Passport

The First breath is wet, stunned. A moment between warm and cocooned,

to harsh, white and cold.

I’ve been there, a traveller in other lands, gifted with moments

only moments

where I can visit another land.

I can’t live there, it’s not my place now.

I pass the new life to grateful arms, always overwhelmed by this beauty.

So much love.

The last breath, too, is often wet,

Stunned.

But also a sweet sigh of release. Exquisitely  heartbreaking.

I have been there, too, on my passport.

A stranger in a land I’m not yet ready to enter, and can only watch from the doorway.

Waiting for my turn.

We all live here, at the end. We don’t know what it’s like, and there are no travellers back who tell us the highlights.

Is it warm, cocooned, safe?  I’d like to think so.

Sometimes I think I see a person from that land in the eyes of another,

but only fleetingly,

visiting others who are making ready for their travels,

ready to take the next journey into a new land.

Passport

My Love

I had a glimpse twenty years ago,

And it felt so real that the tears rolled down my cheeks the morning after. 

The dream had been a moment of realism,

Of love so wide that I had known in that instant that somewhere was a person

Just for me.

I never saw his face, but I felt his warmth and was so content in that embrace 

That when I woke up and felt the cool sheet next to me

My heart broke in the abscence of that warmth.

Today, I celebrate a birthday for this man. He’s everything I dreamed of and so much more.

He’s my friend, my companion, the father to our small yard apes. He’s home to me, and where I want to grow old.

Happy birthday, my love 

The death of a fighter

Two deep gasping breaths, then stopped as I entered the room. The woman sitting by his bedside turned to me and with anguish said,

“There, he just stopped. He just took his last breath.” The grandfather wall clock rang out 1030 all in sequence and I felt his soul rush by my left ear as I looked at the bright sun outside.

He was still warm, but caved in, face hollowed by this final, slow illness that he had fought until the last. So full of life, he refused to speak of death. Instead, he kicked and punched, hearing stories of others living until 100 on ensure, which motivated him to drink it, although the taste wasn’t to his liking. He told his niece to buy him milkshakes after I had told him how fattening they were, and loved A&W root beer shakes- I didn’t even know they made them.

I gently listened to his chest, finding the stethoscope difficult to manoeuvre over a bony manubrium, too many deep valleys between ribs that had long since lost any padding. No breath or heart sounds.

I saw his jaw move with gravity, relaxing into the left side of the bed, as though moving in his sleep and thought for one horrified moment that we had rushed him, then remembered that happens sometimes as the body relaxes. 

His eyes not yet glazed, not enough time passed, looked off into the distance, an unblinking stare with no pupillary reaction to the beautiful sunlight streaming over his soft white sheets.

I remember trying not to laugh at the wrong time as he told me a funny story- I didn’t know him long but he was a real comedian, and his animation was always funnier than the story he was telling. I remember how happy he always was to see me walk in, ready to laugh at his next joke. Even though he was always so frail, he had a larger than life personality, with stories that would make a lumberjack marvel.

He lay there peacefully. He went without any fuss, or any distress. Truly what we would consider a good death, although no death is ever good to those left behind. I carefully closed unblinking eyelids over deep black pools.I will carry his memory now that he has taken a part of me with him. 

May his zest for life remind everyone he touched how beautiful life is.

Memory work

I often wonder what is happening inside the head of the person sitting across from me at work.  What synapses are firing, what chemicals are coursing through dendrites, sparking changes along the route.  I remember learning about the process vaguely,  in the old familiar yet forgotten way that applies to theorems in math class in grade 10, or poetry in english.

It feels like something I should remember, that should have stayed in my memory vault.

But it’s gone, leaving only a picture in my mind of the naked head of a poppy, shaking out seeds over the ground in the fall. We used to pretend that it was money, those seeds, and were fascinated by how many one single red poppy could have. Shaking them out quickly before grandma noticed and told us to stop.

I go down the well travelled neural pathway into the function of memory. I wonder why this person, so close to me, so much the same in basic cellular structure, can have such a different thought process.

Is it the colour of their skin? The chipped fingernails on their hands? Or is it something deeper and less understood? Do they feel this way because of that time when they were three, when they skinned their knee and were told to suck it up?

Or was it when they were ten, and told to shut up, enough with the questions already?

Or when they were seventeen, and felt in love for the first time, and the world was an amazing place full of potential?

Or at eighteen, when they had their heart broken, sobbing in the bathroom with their friends, inconsolable?

We are all packages of  memories, some pleasant and others we try to cram back down into the oubliette for as long as possible, hoping they can’t crawl back up to torment us.

How can we put ourselves in the steps of another, when the whole of self is millions of steps?

I continue to listen, offer suggestions, and try to help, all the while realizing that I have no idea what they are experiencing, wondering if anything I do makes a difference in the journey they are on.

Remaining hopeful the poppy seeds I spread will bloom in the spring, when it is time.

Declutter

Spring is here in the air and the pussywillows we see every day on the way to my child’s school. The wind has been up intermittently, and each time it takes my breath or throws grit in my eyes it reminds me it’s time for change.

Spring is the time of year when natures brushes the land free of the snow and dirt that always seems to accumulate
In ditches, gravel and ice matting the grass, litter half buried coming out of the winter graveyard, visible in its half rotted horror.

I feel my soul expand with a deep sigh, feeling the urge for change. It’s time, it’s time, it’s time.

My pulse pounds insistent. I feel motivated to look at my life, clean out the cobwebs and what is unneeded, extraneous and lacking in joy. 

This time I will succeed, I say. The energy is here, the mettle forged in determination. 

And then reality hits hard. I look at my watch, sigh again but this time with disappointment.

Maybe tomorrow.

