“Smoke rises. Tears fall. Hearts break.
Doors open. Time passes.
Love will never let you down.”
The words drifted into my mind as effortlessly as the smoke rising from the incense stick burning on my desk in the corner of my studio.
When I was a young girl in my teens, I loved a boy with all my heart.
He broke it.
And then, I met another boy and I broke his.
I kept falling in and out of breaking hearts and feeling like mine was broken until I learned to not fear my brokenness but to celebrate and cherish every crack and scar of time. To dance with the light that did get through and to illuminate the dark corners with Love.
As Leonard Cohen so famously sang, “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”
I used to think that to know love, to be in love, to have love, I had to have a perfect heart and be perfect in all my expressions of this thing called ‘being in love’.
I thought I had to ‘win’ another’s heart by only showing the parts of my heart I thought were worth showing. I thought that to win someone’s love, I had to hide my cracks and scars.
Time and the constant breaking open of my heart has taught me that fearless love means loving my cracks unfilled and leaving my scars unpolished.
It means stepping joyfully and courageously into the dark corners of my fear I will never be enough and trusting that Love will never let me down.
And it never has — Let me down.
It’s just given me more cracks for the light to get in and more scars to strengthen the weave and warp of my beautiful tapestry of life.
A broken heart is an open heart and an open heart is a loving heart.
May we all live with our hearts wide open, loving this beautiful, precious life in all its cracks and scars.
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.
“If I had known the last dirty diaper was the last one I would change, I would have seen the beauty in that diaper.”
I remember hearing a woman, a great grandmother, say this about her life. That looking back on it, what she wished she had done more of was to have seen the beauty in the mundane, the everyday.
If we knew that this was our last moment to treasure, would we experience it differently? Savour it more? Notice all of it with only love and gratitude?
Or, is living with such intensity too tiring, too never-wracking? Is constant awareness to the sublime and mundane moments of life a drain on happiness?
I don’t know for sure.
I do know that from where I sit this morning at my desk, the morning sun bruises the sky pink, purple and blue. Ice covers a vast expanse of the river, the trees stand bare and naked.
And I feel grateful for the experience of the moment.
If this were my last moment this, and so much more, is all I would have seen and heard and felt and known in the now.
If this were my last moment, would it make any difference if I was grateful for the sunrise or the recycling bin I dragged out to the end of the drive for pick-up this morning?
The beauty of this morning embraces me. I breathe deeply into the now of what is, my breathing slows and I feel present, aware, connected to all — the air, the trees, the river, the floor beneath my feet, the desk upon which my arms rest as I type.
And, while I don’t know for sure it is not, I am confident this is not my last moment.
I continue typing, grateful for having had the luxury of time to appreciate the beauty all around me.
There are 7+billion humans on this planet breathing the same air, experiencing the same moment in time, yet seeing and experiencing it differently. Countless multitudes of my fellow humans do not have the luxury of savouring the moment. Their moment is filled with strife, scarcity, violence, disease, war, rape, fear, darkness, famine, injustice, prejudice, racism, discrimination…
And as I write that last sentence I feel tears prickling at the edge of my eyelids.
We are a beautiful planet made messy by our complex human race to have more, create bigger, succeed in our excesses while others fall behind, get left in the dust of our constant quest for life as we want it to be.
I stopped and gave thanks for this moment right now and in my gratitude, felt the gap between my moment and the moment experienced by billions of others on this planet.
It is a wide gap. A gap that cannot be narrowed just by my thinking I want it to.
Yet, I wonder.
If we all expressed our gratitude for this one breath at the same time, whether on the exhale or the inhale, would we create a tsunami of gratitude cascading around the globe? Would we change the tides of war and abuse, greed and excess that dominate headlines?
Would we make a difference if each of us, for this one moment, paused in whatever we are doing, and took one breath together?
We are 7+ billion humans on this planet. Each moment we experience is shared by others. And every moment we humans have is shared by the mice skittering through the grasses, the chickadees flitting through the bushes, the water flowing beneath the ice, the trees welcoming the warmth of the morning sun no matter how feeble its rays this January morning.
I shall savour the rays of the sun this morning. Unlike Scarlet O’Hara saying good-bye to Rex, I cannot leave thinking about it, the planet and all its inhabitants, tomorrow. The planet needs me now. It needs each of us, right now, to do our part in saving the world.
About the Painting
I love to go back through some of my old works to see how my creative expression has changed, morphed, expanded.
This painting was created in 2011. It is not one of my favourites – there are so many things I see in it that I would do differently, I would change… I keep it in my studio as a reminder that creative expression is not about perfection or even beauty, it’s about freedom, truth, taking risks and allowing the experience to move me beyond the mundane into the sacred space of creation.
If all I can leave behind is my art and words, let them be gifts that express my gratitude for my life with beauty and Love.
Every Sunday (okay well almost every Sunday unless I do it Monday), I post a blog on Beaumont the Sheepadoodles blog — Sundays with Beaumont.
