Thursday, April 27, 2006

“If I should die before I wake”

“What would it take for you to die happy?” someone asked me earlier this week. Here is my answer:

I would die happy if I left the world a little better than it started … even just a tiny bit.

I would die happy if I left something behind worth remembering.

I would die happy if I didn’t die alone.

I would die happy if someone loved me.

I would die happy if I treated everyone in my life with respect – including me.

I would die happy if I lived with integrity.

I would die happy if I learned to live.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Swallows and Lightning

Possibility is flickering through the air today, like swallows and lightning.

Today, the trees have broken out into green the colour of summer meadows and deep forests, of sunsets and misty mornings. The grass is new-washed and on its best behaviour. The sky is infinite colours of grey – soft and flat and clumsily patched – but its comfortable shabbiness is a welcome counterpoint to the sharp colours and clean lines of terra firma.

Today, I rode the bus downtown and watched fifty or more people – most alone, a few in pairs – as their day began. Most carried umbrellas and bags, some read books, others listened to music or tapped away on Blackberries or cellphones. As I stood there, I thought about how each of these strangers had their own unique story, their own reality apart from this brief collective space. And I thought about how each person brought their lives with them onto this bus and that, however ephemerally, we were now all connected.

Today, I began a class that showed me how to think about, and interact with, my world differently.

Today, I began a new book that opened a door to another world.

I drank green tea and ate freshly-made french fries with salt and vinegar.

It’s been a good day.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Spring has sprung

… How I would like to feel …

in Just-
spring when the world is mud-
luscious the little lame baloonman

whistles far and wee

and eddyandbill come
running from marbles and
piracies and it's

when the world is puddle-wonderful

the queer
old baloonman whistles
far and wee
and bettyandisbel come dancing

from hop-scotch and jump-rope and


baloonMan whistles
(e.e. cummings)

… How I’ve been feeling lately …

April is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.
(T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land)

… How I feel today …

I am sitting in the middle
Of a very muddy puddle
With my rubbers full of muddle
And my leggings full of mud.

As my jacket and my sweater
Go on slowly getting wetter
As I very slowly settle
To the bottom the mud.

I find that a person with
A puddle in his middle
Thinks of mostly in the muddle
Is the muddiness of mud.
(Author Unknown)

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Footloose and fancy free

Well, I have been officially cast-free for a full week now, and am pleased to report my foot goes up, my foot goes down, and it even goes from side to side a little bit. I am walking – slowly (and with approximately the same grace as a sea-lion on land) but steadily for the most part – and am very relieved not to have to depend on crutches any longer.

The bone itself is 90% healed, although the soft tissue around my ankle and foot remains quite swollen. According to my doctor, while bones typically heal in 5-8 weeks, ligaments and muscles can take up to 3 months to recover. With any luck, physiotherapy should speed up the process somewhat.

I began treatment yesterday afternoon, seeing the same therapist I’d said goodbye to in late February after she successfully treated my tendonitis. It was a little embarrassing to be back so soon, to be honest, but everyone at the clinic was quite sympathetic and said they’d been seeing a lot of similar injuries this year as a result of all the freeze-and-thaw cycles we’ve been having. (Ok, I know they’re professionally sympathetic, but it’s still nice to hear I’m not alone in my klutzdom!)

Since this was a brand new injury, I naturally had to fill out a set of brand new forms (ones which just happened to look exactly the same as the ones I’d filled out last time). The last form, though, was an assessment sheet for the injury – one of those “Rate from 0-5 your level of difficulty in doing the following ….”

Now, I didn’t have any issue with most of the questions (e.g., going up and down stairs, performing light housework, standing for 1 hour, walking for 30 min., and so on). But when I got to the items “Running rapidly,” “Making sharp turns while running rapidly,” and “Hopping,” I wasn’t entirely sure what to answer – since I hadn’t been stupid enough to attempt to do any of those things in the first place! I mean, I suppose I could run, jump and make sharp turns if I was, say, being chased by a rogue elephant or one of those people who want you to donate to Greenpeace. Otherwise … I think not.

