If I Could…

Mixed media – 7 x 10″ on mixed media paper. (Collage, stamps, inks, acrylic paint and love)
 
 
 If I Could Give You My Heart
 ©2021 Louise Gallagher
  
 If I could 
 I would give you my words
 plump and full of
 promises
 dancing in the ecstasy
 of never having to leave
 you 
 without words
  
 If I could 
 I would paint you the sunrise
 bold and fiery
 colours streaking across the sky
 full of morning delight
 threaded with gold
 melting like butter
 upon a piece of warm buttered toast
  
 If I could 
 I would sing you a song of sunset
 full of sun-bathed mountains
 stretched out across the horizon
 like a dragon 
 sleeping
 at the edge of the world
 where sky tumbles into the sea
 and the moon rises high
 and pulls the night up into a sky
 full of stars falling like snow
 melting your dreams awake
  
 If I could
 give you my heart
 would you listen
 deep
 to the beat of its silence
 echoing throughout the vastness 
 of time wooing your fear
 of falling
 asleep
 like a lullaby
 spun into a cradle of love
 that can never break
  
 If I could 
 give you my heart
 would you listen
 deep? 

Yesterday, I entered my studio without any clear idea of what I wanted/needed to create or without having heard what the muse was whispering into creation.

I opened my art journal to a blank page. Threw down some colour and text and lines. And took a breath.

A deep one.

I closed my eyes, let my conscious mind sink down, down, into the crucible of my belly, into the font of where creativity rises up to inspire, cajole, exhort me into being wildly, joyfully present to all that is present where ever I’m at.

And that’s when I felt the murmurings.

Of words. Of song. Of flowers and trees and birds and life flowing.

I started to draw and paint and when I was finished, she appeared.

I told C.C. “She’s my Frida Kahlo meets Marie Antoinette.” He laughed and asked, “Where’s the cake?”

“Her cake is the words she spins into stories the flowers breathe in,” I replied. (I might even have been a little flippant. But the muse didn’t care…)

And thus, the words appeared… Her words grew into the stories flowers told to chase away grey skies and cloudy days.

_________

This morning, when I sat down at my desk, I didn’t know what I was going to write.

I closed my eyes, took in a breath and watched it sink with my conscious mind floating on air down, down, down into the crucible of my belly. The busy places in my heart grew still. The stuck places melted… and that’s when I felt the murmurings.

Of words dancing and sunrises melting and hearts listening deeply and breaking open to love.

And the words guided my heart into creative expression.

Namaste

Who Do You See?

What Do You See?
  ©2021 Louise Gallagher 

In every image I see

 something of me reflected.

In every image
 there is a reflection I must see.

Sometimes, I want to avoid
 looking at the reflection I see.

Sometimes, I want to see
 only what I want to see reflected.

Always, I must open my heart to see
 what is being reflected back to me.

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.”

Try it.

Right now.

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)

UNFURL

“Unfurl”. My word for 2021.

un·furl
/ˌənˈfərl/

Learn to pronounce

verb
past tense: unfurled; past participle: unfurled
make or become spread out from a rolled or folded state, especially in order to be open to the wind.
"a man was unfurling a sail"

It arrived quietly on a gentle wave full of self-compassion flowing with possibility, desire, anticipation.

Yes. My heart said. I see you. I feel you. I know you. You mean something to me.

It felt hopeful. Full of spreading wings and dreams unfolding on flights of fancy as I leapt into unknown skies and dove into creative seas yet to be explored.

“Let your sparkle out.” was the tagline that appeared to go with my word.

I sprinkled gold and silver glitter dust onto the still wet canvas.

It was fun. Expressive. Concrete with dollops of whimsy.

I wanted my painting to represent the unfurling of unlimited creative expression, freedom from self-criticism and fear of ‘looking ridiculous’. I wanted it to be a statement of my fearless pursuit of living embodied in the present moment, passionate, alive, unlimited.

And then Washington happened and I felt the weightiness and the precision of that word cut deep into my body.

Can you unfurl compassion amidst the fear, the horror, the confusion you feel watching these events, the word seemed to be asking as I poured paint onto the canvas.

Can you hold those who dissent in the same space as those who are in accord with your truth?

I had to stop and breathe into that one.

Could I?

