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THE SKEPTIC

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In support we meet, each a conglomeration of everchanging aches
and complaints,
each a walking frustration of foggy thoughts
and dead-end detours.

She says the secret is to laugh,
that our brains can be tricked
into compliance by smiles and
belly-laughs of imaginary amusement.

She speaks of blocked chakras and tree of life imbalances,
of inherited cellular memories and soul repair,
of angels that answer her simple prayers at first thought.
She says she was once like us
but now is cured.

She slides a silver pendulum from around her neck.
First still, it soon sways side to side,
telling her our secrets,
the “yays” or “nays” to her questions.

“You are now unblocked,” she says.
“You are now in balance.”
“Your inherited cellular memories are gone.”
“Your souls are healed.”

I scan the hopeful faces around me,
their evident willingness to accept that which has been said,
and I wonder if I’m the only one
who doesn’t believe.

SATURATION

like,quotes,thought,txt,life,moment-5883bba7d4638f2ed6a2fdbf964f22b0_hA name forgotten, an appointment missed,
a recipe that must be read and reread.
It sometimes frightens, that feeling that something is lacking,
that my mind will never function
as it did in younger years.

“Play sudoku,” someone suggests.
“Use your brain more,” another adds.
“Don’t type. Use a pen. Read.”
There is no
end to their cures.

But a brain is like a sponge, I tell myself, and mine is saturated
with images of a man on a bike laden with a hundred orphaned hubcaps,
and another who cheerfully pulls a tall wagon behind him, a free ride
for a grown woman, her legs stretched out, her gap-toothed smile pure glee.

Sounds vie for space here.
The rich tones of church bells at noon, the rush of sirens in the distance,
the rattle of carts and wagon wheels as the more resourceful, the more desperate,
scour the curbs for returnable bottles before garbage day,
the quiet voices from neighbouring verandahs on summer nights.

If my brain can only hold so much,
let it be this,
And let the random lists and names of unimportant celebrities
seep away.

tree1Recently, a friend and I caught up over an email and discussed the ups and downs of life. I told her about a dream I’d recently had, one that seemed particularly relevant when seen against the framework of my life over the past few years. I would like to share it with you now, in the hope that perhaps it will also help others through times of difficult transition or loss. I hope she will not mind me repeating it as I told her.

“I had the most interesting dream the other night. I often dream about not being in control of things. I wake up in panic. In this dream, I had to scale a vertical wall that had to be one hundred feet up. There were bricks and hooks to grip on, and others were doing it, but I was terrified. Once you got to the top, you had to let go and allow yourself to fall straight down.

I’m petrified of heights. In dreams where I fall, fear makes me wake up before I land. In this dream, I relented and started to climb the wall. Suddenly, it was as if I was being lifted straight up. Getting to the top was effortless. Once I got there though, I was afraid to let myself fall. I had to take several breaths to compose myself. I suddenly felt very peaceful, and rather than letting myself fall straight down, I allowed myself to fall backwards. As if I was on a breeze, I sailed onto the ground. When I landed, I was overcome with emotion. I’d allowed myself to be vulnerable and somehow it worked out.

I know the dream was inspired by a talk I had earlier that day with a family member. We spoke about having faith in yourself and trusting fate, that usually, things work out as they were meant to.

It’s a hard thing to live by, but when you look back at rough times, you often see that kind of pattern. We can’t judge our lives by the valleys we go though. Eventually, it all evens out and we realize we’ve survived.”

Sometimes, you do much more than survive. You overcome, and you see the world around you with fresh eyes and an open heart.

I wish that same gift for you this Christmas!

Late yesterday afternoon, after the sun had gone down, my doorbell rang.  A boy of thirteen or fourteen stood outside. He said hello, apologized for bothering me, and said that he was trying to raise money. He asked if I needed any yard work done.

If he hadn’t been so young, if he hadn’t been shivering in just a hoodie against the cold, I may have just said “no thank-you” and closed the door. Instead, I scanned the yard to see if our leaves needed raking. They didn’t. I told him that I really didn’t need any help, and couldn’t think of anything for him to do.

His eyes never left my face.

I asked him what he was raising money for, and he answered that he needed to raise fifteen dollars for a class trip. He added that his principal told him that morning that if he couldn’t come up with it by eleven a.m. Tuesday, he couldn’t go.

Maybe I’ve watched too many episodes of “Intervention.”  I asked him outright if he was telling me the truth. Was the money for drugs? He said no. He insisted it was for a school trip. And though he was shivering and rather thin, I knew he seemed too “fresh-faced and clear-eyed” to be a drug user.

I asked him about the excursion and he told me it was to Tim Horton’s Day Camp and added that he thought it was called “Onondoga.” He said his parents didn’t have the money he needed.