On the bright side, my therapist says she thinks I should see significant improvement in mobility and comfort over the next couple of weeks as the swelling in the ankle goes down. To achieve this laudable goal, MY job is to: (1) keep my leg raised as much as possible; (2) put ice on the ankle every hour or two when practical – or, alternatively, use contrasting baths of warm & cold water; and (3) do a series of exercises several times a day, among which is my favourite – the classic “drawing the alphabet with your foot!” (A … B … C … Draw with me now. C’mon, you know you want to!)

HER job is to stick a half-dozen large (2”) suction cups on my ankle and foot, turn on a machine the size of a barbeque – that does NOT go “ping” even! – and leave for 15 minutes. The suction cups not only suck – literally – on the affected limb (they’re designed to create a vacuum), but send electric currents through the affected area. In other words, yup – I’m undergoing shock treatment! (There’s a few of you out there who may not be entirely surprised at this occurrence.)

Still, despite looking like my leg has been attacked by a giant squid, it’s not really so bad. And my therapist says she should have me up and running again within a few weeks. So, beware all you rogue elephants and Greenpeace activists. Ink is on the march! Almost!

Friday, April 07, 2006

To think that I saw it on ... the Queensway

It was raining this morning as I drove in to work. A good soaking rain, my Mum would call it.

It's still a bit early around here for the grass to have greened up or the trees to be showing leaves - so between the lead-grey skies, grey-brown trees, brown-grey grass, grey road and stream of dark rain-soaked vehicles, I suppose it's not terribly surprising my attention was caught by the flash of bubble-gum pink about 6 or 7 cars ahead of me in the other lane. Pink cars are not all that common around fusty old Ottawa at the best of times, and this morning the colour contrasted beautifully with all the blah-ness of the morning commute.

Nice, I thought to myself. There's someone who's choosing to be a bit different. Not a colour I could personally live with ... but still, good for her, I thought.

At least until I passed her.

The car was a little two-seater hatchback convertible (I'm not sure what kind - maybe a VW Golf or something like it). It was indeed a bright bubble-gum pink ... so far so good. But what really caught my eye was the fuchsia-pink, SEQUINED licence plate cover and the name "Jessica" air-brushed in a circle of little stars and ribbons just above the back bumper. Yup - this vehicle was a life-sized Barbie car.

With Barbie herself driving it, to boot. Platinum blonde hair, carefully styled, make-up perfect (from what I could see), and a pair of enormous sunglasses - remember, it's pouring rain! - with thick, white plastic rims.

It was all just too much. What had first appeared to be a rather fun nudge-nudge, wink-wink at the general stodginess of Ottawa society had become something else entirely. The very completeness of Jessica's packaging disturbed me. To all appearances, she was the embodiment of the brainless, blonde, good-time girl. It may not have accurately reflected the person inside, but it was clearly the image she had deliberately chosen for herself. This was the way she wanted to be seen by the world.

Admittedly, for all I know, Jessica was a pre-med student with a genius IQ who worked with inner-city youth and volunteered her time a homeless shelter. And perhaps I am being overly censorious about other people's lifestyle decisions.

But, at that moment, I wanted to pull Jessica out of her car, give her a good shake, and say "Think about this for a minute, child. Is this really who you are? Is this really who you want to be? Show me a sign that there's more to you than candy-colours and a slavish imitation of Paris Hilton." I wanted to explain that she could be more than a stereotype without losing her sense of fun ... that she didn't need sparkles and big white sunglasses to be noticed ... that if she was old enough to have her own car, she was old enough to leave behind the fashion and lifestyle preferences of an 8-year-old.

I didn't, of course. And I doubt I would ever be that presumptuous, even given the opportunity. People need to find their own way after all. But still, is it just me, or isn't it a bit bizarre that while (some) little girls are dressing - and sometimes acting - like hookers, (some) adult women are dressing - and sometimes acting - like characters from a Saturday morning cartoon?

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

In Memorium

Over the weekend, I learned that someone very special to me had died. Mrs. C---- was coming up on her 99th birthday, so I shouldn’t have been shocked I suppose … but I was. I am. Perhaps in part because of her age, Mrs. C---- always seemed eternal to me. A distant but constant presence, as steady and immutable as the North Star. It still seems incredible to me that a person with her vivacity and strength, her wit and wisdom, could simply, suddenly, just not be here any more.

