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All I Need is A Good Reason, A Fedora, & A Theme Song

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Does everything happen for a reason? Does there have to be a reason? We go looking for one like we’re treasure hunters with noble intentions. Looking for lost artifacts and glittering coins in a far off jungle. Hacking through the overgrowth, undergrowth, ingrown toenails with machetes. Toss snakes off of our shoulders and kick tarantulas out of our path. Take off the fedora, wipe sweat from the brow, then look up at the blue sky, peeking through jungle canopy, with steely determination. It’s out there somewhere. It’s calling to me. I can feel it. 

Cue the dramatic theme music and roll the opening credits. Ba da ba ba. Hm da hm….So, I was watching Indian Jones on Netflix a couple of weeks ago. Just before I got to the good one, hello Mr. Connery, they took it away. Arg, I feel robbed. Cheated. Damn you Netflix! Why? Why!

Did it happen for a reason? Was it a sign from above? What could the reason for this madness be? Other than the obvious expiration of licensing agreements. Then again, maybe the universe is trying to tell me something. The stars are aligning. It’s shoving me towards…What? 

Where’s my fedora? I’m going on an adventure.

I’m not doing it for selfish reasons. No! Of course not. Perish the thought. My intentions are pure. I’m all about preserving history and keeping shiny objects out of dastardly hands. I’m trying to find the truth at minimal personal cost. Sure, a little gold would be an added bonus. I’d share it with my nearest and dearest or donate it to a museum. Help people in need because that’s what hero’s do!

Am I getting carried away? Well, of course, I am. I think it’s time for this pandemic to end so I can leave my home. Look at people’s whole faces instead of just their eyes and foreheads. You have very lovely eyes and an excellent forehead, by the way. I want to walk through the real world instead of fantasy worlds because they are just plain goofy. Fun! But riddled with goof-ish-ness. 

Yep, I think I might be losing touch with reality. Not completely. I haven’t totally lost it just yet. Then again, I was only touching reality with my fingertips before the goof invaded, but it still counts. Go on, argue with me. You won’t convince me otherwise. An inch of sanity is as good as a mile.

If I keep saying it, then it will come true. One day, I will be a real girl Toto. Wait, those are different movies. Whatever, the point has been made and on we shall move.

You’ve heard the saying. It’s hard to miss, though I would hardly miss it. It’s the go-to mantra for exceptionally horrible situations. Take heart, my young hero, everything happens for a reason. That includes a global pandemic, racial inequality, and the murder of innocent people. Apparently? 

I like it! The saying. Not the global pandemic, racial inequality, or the murder of innocent people. Those things are horrible. Vomitus. There’s nothing to like about any of those things. Obviously! But for the record, I morally, ethically, and as a basically decent human being, oppose the aforementioned, but not limited too, list of despicable things.

The saying, however, is kind of nice. It sounds pretty and pithy. It rolls off the tongue like spit in the desert. One problem, though, and it’s a minor thing. It’s probably nothing. I could be making a mountain out of a turnip seed. It’s just that, well, no one ever tells you what that reason is, and heaven forbid you ask. 

Have tried asking? Go on, just ask, “Like what, pray tell? What is this reason you speak of? Can you give me an example?” What reason could justify a massive explosion in the middle of a crowded city? Thousands wounded. Hundreds dead? I haven’t seen the latest numbers but, still, there’s a reason for that?

Did you see that explosion in Beirut this week? I still can’t believe the devastation. Those people! God help them, please.

No, sorry, I don’t see it. It’s hard to imagine there’s a reason for that kind of suffering. What possible reason could there be for that level of pain? It’s a rotten cherry on top of a curdled sundae. I don’t have to recap the last six months again, do I? 

Someone’s screaming, “Good God, no please don’t say it out loud!” Okay, deep breath my friend. I won’t say it. Let’s just go with something like, I don’t know, this year has been a whole lot of WTF and it keeps ongoing. It’s too much. My brain can’t process it all.

I just keep muttering, “What the actual f***?” Only, I say the word without the asterisk. I’m trying to swear less, but this year was the wrong year to break that habit.

Just when I think something worse can’t possibly happen, I’m proven wrong. Killer bees. Alcohol addled alligators. (Purely for the alliteration). Normal life stressors on top of what has to be the worst apocalyptic movie of all time. Whoever’s writing this year must’ve must be related to someone pretty powerful. It’s the only explanation! Damn you, nepotism.

We’re facing a lot of the conflicts on multiple fronts and most of them are built on a strong foundation of suppression, bigotry, denialism, and blind faith in corrupt systems. But everything happens for a reason so we’re going to be okay. Right? 

Right. Sure. Okay, but did anyone say those reasons are good reasons? Way to deflate that balloon. Geez, we were building up to a nice and pretty wrap up and then: pop! You couldn’t just let it ride, could you?

But it’s a valid question.

I automatically think that it’s referring to something good. It’s the teaspoon of sugar that helps a bitter pill slide down a little bit easier. It’s a meaningful spin on a bad situation. A light at the end of a very long, dark, tunnel? Then again, I could be making an ass out of you and me.

I assume, please correct me if I’m wrong, when we say that there’s a reason behind something, we’re not just looking for an explanation. It’s deeper than that. Contextually, whenever I hear this particular cliché, it sounds like we’re looking for a purpose or meaning. More than that! We’re looking for hope in a situation that seems devoid of anything positive or advantageous. 

And there’s nothing wrong with that! I do it all the time because, without hope or the possibility of hope, carrying on would be, for me, virtually improbable. Not impossible. I’ve carried on with little more than a wish on a star that might’ve been a satellite. The chance that, if I hold on a little longer, something good will come out of all of this? Yeah, when it’s all I’ve had, it was better than nothing.

After multiple decades of living with a chronic illness, countless surgeries, near-death, and actual death experiences, I have yet to find a reason for any of it. At least, nothing substantial enough to create a sense of purpose or meaning. There have been times when I’ve found, let’s call them, micro reasons. Small moments that created a positive context to otherwise horrible situations. Those small moments, though, are fleeting and they haven’t added up to anything emotionally sustainable.

A doctor destroyed my kidneys and left me with an illness that’s ravished my body. I’ve spent years being cut open, sewn back up, and jumped started. My body hurts. My mind is fractured. Purpose? Meaning? I don’t think I see it but does there have to be meaning or purpose to make peace with what happened? Will that give me a sustainable hope?

I like the idea, I understand why we do it, but I’m questioning the pragmatism. What if things just happen? There’s no reason or purpose. No grand plan or divine design. Bad things just happen. Horrific things just happen. Good things just happen. That’s it. It just happened. What then?

How do I go on living in a world were things just happen for no reason? If I can’t find the meaning behind everything I’ve gone through? It feels hollow and vapid. Abandoned. Betrayed. Has my faith, hope, been wasted? If, despite all my best efforts, my quest ends in an empty tomb in the middle of a jungle then, what?

There’s always a chance that I’m going about it all wrong. I’ve misinterpreted the text. Classic treasure hunter mistake! It happens to the best of us. Won’t beat myself up too hard, but I will reevaluate.

Look at the text without my previous assumptions. Fresh eyes. A new perspective. It says that everything happens for a reason, but it doesn’t say how that reason will manifest itself. I’ve been looking for it, hacking through the overgrowth, but what if it isn’t something I can find? It isn’t out there. It isn’t hidden. It isn’t waiting for discovery.

It’s waiting to be made. Reasons, purpose, meaning. They aren’t lost treasure. They’re art and I’m the artist. I might also be the canvas or the clay. How do I create art out of a broken body? How do I reshape my pain, my scars, into something meaningful?

Uh…Huh…Well, if I knew the answers to those questions I wouldn’t have bought a fedora.

If reasons are something we make, instead of find, then the power is firmly in my hands. I’m not at the mercy of some unknowable force. I can’t blame the obstacles in my path. I am my biggest obstacle! My strengths and my weaknesses. My desire for more and my fear of the unknown. It comes down to what I want and need my life, my past, my future to mean. 

I suppose, when they say that everything happens for a reason, that means that I am the reason. The meaning. The purpose. Oh, I don’t know how that makes me feel.

I’m not sure if it’s comforting or disturbing. It’s easier to go looking for something than spend hours, maybe even years, crafting it from salvaged scraps. It certainly takes a lot more energy and the accountability stops with me. I get out of it what I put into it. More. Less. I can create a masterpiece or I can leave the canvas blank.

Maybe, to a certain degree, that’s life in a nutshell that’s been cracked open by a bullwhip. We get what we put in with the add bonus of broken shells. You know what? I liked it better when I got to wear a cool hat, have my own theme music, and look up at the sky with steely determination.

Ba da ba ba…Hm da hm…

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Nothing But An Alien Etch-A-Sketch

Photo by Francesco Ungaro from Pexels

“I remember a friend many years ago who had taped a sign to his refrigerator: There’s a dream dreaming us. If you try to think about what that means it makes your mind silly, but that silliness is good.”  ― Natalie Goldberg, Wild Mind: Living the Writer’s Life

I’ve often wondered if I’m just a character in someone else’s dream or novel. My thoughts are thought up by them as their head rests on a pillow, or their fingers type the words onto a page. Every emotion I feel is a figment of their imagination. Every choice I make, action I take, is being controlled, decided, by someone out there in the vast galaxy. Their subconscious or creative mind is deciding my fate as we speak.

Are we even speaking or is this just a part of their made-up world? Oh, we can get silly with this, can’t we!

Well, writer of my life, I don’t mean to be critical but maybe you should eat less spicy food before bed. I hear it can mess with the rhythms of the sleeping cycles. Oo, and dairy. Avoid dairy. Maybe then you’ll be able to create a more imaginative storyline? Just a suggestion.

Everybody is a critic! But honestly, blogger/struggling writer is kind of prosaic don’t you think? A romanticized caricature that lives a grand, lavish, adventure in the pages on which they write. This mysterious figure, hunched over their typewriter, smoking a cigar and nursing some beverage on the rocks. A smoke-filled room. The sound of keys being tapped and the clinking of ice against glass.

It’s been done, a lot. Not as often as a private investigator but still, it’s getting old. I understand the allure, though. It’s tempting to create a character that fits a certain mold. Especially one that’s so, what’s the word, enigmatic. They get lost in a creative process that only they understand. It looks mad! Maybe even a little exciting. It’s an unknown that’s so alluring and, dare I say, titillating. The wonders they create. The magic they conjure. Oh, the life of a writer must be so invigorating. 

Mm, now I’m even more convinced that I’m a character in someone else’s novel. They sure think highly of themselves. Titillating? Really? Stretching it a bit far don’t you think? Geez, man/woman/alien creature you’re a writer, not the master of a universe. Tone it down.

Unless you are a master in your universe then…Carry on, I guess.

Have you ever wondered who’s writing your story? Not in the biographical sense. Very few people live such grand lives that they will be written about in the decades to come. Then again, maybe you are a master of your universe, and they should write about your life long after you’ve lived it. Who am I to judge? I’m just a figment of some aliens’ imagination.

But is this the best they can come up with? A disease-riddled, struggling writer, who puts her rambling thoughts on the internet because, well, she has a bit of a narcissistic streak flowing through her veins. Hey, now! I object…Then again, I called you prosaic. That’s a rude thing to say to the life form in charge of writing my life. Still, I think you could try to be a bit more inventive? Stretch your imaginations a little further.

Watch me get hit by lightning on a clear day! Oh bother, I think my mind is going silly.

I suppose it’s hard not to go a little goofy when you start riding this gravy train. Who writers our stories? Is there a master manipulator somewhere in the universe? They put pen to paper, and our stories unfold with each stroke. Or, are we the writers of our own story, and we’re only limited by our imaginations? The more we can imagine, the more colourful our stories become. 

Do you think it’s true that, if we can dream it, we can achieve it? If this is all one big dream than sure, why not? Let’s have cotton candy shoes and twirl Twizzler canes as we dance down Chocolate Block Lane. Was that too cynical? Yeah, maybe I should ask simpler questions.

Such as: Are we at the mercy of someone else or are we masters of our fate? Fate! How could I forget about that little fella? Does that even come in to play? Is it real or is it something we blame when things don’t work out as we’d hoped? Fate, God, bad luck, or bad timing. They all take the fall when things fall apart and the praise when it all works out.

But where do we come into all things great and small? Do we have a say or are we pawns in an intergalactic game of Jenga? Is your brain silly yet? My brain is getting sillier by the nanosecond. I’m not sure if it’s a good silly, yet, but time will tell.

Oh time, there you are. Let’s go back in time! I grew up in a church, and one of the tenants of most religions is handing over control to a higher power. Correct me if I’m wrong. It’s been a minute since I dived into doctrine and dogma. What I do remember is being told to hand my life over to a being that can’t be seen or heard. Well, we’re told that the problem isn’t that God isn’t speaking, we’re just not listening. Maybe? Maybe not? I’ll leave that to the theological theorists. 

We hand over our lives, place them in God’s hands, and then? Trust that God will do what needs doing. Simple. Easy. Where do I sign over the deed?

Except, I have issues with control and trust. What you’re telling me to do is a pretty big ask! Trust someone, something, that I can’t see or hear. Hand over my life to this creature I think I can feel. It could be a placebo sensation. I think I can, so I do. So it’s real? Stop asking questions! Here you go. Take the wheel, leash, or remote control. Well, clearly I paid attention to the sermons.

Uh…Awkward.

The idea that there’s this power out there with complete control over my life, kinda freaks me out. Not completely. Maybe it should freak me out even more than it does but I’m very clumsy. I do things without thinking, and a lot of my life choices have been questionable at best. At worst?

Uh, well, I’m not dead yet, and I haven’t caused anyone else grievous bodily harm. So, I guess it’s not that bad. Or, the bar is set at a very awkward angle.

The thought that someone’s gently pushing my life in the right direction is comforting. The idea that there could be this all-knowing being stopping me from making a monumental mistake is, intriguing. Being asked to completely surrender my life to an invisible, out of this world, entity is terrifying. 

It kinda feels like I’m being asked to buy a timeshare in a country I’ve never heard of but, on the upside, twenty people have read the Wiki page. It doesn’t feel right. It doesn’t feel safe. Something seems a little off, but I’m a natural-born skeptic. It’s in my DNA. I’m not sure which strand controls the “Bitch please” response but it’s in there somewhere.

On the other hand, my life feels like it’s quickly becoming a stagnated pool of deep, dramatic, sighs. Maybe having someone take over for a while wouldn’t be the worst idea. I highly doubt they could do any worse. Did I just tempt fate? Did I anger the alien who’s already crafting my narrative? 

Imagine having a character you create, turn around, and criticize your creation of them. Oh, that’s mind bendy. 

If there is someone, or something, out there writing my life on a galactic etch-a-sketch then I have some questions for you. The main one being, “What the hell, dude?” You couldn’t come up with a better storyline? Did you get your writing prompt from a mail-order program that got held up in the post office for sixty years? What’s the big idea? Writing my life to be this…Whatever this is?

This isn’t the life I would write for myself, that’s for sure. 

Oh, well here’s an awkward counter-argument: What if no one is writing my life and I’m the only one responsible for how it’s turning out?

Uh…Well…Thing is…You know the alien etch-a-sketch doesn’t sound so bad after all.

I’m not a religious person anymore, but I am spiritual. Yeah, I know a lot of people don’t like that distinction. Maybe it feels like an accusation or a status symbol. I don’t know. It seems to tweak the itchy spot in people’s brains. Sorry, I wish I could help you scratch that itch, but I’m not a certified brain tickler. Best of luck. Maybe your etch-a-sketch guy can help you out.

For me, the idea of a God who looks out for me is comforting and reassuring. It’s nice to have someone to yell at when life goes off the rails. It’s also nice to have someone to help put it back on track and, eventually, get the engine running again. The thought that there’s a plan is a relief because, from where I’m sitting, it sure doesn’t feel like anyone knows what’s going on.

Or, I have no idea what’s going on, and that freaks me out more than handing over the wheel. I mean, I’d rather keep it attached to the drive shaft, but if it gets me moving in the right directions then, um, sure. No, that wasn’t overly enthusiastic but I try. I’m very trying.

Not to be too dramatic but, after everything I’ve been through and survived, I often wonder if there’s a reason for it. I shouldn’t still be alive. The science is clear. Plenty of doctors have asked, “How the hell are you still alive?” It’s an anomaly, wrapped up in an enigma, coated in a layer of mustard. No one has an answer.

But there has to be an answer. It can’t come down to simple dumb luck or a random twist of fate. I mean, it could but that just feels like a cosmic letdown. There’s a chance I’m being delusional, or grasping at straws. I concede that point, but even if it is a placebo or a delusion, I like the idea of my story being written in real-time by something greater than this mere mortal typing these words.

It feels more hopeful than leaving it to the whims of fate or leaving it up to my inadequate devices. If it’s solely on me then I’m well and truly hooped. I don’t think I could last all that long if I had to write my own story. I’m barely functioning enough to write this post. Life? That’s a long story to write so maybe we could split up the chapters. I write a few lines then hand it over. Wouldn’t that be easier?

I seem to have so many questions and so few answers.

Ah, but what if the answer has yet to be written or dreamed up? What if there’s an answer, and I just can’t hear it over the scribbling on the etch-a-sketch? Damn aliens and their noisy toys! What if none of these questions matter and I’m just transcribing someone else’s dream? 

Oh dear, my brain is a silly little beaver.

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Quite Accidentally Controversial…Oops!

Photo by: Markus Spiske on Unsplash.com

Ah, that awkward moment when you realize you have two beliefs, opinions, ideas that completely oppose each other. They sit comfortably on a spectrum but firmly on the farthest ends. Good twin? Bad Twin? Separated at birth? I always wanted a twin, but my mom wasn’t up for a do-over. Claimed it, “Wasn’t medically possible.”

Yeah, screw medicine and science. I want a twin but I’ll have to wait for human cloning. That’s going to be a thing one day, right? Sheep. Dogs. People would be a natural progression. So, yay, I can still get that twin I’ve always wanted. Is that still considered a twin? No, it’s a clone but of twin-like consistency. Morally wrong? Ethically ambiguous? Can I have my “twin” without crossing the line into creepy sci-fi?

The kind of sci-fi that’s far enough from reality to make it improbable, but close enough to make you wonder. It tickles a part of the brain that can’t be scratched. It wakes you up in the middle of the night. The dreams! Oh, they’re disturbing enough to take REM and put it in the trash. Slam the lid. Put it on the curb. Wave at the garbage people as the take it away to the sleep disposal site.

Well, I think I’m ready to abandon my twin dream. Finally! It’s only been how many years? Never you mind. It’s over. It’s done. Just because you dream it, doesn’t mean you can, or should, achieve it. Like human cloning, for example. If the movies have taught us anything? Human cloning doesn’t turn out well for humanity. Sure, the apocalypse might still come, but do we really need to give it a helping hand?

Then again, what if we could clone a human organ? Heart. Lungs. Kidneys. What about limbs? Your kidneys shut down or your leg goes missing. No problem! Pop your genomes into a centrifuge and give it a spin. A few tweaks, maybe give the machine a gentle kick, and ta-da! A perfect match. Surgically implant or attach the missing part and off you go on your healthy, merry, way.

Ignore my glaring scientific inaccuracies! 

Believe it or not, when I was a kid, I wanted to be a doctor. A cardiologist or a neurologist. Head or heart. Huh, ironic considering that now, as an adult, my greatest internal conflict is a war between these two factions. Thoughts and emotions. Ideas and feelings. What I know to be true versus what I feel is true. 

I’m either all head or all heart. If they could work together then we’d have peace in these lands. Ah, but today is not that day, my friend. No, not today.

Two ideas, thoughts, and feelings. Contradictions of the heart and the mind. Both of these ideas, thoughts, feelings are true. They both hold merit. I can’t find fault in either, but I can find fault in both. To dismiss one would be dishonest, but holding on to the other feels hypocritical. 

Did I put my brain on the spin cycle again? Did I leave it running a little too long? Is the motor burning out because I smell smoke?

It’s giving me a headache! Why can’t it be simple, straight forward, easy peasy lemon cheesy? What? My head hurts more now. 

If only we lived in a one-dimensional world with a two-tone modulator. It would be a simple yes or not. Go right or go left. To believe or not to believe. One dimension. Two colours. Right and wrong. Things are either sweet or salty. Boom. Done. Simple. Straight to the point

Wait, so like, do you believe God can exist in a godless world? 

I’m sorry, what now?

Like, if there is a God can he/she/they exist in a world that has no God? If God is omnipresent can that world still be out of his/her/its service range? And, if everything is possible with this God than is it possible that God can un-exist himself/herself/themselves?

My head! My poor head. There’s this twitch now. Can a brain twitch? Where the hell did that come from?

Dude, hell! 

No, please don’t.

If you believe in heaven, don’t you have to believe in hell? And if you believe in heaven and hell then you’ve gotta believe in God. But if God is all about unconditional love then how can God send people to a place where they will be tortured, suffer unimaginable horrors, and be punished for eternity. Eternity is, like, a long time.

Why does my inner voice sound like a stoner hippie? Am I the only one who’s inner voice turns into a character from some cheesy 60’s tv show? Don’t get me wrong, reruns of the original batman are my jam! I live for the booms, pows, and cracks. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with cheesy. Except when your inner voice uses it as a wind-up toy and sends your brain spinning wildly around a confined space.

Stop bringing me down man!

Should I venture into more controversial topics? What could go wrong? Nothing goes wrong when you stir the pot too vigorously. A little spillage, a bit of a mess, but go for it! Why the hell not?

Oo, hell! Not brain, we’ve covered that one. It’s time to move on.

Here’s one I struggle with: My body, my choice. I firmly believe that we all have a right to dictate what happens, and what we do with, our bodies. That includes pregnancy and all related topics. We choose who we love and who we make love with. It’s our right to die or live as we choose. Vaccines. Masks. It’s my body, so I get to decide what I put on it or in it.

I’ve read the reputable studies. I’ve listened to reputable experts, and they all agree that vaccines don’t cause autism. The keyword in that sentence was neither “vaccines” nor “autism.” The keyword was “reputable.” Board-certified. Peer-reviewed. Time tested. Argued, disputed, try as they might they can’t find proof that vaccines do more harm than good. Those studies have shown, proven, that vaccines save lives.

Bringing it down from the clouds to a more personal level. I’m a person with a compromised immune system which means that I rely heavily on herd immunity for my safety, my life. Not every person can get every vaccine. I, for example, can’t have “live vaccines” like whooping cough because my immune system won’t respond to it in a healthy way. Instead of preventing the disease, it would be the equivalent of walking into a smouldering forest with a flame thrower.

Herd immunity slows the spread of the virus and makes it less likely that it will reach me or others like me. It gives us a fighting chance. It means we stand a good chance of completely avoiding an illness that could have devastating consequences on a body that can’t fight back. Herd immunity saves lives. Herd immunity is acquired through vaccines. Vaccines save lives.

I get very frustrated by the anti-vax community, and the message they spread, because they’re threatening my life. Not directly. They don’t have a weapon pointed at my head. Let’s not get too dramatic but, they make the world a very dangerous place for me, and people like me. There’s no way for me to tell who has been vaccinated, and who hasn’t. I can’t avoid the ones that haven’t so every time I walk out of my front door, I’m walking onto a battlefield I can’t see. I can’t fight back. I could take a very deadly hit and have no way to protect myself.

If this pandemic has you, a healthy person, afraid to walk out your front door? You’ve got a taste of what it’s like to have a compromised immune system in the world of anti-vaxxers.

There are people in my life who are anti-vaxxers, and I’ve had to step away from them. Not end friendships but, since they aren’t taking precautions to prevent the spread of potentially deadly viruses, I can’t be anywhere near them. Not physically. We can talk over the phone. Chat on Facebook. Meet for coffee? Go to their house for dinner?

I can’t risk it because the smallest, most innocuous, infection is a flame thrower in a smouldering forest. I’ve had a simple cold turn into pulmonary oedema in a matter of hours. My lungs filled with fluid. I couldn’t breathe because I was drowning in my own body. Dry drowning is one name for it. I was so sick, the doctors called my family and told them to come and say goodbye because they didn’t know if I would survive the night.

That’s what a common cold did to me. Now imagine something like polio or measles. What do you think that would do to a body that can’t fight back? I can’t risk being around anyone who won’t get vaccinated. I just can’t. I have people who love me and need me around. There’s a whole world out there, waiting to be explored, and I’d love to get a chance to see some of it. I’m sorry, but I’m going to be selfish. I don’t want to die so, no, we can’t get coffee or have lunch.

There’s a big “however” coming so, for you anti-vaxxers warming up your yelling fingers, give me a second because here it comes.

However, if I believe that it’s my body so it’s my choice? I have to offer you the same courtesy. If it’s true for me then it has to be true for you. I don’t have to agree with you. I can’t, for my own personal safety, be anywhere near you, but I can acknowledge that it’s your body so you get to make the choice you believe is right.

Then again, choices have consequences, and the consequences of your actions could very well be the death of someone else.

Then again…again…It’s your body, so it’s still your choice. I can’t deny you something I value. I can’t refuse to respect your physical autonomy while demanding you respect mine. If I do, then I’m a hypocrite. It’s that simple.

But it isn’t simple because the consequences aren’t benign.

The struggle is real! How do I resolutely hold my beliefs, the things I know to be true, without compromise? How do I do that and still respect your differing beliefs or truths? Respect, I think, can be akin to tolerance. I don’t have to like it. In fact, I can wholeheartedly dislike your stance, but that doesn’t mean I dislike or hate you. We disagree, passionately, but we’re both just trying to do our best.

Can we agree on that? You’re doing your best for your body and health. I’m doing my best for my body and health. We’re doing our best. We’re making the best choices based on the information we have and how we interpret that information.

Then again, my life is being threatened, and the lives of people like me are in danger. I’m guessing, you feel like your life, and the lives of your children, are being threatened as well. How do we perfect the fine art of balance and compromise with so much at stake?

It’s no wonder we’re at each other’s throats. We’re so quick to feel defensive or to be angered. Name-calling. Belittling. Physical attacks as well as the dreaded, “Cancel Culture.” We try to tear each other down and destroy each other because this feels like war.

But maybe we’re fighting the wrong battle or we’re just killing each other for the wrong reasons? I honestly don’t have an answer or a solution other than respect. Even if that means I begrudgingly tolerate your opinion and you do the same for me. Agree to disagree? It seems…Inadequate?

Or, it comes down to that good old golden rule: Do to others as you want them to do to you. I want you to respect, tolerate, my opinion without beating me up for it. I want to be treated with kindness rather than bulldogged aggression. I want you to see me, hear me out, without shutting me down or tuning me out. So, even if it pains me, I have to show you the same courtesy. Right?

Damn it, cognitive dissonance! You gave me a headache.

If you’ll excuse me, I need to take my brain off of the spin cycle before my frontal lobe becomes my earlobe.

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Spilled Tea and Angry Ostriches

Photo by Andre Hunter on Unsplash.com

“To be nobody but 

yourself in a world 

which is doing its best day and night to make you like 

everybody else means to fight the hardest battle 

which any human being can fight and never stop fighting.” 

― E.E. Cummings

Is it wrong to say that anyone who uses the word “Sheeple” loses approximately fifteen percent of their IQ points? An automatic deduction. No room for negotiation or haggling. It’s not a barter system. The second that word slips past their lips: Bam! Minus fifteen percent.

It’s wrong. Saying that, thinking that, is just wrong. It’s mean. Horrible. True? No! No? Be nice. I should be nice, compassionate, understanding, sympathetic but I don’t wanna. I wanna gag every time someone defends their stance by declaring that all who oppose them must be…I can’t bring myself to say it again. Can’t. Won’t. No thank you!

If I say the word, one more time, my IQ will drop and I can’t stand to lose any more points. 

Oh, I fear, that I’m in a mood. The moodiest of moods. It’s Monday, the Monday-ist of Mondays, and I might be a little piqued at the fact that it’s, um, Monday. It all started when I spilled a perfectly good, hot, cup of tea down the front of my shirt. It smelt so good. The first sip was so satisfying. Oh, if only I could drink the whole cup!

Tragically, I’ll never taste that sweet nectar unless I suck it off of my shirt. I’m in a mood, but I’m not that far gone…Yet. Ah, but then I did a thing and it was entirely my own fault. I know better but knowing what’s good for you doesn’t always translate into healthy actions. Stubbornness tainted with petulance. I’m an adult, damn it, and I’ll do what I want.

Where’s my Mommy telling me what to do? I miss the days when someone else regulated my actions and, by extension, my emotional influences. The negatives kept at arm’s length. The positives welcomed with milk and cookies. Every so often, a negative got by the defenses but there was a mother shaped wall between us. 

Oh, the good old days! Also, I could go potty in my pants, and it was perfectly acceptable. If I do that now? People point and stare. So not fair. Toddlers have it so good!

I made the mistake of starting my morning with a romp through the headlines and a stroll through the responses on social media. As if the headlines aren’t bad enough. It’s doom and gloom. Death and destruction. Good guys doing very convincing impressions of bad guys. Who’s who? Who do we trust? Are you here to help or hurt?

The world has lost its collective sanity! Assuming, of course, we ever possessed this alleged sanity, to begin with. Doubtful? Mm, I’m beginning to wonder if sanity is a construct of the place with the people who do the things. What? No idea, but let’s read the comments! That should reignite the fading embers of hope in humanity.

Did you just laugh, scoff, roll your eyes? Fair.

I have no problem with respectful discourse. We don’t all think the same. Our life experiences have been completely different. We come from a vast array of cultural, spiritual, and religious ideologies. There are a million different factors that influence our opinions and our world view. Sharing our views in a respectful and kind manner is a wonderful thing.

It’s the five percent that can’t muster up kindness or respect. They ruin it for everyone. Is that a generous estimation? Should I reverse it? Five percent act in a kind and respectful manner? I…But…Well, that’s depressing.

Those that respond with reason, an attempt at understanding, or respectful disagreement are yelled down. Angry, belligerent, voices use The-Word-That-Shall-Not-Be-Used as if that justifies their righteous indignation. If we are not with them, then we are against them, and that makes us the enemy.

Insert eye-roll here.

The most obvious example, during these pandemic days, would be the use of masks. I wear one whenever I’m out, and can’t avoid people or maintain physical distance. I wear it for a number of reasons. It’s recommended by the people who study and treat infectious diseases. According to science, masks help reduce the risk of infection and transmission. Is it perfect? Will it totally eradicate the virus? No, but it slows it down and protects the most vulnerable people in our communities.

Science! Amazing.

I’m a “vulnerable person” in my community. I’ve had a few kidney transplants. The one I have now is working quite well. (Yay science!) I want to keep it working well, so I take anti-rejection medication. Awful stuff. If you don’t need it, don’t take it. Then again, if you don’t need it why would you take it? You can’t get to happy town on this stuff. It just makes you nauseous, grows copious amounts of hair, and makes your emotions bounce around your brain like a ping-pong in space.

It also lowers the immune system so it can’t attack and destroy the life-saving kidney that was selflessly given. Sorry to harp on this, but how amazing is science? They figured out how to take an organ from one person and put it in someone else. That’s so f*ck cool!

But now I have an immune system that can’t fight off a common cold. What do you think will happen if COVID invades my body? Nothing good, I assure you, so I wear my mask and I’m so appreciative of those of you who wear yours. This is a team sport. We win together and…Well, let’s leave it at winning, shall we?

I know not everyone can wear one but those of you who can, and do: Thank-you.

If you choose not to wear a mask? Well, it’s your body so it’s your choice.

While this hasn’t happened to me, most people I encounter are respectful, I have seen it happen to others. Yelled at, called names, and belittled for wearing a mask. That word, the one I won’t say again, thrown at them like a knife aimed at a bullseye. How utterly bizzare is that?

It doesn’t have to be your choice and you can believe that this pandemic is a scam or a conspiracy. That’s your thing and godspeed, friend. But the anger? The vitriol? The name-calling? What’s your damage?

If you call me a sh…Oops, almost slipped. If you call me, that word, then is it okay if I call you an ostrich? Their startle response is to deny and ignore the reality of their predicament. What lion? I don’t see a lion? I see an earthworm and it’s so cute. Do you want to be my friend little worm? What’s biting my ass? As long as I ignore it, it’s probably nothing. 

Calling them a small-brained, flightless, bird isn’t exactly kind or respectful. It kind of make’s me a hypocrite, doesn’t it. Which means, if I really think about it, I’m not being true to the person I want to be. In fact, if I go down this road, I’m abandoning myself, my heart, and giving in to the cheap and easy. Which is tempting! So, very, very, tempting. Why do you make it so tempting?

And, I give into temptation way too often! Do as I say and ignore everything I do. There’s my advice: You’re welcome.

My gut response, when I see conspiracy propaganda touted as hard science, is usually anger and some creative name-calling of my own. Okay, the name-calling isn’t that creative. Ostrich is about as good as it gets. The usual suspects come out of my mouth as I shake my head and clench my fists. I ask questions like, “How stupid do you have to be?”

Put on the brakes! The real question I should be asking is, “Who do I want to be?”

The type of person who gives in to frustration and anger? Going for the cheap shot and the low blow. Take them down at the knees and then beat them over the noggin with a grad school biology book. I’m sure I could find a real thick and heavy one online. Maybe I can transfer some knowledge straight into their processor.

Or, I could stay calm, pass along some hard science and peer-reviewed studies. Information that has been verified, tested, retested, and still held true after a thousand hours of scrutiny. Combat ignorance with knowledge. I can try kindness and if, or when, that doesn’t work I can wish them well and walk away.

Which one would be more fun and offer the most immediate sense of self-gratification? It’s not a trick question. I think we both know the answer. But, uh, now I’ve gotta ask myself which one would I be proud of? That feels more like a trick and less like a treat.

E. E. Cummings said that being ourselves in a world that’s trying to change us, is the hardest battle. True, when faced with ostriches and sh***le staying true to our true nature is a fight. It feels like they are taunting us, needling us, pulling us down to their level. Maybe they’re more like an octopus? So many tentacles wrapping around us and we’re fighting to stay free. 

Stooping, meeting them where they are, requires less energy than fighting. Staying true to who we are? They make it so hard.

But, and this could just be me, I think the hardest fight isn’t against a world that’s trying to change me. If a mob is going one direction, I instinctually want to go the other way. Peer pressure? I’ve never had time for it and if you try, I’m just going to obstinately refuse. The herd mentality has been proven to be disastrous so, sorry, I’m not playing along out of principle.

For me, the real war rages internally. I’m fighting with myself, my own identity, and sense of self. I won’t compromise my standards, who I am, for a world that’s ripping itself apart. A world with its boxes, its pretty labels, that I don’t fit inside. The desire to fit? The need to belong? Now that’s a fight.

I want to fit but to do that, I need to change myself. I need to compromise my true identity and become someone else entirely. I don’t want to change. Not completely. I have problem areas that need repair or replacement parts. We all do. But upgrading to a new model? Downgrading to an old one?

The fight, with the world and myself, isn’t one of change but of self-love. If I love myself, flaws and all, the fight would be so much easier. If I liked myself, that would help too, but I focus too much on the challenges of being me. The flaws that I see as glaring. The weaknesses that are all-consuming.

The conflict I have between my mind and my body. The bickering between my over-intellectual mind and my over-emotional heart. Harmony? If I can’t find that in myself, how can I find it in the world? Can harmony exist in a creature at war with themselves and others?

To fight the world’s desire to change me, to stay true to who I am, I need to find that harmony in myself. I need to fight for self-love, self-acceptance, and just like myself. If I like who I am, then who you think I am wouldn’t matter as much. Your attempts to change, control, or provoke me wouldn’t be as successful. You, me, the world, wouldn’t stand a chance against a person who actually likes who they are.

That’s where my fight starts. Learning to like, love, and accept who I am. Once I do that, the angry ostriches can run wild for all I care. Though, I think, for everyone’s safety we should transfer them to a wildlife conservatory. What? I said I had to learn, not that I had it figured out.

Or, I need to make a fresh cup of tea and put on a clean shirt. Let’s start small, shall we?

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This Side Of The Story Is Too Taboo So Share

Photo by Tỷ Huỳnh from Pexels

So, you’ve been having a rough time and you get up the courage to let it all out. You find a friend that you trust and love. Someone who loves you, wants the best for you, and is an all-round good soul. They listen, hold your hand, and they cry with you because seeing you hurt, hurts them. Well now, that’s a great friend you’ve got there! Hold on to them because that relationship is a keeper.

Unburdened and free, you let out a sigh as you lean back in your chair. You wrap a hand around your cooling cup of tea and close your eyes. Holding it all in was hard work and now that it’s out there, you feel a little lighter. The tension in your shoulders is dissipating and your jaw unclenches. That tension headache is slowly fading away.

A moment of silence passes and your friend speaks, “I’m sorry you’re going through all of this. If there’s a silver lining, you know what they say, ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.’”

Do you agree with them? Is it true? It may have been bad, whatever you went through, and it didn’t kill you but, uh, now what? Muscles like Hercules? Kickass warrior skills like Wonder Woman? Lasso of truth in one hand and demigod powers flowing out of the other?

It sure sounds sweet, superpowers would be cool, but fiction and reality rarely coexist. I’m not saying they can’t or don’t mingle from time to time. We call them miracles of science or of God. They happen every day, in a million different ways. It’s just that, when fiction meets reality, it’s usually a bastardized version that’s kind of watered down. A bit disappointing?

What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger. What do you envision when you hear that phrase? What image does it conjure? What’s been your reality and how did it compare to what you expected? Far too often, the two just don’t match up and the let down is a heartbreaking.

I’m not calling out a lie or screaming BS. Surviving, becoming stronger for it, almost assuredly holds some truth, or people wouldn’t keep saying it. There is truth and wisdom in those words but, from where I stand, it’s been grossly oversimplified. Boiled down to fit on a bumper sticker or a tattoo. The reality? I don’t know if anyone wants that covering their whole body.

Then again, I could be wrong and a skilled artist can work magic. Something with a phoenix maybe? Or, is that too obvious? It’s too obvious. You’re right, I’ll leave art to the magician. 

All I can do is speak from my own experiences and for me, the worst moments of my life haven’t left me stronger than I was before. I didn’t rise from the ashes like a majestic creature and spread my wings. I didn’t fly off into the sunset. It’s what people imagine when they hear my story, but it’s just not true. 

There are some people, on the peripheries of my life, that have this image of me, of what I am, that’s borderline mythical. A creature that burns down to ashes but is reborn in the flames. Stronger. Faster. Better than ever before. They want me to be that person but the reality isn’t as fanciful as fiction. So let me rip off the bandaid as fast as I can because I’m going to shatter the illusion.

One diagnosis followed by another. Surgery after surgery. Treatment after treatment. A palm-full of medications and an arm full of Iv’s. A heart that’s stopped and been restarted more than once. My body is damaged, it’s not as strong as I need it to be, and it’s covered in scars. 

Look at the scars, the track marks from the Iv’s, with an objective eye. If my body is this damaged, wouldn’t it stand to reason that, after everything I’ve been through, my mind would be damaged too? My mind weakened? My mind covered in scars? 

I survived and I keep on surviving but it hasn’t made me stronger. I didn’t come out of those moments, the ones that damn near killed me, standing tall. I didn’t walk out like a victorious warrior. My armour didn’t glisten in the new day’s sun. My hair wasn’t blowing behind me. My leg perched on the remains of my enemies. I can promise you that I did not have a hero’s stance.

My story of survival didn’t end with a bag or a parade. The reality of survival, my survival, is that it starts with a whimper. I crawled out of those moments on my hands and knees. Bruised. Bloody. Covered in sweat. Tears streaming down my face. I could barely lift my head, let alone look up at the heavens with a spirit of gratitude. I wasn’t strong. I wasn’t brave. I wasn’t even me, anymore.

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger? I’ve heard that phrase so often it makes me flinch. If only they knew. If only they looked a little closer. If only they took a closer look at my life, put it under a microscope, then they’d see the hairline fractures running through every aspect of my consciousness. Would they still tell me that it didn’t kill me so now I’m stronger?

I want them to see, to understand, that’s it simply not true but I hate confrontation so I smile and shrug it off. It’s a response that’s met with approval because, I think, they need to believe that the sentiment is true. They need to believe that fiction can coexist with reality. They need to see a phoenix rise out of the ashes. They need to believe just like the need to breathe. 

For them, it’s a survival instinct that they will fight to preserve because if it isn’t real? If there are things in this world that can break us? If there are things that can preserve the body but kill the mind, the spirit? We need to believe that as long as we’re breathing we’re strong, brave, and can handle anything because the alternative feels like surrender.

But, is surrender a bad thing? I’m not talking about taking extreme actions to end the pain or life. If you’re struggling with those thoughts, please reach out for help. There are crisis lines that you can call. Hospitals. Please, reach out for help. There are people who are qualified, who care, and they can help you get to a better, safer, place.

In this instance, I’m talking about something different. It’s about a moment. A single moment where exhaustion meets agony. It’s a spiritual, physical, mental depletion that brings me to my knees. It’s a moment where the thought of continuing this is fight is so overwhelming I can’t breathe. There’s no strength left, and I don’t know if I can keep going.

There’s only one choice but it’s not a popular one. It’s met with arguments and derision from the spectators. It’s frowned upon and cursed. Their chants, their jeers, are loud and clear: Surrender is not an option. But they don’t understand, they aren’t living in this moment, and they aren’t the ones in this fight.

Surrendering to that moment is not giving in to the pain. It’s living in it, acknowledging it, experiencing it without fight or judgment. Allowing myself… No, it’s giving myself permission to be whatever I am in that space. Broken. Tired. Bruised. Beaten. Weak. 

I can’t be strong all the time. I can’t keep fighting without rest. The battles keep coming! The war rages on. I have a chronic illness. The fight will never stop. I will never win; not in the traditional sense. There’s no finish line. There’s no armistice. I keep fighting but sometimes I have to surrender to find a moment of peace.

Throughout history, surrender as been viewed as weakness and cowardice. The strong keep fighting. The weak lay down their arms. But if laying down my arms keeps me alive for one more day? If it means I get a chance to catch my breath? If it means I buy myself some time to recover whatever strength I can muster?

I’ll wave my white flag high and proud because I can always lower it when this moment passes. This will ruin the illusion for some of you, even disappoint a few, but I have surrendered to my wounds, my illness, my shattered mind. I wasn’t dead, this illness hasn’t killed me yet, but I wasn’t stronger for it so I gave into it. 

I’ve encountered things in this world that have broken me and left me in pieces. These moments have turned my life into a million piece puzzle with no points of reference. How do I put it back together again? There are no guidelines, there’s nothing to follow, so I sort through the pieces and do my best. But putting the pieces back together isn’t simple or quick. 

Even when the pieces start to come together, I’m not the person I was before I was broken. The picture is different, it’s warped and misshapen. It will never look the same. I will never be the same. Will I be strong again? Will I be stronger? Even after all these years of healing, I can honestly say, it’s too early to tell.

This isn’t a story of triumph over tragedy. It’s not the story we’re supposed to tell, and it’s not one that’s supposed to be written. We’re supposed to be stronger because we survived. That’s how this is supposed to go because this one fallacy, a tale of redemption, is so ingrained in our culture that contradicting it is taboo.

Maybe even forbidden?

For the record, I don’t believe it’s entirely fictitious but, rather, misunderstood. What doesn’t kill you can make you stronger if you read the story all the way to the end. It’s not a story that’s told in one chapter. It’s not a straight shot. It’s complicated and messy which is why most stop reading way too soon.

With time, help, and a lot of self-compassion we can become stronger. We can heal. We can find our inner warriors. But first, we need to give ourselves permission to surrender to the moment that we’re in. To take time to heal, grieve, and sit with our brokenness for a little while.

For me, it’s in those moments, that I slowly begin to rediscover who I am after the war drums have fallen quiet. I say goodbye to who I was, and I grieve for that loss because losing ourselves is a death of identity. It’s left me feeling empty and hollow. A space that can be refilled with a new me, eventually. After that, well I have to get to know myself all over again.

Simple? Easy? Not even close.

What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger? Maybe, but it will change me forever and I’m going to need some time to be okay with that.

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I’m Sorry To Inform You That I’m Not Sorry At All…Except

Photo By Klara Kulikova on Unsplash.com

“I lied and said I was busy. I was busy; but not in a way most people understand. I was busy taking deeper breaths. I was busy silencing irrational thoughts. I was busy calming a racing heart. I was busy telling myself I am okay. Sometimes, this is my busy -and I will not apologize for it.”  ― Brittin Oakman

I all but shut down for about ten days. My body decided to throw one fit after another. I tried to fight through it, get things done, but after a while, I just couldn’t fight it anymore. I gave up or I gave in. I’m not sure which. You win body. You win. The white flag has been raised.

