I have borne the pains of birthing humankind so that we may all know life. I have forged my strength in the fires of the womb nurturing the unborn and tended to my compassion in the crucible of the pelvic bowl holding the sacred seeds of life.
I have climbed the manmade mountains designed to keep me in my place and risen above the fear of falling to my knees beneath the crushing weight of man’s desire to own me.
I have been forced to bow beneath the blows of patriarchy forcing me to kneel at its altars.
I have lived beneath the crushing death of believing I am not strong enough, good enough, do not do enough, and will never be enough because I am not a man. I am not his equal.
I have been forced to hide my feminine aspects and don the robes of conformity to not make those who feared my strength and my beauty feel ill at ease in my presence. I have been forced to witness the desecration of my sisterhood throughout the dark ages of our humanity where women’s voices were silenced and women’s work became the fodder for genocide, colonialization, subjugation and patriarchy.
I am woman.
I am the fertile womb conceiving life on this planet throughout time. I am the strength of all my grandmother’s grandmothers who bore life before me.
I am woman.
Midwife to the fires of creation, birthed from the womb of the Great Mother who bears us all, I have suckled at her breast and suckled others at mine.
I nurture life into being. I tend to the fires of our humanity.
I am woman.
I am a gatherer. I am a creator. I am the vessel through which all men are born. I am the milk that sustains us. The crucible that holds our humanity safe.
I wear my feminine aspects like a star-studded cloak shimmering in the light of a new moon rising.
In our home growing up, there were many icons of Mother Mary, Jesus, many Saints and the Hindu goddess/god Shiva. There were also carved elephants, always with their trunks turned up and tails linked and other lesser gods of the land where she was born.
Our mother was deep of faith, and very superstitious.
We used to tease her that she was covering her bases. She graciously let us tease her and continued to pray to her Lord, the Father and Mother Mary while Shiva sat in the corner watching.
She would never put shoes on a bed or table. Never walk under a ladder. Never cross knives nor stir with one for as she used to say, “Stir with a knife, stir up strife.”
Our mother did not like strife. She did not yell. Cry out in anger, nor take the Lord’s name in vain. Though once, we did hear her say, “Oh eat it,” in response to some comment our brother had made that caused her to flinch. We laughed when she said it. She had no idea what it meant.
My sister Anne and I used to try to get around our mother’s aversion to profanity. We’d say, “Oh hel…………p”, spitting out the ‘P’ like it was a stone caught in our throats. We’d laugh gleefully thinking we were putting one over on her.
I don’t think we did. I think she just preferred not to hear what did not please her ears.
She never liked loud noises nor angry words. She used to always tell us that, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”
I didn’t often heed my mother’s words when I was young. I thought truth-telling meant only my truth mattered. That my truth gave me the right to speak my mind without regard for the feelings of those to whom I spoke.
At times, I flung my words at my mother like daggers to her soul. I cannot take those words back and long ago learned to forgive myself for my harsh ways.
Today, I take my mother’s words to heart and hold them near. In their nearness I find myself falling with grace into the space she always held with her belief that God would answer her prayers for each of us to know how much she loved us. She didn’t care if Shiva watched, or we teased her for her faith and superstitions. She was imbued with the spirit of knowing within the depths of her soul, that He loved her, cared for her and lead her in Love.
Thank you, mom, for the lessons in Love, for your steadfast faith in me. Thank you for loving me as I was so that I could grow with grace into gratitude for all that I am and all the Love that fills my world with such wonder and beauty, today and always.
We played this song for my mother as she lay sleeping. Alexis, my eldest daughter, who like mum, has the voice of an angel. She recorded an acapella version of it. It brought great comfort and ease to my mother while she slept and listened to the voice of one of her granddaughters.
The Celebration of our mother’s life will be held at 2pm, Tuesday, March 3rd at McInnis & Holloway,14441 Bannister RD. S.E. Calgary.
The calls came while I was at the park with Beaumont. I hadn’t heard them. My youngest daughter. My beloved. They called several times. My phone was on silent, as is my habit when out in nature.
For some reason, though we’d been sitting vigil with my mother for over a week, I hadn’t expected it to come so soon. As I told my sisters, “I was expecting some sort of sign, some warning that mum was about to take her last breath.”