Still, I was suspicious. I knew that our neighbours, who have lived in the neighbourhood much longer than us, had turned him away.

“I’ll give you my name and phone number,” he said. “If you can give me fifteen dollars now and then call me when you need work done, I swear I’ll come.”

I pretended I didn’t hear his suggestion. I asked him where he lived and he named an area recently recognized in the Hamilton’s Spectator’s “Code Red” series as the poorest part of Hamilton.

“So, why are you all the way over here looking for work?” I pushed.

He folded his arms in front of him, putting each into the sleeve of the other in an effort to stay warm. “I’ve been everywhere,” he said. And it occurred to me then that his chances of earning money in my neighbourhood were much better than in his own.

That’s when I realized that in answering my very pointed questions, his eyes had welled with tears. I immediately recalled a recent article by Flannery Dean, CBC NEWS, in which she quoted Tom Cooper, director of the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction:

“In Ontario, there are one in seven children living in poverty. In Hamilton, unfortunately, that number is one in four.” says Cooper.

“We have 28,000 kids growing up in low income households in this city and that’s pretty much enough to bring Ivor Wynne Stadium to capacity,” he says.

Mayo says that while the report cites 36 per cent of food bank users in Ontario are children, in Hamilton the number is far greater, with children making up 46 per cent of food bank users.

Hamilton also has an alarming rate of poverty among recent immigrants, says Cooper, with nearly 50 percent living in poverty.”

I rarely carry much cash in my wallet anymore and had just seven dollars to give him, but I handed it over, painfully aware that this young man probably needed much more than money for a trip. He thanked me and left, but all night long I was left with the image of him shivering in his hoodie, and the feeling that I should have offered him one of the coats that hangs unwanted in our entranceway closet. I could have done much more, if I hadn’t been so hesitant to get involved, so afraid to open my heart.

It’s the kind of gnawing regret that never leaves.

 

 

 

 

 

PERCOLATING

Those of you who only know me through this blog might be wondering where I’ve been. Truthfully, I’ve been nowhere. I’ve not fallen into the vast cyberspace hole where neurotics, failed writers and disenchanted romantics go to brood. After a few years of obsession with my own misery, I am, quite simply, learning to think outside my own space again. I am like someone who’s come out of a coma. The wonders and woes of the world seem new to me again, and like the finest brew, they need time to percolate.

In a world where we are often pressured to make instant observations and judgements, I am allowing myself the luxury of time. I won’t take much longer. I promise.

 

 

 

It’s hard to believe that it’s nearly four weeks since I last wrote anything here. The days pass too quickly. Time is getting away from me.

Not to say that my days aren’t full. They are. But recently, I watched a video called “Living with Fibromyalgia” (see below), and I had a bit of an epiphany. Since then, I’ve been living life a little differently, listening to my body, pacing myself on good days and taking it easy on days when I really need to. And it feels good.

Basically, the video explains the way the illness works and how five individuals deal with it. It really hit home with me. The bottom line is that I’ve wasted too much of my life being mad at my body. It turned against me early on. Rather than accept the way my system works and treat myself with the same patience and compassion I would to another person with fibromyalgia, I’ve let it get it embarrass, depress and anger me. That attitude has probably just made me worse.

Those angry days were wasted days. The days when I felt stupid because fibro affected my concentration and energy and shortened my education? Those were wasted days too. I’ve been embarassed by my clumsiness and my lack of athletic ability for my entire adult life. I shouldn’t have been, but I didn’t understand the way fibro worked.

I realize I need to treat fibro more like childbirth. All of my deliveries were natural. By the time I had my youngest son, I was a whiz at Lamaze. I’d learned to breathe with the pain, find a focus point to distract me, relax my limbs. Fibromyalgia requires the same plan of attack. So, instead of resenting the times the pain is bad, and feeling I have to make excuses to people to explain why I’m unable to do certain things, I’m going to just “go with it.” I’ll work, rest, work, rest. On days when I feel like crap, I’ll have a hot shower, put on my most comfortable clothes, gather together heating pads, cushions, my laptop, and favourite videos, and RELAX. And I won’t let myself feel guilty.

I’m going to apply the same philosophy to the days when my husband’s away on business – which is often. Rather than let myself feel lonely or act like a recluse, I’m going to do the things that I’m free to do because he’s away. That means I can go places he wouldn’t usually want to go. I can have meals when I feel like it – or not. I can eat what I feel like and forget about his favourites. Last week, I had poutine for dinner – first time ever!!! It’s sinfully fattening and unhealthy and delicious!