I posted my apologies and lay my head down on a pillow. I closed my eyes but I didn’t sleep. I tried to rest but my mind kept spinning. I tried to distract myself with Youtube videos, movies, and social media (we all make mistakes) but there was a nagging voice whispering softly.

The voice was so quiet, I couldn’t hear what it was saying but I felt its intent. Guilt. Laziness. Quitter. Not to be a smart ass but, technically, only one of those is a “feeling word.” The others are symptoms of other emotions. Things we don’t want to feel or admit we feel so we find other words to compensate. It doesn’t matter, though, because I feel them the same way I feel happy, sad, silly, or contrite. They hit the same spots, poke at the same wounds, and draw the same blood. 

Lazy. Quitter. Guilt. Shame. Regret. Real emotions mixed with a queasy, restless, drive that feels like fire ants are crawling through my veins. It burns. I can’t settle down. I want to cry. I feel like screaming. If I could pull my skin off my bones and let the little buggers out, I would but they’re nothing more than an illusion created by a turbulent mind.

Or, I’m being overly dramatic and way too hard on myself, which wouldn’t be new for me.

Ten whole days, I didn’t accomplish that much at all. Getting up, having a shower, and making breakfast became a productive morning. All those plans I had, promises I’d made, were pushed aside. Abandoned but not forgotten. The people on the other end were kind and understanding. Of course they were! I wasn’t choosing to let them down or abandon them in their time of need.

Yes, I hear how dramatic that sounds but it’s a mood so I’m rolling with it. All moods are welcome here, as long as they are accompanied by a little kindness. That’s not too much to ask for, is it?

So, I shut down, but that didn’t mean I let it all go. I hate letting people down. Every time I have to call in sick for something I feel the ants doing laps. If I say I’m going to do something, I want to do it but sometimes my body or my mind play up and I have to let people down. I apologize. Profusely and repeatedly. But every word feels like an excuse when I’m just trying to explain. 

If only my words would come out how I intend.

Maybe if I talk faster and forget to breathe? Do you think that will get the point across? Well, it can’t hurt to try. Oh, the art of the over-explanation! The more I talk, surely, the closer to understanding they will get, and then I won’t feel the ants doing parkour in my spleen.

For some odd reason, the more I try to explain, the further from an explanation I get. Maybe my GPS is faulty? Damn Apple maps. The last time I used that app, it told me to cross an international border three times if I wanted to get to a location thirty minutes from my home. A location situated firmly in my country. If that ain’t goofy, I don’t know what is!

I’m a Mac lady, but Bud you need to sort out your maps.

While you’re doing that, I’ll try to figure out how to calibrate my emotional compass. It seems to be leading me in the wrong direction. I’m not sure where my passport is and there are travel restrictions. If I let it go on like this, I might end up violating international laws. Unintentionally, of course, but there’s no reason to risk it. Maybe I need to turn off my compass, count to ten, and then turn it back on. Do you think that will help?

It doesn’t work like that? Well, damn, now I’m really screwed. 

Oh, speaking of screwed! These last ten days have been really difficult because I’ve had to cancel numerous plans and commitments. I was sick, my insides decided to throw a tantrum, and then, just as I was healing, I had a really bad allergic reaction. My body took one hit after another and it was struggling. Taking a break, resting, staying home, and watching stupid stuff online was the right choice but the fire ants wouldn’t let up.

Am I the only one who feels the ants? This constant drive to show up, perform, be productive, and social. Don’t let up! Not even for a second. Rest is for the weak. Quitting is for losers. Push, push, push harder and harder. Never quit. Never say no. Never take a minute to breathe. Don’t take a minute for yourself because that is giving in to selfishness and that makes you, pathetic.

Anyone else hear those words rattling around in the middle of the night? It’s quiet. Sleep is hiding in some dark nook. It’s just you, the fire ants, and your thoughts. I hear them loud and clear. Sometimes I hear them during the day, in the middle of a large crowd, when I look around and see others just getting on with it. Living life. Getting things done.

I should be like them but I’m too much like me.

I think it’s, in part, culturally ingrained in us. In school, we work all day, learning valuable lessons, and then we’re given a mountain of work to do at home. Rest? Playtime? Self-care? No, keep working hard to become smarter, stronger, faster. 

We grow up, and with every milestone, we’re asked what’s next. Celebrate the accomplishment? Take a minute to appreciate how far we’ve come and how hard we’ve worked? Well, take a bow and then tell me: What’s next? We’re constantly being challenged to go, not just the extra mile, but the extra ten, twenty, a hundred miles. We’re never enough. We’re never complete. We’re never allowed to stop growing for one day because if we do, we fall behind? We won’t measure up? We’ll disappoint…Who?

Oh, and don’t forget about all the people telling us that self-care is important. I agree, it absolutely is! All the way, I’m with you on this one. Self-care is important but when we do take time to care for ourselves, there’s so much guilt coming at us from all directions. We try to justify ourselves or give an adequate explanation, but it’s never enough and we become overwhelmed.

Is it more overwhelming than the guilt from within? I suppose that answer is personal to each of us.

I feel guilty, so I try to make them understand my reasons and then I apologize profusely. Over and over. Long after they say it’s okay. I can’t help myself. It just keeps coming but what if I stopped trying to explain myself?

What if I leave it at the apology? What if I just said no and then said nothing else? If I say, “I’m sorry, I can’t do that right now.” Then leave it at that? Do we really owe anyone an explanation? Can our explanation be a courtesy and nothing more? Validation, forgiveness, understanding are wonderful things but what if we let those go and were okay, saying no?

I needed these last few days of recovery and I probably need a few more, but that’s tomorrows problem. The days I did nothing weren’t wasted. I took care of my needs. I gave my body what it was asking for and what it needed. Taking care of myself without thought of others, while selfish by definition, did me a world of good. I know it makes me a better friend, daughter, sister. It makes me a better writer. It makes me a better version of myself. It helps me become a person I like and, one day, it’ll help me become a person I love.

I think it’s especially important for those of us with chronic illnesses (mental or physical). We expend a lot of energy dealing with things few people will understand and that leaves us with very little strength for other things. Things like: taking a breath, taming our fire ants, or hunting for sleep. Keeping up appearances, looking like a functioning adult, or fitting in takes all the strength we have. Living, simply living, is hard enough, and yes, we have responsibilities on top of that.

On top of a body or mind that betrays us over and over again.

Sometimes I need to be a little selfish so that I can recharge, find balance, and reset. It’s healing. It’s freeing. It gives me the energy to turn it around, reach out, and be there for others. Sometimes being selfish is the kindest thing we can do for ourselves and for the people we love.

We could spend our whole lives apologizing, and I’m sure, most of us do. I do! I must’ve said I’m sorry at least three times today. I’m not sure what I was apologizing for but it’s become a gag reflex. What if I stopped apologizing for not hitting my marks? For not being strong enough today. For needing some time to breathe, still my mind, and slow my heart. Is that even possible? 

What if I start saying thank-you, instead of I’m sorry? Thank you for understanding. Thank you for your patience. Thank you for your kindness. Thank you for asking despite all the times I’ve had to cancel. Thank you for thinking of me. Thank you for your prayers. Thank you for your well wishes and positive energy. Thank you for seeing me.

On Friday, I was kicking myself for not pushing on and writing something. I was feeling guilty. I didn’t want to let you down so, there I was, saying how sorry I was. But you wonderful people were so kind. You understood! You told me to take care of myself. You thought of me. You said a prayer for me and sent good vibes. You were so kind and that meant a lot to me.

So, I’m not going to apologize one more time. Instead, I’m going to say thank you! Thank you for your kindness, your understanding, and taking a minute out of your busy lives to wish me well. The fire ants had no idea what to do with the warm feelings drowning them out. 

Maybe they were sipping cocktails in coconuts, bobbing along on the tide, and having a nap. Wow, that sounds amazing! Lucky fire ants.

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A Quick Note

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood from Pexels

Hey everyone,

I’m sorry, but there won’t be a post today. Two days ago I experienced a pretty gnarly allergic reaction. While the worst symptoms have subsided, I’m still struggling. My chest is clearing up, and I can breathe without pain. That’s a big relief! My eyes, however, are still swollen and my vision is limited. Everything looks snowed over and writing this much is a challenge.

I’m taking medication, it’s working, but it’s making me drowsy and nauseated. 

I’m getting better! I’ll be fine in a few days, but I need to take some time to rest and let my body heal. It’s had two blows in the last ten days. It needs rest. I need to rest. Hopefully, I’ll be back on Monday, and we can get back on track.

I’m sorry! I hate letting people down but it’s also important to take care of myself. See you soon. Hopefully in full focus.

Much love,

Keri-lee

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Black Holes and Hungry Hippos

Photo by Pawel Czerwiński on Unsplash.com

“There’s always failure. And there’s always disappointment. And there’s always loss. But the secret is learning from the loss, and realizing that none of those holes are vacuums.”– Michael J. Fox

This weekend, for the first time in months, I had plans that didn’t involve ordering pizza and scrolling through various streaming services. I was going to leave my very narrow area of safety and venture out into the world. By world, I mean my province, in my country, a few hours away from my home. So, a small, small, world but it might as well have been another planet!

Forgive my repetition, but I’ve been taking this pandemic very seriously and I’ve been doing my civic duty. I stay at home as much as possible. I wear a mask, wash my hands, and use hand sanitizer. I maintain physical distance as much as I can and when I can’t, I hold my breath and stamp my feet.

Just kidding, I don’t hold my breath. That’s why I wear a mask! Sure, it’s uncomfortable and sometimes I feel like I’m being suffocated by a pillow but I’m not. I can breathe. It’s only for a short amount of time. I can be uncomfortable for thirty minutes and if I can’t endure the indignity, well, I stay home. Civic duty and basic human decency. I don’t know why that’s so hard for some people.

Yeah, I’m heading down a rabbit hole full of angry squirrels, and I’m out of nuts. Or is that fucks? Oo, I said a naughty word. My bad. I swear, I’m trying to watch my language but sometimes it gets the better of me.

Do you know what got the better of me this weekend? My body! It hates me. It senses the rise of excitement, the sweet smell of anticipation, and it watches me prepare for a good time. It chuckles, hands over its beer, and then: Ba Bam! Captain Buzzkill, reporting for duty. How may I ruin this very fine day?

If only I could throw my body into the brig and carry on without it. Make it walk the plank? Feed it to the fishes? Arg, you scurvy… I think I’ve spent too much time on those various streaming services.

The pain started Thursday evening, and it kept me up most of the night. It wasn’t that bad. Certainly, nothing that required immediate medical attention, but I kept an eye on it. With a chronic illness, the list of things that could be going on is quite extensive and a few of them are seriously problematic. Since none of my symptoms fit into that category, I decided to wait it out a little longer and see if anything developed.

Let me just get a step ahead of the speeches. I can feel em. The concern, the eye roll, the deep intake of breath. Thank you for caring. Seriously! I appreciate the concern, but I’ve lived with these medical conditions for a very long time. I know my body and my illnesses. I know what symptoms to look out for and I know how they feel. I also know, with the symptoms I had, I’d be told to wait and see. Or, I’d sit in the ER for eight hours, exposed to all sorts of contagious diseases, while a lot of tests were run. Tests that would tell me to go home and rest.

I hate hospitals. I’m not a big fan of the needles and the touching. The smell of disinfectant, stale coffee, and bodily fluids. It’s either so noisey you can’t hear yourself think or it’s so quiet you can hear yourself think. Hopsitls, no thanks! I’m happy waiting to see if more concerning symptoms come up. It’s cool, I think I know what’s wrong. It’ll be okay in a few days.

A few days…Oh, man! That’s a few days after the road trip. I’ve been looking forward to this for weeks. Health authorities gave us the thumbs up with reasonable precautions. We’re taking reasonable precautions! I bought a new mask and enough hand sanitizer to bathe a herd of wild beavers. How many beavers are in a herd? Do beavers travel in herds?

I don’t know! I just found out you can milk a beaver. No, we weren’t planning on giving it a try on this trip. We were, however, going on a physically distant and socially responsible adventure. I need an adventure! I want an adventure. Why can’t I have an adventure? 

(Sob, fist clench, feet stomp, “Grr.”)

Maybe I could still go. Maybe I’d feel better in the morning. Maybe I could suck it up and drive for eight hours while my stomach feels like it’s being ripped apart by some alien fish creature. Maybe I should be smart and not drive into the middle of nowhere while experiencing something that could, potentially, turn in to a medical emergency.

Maybe I can stop writing ridiculously long sentences.

Oh, there are so many maybes and not one of them takes me on an adventure.

It’s one thing for a child to be petulant. It’s expected, and it’s cute in a funny, thank God I can’t have kids, kinda way. When an adult does it? Yeah, not as cute or funny. People stare. They shake their heads. Naughty words are used. A petulant adult is sad, kind of pathetic, and pitiful.

In my defence, I was also feeling really horrible, and my adventure had adventured without me. Can I just have this one moment? I’ll keep it brief, I promise. Thirty seconds of petulance and then I’ll move on. I’ll even find a silver lining if that makes us even?

Yikes, promising a silver lining is kinda risky don’t you think? Oh, I’m painting myself into a corner but let’s get some paint on our paws.

I knew I shouldn’t go, but I wanted too! I had everything ready. My camera batteries were charged, and my lenses were packed. I enjoy photography. It relaxes me and there were going to plenty of photographic opportunities. I wanna take pretty pictures. I wanna eat a picnic in the middle of nowhere. I wanna get in my car, put my foot on the gas, and drive. Just drive. Go out there into my small world and be free of the pandemic bubble for one day. One day! Is that too much to ask for?

No, no, it’s not, and I wanted to go damn it.

And time! Thirty seconds of petulance is over. I appreciate your indulgence.

I did the smart and responsible thing because being and adult sucks. I decided to stay home and situate myself within sprinting distance of a medical facility. You know, just in case my unqualified diagnosis was wrong or my body decided it wanted to be a drama queen. Act up all you like, body of mine, but I will never call you, Your Majesty so get off your throne.

My body can be such a diva sometimes.

Letting my travel companions know that I couldn’t make it was more of a disappointment to me than them. They were very understanding and kind. They agreed that it was a smart choice. After all, who wants to spend eight hours driving a car, when they’re in pain and miserable?

They got it but I was pissadointed. 

Have you heard that word before? It’s when you disappointing and pissed off at the same time. I was angry at my body for acting up just as I was about to taste a few hours of freedom. I’ve been so careful for so long. We all have! We were finally cleared to get out of our bubbles. We could go, with caution and safety, and now my body decides to throw a fit. Seriously?

How about any time during the last, what is it, five months of lockdown? When I couldn’t go outside and enjoy myself. When I couldn’t see my family face to face. When I couldn’t get into my car, put my foot on the gas, and drive. How about then? No, let’s wait until we’ve got one foot out the door. 

So close but so far and the disappointment hurts.

It becomes a vacuum that sucks us into a black hole. A swirling mass that consumes everything in its small corner of the universe. A hungry, hungry, hippo can’t be satiated. What goes in, doesn’t come back out. An emotional black hole is a lot like that except this hippo is ticklish and will spit you back out if you hit the right spot.

I’m so close to being a scientist but I keep missing it by that much.

Making the call to cancel the trip created a momentary black hole for me. It was the right call! If I’d gone, I would’ve been miserable and the pain wouldn’t have let me enjoy myself. But the pissadointment! I felt it deep as I texted my companions. I felt like I was letting them down but if I went it would be worse. Why should they suffer because of me? 

Oh, wow my body isn’t the only one with a diva complex! Just because I couldn’t go, didn’t mean they couldn’t. Just because I wasn’t there, didn’t mean they couldn’t have fun. Nothing was ruined for them. Nothing was ruined for me either, now that I look back on my weekend. 

It wasn’t what I’d planned or what I wanted, but I did find ways to enjoy myself. I cuddled my puppy. Made banana bread. Watched a delightfully ridiculous show on Netflix. Warrior Nun’s, if you’re curious and, yes, it was as silly as it sounds but there’s nothing wrong with silly. Especially when you’re in pain, pissed that your adventure got furloughed, disappointed that life doesn’t always go as planned, and wallowing in an ego trip.

Yes, I was petulant and pissadointed. I pouted and wallowed. I might’ve huffed and stamped my feet. But I also knew that I made the right choice. Even though I knew, or was fairly sure I knew, what was wrong the risk wasn’t worth it. Staying home, watching fighting nun’s, wasn’t all bad and it was smart. It gave me time to heal and get ready for the next adventure because there will be another one. As long as there’s air in my lungs, there will be another adventure.

So, here’s my silver lining take away: Disappointments happen but, they aren’t the end of the world and sometimes they lead to something better. Like banana bread, puppy cuddles, and silly nuns? Sure, and face time with a friend, a nice long nap, and time to heal. It all worked out for the better even though it wasn’t the adventure I’d wanted.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by disappointment? Don’t get sucked into the black hole. Instead, tickle the hippo and see what happens because, you know: Science.

Oh, and I’m starting to feel a lot better thanks to a smart choice and kind friends.

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The Rickety Old Boat Is Sinking!

Photo by Zoltan Tasi on Unsplash.com

I wouldn’t call myself a hoarder. At least, not in the clinical sense or in a way that would get me cast on some “reality” show. When you walk into my place, you won’t find mountains of boxes, old newspapers, or a maze of dead and useless artifacts. You won’t hear distant sounds of gnawing critters, step on the skeletal remains of their ancestors, or endure the cries of newborn vermin. Not here Satan!

Oh, but what about the babies? They need a place to live and grow. Shush you! Not in my humble abode because it’s not that bad!

Stop it! Don’t look at me like that. I’m not delusional or ignoring the glaring reality of my situation. Yes, I’m sure. No, you don’t need to call in a biohazard team to cordon off the area. The building does not need to be evacuated. There’s no reason to stick a big bright biohazard sign on the door. Let me reiterate: IT’S NOT THAT BAD!

Well, not yet anyway and I’m sorry I yelled. That was just rude, but I assure you I’m fine. It’s fine. It’s okay. It’s all right. It’s fine. I promise you it’s…Fine? Do you know what it is? It’s controlled chaos. Yeah, let’s go with that. Controlled chaos. 

Mm, I like the sound of that. It’s eccentric and we all know that eccentric is posher than madness. It adds an air of whimsy and mystique. It tows the line between lunacy and individuality. It’s a person that has a, shall we say, character that’s endearing in a quirky sort of way.

Even though, if we are being truthful, one is just a fancier way of saying the other. A kinder way? Uh, sure why the hell not? And, as someone who tows that very flimsy line behind a rickety old boat, I appreciate the kind gesture but it’s really not necessary. I’ve made friends, all be it reluctantly, with my rickety old boat and the line that binds us together.

Ah, but I digress.

Over the last few months, I’ve come to realize that my rickety old boat has sprung a leak. I really need to do something to reign in my chaos. Not because I’m worried about being overrun by a camera crew or people in bubble suits storming my barricades. Sure, those images aren’t pleasant, I’ll give you that, but what’s bothering me is: me. 

I can’t look at it anymore. It’s gnawing at me. It’s a termite that has burrowed its way into my brain. It’s tickling the connective space between my left and right hemispheres. My eye is twitching, and I think I’m losing control of very random parts of my body.

(Please not the bowels. Please not the bowels. I’m crossing my fingers that it’s not the bowels.)

I thought my hand tremor was annoying but this is getting ridiculous! That damn termite is causing me a lot of problems. If I don’t do something about it, it will sink the both of us. Listen you, little bastard, you better hope the tide is low because I can’t swim. If I drown? So do you. You damn insect!

Ignore the fact that a grown woman can’t swim and focus on what really matters. The controlled chaos has slowly evolved into a basic, average, run of the mill, ordinary chaos. I’m know longer eccentric! It has become a very real problem that will, quite rapidly, become a full-blown situation.

Nobody wants to deal with a full-blown situation! I don’t want to deal with a full-blown anything and this mess, oh boy. I just can’t take it anymore. Something has to be done, but it’s so overwhelming. Where do I start? There’s so much to do! Do I just pick a spot? Pick something up and hope nothing jumps out and eats my face? That can’t happen. Can it?

Well, now I’m imagining all forms of menacing, facing eating, creepers and I’m tempted to back out of the room very slowly. What’s that sound? Oh, it’s a bird outside. It’s nothing. I’m fine. It’s okay. Reeling in my imagination. I mean, what are the odds a chimera is living in my laundry pile? It’s a mythical creature so, like, one in one thousand?

I’ve seen clips from those shows, the ones that capitalize on someone’s mental condition, and I’ve thought, “How do you let it get that bad?” Yeah, that makes me a judgemental ass because, apparently, channel surfing mutes my empathy. Instead of seeing the person, I saw the mess and, for some idiotic reason, I equated the value

The person’s value wasn’t in the mess they lived in, but it was a reflection of their state of mind. For the record, I’m not a psychologist, so I don’t know if this is scientifically accurate but if they’re like me then, maybe? I’m just pretending I’m a fictional private eye who once lived in London, on a street named Baker.

Deduced from logic, dear Watson! Or my unique brand of it. Uh, five minutes ago there may or may not be a mythical creature living in my laundry pile. I think my state of mind is very clear. Please don’t call the padded room people. I’m exaggerating for literary effect.

What isn’t an exaggeration is the state of my home and how it very accurately reflects my state of mind. Cluttered. Visually noisy. A lack of care given to even the most basic of necessities. Things tossed around or left abandoned. I’ll get to it later but later comes, and it’s still there. Now it’s been there so long, it hardly seems worth the effort. Maybe it likes sitting there, precariously balanced on a pile of forgotten and abandoned toys. Discarded. Unloved. Uncared for in thought, but maybe not in reality.

Everything about my life reflects how I’ve been feeling these last few years. It feels like I’ve been floating along on a tired, rickety, old boat. Looking for something but, damn it, I forgot the compass and, no, I don’t have a map. I don’t know what I’m looking for, so I bob along with the current. Hoping, half-heartedly, that the wind will pick up and give me a sense of purpose.

It should come as no surprise that this strategy hasn’t worked out for me. I haven’t found direction or purpose. Floating along, hoping against all hope, hasn’t brought me to my destination. It has brought about a sense of chaos that I keep on a tight, strained, rope. Sure, at the moment, it’s controlled, but the line can only take so much tension. How long until it snaps? How long can I keep the chaos tied down?

Slowly, I’ve been working on decreasing the chaos on the outside. Looking at the mess, as one giant entity, was too overwhelming so I narrowed my vision. Taking one day of the week to work on one spot for one hour. One-One-One. It’s so much easier and I’ve started to see some progress. It’s looking like a home again.

When I walk in my front door, I smile a little more because I’m not assaulted by the chaos. There’s one less physical reminder of my mental state which means, for me, I’m able to take some breaks from the madness within. I’m not being haunted by it. The glaring state of disarray isn’t stalking me. It’s calmer which is easing the tension on that old rope.

It hasn’t fixed the rickety boat, but it’s patched a few holes. I think I might be able to stay afloat a little while longer. In the meantime, it’s bought me a grace period to find a map and maybe a compass. Do I know how to use either of those things? Do they come with Siri? Can I ask a computer to do the work for me? 

Ah, so we’re working with an analog system, eh. Brilliant. Fantastic. Wonderful. Groovy. Did I just thumb through a thesaurus? Maybe.

So, I’m going to have to go old school. A couple of paddles, an old sextant, and a clear starry night. That’s all I get? Did I mention that I can’t swim, and the boat is getting old? Because uh, it might sink and then I’m metaphorically screwed. I wanted to write metaphorically and literally, but that seemed inappropriate and I think the paddles have splinters.

What was I saying? And what’s a sextant? Oh, thanks Google. Look at that, I typed a word that actually turned out to be a thing. Am I smarter than google? No, just smarter than I realize because the chaos inside my brain can be very distracting. It overruns my wise mind and spills over into other aspects of my life.

The outside matches the inside.

As hard as I try to patch over the holes, it still finds a crack and drips out. If it was a burst pipe, I’d notice and try to stop it. A drip, though? That’s some master level spycraft, right there. It slowly builds up until one day I find myself standing knee-deep in a substance I don’t want to identify. It’s a little sticky and oozey. Ew. I think it’s moving. What do I do?

It’s overwhelming and paralyzing. I want to ignore it, but it’s too late. I’ve seen it. It’s glaringly obvious and now it’s become a choice. Do I live with it or do I change it? Yeah, I gave you my answer already and totally forgot to include a spoiler alert. My bad.

I’m decluttering my outside, and it’s restoring some sense of calm on the inside. No, it’s not a cure-all, and there’s still a lot of work to do on the barrel full of monkeys rocking my rickety boat. Nothing will ever be a quick fix when it comes to my mental health. However, living in external chaos has only stoked the internal chaos. 

The outside may reflect the inside but the two seem to feed off each other. By minimizing one, it’s minimizing the other. Not taking it away. Not curing it. I’m not selling some miracle here. It’s just helping. That’s it. Helping.

At least, it’s helping me feel a little less seasick so I’m taking the win.

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Chasing The Happy Hit

Photo by: Denise Jones on Unsplash.com

“Be happy for this moment. This moment is your life.” – Omar Khayyam

So, I did something this weekend that I haven’t done in months. The last time I did it was way back in February. I think it was the last weekend in February? That’s, what, five months of not doing it? I can’t tell you how happy it made me. Dance, giggle like a little girl, and I might’ve squealed at one point because I needed to do it.

I love the word ‘It’ because, when used correctly, it makes everything sound so naughty. The simplest, purest, thing in the world suddenly sounds forbidden, scandalous, and torrid. It triggers the imagination and, if you’re anything like me, once that little bugger gets going there’s no stopping it. It’s a raging bull inside a dollar store. 

It’s cheap, easy, and made from plastic but if it gives you a second to pause, giggle, shake your head, and feel a shot of dopamine? IT’s a good thing.

What did I do this weekend that’s long overdue and brings so much happiness? I went for a hike. Is that what you were thinking? “It” equals hiking? No, that’s not a euphemism so this might be a bit of a letdown. Sorry to disappoint, but if you think this blog will ever be titillating then your disappointment will only grow deeper. 

Shake it off my friend and go for a hike! That’s what I did and I feel great. Refreshed. Rejuvenated. My mind is clear, and it’s running a million miles an hour. It’s exhilarating! If only my fingers could type as fast as my mind is thinking. There are so many spelling mistakes but I will fix them all. I hope. Probably. Might miss one or two but you’ll be okay with that. Right? Great. Damn decent of you!

Where was I? Doing it. Going hiking…Right! I’ve been a good little blogger and I’ve been following all of the guidelines for this pandemic. It’s my civic and social duty! And I’m deathly afraid of getting the virus, which, given my proclivity for ailments, isn’t out of the realm of possibility. Not just because it’s highly contagious, that’s a part of it, but I tend to catch the viruses. Like, all of the virus. I’m just waiting for the day when a doctor looks at me and screams, “The plague! The plague!”

Again, not out of the realm of possibility. Though I hope they handle it a lot better than that. Be a little more sensitive.

If you’re new, welcome to the zoo my new friend, I have chronic renal failure. Kidney disease. I’ve written more about it in the past, feel free to check out those posts, but for today I’ll skip to the juicy bits. After my kidneys failed, I had to have a kidney transplant which I did. Three of them. Yay!

The upside of a transplant: Life! The down sound: Immunosuppressants. 

Medication lowers my immune system because, if it was left as is, it would attack the new kidney. The transplanted kidney is, after all, a foreign body. The immune system is there to keep the body safe from anything that’s not supposed to be there. It can’t tell the difference between a splinter in the big toe or a life-saving organ transplant so it attacks everything. The only way to keep the transplant alive and functioning is to render the immune system useless.

Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration. It’s not completely useless. It feels like it is because I catch every bacterial or viral infection known, or unknown, to humankind. Good thing we’re not currently experiencing a deadly global pandemic. That would be a nightmare!

Silence. Crickets. What? Oh right. Damn it!

Maybe it goes without saying, but I’ve been taking all of the recommendations very seriously. Washing my hands every five minutes. Wearing a mask when I go outside. Not going out unless I absolutely have too. Limiting time and exposure to other people. 

You know the drill by now, and I’m sure you’re decent enough to do your part. Which is more than I can say for some people. Those precious few who use words like “sheeple” and “scam-demic.” I have a few words for these people but I will refrain because, for this moment, I am actually feeling…Oh, what’s the word?

Right! I’m feeling happy. Oo, just typing the word on the page makes my fingertips tingle. How odd? I don’t feel the usual suffocating weight of depression sitting on my chest. I think I might even, oh dear…Yeah, I might giggle and I never giggle unless I’m very intoxicated.

This is a peculiar feeling and it’s kinda freaking me out. What do I do? What do I do? I don’t know what to do with this light, tingly, sensation known as happiness!

Inhale through the nose. One, two, three, four. Exhale through the mouth. One, two, three, four. Whew, I’m good now.

I’ve been taking this whole pandemic situation very seriously and I’ve avoided a lot of things, and places, that make me happy. I haven’t gone to the movies or out to dinner. I haven’t even gone to the grocery store in about four months. Thankfully, I have people who can do that for me so I don’t have to risk it.

I stopped going to my favourite trails because hiking requires exertion, and that means heavy breathing. Breathing releases particles and those little bastards could contain a deadly virus. Why risk it? Even if it is safer than a grocery store. Is it worth it? No, too many people have taken the risk and paid a very heavy price for it.

I’m not going to risk it.

But now, here in western Canada, our viral situation seems to be under control and we’re opening up again. We’re at level three, the highest we can go until there’s a vaccine, and so far our numbers are holding steady. There are still new cases every day but the number of active cases is going down. It’s a good sign! It’s not over, but we’ve done enough to flatten the curve and lower the risk.

So, from this immunocompromised person, thank you British Columbia, Canada, for all your hard work and for doing the right thing. I’m so thankful for all of you. Look how we’ve come together! We’ve looked after each other. We’ve put our communities before our own comfort. We’ve done it, we’re still doing it, and the rewards are slowly being felt. 

It’s amazing what we can do if we come together, isn’t it? And there I go! Feeling happy again. Arg, it’s weird.

Thanks to the diligent efforts of our health experts, and our communities, we’re slowly getting into our new normal. I’ve watched from the sidelines. Choosing caution over reckless optimism. You know, if this is some sort of trick played by…aliens? No! That’s just silly but I’m in a silly mood.

Despite the reopening, I’ve been reluctant to join in. I’m still scared of getting this virus. I don’t want to get sick, it sounds awful, so I’ve held back but this weekend I took one small step out into the world.

The park isn’t far from me and I went early. There were plenty of cars in the parking lot and I almost turned away but I grabbed my mask, my walking stick, and my dog. I set out on the trail, and it was magnificent. I walked through the forest until I came to the rocky wetlands. My legs were stiff and sore. They aren’t used to the terrain but they’ll get there. I took my time. I took in the scenery. I breathed in deep, and all the stress of the last few months just melted away.

Yes, I ran into a few people but I pulled up my mask and they did their best to keep a respectful distance. No-fuss. Respect other people’s boundaries. Enjoy the scenery. Maybe it’s the scenery that puts people into a good mood? There’s something about nature that makes everything feel like it’s going to be okay. No matter what’s going on, the trees still grow and the birds still fly. The wind rustles the leaves. Ducks land on the calm water.

In that moment, it feels like everything is going to be okay. Even after everything we’ve been through? Yeah, it feels like it’ll work out. And there I go! Being optimistic. What’s wrong with me? So out of character.

Did you have a list of things you thought you’d miss? At the beginning of all of this, when we were told to shelter in place, did you think of all the things that make you happy? The things you couldn’t do. The places you couldn’t go to. Has it held up?

I had a list of things that, I thought, made me happy but I was wrong. Sure, I missed them, but not nearly as much as the things I took for granted. Those things weren’t even on my list. I didn’t even think to put them on my list. I didn’t know how happy they made me until I couldn’t have them anymore.

Riding in the elevator with a neighbour and standing in the lobby of our building, talking for twenty minutes. I’m not even a people person! I’m a socially awkward introvert with moderate social anxiety. I thought, when this all started, that this was my moment. I’ve been training for this my whole life. No contact with other people? Hell ya! Bring it. But I missed seeing my neighbours. Even the racist woman who went on about “those people” and I called her an outbreak monkey.

My mouth, honestly, I have no control over it sometimes. She won’t let me pat her dog anymore. Oh well, I have my own puppy to pat so take that racist elevator lady.

Every weekend, before this started, I’d open my hiking app, pick a park, and go check it out. I didn’t know it made me so happy. I didn’t know how much I needed that time out in the woods or walking through marshy, rocky, wetlands. I didn’t know that it filled me up with energy and joy.

You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone? Even happiness?

Happiness, it’s something we spend our lives searching for but when we find it, we take it for granted. I take it for granted. I feel it. I’m grateful for it. My gratitude lasts a solid thirty minutes and then it’s off to chase the next hit of happy. A drug of sorts?

Sitting in the moment and feeling it. Letting it permeate deep into my mushy places. Experiencing it fully instead of looking for another hit. That’s rare for me but this weekend I stood by the water’s edge and felt it. I sat in it. Stewed in it. Let the flavours mix because my diet has been pretty bland lately. A steady stream of stress and anxiety isn’t good for anyone.

For me, it’s easier to stay in those dark moments, the stress and anxiety, than stay in the happier ones. I stay in the dark moments and I rush through the happy ones. I chase another happy. I need another hit. Maybe if I stayed in one moment a little longer, I wouldn’t need to keep running?

Staying in that moment, standing by the water’s edge, has carried over. Two days later, I’m still feeling calm and content. I walked for an hour but that hour made a world of difference. I feel stronger. I feel more level. I feel more present in this moment and I’m not rushing for the next. At least, not yet.

It’s a work in progress. I’m a work in progress. But this weekend I did it and I’m feeling happier than I have felt in a long time.

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Panic, Patriotism, and Purple Penguins

Photo by Hermes Rivera on unsplash.com

I woke up this morning in a panic. One minute I was dead to the world. The next minute I bolted out of bed as if my sheets were molten lava. I stood there muttering, “Oh crap,” over and over again. My eyes blinking wildly. Focus. Focus. Is that the time? Oh crap!

I ran into the living rooming and looked around wildly. My dog looked up at me, cocked his head to the side, and yawned. By the look on his face, I assume he was thinking, “What the hell’s gotten into you?”

Excellent question my furry friend!

I picked up my phone and checked the time again, just to be sure there wasn’t a glitch in the matrix, but it all lined up. Except for the extra minute of panic. Wow, I’d been in a stone-cold panic for one whole minute and I still didn’t know why. Okay, I slept in and I never do that. Not even on a holiday. 

A holiday? Today’s a national holiday. Wait, hold up, take a deep breath. Today’s a holiday. Oh, okay that changes a few things. I can unclench all of my orifices. Bend over, hands on my knees, and exhale slowly because today is a holiday.

I’m writing this on July 1, 2020, which means today is Canada Day. Happy Birthday Canada! My home and adopted land. You are a beauty, that’s for sure, and I’m so thankful for everything you’ve given me. Safety, security, a health care system that’s kept me alive while not sending me into bankruptcy. 

Was that a humble brag? No, just overwhelming gratitude for the country I call home. 

We immigrated to Canada when I was five. My parents wanted us to grow up in a safer country than the one we were born in. No shade to that country. Lovely place. Beautiful scenery. Delicious food. A health and safety record that leaves a lot to be desired.

I’ve said it before, but it’s amazing how much fear you can live in, and not know how afraid you are until it’s gone. I didn’t know I was so scared. I didn’t know that it wasn’t “normal” to live behind bars or hide every time I heard a loud bang. I didn’t know that doing home invasion, bomb evacuation, and active shooter drills weren’t the norm for everyone.

Coming to Canada opened my eyes to a different lifestyle that felt alien. Actually, when I first heard the name Canada, I thought my parents were taking us to a different planet. What is this Canada you speak of? I’ve never heard of it, therefore it must not be real. Is it a trick? Are you sure it exists? What if it isn’t real and when we get there, nothing’s there? Just a barren pink landscape full of purple penguins with three yellow feathers sprout from the top of its head.

What can I say? A child’s world is very small but their imagination is very large. Or, the hypnotic power of Dr. Seuss was a little too strong.

We were welcomed into this frozen tundra with warmth, compassion, and generosity. It was, we’d come to learn, the stereotypical Canadian way. Kind to a fault. Open doors and open hearts. It’s not something that’s done for show. It’s a way of life.

For me, when I look at my country now, I see a diverse society with an ingrained social conscience. The self, the individual, is defined as much by their community as their personal attributes. That means that we’re all in this together, and we strive to help the weakest of us become strong again. We work together to protect the vulnerable even if that means we sacrifice some of our strength because our greatest strength is unity.

To me, Canada means acceptance, kindness, safety but I’m not foolish enough to think that this is true for everyone. I wish it was! I wish you could experience Canada like I do but, sadly, the stereotype doesn’t encompass all. We’re imperfect. We have a system that’s broken, and those fractures damage the very thing that makes us so amazing.

We’re a young country with a long history that’s not the storybook we like to pretend that it is. We have a lot of growing up to do. We’re still stuck in our old ways of systemic racism and colonial idealism. We’re trying to break down those walls and turn it into a lush field with room for everyone. It’s hard work, but the work is being down.

Three steps forward and two steps back? Baby steps, that’s the best description, because, if you’ve ever watched a baby walk, you know they fall down a lot. That’s us, I think, moving forward with clumsy, jerking, movements that trip us up. Sitting still is easier. Crawling is more comfortable. Taking a nap sounds nice but up we get. Reluctantly and with plenty of fist-clenching tears. Sometimes with full-blown temper tantrums.

There are a lot of good people that are putting in the work to help us grow. Parenting us, if you will. Social activists. Leaders from diverse communities. Kind people with hearts of courage and boundless empathy. People from all walks of life and ethnic backgrounds are putting in the time, the tears, and the sweat because being Canadian means, to me, not settling for good enough. It’s not enough for the greater good to succeed. No, we want everyone to succeed. This isn’t simply in idealism but it’s action and deeds that go beyond an anthem or a flag.

When we stand for our national anthem we sing, “In true patriots love…” Patriotism isn’t about that flag waving high in the sky or a song we sing before a hockey game. True patriotism isn’t seeing the best and ignoring the worst. Yes, patriotism is loving this country for what it is but, contrary to all the songs, love isn’t blind. 

Loving this country doesn’t mean stagnation but growth. We love her so much that we want her to become greater than anything we can imagine. It’s seeing the flaws, the broken pieces, and doing everything in our power to fix what’s been shattered. It’s acknowledging our dark history and doing everything we can to heal the very deep wounds.

I love my country so much that when the wounds are exposed my heart breaks. I can’t even begin to understand the depth of the pain some of you have experienced. As I said, my experience as a Canadian has been idyllic. I’m spoilt rotten. Hearing your stories though? Seeing your reality on a tv screen? It’s a tale of two countries within one border.

How many indigenous people have lost their lives to a system that, we’re told, was put in place to “help”? A system that hurt so many of you and a system that’s continues to play our history on a loop. There are people living without clean water in a country that has the ability to send a person to space. We can put someone on a space station but we can’t deliver adequate medical care to remote communities within our own borders. 

It’s shocking, heartbreaking, and I’m so sorry for my own ignorance. We’re better than this! I know we are because you welcomed me, this stranger from a distant land, with open arms and a heart of gold. You gave so freely of yourselves and I’m so grateful. If you can do that for me, for my family, then surely we can take care of the people who’s land we stand on. The land we stole. 

That’s right, I said it. But, saying it is still controversial which says a lot about where we are in our development. It says a lot about how much work still needs to be done.

When I woke up this morning, I was in a panic because I thought today was tomorrow. In my half-asleep haze, I thought I’d messed everything up. I thought I was letting people down. I thought I’d missed some important deadlines. Then I woke up and now…

I’m trying to write a tribute to the country I love and it’s morphing into something I’m afraid to post. Pointing out our flaws, our failures, is akin to treason. Especially on a day we celebrate her birth. It just not done but birth, of a person or a nation, is not without suffering. How can we celebrate a birth without acknowledging the labour? The pain, the tears, the blood that’s been spilled. Some of that blood has been spilled for our freedom. Some has been spilled for our pleasure.

Acknowledging one doesn’t negate the other. It’s is not contrary to love our country but want it to change. Two things, no matter how opposing they may seem, can be true and wrapping our brains around that is enough to trigger a little bit of panic. It feels unnatural. It feels like an assault. It feels too big so we fight it or pretend it doesn’t exist. 

Not here. Not in Canada. We’re too nice for that sort of thing. We turn our eyes to our flag, place a hand over our hearts, and sing as loud as we can. We look away. We drown out the cries. We call anyone who objects a traitor and tell them to go back where they came from.

Don’t get me wrong, our flag and anthem have their place as symbols of noble idealism: Unity, community, human rights, peace, freedom, and the list goes on. They do represent these ideals on a global, and personal, stage. They have meaning and I would never discount or dismiss their significance.

I wear my flag with pride because I’ve lived under another flag that, for me, holds reminders of fear and pain. I love the flag that flies overhead. It saved my life. It saved my family. It’s given me so much and asked for so little in return.

When I travel, I proudly stitch the maple leaf onto my backpack because I am proud to be Canadian. I’m often treated with a great deal of respect because of the flag on my bag. It’s my shield that protects me from harm, but it’s also a sign of kindness. That’s our reputation. We’re kind. Sure, some make a joke out of it and our politeness is a little extra, but we can take a joke so keep em coming.

Back home, however, we fail to protect our own and we don’t treat them with the kindness that we’re famous for. We perpetuate tired old stereotypes and turn away from people who are asking for nothing more than basic human decency. We do this while hearing the cries from other lands and we rush to help them, as we should, but what about our own?

Can’t we help our own as well?

You might read these words and hear treason in my voice, but please hear the love instead. I love my country with all of my heart but that love hasn’t stolen my sight. On the contrary, love has opened my eyes wide, and I see so many of you experiencing a vastly different Canada to the one I know. I see you struggling. I hear you asking for decency, kindness, and respect.

The same decency, kindness, and respect that I was unreservedly given when my feet landed on Canadian soil. It’s not too much to ask. It’s not the world. It’s the most Canadian thing we can do! We can be kind.

Maybe we can even get people clean water, adequate medical care, and there are a lot of women still missing on the Highway of Tears. You know, while we’re being kind and all.

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Shut up! I love you.

Photo by Gratisography from Pexels

“We must find time to stop and thank the people who make a difference in our lives.” ― John F. Kennedy

Yesterday marked the thirteenth anniversary of my kidney transplant. Thirteen years. I’m actually shocked. It’s hard to believe so much time has passed. I know it’s a cliché, but where did the time go? It feels like it just happened a couple of months ago but, at the same time, it feels like an eternity has gone by. How is that possible? 

Is time a construct of our global overlords or is it just messing with me?

The latter. It’s definitely the latter. Government what-now? It’s Monday and I have horrible cramps. (I know: TMI)

Thirteen years ago, yesterday, I was sitting in pre-op with my brother. The doctors and nurses had just done their final checks. The IV was put into his arm, and we were wearing matching blue gowns. The whole family was there, but we had this moment to ourselves. It was early, and it was surprisingly quiet for a hospital.

Or the ringing in my ears blocked out all the noise.

I was so afraid. My heart was racing. My palms were sweaty. Mom’s spaghetti…Wait, no sorry that’s not my story. Confusing myself with a white male rapper again. Typical.

I’ve had hundreds of surgeries, most of them pretty major operations, and I know the drill. One more scalpel cut, one more line of stitches, one more scar? No big deal! It’s a part of the game. A game I’ve been playing my whole life but my brother had never been through anything like this before.

Having a kidney removed isn’t the equivalent of an appendectomy. You can live without an appendix. You can live with one kidney, an heir and a spare, but a kidney is still a major organ. Having it removed is major surgery. Donating a part of your body is no small feat. It’s a monumental undertaking! An incredible thing to do, absolutely, but there are a lot of risks.

Risks my big brother was about to take to save my life and, that’s as heavy as it sounds.

I was so scared for him and if anything happened… I can’t finish that thought.

We had a few minutes alone and I asked him to back out. There are protocols for these things. If a donor wants to back out, but save face then they’ve got it covered. They can say the bloodwork is off and they need to do more testing. They can say that I had an infection, and we can’t go forward with the surgery until it’s cleared up. There are a dozen excuses. All we had to do was pick one. 

Please pick one. For the love of God, pick one and we can call this off. 

My brother, bless him, shook his head, and said, “Don’t be stupid. We’re doing this. You’re getting my kidney. You’re going to get better. That’s it. We’re done talking about it.”

The surgical team came and took him in first. I’d go into the operating room next to him, about forty-five minutes later. I sat on my gurney and waited. My eyes moved from the clock on the wall to the door down the hall. I nearly chewed off all of my fingernails. Time moved so slowly, and every time the hand on the clock ticked, I felt a sharp stab in my chest.