Instead, mum did it her way. No fuss. No inconveniencing of others.
At the time of mum’s last breath, I was walking along the river on my way home, the sun warm against my face, the fresh breeze caressing my skin. Later, I was planning on driving out to spend the night with mum.
Jackie, our eldest sister, was drying her hair and getting dressed to go spend the day at mum’s bedside.
Anne, our middle sister, was sitting by mum’s bedside, drinking her second cup of coffee of the morning. We’d been taking turns spending the night and Monday was her night.
And then, without ceremony or fuss, at 10:35 am yesterday morning, my mother took her last inhale.
Anne waited for the exhale.
It never came.
And in that one inhale this tiny, kind woman who travelled far from her motherland of India to the other side of the world to give life to four children. Who no matter how complicated and hard her life, was always kind. Who believed in God with all her being and prayed nightly for her daughters, the souls’ of her lost loved ones, her brothers and sisters, for those who are gone and those who are still here, is gone.
This fiercely protective and often stubborn matriarch for whom the world sometimes seemed too harsh and cruel, has left her earthly body to return to the spirit realm of her deep faith.
In her passing, I envision the endless ribbon of prayers she offered up to God in a constant entreaty for good-tidings, peace and health for all, entwining the earth and all of humankind in Love.
It was my mother’s insistence she would pray for me that used to drive me crazy. In days long past, I’d hear those words and want to tell her to keep her prayers for herself. I’d take care of myself.
Age and time, not to mention a whole lot of therapy, helped me understand and appreciate her prayers as what they truly were, and still are – A gift of Love. Her way of saying, “I love you. Even when you make it difficult.”
Because my mother did. Love all of us. Even when we made it difficult.
And in these difficult days following her passing, it is her Love we carry. Her Love that remains. Her Love that fills each of our hearts and memories with gratitude.
My mother crossed over the Rainbow Bridge yesterday.
She took her final breath quietly. It was imbued with the grace by which she lived her life.
She is home.
This morning, I watch the sky bruised pink and violet by the rising sun and imagine my mother dancing with her brothers, sharing a smile and a cup of tea with my father and embracing the son she lost before his time.
I imagine her holding a rosary in her no longer crippled fingers, counting off the tiny round beads as she prays each decade. And as she did every night of her life, she prays for her children, her family and all those left behind on this earthly realm. Gently, she places her rosary into the folds of the ethereal gown that floats and flows around her body like angel’s wings, turns back into the circle of Love to which she has been eternally enjoined to dance like the whole world is watching. Sing like the whole world is listening. And Love like the whole world is beating as one with her heart.
That is what I believe my mother is doing now in the eternity of her life ever-after.
I had no intention of writing this morning and then, I heard my mother’s voice whispering how much my words meant to her.
Several years ago, my beloved lived in another city for a while. Our relationship was still relatively new and the distance a challenge.
One Valentine’s Day, when he had sent me beautiful flowers and I realized I had done nothing, I decided to send him a gift of a “Love Poem a Day” (via email) for two weeks.
I was pretty excited thinking that he too will welcome my gift in the same exuberant way it was given.
Ah yes, as the saying goes, “Expectations are premeditated disappointments.”
He was very busy working on a project and didn’t get to opening my emails until much later in the day.
On the first day I was okay with what I deemed his ‘tardy’ opening.
The second day, seriously? He hadn’t opened it by 2pm even though it had arrived in his Inbox by 6am?
That evening on our daily Skype call, I asked him about his tardiness. “Louise,” he said, “I don’t open my personal emails first thing in the morning. I’ve got too much to do and just don’t have the bandwidth.”
But… and then I gave him all the reasons why his response to my poems was all wrong.
Needless to say, the call did not go well and we hung up without having achieved the one thing I wanted my gift of words to do – bring us closer over the miles.
Of course, I told myself all sorts of stories about his response and why he was all wrong, but finally, after much rumination (along with a whole bunch of inner chatter criticizing him and our relationship and how ‘fine. If he didn’t want my poems I wouldn’t write them…’) I awoke to the truth — If my intention was to create intimacy over the distance, why was I insisting on having it all my way? What was in it for me to berate him when I wasn’t behaving in a way that was not very kind nor loving. The fact was, I was not creating safe and courageous space for intimacy to grow.