I first started posting a photo along with an imaginary (but seriously… they’re not really imaginary!) conversation with Beau on my FB page a couple of years ago. People laughed and told me how much they enjoyed those exchanges. A friend suggested creating a “Beau blog” and, as I mostly posted the conversations on Sundays, to call it, Sundays with Beaumont (SWB) and thus, Beau got his own blog and the world gets to ready how he always wins the conversation!
His blog is a reflection of his incorrigible nature and charm. (He likes to call it charm. I tend to call it annoyingness.) 🙂
As I love to share the laughter, I’m sharing yesterday’s blog here.
Eggs Over Easy Please
Beaumont: Hey Lady. Know what time it is?
Beaumont: Breakfast time!
Me: I can’t get up.
Beau: Why not?
Me: You’re lying on top of me.
Beau: That’s to wake you up.
Me: All right already. I’m awake.
Beau: Then, where’s my breakfast?
Me: If you get off of me I’ll get it for you.
Beau: You know, I shouldn’t have to lie on top of you to make you get up. You should care enough to want to get up in the morning to get me my breakfast.
Me: Believe me. I do. It’s just I’m a wee bit tired after last night.
Beau: Right. ‘Cause you had that big dinner party and poor little you… Had a wee bit too much to drink?
Me: No! It’s just I was on my feet all day and then didn’t get to bed until very late.
Beau: Enough with your excuses. Are you going to get up and get me breakfast?
Me: If you get off of me I will.
Beau: Will you quit making excuses and just do it?
Me: Yes, Beau. I will.
Beau: I’d like my eggs easy over please.
Me: You don’t get eggs for breakfast.
Beau: Like I didn’t get any Beef Wellington last night for dinner?
Me: You’re a dog Beau. You don’t eat people food.
Beau: Who makes my food?
Me: It comes from a factory.
Beau: And who works in the factory?
Beau: And so, once again, I prove how wrong you are. If people make my food then I eat people food. So be a good girl and go make me some eggs and bacon.
Sigh. To be clear. I do not feed Beau eggs and bacon but dawggone it, I sure would like to win an argument with him one day… Sigh. A girl can dream….
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.
It has been a while since I created a painting for the #ShePersisted series I began in March 2017. Yesterday, I pulled out a background I’d created on the weekend, drew a circle and began to throw down paint.
I didn’t know what I was going to paint. I didn’t have a destination or image to reference. I was going with the flow and letting whatever appeared to be what was visible on the canvas.
She was challenging. Faces always are for me. They take practice. Skill. An understanding of light and its play with the shadows. A willingness to mess up and dig in.
They’re best painted with a reference photo.
I had none. Somewhere, early in the process, I made a commitment to myself to paint from within me, to use my inner memory/knowing of the face as my reference.
It’s a wonderful challenge. There’s that scared, uncertain place within me where I worry I don’t know enough, I need something solid to guide me. There’s that voice of doubt that takes great joy in whispering, “You can’t do it.”
And then, there’s the vibrant, alive place within me that doesn’t like can’t and don’t and shouldn’t. That voice likes to leap into the fray, calling upon my courage and self-belief to rise up and call out joyfully, “Watch me.”
I painted a woman’s face yesterday.
I didn’t think I could.
And then I did.
I love the magic that happens when I let go of working hard to control the process and instead let myself be the process.
I love the mystery that opens up to wonder when I accept it’s not about ‘doing it perfect’. It’s not about creating something that is a reflection of something else. It’s all about allowing what is calling itself to be expressed from within to become visible on the canvas before me.
This morning, as I look at her, that little voice of doubt and uncertainty, the one who likes to find criticism in so many things, it wants to tell me all the things I could have done differently. I could still change.
I’m not listening. Not heeding that voice. It is the voice of the past. The voice of millennia of women being told they can’t, they musn’t, they shouldn’t, they don’t dare.
Yesterday, I painted a face.
Her origins are a mystery. Her story is not.
She is every woman before me who was told she couldn’t.
She is every woman who was shut down, put in her place, pushed into dark alleys and corners, hidden from the light, hidden from the truth of her power, her beauty, her strength, her courage.
She is every woman who was told she had no power, no voice, no right.
She is every woman who was held captive to the lie she had to be perfect. That she would never be enough. The voice that still whispers from the dark roots of the past, “You can’t do that.”
They said, “You can’t do that.”
The wise woman within rose up and shouted to the winds and the seas, the stars and moon, to heaven and earth, “Watch me!”
Speaking up about mental health is important. Taking action is vital. Erasing stigma. Changing minds. Providing supports and help for those whose mental health is preventing them from living joyful and productive lives is imperative for everyone.
Changing the story of how we view mental health changes how we treat each other, how we build strong and healthy relationships and how we create a better world.
For women, our mental health is tethered to a past where we had no voice, no rights, no power. A past where we lived under the shadow of men and the laws and societal mores that were designed to create a ‘just and fair’ society and that ultimately were tools to keep us in our place.
There is no place in the shadows for freedom, self-efficacy, self-determination, equality, self-hood.
Cutting the ties that bind is an important act, not of rebellion but of freedom.
May we all be free to speak up. May we all know we have the power to take positive action to be actively engaged in creating a world where everyone has a place to belong, no matter the state of their gender, race, sexual orientation, faith, beliefs and economic, mental or physical state of being.