My brother, brave and selfless, was in an operating room having his kidney removed. All I wanted to know, all I cared about, were two words: He’s Okay. I needed to hear that he was all right before I went in. Just tell me he’s okay. Come and tell me he’s okay. I looked at the clock and back at the door. Come on, tell me he’s okay.

The nurse came to get me and she gave me the thumbs up. “Kidney looks great,” she said, but I didn’t care about that. “And your brother is doing just fine.”

There it is! He’s okay. Now, we can go and get my part of this show started.

We walked through the doors at the end of the hall, and down a long corridor. There were a lot doors leading to other operating rooms. Carts filled with gear. The air smelt like disinfectant and stale anesthetic. If you’ve never smelt anesthesia, it’s a bittersweet smell. I’m trying to find something comparable but it’s very unique. It’s kind of sweet like bubblegum but bitter, sour, like bleach mixed with lemon juice.

That’s an awful description but if you’ve smelt it, then you know. If you haven’t, well that’s brilliant, I hope you never need to fill your nostrils with that putrid odor.

We reached my door, and I looked back at the operating room next to mine. “He’s fine. He’ll be out soon,” the nurse said as she gently guided me into my room. 

Pro-tip, if you find yourself in an operating room: Don’t look around. The surgical tools look like medieval torture devices, and knowing they will be used to cut into your body is unsettling. The nurses count everything out, gotta make sure nothing gets left inside of you, and the process is a bit grim. From a patient standpoint, it’s grim. Don’t look. Focus on the bed, the ceiling, the kind nurse telling incredibly inappropriate jokes. Laugh at the jokes, focus on the ceiling, and let the anesthetic pull you out of your body.

I love anesthetic. Is that weird? My body gets heavy but my mind becomes light as air. There’s this moment of fear when mind and body disengage but then…I’m flying up, up, up into a clear blue sky. Do a few acrobatics, test out those wings, before the darkness pulls you down into a deep sleep. It’s a very strange moment that’s also, just little bit, fun.

Thirteen years ago I woke up in the intensive care unit, intubated (a machine breathing for me), and I heard the two phrases I need to hear: The transplant worked and your brother’s doing just fine. The kidney was a perfect match and my body welcomed it, with the help of anti-rejection medications, without a fight. It would take over a year to fully recover, which is normal, but today my brother and I are doing all right.

Without my brother’s gift, I wouldn’t be alive. I had six months left. If my luck held out which, let me be honest, I don’t hold much stock in the luck game. Six months to live, but thirteen years later I’m still here because of my amazing, sweet, brilliant brother.

There’s no way to thank someone for that kind of gift. There are no words, no deeds, or gifts that adequately convey the depth of my gratitude. Believe me, I’ve tried and I’ve searched. There’s nothing. I don’t know what to say and every time I try, my brother shrugs it off and says, “Shut up, you’re my sister.”

The only explanation needed. 

Is it, though? Are there moments, gifts, that don’t require explanation or expressed gratitude? After all, selfless acts aren’t done for applause or recognition. They’re done because of love. Unfiltered, untainted, uncomplicated love. They’re motived by the most innocent of desires. They act out of a genuine concern for someone else. It’s a desperate need to act that’s not based on greed, but of a purity that we seldom see anymore. 

An action so rare it borders on the miraculous.

How do you thank someone for being the miracle you prayed for? I’ve never found a way, and I’ve had thirteen years to look for one. “Shut up, you’re my sister.” I love you. I need you. You’re a valuable part of my life. A necessary part of my life. Food, water, air, you. Shut up, I love you.

If you’re lucky enough to have someone say that to you, and mean it with their whole being; hold on to them as tight as you can. It’s overwhelming. Emotionally and spiritually, it feels like too much electricity is passing through your circuits. You feel like you’re going to blow a breaker. Maybe you will, but hold onto them because the lights will come back on. When they come back on?

How do you say thank-you? Do you even need to say it or is this a moment of bonding, on a spiritual level, that surpasses expressed gratitude? A connection so deep, so selfless, that it makes words superfluous. A knowing. An understanding. Two entities united as one in this moment of kindness. No words needed. No deeds of recompense. 

All that’s needed, all that’s exchanged, is a knowing nod, a wink, or a hug shared by two people who’ve gone through a battle and survived. Survived through selflessness. That’s all that’s needed because, again, “Shut up, I love you.”

That’s not to say that I haven’t taken time to say thank-you. At least once I year, on the anniversary of the transplant, I say the words because it’s the least I can do. Needed? Not by my brother, but I need to say it. I need to take a minute to remember that moment, and poorly express emotions that are beyond words. I need to do that because it’s important to take a second to acknowledge the people who’ve impacted my life in positive ways. For them, absolutely, but also for my wellbeing.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I forget how loved and needed I am. I get caught up in the pain of the past, and I struggle to find hope in the future. There are days where I’m dark and twisty to the point of self-destruction. Taking time to mark these anniversaries, and express my gratitude does me a world of good. It’s as if I’d blown my breaker and now I’m flipping it back into place. Let there be light?

Six words can make a world of difference: Thank you. I love you too.

They might not need to hear it, but I need to say it. Whether it’s superfluous or not, these words have to come out of my mouth so I know how loved I am. I need them to know how loved and needed they are. If I can forget, then maybe they’ve forgotten too. I say the words out loud because it means something, on that spiritual level, and, yes, it feels inadequate but it’s not the words that matter. It’s the person saying the words, the heart beyond each syllable, that counts for so much more.

Thirteen years is a long time, and it’s time I almost lost. This isn’t hyperbole, without my brother, I would be dead. Believe me, I know that anything I can say will sound hollow, but please know that my heart is so full it hurts. A good hurt. A volcanic eruption, hot lava, of love and gratitude. I can’t express it well enough, but I can’t contain it either.

So to my brother, one of the most honourable men I will ever know: Thank-you! I love you too.

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A Genuine Menace

Photo by: Hans Eiskonen on Unsplash.com

I should’ve just gone back to bed. I should’ve called it a day. Hidden somewhere safe. Zipped myself up in a bubble suit, and rolled into a padded broom closet. I know it’s usually a room but, in a pinch, the minimalistic solution will work just fine.

Mm, yeah let’s go with a closet with extra cushioning and a lock. You know, for added security and peace of mind. Oh, there should be a slit in the door. No, not for oxygen, though it’s a good idea and I’m glad you thought of it. I almost forgot that I needed to breathe. See! I’m a hazard to myself all ready.

Right, so a slit in the door for breathable air, and snacks. Maybe a hose? Snacks make me thirsty, and I should stay hydrated. Air. Food. Hose?

What’s the hose attached to? Uh, I don’t really have a preference but please be kind. I know quite a few smart asses who’d… Well, you know, ew. Hook the hose up to something suitable for human consumption and make it yummy. Um, maybe something that goes well with snacks?

So let’s see, we’ve got a bubble suit and a padded closet. Snacks and yummy drinks. What else? Entertainment! Right, boredom leads to fidgeting, and fidgeting always makes these situations worse. Fidgeting gets me into a lot of trouble so let’s avoid any further fidgets.

Have you ever said a word so much that it stops sounding like a word? Fidget. Fidget. Fidget. It sounds like I’m speaking Latin. Who speaks Latin nowadays? On no! I sat still for too long. My contemplations are causing an itch. An itch to, you guessed it, fidget and this is when things go horribly wrong.

Am I the only one who’s had a day where everything goes wrong? I’m not talking about a bad, no good, horrible day. Bad days are a dime a dozen, especially this year, and they’re something to endure with a glimmer of hope that better days are on the horizon. Bad days happen, but the day I’m talking about isn’t one of those days, per-se.

Oo, now I am speaking Latin. Fancy.

No, my inner werewolf wasn’t trying to make a bid for freedom. I didn’t get drunk on beaver milk. I’m fine, at the moment, but I think I experienced a bit of a glitch. A hiccup in my programming. I’m not sure if it was a coding issue or if some wires got crossed while I slept. Either way, I had a day where I couldn’t function according to factory specifications.

I couldn’t coordinate my limbs. My mind and my body weren’t on speaking terms. I was a little more absent-minded, clumsy, and accident-prone than usual. Oh, and I’m a clumsy one, Mr. Grinch. 

On a normal, average, no-nonsense day I accidentally injure myself once, maybe twice, during the eighteen hours I’m awake. I’m working purely on the bruise count here. I’m so clumsy I barely notice the slips, bumps, and scratches. I wake up, check for new bruises, and try to figure out where they came from. What can I say? It’s a hobby. 

The day I’m talking about was quite exceptional and I don’t mean that in a fantastical way. I woke up in the morning and I had a feeling. It was an alarm bell in my gut. Screaming at me. Telling me to stay in bed. Don’t risk it! It’s not worth it. Stay where you are for the foreseeable future.

Did I listen? Sigh.

To be fair, every morning I open my eyes and think, “This again? No, I’m staying in bed. I’m not going to do it. I’m not going to be a person today.”

If I stayed in bed every time I had that thought then my body would become one with my bed. Melded together for eternity. A new form of life. A bed-person? No, there’s gotta be a better name for it. Why can’t I think of a better name? Think. Think. Think.

Nope, nothing, and I refuse to become a mattress. I just can’t do it. It’s so…Off-topic.

The urge to stay in bed all day is always there, and every day I ignore it. I peel myself up, swing my legs over the side, and mutter a lot of incoherent words that, I assume, contain a lot of profanity. That day, the day that will go down in infamy, was no exception but it really should’ve been the one time I caved. Why wasn’t it the one time I caved? Arg!

I got out of bed without looking, because my eyes were too busy talking to the manager. It’s cruel, that’s what it is, expecting eyes to focus and pupils to dilate. Not at this time of the day! It’s inhumane. The sun’s barely up and you expect us to see clearly. Ha! That’s right, my eyes ha’d at me. My own eyes ha’d. Well, aren’t we’re off to a great start?

My eyes laughed, and I tripped over my damn cat who, coincidentally, decided to dart from under the bed at that exact moment. No, she’s wasn’t trying to kill me. Nope. Uh uh. Then again, sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and she’s staring at me. Just staring and licking her lips. For a second, I wonder if she’s thinking about eating my face. Then she purrs and I know, with absolute certainty, that she’s contemplating my demise.

The cat darted, I tripped, and I landed face first in a pile of dirty laundry. I really should get on that or I’m going to have to air dry my entire body. What will the neighbours think? Screw the neighbours! This was my chance. The warning shot. I could’ve listened. I should’ve listened. Alas, with a dramatic sigh, I called my cat an asshole and got to my feet.

The bed was behind me, and the bedroom door was in front. A choice was made, and it was a choice I’d come to regret. Fist to the heavens, head thrown back, and with all my might I yell, “Why?” Why didn’t I go back to bed?

Yeah, I’m being very dramatic. Overly dramatic? Quite possibly but it adds flare. I love a little flare. 

By 12:36 pm, I’d slipped in the shower twice, slipped on the bathroom floor three times, and almost fell over towel drying my hair. I’d opened my front door a fraction of a crack before realizing I didn’t have any pants on. Then, you guessed it, I nearly fell over putting my pants on. I walked out of my front door, and got all the way to the lobby before I realized I wasn’t wearing shoes. After putting on my shoes, I left my apartment for the third time. Did you know you can’t lock your front door or start your car without keys? Go figure. 

If you’re counting, it took me four tries to successfully leave my apartment.

At this point, most reasonable people, would’ve taken the hint and found a safe place to lick their wounds or count their losses. It would seem that reason had abandoned me because I kept going. I broke two cups, tripped three more times, and shattered my apple watch. Did I get the warranty? If only you could see my face and hear me sigh.

Thankfully no one else was hurt in the making of that day, but by the end of it I felt like a complete menace, and seriously started to question lady luck. Okay, I don’t know if I believe in luck, or fate, or the stars doing things when other things are in retrograde. Clearly, I’m an expert. Yes, that was sarcasm and I know you know that, but this is the internet. One can never be too careful on the inter-webs.

Inter-webs is a fun word to say.

I’ve heard people say that there’s no such thing as luck. Life comes down to hard work and perseverance. I’ve also heard people say that hard work and perseverance will only get you so far, and luck takes you the rest of the way. My mom always told me to get out of my head, and watch where I’m going. I don’t know about the first two, but my mom’s a smart woman and, in this case, she’s probably right.

I’m a very heady person and, by that, I mean I spend far too much time inside my own head. I get lost in thoughts, daydreams, ideas, and riddles. I follow a rabbit down a hole, and I lose hours of my day. I forget the outside world exists. I look through things and people. I walk around in a haze because I’m so busy trying to get a straight answer out of an overdressed rabbit.

Most days I catch myself, and heed my mom’s advice. I write out my rambling thoughts, questions, or riddles so I can solve them with you. I let the rabbit run in the open air so I don’t have to get wedged inside another hole. It’s safer for everyone, but mostly myself because when I get lost in my head, bruises form.

As I follow the rabbit through a maze of twisted roots my body tries to keep up. How can a physical being keep pace with an imaginary creature? It can’t, obviously. Which is why I walk out of my apartment without pants on or try to start my car with my toothbrush. It’s why I break an overpriced watch, think my cat is a homicidal maniac, and why I’ve run out of cups.

Trust me, making tea in the palm of your hand is inadvisable.

I really like my rabbit, it asks interesting and provocative questions, but maybe I can leave some questions unanswered for a little while. I don’t have to follow every thought or solve every riddle. Oh, that makes me want to sigh dramatically, yet again. It makes my eye twitch! Ignoring an intriguing flight of fancy? I mean, that seems a little extreme, but it sure beats tripping over my own feet. 

Or am I making a rather large assumption?

If my assumption is true, does it mean that, instead of pulling my head out of out arses, I need work the other way round? I’m not sure how that’s physiologically possible. Should I do yoga first? You know, limber up a bit before I give it a try. I don’t think I’m flexible enough and, honestly, milking a beaver sounds easier.

Damn it, now my rabbit is bouncing up and down waving its top hat. Not this time you little menace. I won’t follow you…Oo shiny.

Ouch! Not again.

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Yeah, You Can Milk A Beaver!

Photo by GEORGE DESIPRIS from Pexels

“Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.”– Stephen King

I’ve been trying to write this post for a couple of hours now and all I have are a whole lot of words on a page. They aren’t horrible words. They make sense and are, for the most part, grammatically correct. There’s a logical progression of thoughts. There’s nothing wrong with the words I’ve written, other than the fact that they feel wrong.

Does that make sense? Can something be both right and wrong at the same time? Apparently, yes, they can because I’ve been writing the wrong words for three or five hours. I’m frustrated. I’m uninspired. I’m…Here, alone with my thoughts and very little inspiration.

I thought I had it! An idea, a concept worth exploring, and I was ready to dive into it with both feet. I opened my laptop, clicked on a new document, and started typing. I got about seven hundred words deep and then it hit me like a blunt object to the side of my head. I’ve been working away for who knows how long and I’m not saying anything.

Well, that’s a sucker punch! What am I going to do now? I’ve gotta put something up and now I have nothing. Perfect.

I’m a quiet person. Painfully shy. If we were to meet in person, you’d find that getting words out of me is as challenging as getting milk from beaver. Technically possible but really not practical or sustainable in the long term. How many of you just googled: Milking a beaver? Mm-hm, don’t be shy. We’ve all done it.

The reason I’m so quiet isn’t a lack of vocabulary or knowledge. Which is just a nice way of saying, “I know how to use my words and I’m not stupid.”

I’m quiet because I’m way too thoughtful. Not in a kind and generous way. Though, I hope I’m kind and generous. I mean, who wants to be an asshole? No one. At least, not intentionally and certainly not as an alternative lifestyle. We all want to be kind, right? Some of us just pull it off with more conviction than others.

Where was I? Right, I’m thoughtful in a different way. It’s a: stop and think things through until the moment has passed and now we’re on to a new topic and you just stood there making weird squeaking noises…Sorta way. I know, that was a run-on sentence. I apologize with half of my heart. The other half is still googling beavers.

It’s not a personality quirk that plays well at parties. I’m always the odd duck sitting in the corner all alone. Slowly inching closer to the nearest exit. Hoping my subtle movements won’t draw anyone’s attention because if they see me, they will try to engage. It’s kind of them to try, but we both know it won’t go well.

On the other hand, as far as personality quirks go, if you’re a writer who’s trying to produce thoughtful content on a weekly basis then, you’ve found a home. Welcome! Seriously though, did you google the beaver thing? I’m not saying it’s required reading, but you’ll thank me.

My excessive thoughtfulness has created one particular life motto: If you can’t say anything productive, shut up. Or more often than not, if you can’t say anything, do yourself a favour and stop making weird squeaking noises. It’s creeping everyone out. It’s not as subtle as you think. For the love of all that is unicorn in this world: Shush.

All that to say that, about twenty minutes ago, I realized I was saying a whole lot of nothing in particular. Well, more specifically, my heart wasn’t in it. I was fighting to find the inspiration, the motivation, to keep going and that’s usually my cue to stop. It’s not working. I can’t do it. I should give up, walk away, and shut up because my voice isn’t working very well.

Oh, the panic! It’s Monday, and I said I’d post something every Monday and Friday. I owe it to… Huh, maybe I’m putting too much pressure on myself? Maybe I should just cut myself some slack? Maybe it would be okay to miss a day? 

Maybe it’s time for me to shut?

Or, inspiration is overrated and I need to put my head down and do some hard thinking. Put my back into it a bit. It’s not all sunshine and dandelions. I may be artsy-fartsy but sometimes I need to be less art and more…Uh, never mind.

Those of us who are creative by nature, by instinct, tend to put a lot of faith in the magical power of inspiration. It’s the key that unlocks many different worlds and it allows us to see beyond our limitations. It’s a magic carpet that transports us to other realities where boundless wonders reside. It’s a spiritual experience full of bright colours and beautiful music. A technicolor wonderland.

Without its wondrous gifts, we’re lost or, worse, we’re left stranded on a barren island. Wordless. Voiceless. Creatively alone and forlorn. Just us, a coconut named Steve, and a single question floating around in our minds: What about the beavers? I’ll never know about the beavers!

There was nothing wrong with the words I put down on the page and I’ll go back to it tomorrow. It’s not all lost. I’m not a complete failure. Inspiration may have left me to my own devices, but my own devices will suffice. When I let go of the strings, let inspiration fly off on its own solo adventure, I found some odd thoughts clanging around. Slightly amusing, kind of bizarre, and perhaps you’re wondering what I’ve ingested.

Nothing. I’m completely sober. I know, right!

It’s amazing what we can accomplish when we’re forced to work a little harder instead of relying on old faithful. That applies to other fields, not just the creative side, because where would we be if a mechanic only fixed cars that inspired their genius? What would we do if our doctor only operates when the mood is right? How would we learn if a teacher can’t teach until the stars align? How would we taste the sweet nectar of the beavers if beaver milkers…Too far?

Don’t get me wrong, I love a super-boost of electrical inspiration. It’s the spark to my fire but somedays it rains and I’ve got to light my own fire. Rub two sticks together or something and, yeah, it’s nice to know I can do it on my own. I can create my own inspiration with a little elbow grease and a few cues from Frankenstein. Hammer and nails. A little more brute force. Gritting my teeth and squinting my eyes. It’s almost there. Now, I just need a silly little google search and… You can milk beavers! Who knew? 

Wait, who’d want to? Two words: Anal glands. I know! Ew.

Inspiration isn’t something that comes to us after we wish on a star and it’s not a tap we turn on and off. It’s us. We’re the inspiration. Go look in the mirror, focus on your eyes, and don’t look away. Keep looking. Don’t blink. There! Do you see it? For a second, there was a spark. You are all the inspiration you need to get it done. 

Whatever it is you’re working on right now? Don’t look away. Don’t back down. Don’t sit and wait for the right moment. Inspiration is the result of a lot of hard work and a hefty dose of perseverance. If I can get a blog out of beaver milk then just imagine what you can do!

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Bring Back The Clowns

Photo by Paolo Nicolello on Unsplash.com

Clowns. They aren’t that bad, are they? I mean, if they’re hiding in a sewer and offering kids red balloons then, okay, that’s kinda creepy. Is that how that movie went? Yeah, I never saw it and I never read the book. I’m not a fan of scary stuff. Too many real-world scary stuff. I don’t need to add a dash of it to my popcorn.

Not that clowns are scary! A little off-putting, maybe, but they just wanna be loved. Is that too much to ask for? No, no I don’t think it is so let them be loved, damn it.

There’s a chance that I’m a little bit biased and it’s important to admit to one’s biases. Let’s not start off with two secrets and a lie. That’s just not cool so, I readily admit,  I have a slight clown bias. There you have it. Full disclosure and all of that.

It’s a trust thing, isn’t it? Admitting a clown bias straight off the tip of that big red nose. It’s better than pretending I’m a nonpartisan pollster. Going door to door conducting “research” and collecting “data” for the Clown Institute Of The Place. Nope, honesty is more endearing and a bit refreshing in these batty times. 

Wow, how’s that for an indictment of the human race? Honesty has become a refreshing beverage instead of a full meal deal. We’re so used to hearing half-truths and outright lies that when someone actually speaks the truth? Those damn rubberneckers cause a traffic jam!

Where am I going with this? Be damned if I know, but if we keep going there’s a chance we’ll find out together.

So, bring back the clowns! In a manner of speaking. Don’t worry, a gang of clowns aren’t about to flash mob your humble abode. I’m good but I’m not that good. Okay, I’m not even all that good but I put my back into it so that counts for something.

Here’s a little known fact and, I assure you, there’s no word of a lie to be found: I was a clown. Not a class clown. I’ve always bee too shy, quiet, and easily distracted by shiny objects to pull that off. Oh, and I’m way too socially awkward to be that kind of clown. Perish the thought.

 I was a real-life clown.

I had the full get up. The painted face, gaudy wig, and silly costume. That’s right my friend, I went all-in. I know, it doesn’t really sound like me. Putting myself out there in a costume, and situation, that’s so bizarre it’s sure to trigger my social anxiety. You’d be right to assume that it’s something I wouldn’t even entertain but I did it. Shocking. I know. It’s weird, right? 

There was a theatre group and, in a moment of uncharacteristic whimsy, I thought, “What the hell? Let’s give it a whirl.”

So I whirled it, and I gotta say it was a lot of fun. There’s something so liberating, pure, and almost innocent about clowning. The make-up. The hair. The goofy outfits. Coming up with a character that defies our usual identities and pushes us out of our comfortable little holes. Finding new ways to move the body and express thoughts, emotions, without words. Changing yourself into a different person, creature, entity type thing, means you can be anyone or anything. You can play freely without judgment because, look at yourself in the mirror, you aren’t you right now.

I can see that, for some, the idea of wanting to be or pretending to be, someone else could strike a sad note. After all, we’re all told to love who we are and the best gift we can give ourselves is self-acceptance. Well yeah, of course, that’s true but how often is that our reality? How long are we able to maintain that reality? 

We all have things we’d like to change about our lives, personalities, or our bodies. We all have moments when we don’t like ourselves very much. Do we all have moments when we hate ourselves, our lives, our bodies? Maybe we won’t go that far but a lot of us come very, very, close.

How often have you looked at yourself in the mirror and thought, for a fraction of a second, that life would be a lot better if you were someone else? If you looked different or acted differently. If you could change that one thing about yourself. Would life be better? Have you had those thoughts or am I’m the only one. 

It’s possible that I’m out here alone but I doubt it. Even the most evolved among us have experienced moments of depleted self-esteem, self-love, and self-acceptance. It’s a natural part of the human experience. We aren’t all in, all the time. The thought of that is exhausting!

Or, I’m just looking for some reassurance that I’m not the only one. Who knows? It could go either way.

The moment I put on the face paint, tucked my hair into the wig, and zipped up the parachute onesie I felt a surge of confidence. I wasn’t sick, crippled, or any other moniker life had bestowed upon me. Everything that had happened, or could happen, ceased to exist because I wasn’t that person anymore. I got to choose who, or what, I was. I decided what my own identifiers would be and I had the power to use them in any way I, or my clown, wanted because I had the power of self-creation. 

Creating my identity meant that I could be anything, anyone, and that gave me the freedom to explore. I got to play. I got to try things I never would attempt in my regular human form. I could be weird, strange, kinda out there and that was okay because clowns are supposed to be a little odd, goofy, and whimsical. They’re supposed to act in unpredictable ways. They’re supposed to be unique and it’s their uniqueness that’s celebrated. 

Their uniqueness is also feared. Their unpredictability, their lack of known identifiers, and their painted faces are abhorred. Clowns are scary for a lot of reasons, I know that, but for some of us, it’s their lack of conformity that triggers something very deep inside of us. Repulsion, aversion, or intense hatred.

So, is anyone else picking up on a lot of mixed signals or am I reading too much into things? Be unique. Be different. Love yourself. Accept who you are. Be proud of who you are. Be true to you. Be you!

Whoa, hold up now! We don’t want that kind of uniqueness and, while we’re at it, dial back on the you-ness! It’s a lot. It’s making me uncomfortable. Don’t you know how the world works? You should be unique like everyone else. Quit clowning around and get in line.

Arg, I’m so confused. 

When I was a clown, I was able to freely be whoever my clown wanted to be and no one thought worse of me, er her…Us? We were unique, different, and we could be proud of who we were. We could be true to ourselves. We were being exactly who we were. Unrestrained, unfettered, and free.

But the wig comes off, the make-up washes away, and the onesie is hung up in a closet. My clown vanishes and I slip back into my body, my identifiers, my life. Restrained, fettered, free but in a way that, I imagine, closely resembles parole.

Sorry, I know I’ve been talking about the idea of identify a lot lately, and maybe you’re getting sick of it. It’s something that’s been consuming my thoughts and it’s something I’m trying to understand. It’s something I’m struggling with in many ways. Personally. Professionally. My health. My life. My identity as a whole person. 

There’s the person you see, the person my family sees, the person the world wants to see, and the person I see in the mirror. It’s a jumble and I’m trying to line them all up but something’s missing. I’m not sure what that is but I know I’m not whole yet.

Maybe I’m missing the sense of freedom I felt when I was a clown, on a stage, in front of an audience. There weren’t those mixed messages. I could be my unique self. I could identify as anything with anyone. I could step out of one body and into another. I could test the waters. Experiment. I could try out new skins. I could play without fear or be burdened by doubt.

No, I don’t think I’m going to paint my face, put on that wig, and zip up that parachute onesie anytime soon. While the freedom was nice it was also a bit of an illusion. Pretending to be something, or someone, else is fun and it’s a nice vacation. It can help us test our limitations in the safety of a small community.

But it’s very easy to deadhead the exploration when the costume comes off and leave the work half-finished. Testing my limits was great and I learned a lot about myself but when it was over, I stopped learning. The safety net was gone and I was left with a clean face staring back at me in the mirror. 

I have so many questions about identity as a broad concept but also in the microcosm of my world. My place in the world. Who I am? Who I want to be? How do I become that person when all around me people are telling me to dial it back? How do I accept the person that I am when, who I am might scare people? How do I accept myself when who I am scares me?

I’m looking for answers and exploring the concept of identity. I’m digging through it but it’s not as simple as I’d like it to be so I doubt I’ll have any answers, anytime soon. If only it was as easy as painting my face, putting on a garish wig, and twirling around in a parachute onesie. If it was easy everyone would do it? Maybe everyone should give it a try at least once?

Full disclosure: I miss my clown. Clowns are an underrated species. The deserve more respect. We need to bring back the clowns!

Just not the creepy red balloon clown. Nope, he’s not invited. So much drama! Geez.

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When I Look In A Mirror

Photo by The East London Photographer on Unsplash.com

“I am not my body. My body is nothing without me.”  ― Tom Stoppard, Rock ‘n’ Roll

There are times, when I look at myself in the mirror, that I don’t know who I’m looking at. I bite my lip, and the stranger in the mirror bites hers. I close one eye, and she winks back. I hold my breath, she holds hers, and we wait for each other’s will to break.

Sometimes, I see myself, my body, and it feels like a stranger is looking back at me. A stranger but a kindred spirit. I trace my fingers across the scars. I feel the silky smooth skin, sunken into the flesh. I feel nerve endings trying to make connections across severed lines. I feel the muscles ripple and shiver. Those are my fingers, I know they are, but they’re tracing the lines on someone else’s body. 

No, it is my body and I feel it, but it still seems foreign. 

I’m standing there, all alone. It’s just me and my reflection but it still feels like it’s not my body. It feels like I’m an invisible entity, standing off to the side, watching the movements of those fingers, seeing the affects they have on the skin. A head tilt. A furrowed brow. The invisible me is curious but detached.

It’s an odd sensation. Not a terrifying one. I’m not afraid of what I see or feel. It’s a little uncomfortable but that discomfort isn’t bothersome. Maybe it should be. Maybe I should be afraid of it but, no, it’s a curiosity inside one of those old circus tents. A traveling freak show? Is that what they were called? I don’t like that comparison any more than I like those tents. Those people, in the real-life tents, deserved a hell of a lot better.

But that’s a conversation for a different day.

When someone asks me about my life, or I’m telling my story, I feel an odd sense of detachment from that as well. It’s not like it happened to someone else. I don’t feel like I’m watching a movie and spoiling the storyline. It happened to me, I’m very well aware, but it kinda feels like it happened in a different life. Like I’m doing some past life regressions. Is that what it’s called? No idea, and I don’t know if any of this makes sense or if I’m being an obscure oddball?

I suppose both can be true.

I’m sure there’s some psychological term for what’s going on and I could spend five minutes googling it. The name, the diagnosis, isn’t important for this conversation. It serves very little purpose, for me, other than adding a label to a box. I have enough labeled boxes in my attic and I’m not sure I can fit one more so let’s leave this one for another day.

This phenomenon has brought up an interesting question for me and that’s: Who am I if I’m not my reflection? My scars? My illness? My past? My Story? I’ve been asking myself these questions a lot over the last few months. I’ve been trying to redefine myself or, at the very least, challenge my internal dialogue. A measure of self-exploration that I hope will help me find a more settled, balanced, life.

Are we all defined by our most dramatic moments, appearances, or life experiences? We’re all so quick to try and put each other, and ourselves, in boxes with pretty labels. It makes us feel safer when we can clearly identify the people we come across. It makes us feel safer to have a definition of ourselves because it’s easier to find others who are like us.

It brings a sense of belonging. Isn’t that a universal need, desire, craving?

I’ve defined myself, been defined by others, by my chronic illnesses. I’m a kidney patient, a transplant recipient, and a survivor of multiple cardiac arrests. These scars on my body are my badges of honour. They prove that I’ve walked through hell, and I’ve survived death. That’s who I am. I’m not ashamed of who I am because it’s my story. 

I just want my story to be more complex, vibrant, and a little more silly. Why so serious? No idea. Despite my best efforts, my life has been pretty serious and I want a bit more variety.

I have no idea what that is. I’m fresh out of ideas. No clue. Not even the foggiest. What will be my “more” and how will that define me? I can’t even begin to picture it and the thought of having another definition added, makes me cringe. I don’t think I want another definition, another labeled box, but I don’t want the boxes I’ve collected to become the sum of who I am. 

Or, is that all ready predestined?

I have to be more than this body I inhabit. This shell of a human. A physical representation of something more complex. It’s not who I am but, at the same time, it is exactly who I’ve become. I am my body but what is my body without me?

Without my soul or spirit, if we have to give it a name, my body is nothing more than a reflection of who I was. Oh, but now I’m inching my way into something that’s a bit morbid. Sorry about this. Hold on tight. I’ll get through it as quickly as I can.

Ready or not…

Have you ever seen a dead body? A human body. Let’s be clear. This is no time to spin the wheels. Have you ever seen a dead, human, body? An open casket, for example. There they are, lying in repose, and it’s a bit surreal. Or, was that just my interpretation? You look down at someone you used to know but that person isn’t there anymore. What made them, them, is gone and what’s left is nothing more than a memory.

My grandmother passed away several years ago. We were very close. I adored her and we spent a lot of hours together. Drinking tea, eating cherries, and talking about everything or nothing. She was someone I’d call a kindred spirit, and that’s not a term used very often. It’s not often you find someone who so clearly mirrors who you are.

After she passed, I sat by her bed and looked at her face. She was smiling. A tiny little smirk. She was the picture of peace. I stared at her for a very long time. I wanted to memorize every little detail of her face so that I wouldn’t forget what she looked like. I was worried that if I forget her face I would forget her, but that was silly.

Whenever I think of her, I struggle to picture her face but I clearly hear her voice saying, “Hi Luv.” I hear her laughing, as if she was standing next to me. I remember the stories she told me. I remember the way her long fingers knitted blankets for newborn babies. I remember how safe she made me feel. How loved I felt when she smiled at me and the light in her eyes when she told me she loved me. I remember her, the person she was, but her body has quickly become a faded photograph.

Why? Simply put, she was not her body and, once she was gone, her body was no longer who she was. Her body was never who she was. I’m sure she was defined a hundred different ways by everyone that met her. Mother, grandmother, nurse, friend. But who she was, went so far beyond the person we all saw. That image didn’t determine her character. Her character far exceeded any definition our limited imaginations could conjure.

I can see that in her, I can see that in you, but I’m struggling to see it in myself. Can I be more than a diagnosis? Can I be more than knees that won’t bend or a heart that won’t keep its rhythm? Can I be more than the pills I take or the doctor’s appointments? Can I be more than a limited definition of what a disabled person can or should be?

If you asked me these questions, I’d say without hesitation that you can be whoever you decide you want to be. That power is yours. You aren’t your body, diagnosis, or any other label the world wants to pin on you. You are more than all of those things. I see so much potential in you, and I hope you see it in yourself.

When I ask myself those questions? Well, there’s a kindness that we’re able to extend to others, but when it comes to ourselves? Kindness is harder to find.

One day, I’ll stand in front of that mirror and my two halves will come together. Logic and emotion will realign. Not only will I know, without any doubt or reservation, that I’m more than my body but I’ll feel it in my soul. A kindred spirit of sorts? Without which, neither body nor mind can exist.

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So I Became The Smoke

Photo by Jaroslav Devia on Unsplash.com

Let’s just make a few adjustments, shall we? We need to cover the dark circles under those eyes and add some colour to those cheeks. There, that’s a little bit better. Now the hair, the clothes, and…No, no slouching. Stand up straight. You look like a question mark! Who’s going to believe anything you say, looking like that? Now, stand up straight. Put a smile on your face. A little wider, a little brighter, almost there. 

Mm, no, no this isn’t working. It’s all wrong. So very wrong.

A box is pulled from a shelf. It’s a very old box. The edges are torn and stained. There’s a thick layer of dust on top. A deep breath and a mighty exhale. The dust is caught in a gust of air and it flies up, up, up before floating gently to the ground. The box is dropped onto the counter with a dull thud, and the lid is slowly lifted.

Lean in a little closer, furrow those eyebrows, and bite the bottom lip. Its features are delicate and the design is elegant. It looks so real! They’ll never know the truth. It’ll have them fooled for sure. Lift the mask out of the box and secure it in place. It blends in so nicely. No one will ever know that the real me is hiding underneath. They’ll never know the difference. They’ll think that this is me, all dolled up and ready for their approval.

We all do it. I know we do. We have different faces for different events. Like a theatrical mask, we give the audience what they came to see and hope they don’t see through our play-acting. The curtain rises and falls. We’ve played our part. The applause reaches the stars and a hum of gratitude soon follows. We’ve done it. They’ve bought it and without question. Take a bow. It’s well earned.

Different faces for different places. A necessary part of our social graces. There it is, written in bold letters. Be who you need to be, who you’re expected to be, to pass as one of them. Pass inspection, and you’ll be welcomed with open arms.

We do it for them because its what’s expected but we also do it for ourselves. A protective mechanism. A way to cover up the parts of our identity that’s sensitive to light. Exposure is painful and we burn easily. Who we are, the real version, can’t handle the spotlight. We’re not ready to step out onto that stage. We’re not ready to stand in front of everyone completely exposed. Naked. Our imperfections on display. There to be judged, ridiculed, and humiliated. 

It’s all too much so we cover up our inadequacies. We take that dusty box off the back shelf and put on our masks. Stand up tall. Don’t slouch. Smile, whether that can see it or not. Walk with confidence and elegance. Make them believe you are who they need you to be, and everything will be okay.

Calling me socially awkward is very polite, and I appreciate the overestimation of my ability to interact with other people. Socially inept is probably more of an accurate description. Then again, it could just be a matter of semantics. Either way, I put a mask on that closely resembles a smokescreen. The outline is there but you can’t really see anything. If you can’t really see me than I can blend in and disappear because that’s where I feel more comfortable.

That space, behind the smoke, is more familiar which is why it’s more comfortable. Growing up, I was always the sick kid and no one knew what to do with me. What do you do with someone who’s sick all the time? It becomes trickier if that person looks sick, fragile, weak. That’s so uncomfortable. What do you say? What do you do? No one seemed to know, so they sidestepped me and went to my brother or parents. It didn’t take long for the mask to become muted because I became the smoke.

Going to a Christian school, as the token sick kid, made it a little stranger. Not worse but, well, let’s call it an interesting experience. I’ll preface this by saying that nothing was done to be hurtful in any way. It was never intentional. In fact, I believe that it was all done with a genuine, perhaps misguided, desire to be helpful in a helpless situation. 

In school, for reasons I struggled to understand, I often found myself pulled upfront as a target of prayer. Again, it came from a good place. They wanted to help and prayer, in a religious setting, is the preprogrammed response. It was meant as an act of kindness but, for me, it often felt like I was being placed on some kind of an altar. I was never quite sure if I was there as a sacrifice or a show of good faith. I just knew it was my duty to let it play out.

During school assemblies, I’d be called upfront, and I would stand there, awkwardly picking at my fingernails, waiting for the performance to start. I knew the role I was expected to play and playing that role never felt optional. Maybe it was. Maybe I could’ve politely declined but I had the mask all ready to go. It was polished, and the craftsmanship was impressive. It would be a shame to put it back into its box and shove it back up onto the shelf.

I would make sure the mask was straight, square my shoulders, and stand at the ready. Prayers would be offered. Smiles would be shared. Sometimes there would be clapping if people were feeling frisky. Then I was ushered back to my seat, and they’d go on to announcements. Oo, pizza day on Thursday. Yum!

The one thing I noticed, while I was waiting for the floor to swallow me up, was the look in their eyes. No one really saw me. Most wouldn’t make eye contact but when they did, they weren’t looking at me. They were looking through me. No one noticed how uncomfortable I was and no one asked if this is what I wanted. I was the smoke caught in a glass jar.

Then again, let’s be fair, my mask was very good and I became very adept at playing the part they wanted me to play. Stoic. Stiff upper lip. Smiling at the right moments. Looking sober or reflective when the tone shifted. Grateful and appreciative. I could pull one mask off and put another one on without anyone catching a glimpse of the real me underneath. It’s a sleight of hand trick that would be the envy of any master magician.

Did you need me to be brave, strong, indomitable? Got it. See, I’ve got steel in my veins. You won’t see a teardrop roll down my cheek. You won’t hear a sniffle. You won’t see me flinch. I’ll set my jaw, clench my fists, and look death square in the eyes. Is that what you need?

What do you need me to be? I can be anything but if I have to be me then we might have a problem. I’ve gotten too used to being what other people need me to be because, so often, I was expected to be something other than who I was. Who I was, the sick kid, seemed to make a lot of people uncomfortable. If I was, who I was, then they’d walk away so I became what they needed. I became the smoke.

We look over, around, and through the person in front of us but we don’t see them because they don’t fit into our societal norms. They don’t fit our understanding of how things are supposed to be, and that makes our brains itch. It’s an itch we can’t scratch so we shut them down or push them out. We breathe a sigh of relief because out of sight relieves that uncomfortable tickle.

When we’re the evictor, we feel relief. When we’re the evicted we feel isolated, lonely, unworthy and our brains don’t itch; they break. Even socially awkward introverts are social creatures. We just don’t fit into society and who we are, makes people uncomfortable. What do we do then? In my case, I created a new mask for every occasion and built and big old shelf to hold them all. Some of them collect dust while others get used a little too often.

It’s not the healthiest thing in the world but sometimes it’s the safest. When we make someone uncomfortable, they take their discomfort out on us because we’re “making” them feel that way. It rangers from childish name-calling, or what I like to call the Doo Doo Head Offensive, to outright violence. I’ve been called a lot of awful things because of my disability and I’ve faced threats of harm. I’ve been shoved aside, and I’ve had sharp objects stabbed into my back. I’ve been ignored. I’ve been dismissed. I’ve been looked at with disgust. I’ve lost jobs, and I’ve had friendships end. All because my mask slipped and who they saw made them uncomfortable.

I’m lucky! I can wear a mask. I can play pretend. I can become the smoke. I can hide who am if I need too. Not everyone has that luxury. Is that the right word? It might be a luxury but it’s not alright. Wearing a mask for physical and emotional safety shouldn’t be necessary. In a perfect world, we wouldn’t need to do it but if I need to, I can. I can minimize my limp, cover up my scars, and hide my illness. I can play pretend when someone else’s discomfort becomes toxic. I can make myself disappear into that smoke when pretending doesn’t work.

I can do that. Some of you can’t. Neither one of us should have to turn ourselves into smoke to walk through this world unharmed and loved. 

Some of you have managed to keep your form. You haven’t turning into smoke. There’s so few of you but you have the courage to maintain your identity despite the challenges that brings. You are who you were created to be and you’re proud to be who you are. Thank God for you! You precious few. The ones who dare to be different. Who dare to be true. Who dare to show the world the different is beautiful. Bless you for fighting on the side of angels because you will make the world safer for those of us too beaten and bruised. 

Keep standing tall and be proud. Be who you are. You wondrous, magnificent, miraculous human being. Bless you!

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A Long A Silver Wire

Photo By Carlos Alberto Gómez Iñiguez on Unsplash.com

“Remember, remember, this is now, and now, and now. Live it, feel it, cling to it. I want to become acutely aware of all I’ve taken for granted.” ― Sylvia Plath

My life has been put on hold for a few months now as I’m sure, has yours. The global pandemic has been a real monster and it’s hard to find an upside but I’m trying. Sure, I spent the first half wallowing in self-pity but now’s the time to turn it around. Look for the silver lining on the bright side of the moon. I’m sure it’s there. It has to be there. Maybe if I lift some rocks? Kick some dust. Move that flag over just a bit. Oo, a footprint!

Okay, maybe there’s not a whole lot of good floating around right now but there’s been plenty of time to think. Yay? No, I’ve had a little too much time to think. I’ve just about run out of things to think about. Can we run out of thoughts if we think too long? Huh, that’s an excellent question if I do say so myself.

Before I run out of thoughts, here’s a thought I’ve been turning around in my noggin. I’ve come to the realization that I take a lot of things for granted. Small things mostly. Going to the grocery store and smiling at strangers. We do that in Canada. Smile at each other as we walk by. Having to wear a mask has been a cultural nightmare. It’s hard to smile at someone when you’re wearing a face mask. Sure, we try to add a little more light to our eyes and we arch our eyebrows in a way that, hopefully, conveys a good old fashion, “Hey bud!” Maybe I need to get a mask with a smiley face on it so I can just point at it and they’ll know.

For the most part, I take the small things for granted but I try very hard to keep enough gratitude in storage for the really big things. You know, important things like family and friends. The love of good people. People who’ll come to my rescue when I’m stranded on the side of the road. It was forty below zero, Celsius, and there they were; putting a new battery into my old car. Yeah, I didn’t take that for granted.

There’s the time my kidneys failed and they all rushed to get tested. No hesitation or a million ultimatums. They dropped everything to see if they were a match for transplantation. They actually yelled at me because I didn’t ask them for a kidney. Clearly, I was being very rude. How could I not ask? Geez! Then again, how do you ask someone for a part of their body and not sound like a complete creep? Buy them a cup of coffee and when they thank you, say: “No worries! Just give me one of your kidneys and we’ll call it even.”

Maybe I should’ve offered them some fava beans and a nice Chianti.

Okay, maybe not but they were still willing to donate their kidneys. If that’s not love, I don’t know what is and I’m so grateful to have these people in my life. I don’t always express my gratitude. Sometimes I don’t know how and other times, I fear, I take their kindness for granted. Maybe it’s because, in some ways, I’ve lived a very blessed life. When you don’t go without things like kindness and love? It’s too easy to get comfortable and forget that, for once, the coin landed in your favour.

I have a family who loves and supports my crazy endeavours. Whether it was an odd rock polishing phase or writing a blog. No matter how questionable or how many times I’ve failed; they’ve been there to cheer me on or pick me up when I fall. Their support has always been unwavering. If I’m in trouble, all I have to do is pick up the phone, send out an SOS, and they’ll come. Two simple words: Help me. That’s all it takes and my people show up. 