I wrote him an apology poem and acknowledged that in wanting my expectations met, I had created a ‘me versus you’ situation and he acknowledged that in my expectations, he had gone on the defensive.
I started to again write a love poem a day for 14 days and started including a photo from my day that went along with the poem.
One year later, I was still writing him a love poem a day.
It had become woven into the fabric of our day, with me eagerly awakening each morning to write a love poem about love, and him expressing his gratitude for my poem — whenever he got to reading it — which was often the first thing he did each morning.
Originally, my intent had been to close the distance with my words of Love.
What happened was even more profound. In writing about Love every single morning for a year, my understanding, my ‘knowing’ of love deepened, as did our relationship.
An unexpected gift was that I also realized how my expectations often set up barriers to our being able to be real and present with each others.
Those poems and photos did achieve what I set out to do, and then, they gave me even greater gifts.
Happy Valentine’s Day. May your world be filled with Love and all its mysterious, magic and wonder.
How his birth heralded the beginnings of an incredible journey through Love and wonder.
How suddenly, this new role of becoming his ‘YiaYa’ became more than I ever imagined it could be.
How being his YiaYa was a rite of passage into a new and deeper realm of Love. I never had to make room in my heart for him. He was already there, even before I knew him and will always be there even after I’m gone.
How his every move, his every smile, his every sound brought joy and wonder into my world and made me pause longer to wonder about my footprint on this fragile planet, my impact on this world.
How my heart beat louder, how its rhythm of love grew wilder and how I grew deeper into the meaning of family, legacy, life.
My grandson turns 2 on Saturday. I am flying to Vancouver to see him, to bake him a cake, to share in the festivities, to sing “Happy Birthday” and to savour time spent with this thoughtful, mischievous, inquisitive soul who brings such incredible light and meaning into my world.
Because that’s what he does it, every day. Bring joy and wonder into my world with his light and laughter, his smiles and love.
I am so grateful.
I wrote him a poem for his birthday. It is my anthem for him. Part of my legacy of Love.
I wrote him a poem and then I recorded it so that he will always have the memory of my voice telling him how much I love him.
I wrote it for him and for me and for grandparents everywhere. You are welcome to share in it too.
Yesterday, on Live & Learn, David Kanigan, the blog’s host, shared a beautiful story of a moment on the train into NYC where a woman surprised everyone with what she had to say. (Go read it. David’s writing is exquisite and the story is beautiful. Click HERE. )
He reminded me of an event we tried to launch here in Calgary several years ago in an effort to shift stereotyping of individuals experiencing homelessness.
At the time, I was the Director of Public Relations at a large adult singles emergency homeless shelter. I was also the founder and overseer of its art studio/program – and that’s where our story begins.
Creativity, the desire to spill words onto the page or cast them from a stage into the air, to throw paint at canvas, use our hands to mould clay and other objects or write music that stirs the soul is not relegated only to ‘the housed’.
Creativity does not discriminate. It flows everywhere, into and through everyone, including homeless shelters and those who use its services.
One of the collective experiences of individuals experiencing homelessness is the mocking and shaming they receive from those who do not understand the experience of homelessness.
It is debilitating. Harmful. Painful.
When visitors came to the shelter, they were always surprised by the art clients of the shelter created in the studio, often purchasing pieces for their homes, gifts, workplaces. There was always this moment when a visitor would look at the art and say, “A homeless person created this?”
It wasn’t meant to be derogatory but its unintentional consequence was that their comment highlighted the stigma and the misconceptions we hold of people experiencing homelessness — they are somehow less than human, devoid of creativity. Of grace. Of heart and soul. Of dreams. Of humanity.
We wanted to change that perception and decided to bring the creative expressions of those experiencing homelessness ‘to the people’. To those who every morning and evening rode public transit.
We worked hard (myself and another woman who was part of an initiative to support art-making within the sector) to find a way to convince the City that having individuals experiencing homelessness perform pop-up concerts on public transit, particularly the C-train and its many platforms throughout the city, was a good idea.