Could I let go of seeing the perpetrators of yesterday’s events through the lens of right and wrong and hold all who participated in the same space of compassion as those who were tormented by their assault?

I didn’t want to.

And a tiny voice from deep within my belly rose up and whispered into my heart, “It would take a miracle.”

And that’s when truth shimmered like the sparkling dust on my painting.

Perhaps, yesterday’s events were the miracle.

Yes. What happened was horrific. And for one woman and those who know and love her, tragically final. Her death could have been avoided. The events of yesterday could have been redirected.

But it wasn’t. And they weren’t.

It is impossible to change the events that lead to yesterday.

It is possible to change what happens next.

Violence does not create harmony. It does not open the door to peaceful coexistence.

But, in the horror of all that transpired yesterday, there were those who have stayed silent who spoke up. There were those who had acquiesced to the subversion of due process through their sitting on the sidelines, who stood up and held themselves accountable.

Can I see the miracle in that?

I am struggling to be in this space of compassion. To simply hold myself accountable to breathing without my mind tearing into words of condemnation of all those would tear apart a country I love as my neighbour.

I struggle yet know, to be a voice of calm, to be a space of compassion, anger, criticism, calling people names, deriding their politics does not create the more of what I want to have in the world.

It does not create peace. Harmony. Joy. Dignity. Equality. Love.

And so, I allow myself to unfurl in compassion.

I breathe into the miracle that appeared within the words of those who had once stridently spoken out against due process as they stood down and held up their hand in accord.

I breathe into the miracle of unity that appeared within the discord.

And with each breath, compassion unfurls and my heart opens up.

I do not believe violence is the answer. Meeting violence with violence isn’t either.

I believe we, the people of this planet we all call our home, have the power to find answers that celebrate and nurture and promote our humanity. We have the power to bring light to the darkness, and peace to every heart.

And I believe, it starts with a miracle.

And so, I hold onto the miracle and let my heart unfurl in the possibility of more.

Namaste.

Falling Effortlessly

 Falling Effortlessly
 ©2021 Louise Gallagher 
 
 I stand and watch the sun 
 bathe the distant mountains
 in morning’s glory.
 
 Day awakens. It beckons me to be right here,
  right where I’m at.

 Breathing deeply, I surrender
 and the beauty of the moment
 catches me falling effortlessly
 into Love’s enduring embrace. 

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.

I take a breath and Beaumont and I keep walking.

Beauty walks with us.

What Will You Do?

The photo is taken from the bridge I look at when I am sitting at my desk.

Beaumont the Sheepadoodle and I cross it every morning when we take our first walk of the day. I am (usually) still in my PJs. My long black winter coat covers me well. There are usually not many people out at this ‘just before the dawn’ walk.

This morning, we set out about half an hour later than normal. I’m grateful we did as the sun greeted us as we turned back towards home.

We stoped in the middle of the bridge. Beau to sniff out all the scents. Me to breathe into the beauty around me and to listen to the river running fast and loud beneath the bridge.

The river runs noisy. An ice island is forming between the two middle buttresses of the bridge, pushing the water out into two separate channels on either side. The river flows in from the west, meets the tip of the ice island, separates and crowds itself into the narrow channels that run along either shore under the bridge.

I stop and listen. The rushing waters burble, leaping over each other in a wild cacophony of sound. Their glorious song is full of possibilities. As if the waters know, they cannot flow back to their beginnings and must keep moving ever-onwards towards the distant sea that waits with eager anticipation to embrace them.

The river carries no regret.

May we all travel like the river.

May we all carry no regrets.

____________________________________

 What Will You Do?
  ©2021 Louise Gallagher 

 What will you do with the limitless possibilities 
 of this new year that reaches far beyond 
 the past you know so well 
 into the distant horizon you have not yet travelled?

 Will you turn your back on its promises
 dragging past hurts and pains and disappointments
 as you stumble and fall 
 beneath the burden of all you carry?

 Will you step forward, 
 lightly and confidently, 
 into the unknown promises 
 yearning to unfurl
  into the spaciousness created
 when you let go of the things 
 that do not serve you well on this journey?

 What will you do?

2021. High On Expectations

Bookmarks — alcohol inks on yupo paper

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.

Love. Comfort and Joy.

I sit in the still darkness of early morning. The silence holds me tenderly in its velvety weightlessness.

Hold onto nothing, it seems to whisper. Allow everything in.