I’ll never take these people for granted but, as I said, sometimes I overlook their kindness. When your lucky enough to have it, it’s easy to assume it will always be there and maybe it will. Maybe my luck will hold out, and these wonderful people will be in my life until my last breath. But that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be acutely aware of their kindness or assume it will never go away.

Without a doubt, I could endeavour to show more gratitude than simply saying, “Thank you.” Though I find expressing gratitude, or any emotion, is harder than it seems. I don’t know why, but I always feel awkward, or do I feel inadequate? Either way, it never feels enough. No matter what I do or say; I feel like I’m ill-equipped to express the depth of my emotions.

It’s easier to assume that they know how I feel without feeling all the sticky, icky, sentimentalities. An assumption that has caused me to have a very costly lapse in judgement. If I don’t express how I feel than I find myself taking it all for granted.If I do that, then how will they know how much I love them? I can’t just leave it at that. If I do?

But what if the already know without me saying anything? What if there’s a chance that’s true? I’m not saying telepathy is real because, you know, science and all that. But, with the people we’re deeply connected to, is there some sort of emotional telepathy that lets words go unspoken? Is there a bond so deep that it renders those words superfluous?

What a nice thought! When words fail me, when my body is too weak, there’s this silver wire from my heart to theirs. I can close my eyes and simply feel the emotions I want to convey. Those feelings, thoughts of love and gratitude, travel along that silver wire like a spark from a flint. As soon as I feel it, think it, the spark shoots off and it reaches the kindling. The fire’s lit and they feel a warmth spread throughout their body.

Every time I think about them, the fuse is lit and off it goes down the silver wire. They’d know how much I care. They’d know that I’m thinking of them. Never, for a second, would they wonder if I take them for granted because the fire would keep them warm. It wouldn’t matter where they are in space or time. The wire can’t be broken and the spark can’t die out.

What a beautiful image! If only it were true then words wouldn’t be needed. 

When the roles are reversed, I don’t need their words of gratitude. They don’t need to buy me coffee or fava beans. I love them and would be there for them in a heartbeat. Just like they are here for me without complaint or judgement. But, it’s nice to hear that I’m not taken for granted. Necessary? Not at all but it feels good so why wouldn’t I send that feeling back along the wire? 

I think, for most people, we don’t need verbosity or grandiosity. We don’t need a master production. We don’t need an epic soliloquy. We don’t have to be Shakespeare to get it right. We just need to show up and remind them, and ourselves, that we’re lucky to have each other.

Life is hectic, it’s easy to slip into a holding pattern and forget about the things we take for granted. Big or small. Smiling at strangers or standing in freezing weather. The people that have shown up for me? I can’t take them for granted. I can’t take their kindness for granted. I can’t take my good fortune for granted because it’s a gift and gifts can be returned to the sender.

I’m sitting in my little apartment, hiding away from the world, and I’m traveling down a morose thought. I’ve always had this precious gift. It’s always been this way. I’ve always had good people in my life but what if I didn’t? What if a time comes that I make a call that isn’t answered? Out of all the what-ifs in the world? This is probably the most terrifying of the lot! 

Wow and with that one thought, I realize how often I squander a very precious gift. Not out of malice or greed but laziness and presumption. What has always been may not always be so I can’t take any of them for granted. My people. My family. My friends. I am so lucky to have you all and I wish the silver wire was real so you could experience that emotion as intensely I as I do. Just in case, I’m lighting the fuse and sending it your way.

As for you, dear reader, know that I don’t take you for granted, either. You could be anywhere, doing anything, but you chose to spend some time with me. Believe me, that means more than you’ll know.

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But I’ve Never Even Changed A Diaper!

Wanna hear a joke? Me too! What a coincidence. Funny how things work out when you write the script. I can’t tell you how much I need a good laugh. It needs to be a deep, from the toes, full-body, laugh until I cry kind of thing. When I laugh too hard my ears pop. That’s what I need. I can’t express how much I need it right now.

So, um, do you know any good jokes? I’m flipping through the archives but nothing’s jumping out at me. For some reason, the only ones I can think of are really nasty or involve a poor, unfortunate, chicken. Not funny haha. More funny ew or aw. Actually, most of them would make an adult groan and a prepubescent blush. 

I need funny haha! These last few months have been really heavy and it doesn’t look like it’s going to ease up anytime soon. 2020 has been a monster and we’re only in June. We’ve got a long way to go before it’s over and who knows what next year will bring. 

Damn, that’s depressing. I just brought the room down several degrees, didn’t I? I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to. All I wanted was a joke. A real good rib-tickling haha kinda joke but I’m not really up to date on the latest knock knockers or chicken crossers.

Google! That’s what we should do. Google knows everything! Oh no! Wait. Parental permission. Google it with parental permission if you’re under the legal… Googling age? I don’t know how the fuck these things work. 

Oh crap! If you’re not old enough to google then you’re not old enough for cursing. I don’t know much, obviously, but I know we’re not supposed to use “bad words” around impressionable minds. That’s detrimental for…things. For some reason. I think it’s science. Maybe? Or, is it superstition? I don’t know but I’m sorry I said a bad word. Kids, don’t do what I do. Seriously! You can do better. Easily. You can easily do better than me. You’re probably doing better than me right now. Good on ya. Keep it up!

Here’s a shocker: I have no child-rearing experience. I know mind blown. Egads! I’ve always wanted to use that word. Egads! Check that one off the bucket list.

Puppies. Kittens. A tiny, little blue parakeet. A couple of goldfish but they only lasted two weeks so forget I mentioned it. I have plenty of animal rearing experience but I’m told it’s not, “The same thing” or something like that.

I had to get up every two hours with a puppy. Pick up poop. Wash bottoms and bathe the rest. Hold the thing when it cries. Teach it right from wrong. We can’t have the kid, or pup, chewing on the sofa now, can we? Do kids chew on sofas? No idea.

Sure, animals grow out of it a lot faster and kids need other… Stuff?

Yeah, clearly I don’t know a baby from a pre-teen. Then again, given my proclivity for profanity maybe you shouldn’t entrust me with the lives of anyone under the legal googling age. Unless, of course, they love sarcasm, offbeat humour, and don’t repeat anything I say. Then we’re good to go. But to be safe let’s have a responsible teenager take over. That’s the age right? Babysitters. A kid enters the double digits, and they get paid to watch other people’s offspring. That’s how it works, yeah?

Don’t look at me like that! I know I should know this stuff, but I didn’t have a normal upbringing. I wasn’t a normal kid. Sure, I had a child-like viscosity but in every other way, I was the farthest thing from normal. From here on, it’s safe to assume that I didn’t learn what you learned, at the age, you learned it. Just because everyone is supposed to know it, doesn’t mean everyone does. 

For example, I never babysat. Ever. 

No, I’m lying! There was one time, but I was helping a friend take care of a couple of kids. The kids were old enough to be cool, and I basically played video games with them until bedtime. My friend was the “responsible” one. I was just there. Which is why she got paid, and I got snacks. 

Wait! Was she babysitting me too?

I know babysitting is a right of passage. Especially for girls because society loves stereotypical gender roles. Hit a certain age and start earning some money looking after small children. The fact that a teenager’s frontal cortex isn’t fully formed is a minor inconvenience. After all, who needs complete control of the decision making part of their brain when looking after tiny, breakable, people? I’m sure everything will be okay. 

Babysitting is a normal part of growing up. I should stop using the word normal. What is normal? Not gonna say it’s a setting on the thingy. That would be cliche. I’m a lot of things but, damn it I don’t want to be a cliche. Then again, not being a cliche is a cliche. Huh, is life one giant cliche? No! I’m getting on a tangent. Don’t worry, I’m reeling it in like a teeny, tiny baby tuna because I have very poor upper body strength.

Where was I?

Not normal. Right. Okay for those of you who are new, hello, and welcome. I’m not always like this but sometimes I can’t help myself. I haven’t slept, the world is too banana pants for sleep, and I had two sips of coffee. Coffee doesn’t agree with me so now I’m talking a hundred miles an hour in a ten-mile zone. I’m gonna get pulled over any second now.

I have kidney disease and I was diagnosed when I three years old. The disease was managed with medication and diet for most of my childhood. Right up until those pesky double digits. When I turned 12, my health problems blew up. We knew it would. The doctors told us that my kidneys wouldn’t be able to handle the stress puberty put on my body. Those damn hormones!

My kidneys were already fragile. They did the job but barely. Once my body started to change, they couldn’t keep up and they crashed. Complete system failure. Turning it on and off again didn’t work. A swift kick? Nope, didn’t do a damn thing so I went on dialysis, that’s fun, and started the workup for a transplant.

Between school, hospital visits, and dialysis there really wasn’t time or energy for normal things like babysitting. Not that I wanted to do normal things like babysitting or standing in front of a 7/11 looking all emo. I wanted to climb trees or go sit in my closet fort and read a book.

What? You didn’t have a closet fort? You’re telling me that you never went into your bedroom closet to clear out some space. Brought in blankets, comfy cushions, and a nice little tray for your favourite beverage. Oh and a flashlight. When that door closed, it got dark. Wait! Never shut yourself inside something. It’s probably bad. Look at me being maternal. Safety first kids!

Okay, maybe it’s weird. Going into a closet, nesting down with a book, and reading by flashlight. Most kids don’t do that right? That’s not a rhetorical question. I’m really asking. You didn’t do that? Yeah, it was strange, but it was also kinda perfect.

Almost as perfect as climbing the tree in our front yard in my church clothes. That’s a special feeling. Knowing it’s wrong. Knowing I shouldn’t. The look on my mom’s face when she found me sitting on the biggest branch. Her long, exasperated, sigh. 

“We don’t have time for you to change!”

Then you shouldn’t have made me wear these ridiculous clothes. Oh, the look she gave me! I definitely didn’t want to come down after that look which was kind of the point. I liked my stains. I liked the quiet of my closet fort and the solitude up in the trees. Does that make me weird? I think we both know the answer to that one. 

Weird kids like me don’t do normal kid things. Sleepovers, softball teams, taking care of other peoples kids. Yeah, I’ve never changed a diaper or chiseled Cheerios off of a kids face. I didn’t do any of that stuff when I was a kid. This might be why I, as an adult, have no idea how to actually take care of a child.

It doesn’t come up that often but it has, recently, become slightly problematic. See, I’ve been told that it’s a good idea to do some inner child work. I told them I couldn’t do that because I have no child-rearing experience. Pause for laughter. Huh, they gave me the same look you’re giving me now. What a coincidence!

I might’ve promised you a joke so there you are. At least I tried. I think it was moderately funny. Not roll on the floor, receive fifty stitches, funny but worth a giggle. Not a pity giggle either. No? Okay, fine, I’ll take your pity giggle but our relationship is off to a rocky start.

The problem is, my inner child has always been a ninety-year woman sitting in a closet fort. Flashlight tucked into the neck. A half-empty glass of milk on a wobbly try. A stack of books that have been read a dozen times. Her clothes are covered in stains. Her knees are scared over from climbing a little too high. She’s stuck in her ways and a little hard of hearing.

She’s also kind of a bitch but that’s what you get when you live in a closet fort for eighty years. Not saying she’s antisocial. Out of practice? Yeah, that seems more polite.

Who can blame her? The outside world is scary, mean, and it hurts. There’s a global pandemic. Countries are on fire. Threats of world wars and nuclear fallouts. People are being killed because of their skin colour and the good guys look a lot like the bad guys. All we’re missing are dragons and trolls but hey, it’s only June. 

None of that stuff exists in the closet fort. Nope. It’s not allowed. There’s a sign on the door and everything. Monsters and cooties have to stay out. Cookies and milk? Yes please! Supplies are running low.

Every once in a while my inner child peaks through the crack in the door to see how things are going. Nope, the outside world is still too scary! You can try to beg, coax, or bribe but nothing will convince my inner child to come out and play. 

Do I distract her with shiny objects? Maybe I should bounce her on my knee until she vomits. Guess I could try to put her on top of the tumble drier until she falls asleep but that doesn’t seem safe.

Kinda feels like inner child abuse. Is that a thing? Seems like a thing. A very bad thing. Damn, there is so much to learn about parenting my inner child. It’s been five minutes and I’m exhausted. I need a nap. Maybe I should sit on top of the drier. Do inner child parents get to take naps? Please tell me there aren’t any diapers. I just can’t handle that right now.

There is so much I don’t know about nurturing my inner child. I don’t even know where to begin. It almost seems like a shame to pull her out of her comfy little closet. She looks so peaceful and safe. You’re not supposed to wake a sleeping kid right? Maybe I can let my inner child sleep a little longer. Tucked away in her closet fort.

You know, just until the world finds its way and life becomes a little bit safer for everyone.

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It’s Time To Be Uncomfortable!

Photo by Maria Oswalt on Unsplash.com

“We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.” — Elie Wiesel

Today, I’m keeping this short because, honestly, I’m at a loss. So much pain and sorrow. So many people standing with their hands up and peacefully saying no more. They’re asking for the right to live, to breathe and they’re being beaten for it. How is a breath of air too much to ask for? They shouldn’t have to ask. I don’t have to ask! Why do they? It makes no sense. I don’t understand any of this. 

I don’t have the words.

I’m at a complete loss. 

I was born in a country ruled by apartheid. Race and inequality were staples of daily living. Living there, seeing the violence and the segregation, I was well aware of the privileges I add. It was blatantly obvious, and it was flaunted, by many, with violent glee. The pain. The fear. I’ll never forget.

Then we immigrated to Canada and those inequalities were hidden. I thought it was over. I thought I was living in a different world. I was young and naive. 

Turns out, the machine works hard here too but the engines are a lot quieter. Its disguise is pretty damn convincing or maybe I just wanted to believe that things were different. Either way, I’ve lived inside of a system that’s designed for my convenience and success. I ignorantly, and sometimes arrogantly, believed that systemic racism wasn’t in this country. I happily believed, so I never thought twice about the life I was living. I never noticed the privileges afforded to me because of the colour of my skin.

Ignorance is bliss until you learn the truth. 

The truth is a powerful punch to the side of the head and my head’s still spinning. It’s been many, many, years since my eyes were opened by very kind, very wise, people who took me aside and shared their stories. They owed me nothing. The didn’t have to teach me but I’m grateful for their compassion and grace. They opened my eyes and for the first time I saw what they went through and I’m…I have no words. Plenty of tears, anger, and confusion.

But the words? I don’t know what to say.

As a general rule, when I don’t know what to say, I try not to say very much. In this case, I think that it’s best to listen to the voices that have been silenced for way too long. Not just listen! Hear them. See them. Respect the courage it takes to speak truth to people who are afraid to listen. Thank them because I’ll say it again, they owe us nothing.

But if I stay silent for too long, then what? I would call myself anti-racist but if I stay silent then I empower the oppressors. If I stay silent, I become the thing I despise. That’s not something I can live with, so I’m taking a deep breath, and with all my strength, I say: BLACK LIVES MATTER!

Please don’t come at me with all lives matter because if they did another black man, George Floyd, wouldn’t have lost his life. If all lives mattered then a black woman, Breonna Taylor, wouldn’t have been shot to death in her own bed. Ahmaud Arbery wouldn’t have been killed while exercising if all lives mattered. There are so many more. How many black and indigenous lives have been taken? Stolen. Silenced. How many names have been lost to history?

They didn’t commit a crime and even if they did; I doubt I would’ve been treated the same way in their position. That’s privilege. The colour of my skin would’ve, I’m sure it already has, saved my life. Again, that’s privilege and we can’t have equality with that imbalance in place. We can’t claim to be a just society until we have equality for everyone.

I know it’s uncomfortable, no one wants to believe they’re on the wrong side of decency, but being uncomfortable isn’t fatal. Being silent is! People are dying. People are suffering. People with dreams, hopes, aspirations, and loves are losing their lives. That should make us all very uncomfortable. It should make us all very angry. It should, but we’re so focused on what we’ll lose if this system, the one built for our comfort, is dismantled.

The thought of losing that power and privilege is worse than the lives being lost? Really? That makes no sense! I’d rather lose my privilege than watch someone lose their life because that life is precious. That life is needed. That life deserves the chance to shine bright.

Something has to change, but I don’t even know where to begin. I don’t know what to do. I’m not the strongest, my voice isn’t the loudest, but I’ll help in any way you need. For whatever it’s worth, please know that I am listening and I’m learning. I see you. I’m here for you. I have your back. I am an ally and a friend.

Now I’m going to step back, shut up, and let you speak. It’s your voice the world needs to hear.Now more than ever:

  • Why I’m No longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge
  • Natives by Akala

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The Power and Limitations of Prayer

Photo By Toa Heftiba on Unsplash.com

I believe in the power of prayer. Thought I should just get that out before I go on to contradict myself or stir up a nest of angry fire ants. Made that mistake once and, believe me, there are someplace you just don’t want ants to bite. Sensitive places. So…So sensitive. But I digress!

Prayer is a big part of my life but I’ve started to wonder if there are limitations to this magical little friend. Like Superman holding kryptonite, can prayer be drained of its strength and turned into a puddle of goo? When do these words become nothing more than silly incantations? Is that even possible or should I just stop asking stupid questions?

I’m sure there are plenty of you that believe prayer is a waste of time. That it’s a childish superstition. It’s the equivalent of staring up at the sky and wishing on a shooting star or blowing out the candles on a birthday cake. If you tell me what you wished for it won’t come true. That’s how that goes right? Huh, when you put it like that, um, yeah fair play. Prayer does sound pretty silly.

Kneeling on the floor, clasping folded hands, and bowing the head. Eyes closed and words sent out into the vast unknown. Believing that this great entity is listening to every word, taking notes, and then…What? It’s kinda like therapy only cheaper. Plus, no one asks, “How does that make you feel?” Feel? I don’t know. Itchy?

Does this great entity say anything or are we just putting words out into the ether and hoping for the best? If we don’t hear a response, does that mean that God isn’t real, or does it mean we haven’t learned how to listen? Are we looking for answers in all the wrong places? Or, are we seeing answers that aren’t there because we believe there should be answers?

There I go, asking way too many questions but I have more. A lot more. Way too many and your time is precious. Let’s boil it down to one or two. That’s a little closer to bite-size. Is the power of prayer real or is it a figment of our wishful thinking? If it’s real, is it all-powerful or are there limitations?

Two questions instead of two hundred? Not bad. If you think I’m about to answer them then this is gonna get awkward. I was kinda hoping you knew. No? This is a one-way form of communication. Cool. Cool. Forgot how this thing works for a second. Are you okay if we just sit in this uncomfortable silence for a few minutes? 

Okay, let’s talk this out and maybe I’ll stumble on something that closely resembles an answer.

As I said, I believe in the healing power of prayer. For me, that’s a done deal but I’m not someone who blindly follows beliefs. Even my own beliefs. Just because my heart tells me it’s true, doesn’t mean I don’t have doubts. I ask a lot of questions. I’m dubious when an answer sounds too good to be true or too pretty. I’m a cynic and it’s not one of my finest qualities but I think asking these big questions is important for growth. It’s vital, as someone who has a system of belief, to keep digging because if I don’t, I become complacent. 

A complacent faith, for someone like me, is a dying light in a dark world, and I need all the light I can get. So I ask more questions. I doubt my faith. I question God. I wonder if he’s real or if he’s brunching with Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. I pray with one eye open just in case the answer falls out of the sky like a cartoon anvil. 

Beep Beep…Ouch.

Oh boy, let’s start with the positive because I think we could all use a little more positivity. After all, these are dark times Harry. Dark times.

NERD! What? Who me? Positively.

It’s easier for me to believe in something I can see, touch, feel. Tangibles are harder to argue with than hypotheticals. If I can experience it first hand then doubt can’t wake me up in the middle of the night with its endless stream of questions.

Ah, but when it comes to my firm belief in prayer? How do I know that something intangible actually manifests itself in a reality-based mindset?

Before my last transplant, I was in the hospital, and I was taken down to the inpatient dialysis unit for my regular run. I was hooked up to hemodialysis. Two tubes ran from my body to the machine. Blood was pulled out through one line, sent through the filters, and pushed back into me through the other. It usually took three, three and a half hours, of sucking (literally and figuratively) to get my blood clean.

Want some science mixed in with your religion? Sure, here we go. Think of dialysis as an external artificial kidney. The kidneys filter out the waste from our blood, convert it into urine, and then we flush it down the pipes. If the kidneys don’t work then that waste builds up in the blood, it’s dispersed throughout the body, and that would be fatal if we didn’t have a machine to clean out the waste.

Dialysis isn’t a perfect system but it did buy me some time. Time to find a donor, go through all of the testing, and have a life-saving kidney transplant. Thank God for science!

Most of my runs were pretty bad. My body didn’t respond well, and I always felt a lot worse when I was unhooked than when I went on. This day, it went from bad to horrible very quickly. I’d just had a big surgery. My already weak body was a lot weaker. Dialysis is incredibly hard on the body and this day my body couldn’t take it.

The pain started about an hour into my run. My muscles started to cramp and it felt like my blood was boiling in my veins. I was freezing cold, my teeth were chattering and I was shaking, but I also felt like I was on fire. Can fire be cold? The staff were working as hard as they could to figure out what was wrong. Cramping is normal on dialysis but feeling like your body is on fire? No, that’s not normal so no one knew how to fix it.

While they were trying to figure it out, my mom was on the phone with my dad. My dad’s a paster, and he was about to give a sermon. Instead of preaching, he asked his congregation to pray and they did. I don’t know what they said, but I knew when they started because I felt it.

I know that this is going to sound crazy. Believe me, I know but the fire in my veins was replaced by a different sort of heat. It started in my chest and slowly spread throughout my body. It was like a warm summer breeze hitting your sweaty face. That moment when you sigh, look up at the sun, and a hard days work just melts away.

That’s what it felt like. I didn’t know they were praying, but I knew they had. I felt it. The pain stopped. I relaxed. I closed my eyes and sighed. I felt their prayers and I felt the response. 

Or, you know, science?

Nah, at that moment my cynical mind was flummoxed because I told the team I was feeling better and they told me they hadn’t figured out what was wrong. Huh, coincidence? Maybe but what I felt was love, not medicine. That’s the word I was looking for! I felt this indescribable love extinguish the fire in my blood. 

Again, I know how it sounds but that’s how it felt.

When I look back I can see other moments when praper saved my life. I can’t even tell you how many times doctors have said, “How the hell are you still alive? You should be dead. You know that right?”

I’m never sure how to respond. Do I apologize? Promise to do better next time? 

I believe that prayer has the power to heal. It has the power to save and change lives. Prayer can be a superpower. I’m absolutely sure of that, but that doesn’t mean it’s without limitations. Nothing is perfect. Even the Garden of Eden had one big red flaw.

Then again, without human error, that flaw wouldn’t be a part of the story.

Is that the key here? User error.

I don’t know about you, but I pray with certain expectations. A list of things I need and I take them to God hoping he provides. Kinda like Santa? Is that what I’m doing? Sitting on his knee, reading off a list, and crossing my fingers. In my defence, isn’t that what were told to do? Take it to God. He’ll provide.

Lay it at his feet. Ask and you’ll receive. We’re taught to go to God, and we’re told he’ll give us what we need. That’s how the system works. Every lesson in prayer that I’ve ever sat through has taught me that, when I ask, God will provide.

Until he doesn’t and then what? Huh…I feel an anvil rushing towards my head.

There’s a chance that these lessons lost something in translation? What if these words we recite, these snippets of scripture, lack context? No idea what that context is but it feels like something is missing. Prayer has become this centre for wish fulfillment. It’s all about what God can do for me, my life, and for the lives of the people I love. I go to God when I need something, and yeah he’s there for that too, but if I take and don’t give? I think that maybe we need to give a little.

Prayer isn’t just about looking for answers. That’s a component but it can be so much more if we stop asking and just start talking. A conversation. Build a relationship. Sit in silence. Go with a willingness to simply be present without an agenda. What happens to our prayers then?

Here’s someone who says it better: “Prayer asks us to break out of our monologue with ourselves and to imitate Jesus by turning our lives into an unceasing conversation with the One we call God.” (Nouwen, Henri J. M. Clowning in Rome: Reflections on Solitude, Celibacy, Prayer, and Contemplation. New York: Image Books (Doubleday), 1979, pp. 68-70.)

A conversation. Two people, sitting, talking, enjoying each other’s company. Sure, God’s voice is a little hard to hear but do we need to hear the words to build a connection? Yeah, it would help but if we’re so used to talking, or asking for things, then we haven’t learned how to listen. Once we do that, how will our experience with prayer change?

It’s easier, sitting down with our lists or reciting the prayers we were taught as kids. Bang one out, get off our knees, and get on with our day. Listening is hard and learning to recognize God’s voice is harder but what will happen when we finally hear what he’s been trying to tell us? Imagine the possibilities.

I know that opening ourselves up is uncomfortable. Being vulnerable is miserable. Having an open conversation feels awkward. Especially with God which is odd. If there’s ever a time, place, person, that I can bare my soul too it’s now. God is, well, God. All-knowing. All-seeing. I’m not saying anything he doesn’t already know. I can be honest and it’s safe. There’s no agenda. It’s just the two of us being honest for the first time in a long while.

At least I know that God’s going to keep my mess, my fears, and my insecurities safe. I can be my true authentic self without judgment, condemnation, or criticism. I can let it all out. I don’t have to hold it all in. With God, in prayer, I’m safe. That is so liberating and maybe that’s where we’ll find the true power of prayer.

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A Werewolf On An Open Road?

Photo by Osman Rana on Unsplash

“In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on.” – Robert Frost

It’s a clear night and the stars shine brightly. The air is warm, almost too warm for this time of year, but no one’s complaining. Well, no one else is awake right now and the silence is perfection. Everyone is tucked away in their beds which means the streets are empty and it’s time to play.

A little more pressure on the gas and the engine roars. It’s been a long time since it’s pushed the limits but tonight is the night it comes alive. The steering wheel shakes ever so slightly as the speed increase. Tighten the grip and hold on. Look in the review mirror and smile. The cities lights are fading fast and the open road is calling.

Faster. Faster. The smile widens. Life is good. Life is great. It will never be better than this moment.

There’s a flash of fur. White teeth bare as it crashes into the windshield and its red eyes shatter glass. The brakes lock up and the tires smoke. The seatbelt locks. The airbag deploys. It came out of nowhere. There was no warning. There was no way to prepare. What was that thing? It looked human but…Not.

Does it matter? The moment is lost. Perfection has been shattered. Happiness has been destroyed. Life has come to a complete stop.

Sometimes, when I stand very still, I can feel the earth moving beneath my feet. Is that weird? Maybe my overactive imagination is playing tricks on me, but I swear I feel the ground hum and groan as it’s pulled along by mighty force. As acutely as I feel it move, I feel it stop and my face slams into that airbag with momentums full force.

Uh, I guess for legal reasons I should point out that I’m speaking metaphorically. Don’t get into a real car, drive recklessly, and cause a major motor vehicle accident. That’s just wrong and senseless. Be sensible. Drive safely. There’s my public service announcement for the day.

That should appease the litigious folks. Now, let’s get back on the road…In a manner of speaking.

Have you ever felt the earth stop spinning? You were walking along with a skip in your step. Maybe you were humming a song you heard on the radio. There you are, happily living your life, on a beautiful spring day. Then, in a moment of recklessness, you thought, “What could possibly ruin this perfect moment?”

Well, that woke up that bloody little fairy! It cracks open a cold one, takes a big gulp, burps, and says, “Hold my beer.” 

Out of nowhere, that drunk little bastard runs right in front of you and the brakes engage. You come to a complete stop and feel your face cave in as you stick a hard landing. Maybe it’s shock or some psychological defence mechanism, but suddenly you feel like you don’t exist anymore. Worse, it feels like the world has vanished and you’re left stranded on the last remaining patch of earth. Coincidentally, it’s about the size of your home.

Your life comes to an abrupt halt. The earth stops spinning. Everything just stops and it becomes too quiet.

A few years ago a very dear friend of mine passed away. We met when we were little kids and we were both fighting the same illness. We were always in the hospital at the same time and we were usually there for the same reasons so we became very close, very quickly. Her mom called us the Timex Twins because we, “Took a lickin and kept on tickin.”

I called her mom, Ma and she did the same to mine. We played together. Fought together. Argued and forgave each other. She had my back and I had hers. No matter what, I knew I could pick up the phone, and she would be there for me. We were like sisters and losing her felt like I lost a part of myself.

For the first few days, I hunkered down and let the haze cover me like a blanket. I felt restless but I didn’t have the energy to move. My arms and legs felt like they were being weighed down by a thousand pounds of sand. It also felt like I had ants crawling underneath my skin, tugging on my nerve endings, and I needed to run around, shake em off but I was too tired. When I had some energy, I walked around aimlessly, and when I found something to do I’d just stare at it because my ability to comprehend the basics were nonexistent.

Thoughts didn’t register. Feelings couldn’t fully form. I was on autopilot, and I couldn’t flip the switch back on to manual control. After a few days, I had enough strength to give it some elbow grease. The switch didn’t flip all the way and the fog didn’t lift all that much. I just became adept at navigating it. Still, it took months to feel like myself, but at least I wasn’t completely lost in the haze.

It’s the strangest feeling. Going back out into the world after a period of grief-induced hibernation or hibernation for any reason. Have you noticed how everything and everyone just carries on as if nothing has happened? Something big happened, but the world just kept going. What? How’s that possible? I don’t know how to process this information.

There’s this part of me that wanted to stand on a busy street corner and scream at people for acting too normal. That irrational, overemotional, reactionary part of me that’s locked away in a soundproof room, down in the basement. Honestly, it’s better for everyone if she’s kept far away from the control centre. If she had her way, there would be anarchy up in my nervous system.

But it is a strange feeling, isn’t it? Your world is crashing down. It’s imploding. You can barely breathe, let alone take care of your own basic needs. Eating, sleeping, bathing. Everything becomes so much harder, but outside everything carries on like it has for hundreds, thousands, of years.

People get up, get dressed, go to work or school. You watch them walk down the street, smile at familiar faces, wave at old friends. There’s laughter and music. A bus drives by and puffs diesel into your face and the smell is so familiar that’s it’s almost comforting. Everything is the same except everything has changed.

Well, the way we see it has changed because we’ve been changed. Someone we loved has died, or we’ve been given a grim diagnosis. It can be a hundred different things and the exact moment doesn’t matter. What matters is how that moment changes us and what we do after we’ve been changed.

Kinda like a werewolf? I…Well…Yeah okay, sure, kinda like a werewolf. In the stories, they’re defined by this one thing that happened to them. They were changed forever. They tried to go back to life as they knew it but that life was over. They didn’t belong there anymore. So what did they do? They couldn’t go back. They were trapped in that one moment. They can’t go forward, continue on as a monster, so what do they do? They’re stuck until villagers with pitchforks set them free and then they’re at peace.

I’ve spent a good part of my life stuck in moments of grief and pain. The wounds heal and grief dissipates. The scars remain and that spot at the dinner table remains empty. The immediate aftermath dulls, but I haven’t been able to make peace with those moments so I stay inside of them. I don’t let myself walk outside and see that life goes on because I don’t feel like I belong. Maybe, if I see what I’m missing, then I’ll want to move on too?

I’m scared of what moving on means because I don’t know who I am, outside of these moments.

These big moments tend to define us but a lot of the time we’re the ones writing down the definition. Yes, other people contribute and sometimes they instigate it. But we’re the ones who put pen to paper. I’m the one who’s chosen to define myself by these moments. I’m the one who’s accepted their definition of who I am.

I don’t have to define myself by these moments. I don’t have to accept what others think of me. I don’t have to sit here and wait for their pitchforks. Who they say I should be isn’t who I have to be, but I’ve absorbed it, brought it to fruition, way too often. It’s easier to stay in the moment than let life carry on because carrying on means accepting that I’ve changed.

Just when I thought I knew who I was I get bitten by an oversized dog, human, hybrid…thing. Oh, this calls for a very dramatic sigh.

Lately, I’ve noticed a slow change in how I think and feel. It’s new. It’s strange. I don’t know what this change is and that scares me. Change always scares me. I’m not a fan. Too many unknown variables but for once I’m not trying to stop it or fight it.

I think I’m more curious than fearful so maybe I can try acceptance over suppression. Unless, of course, I grow fangs and develop an unnatural thirst for blood. In that case, suppression might be advisable. Since that seems highly unlikely, maybe I can let it ride down the open highway for a few miles.

Slowly, at a reasonable speed for the road conditions, and maybe even a little tentatively. After all, Mr. Frost was right when he said that life goes on and it will carry on whether we’re a part of it or not. I, for one, have spent a little too long sitting on the curb. My reasons were good. I’d go so far as to call them reasonable under the circumstances, but those reasons don’t represent my current state of mind.

I’m changing, evolving, becoming a creature I don’t recognize and that’s a little exciting. The change is happening, and it’s not even a full moon. I don’t know what or who I’ll be tomorrow morning or next year, but for once I’m looking forward more often then I’m looking back. 

This time, when life carries on, I’m going along for the adventure. Maybe I will meet a werewolf on a lonely stretch of highway or a fairy by a lake. Maybe I shouldn’t have had six cups of tea over the last three hours. Clearly the caffeine is getting to me.

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Please, Don’t Pity Me

Photo By Daniel Schludi on Unsplash

Dread crawls up my spine like a snake wrapping itself around a tree branch. It clings to my bones. I feel its muscles flex as it holds on for dear life. It lifts its head, its tongue laps up the air, and it waits. There’s a strong breeze. It’s bitter but sweet. There’s a ripple of tension. Any minute now. Just wait for it. Here it comes… “Oh, you poor thing.”

There it is! Their voice rises and falls. Their tongue clicks the back of their teeth and a tsk slips through downturned limps. Their head tilts to one side, a sadness flickers through their eyes, and they sigh tiredly. It’s as if my presence is exhausting and the thought of me is a bit too much. They look to the left, then the right, and finally over their shoulder. They’ve said their peace and now it’s time to execute their exit strategy.

Everything about this interaction screams one thing: Pity.

I’ve been on the receiving end of this particular emotion plenty of times. If I’m being completely honest, I’m sure I’ve dished it out a time or two. It’s not something I’m proud of because being pitied is demeaning and isolating. It has a heaviness that carries the weight of a lead-filled hot air balloon. There’s a metallic bitterness that stings the back of my throat. When I look into their eyes I know we’re thinking the same thing. Turn away. Melt into the floor. Disappear and be done with this whole sordid affair.

Or, I’m just projecting.

The look, the tilted head, and the clumsy attempt at consolation doesn’t have the desired effect. I frantically look for an exit while I resist the urge to stand and fight. Yell, scream, ball my fists, and stamp my feet. That word, this feeling, the attitude of pity is exacerbating. It’s dismissive. It’s invalidating. Pity is dehumanizing. It strips away the person until all that’s left, all that anyone sees, are their scars.

That person? Their thoughts, dreams, silly quirks? Instead of reading their whole story, we learn all we want to know in one chapter and throw out the rest. The other eighty-nine chapters? Pity doesn’t have that kind of time. If it can’t be summarized in one paragraph on Wiki then forget about it.

Unless it’s turned into a movie but it better have car chases, big explosions, and an A-list cast.

Pity comes in many forms, and its motives vary. I’m a fan of giving people the benefit of the doubt, so I like to assume it comes from a place of genuine concern. It’s a blunderous attempt at kindness, compassion, and empathy. It’s like going in for a hug but smacking them in the head with a phone. The pain was unintentional, but there will be a bruise. 

By the way, that’s totally a hypothetical scenario and it didn’t happen in real life. On a completely unrelated note: Why am I so clumsy?

I think, in these situations, we’re trying to create a connection but we don’t have the right tools. The job has to be done so we rig something out of nothing and try to make it work. But it’ll never work. Instead of building a bridge, we’re putting up a wall and once that thing is standing, it’s almost impossible to tear it down. 

Walls don’t cover the distance, but they do keep out the icky feelings and uncomfortable ideas. There are somethings, some pains, that are too big and scary. Opening ourselves up to that? Letting ourselves feel it? Compassion and empathy require understanding but to understand we have to sit with the person and hear their story. We have to drop our guard, feel a small portion of their experience, and walk with them over some hot coals.

Of course, we’ll never fully understand what they’re going through unless we’ve gone through it ourselves. Even then, we can have the same experience but experience it in very different ways. We’ll never fully feel it, not like they do, but we can put ourselves in their position. We can close our eyes, paint a picture, and imagine how they’re feeling.

Yes, it’s a lot easier said than done. 

I don’t want to feel your pain or imagine what it’s been like for you. You’ve been through a lot, and I don’t know if I’m strong enough to handle it. I don’t know if I have your courage. If I’m too scared to even try to paint that picture? How can I let myself experience it enough to feel compassion or empathy? That’s so hard and pity is so much easier. 

I might be hyper empathic but I have my limits and I’ll hide behind that wall for a moments peace. Somethings are too big. Some things are too painful. There have been moments, quite recently actually, when I’ve wanted to say “the right thing” but the words just won’t come out. The right words failed me because there’s nothing to say. Keeping my mouth shut would’ve been preferable, probably more helpful, but I opened it a words fell out. 

Instead of offering comfort, my words came out in a way I didn’t intend. I instantly wished I could shove them back down my throat. I wanted to take it all back. My motives were pure, as are yours, but the execution fell short and pity draped over the good intentions.

Sometimes intention has nothing to do with our automatic response. If we venture into the shade, we see pity as a by-product of relief. The situation is so horrible, and the thought of being in that position is too much to process. We’re so glad it’s not us! We don’t want it to happen to them, we’re not monsters, but we are human. If we can’t imagine going through something so terrible than how could they go through it now? Relief and sadness unite. Pity is their love child. 

All children are deserving of love, but pity isn’t an act of love.

In my experience, it can be a weapon used to silence and dismiss. I’ve been in situations where pity quickly turned to disgust and they treated me like I wasn’t even human. The nose turned up, the eyes narrowed, their lips pressed together so hard they lost pigment. Their arms wrapped around their chest and their feet spred wide as if they were blocking an entrance. The didn’t feel sorry for me. They hated me because I, my illness, represented weakness and that, for some, is a moral failing to be pitied, despised, and dismissed.

It’s sad. Not for me! I don’t have time for people who behave that way. They’ve chosen willful ignorance over basic human decency. Their insecurities, their need to stand above others, has turned them cold. There’s no other word for it. They’re just sad and I feel bad for them. I suppose, one could argue, that this is a trait that should be pitied. Choosing exclusion and cruelty? Choosing to live in a delusional world of superiority? They are limiting their lives, their experiences, and living in a very small world filled with darkness.

What a tragic waste? Do I dare say, “What a pity?” It’s, I’ll say it again, sad but I’m not sure if they deserve pity. I’m not sure they deserve that energy at all but I could be wrong. I choose to focus my energy on the other 99% of people who just want to be kind.

The vast majority of us are coming from a place of decency, kindness, and compassion. We aren’t trying to be hurtful. We just don’t know how to be helpful so we fall back onto pity. Except, we’re told we shouldn’t wallow in self-pity because it isn’t healthy, it’s isolating, and it’s self-limiting. If self-pity isn’t okay then why is it okay to pity someone else? Isn’t that just as unhealthy? Isn’t it just as isolating and limiting?

How many of us, when we receive pity, enjoy it? How many of us feel loved, seen, accepted for who we are beyond the scars on our bodies? None of those things ring true for me. The opposite is almost always the case and that’s a very lonely place to live. It isn’t a healthy place to be, that’s for sure.

I don’t want your pity. I don’t need your pity. Compassion: Absolutely. Empathy: For sure. Patience: That would be lovely. But pity? Please don’t.

I’m more than my scars. I’m more than my diagnosis. I’m more than my past, present, and I’ll be more than my future. I’m a leather bound bestselling novel that should be enjoyed in its entirety and not left to the cliff notes. I’m more complicated than that and so is my life.

So is your life! You’re all of those things and more. Let’s not limit each other with pity. Let’s not dismiss each other, marginalize each other, with something so dehumanizing. Please, don’t pity me and I’ll offer you the same dignity.

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The Storytellers Lies

Photo by Hasan Almasi on Unsplash

“I could no longer discern what was real and what was fake. Everything, including the present, seemed to be both too much and nothing at all.” ― Clemantine Wamariya, The Girl Who Smiled Beads: A Story of War and What Comes After

I enjoy a good conspiracy theory but it better be well thought out. If there are holes, I will find them and playtime is over. I love a good game of ‘what if’ that’s played for funsies but never taken too seriously. The grassy knoll. Area 51. Did Hitler really kill himself or did Odessa help him escape to Argentina? Oh, the possibilities are endless but here’s a question: If any of these are true, then what? Do we change history, rewrite it, or let it ride? If the past changes, does it change our future? Does a paradigm shift alter the course of our species or is our path locked?

Oh, once you pop, you can’t stop. 

Theories, stories, or flights of fancy? They’re bizarre enough to make me stop and think things through in a new, often weird, way but it’s a fun mental workout on a stationary bike. Work out those muscles, get the blood pumping, but be careful. A strained muscle is a bad thing, and straining this particular muscle can be dangerous. Take some breaks. Drink some water. Go outside, in accordance with health guidelines, and get some fresh air. It’s important, vital even because once you get going, the brakes just might fail. 

Pull one thread and another one rolls off into a lonely, dark, dank concrete bunker. There are spider webs and a distant drip, drip, drip of water from a leaking pipe. Smell that? Yeah, I think it’s mold. Door hinges groan and squeak. A loud clunk. The door is closed. Try to push it open, but it won’t budge. There’s no way out! Why did I follow that damn string? Why?

It’s one thing to look back at history and question the stories we’ve been told. History, as they say, is written by the winners so maybe we don’t know the whole story. Asking questions, digging a little deeper, is better than blindly following the status quo. Imagine what we could learn if we asked more questions!

On the other hand, what do we do when people start questioning our present-day realities? That’s a different story, isn’t it? It seems like everyone has an agenda and they’re all pointing fingers at the one person, or group, they believe is at fault. We all seem to believe that someone has to be at fault because without someone to blame the world becomes an even scarier place.

Except, the world becomes a scarier place when we divide ourselves into opposing factions. Yelling at each other instead of listening. Pointing guns at each other because a show of strength, combined with the raised voices, adds gravitas to our righteous indignation. Rights! I have rights! We scream over and over. One person’s rights have become more important than the community. Now we’re all running scared because who’s rights will win out?

Yours? Mine? The one neighbour down the street who thinks the squirrels in his backyard are reincarnated relatives? How about the rights of one government, country, religion? What if that religion, country, or government isn’t your own? Do they still have the right to tell you what to do with your life or your body?

It’s all well and good, defending our rights until our rights don’t line up and then the conspiracy theories start brewing. It’s easier to point fingers at an organization, religious group, political party, or ethnic group than diving into a very messy reality. A clear target is more reassuring than the ghosts floating around somewhere out there. At least, with something we can see, we can defend ourselves and save the lives of people we love. 

Even if that means killing someone else? Even if that means we die? Do either of us have to die? Huh…There’s a head-scratcher! I’ve asked this before, but I haven’t gotten an answer so let’s ask it again: What’s the magic number? How many people have to die before we say, uncle? A hundred thousand dead. One million dead. What’s the magic number here? What will we accept and what will be a step too far?

You’re going to call me a snowflake for saying this but, as far as I’m concerned, one death is one too many. I’ve buried a lot of friends, and each of them was worth saving. Each of them was loved, needed, and are sorely missed. Losing them? A very small part of this world is worse off without them in it. 

Look around at the people you love. Which one would you sacrifice for your theory or your rights? Which one are you willing to gamble? I’m willing to bet your part of this world would be worse off without each of them. Then again, maybe your right to a hair cut is worth the risk? That’s a question only you can answer, so God bless and good luck.

As for me? I believe in science, facts, and logic that’s been put to the test. Sure, it’s not above reproach and mistakes happen. Science doesn’t have all the answers. They say, “I don’t know an awful lot.”

How comforting is that? Yeah, I’m not feeling all warm and fuzzy over here.

Especially now, when science is our only hope, there are too many questions that it can’t answer and that is terrifying. I need answers. I need a cure or a vaccine. I need out of my damn house! I’m not sure if you can tell, but I’m going a little bonkers. The walls are closing in…I can’t breathe…Oh, dear…

Nah, I’m all right and in this fight, I’m still putting my money on science. That being said science takes time and logic has to be put through a test of fire before it’s ready for public consumption. Do we have time? What about all the people getting sick, losing their jobs, struggling to put food on their table? All the people that have died or will die? I know it seems like a shallow concern, all things considered, but we have to worry about the economy and what impact this virus is having on it. What impact will it have on the future of global economics?

Yes, lives have to be the number one concern but the economy comes in second. Oh boy, there are just so many things to worry about. So few answers. We need answers but time feels like it’s running out. Maybe, we’ll all feel a little bit better if someone would sit down and tell us a story? Maybe it can have a government conspiracy? Oo and international espionage! Don’t forget the biological weapons that threaten our rights and freedoms. Yeah, that sounds like a good distraction.