It never happened.
There was just too much resistance, and too many excuses why it was a bad idea from those who held the authority to give the idea the right stamps of approval it needed to be put into action.
Our resistance to shifting perceptions is harmful to those whose lives have been impacted by homelessness, poverty, addictions and other societal woes. It keeps us safe from changing, and it keeps those seeking to find change, in their place.
In the box we hold inside our minds of what it means to be ‘homeless’, we rigidly hold onto what we believe is true of ‘the other’ and lose the elasticity of thought necessary for our truth to live freely with the truth of others. We cling to labels, like ‘homeless’, as a means to keep from having to broaden our thinking to include more than just the one or two words we use to describe those whose lives are different than ours.
Homelessness is a state of living. It is not ‘who’ the person is. Everyone experiencing homelessness is first and foremost, a human being.
The presence of homelessness in someone’s life is an indication of the many things that have contributed to their finding themselves in that state — big system factors like lack of supports for mental health, addictions, poverty, education, jobs and lack of access to the programs that do exist. Lack of affordable housing. Lack of personal resiliency due to childhood trauma, divorce, abuse, deaths in the family, and a host of other social woes, we all experience, and for which most of us have the capacity to cope with — while some don’t, leaving them suffering gravely from its impacts and their inability to access supports in times of crises.
In all of it, the word ‘lack’ is prominent.
The lack of what individuals and families need to be able to thrive in society — not because they don’t want to, but rather, because the structure of so many of our systems act as barriers, not entryways. Bureaucracy and a belief ‘we know what’s best’ prevents people from gaining access to the supports they need to deal with life’s challenges.
There is no lack, however, of creativity, of vision, dreams, and most of all, humanity, in those experiencing homelessness.
There is only our lack of understanding that, when we paint people into boxes and stick labels that help us understand where we believe they’re at, we take away the very things they need to create better futures for themselves and their families. We take away their belief in their humanity.
They say she had a heart of gold. That she always put others first. Never said no to a friend. Was always the first one you’d call in a crisis.
And then one day, her heart quit beating. Stopped. She fell and had to learn to get back up without straining her heart with the needs of others.
She had to find the balance between needing to be there for others and needing to be there for herself.
She had to learn how to say ‘yes’ to herself by saying ‘no’ to others first.
We extoll the virtues of the ones who are always there. Who turn up in every kind of weather, in spite of the hardships to get there, their own pain and suffering, the circumstances of their lives and the many demands they must put aside to turn up for others.
And yet…. where is the self-compassion in always putting your own needs aside to run and help another? Where is the self-compassion in putting yourself last?
Being able to say yes to yourself by saying no, to set loving boundaries, to be clear on when you can help and when you can’t, when you can turn up and when it’s just not possible, are essential building blocks of owning your own voice, of hearing your heart’s song and creating a life worth living.
Yes, it’s important to help others, to be there for them in times of need — as long as being there isn’t a habit that undermines your well-being because ‘being there for others’ means you are tearing apart your peace of mind, increasing an already precarious stress-load or wreaking havoc on your primary relationships.
We all want to feel needed. To be there for our friends. To be someone others can count on when the chips are down.
But, when we consistently put our own needs last, when we constantly turn up for others even when to do so means having to let go of our own priorities and needs or let down people we love, the question we have to ask ourselves is… In turning up for others where am I not turning up for me?
I went back into the painting I shared yesterday and delved deeper into the story it ignites in my heart.
The message that became loud and clear as I painted was one I keep returning to again and again:
Listen to your heart.
In a world filled with distractions, demands and disruptions, it can feel challenging to find the balance between ‘yes’ and ‘no’. It can be hard to hear our hearts calling us to rest, to let go of worry and obligations and simply be present. It can be easy to forget to stop and breathe.
Just for this moment….
Stop…Close your eyes…
In… Out… In… Out…
In… Out… In… Out…
Feel. The air entering your body.
Feel. Your breath flowing in your veins.
Feel. Your lungs expanding/contracting, expanding/contracting.
Feel it all. Be present in it and with it.
Now… whisper to your heart, “Yes. Yes. Yes!. I hear you.”