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.
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.
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.
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 countrywith 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.
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.
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.
It doesn’t matter where you live, people have the same problems. We all struggle. – Patsy
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.
“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
Unbeknownst to me, I found myself searching for all that makes me Me. I realized this interest came to me after spending time at my childhood home. Unlike my current city, my childhood neighbourhood bears a rich catalogue of memories that are uniquely mine. Each block of pavement a playground: directly to the left of my home we sat on the pavement collecting and trading stickers. The scratch and sniff were the most sought after ones (my favourite the buttery popcorn one). Just a few houses away, my best friend’s house – a place of adventure where science and math were put to the test. Sliding down the staircase at record speeds in a cardboard box and crashing into a barricadeof couch cushions.
A five minute walk away was the community pool. A place of endless hours of summer fun. I’ll never forget the day the whistle blew, “Everyone out of the pool!” A summer rain shower was on its way. Gathering our things we began our walk home. Half-naked in our swimsuits and sandals with our towels draped over one shoulder we found ourselves caught in one of the most magical storms. Nature opened its window with an invitation to experience its splendour through and through. The pavement was steaming hot and gave off a smell of earthworms. Our walk home turned into a dance. Joining the rush of pitter patter, our bodies moved to and fro. Our feet moved in unison with the bursting droplets. Opening our mouths and stretching out our tongues we tasted its wet drink one drop at a time. We lifted our heads in surrender to its artistry. With shuttering lashes we watched the droplets descend upon us. A vision of heaven. A symphony of senses. A magical moment. Washing, cooling and massaging our summer skin.
A childhood memory so vivid and consuming. A memory that revived my adult curiosity. In a search for ‘Me’ I discovered that nature has not stopped handing out invites to experience childlike magic. The next time nature catches your attention, let the glance become a gaze. Let the background become the backdrop. Take a seat. Prepare your senses. The play is for you.
“God’s glory is on tour in the skies, God-craft on exhibit across the horizon. Madame Day holds classes every morning, Professor Night lectures each evening. Their words aren’t heard, their voices aren’t recorded, But their silence fills the earth: unspoken truth is spoken everywhere.” Psalm 19:1-4 MSG
I may have been seventeen years old when I held an under-nourished baby. Seated by a large glass window in a rocking chair in the corner of the room, a very small baby boy was placed in my arms. My heart instantly invited him in. I peered down at his tiny hands, thin arms and gaunt but lively face. Joy overwhelmed me. Life was placed in my arms. We locked eyes and immediately it felt like we were the only ones in the room. As I cradled this tiny baby boy, I whispered prayers to God. “Thank you for this precious little boy. Protect him from harm and watch over him. Amen.”
We rocked back and forth, and time stood still. I became love, care and protection for him – a gift given to his parents yet placed in my arms for a short time. What may have come natural for me at seventeen years old was not as natural for his parents. Poverty and a deficit in parenting skill is what led this baby boy to my arms. While I cared for him, Mom and Dad attended a required parenting skill class.
Many years have past since holding the tiny baby boy. Although his name has left my memory, the deep love and desire for him to live a safe and happy life has not.
Love came to me that day wrapped in a blanket.
Curious as to why this memory surfaced after so many years, I allowed time and space to reveal its meaning.
Days later it came to me: Cradling a tiny baby boy at a volunteer program was possibly the first time in my life where I felt a deep connection to my life’s calling. It was a seed inside me that started to bloom, framing my core beliefs about humanity – to understand that life is difficult and complex, so suspend judgment and give comfort and care to anyone in need. For this is the love all of us desire – the one that is free from judgment, attentive to all needs and requests nothing in return but simply finds sheer joy in us. It’s a love found in God and experienced through the kindness and generosity of others who truly see us as we are.
“Because the poor are plundered, because the needy groan, I will now arise,” says the LORD; “I will place him in the safety for which he longs.” Psalm 12:5 ESV