It’s amazing what a great storyteller can do with a few well-placed words. Especially when everything is scary and the monsters won’t stay in the closet or under the bed. The shadows grow long, the wind howls through the trees, and a branch taps, taps, taps against the window. The covers are pulled up high, and we bury ourselves just a little bit deeper. The hinges on our bedroom door groans, squeaks, and we gasp.

The light from the hall hides his face, but we know that silhouette. The Storyteller is here to take our minds off the monsters, ghouls, and ghosts we can’t see. He’ll give us something we can hold onto. Something we can fight. Something we can do so we don’t have to hide under the covers like little children. 

No one wants to feel like a coward. Very few of us are willing to lay down and die. We don’t want to go out like that, so we look for something to fight, someone to blame, and a story that makes it all okay. Oh, the lies we tell ourselves when fear, ignorance, and deeply buried bigotries bubble to the surface. A perfect storm in an imperfect world.

Turns out we didn’t have to worry about the monsters, ghouls, and ghosts in the shadows. Not when we catch our reflections in the mirror and see the anger, hatred, and lust for vengeance burning in our eyes. It’s not a good look on anyone and seeing it can be quite jarring. Believe me, I’ve seen that reflection too so I’m not saying this from a pulpit or soap box. I’ve fallen for the Storytellers charms. He’s really very good, but the only power the story has is the power we give it.

Like I said, I enjoy a well thought out conspiracy theory but that’s all it is: A theory. A mental exercise. An exploration of thoughts that I would never, in my hyper-rational mind, come up with on my own. As fun as they are, if I can’t back it up my peer reviewed facts and time tested logic? Then these theories stay in the hands of the Storyteller and I go back to the land of the living.

The alternative? That’s not a theory I’m willing to play out. Not again.

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Can You Zip That Up, Please?

Photo by: Nick Fewings on Unsplash

Do we dare to compare our scars or our pain? Is it measuring contest? Do you have a ruler or should I find one? We can whip it out right here if that will make you feel better. On the count of three? One…Two…Hold up, this is just silly! Do we really have to do this now? Do we have to do it at all?

Can you zip that up, please? I was speaking metaphorically and now everyone’s staring!

People often say to me, “Well, I mean, it’s nothing compared to what you’ve been through.” They apologize for “complaining” about their life and, once again, draw parallels between their struggles and mine. In an instant, it becomes a pissing contest, and they feel like they can’t measure up to my story. Worse, they feel like they can’t share their story with me because theirs isn’t worth sharing.

Perhaps, if we’re making a blow by blow comparison then okay? I guess? Maybe? No, sorry, I’m squinting but I still don’t see how this contest plays out. How do we run the measurements? Duct tape. Hopscotch. Yardstick. Who gets points for what? Do we just have to stick the landing or are there points for style? Oh, and you know there’s going to be that one judge who just has to be contrary. Who gives a score of 3.263? It’s so random!

It’s just about as random as that analogy.

Do you really want to go through with this comparison? I’m not asking to be cocky or to brag. This isn’t an ego trip for me. I’m asking a very genuine question: Why are you comparing your struggles and pain, to mine? What does it accomplish? Do we really have to go there because it won’t end well for either of us? Neither one of us will feel like doing a victory lap because there are no winners in this game. There will be two people, sitting in awkward silence, because this kind of competition breeds division, not unity.

When someone makes the comparison, I have a lot of questions! Such as: So what? What does it matter? Why is my pain more valid than yours? What makes my struggles special or more deserving of sympathy, empathy, and compassion? What is it about your story that makes yours worth less than mine? Why do you feel like you have to make the comparison at all?

Is it a matter of self-worth? Self-doubt? Insecurities? Or, is it self-deprecation for the sake of humility? Do you think I’ll think less of you for speaking up? I won’t. Spoiler alert! I don’t think less of anyone for telling their story. It takes courage and strength. Believe me, I know how hard it is to open your heart up so I’ll celebrate you for it. I won’t criticize you and I won’t draw the comparisons. So why are you?

You’re right, I’ve been through a lot and, if we crunch the numbers the price differential could be quite significant. I have a chronic illness, kidney disease, and I’ve had more surgery than years of life. (Stole that line more my dad.) I’ve been clinically dead at least five times. The scars on my body look like a road map to nowhere. They tell a very dramatic story so, again, yes I’ve been through a lot.

Then again, you might outpace me by a hundred miles. Does that mean my suffering has less value? Does that mean I don’t get to feel what I feel? Is there are chart somewhere that colour grades our problems or struggles? Red is extreme duress. Yellow is mild discomfort. Does that make it easier? Does that make it more legitimate?

When someone compares what they’re going through to what I’ve been through, I get uncomfortable. It’s not the comparison itself. I think it’s only natural to compare ourselves to others. Our need to compare is instinctual and, in a way, it’s a clumsy attempt at connection and intimacy. We compare ourselves because we all want to measure up to our contemporaries. If we do, then maybe we’ve found a place to belong. A home. A family. A safe space. It’s a primal need that keeps us alive.

At least, I think that’s the hope. Often the comparison leaves us feeling like we’re falling short of a very high bar. We can’t see it and, in some cases, there’s no hope of reaching it. That doesn’t seem to matter, though. We still take a running start, stick our pole-vault in the dirt, and do our damnedest to soar through the air like a fighter jet. Look Mom no hands!

It quickly becomes apparent that we’ve made some serious miscalculations. The pole’s not long enough. Our legs aren’t fast enough. That jet engine doesn’t have enough fuel. The disappointment is almost inevitable, and the fall will leave a mark. We lay on our backs, look up at the sky, and dejection presses down on us harder than gravity. We’ll spend hours trying to figure out what went wrong and beat ourselves up for it.

Isn’t that the price we pay for comparing our falls from grace? Our failures, bad luck, and life’s right hooks? When we’re comparing those moments, are we looking for reassurance that we didn’t fall as far as we thought? Is it a way to protect ourselves from pain, shame, guilt, or any other emotion that’s uncomfortable and isolating?

As much as I don’t like people comparing their experiences to mine; I’ve done it a hundred times. I’ve tried to play this game when I really should’ve kept it zipped up. That pissing contest, the dare to compare, doesn’t end well for me either. I don’t feel more connected and I don’t feel grateful for what I have. What am I doing when I compare myself, my experiences, and say that others have it worse? 

I tell myself that I’m just gaining some perspective by looking at the world around me. Seeing what others are going through? The magnitude of their suffering? Sure, that perspective is great. Sometimes we need to step out of ourselves, our own little bubbles, to appreciate what we have. It’s better than wallowing, isn’t it?

In theory, you’d think it would take the sting off of my own pain and maybe it does? Occasionally. Sometimes. Maybe. Usually, it doesn’t make me feel better about my circumstances. More often than not I feel defeated and more alone because comparison doesn’t alleviate torment and it doesn’t bring me closer to the people that care about me. 

Someone said that comparison is the thief of joy, and they’re right. Not only does it steal joy, but it alienates and divides. Whether I’m doing it to myself or others get in on the gig; I end up squished inside a tiny box and I’m extremely claustrophobic. Add twenty pounds of solid wood, a ton of fertilizer, and seed some grass. Wait a couple of weeks. Yeah, I’m not getting out of there.

Did I just describe a coffin? Wow, that’s a mood.

Just because our experiences differ, doesn’t mean one is more valid than the other. It doesn’t mean you don’t get to feel hurt, sad, grief-stricken. It doesn’t mean your pain is worth less than mine. More importantly, it doesn’t mean you can’t share it with me or anyone else because keeping it in, won’t do you any favours.

When we find someone who’s willing to listen, hear us out, and support us? Don’t push that person away. It doesn’t matter what they’ve been through! Maybe what they’ve been through makes them the perfect person to talk too. People who have been through hell and made it through to brighter days? We understand what you’re feeling better than anyone else so don’t shut us out.

By making the comparison that’s what you’re doing. Unintentionally! It isn’t deliberate and it’s not hurtful. At least, I’m not hurt by it but I am frustrated. I want to be there for you. I want to hold your hand. I want to listen to your story. I want to help you if I can and if I can’t then I want to sit with you. If you need me? If you want me? I’ll be there but I can’t do that if you’re shutting me out or shutting others out.

Don’t sell yourself short! Whatever you’re going through, you don’t have to go through it alone. If you’re lucky enough to have a person in your life that will sit with you then let them in and let them be there for you. Your pain is valid. Your struggles are real. Adversity isn’t comparable and no one’s handing out medals for the most tormented.

It’s so easy to turn our lives into one big pissing contest but the only winners are the flowers that get watered. Maybe it’s time to zip it up, wash our hands, and start sharing instead of comparing.

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On The Winds Of Nowhere

Photo by: Tanya Nevidoma on Unsplash

“He’s a real nowhere man, Sitting in his Nowhere Land, Making all his nowhere plans for nobody. Doesn’t have a point of view, Knows not where he’s going to, Isn’t he a bit like you and me?” ― The Beatles, Revolver, Vocal Score

I have nothing to say. Maybe I should just post that one sentence and be done with it? Would that be okay? Arg, no words. They’re gone. Well, not gone but in hibernation. I’m trying to wake them up, but they’re throwing a temper tantrum. “I don’t wanna!” Yeah, it’s bouncing around in my head, and I think it’s coming from the part of my brain that houses my vocabulary.

Apparently my vocabulary and inner child are roommates. Those brats!

The harder I try to string these sentences together the thicker my brain gets. Like I’m trying to walk through marshlands after a heavy rainfall. Slip and slide but I can’t quite get my footing. It soaks through my boots and socks. Now my toes are cold…What am I saying?

No idea.

I’m sitting in the middle of this nowhere land and I’m trying to get out of it. Pushing. Pulling. Struggle a little harder. It’s not working. I’m just going to sit here and stare out at the approaching storm clouds until it passes. Will it pass? Will I ever get out of this nowhere land? I sure do hope so.

Maybe I’m tapped out? The last post took a lot out of me, and it brought up a lot of emotions that I didn’t expect. Just when you think you’re out, am I right? Wow, I’m still kinda feeling it.

Then again, there’s a chance that these last few months have finally caught up to me and I’m just tired. Tired of overthinking. Tired of being afraid, angry, sad, and lonely. Tired of the confusion. Tired of the news that seems to get bleaker and more contrary. Tired of worrying about everything and everyone.

Anyone else feeling like this? Tired. Tapped out. A wet rag rung dry. Feeling all the feels until there’s nothing left to feel. I want to give more, write more, create more content but the supply line has run dry.

I’ve seen a few people talk about this feeling with more poetic grace than I can muster. Creatives reaching the limit of their creativity. They desperately claw at the side of an empty ditch looking for more but find nothing. Is there any feeling more desperate than that? Okay, yes, I can think of a few, but for argument’s sake? Imagine a painter that runs out of brush strokes or a writer that runs out of words. It’s like a fish running out of water. It’s a panic that comes with a muzzle and a silencer.

If you’re not a creative, and that’s quite okay, then maybe this sounds a bit dramatic. What can I say? We’re a dramatic breed. Or is that just a stereotype? Either way, I know a few people who can’t understand how, or why, these dry spells send a creative into a tailspin. It seems like an overreaction, right? Maybe it is but losing our creative outlets are more than words on a page or paint on a canvas. 

These are our voices, our forms of expression, and losing that means we’re losing our one connection to the people around us. Have you ever lost your voice? Then you know how hard it can be to feel included or get your needs met. For me, speaking to someone face to face or even on the phone is very difficult. I struggle to articulate my thoughts, feelings, experiences. My mind goes blank and I go quiet. My voice, my spoken words, it isn’t strong and often it’s silenced by stronger, well-meaning, voices. 

I’m too quiet, too shy, and I understand that I’m hard to hear. I don’t blame the stronger voices, and I don’t hate them either, because they can speak and I can’t. Why blame someone else for my shortcomings? That’s just silly. And I know we all have a voice but some of us just can’t use it or, when we do, we aren’t heard. When we aren’t heard? Then often we aren’t seen.

When I write I feel heard and seen. I can express the thoughts, emotions, that I usually hideaway. This is my voice. The words I type, the thoughts they form, they’re who I am and I can finally share that with other people. I can connect with other people. That’s not something I can do with my spoken voice.

With my spoken voice, I feel like the “nowhere man, sitting in a nowhere land.” Sitting on a stump out there in this barren wasteland. For miles around me, the ground is bare. On the horizon, the sky is grey and it grows darker. The wind, the words of those stronger voices, whips up around me and I shiver. I want to move, to speak, but I just sit there on my stump making nowhere plans.

When I write, the grey sky turns a luminous mix of red, orange, and golden yellow. The wind dies down, and I can finally stand up on my own. The words I type create their own wind and for once my voice is carried far and wide. My voice becomes strong. I become visible. I’m no longer a nowhere person.

It’s a hard thing to lose when you’ve only just found it. Then again, I’ve written this much so maybe I didn’t lose it. I just needed to give it a chance to find its footing on unbroken soil. I’m walking new ground here. I’m still finding my voice, and I’m still learning to trust it. I’m so used to being quiet, invisible, stuck in the nowhere land. Out here, with you, is a new experience and it can be scary at times.

New things are always scary and speaking up is even scarier. Especially when you’re so used to be quiet. So when I sat down to write and the words didn’t come? I felt this panic rise. What if I can’t find the words? What if I’ve run out of things to say? I don’t want to go back to the nowhere land. I like it here, with you, and I’m not ready to leave.

There I go! Being all dramatic again. Maybe it really is more than a cliche?

Still, the dramatics highlight a need I have and maybe you have it too. A need for community, connection, and a way to belong. All of which require a voice and this is mine. You have yours, I’m sure. Losing that? The threat of losing that? The mere possibility of losing our voices?

That’s terrifying to me, but it turns out that being honest about how I’m feeling frees up my voice. Keeping it in? Fighting my feelings? I’m the one silencing myself. I’m the one holding my voice in. I have the power to free or enslave my voice. By being open, being weird and bizarre, I freed my voice and I found the words.

Once the words started coming I felt myself breathe in and let out a sigh of relief because I’m not sitting in that nowhere land anymore. I’m not a nowhere person anymore. I’m finding my voice, and I’m learning to use it. That gives me strength, hope, and a reason to keep going when I’m tired.

Today I’m tired but I kept going and that makes this, a good day. Even if I didn’t write more than that one sentence. Even if I didn’t post these ramblings. Even if no one ever reads this, it’s okay. I know that I kept trying, and I found my voice.

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Forgiving The Unforgivable

Photo by: Ye Jinghan

To forgive may be divine but, for us mere mortals, is the divine even possible? Should all things be forgivable or is there a line that can’t be crossed? A line we can’t come back from? Are there things that are simply unforgivable? Do I really need to forgive to move on or can I move on without forgiving the person for what they’ve done?

So many questions and I have even more. I could write two thousand words and every sentence would end with a question mark. When it comes to forgiveness, my questions are endless and I think it’s one subject I’ve devoted a lot my personal time too. I’ve looked for answers. Read a number of books from so-called experts and some religious figures. I’ve struggled to make peace with this subject because it has me split between two minds.

One mind firmly believes in forgiving and letting go but some things are easier to forgive than others. Some wrongs can be made right with apologetic words or acts of penance. Forgiveness, in these circumstances, comes quick and easy. They’re sorry for what they did, they won’t do it again, and so I let it go. Life’s too short to hold on to petty grudges.

But when it’s not petty? When the pain inflected is too deep to simply brush it off? When it’s something that changes our whole lives in a profoundly traumatizing way? This is where my thoughts diverge. 

I don’t know if everyone deserves forgiveness. I don’t know if every act can be forgiven. Especially when the betrayal, or act of cruelty, damages our physical and mental wellbeing so much that we’ll never fully recover. Our lives have been shattered into so many pieces; we’ll never put ourselves back together. In these circumstances, forgiveness feels impossible and it feels unjustifiable.

For the most part, I believe that life is too short to hold onto grudges, and I’m too lazy to dig up the past. It takes too much effort and manual labour isn’t my forte. What’s done is done. We’re good now. It’s okay. People make mistakes and you were decent enough to apologize. I respect that and, being a screw up as well, I appreciate how hard it was to own up but you did. Good on ya. Can we forget about it now?

However, there’s one thing I can’t forget, I can’t move on, and I’m struggling to forgive. It’s not something I can laugh about later or shrug off like it’s no big deal. It is a big deal. It’s life-changing. It will, one day, be life-ending. It wasn’t just a mistake made by someone who screwed up. This thing, the way he handled the fallout, goes beyond an apology I’ve never received.

Honestly, at this point, I don’t even know if an apology would matter all that much. Which is good because I’ll never, ever, get one.

I have an illness called Chronic Renal Failure. In simple terms: My kidneys don’t work. I’ve talked about this before, briefly. Brought it up in passing and moved on. My diagnosis, the event that started it all, was something that could have been prevented. Everything that’s happened over the last thirty-plus years? None of it had to happen. I didn’t have to go through everything I’ve gone through. The surgeries, scars, physical, and psychological trauma. None of it had to happen, but one man’s mistake triggered an avalanche.

When I was three, doctors discovered one small problem. Urine was traveling the wrong way. Instead of going from the kidneys down to the bladder, it was going back up into the kidneys. It can cause a lot of damage if it isn’t treated but it is treatable. The doctors decided that surgery was my best option so that’s what we did. Actually, small correction, it was supposed to be the best option but the surgeon made a mistake and blood clots formed. Now, the urine produced by my kidneys couldn’t go anywhere. It stayed in the kidneys and the damage was catastrophic.

The biggest mistake, in my opinion, wasn’t made in the operating room. Despite everything that’s happened, I know that doctors are human and human beings make mistakes. They lose focus. They get tired. Medical professionals work long hours in a very demanding profession and sometimes the pressure is too much. Sometimes they make mistakes and I understand that no one is perfect. I get it and I can forgive a tired, overworked, person who tried their best.

In my case, however, the real mistake was made in the doctors’ office. I was sent home to recover, but I didn’t get better. I was in a lot of pain, and my condition got worse. My parents took me to the surgeon and asked him to help me. They wanted him to take a look and figure out why I was in so much pain and why I wasn’t healing.

He didn’t take a look, he told them that healing takes time, and sent us home. My mom’s a nurse, she has the training and the knowledge, and she knew something wasn’t right. She took me back and, once again, the doctor refused to help. He called my mom neurotic and pointed out the medical hierarchy. She was a nurse and a mother. He was a doctor, a surgeon. How dare she question his position or his skill?

Luckily for me, my mom isn’t a pushover and she called a friend who’s a radiologist. An ultrasound was done and the problem was found. I was rushed into surgery, and the blockage was removed but the damage was done. My kidneys wouldn’t recover, and I was diagnosed with a life-threatening chronic illness.

I know you’re going to ask, a lot of people already have, and no we didn’t file a lawsuit. It was a different time, in a different country, and there weren’t the same levels of recourse that we have here in Canada. Besides, what would it have done? Money can’t buy a life back. It can’t undo a life-changing diagnosis. It wouldn’t erase the mistake or nullify the consequences I would have to face. It wouldn’t change the future that was waiting for me.

A future that’s included hundreds of surgeries, thousands of hours spent in hospitals, millions of needles, and decades of relentless pain. I’ve been clinically dead five times. That means that my heart stopped beating, my chest stopped rising, and there were no signs of life. I was gone, and my parents almost buried their child. My brother almost lost his sister. My grandparents almost lost their grandchild. I was almost laid to rest in a small coffin.

My body is covered in scars, which I don’t mind all that much, but the pain that lingers has gotten old. Because of the renal failure, I developed a lot of secondary conditions. Renal osteodystrophy, a type of bone disease, damaged my joints and made walking very difficult. The bone disease has cleared, but the damage hasn’t. Today, as I’m writing this, my joints are inflamed and I’m having trouble getting around. I’m limping a lot and groaning every time I force my knees to bend.

My heart doubled in size and for a while, the doctors thought I’d need a new heart as well as a kidney but, mercifully, the swelling went down. I do have an arrhythmia that’s potentially life-threatening. It’s stopped my heart a few times but we’ve already talked about that. I have an implanted cardiac defibrillator in my chest, with wires going into my heart. You can’t see it, it’s under the skin, but it’s there to keep my heart beating just in case it decides to take another break.

Seizures, vision problems, and three kidney transplants over thirty years. At this point, when it comes to listing my medical history, it’s easier to tell you what works. Apparently my liver is in remarkable good condition. The radiologist called it a sexy liver which was a little creepy but hey, you do you BooBoo.

One mistake. 

That’s it.

One mistake and my life was devastated. He took everything from me. My body, my future, my life. Because of him, I’ll always be in pain. Because of him, I can’t have kids. Because of him, my mind has been shattered by one trauma after another. Because of him, my life won’t be a long one. Because of him my family, the people I love, have had to suffer in ways I can’t even begin to imagine.

Because of him…

I have a very long list of things he took from me and my family. Some of them I’ve made peace with but I’m still grieving the loss of others. How can one person take so much from someone else? How can one person hurt someone else that much? How do I even begin to forgive him for something that’s unforgivable? 

I know that forgiveness isn’t for the perpetrator. It doesn’t set them free or absolve them of their sins. Absolution, I believe, is between the person and their God. A God that knows their heart, the true level of their repentance, and who’s far more divine than us mere mortals.

Forgiveness is for the one who’s been hurt. Pain, in all its forms, is a prison that keeps us locked inside ourselves. It keeps us in and life out. Joy, happiness, contentment…All the pretty feelings we want so desperately to feel. The pain stops us from feeling anything. 

For me, it makes me feel numb and disengaged from my own body. Forget about connecting with anyone else! I can’t even connect with my own thoughts, feelings, or desires. I can’t feel anything but the pain and I don’t want to feel that. So I shut down and shut out the world because the pain is too much and I just can’t handle it anymore.

But, by doing that, I’m letting him take one more thing from me and how much more does he get to take?

Forgiving him for what he did to me, to my family, isn’t setting him free. I’m setting myself free. I’m taking back what’s mine. I’m not allowing him to take one more thing from me. I’m standing up and saying enough is enough. Forgiveness will mean that I’m choosing to let go of the pain and step out into the bright, sunny, day.

Which sounds lovely but, to be completely honest, isn’t something I’ve totally mastered. I’d love to sit here and tell you how I’ve forgiven him for what he did. In a picture-perfect world, I’d tell you it’s done and I’m happier for it. Is this the part of the story where I lay out an easy five-step plan to forgiveness? If there’s one thing I won’t do to you, it’s lie.

So here’s the truth.

As I’m writing this, I’ve cycled through anger, grief, and a little bit of resentment. I’ve clenched and unclenched my fists multiple times. I’m swallowing back tears as I type these words. I’m hurt. I’m sad. He hurt me. He stole my life. He got to go and live his life as if nothing happened. All the while, I’ve spent my life in hospitals and operating rooms. It’s not right. What he did wasn’t right. I don’t know if I’ll ever fully forgive him for hurting me.

However, I think I’ve mostly forgiven him for what he did because there are days when I think about what he did, and I don’t feel the pain. There are more and more moments when I feel an acceptance of the situation and I’m content to let his actions live in the past. What is done, is done and I don’t want to be a prisoner to it anymore. I need to forgive so that I can enjoy whatever life I have left.

I used to think that once I’d forgiven him then that would be it. It would be over. I could move on. But some wrongs are too painful and too life-shattering to just forgive and they can’t be forgotten. It doesn’t mean we can’t forgive them, we can, but it’s something that will take time and practise because forgiveness isn’t linear. 

There isn’t a beginning, middle, and an end. I’ve made the decision to forgive, and I’ve grieved, I’ve been angry and then I’ve moved on. But something happens and the pain resurfaces. I feel anger and resentment. I want to put my fist through that bastard’s face. I want to make him suffer like I’ve suffered but I can’t. I need to live. I want to live so I decide, one more time, to forgive.

Around and around I go but the journey doesn’t take as long as it used to take. It’s like walking a well-worn path. It’s not easy. Most of the trail is uphill but at least I’m not bushwhacking. I know the way. I don’t get as turned around. Yes, I get tired and have to take some breaks but then I get up and keep moving. More importantly, I know I can make it to the top and once I’m there, I’ll have a moment of peace.

One more question but this one has an answer. Can we forgive the unforgivable? Yes, but only we can decide if, or when, we’re ready to forgive. No one else can make that choice for us or force us into it. It’s personal. It’s painful. It’s liberating but we have to be ready to put in the work.

I’m going to say this one more time because it’s a point that often gets lost. I’m not choosing to forgive that doctor for his sake, to set him free, or give him a free ride. That’s between him and his God. I’m choosing to forgive because I want to be free. I want to live my life, what’s left of it, free from the pain of his mistake because this is my life. I’m still alive, I’m still here, I can still make the most of it.

It’s not the life I would’ve chosen, maybe it’s not the life I should be living, but it’s mine. He doesn’t get to take any more of it. I’m taking my life back, and it starts with me saying three very hard, very heavy, words: I forgive you.

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Nobody Panic But…

Photo by: Tonik on Unsplash

As a rule, what is out of sight disturbs men’s minds more seriously than what they see. ~Julius Caesar

I have a very active imagination. Vivid imagery whips around my mind as if it’s caught in the winds of a hurricane. Short stories, memories, ideas, and my deepest fears collide. They shatter into a million pieces and fly in a hundred different directions. Grabbing hold of one, even for a second, is a skill I wish I hadn’t mastered because those pieces have very sharp edges.

Sure, I could lament that nobody knows the troubles I’ve seen, but that feels a little… Self-indulgent? I’m writing about my life, my thoughts, my fears, and posting it online. Huh, I guess self-indulgence is kinda my thing. But maybe, for today, let’s stick with the imagined troubles conjured by a mind that won’t give it a rest. That’s the real hero of this story. 

We can tackle self-indulgent narcissism some other time.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve told my brain to give it a rest. It laughs, winks, tells me to hold its beer. If you think that’s bad? Ha! What about this trick shot? My brain digs deep, finds a fear I didn’t know I had, and serves it up like it’s Wimbledon. I’ve never had a tennis ball fly at my face but I imagine it’s a close comparison. The ball’s coming at me going, what, 100 MPH on a straight serve? 

Yeah, that’s gonna leave a mark!

Just before Christmas my car died. I drove it for, 13-14 years, and it just wouldn’t go any farther. I grieved the loss which is weird, I know. It’s a just car, geez! I said goodbye and braced for the incoming expense. I needed the car. It’s not a luxury, well it is, but more of a necessity. For many reasons, you can read about them in a previous post, public transportation isn’t an option for me so I had to get another car.

It’s not a Tesla or something equally as majestic. It has four wheels, and I can see out of the windows. I’m 4’10, if I don’t slouch, so that’s an important feature. AC: Check. Airbags: Check. See over the steering wheel: You had me at hello. The car is good, it’s safe, and it will help me get around. It’s also an expense I didn’t need or want. It’s a stress, for sure, so my brain grabbed hold of it and ran wild.

It started to tell me that I’m going to lose my main source of income, lose my home, and end up living in that damn car. There’s no evidence that this will happen. I do what I need to do to take care of business. No one’s threatening my financial well being but my brain doesn’t care about facts. It doesn’t need evidence. It will dress up the pretty little shadow puppets and turn them into a life-threatening monster.

It sees evil in every corner and disaster in every twinge of my muscles. Oh that twinge. It’s cancer. I just know it is! Or, I pulled a muscle cleaning my carpets. My furnace was making an odd noise so, of course, it was about to explode and kill everyone in the neighbourhood. We had a lot of rain, the creek near my building started to rise so, for my brain, that meant floods. I live on the second floor of an apartment complex. The creek is a glorified puddle the squirrels bathe in. Raccoons can sit in it like they’re 22, drunk, and thought the kiddy pool was a bidet.

A flood? What? The confluence of events that would have to occur would be astronomical. It might take an event of biblical proportions. I’m not saying it couldn’t happen, climate change and all, but, realistically, it won’t happen anytime soon. Logically, I know it won’t happen but screw logic!

Logic dictates one response but my overactive imagination calls for another. It takes the minors and turns them into majors. It doesn’t matter if there’s no evidence to support the thoughts. It doesn’t matter if there are facts that can nullify the worry. A reasoned argument won’t tame the imagined dragons. If there’s even a hint of trouble, hiding in a dusty corner, my mind will latch onto it and run with it.

If it’s a known threat, something I can see or I’m actually experiencing, then I’m very calm. Despite my mind’s proclivity for self-induced hysteria, I’m very good in a crisis. A real crisis. Not one I dreamed up at 2 AM on Tuesday during a windstorm. There are a lot of trees surrounding my building, and one of them could, I don’t know, fly through my window and skewer me in my sleep.

Who am I kidding? I don’t sleep. I’m a very basic insomniac. But could it actually happen? Could a tree fly through my window and skewer me? Highly doubtful.

In a real crisis, my mind clears and time slows down. I’m calm and in control. I can quickly assess the situation. A plan will form and action will be taken. I’m absolutely brilliant in a crisis. If things are happening, real things, you want me around because I’ve got this. I can and will help you out.

Any other time? I’m probably just gonna get in the way.

Unless you want someone to spot dangers that aren’t pressing and, potentially don’t exist? Give me a call. I’m sure I can come up with something. Will it be helpful? Absolutely not! Do you need that kind of thing in your life? Hell no! I’m willing to bet you’ve got more than your fair share of real problems.

Why do I add more worries on top of my real-life ones? Am I just a gluten for punishment? A control freak with very little control over just about every aspect of my life? A natural-born worrier with a genetic predisposition to catastrophize? Maybe it’s something I’ve learned?

When the catastrophes keep happening, it’s only natural to assume that they will keep happening. I live with a chronic illness, renal failure, so the good days are like a layer of ice over a lake. I go out, enjoy myself, but with each step I hear the ground crack and groan. I’m waiting for the moment it gives way and I’m plunged into a deep, freezing cold, lake. I keep scanning the ground for trouble so I can run before it’s too late but the shadows beneath the surface play tricks. I jump, flinch, run a short distance, and slide a little further. It’s better to worry than to be caught off guard.

But is it better? Probably not because worrying doesn’t change anything and it doesn’t help all that much. It feels helpful because I feel like I’m doing something and I need to do something. I don’t sit still, very well. I can’t just be present in the moment. If I’m not doing something I feel like I’m crawling out of my skin. I feel like I’m just sitting there, helpless, waiting for the ice to break.

At least, when a something real comes up, I can act. There are things to be done, problems to solve, and physical reactions to coordinate. I don’t feel so helpless. I’m not sitting there waiting to be hurt. No, I can’t control the situation, but I can control how I respond and I can respond. I can be of use instead of being in the way. I’m comfortable in those moments because those moments are more familiar to me than moments of quiet.

And there it is. Familiarity. We will always be me for comfortable, more confident, in familiar surroundings and circumstances even if they aren’t good for us. We gravitate towards what we know and if all we’ve known is chaos then that’s where our minds will go. It seeks out what it knows and if it can’t find it? I guess we’ll always find trouble if we look hard enough.

There’s one question a therapist asked, “Will it hold up in court?”

If I lay out all the evidence in the case, give a very dramatic closing argument, would the jury come back with a positive verdict? Would it come back with a negative one? Would the case, as it stands, hold up to the scrutiny of a trial and a jury?

Most often, when it comes to my thoughts, the answer is no it won’t hold up. The case would get thrown out and I’d be free to go. That’s not how the mind works is it? I wish I could shut down the thought, slam the door closed, and lock it up inside a tiny cell. If having that simple answer was all it took to silence the screaming thoughts then I would be a lot happier.

But, no it doesn’t work like that and I have to keep arguing back until I wear it down. Sometimes saying the worry out loud takes away some of its power and that gives me a chance to building a tiny holding cell. Sometimes but it’s not always that effective.

For me, finding actionable steps I can take, in these moments of worry, helps more than anything. It doesn’t have to be related to the problem I’m fixated on but if it is, all the better. If I’m in a thought spiral, I’ll get up and vacuum or do the dishes. I’ll have a shower or take my dog for a socially distant walk. I’ll do something because doing nothing makes the worry grow into a full-blown panic attack.

Moving my body, changing my location, doing something to feel productive helps me feel more in control. There are so many things in my life I can’t control, my thoughts being one, but when I focus on what I can do I feel more grounded. I feel my mind slowing down. I feel like I’m standing on more solid ground.

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Take Your Time…We’ll Wait

Photo by: Kevin Ku on Unsplash

So this is still a thing you’re doing? After all this time, it’s still bothering you? Really? I don’t mean to be rude, but don’t you think it’s time you just got over it? I mean, come on, it’s been…How long? Right, and you’re still moping around like a child that’s lost its teddy bear. Life goes on so suck it up. What are you waiting for? Just get over it.

Wow, so helpful! Why didn’t I think about that? Geez, all this time I’ve been struggling, and you’re telling me that I just had to get over it. What a revelation. If only you came around sooner! Do you know how much time I’ve wasted feeling horrible? All that time, the answer was right in front of me, and I didn’t see it. Thank you for gracing me with your wisdom. I mean, really, I don’t know where I’d be without such eloquent and thoughtful advice.

Do I have to point out the sarcasm? No, I didn’t think so but just to be safe and make sure nothing gets lost in the algorithm: Sarcasm! The advice wasn’t helpful, thoughtful, or kind. Those brilliant leaps in compassion and logic didn’t change anything. It did annoy, frustrate, and it made me go grr so well done. I grr’d. I never grr and now I think I dislocated my eyeballs.

It’s a dangerous thing, my friend, rolling your eyes. Never know when they’ll get stuck. Can someone smack the back of my head? Ouch! A little quick on the draw there but thanks. My eyes are back in their proper sockets.

Where was I?

Every second of our lives is put on a schedule and when we miss the mark there are questions, recriminations, and judgments. From education to career. Relationships and procreation. Grief or pain recovery. There are stages we’re supposed to hit but when we lag behind or bypass them all together? Well, words will be used, and they won’t be helpful or gracious.

Should I state the obvious? Yeah, why not. Life is hard and that damn schedule is draining the fun out of whatever’s left over. Sometimes it’s impossible to match that thing step for step because life doesn’t have a straight trajectory. Life likes to throw in some speed bumps and a hundred-foot drop. We trip, fall, and we’re expected to get back up. Not just that, we’re expected to get back up and get back on track. It doesn’t matter how fast we have to run, jump, or climb. As long as we hit the mark on time and meet expectations.

Then we hit a mark and do we stop to savor the moment? Do we celebrate the achievement? No, of course not! We can’t do that because we’ve got to answer the question, “So, what’s next?”

No idea. Not a clue. What? Wrong answer? Shoot, I thought it was a reasonable response. My bad.

The pressure doesn’t always come from external forces. If you’re like me, the hardest push comes from within. I’ll finish something I’ve been working on and say something like, “Great that’s done. Next.” I won’t let myself celebrate the accomplishment or even entertain the idea that I should stop and be proud of myself. Maybe it’s small, insignificant in the grand scheme, but I did that. I started something and I finished it. It’s good. It was hard but fun. Why can’t I enjoy the moment?

I’ll choose self-deprecation over self-aggrandizing any day. I’ve bought into the societal norm that decided that one is a positive trait, especially combined with humour, and the other is arrogance. One has value, and the other is a moral failing. I’ve accepted these notions and internalized them. I’ve applied them to my sense of self and I’ve used them as self-expression.

Then again, one could argue that all things in moderation is the key to a happy life? Nah…I don’t think that’s gonna fit in the schedule. We’re on a time crunch here. The rat race is a fast-moving wheel. You’re either on or your off. You either keep pace or you fall away. The pace doesn’t slow down for anyone. No matter what hurdle they have to jump, or cliff they have to climb, the wheel keeps spinning.

And just like that, the damn wheel brings me back to the very first paragraph. Obstacles are thrown in front of us, and we’re supposed to jump over them and keep going. If we fall, we’re told to get up and dust ourselves off. How many times have you been told to get over it? How many times have you told yourself the same thing? Did it help or did it hurt?

I have a list of things I should be doing or things I should’ve achieved by now. That list has one or two checkmarks but the majority of the page is untouched. More failures than successes. More losses than wins. All these things I should’ve done but didn’t. My schedule is way off but maybe the problem isn’t that I’ve failed? Maybe I’ve printed off the wrong schedule? Maybe I wrote it down wrong? Maybe I’m giving it too much power?

This schedule fails to take a lot of factors into account. It assumes perfection in an imperfect life and world. It assumes that life will go forward when, in reality, it can come to a complete stop. Things happen that no one can plan for and I can’t plan for how that hit will affect me. Every time something has happened, I’ve take a few steps back but the number of steps is different every time. Sometimes it’s one or two. Other times I fall back to the beginning. It’s a game of snakes and ladders that only ends when the lights go out.

If I’m playing this game how do I win? The plan for my life? The schedule I should be following? How could I possibly keep up?

When I was three a doctor made a mistake and my kidneys were damaged. I was diagnosed with chronic renal failure and my relationship with this damn game began. I’ve lived with this condition for over thirty years, so you would think I’d get used to it. Maybe feel numb when the phone rings? Bored wouldn’t be a reasonable response, would it? Sometimes I do feel this tired sigh bubble up, and I’ll say something like, “With my luck? Yeah sounds about right.”

Roll the dice, hold my breath, pray for a ladder, and not the snake.

I give myself some time to grieve, heal, but then I expect life will return to normal. I tell myself to get over it, and that’s often reinforced by well-meaning people. I want to get back to normal, to move on, to put this behind me but who gets to decide the timetable? Who gets to say when or how that happens?

One of the strangest feelings is stepping outside after your world has fallen apart. Whether it’s a medical diagnosis, the loss of a friend, or something else entirely that moment is surreal. People are going about their day like it’s nothing. Life carries on like nothing happened but something massive happened to you. It feels like watching a movie in an augmented reality. As if you’ve been pulled out of your life and forced to watch it carry on without you. 

Or maybe that’s just how I’ve felt.

Life does go on and, yes, time heals all wounds but, when it comes to wound care, time isn’t linear. There are no speed limits and the road isn’t clearly marked. Some days it’s full throttle and other days going a short distance is a big accomplishment. Give yourself a break if you need it. Please know, there’s no shame in asking for help if you feel like you’re getting lost. 

Go forward, go back, stay where you are for a little while. Feel what you’re feeling and don’t listen to the timekeepers. Yes, that includes that voice in your head listing all the things you should be doing. Don’t give too much power and control over to the all mighty schedule. It’s not all-knowing. It doesn’t feel compassion or grace. It’s cold, unfeeling, and if we let it, it can be unyielding. Sure, it has its uses, but you get to decide when to use it and how.

If you’re hurting right now? I’m so sorry you’re going through it. It won’t feel like it will ever be okay but it will; it’ll just be a different kind of okay. Please take all the time you need. There’s no rush. We’ll wait and if you need us? We’re here. Take your time.

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Take Courage In The Silence

Photography by: Kristina Flour on Unsplash

“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.” – Winston Churchill

The yelling is getting out of control. Voices on top of voices, screaming opinions that are barely discernible. The volume gets turned up a notch with every new chorister added to the chaos. There’s no harmony because the conductor is too busy watching cat videos to do a damn thing about the inexorable cacophony.

My head hurts, my heart aches, and I’m exhausted. I just want to stand on a soapbox and scream, “Shush!” Yes, I realize that I would become one more voice in an ocean of screaming voices. I’d add to the noise pollution rather than offer a solution. Chaos on top of chaos. 

My kingdom for a moment of silence! Do I have a kingdom? No, I have a tiny apartment that’s becoming a storage unit for useless objects. My collection of broken and forgotten toys is bordering on a diagnosable condition. But for a moment of silence? Oh, take it all or maybe just the stuff in the corner over there. No, the stuff in garbage bags. Yeah, that stuff right there.

Don’t get me wrong! I’m not saying we shouldn’t stand up and yell out when an injustice is happening. There are things worth fighting for and without us, doing the right thing, what hope does the world have? We have to stand up and be counted but sometimes sitting down, being silent, can be just as powerful.

Perhaps, the problem with doing the right thing is that we don’t agree on what it is. To vaccinate or not? The right to choose or the right to life? Keep the country shut down to save lives or open it back up to save livelihoods? The right to carry a weapon or the right to life, liberty, and happiness? The right to pray in schools or pray on your own time? For every right, there is someone who’ll say it’s wrong. For every person who’s willing to lay down their lives for what is right; there’s someone who’s willing to take it for the same reason.

I have my opinions on these topics and on so many more but how do I know I’ve gotten it right? I know what my heart tells me. I know how I was raised. I know the thoughts, feelings, and opinions of the people I trust both. I know what scientists, philosophers, and people of varying faiths have to say. I’ve extrapolated my opinions from multiple sources, and I believe in what I know to be right.

But what if I’m wrong? What if I’m yelling into the void? My voice joining the chorus of other bleeding hearts but never hitting the right note. It’s possible. Logically, if I step back and take an objective look, there’s a chance that I’m wrong about something or everything. There’s a chance that I’m right. Oh boy! I’m sending myself into circles.

Does it even matter? If the news has taught me anything? Yelling over the objections of others can turn fiction into fact very quickly. We’ve all seen it happen. Deny, deny, deny, despite all evidence to the contrary, and truth becomes irrelevant. Facts don’t matter. The narrative that’s been created is more interesting than reality, so we run with it.

I think it’s called gaslighting?

I’m going to say something that I despise. Believe me, I’ll hate myself for using this phrase as much as you’ll cringe when you read it. Let’s all take a deep breath. In through the nose, exhale, and here we go: Fake news!

Arg, I gagged…Sorry, I’m okay. Let’s get on with it before another wave of repulsion hits.

It’s a phrase used to silence objectors and reject an uncomfortable narrative. It’s a distraction that, if used just right, drives a wedge through the fragile ground. The ground shakes, the soil crumbles, and slowly one piece of land becomes two. They’re separated by a deep canyon. The yelling gets louder so their voices can traverse the distance but the message falls short because no one is listening. 

To be completely transparent with you; I’m just as guilty. I do it. I form an opinion, my knees lock, and I will not be swayed. It doesn’t matter what you say because my mind is made up and the vault has been sealed. You’ve taken another stance? Ha, bitch please. I can be quite stubborn sometimes so I’m far from innocent here.

But what if I, we, stopped yelling and started listening?

Let’s take these pandemic protestors, for example. I watch them gather in large groups, screaming about their right to get hair cuts, and I roll my eyes, call them idiots. I’ve seen a lot of names hurled at them and some of them, while kinda funny, are a little harsh. Do you want to gather in large groups during a viral outbreak? Cool, sign a medical waiver so when you get sick, you don’t overburden the medical system.

Cringe. Yeah, when I say it out loud it’s kinda gross. A knee jerk reaction born out of frustration. I want my life back too, but I’m locked inside with a compromised immune system. You would risk my life, so you can look pretty. Wow, deep sigh of vexation. Thanks for caring about your fellow humans.

I realize there are two groups of people at these protests. I won’t make excuses for the people who choose cruelty. The ones carrying guns, nazi flags, and threatening violent revolt? Hurting someone else for your own gain or your own righteous indignation is not okay. There’s nothing you can say that will make it acceptable to me and most decent people. Verbal abuse or physical assault is cheap, easy, and cowardly. There’s a difference between voicing dissent and physically forcing your will onto others.

The others, the people who are peacefully voicing their concerns, are another story. Have you listened to them? I finally got out of my own way and heard what they had to say. Some of their concerns are valid and understandable. They’ve lost their jobs. They don’t know how they’re going to feed their families. They want to work, to earn their way, but they can’t and they’re scared. They’re facing the very real possibility of losing everything they have. I can imagine how terrifying that must be for you. I’m so sorry you’re in this position. Genuinely sorry!

Do I agree with what you’re doing? No, but I’m not living your life. I’m not the one that has to live with the consequences of your actions now or with the future you’re facing. Listening doesn’t mean agreeing. Hearing what you’re saying doesn’t mean I’m happy that you’re marching but it’s your right to do so and I respect that. Respect isn’t acceptance but it is a display of tolerance or, at the least, an attempt at understanding your point of view. I might not like it but I don’t have to like it to empathize.

Taking a moment of silence doesn’t mean surrender. On the other hand, yelling doesn’t make us brave; it makes us loud. Screaming doesn’t make us right, and it often leads to our message being lost in the storm. Clenched fists, red faces, spit flying out of our open mouths? How’s that working out?

You’ve probably seen the pictures of the protestors versus the medical personnel in scrubs. The pictures are everywhere and so is the commentary. Which ones were labeled heroes and which ones were labeled lunatics? The ones that yelled or the ones who stood silently? Which took more courage? Angry protest or peaceful defiance? Which one will history judge and which one will it praise?