Butterflies

They tickle somewhere up near my throat, swarming in what I’m sure must be a beautiful pattern of drawn out o’s. 

I feel my stomach lurch, not enjoying the tickle of the wings as they brush by my heart, sending adrenaline coursing through.

I take several long and slow breaths, trying to count to ten.

Realize that counting makes them fly faster, beating wings as if to say forget it, we are here and we are real, you can’t just breathe us away.

The gnawing begins lower, cousin to the beating. Feeling my stomach sink to get away from their urgent flutters, cramping. 

I rationalize. You do this a lot, it’s fine. It won’t be so bad. Statistics floating though my head, heavily weighted in favour, but still.

What if I’m that .001%? What if I’m the statistic? The lottery you don’t want to win? 

Sometimes too much knowledge is frightening. 

I wish to be kept in the dark, and just have butterflies for companions, 

beautiful in the shadows with their powder soft wings caressing my cheeks.

Apple of my eye

I used to worry when I was a kid that if I ate the apple seeds from my apple at lunch, I would grow apples  from my arms. 

I pictured myself, going outside in the spring, feeling my arms erupting in pain from hundreds of little places where branches would sprout out, questing towards the sun, towards life.

My apple tree would grow, weighing me down until I was unable to lift my arms. I would become rooted in place, watching helplessly as I metamorphized into a plant.

Standing in one place throughout the seasons. 

Apples would bloom on my branches and my face would follow the sun. 

In the fall, my leaves would shed, exchanging their fluttering clothing for the cool blanket of winter.

I would bring shade in the summer, and delicious apple pie to those who enjoyed my labours. 

There are times now where I think how lovely it would be, to be an apple tree. 

 Juicy and fresh, tall and loved. 

Dancing in the wind with rain and snow. Basking in the sun in the spring and summer. 

Initials carved into my side, a heart present forever with lovers entwined.

Stable but constantly changing. 

Sometimes I feel sad that this isn’t what would happen with my delicious apple at lunch.

Rain

The car moved through traffic, following the line of vehicles moving through the downtown. The rain fell slowly, creating rivulets down the window as I watched the buildings as we passed.I’ve always loved the rain. Watching it come from the sky and clean the earth. 

Dancing in it

When I was small we were the Rainkins, dressed in cheap multicoloured plastic coats, red, orange, yellow and blue. My brothers and I would spin in circles, playing a game we called super eyes.

Super eyes, super eyes, in a trance, do a dance.

Then we would fall dramatically onto the ground, feeling the cold wet on our back, but it couldn’t get through the magical Rainkin coats.

It’s been years since I danced in the rain.

The last time was in 1998, when my brother and I were in University and the rain came torrentially down onto the lawn where we lived together. We were soaked in moments, shrieking with laughter while cars slowed to get through “Lake Dalhousie”, the street we lived on.

This week, my daughter wanted to jump in puddles and I said not today, sweetie. You have school and we don’t want to be wet all day. Next time, maybe.

Now I sit alone, on my way to the airport. Remembering how much I love dancing in the rain.

And the next time my child asks if they can jump in the puddles I think I will help her, and teach her how to be a Rainkin too.

Futility

Gasping for breath

Struggling for one more minute

Like a fish on the sandy beach, trying to swim out of their element

When is it too much? When is the moment where you sigh and let go? Breath leaving silently through lips now relaxed. Sight turning up, stars visible through the ceiling as consciousness expands beyond walls and awareness.

I have entered the room at the moment, felt the soul brush by my shoulder as the rustle of bird wings. Seen the eyes glaze and become frosted. Soul no longer present. Knowing, without words or exam, the person I knew has departed.

How do you know when all treatment has failed? When it is time to move on? Is there a clock that stops, forever midnight? Or always quarter after ten? No use trying further once it has wound down. 

The rustle of the soul escaping, beyond our physical boundaries and the burden of disease.

Free on the wind

Accident of birth

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how factors influence people. Things we don’t think about often, like birth order, or if you had a pet.  The experiences we have in childhood continue to shape us throughout our lives, whether we acknowledge them or not.

For some people, this is a horrible injustice.  They have suffered from the moment of their birth until they die from one cause or another. Maybe it was genetics, maybe it was environment. What confluence of events was needed to ensure a short or miserable life or both? Karma?  God? Rotten luck?  When people discuss the root causes of social injustice, how much of it is being born into the wrong chance? Why are some lucky to be born beautiful, rich or loved while others are born sick or weak or poor? 

The first chance we have in life is our parents. We don’t pick them,  and for better or worse our lives hinge on their choices. Choice of partner, choice to have a child or not, where they live and what they do to their own bodies. And these choices are dependent upon the choices of their parents and so on back down a long line of chance or divine will, whatever it is you believe.

I think back down the line of cross links in my double helix and wonder which ones came from Scottish sea captains or Jewish refuges, proud Cherokee warriors or  Irish immigrants from famine times.  I didn’t pick them, but they chose me. Because they lived, I live today, thinking about the meaning behind why I get to sit in a comfortable coffee shop and have breakfast while others in the world go hungry or stay tortured on the fringes, barely surviving in a place that is cruel and unwelcoming.

How easily I could have been in that place through no fault of mine other than birth. So much is arbitrary- do we get blessed with beauty? Or struggle to swim to shore? Is it chance or is it written?

 Questions beyond my ability to answer. But maybe these questions will keep me judging everyone as my equal. If we share nothing else, we do share this accident of birth. I am so fortunate to be able to think about life instead of just existing to live. Maybe my fortunes will change, as they do on a dime for many. But at this moment, drinking my warm coffee, I say a prayer to the great creator for the amazing works around me. And I make a promise to do what I can to make this accident of where I come from serve others and make a difference in the world, even if only to one person.