Connection Points

As my daughter closes in on adolescence, it is becoming more challenging to connect with her at a deeper level. She is like a tightly shut oyster shell, fiercely hiding her pearl. When we sit down at the dinner table each night, I ask her two questions: “What was the best part of your day?” and “What was the hardest?” When she was younger, this used to set the scene for a fruitful conversation, but it has been less successful as of late. I am getting briefer and briefer answers. The same reaction occurs when she speaks with a family member on the phone or she is confronted by an adult in most situations: wide-eyed silence.

I am noticing that rare moments of deep connection and vulnerability surface these days in a somewhat haphazard manner. The key is for me to be open and ready for them when they do. I have to remain quiet and still, like a bird watcher in the brush straining for a glimpse of a rare species, so as not to scare her away. They sometimes appear when I drive my child to dance class on a dark and rainy evening, accompanied by the rhythmic swipe of the windshield wipers. They show up as we walk to the corner to meet her friends for school on a crisp morning, or while I rub her back with lavender oil as she struggles to find sleep at night. It is in these mundane moments of daily intimacy that the words come pouring out. I am often surprised at the breadth and richness of her internal emotional world. All of these conflicted feeling trapped inside: bursting at the seams.

As always on this parenting journey, I am learning from the unique experience that presents itself in this moment. I am humbled at how little I know and how much there is to learn. I am realizing that what my daughter needs most from me right now is not to be pursued. She requires patience, spaciousness and an open heart. My primary role is to provide her with a consistent safe haven, a home where she can return to at any point, and rest her weary head. This can be challenging, as my natural instinct is to actively seek out connection, and assurance that everything is ok. I have to work on self-soothing that insecure part of my own internal being. And otherwise, show up, be consistent, and trust that my daughter will come to me when she is ready. I will be here and waiting.

“Son of a Trickster” by Eden Robinson

Son of a Trickster is a 2017 coming of age novel by Eden Robinson. The first book in Robinson’s Trickster trilogy, Son of a Trickster, was nominated for the Scotiabank Giller Prize and Canada Reads 2020. The second title, Trickster Drift, was also a bestseller; and the third volume, Return of the Trickster, is set to be released in March 2021.

Robinson is a member of British Columbia’s Haisla and Heiltsuk First Nations. She weaves together traditional Indigenous narratives, with contemporary tales of violence and survival. This unique, genuinely surprising novel is a blend of difficult coming-of-age story, with mythic fiction, and it is powerfully subversive.

The story’s protagonist, Jared, lives in the basement of his mom’s house and gets by selling drugs to other kids at school. His northern town, Kitimat, is being torn apart by a pipeline debate, with one side for jobs, and the other fighting to protect the land. Jared’s parents are divorced. He financially supports his unemployed father; and his mother’s addiction, erratic behaviour, and love life, are a constant source of stress.

Robinson’s writing leads readers down a path in which Indigenous spiritual and supernatural worlds collide with the everyday world of pop culture and high school coming-of-age narrative. Son of a Trickster is exactly as slippery as a trickster tale should be, changing direction and shape, even as you convince yourself you know what is going on, and what will happen next.

Jared is followed by a chatty raven, who later claims to be his real father, and an old woman who appears to have a creature moving beneath her skin. When he starts to see animal spirits and strange ape-men everywhere, his mother admits that his father is a trickster named Wee’git.

“Wee’git is a transforming raven and he has a very specific role in our culture. We tell our children Wee’git stories to teach them about protocol, or nuyum. But he teaches people this protocol by breaking all the rules. He is the bad example, the example of what not to do. So his stories are always funny and he’s a very lively character.”

~ Eden Robinson

Son of a Trickster was recently adapted into a six-part television series by CBC, called Trickster. Robinson worked with filmmakers Michelle Latimer (RiseThe Inconvenient Indian) and Tony Elliott (12 MonkeysOrphan Black). It features Indigenous actors such as Joel Oulette, Crystle Lightning, and Kalani Quepo. The creative team includes notable Indigenous writer-directors Jesse Wente, Marie Clements, and Adam Garnet Jones; and the soundtrack features Indigenous musicians, such as the Snotty Nose Res Kids.

