Filling Space

Mulling over the drink menu at one of our favourite local restaurants, four of us sat on bar stools catching up about last week’s birthday celebration. It was a fun event that brought together a large crowd of new and old neighbours, friends from work and old band mates, as well as family. Being an introvert at a party and knowing only half of the crowd required a lot of energy (small talk is not my thing).

As the party was coming to a close, I met my friends’ former neighbours – an outspoken extrovert and his quiet introverted wife. Filling the air with colourful words, he told stories of anarchy while I stood there smiling uncomfortably and being shocked into laughter. He was a force, untamed, wild and free. He made no apologies. He is who he is, like it or leave it. As uncomfortable as I felt, I saw through the vulgarities. At his core he  is a committed husband and father – a family man. He described his relationship with our mutual friends as the best type of neighbours you could have – sharing meals together, shovelling snow from each others’ driveways, or helping move heavy furniture followed by a beer or two afterwards. He was such a fascinating guy that he became the springboard for an interesting conversation the following weekend with our friends about self-identity.

During our meal, the four of us all agreed that as vulgar as he is, people still like him. My extroverted friend (the only one at the table) passionately said that when we aren’t comfortable with our identity we are just filling in the spaces of someone else’s expectation of us. We are ‘space-fillers.’ With my cocktail close to being finished and my belly satisfied with delicious food, I was far from leaving this profound metaphor at the restaurant. This image of filling the space of someone else’s expectations was sparking so much intrigue that I had to give it more time to expand.

A space-filler….

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Beneath Waters

I buried her beneath waters.

A buoyant sail once purposed for adventure, shipwrecked.

Drowned by currents of ‘acceptable norms’ 

She could no longer stay afloat.

She sank. Her beauty. Her purpose. Her destiny. Gone.

She was ‘put in her place’ on the ocean floor.

A vessel repurposed for others. 

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Summer-Soaked

Soaked with nature’s perfume, our day was coming to a close. After a day spent lake-diving, boating to a patio-restaurant for lunch and doing yoga by the water at dusk, we finally settled in for the evening. Our cottage playlist set the mood nicely. It was mostly background music playing off the stunning views of water, rock, lake and trees. Once the sun was put to rest, the dark sky drew us inside where the background music became our evening soundtrack. A joke earlier about the perfect fishing song was cued up. It was a fierce song with build and vibe and attitude. A song that could not be passively listened to – it demanded we move! With a relaxed courage, I stood up and started dancing. In no way ‘cool’ but fully committed, I summoned the courage of two more. Together we danced. One song turned into two, and two turned into more. We laughed and moved, and were as free as could be. In the comfort of a cottage on a private island where no one could peek in and say “Look at those weirdos!” we were free of judgement. My dance was silly and full of laughter with a bit of attitude. It was the culmination of a happy heart and soul. It was freedom!

The freedom I experienced came from a level of trust I had developed with my friends and myself. Uninhibited by the fear of judgment, I was able to be my ‘silly-self.’ Late night cottage dancing was the peak high after experiencing some very difficult lows a year earlier. 

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Search For Connection

I was on a search for connection. I hadn’t had time to grieve the loss of my grandma or soul-search until vacation. Time away is more than indulgence in delicious foods and drinks – it’s an intentional practice of stillness, purging the mind of everything that ‘needs to be done.’ I guess you could say it’s an ‘emptying’ of one thing and a ‘re-filling’ of another. Maybe even a re-calibration. 

My mind is always busy. I am constantly taking stock of every social exchange, looking for ways to be productive and feeling overwhelmed when I don’t have time to get ‘life’ in order. It took a few days of a beach vacation to settle my busy mind. 

It was one late-afternoon in the middle of my vacation, right before the magical hours of sunset. Immersed in warm, salty ocean water, my body relaxed and my mind set at ease, I noticed a child-like hunt for treasure. Wading in the water a short distance away vacationers reached below the surface to the bed of the ocean. Each plunge un-earthed rocks and shells from beneath their toes. Sifting through their findings by holding each rock and shell up to their eyes for approval, the treasure-hunters let go of the less precious ones and kept the best ones close. For those who seemed as if they could afford expensive things these natural treasures appeared to hold great value. Even more than the rocks and shells themselves, it was the child-like hunt for treasure that appeared valuable to them. Maybe only kept for a day by their beach chair, or taken home and placed in a decorative dish, these rocks and shells would become a reminder of sun-kissed skin, salty ocean water, letting-go of less-precious ‘stuff’ and discovering nature’s treasures.

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Grief & Gardens

I sat outside that afternoon on a blanket laid across the grass in my backyard – the sunshine providing the perfect temperature to enjoy the pleasures of summer. I was surrounded by my garden, over grown in places, but green with life.

The type of life that activated fond memories of Grandma and her gardens. My lemon balm reminds me of the time Grandma walked me through Gretel’s garden at the cottage. Grandma bent over and plucked a leaf from the plant, rubbed it between her fingers and placed it under my nose. A fragrance entered my nostrils followed by a deep breath of contentment. “Another name for lemon balm is Melissa” she smiled. “Melissa” has taken over my garden and is a stop that every visitor has to make at my home during the summer months. Just a few weeks ago I walked my sister over to the garden, bent down and plucked a leaf from the plant and handed it to her. “Smell it!” I exclaimed with pride.

A house is not a home – Grandma taught me how to make a home. My house will never be as tidy as hers, but what she taught me as a child became my pride and comfort as an adult.