The specialists in the video “Living With Fibromyalgia” suggested friends and family should watch it too and I understand why. Perhaps it’s hypersensitivity, but I’ve often felt like I was being judged. I’ve been put on the defensive so many times. I wanted people to see the video not for their pity, but for their understanding. That way I’d never have to explain again. Diabetics don’t have to constantly justify their insulin injections, right? I’m so tired of people saying things like “I just ignore my pain,” I don’t let my pain hold me back,” “I just keep going even though I’m exhausted,” because all that says is “You’re a wuss, Linda.”

Just as irritating is having someone say “I’m sure I have it too.” That bothers me because once again, it invalidates what I’m experiencing. Someone else saying that they surely “have it” too basically minimizes my situation. Let’s face it. Specialaists say that 5% of the population has fibro. Now, people who are over 50 have certain aches and pains at various times – because of old injuries or osteoarthritis or lack of flexibility or extra weight on our frames. Menopausal women experience difficulties concentrating, mood swings and even panic attacks. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they have fibromyalgia. It’s possible they do, but the odds are still against it.

OMG. I am rambling, aren’t it? Better here, though, than to those living with me.

Anyway, I did something very empowering. I wrote a letter to family members, explaining that I was going to take another tactic with fibromyalgia and part of that was wanting the important people in my life to understand exactly what it was about. I was very careful with the wording – no recriminations, no pressure, a polite request.

One brother watched it immediately and wrote back. A sister-in-law left a phone message saying she wanted to know more. One of her closest friends suffered with it for the last twenty years of her life. One sister wrote back and cautioned that I “mustn’t let myself be defined by my illness,” and I wrote back that my purpose is to change that feeling.

One person wrote to ask if the video took as long as it said it did to download. Someone else wrote three days later with four words: “the link doesn’t work.” (by then it was no longer active). As far as I know, no one else actually saw it. They didn’t write back. My husband hasn’t watched it yet, but said he will. He’s already very supportive, though I think sometimes he needs his own support. Chronic illness can be hard on marriages. One son was unable to watch the video as he’s away on a military base. The other did call and we had our first real talk about it. I wrote to everyone aagain to say that the link to the video was no longer active and I’d try to send a copy of it when I figured out how to send a large file. I may be better off just saving a couple of copies on memory sticks in case anyone actually ever asks to see it.

So far they haven’t, but at least I’ve had the courage to bring my feelings out into the open.

So, back to the rest of what’s going on around me. Actually, there’s not a whole helluva lot. The weather here is perfect, we’re slowly adding more perennials to our gardens, my husband’s new job is going really well, our sons are healthy and happy, Cadeau is trying to get over fireworks trauma from this past weekend, Marcel (my son’s cat, who we’re “grandparenting” while he’s training at a military base) is building relationships with neighbourhood strays on the other side of our windows, and Cleo is still hanging on, enjoying what is surely her last summer on the back porch.

Life goes on, and life is good.

Learn more about “Living With Fibromyalgia” at http://www.livingwithfm.com/.

A children’s story about Cleo, our happy wanderer.

**********

Cleo is a very fat black cat who lives a pampered life in a country home. Her owners love her, and the other cats in the house let her be the boss. She has tasty food to eat, fresh water to drink and cozy places to sleep. She is a very lucky cat.

But Cleo’s life was not always so safe and comfortable. Once, it was full of adventure. If Cleo could speak, this is the story she would tell.

**********

Cleo was born under an old shed that leaned against an even older barn. She had brothers and sisters, five altogether, and in their first weeks of life they were safe, hidden from the eyes of the cranky old farmer who owned the shed.

Sometimes, they would hear his heavy footsteps as he walked nearby. When that happened, Cleo and the other kittens would snuggle deeper into their mother’s fur and lie very still. Once the farmer moved on, they would relax again and fall asleep. One day, though, it did not happen that way, and Cleo’s life changed forever.

It was warm spring morning, and Cleo decided she wanted to play. Usually, it was dark and damp under the shed, but on that day, a ray of light shone through a gap between the ground and the shed’s wall. Cleo couldn’t resist. While everyone else was still sleeping, she squeezed through the space and looked at the world around her for the very first time.

For as far as she could see, there were fields and forest. Flies hovered over a mound of garbage by the barn. Birds flew amidst the branches of an old oak tree. From far away, she could hear large, rumbling sounds like distant thunder, even though the sky was blue and free of clouds.

Suddenly from around the corner a big red tractor appeared. The old farmer sat on top, an angry scowl on his face. He stopped the machine when he saw her and climbed off to chase her.

Cleo ran for her life into the woods and quickly became lost. For months afterwards, she lived on her own. She learned to trap field mice and catch birds so that she could eat. She found cool, clear water to drink from a stream that wound through the forest. She discovered that being a black cat could be very lucky. It meant she could hide more easily from the hawks that flew above the forest in the day, and the wild dogs that prowled in packs at night.