Although the series diverges from the novel in places, it is a strong interpretation. I highly recommend that you watch it, once you read the book. It can be accessed, for free, on CBC Gem.

Small things with great love

“Not all of us can do great things but we can do small things with great love.” ~ Mother Teresa

As a human being, with the unique opportunity of spending time on this small, spinning planet, I feel a deep desire to be of service while I am here. I want to leave things better than when I arrived. This is a tall order to fill and it can often leave me feeling lost and unsure about where to start. How do I, as a lone person, help to influence meaningful, positive change?

This quote from Mother Teresa is often a touchstone for me. Although it can be overwhelming to pinpoint how to make a momentous difference, it is relatively simple to identify small, daily acts of kindness and courage. These tiny acts often have an unexpected impact and cumulatively add up into something much bigger.

Today, I am showing up by voting. In April of 1917, B.C. became the fourth province in Canada to grant women the right to vote in provincial elections and to run for provincial office. The following year, the federal government in Ottawa passed similar legislation, enabling women to vote in federal elections and be elected to the Canadian House of Commons. It is a great privilege to have this right. It is one that many women fought for and I have a duty to exercise it.

Although it can sometimes feel like one vote is insignificant in the greater scheme of things, it is not. It is a powerful tool to wield. All of our voices count in a democracy. We decide who represents our values and our families. The government in charge does this through passing policy and law; they spend the tax dollars that we pay into the system to deliver the services we count upon every day. If we do not show up, we are effectively silenced. When we place our vote, it is like adding a single drop of water into a collective wave. Before we know it, it transforms into a tsunami of change. We can do great things together, one small act at a time.

Baby steps

Eighteen years ago today, I walked down the aisle on the arm of my father, bright eyed, hopeful and deeply in love. I made a vow, in front of my friends, family and community to love and honour my partner until death do us part. I meant it. Every word.

All these years later, I sit here on my back deck, on a beautiful sunny August evening, not so different to my wedding day, and I reflect upon where life has taken me. It is four years since the end of my relationship. I am a single, independent parent, trying to figure out how to date online in a time of pandemic. My ex is remarried and expecting a baby with his new wife any day now. Everything has changed.

If you had sat me down at age twenty-seven, as a young bride, and told me where I would be today, at age forty-four, I would not have believed you. Even if I had believed you, I would have crumpled with despair and worry about what lay ahead of me.

I imagine what I would have told my younger self, if I had had the opportunity. Here are a few thoughts that came to me:

  1. Symbiosis: A relationship is not about caretaking or merging with your loved one, at the expense of yourself. It is a sacred coming together of two whole individual human beings who choose to orbit one another with symbiotic love and respect. Cherish and protect what makes you unique. Cultivate and share your most authentic self. This is true love.
  2. It takes two: You cannot make a relationship work on your own. No matter how hard you try, you cannot row a boat with one oar. Once the other person has given up, there is nothing more you can do. True loneliness is living with disconnection. Put your life vest on and jump.
  3. Integrity: You are so much more resilient than you think. When faced with the unthinkable, ask yourself: Even in the midst of this chaos, who do I want to be?” Then simply focus on doing the next right thing. Take one baby step forward, then another, and another. Breathe deeply. Keep on moving and stay rooted in your own integrity.
  4. Curiosity: Although you do not know what lies ahead, it is not all scary and frightening. It is just unknown. Be curious and open. Ask for help when you need it. Trust in the love of your community. Most importantly, remember that everything you need comes from deep within yourself. Love. Acceptance. Joy. It is all there. You just need to believe it and stay connected to your inner knowing.

Most of all, I would tell myself, “I love you and everything is going to be ok.” Or as John Lennon famously said: “Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.” Although my marriage did not turn out as I imagined, every experience along the way brought me to where I am today. Painful as much of it was, I would not change any of it. There is no looking back: only baby steps forward. I am excited to see what my future holds.