I have my opinions and, full disclosure, they are based on a bias. I have family working the front lines of this pandemic. The toll it’s taking on them breaks my heart and then we see the angry mob go after them with, what amounts too, pitchforks and flaming torches. I’m trying so hard to be understanding but it makes me so angry and so sad.

Can you imagine working 12-18 hours, with very little personal protection, to save the lives of strangers who are dying from this virus? You hold the hands of the dying so they don’t have to die alone. You stay away from the people you love to protect them. You watch your coworkers, your friends, get sick and die. You wonder when your turn will come. You pray it won’t happen to you but supplies are running low or they’ve run out. Is it only a matter of time? How scared are you now?

Then you walk out of the hospital and someone attacks you for doing your job. They kick you out of your home, take away your child, because of your job. You go to the store to get groceries and you’re spat on because you risked your life to save others. How about now? What has all the screaming accomplished?

It can take a great deal of courage to fight but, even more courage to be still. It takes more heart, bravery, to stand and let the silence speak volumes. At the very least, those moments of silence give us a chance to listen and hear the fears, the concerns, the motives behind the person’s actions. It can lead to a little understanding and maybe that can lead to a peaceful resolution. A resolution that can be a handshake and an agreement to disagree.

It’s hard ground to stand on, isn’t it? But we’ve got to do something because the canyon is getting wider and too many people are getting lost down in the crevasse. We’ve gotten so used to yelling that we’ve forgotten how a conversation works. Somewhere along the way we’ve lost the ability to disagree with each other without hating each other. Is it even possible? After everything that’s happened, can we listen to each other, or have we gone too far?

My head hurts, my heart is tired, and I just want a moment of peace. How about you? Are you tired yet? Think we can call for an armistice or are we too far gone? I’m going to be optimistic and say we’ve still got time to turn this around. All we need to do is have some courage and be still.

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A No Good, Terrible, Very Bad Day.

Photograph by: Karim Manjra on Unsplash

I used to live in blissful ignorance. Way back in the day, when my eyes were more innocent, I saw the good in the days ahead. Hope pranced through wildflowers. The sweet aroma of optimism filled the air. Endless possibilities danced on a gentle spring breeze. To be young and foolish. To slip on those rose coloured glasses and stumble around with style, if not grace.

It seems like a lifetime ago! Time, it sure does fly, but this is a little ridiculous. I blinked. That’s it. I blinked and it was over. That day, that very special day, is all but a memory. The day I allowed myself to think that all would be well in the land. Yes, that was a good day. I actually allowed myself, for a brief moment, to feel recklessly optimistic. Ah, the hope and wonder of the good old days are sorrily missed.

Oh, what I wouldn’t give to go back to Monday!

I woke up that day with so many plans floating around in my head. Things I wanted to write. Words I wanted to put down on the page. Ideas came at me so hard and fast that I think they created their own electrical force. Clearly, I’m not a scientist but that’s what it felt like and I was pumped. It usually feels like I’m trying to milk an almond with a toothpick but not that day. No, that day I thought I would spend the week writing word, after word. Maybe I’d get ahead of myself and bank a few posts just in case something happened. Never hurts to get a little ahead.

I thought I’d weed out my flower pots and plant some seeds. Should I plant something pretty or something practical? Flowers, fruit, or veggies? It’s a small and humble garden, out there on my little deck, but it still has so much potential. All I need to do is go out there, put my back into it for a few minutes, and wait to reap my rewards.

Baking bread. Trying to make pasta from scratch. Domesticity that would make a 1950s housewife feel like a slacker. I had plans. I made a list and stuck it to my fridge. The fridge! Sticking something to the fridge is a serious business. Only the most important things get stuck to the fridge. Those are the rules and rules are rules.

I started out so strong. I wrote a post on Monday and had it up with time to spare. I got some topsoil to add to my flower pots. I even got flour for my kitchen pots. (See what I did there? Made myself chuckle.) Let’s do this thing! Ready… Set… Vomit everywhere. Huh, weird but maybe it was a one-off. My digestive system has a software glitch. It randomly expels its contents for no apparent reason. One minute I’m feeling fine and the next I’m running for safety.

I’ve had it checked. No one knows why.

Except the expulsion didn’t fix my nausea and things started coming out the other end with the power of a jet engine. The glitch has turned into a system-wide failure. Perfect! Gastroenteritis is just nifty. So much for my quest to become a domestic goddess but I can still put words on a piece of paper. This week won’t be a complete sh!t show.

Did I tempt fate? Did I do it? I suppose you could argue that I did, indeed, poke the beast with a splinter. One might even say I irritated its sensitive bits. Enough for it to unleash its full might? Yes, it would seem so.

I was playing with my dog, who’s normally very gentle, and he mistook my wrist for his toy. He chopped down so hard that he managed to severely bruise the tendons in my wrist. I can barely open and close my fist. I can’t pick up anything heavier than a roll of toilet paper. (Yeah, I have toilet paper. Humblebrag.) My thumb has become a decorative feature rather than a practical appendage.

Well, this puts a dent in my plans.

Gastroenteritis sucks. An injured hand is a nuisance. It’s not how I envisioned this week going, but I can still salvage the next few days. I can stay close to a toilet, and I can type with my left hand. The flower beds can wait and so can the baking. Hey, at least I have something to look forward too! 

That’s me, trying to hold onto the glimmer of optimism that so rarely graces me with its resplendent beauty. I wanted to believe that this week would be amazing. I wanted to believe, at the very least, that it would be good. I wanted to believe that this week would see us all crawling out from the gloom because the malaise is exhausting. I needed to believe that good would come but my wishful thinking was skewered by a red hot spear.

What happened next was expected but death isn’t something we can ever be ready to face. She was too young, too precious, to go so soon. A gentle soul whose tender heart had taken a beating. Her life had been harder than she deserved, but her impact on those of us who were lucky enough to know her is immeasurable. She was so creative that I’d call her a genius and no, that’s not hyperbole. She was brilliant, special, and loved. She fought so hard to live but in the end…Cancer is a monster.

I’ve lived through this moment quite a few times. I’ve buried a lot of friends over the years. It comes with the territory, I guess. Chronic illness, specifically organ failure, has a high mortality rate. I’ve grown used to death’s company, but we haven’t become friends just yet. Death is a reality I know but it doesn’t matter how hard I try to prepare myself for this moment. It doesn’t matter how ready I feel. When the moment comes? I can prepare my head for the pain but I cannot prepare my hears. It hit, and it takes my breath away.

All of us experience it differently and none of us feel like we get it right. There’s no right way to act or feel. Laugh. Cry. Scream. Fall silent or go numb. The feelings come in waves and some are so overwhelming that they pull us under. Catching our breath, even for a second, is a welcome relief but the waves swell and down we go. Hold on though, because we can ride it out into calmer waters. There will always be calmer waters out on the horizon if we keep paddling.

I guess I’m still trying to hold onto that optimism.

I’m sitting at home, staring at the screen, trying to write these words but I’m feeling a little waterlogged. This week started out so strong, so full of hope, but now it’s Friday and my heart is heavy. To say this was a bad week would be an understatement. Horrible, no good, very bad…Yeah, I just copied words from a thesaurus, but none of them do justice to these feelings. They don’t do justice to the gravity of this moment or this week. Words, on this occasion, just might be meaningless. 

How about we say that it just sucks? What else can I say? I’m at a loss. I’ve ridden this wave before, so I know it won’t always feel like this. Time will heal the wound. It won’t fill the void but that void will reflect all happy memories and funny moments. We’ll say her name and smile. We’ll remember her and be grateful for the time we had because we were lucky to have her in our lives. For now, though, we ride the wave until we find still waters.

No, life won’t be the same after this, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be okay. It might even be amazing but for now? This no good, terrible, horrible week just plain sucks.

Be at peace my friend. Rest easy.

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Raging Sh!t Storm

Photo by: Warren Wong from Unsplash.com

“It is okay to lose your sh!t sometimes because if you keep your sh!t, you’ll end up full of sh!t and then you’ll explode and there’ll be sh!t everywhere.  A sh!t storm. And nobody wants that.” – Unknown

When was the last time you sat on the kitchen floor, curled up in the bathtub, or under the covers and just cried? I’m talking ugly cry. Face contorted like Mr. Potato head after ten minutes in the microwave. (Don’t try that at home kids.) Have you cried enough tears to rehydrate a desert? Have you reached deep, down to your toes, and wept until the well is empty and the soul is cleansed?

I’m not really a fan of cleansing. If it’s your thing, by all means, do what makes you feel healthier. This is a judgment-free zone. Me and my unqualified opinion? Nope, it’s just not my thing which is why I’ll probably die ten years earlier. That and a life-threatening chronic illness but I think the point has been clumsily made.

I very rarely cry so much that I become a dehydrated mummy, locked behind glass, in a museum. If I had it my way, I’d stuff my feelings so far down that it comes out of my toes like jam. Spread it on toast and….Ew no. No. No…Ew. What is wrong with me?

Oh, that list is way too long.

Would it be healthier to gradually, over time, release my emotions like a valve on a pressure cooker? Probably. Most assuredly. Without question. A resounding yes from the peanut gallery. Oo, and how satisfying is that hiss of steam? Tap the valve, jump back, and whoosh! Scolding hot steam explodes out the top like Old Faithful. It looks like it feels amazing. All that pent-up energy raging against its constraints and then….A long overdue sigh of relief. 

Okay, even I can connect the dots, and I didn’t have to use the cheat codes. When it comes to emotions? A slow, periodic, release is better than waiting for the top to blow. It’s healthier, goop doesn’t stick the walls, and it might even lead to a more balanced life. If I let it out a bit more often than maybe I’d be happier? Maybe I wouldn’t have so many ulcers. Maybe I would actually get some sleep. Maybe I need to get a knob replaced?

So many possibilities! We may never know the truth.

I’m a little jealous of those rare birds who are able to express their emotions so openly. Crying when they need to cry. Laughing when the spirit moves them. Getting angry when it’s called for but in a safe, healthy, way. Being emotionally vulnerable, being vulnerable in any way, takes a great deal of courage and strength. Laying your heart out there for all to see and judge, is brave. When I witness such acts of heroism, I want to knit them a cape, write them a theme song, and give them a really cool superhero name. 

Captain Feely Things to the rescue! No, that’s not going to work. It sounds a little too…Oh, what’s the word?

I’ve spent most of my life fighting to just see another day. I’ve watched too many people not get another day. I’ve been hurt, disappointed, and devastated more times than I can count. It all adds up, and over time I’ve developed a lot of thick scar tissue around my emotional parts. It’s supposed to protect me from getting hurt, but it doesn’t keep emotions out. I feel things with an acuity that’s physically painful. My emotions are often overwhelming and mind-numbing. They shut down my thoughts and I’m left with feelings that I can’t process or verbalize. 

This scar tissue keeps these feelings locked inside because if I let them out? If I let you see them? I’m genuinely afraid of what that will mean or do. Would it be a volcanic eruption or more like spontaneous human combustion? That’s one hell of a mess and some stains don’t come out! Some damage can’t be repaired. Maybe it’s best if these feelings stay inside because, if I can’t handle the things I’m feeling, how can you?

Nope, it’s better for everyone if I keep the lid on which is why you won’t see me cry. I didn’t cry when I broke my hand. I didn’t cry at my grandfathers funeral. I didn’t cry when a doctor cut into me without anesthetic. I don’t cry in public and there aren’t a lot of people who’ve seen me in tears. The number of people I trust to see me like that is very, very, small. I keep it in and when I’m alone, when I feel safe, it comes out and I lose my sh!t.

I can’t sit still. It feels like my body is on fire. My heart feels like it’s moving faster than the speed of sound. I can’t catch my breath. I’m on fire, but I’m also drowning in a giant tidal wave. I don’t know how that’s possible but there it is. Time feels like it has come to a complete stop but, beneath my feet, I can feel the earth spinning faster. Fire and water. Speed and light. It all explodes, and I crumble under the weight.

No one ever sees me like that. It’s my own personal sh!t storm and I weather it alone because it’s too much to ask someone to ride it out with me. I feel safer riding it out alone because I feel freer to express my emotions. When I’m with people, I’m incredibly guarded but when I’m alone…Alone feels a hell of a lot safer. 

It isn’t healthy or good for me in any way. I’m not a hero for keeping my feelings in check. I’m a broken, neurotic, mess. My fingernails are dug deep into the hardwood floor, and I’m holding on. There are a dozen healthier ways to cope but I haven’t found many that work for me. Some that do are off-limits during this pandemic. Others have worked for a while but have lost their effectiveness. There are more out there but I’m still searching for the thing that will stick.

If the roles are reversed and you totally lose it, I’ll understand. The ugly cry, fall to the floor, curse God and life and everything in between. Walls crumble, heart exposed, raw emotion everywhere. Life is hard, and it’s gotten to you so here you are on your last breath. You lose the great and power sh!t because you’re exhausted, overextended, and just can’t do it anymore. 

That’s understandable because you’re right, life is hard. I get it, and I’m here for you. There’s no need to feel embarrassed or ashamed by what you’re feeling or how you responded to it in that moment because, again, life is hard. I get that. I respect you for sharing. I applaud you for tapping the pressure valve. Do you feel better after letting it out?

It’s easy for me to understand and empathize with what you’re going through. I accept it, and you, but when I look at my reflection in the mirror? I can’t do that for myself. I can’t drop my guard and let someone else empathize with me. When things slip out, I beat myself up for not keeping myself together because, heaven forbid, I let anyone see that side of me.

I’m lucky because I have people who would happily sit with me while I lose my composure. They wouldn’t be afraid or disgusted. They wouldn’t look at me any differently. They would help me or, if there was nothing else they could do, they would hold me. I have these people in my life but I still shove everything down to my toes until jam comes squishing out.

Again, let me say that this isn’t about bravado or courage. Keeping my sh!t together isn’t always something to brag about. There are times when it’s necessary. I’ve been in a few situations where this personality quirk has saved my life and the lives of people I love. But as a lifestyle? It’s a hindrance, not a saving grace.

We, as a species, connect by sharing experiences and emotions. That’s how we form bonds, relationships, and communities. Not being able to do that? Not being able to connect on such a basic human level is isolating and lonely. It feels like I’m watching the world go by, relationships forming, lives being lived but I can’t be a part of it. I’m standing on the wrong side of a two-way mirror, and that’s no way to live.

Let it out. Don’t hold it in. It is okay to lose your sh!t every once in a while. It’s natural. It’s healthy. It’s a lot better than trying to wash that toe jam off the walls. It’s okay to feel things and express how we feel. I don’t know how to do that but I know I want to figure it out because life is a lot nicer on the other side of the mirror.

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The Downside Of Hope

There’s one word I’ve used quite a lot lately and that’s: Hopeless. A feeling that’s often considered a negative emotion that should be driven out by rainbows, unicorns, and reckless optimism. It’s seen as something that needs to be cured with haste lest it run wild. Left untreated it becomes a cancerous growth that destroys and devastates precious tissue. 

Hopelessness is viewed with pity and disdain. Losing hope, even in the darkest of hours, is seen as surrender without a fight. It’s turning off the light, laying down arms, waiting for capture. Would we call it a sign of weakness or is that too far? What else do we call it when we let go of hope, give in to grief, and embrace the silence of the nothingness that follows?

Throughout history, hope has been seen as something that’s vital to our welfare and our survival. Food, water, shelter, fire, and hope that tomorrow will be brighter. Without these things, we can’t live so who, in their right mind, would willingly give up something that’s essential to their survival? Who would do that without putting up a fight?

Hope is something that’s so ingrained in our psyche that separating a person from this emotion would be as futile as trying to surgically remove their soul. Alexander Pope said, “Hope springs eternal in the human breast.” It’s in every beat of our heart, every cell in our blood, and every breath we take. To hope is to be human. It’s a sign of life. It’s something that identifies us as mortal beings.

Do I dare to suggest that it’s one virtue that’s valued by everyone, in every culture, all over the world? There’s not much we all agree on but hope seems to be one idea we’ve all embraced to varying extents. It’s a universal imperative that’s held in such high regard that, to question its validity, is frowned upon and often met with derision.

So, of course, I’m writing about the downside of such a beloved character! Why not question its purpose and its place in our lives? Now, when hope is just about all we have going for us, seems like just the right moment to pop that pretty shiny bubble. What could go wrong?

Okay, no I’m not about to lambaste hope or shatter it into a million little pieces. Sure, I’m cynical but I’m not that cynical. I’m not going to call it foolish or a waste of time and energy. I’m not going to mock the practice of reckless optimism or suggest that anyone who dares to hope is a fool or just plain crazy. I would never dream of it because I, despite all appearances, hold on to hope with a white knuckle grip. 

Right now, during pandemic times, we’re running a long-distance marathon, but we’re desperately trying to turn it into a sprint. The finish line is out there somewhere but it keeps getting pushed further away. We’re tired, desperate for an end, and hoping it comes soon because how much longer can we go on? The break in our resilience will come and, if you’ve seen the news, it’s come sooner for some.

A couple of months ago we faced down this virus with resolute hope that we’d have this thing sorted in a few weeks. We went from two weeks to thirty days, and those days keep getting longer. Some of you have lost jobs and are struggling to provide for your families. Needed surgeries have been canceled. Food and basic supplies are hard to find. Our medical systems are being pushed to the brink and the people working the front lines are being asked to jump over the ledge. 

We started out so hopeful but now? Now people are angry and that anger is turning to denial. Protests are springing up. People are marching on government buildings with clenched fists. They want their lives back which is understandable but at what cost? How many deaths will be justified as long as we can pretend everything is normal? What’s the magic number for you? 

I postulate that, in some cases, hope has led these people astray. As inspirational as it can be, hope can also be misleading because we become blinded by its brilliance. We’re so taken in that we can’t prepare ourselves for the worst. We can’t even entertain the possibility. Perish the thought! I have hope in my heart, and my eyes are set on a brighter future.

Maybe our eyes should be looking at the path beneath our feet as well as looking ahead?

I love hiking and photography. The beauty of nature mixed with the thrill of the hunt. I’m hunting for a good shot, not a trophy for my wall. I’d rather take its picture than mount the deer on my wall. When I’m out there,  I look up, around, and I take it all in because to me that moment is my deep breath in. It’s my saving grace. It’s the one thing that keeps me grounded.

However, I’m very awkward, gimped, and clumsy. If I don’t look where I’m going then I’m going to fall on my face and fracture something very valuable. My face or my camera. Which is more valuable? Oo, tough question.

Life, as well as hope, is kind of the same thing. It’s clumsy and awkward. Beautiful, wondrous, and amazing but it has its pitfalls. We hope we never encounter those falls but what if we do? Preparing ourselves, physically or emotionally, for a negative outcome doesn’t cancel out hope. It doesn’t mean we’ve lost the faith. It just means that we’re hoping for the best, preparing for the worst, and keeping our eyes on sunnier skies.

When I go for a hike, I take enough water and snacks with me just in case I get hurt or turned around. I’m not even going deep into the backcountry where things can get hairy. I’m relatively safe but still, I prepare myself because you just don’t know what’s going to happen. I walk out my front door fully hoping, expecting, to walk back inside a few hours later. Hope, expectation, doesn’t mean I don’t take the necessary precautions.

But with life? I get lost in the dream of something better and I forget to live. I hope. I pray. With my whole heart and soul, I believe that something will click, and my life will come together. I hope that my body will become stronger. I hope I’ll find someone to love. I hope that one day soon I’ll walk out my front door with a fully vaccinated immune system and go into the world.

That won’t be today, tomorrow, or next week but I hope that “someday” will come soon. However, hoping doesn’t make it a reality; it just makes reality more hopeful.

For all of its wonderful, magical, qualities there’s a downside to hope. That wonder and magic is so alluring that it blinds us to reality. It silences our better angels and we can, if we fall too far, behave in ways that defy reason or decency. It can, it seems, turn sane and reasonable people into the devils they would, in any other circumstance, run from. It would seem that, that makes hope one of the most dangerous emotions we can ever experience.

Is that a sentence too far? Let’s go a little further.

We can prepare ourselves for an undesirable outcome and still hope for the best. We can brace for the impact but still try to fly. Looking down won’t make us fall just like looking up won’t give us wings. It’s easy to forget, to get lost in the pretty and shiny bubble, but life and hope aren’t black or white. It isn’t either/or. This isn’t a true or false quiz. Two things, no matter how contrary, can still be true and necessary to our survival as individuals and as a global community. 

Believe me, I feel it, it blew my mind. Pow! Poof! Boom!

My advice, despite everything I just said, is to hope more but smarter. Yes, it’s hard to hope when life feels hopeless but never stop believing in something better. Never stop dreaming of a life that’s better than the one you’re living. Never stop hoping but don’t let hope stop you from living a well balanced, love-filled, life. You don’t have to choose between hope, reason, logic or a fairy tale. Life, hope, is more astounding, more complex, than anything our imaginations can dream up.

And I’ll keep telling myself that until I wholeheartedly believe it.

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What Are Friends For?

“When you’re in jail, a good friend will be trying to bail you out. A best friend will be in the cell next to you saying, ‘Damn, that was fun’.”  ― Groucho Marx

It was a bad idea. A horrible idea. Nothing good was going to come from this idea. I knew it. I said it. I voiced my concerns quite succinctly and then I went along with it. I actively participated in a no good, horrible, idea. I was well aware of the potential consequences. The outcome was, most assuredly, far from nifty. Why? What came over me?

She said it would be fun! How could I argue with such irrefutable logic?

Does anyone have that one friend that can convince you to do things your rational mind would never let you do? I’m not talking gaslighting or hypnotic suggestion. There’s no coercion or blackmail. It’s not even the friends’ fault. It’s the two of you together, a combined recipe, that bubbles and boils over until you’ve made a volcano out of paper mache.

Messy but cool.

I have a friend that has a way of getting me into all kinds of trouble. To be fair, I think she might say the same thing about me, but I don’t want to put words into her mouth. Separately, we’re both sensible, rational, human beings. I tend to be the more cautious of the two. If there’s trouble to be spotted, I’ll spot it. If there’s no trouble to be seen, well, give me a minute I’m sure I can think of something.

My friend is my complete opposite. Happy, easy-going, and quick to say, “Come on, it’ll be fun. What’s the worst that can happen?”

Well for starters…Oh, that was a rhetorical question.

She sees the positives in any situation while I tend to see the negatives and work my way up to something that approximates positivity. I’m more rational, and she’s more of a dreamer. I prefer logic or reason, and she leans more towards hypotheticals or ‘what ifs’. She asks why not, and I give an alphabetized list that I had laminated. She jumps while I tiptoe. She’s quick to say yes and I’m quick to say no. She loves being around people, and I prefer four-legged creatures over the two-legged variety. 

I think we all need someone like that in our lives. Someone who offsets our natural inclinations so we balance each other out. I think that’s why we are such good friends! Without her, I might not have as much fun or laugh as often or as freely. I wouldn’t leave my one-bedroom apartment, try new things, or go adventures. 

Adventures that include me running away from a bear. Well, run is a stretch. I thought it was a stump until it wiggled and yawned. I panicked, backed away slowly, and yelled for her to unlock the car. I would’ve dived into the trunk had that popped open first.

I don’t think we’ve gotten too close to disaster, but we’ve come pretty close. The bear encounter was one. Getting caught up in a communist rally in a foreign country and saying hello to the riot police. Sliding down a rain-soaked sidewalk on my backside and coming very close to a painful stop. If it hadn’t been for that lap post…Worst slip and slide ever!

But we laughed about it for hours after! Just like we laughed about the bear, sympathetic riot cops, and a million other misadventures. The kind of adventures that don’t play well during story time because, “You just had to be there!”

She’s also the kind of friend that answers the phone at three o’clock in the morning. She drops everything to come and help me when I need it. She carried a tv, DVD player, and movies on three city buses because I had to spend six weeks in the hospital and I was going out of my mind. She’s one of the few people I trust to see me at my worst because she sees past it and sees me.

From casual acquaintance to social engagements, friendships come in many different shapes, varieties, and intensities. Some friends are in our lives for a few days, weeks, or months. Others flutter in and out. Each has value. Each is necessary and hopefully, they bring something to our lives that help us become better people. But nothing will compare to the unique, bizarre, and sometimes dangerous relationship between best friends.

I’m not someone who trusts very easily. I’ve been hurt too often by people who knew better but chose to ignore the angel sitting on their shoulders. Because of them, I’m very cautious, almost afraid, of who I let come close. I have so many walls up, and I’m not sure if any of them will ever get broken down. For someone like me, the importance of that one person who we can open up too, be ourselves without fear, is beyond measure. 

I’m not always that good at being a friend, being open, or vulnerable but I know that precious space exists and that’s a comfort. It’s hard for me to open up. I keep a lot in. I feel a lot and I never want to burden someone else, especially someone I care about, with these feelings. She wants me to. She’s offered, asked, begged me to be more open and I’m trying. 

Though I still fail more than I succeed. 

Knowing that there is that safe space is comforting. Even when I don’t visit as much as I should or could, it’s there. Having that space is a gift that’s more precious to me than words can express. I certainly don’t express it as often as I should and that’s a shame. These treasures in our lives deserve to hear how much we value, love, and even need them around.

Especially now, with everything going on, I think it’s even more important to find a way to express how much we love the people in our lives. There are a lot of people out there right now wishing they had one more minute to express a lifetime of love and gratitude. I can’t think of anything more heartbreaking than that. Not saying it. Not having them hear it. Wondering if the knew.

We don’t want to think about that moment. All of us pray that moment never comes. We never know when or if it will. It’s too heavy. It’s too macabre. I would love to stick my fingers in my ear and close my eyes, but I’ve seen too much loss to pretend people don’t leave a hole in our lives.

I hear that it’s better to have loved and lost but loving without saying it is a tragedy so take some time to say it. Tell the people in your life how much you love them. Tell them how much they mean to you. Tell them that you love them. Tell them you don’t have the words but if you did you wouldn’t stop saying them out loud.

It’s awkward and, if you’re anything like me, it’s a little panic-inducing. Taking the chance, the risk, to speak the words in our hearts? Be vulnerable? Do we risk it? What if they look at us like we’ve lost our minds?

Even when we know that we’re loved, putting those words out there feels like we’re getting naked and running with the bulls. That’s a pleasant image. It’s not a risk I’d normally take but given the alternative? Especially now that there’s a very real, very clear and present danger? Not saying it feels riskier than anything else.

Deep breath and here I go.

My friend, thank you for getting me in and out of so much trouble. Thanks for pushing me to go beyond what’s comfortable and what feels safe. Thank you for seeing me at my worst and not turning away. Thank you for forgiving my shortcomings, my failures, and looking past my quirks.

I love you like a sister. I can’t wait for this sh!t show to be over so we can go out and find some more trouble. No bears, please. Or lampposts! That came a little too close to becoming a very intimate problem. Oh, and if we end up in a jail cell? Well, at least we had fun!

Okay, that wasn’t too bad. Your turn?

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And A Good Friday To you Too!

This weekend means different things to different people. A religious holiday that celebrates death, resurrection, sacrifice, and salvation. A bunny that hops around, laying eggs in strange places, and a scavenger hunt. Copious amounts of chocolate, a dinner with the family, and a few days off work. Different strokes for different folks. Whatever tickles your fancy, fancies your tickle. 

Wow, that sounds inappropriate. Should I apologize? Nah.

This year, the year of global disasters, everything is different and there’s a heaviness hanging in the air. I don’t feel like celebrating because, honestly, there doesn’t feel like there’s a lot to celebrate. It doesn’t matter if you’re all about the Easter Bunny or the salvation of man through the blood of Christ…Hold up a second! 

Do we celebrate the blood spilling or honour it? I feel like people say celebrate but it’s so morbid. Yes, the outcome is desirable and honourable. If you’re a Christian, or have been around one, then you know the story. God sends his son, Jesus, to earth and Jesus grows up to be a teacher, a prophet, and a healer. His destiny, however, is to die on the cross next to two criminals. His death, followed by his resurrection, is a means to a pure end. An end where sins are forgiven and life can continue beyond this world, this mortal coil.

Party on bro! Pass a chocolate bunny and the disinfectant.

Am I the only one that gets a little weirded out by this “celebration” situation? Easter is a celebration of an act that involved a lot of pain and suffering. It’s about death, resurrection too, and the whole thing feels kinda icky if I look at it too closely. Again, it could just be me. I’m feeling a little pensive. 

For Christians, we’re remembering, celebrating, honouring…what is the right word? Reliving? No…This weekend is about a moment of incredible suffering. An innocent man died a slow, horrific, death. His mother, siblings, and friends watched as he bled from wounds that were cruel and, for lack of a better word, ungodly. Again, the outcome is hope and salvation. God knows we all need some salvation and a little more hope after the lives we’ve lived. But celebrating pain, suffering, and death even with a positive outcome?

It’s weird, right?

I don’t go to church anymore, but I do consider myself, if labels are necessary, a Christian. Even when I was an avid churchgoer and a subscriber of dogma; this concept struck me as bizarre and macabre. A man, who also happens to be the Son of God, is arrested on trumped-up charges because a group of rich and powerful men were jealous of his growing popularity. He was healing the sick, raising the dead, and comforting the poor, broken, and outcast. How dare he do that without prior, written, approval? He also called wicked religious leaders out on their crooked ways so, obviously, he had to go. They paid witnesses to lie and then paid one of his friends to set him up. They arrested him, went through a mock trial, sentenced him to die in one the most gruesome ways possible, and then made a show of it. 

If you think Game of Thrones was too gruesome? Dude.

Just when I think people can’t surprise me, they go ahead find new ways to be horrible. We’re a messed-up species and we haven’t evolved that much over the centuries. Good thing this story ends with this innocent man rising from the dead and going back to heaven. We’re so messed up that someone had to suffer and die to clean up after us. There’s that happy ending for ya!

I love a happy ending. It makes me feel warm and tingly but not in an inappropriate way.

Going to church over Easter is, to me, surreal. Everyone is dressed up extra fancy. There are a lot of floral prints and pretty pastels. Sweet treats are handed to children, and adults steal their fair share chocolates. Smiling faces. Happy songs. We celebrate death as joyfully as we celebrate the resurrection and the easter bunny. But there was so much pain!

Despite the outcome, can you imagine being his mother? She watched her son being held down while nails were driven through flesh and bone. She watched her son be beaten and tortured. She watched him take his last breath. Then she watched helplessly as they buried his body and rolled a stone in front of his tomb.

That’s the part that got to me the most. This image of a woman, standing alone, by her child’s grave is heartbreaking. I’m supposed to celebrate that? It feels wrong and heartless. I’m not a mother, but I’ve stood beside small graves and watched tiny coffins being lowered into the ground. I’ve seen the grief of a parent after such a monumental loss, and it’s more than a broken heart. It’s a broken spirit. It’s a broken body. It’s a grief that’s completely crippling. It’s a grief unlike any I’ve personally felt or witnessed since.

Celebrate the death and resurrection of this woman’s son? After he came back from the dead, Jesus still left her and went away. No letters. No email. Did he call her through prayer? “Hey Ma, how’s it going? Heaven’s pretty great. No one’s trying to kill me here so, you know, that’s nice.”

She lost her son twice and I wonder how she felt about that? Did she grieve twice? A mother, crying after her son, isn’t an image I feel like celebrating.

Granted, this is purely an exercise in semantics and I’m not even sure where I’m going with this. This isn’t what I set out to write which seems to be a theme lately. I’m caught up on the meaning of a single word and blocking out the rest. Those other words that make up a very large story and a very powerful one too.

It’s those complexities of the larger story that have me thinking about the oversimplification of this one word. We celebrate Easter and that act celebration has, in some respects, taken over for the meaning of what happened. We’ve created a festival atmosphere around an act of selflessness and sacrifice. We’ve revived a show that should never have been granted a public viewing. In some cases, we cheer on the crucifixion and forget the very real impact it had on very real people.

I’m not suggesting we forgo traditions and drape ourselves in black rags. We don’t have to beat our chests, fall to our knees, a wail in despair. Don’t throw out the sweet treats and go on a four day fast. That Bunny’s got to provide for his family too! I don’t think we need to grieve at all because, let’s not forget, this story has a happy ending.

As a thought exercise, I’m simply asking if we’re missing something? Are we too far removed from that moment to really appreciate it? Did our attention shift over the last few centuries? If it did, maybe we need to refocus our attention? Especially this year.

 This year has been a beast and we’re only four months in. Normally, when normal existed, we’d have dinner with our families. Some of you might go to church. There’s an Easter egg hunt in the park and then we’d get a photo with the Easter Bunny. There are family, and religious, traditions that go back generations. Families look forward to them every year but this year?

This year isn’t a normal year and we can’t do things the normal way. I know some people are going to disregard the public health warnings. There will be ill-advised church services and family dinners. People are still traveling despite the dangers. There’s a lot of anger, in my area, because parks have been closed and the Easter Bunny isn’t sitting for photos. It’s hard to accept that things have changed but this disregard will put peoples lives at risk. Please stay home if you can.

Easter, if we look a little closer, isn’t about a church service, dinner with the family, or a photo op. It’s about taking a moment to appreciate the courage it took to lay down a life for others. It’s taking a second to appreciate the strength, the helplessness, of a mother who stood there and watch her child, her baby boy, die a brutal death. It’s appreciating the miracle of resurrection and the hope it gives us. This appreciation can be expressed anywhere and in many different ways. Church is one way but it doesn’t have to be the only way so again, stay home if you can.

Nailing the point home a little hard? Apologies…Not really sorry.

Easter is time for a renewal of hope which, for me, is coming at an appropriate time. With everything going on, it feels like there’s not enough hope to go around but if there’s hope in death then there can be hope in life. Our lives have stopped. Our futures look bleak. We’re asked to make sacrifices, so we can save the lives of strangers. We ask how long and no one knows and hope becomes harder to hold onto but it is there. This season, this holiday, we look at the life, death, and resurrection of a man who gave up everything so we could live and we will live. Life goes on, despite the hardships and suffering. There is hope in the renewal, the revival, of life so look for the hope wrapped up in a decorated egg.

Easter, especially this year, might not be the time to “celebrate” in the traditional sense, but it’s a time for gratitude. Imagine being so loved, so cherished, that someone was willing to die for you? My brother gave me his kidney, so I have a small idea of what it feels like to be loved that much. Having someone risk their life so I could get a chance to live my life? Gratitude doesn’t even being to encompass the enormity of that sacrifice and gift. 

Over the next few days, instead of going out, let’s spend some time figuring out what we’re grateful for and not what we’ve given up. We’ve all given up so much over the last month and I’m sure we’re going to be asked to give up more. That’s so overwhelming but now, for this moment, can we be grateful for what we have been given? Life. Love. The kind of love that isn’t expressed with words but actions. We can express our gratitude and love for each other. Maybe not in person but love can be felt from a distance. That’s something to be thankful for right there.

If being chronically ill has taught me one thing? There’s always something to be grateful for even in the darkest of places. We can be thankful for the bed we lay on and the medicine we’re being given. We can be grateful for the home we’re in because how hard would it be to live without a safe space right now? We can be thankful for the computer, or phone, that connects us to our families, friends, and communities. We can stand on our balconies, at our front doors, and bang pots to say thank you to everyone working so hard to keep us going.

Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! If you work in the medical field, grocery store, or any one of the essential services: THANK YOU! With all my heart, I can’t say thank you enough.

Easter may be a story of sacrifice, death, and resurrection but it’s so much more than that. It’s about courage and strength. It’s about love. It’s our chance to stop, be still, and be grateful for the miracles in our lives. They may be hard to find but they’re there if we look hard enough. Maybe we finally have enough time to go looking?

Or all of this is bullsh!t and you just want the Easter Bunny to bring you some more chocolate. Good news! The government declared the Bunny an essential service. At least we can be grateful for his service and his sweet treats.

If you get a chocolate bunny, do you eat the head or the tail first? Both feel so wrong. Deliciously wrong.

Happy Easter friends! Regardless of what this weekend means to you: Be safe. Be well. Stay home.

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What Is Right Or What Is Easy?

“We must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy.” ― Albus Dumbledore, Harry Potter by J.K Rowling

My dad used to say something similar, “The right things is rarely the easy thing to do but it’s the only thing we can do.” Since Dumbledore and my dad agree it must be true! High praise indeed. Sorry Dad.

We’re living through a moment that will be studied in history classes for decades and beyond. Just like we did, students will sit in a classroom and listen to a teacher or a professor lay out the facts, statistics, and throw in some stories from those that lived it. Those students will take all of that it in and draw their own conclusions about how we, as a global society, handled such a monumental challenge.

What will they say? Have you thought about it? Have you thought about how our choices today will be viewed by those looking back at history? Maybe it’s trivial. Maybe it’s a bit macabre. Maybe it’s just a silly little exercise of fancy to kill a few minutes of isolation. Maybe it’s just nice to think that there’s a future where this story ended and a new one began.

Right now, I’m wondering how history will judge us and the choices we make?

Some people, some nations, are handling this better than others. While others are facing greater challenges than some. The body count coming out of some countries is truly staggering. I don’t know about you, but my brain can’t begin to compute that level of suffering and death. My heart can’t hold that much sorrow for those that are hurting right now but it sure is trying its best.

Is there a right way and a wrong way? Is it so hard and fast? Can I really blame one country for hoarding medical supplies to take care of their people? Wouldn’t I be tempted to do the same?

If you’re following the news, you know what I’m talking about but I’m trying to keep this in the theoretical, philosophical, not the political.

I think, if I’m being honest, I’d say that I would be tempted but would I go through with it? I think I’m going to take a deep breath and brace myself while I hopefully say: No, I wouldn’t do it. You’re suffering as much as I am and if we’re both going to get through this we’re going to have to do the right thing. The right thing, as hard as it is, is to not shut each other out and go at it alone. We can help each other get through this but only if we both agree to help.

I’m trying very hard not to blast any country, political party, or person. This virus is such a big drain on all of us and on all of our resources. It’s so easy to criticize those in the trenches while sitting a safe distance away. I’m not in a position of power, thank God, and I don’t know the intricacies of running a nation. Let alone, running a nation amid a global pandemic. The toll this must take on the people making life and death decisions? I can’t even begin to understand what that’s like, and I hope I never find out.

I’m just one person, sitting at home, waiting to catch this virus while hoping science figures it out before I do. I have a compromised immune system so, from where I’m sitting in my safe little apartment, it feels inevitable. My only hope, our only hope, is that these people put aside politics, money, power, and give everything they can to the qualified scientists, doctors, and front-line workers.

But some want to pad their pockets so they live in comfort while the rest of us wait for our tickets to be punched. That, quite frankly, pisses me off. Politicians, businesses, and all the rest. They’re choosing the easy route because, right now, they have a choice. The rest of us?

Then again, it’s a lot easier for me, sitting safely inside my tiny apartment, to write a blog about someone’s bad behaviour. It’s easier to criticize than it is to go out there and try to do that job. I’m under no illusion that I could do it any better. Unlike some, I am very aware of my limitations.

However, as an armchair critic, what the hell? I get the whole country first mentality. I’m all for patriotism and fireworks. Love the one your with! Under any other cirumstance, I’d say, “You do you booboo.” You have the right to do with your country as you see fit.

I understand where you’re coming from but none of us can get through this without helping each other out. Sharing knowledge and supplies. Helping each other find a cure, a vaccine, and a way out of this mess. You want to do something, I get that, but this? Your people will suffer more if you force them to go at it alone.

The easiest thing in the world is to lock our doors, turn off the lights, and pray no one notices we’re here. It’s easy to shut down, close our eyes, and stick our fingers in our ears. It’s easier to look after our own and tell everyone else to f**k off. Does it make it right? No. Will it solve your problem or ours? Hell no. 

But I get the impulse! I finally ventured out of my home and went to the store. Don’t worry, I took precautions to protect myself from the germs and so did the kind store employees. (Thanks for the help and your hard work. It’s very much appreciated). I walked down the aisle, finally found some toilet paper, and I wanted to load my cart up with enough packs to last the next six months. 

I know! This is a small, puny, little example compared to the decisions our leaders are making but the thought process was similar. I’m in trouble. We’re all in trouble. I can’t help you. You can’t help me. I should help myself. I should protect myself. I should protect the people I love. You? I don’t know you, but I know my next-door neighbour with stage three breast cancer. What about her? She one of my people. You’re not. So…

Protect your own but first, and foremost, protect yourself.

That’s what it boils down to but then what? We’re no better off than we were yesterday. I would’ve had more toilet paper, but the bigger problem still exists. I wouldn’t have helped anything or anyone. I would’ve caused more pain. I may have felt like I’d done something but all I would’ve done is create a new problem.

Our leaders are now facing that same choice. Solve one problem but create a new one? Or work together, tough it out together, and find a solution together? That new problem could have devastating consequences down the line. Fractured relationships and trade agreements. Economically devastating every country involved. Not to mention the cost of friendships that have been forged in blood, sweat, and tears.

Those students, in that history class, have the benefit of hindsight but we’re running blind. How many people die because of the choices made today? Both choices! The consequences can be catastrophic for everyone involved.

Right or easy? They both have consequences and neither look all that pretty. I’ve had to choose between messed up and f**k up before. With my illness, I’ve faced choices that didn’t have a pretty outcome. No matter what I chose! There was pain, suffering, and potential death. It’s impossible to choose, but we have to make a choice.

Right or easy?

Those are our choices. Those are the choices our leaders are facing.

Right or easy?

We’ve all sat in that history class, listened to the facts, and passed judgement. People made the easy choice and people made the right choice. Which one did you respect? Which one did you dislike? Which one made you stop and shake your head? Did you ask, “How could anyone have done that?”

Right or easy?

The choices we make today will be viewed in the same light as the choices made by our ancestors. For me, the people I respect are the ones who chose to do that right thing despite the consequences. Some knew what those consequences were and did it anyway. Others flipped a coin and prayed for the best. They did the right thing because it was the only thing they could do.

Right or easy?

I don’t have an answer for you, but I pray that I have the courage to do the right thing. I pray our leaders, regardless of political affiliation or country, do the right thing. Most of all, I pray that those trying to save lives in horrible circumstances are granted the wisdom, courage, and strength to know what to do next.

Oh, for the record, I grabbed toilet paper for myself and my parents. Hoarding makes life difficult for all of us. Please stay safe and healthy.

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Thoughts From The In-Between

(Fair warning: This post will be all over the place because my mind is experiencing zero G’s and I don’t have much control over it.)

I’ve sat down to write this post a half dozen times over the last three days but every word I type feels disingenuous. They aren’t wrong and the topics really interest me, I’m sure I’ll go back to them later, but they don’t feel honest. They don’t represent my current mindset. Every word feels forced, like I’m trying to put a child sizes mask over my abnormally large head. Try as I might, it just wouldn’t slide into place so I gave up on every attempt but this one…Apparently.

Now that fits my mood perfectly! Giving up is an apt description because all I want to do is curl up under the covers and wait for this to be over. I don’t know what ‘this’ is but when it ends I’ll know. Maybe. Possibly. There’s a chance I’ll never know what it is and I’ll stay under the covers forever. Waiting in perpetuity for a sign, a whisper, or an inkling.

A bit dramatic? My answer is a tired sigh. 

The thing is, each word that flows across my screen is accompanied by one question: What’s the point? Every time I get up to do something there’s that one question: What’s the point? This one question is on a loop. Judging, nagging, begging for an answer but the answer is the question whispered back. What’s the point?

I don’t think there’s an answer for such an abstruse question but still, I ask. What’s the point? It’s a very sincere, all be it ambiguous, question about life, my life. Actions and reactions. Motivations or the lack thereof. I can’t help but wonder what the point of this, all of this, is? But looking for the answer feels pointless too.

I am so overwhelmed, and my usual pressure valves have been put on lockdown. I’m a creature of habits and rituals that crosses the border into OCD. That’s a clinical diagnosis, not a colloquial appropriation. Without these, let’s call them quirks, I feel like I’ve been put into a giant washing machine and someone’s turned it onto the highest setting. I don’t know which way is up or down. I’m drowning. I can’t breathe. There’s nothing to hold on to, and I can’t get my head above water.

My routines keep me balanced, and they help me feel just a little safer. Safe…It’s not a feeling I’m all that familiar with and I doubt I’ll ever get to fully appreciate everything it has to offer. My relationship with this sense of safety is, at best, a passing acquaintance. We say hello from time to time. Have a casual conversation about the weather and then we part ways. It’s amicable and civil, but we never break the surface or develop a deeper bond.

I was diagnosed with a chronic illness, kidney disease, when I was three years old so my whole life has been a game of hopscotch that I play with disaster. Jumping from one crisis to the next. If, by mistake or miracle, I land on a space between then it’s a moment to catch my breath, prepare for the next jump, but get comfortable? No, getting comfortable in the in-between has been a proven mistake. A mistake I’ve made two or three times and the let down is immense. I don’t think I have the heart for one more break. 

