not too smart. Boys don’t like smart girls.” “Dream big, but not too big. Boys don’t like girls whose dreams are bigger than theirs.” “Be outspoken, but not too outspoken. Boys don’t like loud-mouthed girls.”

For my mother, there was never a question that being like Mary was the goal of every woman. Nor was there any question in her mind that I would ever attain such grace. I was just too flawed and imperfect to ever get there.

I didn’t particularly want to, ‘get there’. Yet still, I tried. And constantly failed. It felt like a set-up. By God. The Bible. The stories of men who dominated its volumes and its unrealistic expectations of women’s virtues. Society and its double standards. My body that, no matter how hard I wished it wouldn’t, kept turning into a body men desired.

I have long since come to terms with my name and nature and femininity. Time, and a whole lot of therapy, have given me perspective. But, as I began to write this piece I went back and read the stories of Rebekah and was transported back to those childhood days when my mother would take down the red-leather-bound bible from its perch and open it to a story she wanted to read.

In that memory I am reminded of the sacred nature of those moments. Of sitting close to my beautiful mother listening to her soft lilting voice, her hands fluttering in the air between us as she read the stories that meant so much to her. Of how each turn of a page revealed yet another stunning painting of a Biblical scene in living colour.

Sometimes, she’d read a story from one of the four Book of Saints that accompanied the red leather-bound bible.

The ones about the women saints, those who defied the odds, who did great things with great courage and even greater spirit ignited my imagination. I wouldn’t realize it then, but those are the stories that birthed the feminist in me.

I wanted to be like those saints. Not the pious part. That just wasn’t my gig. But the strong, committed, overcoming challenges and standing up to unrighteousness and corruption and wrong-doing in the world… now that part grabbed my dreams of who I wanted to be in the world. The challenge was always to find my path without having to be the ‘good little Catholic girl’ my mother dreamt I’d become.

It would take me many years, and buckets full of life experience, to find my own way.

And while as a child, I’d often rather have been out playing in the backyard, today, I am thankful for those times when I sat beside my mother as she read stories from the big red-leather-bound bible on her lap. I didn’t know it then, but in those quiet moments she was giving me many gifts. A love of beauty, of story, of art, of possibilities. And the courage to use my voice and gifts to create a better world today.

Namaste

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About the Art: After our mother passed away at 97 years of age last February 25th, I brought home the stack of prayer cards she used every night to say her prayers. For several months, I worked on an altered book art journal, incorporating her prayer cards into each page. The 2-page spread above is from the printed copy of the finished book which I created of the altered book art journal (I wanted to give both my sisters a copy so needed to have it printed). The 3 faces are my grandmother, mother and me. If you’d like to view the print-copy of the book, you can see it here.

For me, the book stands as a testament to the power of art to heal hearts and the past while inspiring beauty in the present day and awakening courage to create a more loving tomorrow.