“Me and White Supremacy” by Layla F. Saad

As a part of my anti-racism journey, I am committed to reading works by BIPOC writers (black, Indigenous, and people of colour). There are some amazing resources available and I am grateful to these creators for sharing their time, expertise, and emotional labour. I will be featuring the books that have made a big impact on me through my BIPOC book club. I hope that you will read them and tell me what you think. The more we read and share these resources, the farther the message spreads, and the more likely we can influence meaningful change. This starts by using our financial resources to support this important work.

The first book that I am featuring is Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor by Layla F. Saad. She starts the book by defining what she means by “white supremacy” and presenting an invitation to the reader:

White supremacy is a system you have been born into. Whether or not you have known it, it is a system that has granted you unearned privileges, protection and power. It is also a system that has been designed to keep you asleep and unaware of what having that privilege, protection and power has meant for people who do not look like you. What you receive for your whiteness comes at a steep cost for those who are not white. This may sicken you and cause you to feel guilt, anger and frustration. But you cannot change your white skin colour to stop receiving these privileges just like BIPOC cannot change their skin colour to stop receiving racism. But what you can do is wake up to what is really going on. I invite you to challenge your complicity in this system and work to dismantle it within yourself and the world.

Saad has structured her book around a 28-day challenge, which she first introduced on Instagram after writing a post entitled I Need to Talk to White, Spiritual Women about White Supremacy. After it went viral, she was left fielding questions from white women about what to do next. This book is the result and it is structured to be an active and engaged process. She asks the reader to not only to think about the intellectual concepts that she presents, but to journal and self-reflect upon how these ideas show up in our daily lives. The doing element is very important. Each day Saad presents a new concept and then asks you to closely examine it (e.g. Day 1: You and White Privilege; Day 2: You and White Fragility; Day 3: You and Tone Policing).

White people are not used to seeing themselves as a race. From my own experience, I’ve been very aware of being a black person from a very young age because, when you’re not part of the dominant culture, you’re always the other. And so you’re aware of the thing that separates you from being seen as ‘normal’ like everyone else. White privilege means you don’t have to think of yourself as white. You just think of yourself as a person.

~ Layla F. Saad

I appreciate how clearly Saad presents each concept and then lays out a series of reflective journalling prompts to work through. Rarely do white people, including myself, analyze their own complicity and participation in the racist system that we all inhabit. The emotional burden of fighting for equality is predominantly left to those already disenfranchised by the system. This cannot continue. We cannot keep looking away. I was personally humbled by some of the things I discovered through doing the work. When I investigated the questions that she asked, I began to recognize the invisible and pervasive nature of racism. My failure to previously see it does not make me a “bad” person. It simply reveals the inequity of a deeply rooted system designed to benefit white people; once it is revealed, however, the challenge is for us to do something about it.

It is not comfortable to admit that you are safe because someone else is unsafe or that white people benefit from structural oppression in a very real way. Anti-racism work is uncomfortable. This discomfort is insignificant, however, compared to the harm that comes from doing nothing. These conversations among white people are long overdue; and they have never been more urgent. We need to ensure that the attention raised during the recent riots, marches and #BlackLivesMatters movement are not lost with the next sensational news headline. This is lifelong work. A commitment is needed from each of us to keep actively listening, learning, speaking out and examining our actions on a daily basis.

And what I really want people to understand is that this is not a one-and-done thing, this is lifelong work. White supremacy is a system and it’s impacted people of colour for forever. And so it’s not going to be dismantled or overcome by people saying it as just a one-time thing or just a simple set of actions that they do, rather it’s seeing themselves in the practice of anti-racism every day.