But here I am, back in the in-between, and I’m waiting for something to happen. Praying it doesn’t but, I don’t know if I truly trust that the prayer will reach its mark. If it does? Do I really want to know the answer? In my experience, the answer isn’t always what I’d hoped for and, sometimes, I regret asking. Still, I pray because there’s nothing else I can do right now. Today, my prayer is for…Prayer isn’t like a birthday candle, is it? If I tell you what I wish for, it won’t change the outcome, right?

What the hell! Let’s risk it. 

I’m praying for safety and stability. I crave it with such an intensity that it creeps towards desperation. It’s the one thing I want, but it’s the one thing I’ve never felt. I’ll never, ever, feel safe or secure because I can’t escape my body or my life. I’ve felt loved. I’ve felt protected by my loved ones. Safe? Secure? Not when my body hates me so much. But, God I wish…

No matter how much my heart lusts after more, my relationship with safety has always been, will always be, a passing affair. I know this is the way it has to be and I would love to make peace with it, but I can’t let it go. My routines, rituals, and quirks give me the sense of safety that I need to get up and do something with my day. They offset the panic by creating an illusion that’s pretty convincing and it gets the job done, most days. But that illusion is easily shattered by the smallest of things. A phone call, a knock on the door, a dinner invitation or a global pandemic.

Okay, that last one is about as big as it gets and it’s throwing the whole world off our axes. How do any of us feel safe right now? How do we keep living when life has been brought to a halt? How do we get out of bed when it feels so pointless? Or maybe that’s just me and I’m projecting my current mood on to you. My bad.

There are a few precious souls who are living in a very happy land of denial. They seem quite content thinking that this situation is being blown out of proportion or, more interestingly, it’s a government conspiracy. Some of those theories are really something and it would be tempting to go down that rabbit hole for just a few hours. Then again, I’m too much of a realist to fall too far down but wouldn’t it be nice to live in their world for a little while? A break from the realities we’re living in? 

I don’t know about you but I’m so tired, anxious, and overwhelmed. My routines, rituals, have been upended. I can’t leave my house. My immune system doesn’t work so walking out my front door is a big risk. The things I do, like going to the grocery store on a Friday at two pm? I can’t risk it, and it’s just one of many risks I can’t take right now.

My one connection with safety has been taken away, and I don’t know what to do to get some sense of it back. I feel lost in a whirling machine, and I don’t have the power to flip the switch. I’m trying to create new routines to fit this new reality, but they aren’t working and feel like shutting down completely. Which leads me back to my original question: What’s the point? Why get out of bed? Why have a shower? Why make breakfast? Why try to write a blog? Why try to do any of it when all of it seems so pointless?

Nothing I do will help the situation. These words won’t make anything better. They don’t help me, you, or any of us get back to normal. Normal…My normal wasn’t all the great but at least it was familiar and there’s safety in that familiarity. What I wouldn’t give to feel safe for more than a few minutes in the in-between. If only the in-between could take up some more space. If only…

There I go strolling down into a black hole. If only, the if-only’s would only lead to something pretty, shiny, and sparkly. Ah but it’s a trap, a lie, an illusion that’s easier to see through than my upended routines. The if-only’s aren’t as comfortable as the in-between’s. They feel more desperate, cold, and lonely. Their end is sadder than the end of the in-between’s because at least there, in the space between, the ground is more solid and it feels more real. Fleeting, yes, but I’ll take that over the shapeless stream of the if-only’s.

I’m rambling. I’m filling the space. I’ll post this because it’s a part of my routine and at least I’ll have accomplished something today. Small, trivial, insignificant in the grand scheme of things but something is better than nothing. At least this post is an honest representation of my mind right now.

Chaotic. Fractured. Desperate. Empty. Lonely. Tired.

To ask the question one more time: What’s the point? Sometimes the point is in the pointlessness. It’s connecting to someone else who’s feeling just as aimless. Sometimes the point is simply saying, “I’m not okay right now.” I’m holding on. I’m waiting this out. I’m doing my best, but I’m not okay. My routine, my rituals, my quirks have been taken away, and I’m feeling lost.

Maybe the point is simply asking, “How are you holding up?” 

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Yellow Polka Dotted Submarine

“It’s really a wonder that I haven’t dropped all my ideals, because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out. Yet I keep them, because in spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.” ― Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl

Does anyone else feel like we woke up in a movie written by someone on a really bad LSD trip? Not the cute little trip with yellow submarines or one-eyed purple monsters in polka-dotted bikinis. Did I mix those up? The songs my parents thought were groovy were weird but at least the colours were chipper. There was a fair amount of jazz hands and those tap shoes always added a nice flare. Everyone looked happy or maybe they were just high. It’s kinda hard to tell, but the illusion’s pretty nifty.

This trip we’re on is straight out of a nightmare high and whoever’s putting pen to paper needs to sober up fast. Splash cold water on their face. Poke them with a fire hot javelin because, you know, six-foot rule. Make the pen fall, so we can end this madness and get back to our regularly scheduled programming.

Is anyone else feeling an overwhelming exhaustion? My bones are tired. I think my cells are taking power naps whenever they think I’m not paying attention. My head throbs and my chest feels like there’s a storm cloud swirling right under my sternum. There’s lightning and thunder. Grey clouds are threatening rain. It’s a tornado of anxiety and worry that won’t blow over.

I feel on edge and ready to run, but there’s nowhere to go because there’s no safe place right now. There’s a monster out there but just like the one under my bed, no one can see it. I feel it. I hear it. Mom, can you come and take a look? Nope, it’s all clear but no amount of reassurance will calm me down. This damn nightmare is shared by millions of people, all over the world. What the actual expletive is going on?

This is one hell of a way to bring the world together! Sure, it’s a bit of a culture shock but at least we’re in this together. Right? Isn’t that a song or something? I don’t know. I’ve never done anything harder than morphine and then watched Disneys Fantasia. Really freaked me out, man! Seriously scared for life.

Where was I going with that? No idea. Redirecting…Now.

Over the course of our history, there are only a few times when we’ve been united in a common struggle. Usually, we’re struggling against each other like a giant game tug of war. Sure, I guess wars do bring us together in mind-bending ways. Ways, such as a global pandemic? 

I’ve heard people compare this virus to a battlefront which, okay, I guess it’s one way to look at it. We are fighting a mighty enemy, but wars are fought by action and we’re being called to inaction. The best thing we can do, if we’re able too, is to stay at home and wait for this bastard to run out of steam. That means, we’re united in our inability to wage a war on what’s threatening our way of life. All we can do is…Sit. Stay. Wait.

I’m not very good at any of those things. Sitting, waiting, staying? I feel like a ball and chain has been shackled around my ankles. I feel a burning need to do something to help, something to make this better, but there’s nothing I can do. For whatever it’s worth, the only skill I have are the words I put to paper. I believe that words have power but in times like these? What good are the words I write when my family members are helping patients in hospitals and clinics? What good will they do when someone I love gets infected or someone I love, God forbid, doesn’t recover? What good are empty words when the world is brought to a halt by a tiny virus with a mighty right hook? I have no words for this situation!

I guess I do have a couple of words, but I’m trying to keep this PG.

They say, in times of crisis, we respond in one of three ways: fight, flight, or freeze. I back away if possible but I can’t get away from this situation. If I can’t run, I’m ready to fight because I’ll be damned if I’ll go down quietly. Except, I don’t know how to fight this enemy. There have been moments when I’ve frozen but that’s because I’m a planner. I take my time to analyze the situation and formulate a response. I’ve looked at this situation from every angle but the only answer I can see? Listen to the experts, then trust these strangers with my life and the lives of the people I love.

Well, f**k me!

I’m stuck in a moment of suspended animation with no way to save myself, my loved ones, or you. It’s…Frustrating and infuriating.

Anger, resentment, grief, and this overwhelming helplessness swirl around and around inside of me. They move so fast they’ve created their own jet stream. Faster, faster, faster it goes and then comes the lightning, followed by the thunder. It will bring the rain and maybe then I’ll feel cleansed for a little while but without an end in sight?

“It’s really a wonder that I haven’t dropped all my ideals, because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out.” Anne Frank, so wise for someone so young, makes such an astute observation. She was locked away, hiding to save her life, and still, she looked for the good. That’s so amazing, but it’s a quality we admire, isn’t it?

As a society, we value kindness, compassion, thoughtfulness, and decency. We cheer on the brave, the strong, and the selfless who show up to work even though they are walking into the line of fire. We honor those whose selflessness has gone above the call of duty. These people, who exemplify our ideals as a society, are heroes and should be treated with the utmost respect.

In times of peace, these ideals are held to be true and fiercely protected. We teach them to our children. We scold those who stray away. We hold them close to our hearts and offer them up as gifts to those we love. They are precious treasures but they shouldn’t be locked in a vault. They are to be shared, enjoyed, and cherished.

But in times like these, we so easily abandon our ideals and justify our actions. We claim it’s survival of the fittest but in reality, we’re so afraid, too exhausted, and some are so easily consumed by greed. Hoarding food, cleaning supplies, and toilet paper. Yelling at the person restocking the shelves, checking us out at the counter, or trying to give us the medical care we need with dwindling resources. Reselling medical masks, hand sanitizer, and household cleaners for three, four, five times their value.

What happened to our ideals and our values? When did they become absurd and impossible to carry out? How did we so easily let go of what we hold dear and reach for a poor substitute? Why do we turn primal after claiming we’ve evolved past the sins of our ancestors?

We look for an enemy we can fight because the real enemy is too small to see and too monstrous to battle. Fear brings out a bigotry that’s been simmering below the surface for God knows how long. Six months ago, how many people would’ve said they’re not racist? How many have discovered the truth about themselves? How many will even acknowledge the reality of their newfound hatred?

The things we value as individuals and as a society speak to our character. The choices we make now represent those values and history will judge our character accordingly. Then again, who’s worried about the future when we’re stuck in the present?

A lesson from the past then? The choices we make now aren’t new. The world may have changed drastically in the last few weeks, months, but who we are hasn’t. The decisions we make are the same as they were before but now they are tainted by fear, helplessness, frustration, and exhaustion. It’s not who we are when we’re standing strong; It’s who we are when we’re struggling to stand at all. That’s the measure of a person and a society.

When it comes to our values, our ideals, we’re faced with the same choices we had six months ago. Do we value money or people? Love or hate? War or peace? Equality for all or just a select few? The things we hold true during times of peace have to hold true at times like these. If they don’t? If we abandon them now? If they seem absurd and impossible to carry out?

Well, did we really hold these values to be true or were they nothing more than a utopian wasteland?

I’m afraid… No, correction, I’m terrified! I’m on the verge of tears even though I’ve cried a river all ready. I want to fight, scream, run, and hide all at the same time. I want to go back to a time when this wasn’t our reality and live in blissful ignorance. I want to skip ahead to a time when this is over and we’re back to living our lives, our own way. I want to punch a wall and throw a fit. I want to give in and give up, but I can’t do that because I made my choice.

My choice, as hard as it can be, is to hold on to my values and my ideals. As preposterous as they seem in times like this. As simple and childish as they may be, given our situation. As hard, absurd, and impossible as it may get? I want to hold on because letting go dissolves my faith, erodes my hope, and corrodes away my sense of self-worth. 

Without these ideals, I will be left with shame, guilt, and an emptiness I don’t know how to refill. Letting go of who I am, who I strive to be, turns me into the monster of that low-budget movie, written by some hack on a bad trip. No, I’m not striving to be the leading lady or anything so preposterous. I’m trying to hold on to my sanity, my principles, and my faith in humanity.

For the next five minutes, forget that news and the politicians. They all have agendas and it’s impossible to wade through that sludge. Instead, look around your little corner of the world and tell me the good that you see right now. Me? I see neighbours bringing food to those who can’t leave their homes. I see a two-year-old, standing on a deck, laughing with a friend on the deck next door. I see people applauding frontline workers as they go to work and as they finish their shift. I see kindness, generosity, bravery, and love. I see new friendships blossoming and long time friends bloom.

I see the helpers stepping up to do what they can because, despite the worst of us, the best still shine a hell of a lot brighter. There is still hope. There is still goodness out there. There’s still something to hold on to so don’t give up on the good.

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I’m Fine…Thanks For Asking

Someone asks me how I’m doing, and I say, “I’m fine.” It’s a normal response to a typical question. Nothing fancy or verbose. It’s not an epic soliloquy. We aren’t meticulously detailing every second of a day that’s been pretty basic. Not a great day but not a bad one either. It was just, you know, fine I guess. 

They look at us, their overly groomed eyebrows arch, and a smirk tugs at the corners of their mouth. They take a deep breath and ask, “You know what ‘fine’ really means don’t you?”

Here we go. They’re going to say it. They’re going to take a simple statement and turn it into a thing. A two-word sentence and a four-letter word. My response was a simple reflex, not a covert operation. I’m not fishing for psychoanalysis or asking to be probed by aliens. I’m simply stating a fact but they can’t leave it at that, can they?

“F**ked up, insecure, neurotic, and emotional.”

There it is. They said it! 

I was fine a minute ago but now I’m mildly annoyed. It’s inching its way to moderately put out. Maybe they’ll leave it there? I can play it off with a chuckle, a wink, or a good old fashion, “You so funny.” That’ll work, right?

Nope. Not a chance. They’re going to push it. It’s in their eyes. That look. The sneer. All-knowing and a little too smug. They’re expecting me to crack open like a can and spill the beans. Jokes on you! This can is a joke toy filled with springy snakes.

I have moments when I’m overly emotional and sometimes those moments are irrational. I cry every time those kittens play with toilet paper in that commercial because they’re just so squishy. I burnt the last slice of bread and had a small meltdown. Can anyone say first world problem? Yeah, I’m a little overwhelmed right now. 

My neurosis are floating around in my cranium like a wave crashing into a tidal pool. My brain is a barrel full of monkeys on a good day and raging baboons on a bad day. I’ve got a handful of insecurities, and they trip me up more often than I care to admit. Am I f**ked up? Yes. I have my moments but don’t we all?

This moment? I think I’m actually, fine. Like the old-timey kinda fine. Way back in the good old days when fine meant fine. Before acronyms became a fad. When words were clearly defined by a dictionary, not some smart fart with an attitude. Now we’re duct-taping words onto other words, and we need to be a codebreaker to figure them out. It’s madness I tell you. Madness!

I miss the good ole’ days. 

Did I just age myself by thirty years? No, wait, I don’t answer that.

I’m guilty of saying that I’m fine when I was keeping my life together with supplies I salvaged from a recycling depot. Barely managing to function like a human being who, clearly, was nowhere near okay. I’m not alone. We all do it. The words come out of our mouths faster than a superhero changes clothes in a phone booth.

I’ve been laying on a gurney in an emergency room, hooked up to an IV, and beeping monitors. The doctor asks how I’m doing and I say those two words. I feel and look like death but I say that I’m okay, all right, fine, just peachy Doc. How are you? Having a good day? Looks busy out there.

What? No! No shut up. Shut up. Shut up! What am I saying? Why am I saying it? Stop talking woman. Clearly I’m not okay. That’s why I’m here. What is wrong with me?

Again, don’t answer that.

If there’s a time and place to be completely honest, it’s in a hospital or a doctors office or when paramedics arrive. Stoicism, while it has its moments, can take a coffee break. Honesty may not all ways be the best policy, go on comment down below, but when machines are beeping and tubes are going into places? Yes, honesty should take centre stage. 

Being, what was it, f**ked up, insecure, neurotic, and emotional is a perfectly acceptable response to pain, suffering, and possible death. Wow, hello darkness. It’s okay to say I’m not fine. It’s the reason I was there in the first place! I don’t go to emergency rooms for a cocktail and some girl talk. Clearly I’m not okay but these words come out of my mouth and they’re just plain goofy.

I know I’m not fine.

Nurses know I’m not fine.

The person washing the floors knows I’m not fine.

The doctor knows I’m not fine. That’s why they went to school for many, many, many, years. They’re trained to tell when someone is not fine. I’m not fooling them or anyone for that matter. They have eyes. Clearly fine is on a vacation in Maui.

But the second they ask how I’m doing? It’s as if what ails me suddenly vanishes and in a snap, my body is functioning at maximum efficiency. The fever, chills, body aches, and nausea freeze in place. Why? I don’t know.

Is it a miracle? Probably not. Maybe it’s a startle response? Don’t move! I think they’re on to us. Everyone be quiet. Did she say it? She said it! Do you think they bought it?

No dumb ass! They’re clearly very smart people with basic deductive reasoning skills. Did that stop me from saying it? No! As the words are coming out of my mouth, I’m thinking, “What the hell woman?” In my mind I’m yelling at myself: Don’t say it. Don’t say it. Why’d you say it?

It’s a lie. Not a very good lie. It’s like I’m three years old and I’m trying to convince my mom I didn’t steal the chocolate cake that was just sitting on the counter. What’s that on my face? Nothing. Why’d you ask?

The better question is: Who leaves a slice of cake unattended anyway? You’re asking for trouble. Not trying to blame the victim but…

Sorry, where was I?

I’m Fine. Liar!

Peachy? Your pants are on fire!

Groovy? Nifty? Right as rain?

Oh for shame you horrible little liar!

Maybe I don’t want to be a bother? Well, okay sure there’s that but if I’m in a hospital we’re a little past bothersome. Having a chronic illness has led to countless hours in those blasted walls and I’ve developed a very deep resentment towards hospitals. Are there people that actually like hospitals? If it’s your happy place, then do you! Me? I don’t want to be within a three-block radius. I think I’m allergic, but what do I know? 

If I’m there, I’m there for a pretty good reason and I probably should’ve gone in sooner. I’ve probably put it off until my body is about to shut down completely because hospitals suck. Logically, being a bother can’t be the reason why I say what I said because I’m too sick to bother anyone. How’s that for deductive reasoning skills?

If I say I’m fine then maybe I’ll actually be fine? Say it with enough conviction and voila it becomes reality. Yeah, because that’s how life works. Delusions of good health and good times. Close my eyes real tight. Tighter. Tighter. Now hold my breath, stamp my feet, and spin in circles really fast.

Did it work? No? Shocker. Saying I’m fine didn’t make it happen? Well, now what? I plum out of ideas.

I guess the good news is I’m not lying to everyone around me. Bad news is I’m lying to myself. Damn, that’s a downer. Sure, I can be pretty convincing when I need to be but, no, it’s not working. The machines still beep. The IV still sticks out of my arm. The gurney still does a number on my back. The doctors are looking at me like I just grew a second head.

Maybe admitting that I’m not okay is a sign of weakness and that brings an uncomfortable amount of vulnerability? As if being in a weakened state is a reflection of who I am at my very core. Being sick is a moral failing? A punishment for something I did, thought, felt at some point in my journey across this mortal coil. 

Say it out loud and it sounds silly. 

I hate being, feeling, vulnerable. Does anyone like it? I’ve never met anyone who likes being vulnerable. Being sick is, for me, the height of vulnerability. Being completely dependant on someone else for not only survival but basic day to day needs. Having to be fed, bathed, and helped out of bed. 

Literally and figuratively being exposed feels so helpless. At times, hopeless. Dependant. Vulnerable. Needy. Saying I’m fine is a way to take some of that power back even if it is a lie. Even if it doesn’t change the reality of that moment, it keeps me from falling apart.

But it’s not real. It’s not helpful. It changes nothing. Being honest, allowing myself to be vulnerable, is the only way I’m going to get to the other side. 

I’m trying to say it a little less often, be more honest with myself, but I feel it sitting in the back of my throat. Stretching its hamstrings. Bouncing up and down. Limbering up for the hundred-meter sprint. It’s got a collection of medals but there’s one spot that’s just itching for another gold. 

The words want to come up, and I’ve gotta shove them back down with brute force and a toilet plunger. It’s okay to not be okay for a while. It’s fine if that word matches the letters of some acronym. Admitting it is uncomfortable but it doesn’t make us weak. We’re not a bother, and it’s not going to make our situation any less real. We are where we are, and it okay to put it into words or just cry because we burnt the toast.

Then again, sometimes fine means I’m not ready to talk about it yet. It can mean I need time to process or maybe I need to find the right person to talk too. It’s a way of politely saying: Don’t make a thing out of something until I’m ready for that thing to be a thing. You know what I mean?

Oh and sometimes fine means, well, fine. Not good, not bad, but overall I’m doing well. The English language is so bizarre am I right? If you’re trying to learn, you have my utmost sympathy.

* * *

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The Indescribable Power of Gratitude

“We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorns have roses.”  ― Alphonse Karr, A Tour Round My Garden

I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling overwhelmed right now. There’s one topic on everyone’s mind and on everyone’s lips. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest…I didn’t know there were that many ways to decorate a fallout shelter. I’m impressed with your creativity, but I’m also exhausted. My brain can’t process any more information or see one more headline.

It’s all too much!

This weekend, I shut it all down and swore to myself that I wouldn’t look at social media, news headlines, or email. It was time for a break so I watched movies, baked bagels, and washed my walls because I was that bored. I promised myself I wouldn’t look online for two whole days. I lasted two whole hours but then I shut it down again and went to find more distractions. It was an exercise in rinse and repeat, but I managed to shut it off more than I turned it on but, oh boy, the struggle is real. 

My problem is, we’re only seeing the bad news, the worst of humanity, and the despair brought by this invisible monster. Bad news sells, and good news gets drowned out by the falling pennies. There is a lot of bad right now! I see it and feel it just like you do. I have family working in the medical field, and I’m desperately worried about each of them. I’m worried about all front line workers from the medical field to the grocery stores. I’m worried about the people who are sick, and their loved ones who must feel so powerless and terrified. 

I’m worried, anxious, and I can’t see the roses through the thorns because those prickly bastards are everywhere.

But there is good out there right now and there are things to be grateful for even in this dark hour. I know, they seem hard to find. I’ve be struggling to see them too. Then again, maybe I’m not really looking. The good, the wondrous, the miraculous is all around us if we take a break from the bad. Not ignore it or stick our heads in the sand and pretend nothings going on because, clearly, a lot is going on. A break, a time out, to breathe and look for something to relieve the pressure.

You notice that I’ve been dancing around the name of this thing invading our lives? It’s not V-V-Voldemort. Saying its name won’t make it appear or make it disappear. Stand in front of a mirror, say it three times, and turn off the light. What happened? Yeah, nothing because it’s just a name. A name that represents something really bad and I’m desperately trying to focus on the good.

Something good. Something good…Something…Oh! I know!

I’ve spent the last two weeks in quarantine because I came in direct contact with the thing that shall not be named. The symptoms lined up and precautions had to be taken. Two weeks, alone, in my tiny apartment with my dog, cat, and thoughts. *Shiver* But yesterday my doctor called and my test finely past through the backlog. Good news! I don’t have, you know what, so I’m free to socially distance myself rather than completely isolate. I did have a viral lung infection just not…You know.

Kissing my doctor on the mouth would’ve been inappropriate. He’s a married man, after all, and a professional. Perish the thought! I had the thought so thankfully it was a phone call, and I have decent self-control. However, the relief might’ve made me lose my mind, but I maintained my dignity. I failed the test which shouldn’t come as a surprise. I’ve always been bad at tests but this in one test I’m so grateful to fail with flying colours.

What else? Kindness! The kindness I’ve received these last few weeks has been so overwhelming. The messages of support. The offers to help in any way. Prayers, well wishes, and thoughtful acts mean the world to me. When I said I missed hiking, I received an email with pictures of the woods and my smile just won’t go away.

In Canada, some people coined the term, ”Care-mongering” to combat the rise in anxiety and the fear-mongering. A group of people got together to find ways to help the most vulnerable and isolated people in their communities. Making sure they have what they need to get through this crisis and find unique ways to lessen the loneliness. It’s a campaign that’s taken off and brought the best out of people across the country. 

The world is coming together to help the most affected. Doctors in China, after months of fighting for their own people, are leaving their homes to help their colleagues in Italy and Spain. Can you imagine how tired they must be after all they went through? Still, they’re going to share their knowledge and skill with those whose fight is just getting started.

The courage, strength, and generosity! Politics be damned, racial divides can suck it, we’re one world and when the world is in danger the best of us step up to help. That is truly the most remarkable thing I’ve seen. What a joyous thing to see strangers helping strangers. Strangers becoming allies, friends, and family. For all our differences, we’re all on this journey together and maybe now we can take this opportunity really appreciate what that means.

Is that recklessly optimistic?

Through all of this, the humour that’s been found in the darkest of places is a beautiful thing. Meme’s, Gifs, one-liners that are so funny I’ve choke on my tears. I think my favourite was, “When you realize quarintine is another word for your normal life.” Uh, true dat! True what? I’m never saying that again. I appoligize profusely!

Laughter has saved my life before and it will save it now. As long as we’re laughing, we know we’re alive so keep the jokes coming and I’ll be grateful for every chuckle.

Finding things to be grateful for is challenging and maybe it seems impossible. Maybe the attempt feels futile? I have these moments when I feel like gratitude is almost sacrilegious or disrespectful. People are sick, so many have died, even more are about to die. Frontline workers are reaching their breaking point. What about them? 

Perhaps thanking them is more important than ever? In Vancouver, at sunset, people stand on their balconies and cheer for our health care workers. Car horns blare. A chorus of: Thank you! Thank you! Thank you for all that you do. Yes! Thank you, where ever you are in the world, we’re so grateful for each of you. 

Gratitude, in times like these, gives us all a little more strength to carry on when we’ve reached our limit. It helps us stand when all we want to do is curl up and cry. It’s an act of love in a time when it seems like love is a luxury we can’t afford. It parts the thorns long enough for us to see, feel, and smell the roses.

It’s hard, at times like these, to find things to be thankful for so if you have something I missed? Leave it down in the comments. It’s a small thing but smalls things can lead to a big hope for those of us struggling. Thank-you for your time, and your kindness. 

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The Power of Loneliness

I’m an introvert with moderate, sometimes severe, social anxiety. The idea of social isolation is as intriguing and alluring as a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. Stay away from people? Don’t go to social gatherings? Stay home, behind closed doors, and not see another human being for at least two weeks? Screw Christmas! This is the happiest day of the year.

Then I came in direct contact with a global pandemic and developed symptoms. Right, well, I’ll stay home because I’m not a selfish jerk. I don’t want anyone else to get sick. Besides, we’ve all gotta do our part to flatten the curve. I might survive this but you might not. Caring for each other is the cornerstone of civility and basic human decency.

All of which should go without saying but, it seems, some people need a gentle reminder.

Being immunocompromised puts me at a greater risk of infection and complications. Thankfully, my symptoms are slowly abating and I’m gradually feeling better. It looks like I’ve dodged a pretty scary bullet. Other people aren’t so lucky. I’m sure you’ve heard the stories coming out of China, Italy, Spain, and other hard-hit countries? God, help all those infected, those with the worst symptoms, and those trying to provide them with medical care.

It’s a scary thing to watch and, I don’t know about you, I’m feeling a bit helpless. 

If you aren’t taking this seriously, and I understand some of the reasons, please get your facts straight. Go to reputable sources like The World Health Organization (https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019), the Center for Disease Control (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/index.html), or the Public Health Agency (https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health.html). Look at the science and listen to the experts. Just because you aren’t sick, doesn’t mean you can’t carry it and you could give it to someone like me. Someone who could die from this virus. None of us want that on our consciences, and we don’t want to lose someone we love because of carelessness or thoughtlessness.

Okay, that’s the sermon over. Back to our regularlly scheduled post. 

I’ve spent the last eight days in quarantine and I think it’s starting to get to me. Believe me, no one is more surprised than me. Still, what I said in Monday’s blog is still true. When it comes to me being ill and this virus? I still feel a sense of calm and serenity. I’ve made peace with my woefully under-functioning immune system and the risks that come with it. That’s the life I’ve been given. I will always have a chronic illness, and that puts me at a greater risk of infection and death. 

I’ve made peace with my mortality and with that comes a certain degree of tranquility. I’ve faced death before and it was warm, welcoming. It wasn’t my time, and I was sent back but my time there, wherever there was, left an impression. It took away the fear that comes with the end of my life. It left me with questions and a genuine curiosity that’s oddly liberating. I guess it’s hard to fear what I seek to understand? 

No, I’m not actively seeking answers and all the wonders, and curiosities, of the hereafter can stay hidden for a while longer. However, when it is my time, I’ll go into that good night with a joyful heart because I don’t fear death. I embrace the answers and the wonders that come with the end because life? Now that’s some scary shit right there! Living, knowing that I’m going to die, is a lot easier than living without end.

Right now, halfway through quarantine, it feels like I’m living without end and it’s brought about an intense sense of loneliness. It’s shocking! Me, the introvert with major social anxiety, craving social engagement? I mean, wow! Plot twist. Whoever’s writing my story got me but good!

It’s not like I’m locked away in an isolation pod at the bottom of the ocean. I have a computer, a phone, and decent WiFi. I’ve been getting a lot of text messages, phone calls, and I’ve met some cool people online. I’m having interesting email conversations with some amazing people. We’ve never met in person but there’s a connection that’s fun to explore. Technology is an amazing thing, especially at times like these, but can it ever replace the connective strength of real-world interactions?

My dad came by to drop off some groceries for me today. He dropped them off, stood six feet away, and we had a short conversation. Seeing a real, in the flesh, human face almost made me cry. The contact was limited, necessarily so, and it only lasted a few minutes but it was like seeing a sunset for the first time. Wondrous. Magical. There is a pot of gold and a leprechaun at the end of the rainbow! 

Normally, I find human interactions baffling and draining but now my cells are reaching out for any connection they can get. A five-minute conversation, standing six feet apart, at my front door. Yelling down over the  balcony just to say hi to a familiar face. Anything to feel a connection for just one second.

Maybe this is why people are so resistant to the calls for social distancing. One woman likened it to marshal law and called it a threat to her freedoms. She would rather die than give up her freedom. It’s an extreme stance but maybe it speaks to the magnitude of our need for connection? We feel the threat as acutely as if we were staring down the business end of a weapon. When our needs are threatened, we behave in an extreme, often irrational, way and do things we’ll most surely regret later. 

I read an article on Harvard Health Blog (https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/the-power-and-prevalence-of-loneliness-2017011310977) that said loneliness has the same risk to our health as smoking fifteen cigarettes in a day. It shortens our lives and puts our health at risk. Loneliness isn’t simply a psychological malady, though its mental toll is intense, there’s a physical price as well. Feeling lonely affects our body’s ability to function in a healthy way. It compromises our immune systems, increases our risk for vascular and cardiac disease, and can short our lives by about eight years.

A lonely heart can kill us? Really? Science is fascinating!

When I began my quarantine, eight days ago, I thought that I had the advantage. I thought that, finally, my social ineptitude would work in my favour and maybe it has? I’ve found ways to keep myself busy, motivated, and entertained. Baking is a stress reliever, and I’ve been playing around with some new recipes. Though, part of the fun is handing out the goodies, and I can’t do that right now. Bummer but on I must go and here I must be. It took seven days for the loneliness to kick in and with it a deep sadness, desperation, and longing. What I wouldn’t give for a ten minute face to face conversation? I’d love to sit in a coffee shop and people watch. Not a good idea right now but the desire is overwhelming.

My need for real-world interactions is surprising but I guess, even us loners need somebody, sometime.

Some of my more extroverted friends lasted a few hours of isolation before feeling the effects, so here’s a PSA: If you know a social butterfly, check on them and make sure they’re okay. I think they might be the ones we need to worry about the most.

I’m eight days in which means I’ve got, oh math isn’t a strength of mine…Six! I have six days of quarantine and then I graduate to social distancing. Sure that doesn’t sound like a big step up but oh boy am I looking forward to it!

Social distancing means I can leave my apartment and go for a hike. Oh, my heart is craving the great outdoors. I want to feel the air on my skin, the dirt under my boots, and hear the birds coming home for the season. I want to see someone’s face, keep a healthy distance, and say good morning, then hear their response. I get to be a part of the world even if it’s in a new and uncertain way. I get to connect with real, in the flesh people and just typing that made me tear up. Again, we’ll have to connect at a distance but seeing your face will be just about the sweetest thing in the world.

As for my health, I’m feeling a lot better. The pain in my chest is gone. I no longer feel my lungs expanding and deflating. I just walked for 30 minutes, inside my tiny apartment, and I only had to stop twice to catch my breath. That’s a massive improvement. I’m healing and I feel lucky. I’ve gotten off a lot easier than some and I’m grateful for your thoughts and prayers.

I’m grateful for those of you that reached out and made sure that I’m okay. I’m grateful that I have people in my life who will bring me groceries, stand six feet away, and let me see their beautiful faces for a few minutes. The phone calls, emails, texts, and Facebook messages have meant the world to me because you kept me from losing my mind. Finding out how loved you are, is a special thing and I’m grateful that I get to feel less alone.

We’re all feeling this pandemic in very different ways but it has an impact on all of us. Fear is normal, but we’re still in this together which means we aren’t alone. We might have to stay home or keep our distance but we can still connect and, at the very least, we can help each other combat the loneliness.

Please forgive me for saying this again but listen to the experts and not a meme posted online. I’ve added links because scientists around the world are working tirelessly. They’re looking for answers and making breakthroughs. Information is changing, it’s evolving, and the more we know the less helpless we feel. Well, the more I know the less helpless I feel.

Knowledge is power and it’s stronger than fear. Listen to the knowledgable, the credible scientists, and do what they ask. The sooner we do, the sooner this sci-fi movie can end and we can all leave a scathing review on Rotten Tomatoes. 

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Winnie The Pooh! We Need You!

“You’re braver than you believe, stronger than you seem and smarter than you think.” – Winnie the Pooh

Oh to be a three years old again! Sitting in a small theatre, watching a life-size Winnie the Pooh and Friends dance across a stage. It was the first musical theatre show I ever saw and I was in love with that yellow furred bear. The gentle kindness.Yep, I think that’s what I love the most. You read that right. I still love me some Winnie the Pooh because age doesn’t discriminate.

He made life so simple! Love your friends, honey, and be kind to everyone because kindness is the key to happiness. Which is something we all need to remember right now.

I’m writing this from quarantine while I wait for my test results. After coming into direct contract and developing symptoms of COVID-19, I self-isolated. It’ll take five days for the results, and I have one more day to go. Am I worried? Nervous? Freaked out? Uh, I should be a puddle of anxiety, stress, and fear but I’m feeling oddly calm.

What’s really strange? I’m normally an anxious person. I worry about everything! Big or small, my brain latches onto a problem and blows it up into an apocalyptic nightmare. That sound coming from the ceiling above my bed? Obviously it’s a murderer clawing his way through the drywall. The cooking instructions on the back of a frozen pizza box? If it’s wrong, I’m going to get food poisoning and die a horrendous death. Sure it’s only cheese, sauce, and bread but big pizza is a greedy corporation! Who knows what they’ll do next? They are outta control I tell ya. Outta control!

A virus that’s causing a global pandemic and shutting down entire countries? Nah, it’s all good. I’ll stay home, watch “the Youtube” and rest. I can’t do anything about it now so I’m not going to worry. Worry is a choice! I just rolled my eyes at myself. When did I become so even-tempered? Will wonders never cease.

I’m immunocompromised which puts me in the high-risk category of this outbreak. If this infection gets me, if it has gotten me, I could be in serious trouble. Healthy people will get mild cold-like symptoms, feel horrible for a few days, and recover. People like me? It’s like tossing a smoking cigarette on a dry leaf. All it takes is a light breeze and sparks go flying. Next thing we know, a thousand acres of land has been torched and it’ll take decades to recover.

I should be afraid, but I feel an odd sense of serenity. Accept the things I cannot change and this is something I can’t change. There’s a chance I’ve already been infected. Then again, there’s a chance I’m experiencing my annual run of bronchitis and the timing has been purely coincidental. Either way, all I can do is rest, drink plenty of fluids, and hope for the best.

That’s not to say fear isn’t a natural response. I know many of you are afraid right now. We’re facing an invisible enemy and a mighty foe. How can we fight something we can’t see? How do we simply trust the experts, scientists, and doctors who are looking for a cure or treatment? How do we relinquish that kind of control when our lives, the lives of our loved ones, are on the line? 

This sense of helplessness is horrendous but perhaps I, and people like me, have a small advantage? Our bodies have betrayed us, and we have been living in this state of helplessness for quite some time. My immune system can’t fight off infections which means something as simple as the common cold can kill me. I’ve buried friends because of what you call, “The sniffles.” I’ve ended up in critical condition because of an infection you might treat with orange juice and a nap. This fear? This uncertainty? This panic? Every day, with or without a global pandemic, this is my life and it will always be my life.

Did I ever think my chronic illness would give me a small advantage over someone who’s healthy? Not in a million years! Most days, I envy your ability to be carefree. Today, I’m grateful for an illness that has mentally prepared me for this moment.

Does that sound strange to anyone else? Yeah, it’s a weird one Mr. Grinch but weird makes life interesting.

You want to know what else is really interesting and incredibly amazing? We are such an adaptive species! No matter what life throws at us, we adjust and find ways to carry on living. Being immunocompromised is hard, especially during cold and flu season, but I’ve gotten so used to it that the precautions I take are second nature. I don’t worry, I don’t panic, I simply adjust and carry on because we are stronger and braver than we realize.

Life is scary right now, and living with the uncertainty is hard to handle but you’re stronger than you seem. You are braver than you seem. There are people out there right now who are smarter than we know and they are working tirelessly to find a cure, to stop the spread of this virus, and find a way to prevent it from coming back. 

How lucky are we, to live in an age of science and technology? How lucky are we to have doctors, nurses, front-line health care providers who are willing to put their lives on the line to help those in need? How lucky are we to have each other?

That’s the key, isn’t it? Being there for each other in times of crisis and in times of peace. The best way to fight this feeling of helplessness is to do what you can to help. Do you know someone in isolation? Give them a call, so they don’t feel alone. Believe me, that call means more than you know. If your neighbour can’t leave their home, drop groceries off at their front door. Practice social distancing (as much as possible) so we can flatten the curve and give our front line medical staff a fighting chance. If you have extra supplies, consider donating it to community clinics because they’re running low and they’re helping some of the most vulnerable.

Take one minute to thank those who are taking care of the sick and those trying to stop this virus from spreading. Doctors, nurses, first responders, lab techs, imaging technicians, the cleaning staff (that’s a thankless job). I’m leaving some of you out and I’m sorry! Practice gratitude, compassion, and patience with those who are serving us at the check out counter or those delivering our food.

Sure, it seems so trivial, but we can’t put on our armor and march into battle because we can’t see our enemy. So, instead of focusing on the things we can’t do, let’s focus on what we can do! We can be kind. We can show compassion. We can help those who can’t take care of their own basic needs. Let’s help each other in a million different ways but first, we need to stop the panic from taking control of our basic human decencies.

The stories of hoarders and people reselling supplies at grossly inflated prices? Taking advantage of the sick, weak, and vulnerable? Fighting over baby formula and not caring if another child dies of hunger? That’s not us, at our best and when this is over we’ll all need to deal with the shame, guilt, and fallout. We’ll all need to forgive ourselves, each other, and do a lot of work to repair relationships and trust.

Stop! Please stop hurting each other because we need each other if we’re going to survive, not only this pandemic, but life as a whole. None of us can go at it alone. We are in this together. We need to help each other; not hurt each other. Please! Please! Please be kind!

Please remember, you are braver than you believe. You are stronger than you seem. You are smarter than the fear. We will get through this if we help each other.

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Do I Still Believe In God?

Someone asked me this question: “After everything you’ve been through, do you still believe in God?” Whew, that’s a loaded topic. Kinda top heavy. I’m not sure how to answer you but I’ll try my best. Forgive me if I stutter and stumble. Deep breath. Here we go.

I believe in a greater power, and I call that power God. I identify with most Christian beliefs, but I don’t subscribe to a particular doctrine or dogma. I don’t limit myself to a single system of belief because there is so much to learn from others and each system, within or outside of Christianity, is guided by this greater power. Yes, the names we use vary, and the stories we tell differ but in the end, most religions, centre around a singular belief.

That belief, in one word, is love. I believe that God, or whatever name you choose, is an entity driven by compassion and grace. It is a companion that walks with us through the hard times. It celebrates with us in the good times. It helps us when we ask but not always in the ways we expect. Its ways are mysterious, and I’ll never understand how, or why, it does what it does but I do know it loves me enough to never leave.

Even when I leave, when I walk away, God stays close by and will always be there when I call. In that absolute certainty, I find comfort because nothing about my life has been safe or certain. I walk on shaky ground that brings me to my knees more often than not, and I need more than a hand up. I need someone, or something, to kneel next to me and keep me company. 

It’s a big ask and I’m fortunate enough to have many people who are willing to try. However, there are experiences we’ll never fully understand until we’ve been through them ourselves and I don’t want you to understand what this is like. I want you to stay standing because the thought of you hurting is too much. 

God doesn’t suffer as we do so when he gets on his knees next to me, I know he’s safe and that means I can let go. For me, there’s comfort in being able to let go and lean on someone, or something, that’s bigger, more powerful than what I’m facing. The love, in that moment, is greater than any I’ve ever experienced, and it gives me enough strength to stand back up.

Well, seven out of ten times at least.

To be honest with you, talking about this makes me very nervous. Too many times, when people talk about their faith it comes across as aggressive and manipulative. It’s a recruitment campaign that sounds more like a sales pitch than a genuine exchange of feelings and beliefs. It’s repulsive even though it’s trying to be inclusive and I don’t want you to feel excluded.

I grew up in the church, my dad’s a pastor, but I left several years ago. I have many reasons for leaving and maybe I’ll talk about that sometime if I can find the right words. Despite being gone for so long, when I see some of my friends from church they ask me, “What do we have to do to get you back?” I recently bought a car, and the salesperson asked me the same thing only they wanted my ass in a car seat, not a pew.

When asked to talk about my faith I hesitate because I don’t want to sound like a used car salesman. I want our interactions to be pure and untainted by ulterior motives. If it comes up organically then great! Let’s share our beliefs because I’m interested in your experiences with a greater power, faith, or religion. I think we have so much to offer each other, but I want to do it in a way that fuels a relationship and kindles a bond.

Does that make sense?

I’m now realizing that some of you might be new, and there are some gaps I need to fill in. When I was three years old, I was diagnosed with chronic renal failure. My kidneys were damaged by “medical misadventure” and they never recovered. We were told that they would shut down completely when I hit puberty and they were right.

By the time I was twelve, I had been spending more time in the hospital than at home with my family. I remember one morning, I woke up feeling awful and I told my mom, “I think I need to go home now.” She told me I was home and I said, “No Mom, the real one.”

From the age of twelve to seventeen, I think I spent a grand total of thirteen months at home with my family. The rest of the time was whiled away inside of BC’s Children’s Hospital. Surgeries, procedures, treatments of all sorts. My medical team did everything they could to keep me alive and despite their best efforts, I still died multiple times. They brought be back! Over and over again. They fought and we prayed.

Like I said, my dad’s a pastor and God, religion, was a huge part of my upbringing. The solution to every problem started with one sentence, “Let’s pray about it.” Given that most of the situations we found ourselves in were life and death? Prayer was one of the few things we could do too, hopefully, encourage a positive outcome.

It’s no wonder people ask me if I still believe in God because, when so much bad happens, it’s easy to wonder if there’s a God at all. In those moments, when there’s no light to be found, it feels like God is a fairytale or, worse, he’s just too busy to care. Those moments also rekindle an age-old question: Why does God let bad things happen to good people? I have no answer to that but when it’s my time to stand before God, you bet I’m asking.

I could lie to you and tell you that my faith never wavered but you’d see through it in a second and I respect you too much. Of course, my faith faltered. I’d even say it was shattered! My faith was tested and I was found wanting. Keeping the faith isn’t easy and sometimes it’s damn near impossible. 

Several years ago, when my second kidney transplant failed, I couldn’t bring myself to pray. I couldn’t talk to God. I couldn’t look at him without wanting to spit. I couldn’t be in his presence or welcome him into my home. I felt anger and betrayal. If God was a physical entity, I would’ve happily punched him over and over until my hands bled. I called God every name you could think of and then I made up some new ones.

Here’s the thing, I never questioned whether or not God was real. I know God is real because I died and God was there when I crossed over. I felt him. I heard his voice. I was on the other side of life and God was there, waiting for me, and I’ve never felt so safe, loved, or cared for in my life. Nothing will ever convince me that God isn’t real because he was there when I died and he told me it was time to go back.

I’ve never doubted his existence, but I have doubted his love for me. When my life fell apart, I couldn’t see how how a God of love could let this happen. I hated him for it! I hated him for sending me back to this life, this body. It would be so much easier if I didn’t know he was real. Knowing he’s real, knowing he could do something, but feeling like he’s abandoned me? That’s devastating.