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Lessons In Loneliness

A friend of mine spent a full day at a silent retreat in hopes to discover more about herself. I on the other hand spent two and a half weeks alone while my husband toured the country with a band. Whether silent for a day or alone for weeks, I know that spending time alone in quietness allows time for reflection and makes you vulnerable.

 

Underneath a poised posture, I feel alone. 

Day-after-day I live out my routine. I engage in self-talk, “You’re okay! You’re fine!” All the while I bear heaviness like a weighted balloon, expanded from belly to heart. It reminds me that I am sad and alone, and, I’m afraid to say, even a little jealous and upset. My conscience tells me these emotions are not to be shown or felt. I know for certain they are not productive and will not get me through the day. 

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A Shadow of Myself

Fear like shadows cast on sunny days cloud my outlook – shifting my attention from warm rays to cold pavement. 

My shadow distorts my image, stretching the truth until it becomes my only reality.

Turning my beauty into an illusory outline void of colour and detail.

It walks proud as it is tethered around my feet like chains. 

“I own you.”  

“Where you go I go.”

It muscles its way in crushing my self-esteem. 

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When You Can’t Answer Honestly

I stopped going to church when I couldn’t answer the question “How are you doing?” honestly.

When a nice outfit couldn’t distract people enough from the anguish I was experiencing inside, honesty became involuntary. Sure, I let a few trusted individuals know that life at the time was quite stressful – heck, everyone these days understands stress! Unable to find the words that could accurately explain the toll that stress was taking on my body, I finally broke down. No cute outfit or casual talk could cover up the wretched results of unaddressed stress. I was a mess. Even weeks after regaining some strength, I just couldn’t put on a face for the church folk. The act was over. 

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Beach Hut Find

Dressed in a red top (my grandma’s colour) she was an unexpected blessing. Looking to purchase gifts to bring home to family and friends, I shopped around through piles of slightly organized souvenirs as my husband stood at the entrance of the beach hut. A British shopper asked him for a price of an item. He politely replied, “I don’t work here.” Patsy, the owner, tucked away towards the back of the hut heard the conversation and joked with my husband, “You’re not very good at your job. If you hope to make a living, I’ll have to teach you how to price the items.” We had a good laugh. 

The souvenirs didn’t spark my interest like Patsy did. A lively 66-year-old local to the island had a mesmerizing tone to her voice. It was the kind of voice that makes you want to curl up on the couch and listen for hours. Her voice was wise and motherly. 

She told us to face the ocean and glance across the waters to various sized landforms. From where we were standing we could see four different countries. She pointed to Montserrat, the largest of the islands where the volcano erupted in 1995. “A lot of people suffered.” There wasn’t a couch to curl up on but we knew Patsy had more stories to tell us. Wearing our casual beach attire, we stood with our feet in the sand listening to Patsy. She tackled the problem of evil, God’s distance to tragedy and poverty. She was much more than a simple shop owner – much like our ‘vacation reads,’ she made sense of life by examining the deep inner desires and struggles of being human. 

Without realizing it she acknowledged a concern we’ve had for years and why we aren’t quick to share pictures from family vacations on social media. She said, “You know, people may not see how long you’ve saved for this vacation – how many nights you had to eat noodles for dinner so you could put money away.” She went on to say, “Your co-workers may even say, ‘We make the same amount but why can you go on vacation and I can’t?'” With her sharp sense of humour she said, “Don’t bother with them. Enjoy!” 

She went on to say, “People are quick to judge but don’t see how people struggle.” Isn’t that true? I know social media is a showcase for highlights. Sure, I could post a nice beach shot and yes, that was one of my many highlights. However, my trip also involved quietly suffering through an anxiety attack on the plane with passengers around me glancing as I tucked my tear-soaked face into my husband’s neck, some much needed soul searching and of course, taking in all the joys of a beach vacation (including wise words from a local). 

As our conversation came to an end, Patsy pointed up at me and said, “Don’t let others get you down!” I understood it as, “Stop worrying about what others think of you. Enjoy life!” 

I went looking for souvenirs and found Patsy. A wise local that closed the miles between us – turning strangers into friends.

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It doesn’t matter where you live, people have the same problems. We all struggle. – Patsy

Not All Anniversaries

Jolted awake, I grasped my husband’s chest with a hug that cried, “I’m scared!” Frozen in fear I had difficulty interpreting the sudden alarm. My body was reacting to past trauma, but this time stress wasn’t the trigger (my life is much better now compared to a year ago). It had to be something else: it was memory. 

A year ago my body had reached its boiling point and collapsed. Relentless to release culminated stress, I found myself in a panic. Uncontrollable tears, depraved appetite, and what food I could swallow was quickly rejected. Sleep was only a dream. My body renounced life’s essentials. Of course, I hid this torment as best as I could behind the perfect disguise, a smile. But behind closed doors my body revolted & shook like an overworked machine – sparks, smoke and rattling parts grinding against each other. “Listen! Enough is enough!” I lost all control to ‘hold it together.’ For someone with a strong sense of pride, feeling completely out of control was frightening. I was going down and crashing was the only option.

An anniversary is an occasion for celebration. This anniversary is a different one. It marks my surrender. Although today looks very different than a year ago, my mind and body occasionally respond to the past. But I am more frequently met with support and health, and within time I’m replacing fear with trust. I’ll toast this anniversary knowing that like everything of value in this life, it’s a journey branded with both struggle and joy. 

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“What is good in any painful experience is, for the sufferer, his submission to the will of God, and, for the spectators, the compassion aroused and the acts of mercy to which it leads.” C.S. Lewis