I breathe out and let everything go. Everything rushes in.

I breathe in and hold onto nothing. Everything rushes out.

You are the ocean, the velvety silence whispers. You are the sky. The moon and stardust. You are the everything of nothing but Love. There is no need to run or hide or jump up and down for attention. There is no need to yearn or hammer your fists against the universe and sink down into a puddle of weeping sorrow. No need to search for answers or meaning. There is only this nothingness of everything you are when you hold onto nothing and let everything in.

I breathe. In. Again.

Deep. Deep into my belly.

I feel. Deep. Deep in my belly the everything of nothing I hold onto.

I breathe. Out. Again.

Deep. Deep from my belly.

I feel. Deep into the space around me, deep into the darkness of this still silent morning the nothingness of everything I let go of.

And I know without knowing. I feel without feeling. Deep. Deep within my being. Deep in the presence of this moment, that this is the nothing and the everything of all I am. All I can be. All I need. All I want and desire. All of everything I let go of. All of everything I let in.

This is the everything of nothing but what remains when I hold onto nothing.

Breathing deep, I sat in the still darkness of morning.

And that’s where Love found me.

_________________

“My Morning Read”

This morning, as part of my commitment to read a poem every morning, I read Mark Nepo’s, Where is God

And this is what appeared.

Snow Falling At Dawn

Snow Falling At Dawn
Louise Gallagher
 
Sometimes, on mornings like this, 
 when the sky is gloomy grey 
 and snow falls softly
 as the world rests lightly 
 in the lingering tendrils of night's embrace, 
 I stand outside in the still quiet space before the dawn 
 and close my eyes 
 and turn my face up towards the sky 
 to feel
 the cool slick wetness of snow 
 falling against my skin.
  
 I listen to the river flowing
 to the sound of geese stirring
 on the far bank 
 where they rest upon a gravel bar
 throughout the night.
 A quiet honk, a rustle of wings
 and then 
 only the sound of the river flowing.
 In the distance,
 I hear the sibilant hiss of tires
 approaching
 followed by the more gutteral thrum
 as a car crosses over the bridge.
  
 For a moment,
 my mind will stray
 and I will wonder
 about their direction.
 To work? Or coming home?
 Were they at the hospital all night
 saving lives? 
 Tried? Weary? Exhausted?
 Or are they on their way
 fresh faced and eager to greet this day
 where they will serve 
 in a multitude of ways
 those of us who venture out
 only for necessities.
  
 And then, I’ll take a little breath
 say a quiet prayer of gratitude
 for whomever it is crossing the bridge
 and in that prayer
 I will remember all those who have crossed over
 their final bridge
 and all those who will cross over
 on this day that is just beginning
 which will become their last.
  
 Tenderly I hold the silence 
 in the sacred nature
 of my heart
 beating quietly
 in this darkness
 before the dawn
 and let my mind settle
 once again
 into the still quiet spaces
 of morning awakening
 slowly 
 beneath the tender light
 of snow falling at dawn.

Today is my birthday.

It is a day full of gratitude. Grace. Generosity. And above all Love.

My heart is full.

And though the world around me is locking-down in an effort to stem the flow of this virus that is reaching out in ever-widening waves to infect more and more people and cause more and more hardship, gratitude remains at the core of all I feel and know. All I welcome in and all I bring to this day.

I am thankful for my beloved. His heart and kind-spirit. His constancy and Love.

I am grateful for my daughters. For their tender mercies and love that has never faltered even when I have fallen on the road of life and lost my way.

And for my step-son and daughter who remind me always that love can expand in never-ending ripples of joy and laughter in this sacred space of being family.

I am grateful for my sisters who hold my heart and memories with such grace and who share theirs with endless generosity. And for the men in their lives who stand with us in all kinds of weather.

I am grateful for my friends. For those who have been on this path with me for many years and those who have only recently started walking beside me. Your presence illuminates my path, no matter the times.

I am grateful for all of you. For visiting me here. For being part of my journey. For encouraging me and seeing me and acknowledging me on this path.

There are many paths to find joy, contentment, happiness, peace. I am so grateful you are all at the heart of mine.

Namaste.

Snow Falling At Dawn

Let It Be And Love Will Have Its Way

For several days now, the Beatles iconic hit, Let It Be, has been playing through my mind.