~ Layla F. Saad

A Day for Reflection

Flag design by Kwakwaka’wakw artist Curtis Wilson

I am white settler woman of Irish, Scottish and French ancestry. I immigrated to Canada from the United States when I was seven years old. I love this country and I am so grateful to live here. Today is our national holiday, Canada Day. And although I am deeply proud to be Canadian, and I believe in celebrating many of the things that we stand for (e.g. universal health care), I am ashamed of the colonial underpinnings of our society. Canada’s history is full of racism, violence, cultural genocide, and oppression against Indigenous peoples. This it not a thing of the past. It continues to this day.

In June 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) released its findings along with 94 Calls to Action regarding reconciliation between Canadians and Indigenous peoples. The Commission was officially established on June 1, 2008 with the purpose of documenting the history and lasting impacts of the Canadian residential school system on Indigenous students and their families. It provided residential school survivors an opportunity to share their experiences during public and private meetings held across the country.

The stated purpose of the TRC was to reveal to Canadians the complex truth about the history and the ongoing legacy of abuse in the church-run residential schools and to guide a process of truth and healing, leading toward reconciliation within Indigenous families, and between Indigenous peoples and non-Indigenous communities, churches, governments, and Canadians. 

In the report, survivors note how Canada’s broader colonial history, not just the legacy of the residential schools, has affected, and still affects Indigenous communities — including the establishment of the Indian Act, the over-representation of Indigenous children in foster care and adults in Canadian prisons, inferior education and health care, lack of access to clean water and infrastructure in Indigenous communities, and the growing number of murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls.

On this Canada Day, I am reflecting upon this sobering reality, committing to continue educating myself and my daughter, and resolving to do whatever I can to support meaningful reconciliation. As a citizen of this country, it is my responsibility to demand that we foster an equitable and just society for everyone: one that we can all call home.

Here are some resources that I have found to be very helpful:

150 Acts of Reconciliation for Canada’s 150 by Crystal Fraser and Sara Komarnisky

21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act by Bob Joseph

The Indian Act, after over 140 years, continues to shape, control, and constrain the lives and opportunities of Indigenous Peoples, and is at the root of many stereotypes that persist. Bob Joseph’s book, 21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act, comes at a key time in the reconciliation process, when awareness from both Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities is at a crescendo. Joseph explains how Indigenous Peoples can step out from under the Indian Act and return to self-government, self-determination, and self-reliance—and why doing so would result in a better country for every Canadian. He dissects the complex issues around truth and reconciliation, and clearly demonstrates why learning about the Indian Act’s cruel, enduring legacy is essential for the country to move toward true reconciliation.

Speaking Our Truth: A Journey of Reconciliation by Monique Gray Smith

A nonfiction book for middle readers that examines how we can foster reconciliation in an accessible way. In Speaking Our Truth, we are embarking on a journey of reconciliation. This isn’t a read-and-do-nothing kind of book. It is an active exploration of Canada’s collective history. It’s about how we grow as individuals, families, communities and as a country.

The Inconvenient Indian by Thomas King

Neither a traditional nor all-encompassing history of First Nations people in North America, The Inconvenient Indian is a personal meditation on what it means to be “Indian.” Thomas King explores the relationship between “Natives” and “non-Natives” since the fifteenth century and examines the way that popular culture has shaped our notion of Indigenous identity, while also reflecting on his own complicated relationship with activism.

Seven Fallen Feathers by Tanya Talaga

From 2000 to 2011, seven Indigenous high school students died in Thunder Bay, Ontario. The seven were hundreds of miles away from their families, forced to leave home to attend school in an unwelcoming city. Five were found dead in the rivers surrounding Lake Superior, below a sacred Indigenous site. Using a sweeping narrative focusing on the lives of the students, award-winning investigative journalist Tanya Talaga delves into the history of this small northern city that has come to manifest Canada’s long struggle with human rights violations against Indigenous communities.

Supporting Slow Fashion

“Fast fashion isn’t free. Someone, somewhere is paying.” ~ Lucy Siegle

Fast fashion utilizes trend replication, rapid production, and low quality materials in order to bring inexpensive clothing to the public. This results in extremely harmful impacts to both the environment and to human beings across the globe.