I first met Mrs. C---- in the early 1980s, when she came to visit her son, our next-door-neighbour, from her home in Scotland. Funny to think she would have already been in her mid-70s. I was just heading into those oh-so-entertaining teen years. For some reason, we hit it off. I adored her Scottish lilt, her stories, her common sense, and (not least) the way she always treated me with unfailing courtesy and respect. I have no clue what she saw in me.

The first thing you’d notice about Mrs. C---- was how tiny she was – barely five feet tall and rail-thin. She was always elegantly (if not formally) dressed, even when she was doing housework or puttering in the garden. But this apparent fragility was deceptive … to say the least. She was amazingly strong and quick on her feet. (Mrs. C---- always attributed her good health to all the walking she did as part of her job guiding tourists at the local castle.) I remember she used to run – literally run – down the short, but steep, hill between our two houses to ask Mum a question, bring us some tomatoes from the garden, or simply to invite us over for a cup of tea and a chat. She could never be bothered going the long way round – and that was true of pretty much every aspect of her life.

During those summers, at least until I moved away to British Columbia to do my graduate work, Mum and I used to head next door for tea at least a couple of times a week. Her son N---- used to work quite long hours some days, and we didn’t want her to be lonely. On these occasions, Mrs. C---- always used a proper Royal Doulton china tea service. Finger sandwiches (no crusts of course) and a plate of Peak Freans cookies (usually shortbread, or those little round ones with the cream filling and jam on top) rounded out the menu. We typically sat in the formal living room or, if the weather wasn’t too hot, outside on the back patio. It was impossible, under the circumstances, not to mind your manners, and I remember being terribly worried about dropping the delicate little teacup and saucer with its pattern of roses and gold accents, and working out step-by-step how to handle both a teacup (with saucer) and my little plate of “nibbles” without embarrassing myself or my hostess. Despite these challenges, it would take quite a bit to lure me away from the prospect of having tea with Mrs. C----.

I suppose I was partially flattered by her interest in me, and her willingness to treat me with exactly the same respect she showed my mother. But mostly I just loved to hear her talk. I would tell all about school (if it was early enough in the year), what I was reading, how my friends (all two of them!) were, and how my various projects (knitting, quilting, drawing, etc.) were coming along. In turn, she’d regale us with stories about her job as a guide in the local castle, the kindness of the laird and lady, her friends, her travels with N----, her memories of her husband, her experiences during both(!) world wars, and her little house (which had its very own name, not just a street number!) in the village.

It was such a foreign world – removed in both time and space – for this kid from a modern Canadian suburb … and yet, at the same time, it was all very familiar to me. In her stories I heard echoes of books I had read and movies I had seen. The world she spoke about was one I had experienced – vicariously, true, but nonetheless – and one in which I felt at home. More at home, truth be told, than in most places in the “modern” world.

And so, in this way, Mrs. C---- became a kind of refuge for me, as well as an unwitting mentor and model. Over the many years I knew her, Mrs. C---- taught me how to be a real lady: a person who thought of others’ comfort before her own; who was strong and smart without being smug or priggish; who was generous without being naïve; who held her head high no matter what life threw at her; who cared about her appearance but never let appearance stand in the way of a good adventure. She taught me that age has nothing to do with spirit, and that it is truly possible to grow old gracefully. I only wish I’d learned some of these lessons a little more thoroughly.

It’s been four years since I last saw Mrs. C----. The last time she was here – in the summer of 2004 – I wasn’t able to get to see her for reasons I’m not going to go into right now. I’d always regretted that lapse, and hoped to make it up to her this year, when she was scheduled to come back. Now, I guess I will never get the chance.

Oddly, on the day Mrs. C---- died, five days before her 99th birthday, I bought her a birthday card, wrote her a long letter about what I’d been up to for the past few months, and posted it off. At least I was thinking about her, even if she didn’t know it. That fact gives me both a strange kind of comfort and makes me physically ache with sorrow.

Still, by and large, the first wave of grief has passed – there are a few tears still left to shed, but I’ve cried most of them now, I think. Mostly, I am thankful for her life and for having the opportunity to know such a true and special lady. But it still hurts to know there is now one less person in the world to care about me, and one less person in the world for me to love.

So, even though you will never hear me say it … Mrs. C----, thank you for everything. I will remember you always. I will miss you – always.