When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be
And in my hour of darkness she is standing right in front of me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be

When I chatted with both my sisters yesterday we talked about how this is our first Christmas without mom. And, though her arthritis had made it too painful for her to make the journey to join us at our Christmas dinner table, she was always present.

My mother loved Christmas. In her 80s, living alone in a one-bedroom apartment, she would spend days decorating it up with boughs and bows, glitter and glitz. Garlands of fir, poinsettias, stars and angels graced every surface.

And always, her small Christmas tree was placed on a table visible from every corner of the living room. And Mary and Joseph and all the animals were placed in the manger in the middle of her sideboard. Of course, just as when I was a child, the baby Jesus would not be amongst them. At least not until Christmas eve when, as if by magic, we’d return home from midnight mass and there he’d be, lying peacefully on the straw, surrounded by his tiny family of Mary, Joseph, the animals and the three Kings.

He was only a small clay infant swaddled in a white cloth but he held such magic for me.

Of course, Santa would also have paid a visit while we were out so after a cursory check to make sure the baby was safely tucked into his place of honour, I’d run off to join my siblings in “The Great Christmas Present Opening Mayhem”.

What I remember most about my mom in those bygone Christmases is how she never sat down when we got home from midnight mass. While the rest of us raced in to check out what had appeared under the tree, she’d head straight to the kitchen to put the finishing touches on ‘Le Réveillon de Noël’, our post-midnight feast. And to wrap some last-minute gifts because, inevitably, my father would have invited friends from church to join in the festivities. And in my mother’s house, no one ever left empty-handed.

While we kids tore into the gift-laden tree, my father would pour drinks and mum would glide in and out of the room carrying platters of mince tarts and deviled eggs and cheeses. By 1am, I’d be yawning and trying desperately to keep my eyes open as the Tourtière was carried in.

And the eating and drinking would get down to business as I sleepily watched the mayhem unfolding around me.

I think it is the mayhem I miss.

The comings and goings, the toing’s and froing’s of getting ready for Christmas throughout the month. And, of course, the staying out of trouble to stay on the ‘good’ side of Santa’s list.

Staying on the ‘good’ side of Santa’s list was a struggle for me as a child. But in December, without my mother’s eagle eyes watching my every move and with my siblings equally as excited about Santa’s visit, (which gave them less opportunity to tattle on me) it seemed easier to stay out of trouble – though as the youngest of four whose nickname was, “The Brat”, getting into trouble came too easily to me. At least, that’s what my mother told me.

But at Christmastime, she was so busy shopping and cooking and decorating and wrapping gifts and volunteering at the church, she didn’t have as much time to notice when I wasn’t behaving ‘like the others’, which was her most frequent request of me.

Even as a child, that one confused me. “How could I be like the others if I was going to be me?” I’d ask her, innocently enough (at least in the beginning) but, as the years went on and her desire for me to ‘be like the others’ remained just as strong, my question became more of a ‘poke’ than innocent curiosity.

Eventually, with my mother’s repeated requests that I just ‘Let it be’ so she could have some peace, I learned to poke less. And though it never meant my mother and I had an easy relationship, it did mean I quit searching for my answers in her and started looking for them in me.

Sometimes, to find our answers we must let grace open our hearts so that we can find peace with the unknown.

The heart always knows.

And sometimes, all the heart wants is for us to “Let It Be” so that Love can have its way.

________________________

And… just in case it’s been a while since you watched or listened to the version of Let It Be from one of my all-time favourite movies, Across the Universe, I’m sharing it here.

Anything is possible…

Mixed media on watercolour card stock 5 x 7″

My mother came to me while I was in the bath yesterday. At first, she was just a spirit voice. Felt. Heard. Unseen.

And then, there she was, á la Holly Golightly. Chignon high. Chin higher as she laughed and smoked a cigarillo in a long ebony holder and rattled the ice cubes in her martini glass that tinkled just like her laughter as she stretched her neck and looked up through the skylight above the toilet where she was seated.

She had come to set me straight, she said.

“Your Christmas tree has been sitting in your living room unadorned for three days. What gives?”

“We just haven’t gotten around to it,” I reply as I scoop more bubbles into the middle of the bath to cover my body.

“A naked Christmas tree is just like thinking bubbles will hide your body in the bath,” she says before taking a long sip of her martini.