The fashion industry, up until the mid-twentieth century, ran on four seasons a year: fall, winter, spring, and summer. Designers would work months ahead to plan for each season and clothes were made to last. Currently, fast fashion brands produce fifty-two “micro-seasons” a year. This means one new “collection” every week.

Because of the speed of production and demand, many brands are focussed on selling very low-quality merchandise, at very low prices. The fast fashion manufacturing process intentionally creates disposable clothing and consumers are encouraged to throw away pieces after only a few wears.

The wider environmental damage caused by the fashion industry is, in large part, due to fast fashion. Each year, the clothing that is thrown away amounts to about 11 million tonnes in the US alone. These synthetic garments are full of chemicals such as lead and pesticides, which impact air, water and soil quality. Seventy-five percent of fashion supply chain materials end up in landfills where they do not break down. This amounts to the equivalent of one garbage truck of textiles per second.

All of the elements of fast fashion—trend replication, rapid production, low quality, competitive pricing—negatively impact on the environment and the people involved in its production. A garment worker’s health is constantly being jeopardized through long hours, exposure to harmful chemicals, and abuse. The people who make fast fashion clothing are often underpaid, work in unsafe environments, and pushed to their limits because there are few other options.

Slow fashion is a movement towards mindful manufacturing, fair labour rights, natural materials, and lasting garments. Conscious fashion means there are brands, communities, and individuals who are fighting for the safety of our earth and fellow humans. Buying a garment from a responsible brand ensures that you maintain agency over your personal style, purchase a quality product, and protect those that need it most.

If you are interested in learning more about ethical fashion and brands, I highly recommend that you check out the work of Aja Barber. She focuses on sustainability, ethics, intersectional feminism, racism and all the ways systems of power effect our buying habits.  

Although I am just beginning to learn about this important topic, I know the power of my dollar. Where I choose to put my money matters. I can influence positive change through being strategic in my choices, purchasing less, and focussing on supporting businesses who mirror my values.

A few Canadian brands that I am currently enjoying include:

Inner Fire Active Wear

Inner Fire is a Canadian-made, female owned brand. It focusses on producing quality, eco-friendly active wear made from post consumer, BPA free recycled raw materials.

Yoga Jeans

Yoga Jeans is a socially responsible, eco- friendly denim brand quality that provides its customers with 100% Canadian made garments in the finest materials. Many of their core styles are Better Cotton Institute (BCI) cotton.

Franc

A Canadian-made company based out of Toronto, Canada. Franc’s fabrics are knit and dyed using OEKO-TEX non-toxic, low-impact, environmentally-friendly dyes and a OEKO-TEX standard 100 certified TENCEL™ Cotton Blend.

Purchasing slow fashion items is a long-term investment. It means making intentional choices about buying one or two items, rather splashing out on a seasonal wardrobe. As an alternative to buying new, there are also lots of great economical choices to be found in local, second hand stores. Purchasing gently used clothing is a fantastic option if you need more affordable choices, as there are often quality pieces to be found. You just need to take the time to make a targeted and thoughtful search. Happy shopping!

Rest and Play

Last weekend, my daughter and I woke up to a grey and rainy Saturday. We lounged around in our pajamas, reading books for most of the morning. As we neared lunch time, my child was struck by the idea to build a fort in the living room. We pulled out every blanket and pillow in the house, constructing a cosy rabbit warren of cushions and comfort. We drank tea under the cover of darkness, faces lit by the camping light.

After enjoying our new ‘home’ together, we pulled on some clothes and took our dog out into the wind and rain for a blustery walk on the beach. Returning home to warm mugs of hot chocolate, I prepared dinner, and we watched “The Sound of Music” on tv trays, tucked up on the couch. We pulled out the sleeping bags and spent the night sleeping in the fort.