Cleo was a survivor.

One spring day, the sound of friendly voices floated across the farmer’s field. Cleo crept carefully to the edge of the forest to hear better, and spied people laughing and talking in the distance. They looked friendly and she decided she wanted to get closer. She pushed her way through the tall hay that separated the forest from their backyard, and that was how she found the family who would become her new owners.

It took Cleo a while to get used to them. She liked the mother, because she spoke in a soft voice and moved slowly. She brought the thin, scared kitten something to eat and drink, and soon Cleo began to feel safe sitting near her when she was outside. But the big boys and their father scared Cleo. Their voices were loud, and they moved too quickly. Cleo would jump away and run when they came near. They reminded her too much of the farmer who tried to hurt her.

The other cats in the house frightened her too. They were much bigger than she was. They sniffed at her and Cleo thought they might eat her if she stayed still. To protect herself, she hissed at them and swiped at their noses with her tiny paws. Her claws were sharp from scratching the trunks of the forest trees, and the other cats soon learned that Cleo was tougher than she appeared.

Gradually, Cleo grew comfortable with her new family and home. She no longer had to hunt for food or run from enemies. She grew a little fatter and much calmer, and from autumn until the end of the winter, she was content to be inside the house where it was warm. Still, when the last snow melted, and the red-winged blackbirds returned to the fields, wanderlust settled in Cleo’s veins. She yearned to leave her safe home and explore again, and so began the first of her summer adventures.

**********

Cleo never meant to leave and then stay away so long. The first time it happened, the flutter of a butterfly’s wing tempted her. She left to follow it, and found herself once more crossing the farmer’s field and entering the shade of the forest. She played all day there, and that night, even when she heard the mother’s voice calling for her to come inside, she did not return. It was warm outside, and the leaves on the forest floor would make a soft bed. She could hide under a fallen tree and be safe, and so she did.

But when the next day came, she was still having too much fun to go back. She knew she was not lost; she could still see the house. One day turned into two, and then three, and before she knew it, the summer had passed. Only the cooler nights of the fall reminded her to go home. The family welcomed her with laughs and hugs, and piled heaps of food on the plate before her. The other cats sniffed at her coat and imagined the adventures she must have had. They looked at her with a new respect, and dared not push their way to the feeding bowl until Cleo had finished eating.

All had turned out well, so Cleo did the same thing the next summer, and the next, and the next, and the family grew to expect and understand Cleo’s escapes. From the minute autumn began, Cleo would begin to look forward to her next excursion, and that’s how it was until the year she turned six.

**********

Cleo left in late spring that year, eager for the adventures that would be awaiting her. She had no understanding of time, only the sense that there were mice to be caught and butterflies to be chased, and as always, she was happier in the forest than she’d ever been behind walls.

One day, she even came close enough to her house to be seen. The mother called her name, but Cleo ignored her and kept walking with her head held high. She was not ready to return. The forest was too exciting.

Finally, a day arrived that changed her mind. She came upon a raccoon’s shelter, and soon learned that a raccoon only was not as friendly as it looked. Cleo fought back as best she could and escaped, but not before the he had bitten a chunk from the top of her ear. She felt shaken all day by the attack, but by nightfall, there was another new danger. Just as she settled into sleep, she heard coyotes coming. The sound of their big feet and tails hitting the underbrush caused her heart to jolt in fear. She could hear their panting as they searched for her. Their keen eyes spotted her, and they bolted forward, barking their horrible high-pitched war songs. Cleo ran faster than she even knew she could, farther through the woods than she’d ever gone before. Ahead of her, a tree rose high towards the sky. She dug her claws in deep and scurried up the trunk and to the highest branches at lightning speed. The coyotes could not follow.

Cleo waited there for what felt like days. Her ear throbbed, and so did one of her paws where it had been punctured by a sliver of bark. She grew hungry but still was too afraid to come out into the open, even in the daylight when she knew they must be gone.

Finally, she could wait no longer. She slowly wiggled downward, and began her long way home to safety. It was time. The leaves were beginning to turn colour.

**********

Since then, Cleo has stayed away from the forest. The top of her ear has healed in a jagged pattern, and her whiskers have stayed white after her scare that night. Her owners joke that she’s grown as chubby as a baby walrus.

Now, Cleo’s summers are spent following on the heels of her owner as he works in the yard. She no longer fears his voice, because he is her protector. When he is not there, she is content to find a cool place under the lilac bush to lie down. There, she thinks of the stories she could tell, and dreams of chasing butterflies.