My heart was empty. I was alone. I was on my knees, and no one could be there with me. Except, I looked over and God was kneeling next to me. We didn’t talk for a long time. There was too much pain and words can’t heal everything. We stayed in the silence for days, months. He let me grieve, and he let me be angry. He stayed there with me until I realized he hadn’t abandoned me.

It wasn’t a lightning bolt moment and there weren’t angels singing somewhere in the distance. I simply said, “I hate you.” God nodded and told me it was okay. We stayed together in that silence and that’s all I needed. That’s what God is for me. A companion. A friend. A confidant. My one safe place in a life that’s been anything but safe.

I don’t talk about my relationship with God very often because it’s so deeply personal. It’s sacred ground that I fiercely protect because without it, I feel lost and scared. I need this one safe space more than I need food or air. I need to believe in a greater power, regardless of its name, because life is too hard and too painful to go through it without the hope of something better.

I hope I answered your question without stumbling too much.

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I’m Not Lost; Just Wandering

“All that is gold does not glitter, Not all those who wander are lost.” -J.R.R Tolkien, The Fellowship of The Ring

I’m not lost! I’m standing right here, in the middle of a forest, looking up at the treetops and thinking silly thoughts. Thoughts like: What do you think the trees have seen in the many decades they’ve rooted to this spot? Who was the first human being they saw? Were they just a sapling when the first foot fell right next to their roots? Maybe they were a little older? I’m sure they’ve seen bears, squirrels, or something more Jurassic. But a person? I wonder who they were? What was their name? Why were they here? What was their story?

I love a good story.

Oh, here’s a silly thought! Wouldn’t it be cool, when they’re all alone, if the trees talked and moved? The sun goes down, the air turns cold, and silence falls. There’s a sigh, a groan, and they stretch. Finally, the tiny bipedal creatures are gone! We can move again. Their trunks crack as they shake off the stiffness and, yeah, it feels so good. Silly humans startle so easily. Gotta be still while they’re around so we don’t scare them but once they’re gone? The rain forest dances!

So many silly thought running through my mind as I stand here, in the middle of the forest, looking up at the treetops. Light shines through the very tippy tops and the needles glisten. They’re still damp from last nights rain and now they look like diamonds dancing high above my head. Sparkling, shimmering, dancing. You can keep the gems found deep underground. I prefer the diamonds in the sky.

What’s that? No! I told you, I’m not lost. I’m right here! Do I know where here is? Uh, well, kinda. My car is parked somewhere over there. The trail led here and it goes that way. How lost can I get following a trail through the woods? Oo, a squirrel! I wonder where it’s going?

Following would be a bad idea! Right? To be honest with you, I’m not an outdoor adventurer with years of survival training. I’ve never rubbed two sticks together and built a fire. I’ve never hunted for food with a bow and arrow or something more gruesome. I have picked berries! At a farm. I was eight. I’m guessing that doesn’t count as foraging for a sustainable food source. Yeah, I’m not a survivalist, but I like to play pretend for an hour or two. As long as the trails are clearly marked.

The last time I saw a bear, out in the wild, I thought it was a burnt stump until it wiggled. The stump wiggled. WTF? It turned, looked at me, and yawned. I froze, slowly backtracked, and started yelling, “The stump wiggled! The stump wiggled! Unlock the damn car!”

So smooth. So calm. Did not panic as much as I’d have thought. Mm-hm, nerves of steel.

You’re right! I shouldn’t follow that squirrel into uncharted territory but it’s so tempting.

A year ago, if asked, I would’ve confidently told you that I was one hundred percent a city mouse. Outdoorsy? Me? No! Trees. Fresh air. Muddy trails. Uh, no thank-you! Give me skyscrapers, diesel fumes, and sidewalks covered in apple juice. (That liquid is yellow. It must be apple juice. No other explanation can be found. Yes, I’m deliberately deluding myself.)

I liked the idea of nature and hiking looked cool for other people but me? I’m a gimp. My legs don’t always work. My hip likes to vacate its socket with reckless abandon. I limp. I hurt. Go out into nature? Uh, that’s for people whose bodies do what they’re supposed to do. It’s not for someone like me. My body is broken. I’m disabled. I do not belong out there with the able-bodied people.

I couldn’t possibly do it! No way. No how. I physically can’t walk out there and back.

But what if I gave it a try? Just once! Go out on an easy trail that’s not too long. There are a few places close to home and if I can’t do it then I turn back. No shame in turning back right? But what will people think? I should tell you that I don’t care but that would be a lie. Maybe, if I go early, no one will be there so I won’t get in the way and no one will see me hobbling along. Go early enough and no one will see someone who clearly doesn’t belong out there in the wild woods.

As soon as the sun came up, I walked out of my front door with my camera, walking stick, and dog. I drove down to the Fraser River and picked a trail that was a fairly straight shot to a lookout point. It was a three kilometer hike in. Easy. I could do it. Damn it, what was I getting myself into?

There were a few cars in the parking lot, but the forest was thick and it swallowed all who ventured into its domain. I followed the trail and it was quiet, peaceful. The trees seemed to rise endlessly up into the sky. Moss hung from the branches and the rising sun cast eery shadows. I half expected to see fairies bounce from limb to limb and werewolves on the prowl. As I stared into the trees, I pictured the first people who called this place home and I wondered how much it had changed since their day. This was their home and now it was a park. What would they think if they came back today?

I limped along, lost in my imagination, and before I knew it I stepped out of the trees and on to a beach. Clouds hugged the mountains on my right. To my left, a group of people paddled their canoes down the river. There was a bear print in the sand and I sighed. So we meet again, old friend. This time I won’t startle so easily. 

I stared out at the river and for the first time in almost an hour, I felt the ache in my broken body. Somewhere in the trees, I’d forgotten about the pain. The pain had been there, it’s always there, but I’d wander out of my comfort zone and I’d forgotten about it. In that space, in that moment, the pain wasn’t a powerful as the trees, the moss, the bear print in the sand. More importantly, I was more powerful than the pain because I’d made it this far. I stepped onto the trail, put one foot in front of the other, and I’d done something I didn’t think I could do. I was slow and awkward but I did it!

It’s been a year since I first stepped out of my body and on to a trail. If you’re looking for me on a Saturday morning, weather permitting, you’ll find me following a random trail through woods or wetlands. I’ll have my camera, walking stick, and dog. I’ll look rather lost, and my limp will seem out of place but I slowly push forward. One foot in front of the other. Slow and awkward but there will be a smile on my face.

Not all who wander are lost but sometimes getting lost is exactly what I’m looking for. Picking a trail and following it until I forget the pain. Staring up at the trees until I forget that my body isn’t whole. Walking until I find this golden moment of absolute peace and stillness. It’s a moment where, no matter how many bears are near, I feel safe and strong. I feel like, maybe, I can do more than I think I can do. 

Maybe. Just…Maybe.

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I Can’t Stop Should-ing All Over Myself

Let’s take a walk, shall we? Not through the forest, along a beach, or up a mountain. The trails we tread won’t be firm or formed by shifting tectonic plates. It won’t be lit by the sun or a street lap. It’s deep inside an ill-traversed cavern full of wonders and dangers. It goes deep inside a place I don’t like to visit but a place I spend too much time.

My mind is a dark, damp, cave. There’s mold clinging to the walls. I can smell it spreading as the air grows colder. It’s feels like my brain has been locked up tight for a century or two. Hiding treasure deep inside a vaulted grotto just waiting for a daring explorer to break the code. Waiting. Still waiting. Forever waiting.

There’s a slow drip in the corner that’s keeping pace with my heart. Drip. Drip. Drip. There’s an echo off a far wall, and it sounds like two hearts are beating but it’s one. It always has been, always will be, one but the echo, its companionship, is comforting

Ah, there goes a thought but as soon as it strikes it’s deflected by another and they both bounce off aimlessly. They continue their journey without fully realizing their purpose. Each thought dances with a memory that, like an old photograph, slowly fades away with each breath. Feelings tied to an unraveling string. Thoughts, memories, feelings catch in the wind and disappear into the dark, damp, cave but at least I have my echo.

I trace the pathways of my mind and look for tracks to follow, but they’ve been washed away. There are puddles to wade through, about ankle deep. Murky water with a greenish hue that shimmers even though there is no light. It’s mesmerizing and I stop to stare. It dances to a rhythm I can’t hear. Swirling this way and that. Faster, faster, and then it slows till its movements are barely noticeable. I don’t think it likes to be watched, so I leave it be and walk on.

My open palm presses against the damp walls and I feel a pulse quivering restlessly. It’s not strong and vibrant. Not what I would expect from a life force. It’s rather timid, shy, but it’s trying to carry on. There’s a tiredness in its movements. Its pulsations are straining but they refuse to stop. There’s still some strength left. It’s not ready to rest.

Laughter bounces off the walls and a warm breeze replaces the chill. The dampness is replaced by an aridness that laps up the moisture. A bolt of lightning shoots through the walls and under my palm there’s a renewed fervor. The pulse quickens, it feels less strained, and the tiredness is replaced by an energy that feels new but familiar.

The laughter continues, the lightening illuminates the high ceilings, and I see the scars cut into the cave. Raw and red. Deeply set. Thick cut. Some are fading. Some are fresh. All are healing but healing takes time. Healing takes patience. Healing takes more laughter, tear-filled puddles, and a beating echo bouncing off the walls.

The laughter fades, the lightening subsides, and the dark, damp cave resumes its tired hum. The ground trembles. The walls shake. The beating echo picks up speed. I fall against the wall, but it pushes me back. It’s time to go. I’m not a welcomed guest inside my own mind or my body. It’s time to leave the darkness, so I make my way out through the shimmering puddles and past the scarred walls.

The last few months have been difficult for me. A number of stressors have come up, and I’ve been feeling like I can’t get my head above water. Just when I think I can breathe, another wave knocks me under. The stressors, while a bit much, haven’t been unmanageable. If I had a brain that functioned in a healthy way then I’m sure they would be relatively minor. Especially when I compare them to other things I’ve gone through.

My car died, and I had to find a way to get another one. There was a problem with the pipes in my walls that, thank God, turned out to be nothing to worry about. The holidays always bring a weight that I don’t handle very well. There are external factors like watching good people suffer, horrible people prosper, and illnesses take the lives of people who were loved.

Hopelessness, insecurities, the pressure to be more and feeling like I’m falling short, yet again, bounce around untamed. It’s all too much and so I shut down. It feels like everything has pilled up and it’s blocking off the entrance. My brain feels like an abandoned cave. Locked up tight, covered in mold, and drowning in unshed tears. An echo chamber with nothing but the beating of my heart filling the silence. Spurts of joy that last a few minutes or seconds. Staying long enough to remind me that happiness exists but not long enough for me to savor it. Taunting me with something I don’t think I’ll ever fully experience in a meaningful way.

I feel like I’m living on a fault line topped with quicksand. One good shake, it’ll all cave in, and I’ll be buried alive. The shake doesn’t even have to be that big. A hiccup could do me in, and I know I shouldn’t feel this way. I shouldn’t feel like a guest in my own head. I shouldn’t feel like a squatter in my own body. I shouldn’t…

Look at me, should-ing all over myself!

One thing I’ve learned from therapists and psychologists is, when it comes to our mental health, “should” is a very dangerous word. It’s a word-based in negativity and judgment. It’s rooted in the perceived failures of ourselves and others. It breeds guilt and shame because it tells us we’re not enough. Our choices weren’t good enough. Everything we should do or be has, and will always, result in failure.

I’ve been should-ing all over myself lately and it’s not helping me get out of this funk. It’s digging another pathway in my cave and letting more water pool in the corners. It’s pulling me down further, and it’s adding another layer of mold that I won’t be able to scrape off.

To be clear, this isn’t the cause of my headspace! It’s a symptom of a much larger problem, and it contributes to the ferocity of an illness I’ve been battling for most of my life. Should-ing is a byproduct of my insecurities and I’m trying to catch myself when I slip into the habit. I’m trying to break this habit and replace it with something healthier.

If I can change should to “I need,” “I could,” or “I would like to…” then I change my outlook on any given situation. Instead of feeling helpless, I take back some of the control. This is especially true when l feel an overwhelming hopelessness. To be honest, it’s a feeling I have more often than not because why should things work out for me this time?

Yes, there are things I would like (or should have) but some of these things are beyond my control. I get lost in that feeling! It takes over and I stand, stuck, staring up at the vaulted ceiling of my cave. Finding things I can do now, steps I can take, eases this overwhelming sense of helplessness and replaces it with a glimmer of empowerment. 

Small things that don’t seem like anything to anyone looking in. Doing the dishes or taking out the garbage. Making the bed. Taking my dog for a walk. Write a blog post when all I want to do is lay down and cry. I know these things won’t change my life but at least I feel like I have some control over my environment. I’m not useless. There are things I can do even when my broken body can’t do much of anything. There are things I can do when my broken mind won’t let me do the things I think I should be able to do.

It comes down to me, cutting myself some slack and giving myself credit for the thing I have done or can do. I’m my worst critic and my very own troll. A troll that lives in a cave inside my brain. I guess it’s a good thing we didn’t venture in too far inside the damp, dark, cavern. Somethings are best left undiscovered.

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Listening To Better Angels

“The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it sows perhaps the greater.” – J.R.R Tolkien (Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring)

It’s hard for me to look on the positive side of life. It’s hard for me to see the good when everything is so bad. My mind goes to the worst-case scenario, and it won’t even entertain the best case because, with my luck, it will be a hung jury. Finding a source of light in the darkness? Seeing wonder and joy in the awful and cruel? It’s not my default setting but I’m praying for better angels.

There are people in my life who always see the positives in every situation. I have a friend who’ll spin a plate full worms into a bowl full of lucky charms. It’s a gift! I don’t know how she does it. I won’t tell you the nickname she acquired because she would kill me but the theme song is killer. Yes, we wrote her a theme song because her ability to find the happy in the worst situation is a superpower. If you have a superpower then you need a theme song. Those are the rules. I didn’t just make that up. Don’t fact check me.

We are polar opposites and how we became friends is a mystery but I don’t want to think about it too hard. Why ruin the magic? 

Seeing the best when the worst is out in full force? I don’t know how you do it! You wondrous soul who will find a tiny sliver of good in a forest of horrible. You are incredible and mystical. A unicorn dancing unabashedly through a lions den. Dance wonderful creature, dance. Seriously, dance a little faster because those lions look hungry. Dance damn it!

The world is full of lions with grumbling tummies. Every one of them wants to nibble on a piece of us and…Wow, that’s dark. I’m in a dark mood. Do I hide it well? Some day’s but not today. I can’t shake this mood. I’ve tried jumping up and down but it won’t break free. I’m tired. My head hurts. I want to crawl into bed and go to sleep. If I didn’t have to write this then, yeah, I’d be under the covers with some music blaring to shut out the world.

I want to sell everything I own and move to some small island. Dig a hole into the ground and build a hobbit-sized home in the side of a mountain. Hideaway from the world until the world calms itself down and finds a way to be kind. Yeah, I’ll be there for a very long time. Curled up inside my hole of a house with nothing but a fire and pot of tea to keep me warm.

Why is it so hard for us to be kind to each other? I know I talk about kindness a lot, and I don’t see myself stopping. I’ll keep bringing it up because kindness seems to be a dying art. Cruelty is so easy! Especially when we aim it at someone who’s so openly different. It’s a chep shot! Instead of praising their uniqueness we attack their inability, or unwillingness, to conform with our idea of normal.

As children, we’re told to be ourselves but when who we are isn’t acceptable? “The world is indeed full of peril.”

In Canada, there are protests in support of indigenous peoples whose land is being taken for a pipeline. The politics of this situation is messy. The environmental, economic, and political complexities far exceed this blog. I won’t wade into that quagmire because I’m ill-equipped to give an unbiased opinion. But I do have an opinion about the grief caused by our darkest demons.

The pain felt by people who are treated like unwanted guests in their own home? The prejudices, the white privilege, and the agony we still cause? That’s very real and to see good people, once again, held at gunpoint while their homes are ravished is gut-wrenching. There’s a sense of helplessness and hopelessness that has captured our nations attention. It’s forcing us to face our past and decide what future we want for all involved.

For those of us in the position of privilege, it can be uncomfortable to face our past, and it can be difficult to move towards an uncertain future. The mere mention of white privilage get’s backs up against the wall and fists start to clench. Yes it’s uncomfortable but it could be worse. We could be the ones suffering but we aren’t and we need to be uncomfortable with that. We need to be uncomfortable with the thought that anyone in our country, around the world, is suffer right now. We need to ask the big questions and make big changes.

What does it mean for us a country? What does it mean for us, the privileged few? Well, with any luck it will mean a balanced, peaceful, society where equality is a way of life and not just a campaign slogan.

Oh but it’s long overdue! Like all colonial nations, our history is one of oppression and violent suppression. Our voices have been raised for too long, and it’s time for us to be silent. It’s time for us to be still, see the pain we’re causing, and listen to voices of those who have been silenced for too long. I don’t know if that will stop the pain, it won’t erase the past, but maybe we can find a way to heal? Will it help? Does it make a difference? Will it bring about change?

There are still the voices of opposition. Voices regurgitating the same, tired, stereotypes that were born out of racism and racial superiority. The deniers and outliers that yell loud enough to drown out the cries of the wounded and the dying. They choose blindness over kindness and brush away the “snowflakes.” They choose to embrace the darkness because there’s comfort in the shadows. There’s a false sense of safety in the known darkness.

It’s a feeling I can relate too because, as I said, my natural inclination is to see the negatives before I consider the positives. I live closer to the darkness than I care to admit. I sit in the shadows and wallow. I look for the worst instead of trying to find the righteous because darkness is easier. Lighting a fire takes work, and I’m just so tired.

Thank God for good people who live in the light because they offer us a counterbalance. Without those lucky charms, I think I’d become someone I don’t like. Worse, I’d become someone I don’t respect. These better angels, crying for change, make us better people. They help us become the people we’re meant to be. Good, kind, generous, souls who light a candle for someone who’s struggling. 

In a darkening world, all we can do is hold a candle and offer a little light to those around us. They can accept or decline but at least we tried. Our voices may be a whisper but to those of us crawling forwards? It’s a beacon of hope in a world full of peril.

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Do You Love Your Scars?

Do I love my scars? Yes, most of the time I do, but maybe love is a strong word. I’m not enamoured with these lines on my skin. When I look at them, I don’t feel an intense euphoria and an unconditional affection. My heart doesn’t skip a beat, and my stomach doesn’t twist itself into knots at the mere thought of these scars.

There’s a strange fondness, and I feel bonded to my scars. My identity is closely tied up in them as much as their existence depends on my survival. They tell our shared story like hieroglyphs on a cave wall. This story is, quite literally, forged in blood, tears, and broken bones. We’ve been through so much together and that brings an intimacy that goes beyond emotion. It’s a kinship. 

I don’t think I’ve counted how many scars I have on my body but there are a lot. Thousands of needles have left their marks. I swear, if you see my hands and arms, it’s not what it looks like. I’ve had hundreds of surgeries though, for a lot of them, doctors cut along the dotted line. I suggested a zipper but they didn’t go for it. We’ll never know why.

After surgery, when it was time to change the dressing, my family would look down at the incision with curiosity and awe. They’re medical people and this kinda stuff is just cool. They marveled at the clean line and the knotted sutures. Every time the dressing was removed, they would note how well it was healing and tell me I’d have a beautiful scar. Which sounds a little strange? 

Who thinks scars are beautiful? Isn’t that some sort of fetish? If so, it’s cool, you do you. Me? Nope, doesn’t do it for me. Doesn’t turn me away either because scars are cool. Scars tell our stories when words fail us but sometimes I want my story to be a secret.

My first surgery, and my first scar, happened when I was three years old. I had urinary reflux. Urine traveled from my bladder back up to my kidneys and doctors had to fix it before my kidneys were damaged. Oh, the irony! The surgeon made a mistake and did the one thing we were trying to prevent. My kidneys were damaged, I was diagnosed with chronic renal failure, and my long relationship with scars began.

For some of us, this relationship is fraught with shame, self-loathing, and pain. It’s a blemish that reminds us of the worst moments of our lives. It’s a stain on something so beautiful and precious. It can leave us feel damaged and disfigured.

There’s a purity that we only find naiveté. It brings us back to childlike wonder. It’s a perfect space that hasn’t been tainted by the cruelty of a moment. It’s a peace of mind that hasn’t been spoiled by the savagery of life but then the canvas is slashed and we’re left with a reminder of what was and should’ve been. Now, when we look at our scars, we feel the sting of the incision, the pain of the past, and grieve the loss of that innocence.

When I look at my scars, I feel a complex mix of emotions. My stomach looks like a road map drawn by a toddler on a sugar high. There’s a jagged cut along my neck that makes me look like an extra in a low-budget horror film. There’s a scar on my wrist that looks incredibly suspicious, and people can’t help but stare. They never ask but they will judge. They look at the marks from the needles and IV’s with suspicion, confusion, and disgust. 

Which is baffling to me! My tracks are from an illness as are the tracks from someone recovering from addiction. Both should be treated with compassion, empathy, and kindness. Both of us have survived something horrible, and we’re both just trying to heal. If you’re in recovery or moving towards recovery? Bless you. You can do it. I believe in you!

Rant over. Thanks for humouring me!

When I was a kid, I took my families cue and embraced my scars. They thought it was cool, so I did too. I didn’t hide my scars. I often showed them off. You’d think I’d just gotten a new toy when I explain, “Look what I got!” I’d been cut open and I’d healed. The pink line was a badge of honour. Why would I be ashamed of that? Nope, look at it! It’s badass.

The older I got, my perspective changed a little and I settled into a pattern of love and begrudgingly tolerated the marks. On one hand, my scars remind me of things I’d rather forget. Moments of absolute terror when I thought I’d die. Going to sleep in an operating room and not knowing if I’d wake up. Waking up in pain and wishing I could escape my body. They are a mark of pain and loss. These scars trigger feelings of regret and longing. I wish they didn’t happen, but they did. They’re mine. They’re a part of me.

There’s that other hand, though. When I look at my scars, I see a survivor. I shouldn’t be alive right now. Medically, I should not have survived. When I was sixteen, I was given less than six months to live. Before this last transplant, a few years ago, I was given less than a year. I’ve died. I’ve come back. I shouldn’t have but I did. I survived when so many others didn’t and I have the scars to prove it.

I don’t like the way some of my scars look. They’re ugly, disfiguring, and, yeah, I’d like to get rid of them but I won’t. At least, I don’t think I would but never say never right? I don’t think I’d remove them because, for all the negatives, I still love what they signify. They belong to moments of triumph over pain. They’re a symbol of strength, courage, and resiliency. These scars took blood, sweat, and tears. I earned them because I didn’t give up. I wanted too but I didn’t and I’m proud of that. 

I guess that means I’m proud of my scars?

Should you be proud of your scars? If life was perfect, absolutely! Love who you are because you’re a survivor! You made it. You’ve earned this victory lap. Throw yourself a parade and stand tall. You’re a survivor!

It’s messier than that, isn’t it? In one paragraph I say they remind me of the worst moments of my life. In the next paragraph, I’m proclaiming my love. Is there a better word than: Complicated?

These marks, these imperfections, carry more than one meaning. They came from a double-edged blade and that twists the healing process into a Gordian Knot. We have to journey through a labyrinth of fear, relief, pain, and healing. We have to find a way through the grief of losing ourselves, our identities, and our innocence. Our scars may look like road maps but they don’t show us the way out.

Each of my scars has a story but sometimes that story is too painful to tell. Sometimes the pain is physical. Even after all these years, I still feel my skin knitting itself back together. I feel the knife that made the incision. I feel stitches pulling even though they were removed a long time ago. My muscles ache as if they’re still wondering why I let them get hurt.

The necessity of each procedure was obvious, and it’s not a question of practicality. It’s a philosophical, maybe even a spiritual, question that has no real answer. At least, there’s no answer that will placate the aching muscles or still my mind. I’ll never understand pain and there’s no justification for suffering. 

In my experience, what hasn’t killed me hasn’t always made me stronger. Sometimes it broke me apart, and I’ll spend the rest of my life looking for the missing pieces. Sometimes all I find are more scars. Scars hidden so deep, they haven’t had the chance to fully heal. Will they ever? God, I hope so! 

While scars fade a little over time, they never disappear so I suppose it comes down to me, making a choice. What do I want my scars to signify? How do I want to view them? Yes, in a perfect world I would choose the positives over the negatives, but I know some choices are a knee jerk reaction. 

Sometimes there are other factors at work which is why I need to take a beat. I need to give myself permission to feel the pain and sorrow. Then I can make a conscious effort to refocus my attention. Remind myself of the awe and wonder I once felt. Go back to a time when I was a little more innocent and put my scars back in their rightful place of honour.

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But Still I Smile

“The robbed that smiles, steals something from the thief.” – William Shakespeare, Othello

I have this weird…twitch? Is that the right word? Habit? Quirk? Compulsion? Whatever it is, it’s peculiar, and it freaks some people out. The worse the situation; the more I smile. The sadder I am; the harder I laugh. Jokes, sarcasm, witticism that are worthy of a groan. I can’t help myself. They come out of my mouth and people either laugh or wince. I get this bubble of excitement in my chest, and then two minutes later I deflate, reload, and try again because I can’t help myself. 

If I don’t find a way to laugh, I will start crying and I’m not a fan of crying. Well, I’m not a fan of public crying. Behind closed doors, when I’m all alone, I can ugly cry with the best of them but in front of people? Nope. It makes me so uncomfortable and I just want to melt away. I’m a take on the chin kinda gal. Take it, swallow it down and let it out with a joke, smile, and a laugh. That’s how I deal with life and it’s many, many, potholes.

Is it healthy? Uh…

We all have our unique ways of coping with challenges. My Gran would put the kettle on and make a pot of tea. There was no problem too big that a cup of tea couldn’t fix. You know what? She wasn’t wrong. Is there a better feeling than wrapping my hands around a steaming cuppa tea? I swear, every time I make myself a cup, I hear my Gran say, “Hi love!”

When things became too much, my grandfather would disappear into his workshop and tinker away on one of his inventions. He was always coming up with creative solutions to problems that had already been solved. But he could do it better and more efficiently! No one could convince him otherwise. I think it was his way of reclaiming control when he was presented with a problem that couldn’t be fixed with a little elbow grease.

My mom gets lost in a book. My brother fixes old cars. A dear friend does cosplay and charity work. She makes kids smile and, okay, that’s better than a cup of tea. We all need a pressure valve because life, that little minx, is always scratching up the furniture. Without a quick release, we might prove that spontaneous human combustion is possible.

A few years ago, I was in pre-op waiting for heart surgery. I have an arrhythmia called Premature Ventricle Contractions (PVC’s) and Ventricle Tachycardia (VT or VTAC). If it isn’t treated, it can have fatal consequences. I take medications, and I have an implanted cardiac defibrillator (ICD). There had been a recall on my ICD and it, along with the wires going into my heart, had to be removed and replaced.

It’s not the most complicated surgery I’ve had done but anytime we’re dealing with the heart, the stakes feel a little higher. The surgeon and anesthesiologist went through the consent forms. They laid out the risks, the possible complications, and the potential for a “negative outcome.” Is it bad luck for doctors to use the word death? They always put a spin on it. Curious.

There was a risk, a small risk, that I wouldn’t wake up and I quipped, “Well I do like to sleep in.”

My dad said, “It’s like raising the dead!”

The doctors laughed and assured us they had, “Ways of waking the dead.” Wink. Wink. Chuckle. Finger guns. I signed the paperwork and sat back to wait for my turn on the meat grinder. 

A nurse shook her head and scowled. “Do you really think jokes are appropriate in this situation?” Clearly someone hadn’t heard of gallows humour or, perhaps, humour wasn’t her forte and that’s okay. We all have our strengths, and we play to them as best we can.

Also, I realize that gallows humour isn’t for everyone, and some find it a bit offensive. Some prefer to spend their time in somber reflection before facing the knife. Others would rather quietly pray for strength, guidance, and a positive outcome. How you need to face a terrifying situation is perfectly acceptable and understandable.

For me, my family, laughter has always been our way of dealing with whatever life throws at us. We always try to be respectful of our neighbours and keep our nervous giggles to ourselves, but there will always be giggles. Even if it’s a stretch, even if we have to repeat tired old jokes, we will find humour in our surroundings because laughter takes the power out of fear.

Fear is the prince of darkness, and its thirst for blood knows no bounds. It’s the thief joy and peace of mind. It will always want more and it’ll never be satiated. Fear will conquer us if we don’t do something to fight back. It wants us to believe that it is invincible, that it’s stronger than us, but that’s a bold-faced lie. Its greatest weakness isn’t a soft underbelly but our ability to stand and smile it down.

How we do that will be as varied as we are but it can be done. Prayer, a cuppa tea, bizarre inventions, or gallows humour? Pick your weapon! The thief loses a little of its power when the robbed smiles back. In my experience, fear doesn’t go away completely, but it takes the edge off. It gives us the ounce of courage we need to proceed because fear will, if we let it, keep us from moving forward.

I went into that operating room afraid but with a smile on my face because I shared a moment of joy with the people I love. There were complications. I was ventilated and in the ICU for a few days, but even then my family helped me find the funny. They lovingly teased me when I tried to finger-spell and drunkenly scribbled nonsense on a whiteboard. I may not have been able to laugh out loud but still, I smiled. Those moments of joy kept me from falling over the ledge into an uncontrollable panic. Laughter kept me grounded, it kept me present, and it got me home.

I laugh when I should cry and I smile when I should scream. Maybe it isn’t always the appropriate response and if it offends you? I’m a little bit sorry. Fear is a strong enemy and my response might not be right for you, and that’s okay. We all have to find a way to take back what that thief is trying to steal. 

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I Can’t Adult Right Now!

I DON’T KNOW WHAT I’M DOING!

Where did that come from? Is my caps lock is stuck again? Weird. Thought I got that fixed. My bad. Sorry for yelling. It’s not my style but every once in a while it sorta just slips out. Kinda like…Nope let’s leave that one alone. So many way’s it could go wrong.

What was I saying?

I don’t know what I’m doing. In general. In life. As a whole, complete, human being I’m kind of a bumbling mess. I try to make plans. I love making plans. Nothing is more satisfying than coming up with a good plan, writing it down, and laminating it. I stick it to the fridge with a banana magnet I don’t remember buying and, ah yes: Heaven.

It’s right there in a fancy font. Key points highlighted in bright yellow. Bullet points in bold letters. A step by step guide to an idiot-proof plan that can’t be screwed up by anyone.

I love a good plan.

Unfortunatly, I’m the idiot who finds the flaws in my own foolproof plan. Even though, as I’m writing it down, I’m thinking, “How can anyone screw this up?” Challenge accepted! What? No! I didn’t mean to! I tried my best. I said a prayer. I crossed the appropriate number of fingers and toes. I tried really, really, hard.

But no matter how hard I try to plan there’s one simple fact, a reality that I have to face, and that is: I DON’T KNOW WHAT I’M DOING!

I yelled again.

I’m sorry.

You don’t deserve to be yelled at. The ears and the eyes. The pain. I’ll try to restrain myself. Here we go. I can say it without raising my voice. It’s within my power to control the volume of my vocal cords.

I don’t know what I’m doing.

NAILED IT!

Sorry.

Nailed it.

My whole adult life, I’ve felt like a lost fart in a thunder cloud. Out there somewhere, a pungent smell, just floating around without direction or purpose. Coming and going. Trying to make an impact but lacking the physical form to make any kind of dent.

If you want to see a look of bewilderment and panic on my face? Ask my opinion about things. Use a tone that suggests you really believe that I have something to say about, you know, stuff. My mouth will open and close but words won’t come out. You want to know what I think about how the people running the places are doing with their shenanigans? Really? Me?

You, you precious individual, coming here to hear what I have to say about life. Really? I don’t know what to say. I’m gobsmacked. Yes, that’s a word. It means wow you actually showed up and now I don’t know what to say so I’ll let a weird squeaking noise fill the awkward silence.

Thank-you? Yes! Those are the right words. Thank you, you wonderful person, I appreciate it. Really, it makes me feel warm, and there’s an odd sensation in the middle of my chest. Is it a heart attack? No, no, I think it’s an emotion? Happiness? That’s a thing right?

See! I don’t even know how I feel. That’s something a grown-ass woman should know. Emotions and their accompanying identifiers. What? Yeah, I feel…things and no, I don’t know what those things are. I feel like Alice after she fell down that hole but instead of finding Wonderland, I became an adult.

Arg, I miss being a kid! 

Well, I was never actually a kid in the traditional sense. I was young and of a child-like consistency. You know, tiny and bendy. Maybe a little squishy. Let’s just say I miss being young. Yep, that works.

People would ask me things and all I had to say was, “Gotta ask my parents.”

Can’t say that anymore.

When I do people make faces and walk away very slowly so they don’t startle me.

Being a kid meant I didn’t have to make decisions. My parents gave me choices, and they listened to my thoughts and feelings. They took those feelings and thoughts into consideration because they always tried very to be considerate. Ultimately, they made the choices and that was just about the greatest thing ever!

Especialy when you have a chronic illness and there are a lot of big decisions that have to be made. When I was three years old I was diagnosed with chronic renal failure. My kidney’s were damaged and slowly died. By the time I was twelve, I needed a transplant or I would die.

In Canada, when we turn twelve, we’re legally responsible for our medical decisions. We get a say in what happens to us and our opinions become the final word. However, I still deferred those decisions to my most trusted source. The way I saw it? My parents knew everything, so they would know what to do. I could trust them to do what was right, so I usually went with what they said. There were a few moments when I said no when they might have said yes but for the most part I went with their play.

I still had to give my consent. I had to sit through a lecture on the risks of whatever was about to happen to me. There was a weight that came with making choices but it wasn’t something I had to carry all on my own. I could still look at my parents, and they would tell me what to do.

Looking back, as an adult, I think my parents were feeling how I’m feeling now. I’m sure there were plenty of times when they wanted to scream, “I don’t know what I’m doing!” Mom, Dad, correct me if I’m wrong. 

Ah to be young and innocent! Oh but that was then and this is now. Now things are much more complicated. People are looking at me like I know things. They’re expecting me to make decisions. Decisions that could change the course of humanity forever!

I’m a one-woman disaster movie and, look at me, I’m no action hero. I’m the bait. I’m the first person to get vaporized by the laser ray, gun, thingy. You don’t have to outrun the bear you just have to outrun me and that ain’t hard.

Okay, I hear ya! Stop being so dramatic. No promises but I’ll try.

I am really good in a crisis as long as it’s someone elses crisis. (Did that make sense?) If something’s on fire then I’m your girl. Bleeding from place? Don’t worry I’ve got this. Feel like the walls are caving in? I’m an excellent listener!

Taking care of normal, mundane, things in my life? I’m a bumbling baboon. 

I’m probably not the person you should turn to for answers but the questions keep coming. Decisions have to be made. There’s a choice between shitty and fucked up and that’s messed up! They expect me to decide but flipping a coin isn’t a “reasonable” or “mature” way to make life-changing decisions.

Several years ago my kidney transplant failed, it was my second transplant, and I had to go back on dialysis. I’d just started to figure out my life. I had moved out of my parents place. I bought an apartment like a real adult. I had a job that paid the bills and I didn’t hate it. It wasn’t my dream job but the people were nice and, you know, there were bills to pay. 

Things were going great until they weren’t. I’d had that kidney for ten years. Ten damn fine years. It’s a good run! It’s about the average life span of a transplanted kidney. Transplants save lives, but they don’t cure the disease. Sometimes the disease fights back and when it does life is gonna suck.

What really sucked was, this time around, I was an adult which meant it was all on me. Laying in that hospital bed, after my options were laid out, there was a long stretch of silence. They were waiting for me to tell them what to do next. What treatment options did I think were best for me? Which plan would we follow? Did I want to follow any plan or did I want to just call it a life and move on to whatever comes next?

They waited.

I waited.

Somebody would tell me what to do. Any minute now. It was going to happen. Someone would swoop in with all the answers. Any second now.

Hello?

Someone?

Anyone?

Nope. Just gonna let me sit here awkwardly. Okay. Cool. Cool.

I don’t know who said it, but someone did: “You need to make a decision.”

What I needed was a minute but there didn’t seem to be any minutes to spare. Things needed to happen if they were going to happen at all. I needed to make a choice. They needed me to say the words. I couldn’t form those words at all. I couldn’t remember how to make words or sounds come out of my mouth.

My mind was a completely blank space. A black hole swirling with shattered thoughts, fragmented memories, and absolute panic. I knew what they wanted from me. I understood the gravity of the situation. I tried to form thoughts into words, but nothing would come out.

What I really wanted to do was scream. Loud and shrill. Deep breath in and let it rip. Break glass with the power of my voice. 

My dad looked at me and said, “Answer them. Tell them what you want to do.”

You know what I wanted to say? “Dad, you make the choice. Mom you decided. Someone. Anyone? Make this decision for me because I don’t know what I’m doing!”

What I said was, “I don’t know.”

“You have to decide.”

“I don’t know.” 

“Just make a decision.”

I don’t know what I want to do! I need more than a few minutes to think about it. It’s kind of a big deal. What I choose to do now impacts my foreseeable future and could, potentially, dictate my survival. I can’t make that kind of decision now or ever.

I am not qualified to make decisions like this but I had to make one. All I wanted to do was scream, “I DON’T KNOW WHAT I’M DOING!”

Turns out if you have a bit of a breakdown people find time and give you space. Lots of space. Which is good because sometimes making a decision requires some alone time and a soundproof room with padded walls. You know, in case you want to scream, punch things, and throw breakable objects.

I eventually made a decision and, since we’re talking now, I can say with some confidence that the right decision was made. I didn’t die so that’s a pretty decent outcome. It’s about as much as I hoped for so…Yay.

Even though I made it through that situation, I don’t feel more prepared or capable of making decisions. Every time I’m in a situation where I’m forced to adult and make a choice, I have a mini-breakdown. It’s usually internal. Sometimes my eye twitches and my hand shakes a little. That voice, in my head, screams so loud the windows in my attic crack. My inner child rocks back and forth whimpering.

I silently chant, “Mommy. Daddy.”

I want to say, with polite panic, “I don’t know what I’m doing so you should ask my parents.”

I’m a real-life grown-up and I’ve got real-life grown-up responsibilities. It sucks. It’s horrifying. It’s like trusting Elmer Fudd with nuclear launch codes. Whose brilliant idea was this? I should not be allowed anywhere near grown-up responsibilities.

Whew, okay, deep breath in and slow it down.

Yes, somethings require immediate action. Like stopping that Fudd dude from starting world war 3. House on fire. Yep, we’ve got to make some quick decisions. There’s a time a place for quick thinking but for the majority of things we can take a minute.

A beat. A breath. Have a small freak out then shake it off and pick a direction. Take a few steps. Test it out and see how it feels. Give it a minute because it will feel unnatural and awkward. That’s perfectly normal. Another step and another. 

Look at that! We’re moving forward.

If it still feels wrong then stop. Turn around and admit in an obnoxiously loud voice: I DON’T KNOW WHAT I’M DOING! Ask for help. Seek wise counsel. Adulting isn’t a choice but how we go about it is. It’s okay to not know what to do next.

It’s okay to say we need time to think. It’s okay to admit that we don’t know what we’re doing. Admitting it means we just might meet someone who does know what they’re doing. Even if they don’t know much more than us at least we’ll have some good company’s on our journey.

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Chasing Normal

“If you’re always trying to be normal, you will never know how amazing you can be.”   Maya Angelou

Sometimes I feel like a mannequin in the window of some low rent shopping centre. This anthropomorphized doll with incredibly realistic features. People stop and stare. They squint and turn their heads to the side. They bite their lips and mutter, “So lifelike.” Then they continue their search for discounts and snacks. 

The store closes, the lights dim, and the mannequin sighs. It’s spent its whole day watching people live their lives. Silently standing sentry while dreaming of a day when it will be a real girl. It looks out the window, up at the stars, and thinks, “I wish I may, I wish I might, be normal for just one night.”

It’s the Pinocchio effect without the lie induced rhinoplasty. Poor guy, he just wanted to be a real, normal, boy. I feel your fairy tale pain little dude! I feel it deep because I too would give anything to be a real, normal, girl.

It’s tempting to pull out the old standard washing machine analogy. We’ve all heard it and checked to see if our machine has that setting. Yep, there it is: Normal. The comparison is simple, maybe a little cheep, but the desire for normal isn’t. That need to fit in is so complex and, for some people, it becomes a never-ending journey.

For a lot of us, we crave the safety of normality because we live in the margins of society. We don’t fit in or belong. We feel this overwhelming sense alienation and loneliness. We’re told our differences make us special but that doesn’t make us accepted or wanted. Try as we might, what makes us special turns us into an alien in a strange land.

Or so it feels.

I’ve said this before, but it’s something I need to remember: Feelings aren’t facts. We might feel like a little green humanoid but that doesn’t make us one. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes that feeling is justified. Some of us are just plain peculiar and that doesn’t jive with the label makers. If we don’t fit into their precious boxes than there’s no room for us anywhere.

Sometimes, however, we’re so afraid of the world around us that it’s safer to feel like we don’t belong. It hurts less to pull away and not care as much as we have in the past. It’s easier to blame others for our uncomfortable feelings than face our fears. Running away, pushing people away, is more comfortable than staying and holding on.

As someone who lives in the margins, I know that feeling very well. This need to fit in, collides with a fear of fitting in. There’s a desire to be normal that’s fighting a need to be more than ordinary. Wanting to be special but also wanting to belong and have a community. Living on the outside while looking in with jealousy and defiance.

I believe it’s called cognitive dissonance? Having opposing thoughts, feelings, and believing them to be true. Maybe the truth lies somewhere in the middle?

I’ve always been different and a little strange. If it wasn’t my illnesses pushing me to the side; it was my lack of social graces. I’m an awkward, shy, introvert. As much as I want to fit in, belong, I never do and trying has led to some awkward, gut-punching, moments. The look of surprise and an ounce of annoyance. The shake of the head. There’s a glance over the shoulder. They’re looking for a way out. It’s okay, you can walk away. I understand and it’s fine. I’m not normal, and it’s uncomfortable for everyone.

I’ve spent a lot of my life chasing normal, and I think exhaustion has triggered an embrace of isolation. I’ve been alone so long, it’s hard to tell if I’m being pushed or if I’m pulling away. It seems like the difference should be easy to spot but sometimes I don’t see it. I’m sure the clues are there but finding Waldo with a blindfold on is pretty damn impossible. 

I’m so used to being pushed, being the odd one out, that maybe I react with anticipation instead of waiting for the facts to present themselves. I see myself as weird, and peculiar so I assume others do as well. Yes, some do see my peculiarities and walk away, but there’s a chance some want to get to know me. If only I could tell the difference between the two. 

In spirit, I’ve accepted my place as the odd one out but in my heart, I crave normality. I would love to be normal and fit in somewhere. I’d give anything to belong and feel accepted. I’d give everything to feel like a real girl for just one night instead of playing tug of war. 

I think that I’m the rope. Normal pulls hard on one side and the peculiarities pull from the other end. I’m stretched as tight as I can go but neither end will concede. Who will win? The spirit of individuality or the heart of normality?

“If you’re always trying to be normal you’ll never know how amazing you can be.” Maya Angelou wasn’t wrong. When we let go of normal, we’re opening ourselves up to the extraordinary. Isn’t that what we want? It’s what I want! An extraordinary life. A single-life that lives a hundred lives is a life well-lived. It’s a life that leaves this world content and joyful.

However, being different is often very lonely and normal isn’t as solitary. Different is scary. Normal is safe. One brings a community. The other brings critics and judges. Being different is hard and normal? I don’t know if it’s any easier but, from the outside, it looks like a comfortable existence. Maybe it just has better lighting.

I’m learning to embrace my oddities and peculiarities but, on some level, I’ll always crave normality. Despite a desire to be more, to have my life count for something, the lure of normal lays in its security and community. To be normal, to me, is to be accepted. It means that I fit in somewhere, and I belong to a tribe of people. Normal is a safe place to shed a tear and relieve my burdens. It’s a well-lit room that keeps out the darkness.

I don’t think I’ll ever stop chasing that version of normal but I don’t want to get caught in its other trappings. I don’t want to be a mannequin made from a mold. I don’t want to blend in and disappear. I don’t want to be just another pretty face. I don’t want to be ordinary.

There has to be balance but how do we achieve harmony in opposing ideas? The push and pull of two halves is exhausting. Embracing them both? Can we be normal and extraordinary? 

There has to be a middle ground. A place where portions of both identities meet and unite. A safe place to be who we’re meant to be without the labels, boxes, and judges. A sacred ground where we can make peace with all sides of our personalities and leave feeling whole. It’s this place where normality can become something truly extraordinary.

You’ve heard my definition of normal. I’m curious, how do you define normal? What does it mean to you? Let me know, down in the comments. Have a great week!