This day was the first in a long time that I allowed myself to be completely and fully at ease with doing ‘nothing’ on the weekend; my focus was simply on allowing myself to steep in the enjoyment of the moment and be fully present with my loved one. I let my child lead the way. This is her natural habitat. I simply had to follow.

As a busy, independent parent, I normally have a long list of chores and activities to attend to on the weekend; I rush around in a desperate attempt to get it all done before I start back to work again on Monday. It has recently started to dawn on me that the work is never really done and there is very little satisfaction in spending my precious free time ticking things off a list. I need to prioritize rest and play as much as duty.

While it is essential to tend to the immediate and pressing needs of your family, there is a real risk of missing out on the life happening around you, if you push yourself too far in the pursuit of perfection. Endless doing and busyness is more often driven by anxiety, rather than necessity.

There is boundless joy to be found in exploring opportunities to rest and play: and no better teacher than a child to demonstrate how to do this well. Before every weekend task I undertake, I am now trying to ask myself, “Is this really necessary? Can I let this go for now?” Although I cannot always dedicate a whole day to rest, I can purposefully choose to build in pockets of time. It is a dance to find ways to let things go while also achieving what needs to be done to keep my family running; but I am finding it to be well worth the effort.

Something to Inspire

I recently watched a really inspiring three-part Netflix series by Davis Guggenheim on Bill Gates called, Inside Bill’s Brain. The series covers the basics of Gates’ life: his childhood, education, Microsoft stewardship, marriage to his wife Melinda, and the charitable foundation they co-manage.

Each episode of Inside Bill’s Brain focuses on one of the foundation’s major initiatives: improving sewage conditions, eradicating polio, and developing a cleaner, safer form of nuclear power. The three parts shifts rapidly between interviews, biographical material, and fly-on-the-wall footage of the Gates team’s philanthropic missions. 

I particularly enjoyed it, as the series highlights what individuals can achieve with personal wealth and influence, if they set their minds to it. Gates, and his wife Melinda, have dedicated their lives to tackling some of the world’s biggest issues and facilitating meaningful change; and it is making a difference.

Five years ago, Gates outlined his concern about an impending pandemic on the TED stage; his predictions were based upon the Gates Foundation’s direct experience in helping to tackle virus outbreaks with Ebola, Zika, MERS and SARS. In the presentation, he identifies the steps needed to prepare nations to face an outbreak on a global scale.

Chris Anderson, Curator of TED talks, recently interviewed Gates to ask him about the current COVID-19 pandemic and to learn how the Gates Foundation is investing in scientific research and the development of a vaccine to tackle it. Amazingly, Gates presents an optimistic view for the future: outlining how nations must act now, learn from this crisis, and pave the way for better response and preparedness in the future.

Life in this Moment

I have been at home with my daughter for four weeks now due to COVID-19. School is cancelled for the foreseeable future and I am working remotely. It is a very strange existence: one in which human contact is limited to the phone and internet. There is almost a complete lack of physical interaction with the outside world: except when I venture to the grocery store once a week. Even that could be ending soon, as some local stores are starting to limit shopping to online orders and delivery.

My ten year old child has not seen her friends for over a month. She is celebrating her birthday on Monday with a Zoom party. I cannot even imagine what this strange reality is like for her. Children thrive on play, exploration and imagination. As she does not currently have access to her peers, I am attempting to fill the void. We are enjoying daily games of hide and seek and impromptu dance parties.

That being said, I am struggling with trying to work full time and also support my child’s learning and emotional needs. It is hard for her to understand why she needs to spend so much time on her own, with self-directed activities, and we have been butting heads more than usual. It is easy to fall into a familiar pattern of feeling like a failure but I have been trying to remember to be realistic and kind. There is no right way to get through the current situation. I just need to do my best and apologize when I lose my temper.

As we navigate forward together in this “new normal”, I am taking note of certain things:

A Slowing of Time: In our house, we have shifted from living a busy, frantic schedule, to adopting a slow and even daily rhythm. There is no more commute or rushing to activities. There is just pockets of time unfolding within the small space of our home. I am finding it easier to transition between work and home activities with much less effort than usual.