“I wonder why I never drank these in the real world,” she asks of no one in particular. “I quite like them.”  She holds her glass out towards me. “Want to try?” And then she throws back her head and laughs again. “Just kidding!” She winks, something I never, ever saw her do in her entire lifetime, and says, “You see right through me.”

I can’t actually. See right through her. Her body has substance. Form. And her red satin cocktail dress is a killer.

“Do you really want to use the word “killer’ with a ghost Louise?”

Oh right. I forgot. I might not be able to see through her, but she can read my mind.

I sigh. Just like in life. She always said she could.

As if I said it out loud, she replies. “Well, actually, I couldn’t always read your mind but I always knew when something was troubling you. I am your mother after all.”

I’m a bit taken aback by her assertions. Seriously. My mother never seemed to care if anything was troubling me.

Again. She responds as if I spoke out loud. “I always cared Louise. I just was so depressed most of the time, I couldn’t find the words to help you feel better. Hell. I didn’t know how to make myself feel better so how could I help you?”

Can ghosts use the word ‘hell’ I wonder?

My mother laughs, rattles the ice cubes in her martini glass and takes a long drag of her cigarillo. She starts to cough. “Even in the afterlife I still don’t understand why your father smoked. But I do like the effect, don’t you? Very Breakfast at Tiffany’ish of me, don’t you agree?” And she does it again. She winks.

I take a breath. Sink a little lower into the still warm water hoping the bubbles will fill in the empty spaces.

She doesn’t seem to notice. “You know Louise, everything in the world around you is a reflection of the world within you. A naked Christmas tree speaks volumes.”

“Right,” I say (a tad testily) “And what does my undecorated Christmas tree tell you?”

“Beyond the fact you don’t want to use the word naked?”

“Well it feels a little too… intimate in these circumstances.”

“Seriously Louise. Stop trying to hide your body. It’s beautiful because it’s you.”

If I’d been drinking a martini I would have spluttered it out all over the place. My mother never, ever talked about naked bodies. In fact, it often felt like being ashamed of my body was the perfect antidote to getting her approval.

“I can hear you thinking, Louise…”

I sink deeper beneath the water until only my nose and mouth are visible through the bubbles.

“Louise. Stop trying to hide. Maybe in life I had some confused ideas about the body. I’m sorry. Fact is, you should never feel ashamed of your body and you definitely shouldn’t feel ashamed of diving in with your normal joy to celebrate Christmas. You love it so much.”

I decide to ignore the body talk and focus instead on Christmas. “But it’s not the same this year,” I whisper softly from the bath. Okay. I kind of whined but then, when with my mother my teenage self liked to take over. “The world is in such a mess right now. How can I let myself enjoy Christmas when there are so many people hurting in the world and when we can’t celebrate it with those we love?”

“Louise. Not decorating your tree is not going to change what’s happening in anyone else’s world but your own. And if you don’t create joy in your own world, how will you have any joy to share with others?”

“You’re sure you’re my mom, right? I mean. Joy is not a word I remember you ever using when you were here in the flesh.”

“Oh Louise. Lighten up. Joy is the language of the soul and we’re all just a bunch of joyful souls up where I’ve gone.”  She laughs and takes a sip of her martini. “And quite frankly, given that eternity is a long, long time being joyful makes it fly by so much faster. So… back to your naked tree. When are you going to dress it up?”

“Tomorrow?”

“Good. ‘Cause I gotta go. My glass is empty and I’m dying for another martini.” And she laughs so hard a strand of her chignon comes loose. She uses her cigarette holder to tuck it back behind her ear, dries the tears of laughter from her cheeks with one of her gloved hands and says. “Get it? Dying for another martini!” And she winks and is gone leaving only the sound of her ice cubes tinkling like Christmas bells on reindeer and her call to ‘have a good night!’ wafting through the air.

And a memory floats into my mind.

My father never read us ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas’. He knew all the words off by heart. Wide-eyed, I’d sit and listen and wait for the ending when, without fail, he’d give an exaggerated wink and exclaim á la Santa, “And to all a goodnight!”

And I wonder… who was that woman in the red dress sitting on the toilet drinking martinis? could it have been…

And I smile. In dreams anything is possible. Especially when it’s all dressed up in the magic of Christmas twinkling like lights on a tree.