Heightened Awareness and Gratitude: I have a deeper understanding of the contribution and sacrifice that our front line workers make every day. Not only the amazing health care and emergency services professionals but the grocery store clerks, garbage collectors, delivery truck drivers and mail carriers. Each of them is integral to the success and functioning of our society, both during this crisis, and every other day. Every night, when we show up at 7pm to applaud and make noise across the province, I do it for all of them.

Global Interconnectivity: There is nothing that we have in our society that is not reliant upon contributions from other parts of the world. From the medicine in our pharmacies, to our food supply, and manufactured products, we need each other. No country is an island. We are a global community.

Importance of Movement: Taking the time to move my body each morning is essential for my mental and physical well being, especially right now. It clears my mind and provides me with fuel for the day ahead. There are a number of free resources and trials available online that you can do at home. Some of the ones that I am enjoying include: Beach Body and Do Yoga With Me. My favourite trainer is Autumn Calabrese and yoga teacher is Fiji McAlpine.

Time in Nature: Despite COVID-19, spring continues to unfold around us. Crocuses, tulips and daffodils are pushing their bright heads through the ground. Delicate pink buds are appearing on the trees. Hummingbirds are trilling their mating calls to one another. Life is teeming. It is now warm enough to return to the garden and put my hands in the soil. I am enjoying the gift of the outdoors and feeling the sun on my face.

Time with Loved Ones: Although I miss seeing my friends and family in person, I have noticed an increase in connectivity since the crisis started. I have been using FaceTime and Zoom to call people that I have not talked to in months. We host Friday and Saturday night group gatherings. We make impromptu calls. With more time at home, and a lack of distractions, it is bringing people together more than ever. There is a renewed appreciation for those we love and a desire to express it.

Kindness and Love: Despite all of the frightening things that are happening right now, there are so many stories of hope and love and resilience. From the stories of postal workers in Ireland volunteering to check in on the elderly, to the hundreds of thousands of retired health care workers returning to work to help, and the citizens of Italy serenading to one another from their balconies: people are showing up for one another. As Mr. Rogers always told his young viewers: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”

Hope for a Different Future: Humans can achieve extraordinary things when they put their mind to it. COVID-19 is shining the spotlight on a very broken global economic system and its vast inequities. The drastic changes that have occurred within the last month demonstrates how quickly it is possible for us to shift gears when we are motivated to do so. Perhaps this is our opportunity to start over. To reimagine what is possible if we were to do things differently going forward. This can be our moment.

Living with Uncertainty

“Present moment, perfect moment.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

I have not been able to bring myself to post onto the blog for a month now. Every time I sit down to write, I have been at a loss for words. All I can think is: “What can I possibly contribute at this moment?” A virus threatens the health and security of millions of people across the globe. Many of us are quarantined at home and physically separated from one another, with no end in sight. The world is in turmoil. Why does my one little voice matter?

As I have struggled with these doubts, readers continue to visit my site, despite there being a lack of new content. I am humbled to imagine a person sitting in Australia, India, Russia and Israel taking the time to read my words; and it reminds me that love, community and connection are the lights that will guide us through this this dark time. It gives me the courage to show up again on the page. I want you to know that I am here for you. You are not alone.

As a naturally anxious person, the last few weeks have been difficult. The human brain is wired to project itself into the future; it prefers to imagine the worst case scenario, and anticipate what is coming, rather than sit with the discomfort of uncertainty. The truth is that I do not know what will happen next or when this current situation will end. I do not know what life will look like on the other side. All I know for sure is what I am experiencing in this very moment; and it is hard.

The child-like part of myself desperately wishes for things to be “fixed” and to go “back to normal”. The wise part knows that life is complex and messy: not just now, but always. It is important for me to meet life on its own terms. I must make space for the difficult and uncomfortable emotions that I feel about our new reality: grief, sadness, fear and anger. They are all valid and true. They each need the opportunity to show up and to be heard.

In her recent podcast, Brené Brown speaks to the damage caused by comparative suffering in a catastrophic situation such as COVID-19. This is the belief that you are not allowed to feel upset and afraid, when many others face much worse: the front line workers; marginalized and vulnerable populations; countries with no infrastructure. The reality is that pushing your own emotions away only results in guilt and shame. Shame is the opposite of empathy. It is constricted, self-focused and finite, whereas empathy is boundless. You can hold emphatic space for your own difficult emotions, as well as for the suffering of others; and it is important to create space for both. This provides us with the strength that we require to make it through a time of crisis: both as an individual and as a part of the collective.

Right now, my daily work is to bring my mind back into the present moment. The wonderful writer, Liz Gilbert, recently shared a technique that she uses to ground herself, and I am finding it to be very helpful. It is called Five, Four, Three, Two, One. First, you look around and identify five things that you can physically see in your immediate surroundings (e.g. green grass, street lamp, red shoes, mail box, flower pot). Then move onto identifying four things that you can hear (e.g. garbage truck, robin chirping, person talking on their phone, wind in the trees). Again, it can be even the smallest thing, but it needs to be something happening in the here and now. Then move onto naming three things that you can feel (e.g. woollen scarf, cold fingertips, watch). Follow it with two things that you can smell (e.g. fresh cut grass, a daffodil). And lastly, one thing you can taste (e.g. remnants of morning coffee).

In a time of great uncertainty, this simple exercise will help to ground you in your body, as it brings the mind back to the present moment. This is our work right now: to feel; to notice; to show up for ourselves and each other; to keep putting one foot in front of the other; to take it one day at a time. As a wise woman once said to me: “The only way out is through.” I have always held this close to my heart and it has served me well. Take my hand and let’s keep going. We can do hard things together.

Slipping Away

As my mother slowly slips away into the unknown abyss of Alzheimer’s disease, I am helpless to stop it. As she walks deeper into the dark and dense forest of her mind, I have to let her go. The entry is barred. I cannot follow her in or bring her back. My role is to bear witness and to nurse my broken heart. To tend to those of us left behind. To be strong. I am familiar with this uncomfortable territory. I have been here before. I long for things to return to how they once were. I yearn for the past.

When I look into her eyes, I do not know where she has gone. There is a glimmer of the woman that I once knew. She smiles in recognition of my face. She kisses my lips with love. But there is a dullness in her gaze and a slowness to her gait. We walk in familiar circles along linoleum lined hallways. She talks about everything and nothing: words crashing together, landing in a tangled pile on the floor.

The fiercely independent woman who once forged her own path in life is now reliant on the help of others to complete the most basic of tasks. A life that was once large and colourful is now contained and beige. I am grateful for the people that help us. They are our community. We lean on one another; but I am sad for a loss that is not yet fully a loss. Her memory is breaking into little crumbs. She is leaving pieces behind her: trying to remember her way home.

I am mourning my mother while she still stands before me. It is a strange and confusing time; and I carry a sadness deep in my heart. It is a weight heavy in my pocket. I try to stay in the moment and appreciate the small things, without looking forward or gazing back, “How are you now?…and now?…and now? What do you need? How can I ease your pain?”

It is hard to allow space for heart break. The discomfort is easy to push against and resist; but it needs to breathe and express itself or it will take up permanent residence inside of the body. This is my work at the moment. Allowing the pain to just be. Feeling it and letting it burn. Knowing that it will eventually pass. Everything is transitory. Remaining grateful for the opportunity to love so deeply in my life that my heart can be broken open, and come back together, time and time again.

As Glennon Doyle summarizes it beautifully in her book Untamed: “…I learned that there is a type of pain in life that I want to feel. It’s the inevitable, excruciating, necessary pain of losing beautiful things: trust, dreams, health, animals, relationships, people. This kind of pain is the price of love, the cost of living a brave, open-hearted life – and I’ll pay for it.”