An invitation to slow down and connect
I am starting this at the end of an unseasonably warm November day on Prince Edward Island. Not even 5pm, it is already almost completely dark outside. I might have bemoaned how early it is getting dark, but it was 13 degrees Celsius and sunny all day long on November 27th, so this evening there will be nothing but gratitude and honey-sweetened tea on these lips.
It has been cold the last few days. I have been helping a friend who is in the process of winterizing what has been a completely off the grid cabin and noticing parallels and interplay between shifts in the landscape around us, the stripping down and emptying out of the cabin, the rise in Covid cases and general anxiety level around us and the gradual peeling back of protective layers that I had not even been aware were encasing my heart. A few weeks ago we were harvesting blackberries and racing to the beach to immerse our purple fingers and thorn-scratched extremities in the ripple and spray of late summer waves. Now apple season is over, we’ve given thanks, the trees have concluded their celebration and released their golden and crimson confetti in wind-swept piles we leap into ecstatic with joy, and first snow has cast a pastel hue over streets and hills. We planted garlic and drove to the beach to collect seaweed for mulch, rolling our pant legs up over pale calves and holding our breath as we scurried like piping plovers through the froth and sky-mirror of salt water teasing the shore. The forestry crew my friend hired to restore her 45 acres of mainly tree-covered land arrived with their big grumbling machines and slowly, over a number of weeks, cut and carted out piles of unhealthy trees that needed removal, piling them up on trucks and hauling them away to be transformed into something else, and then planting hundreds of baby hardwoods that will grow to take their place. The new openings in the land invited in the sky—sunsets contrasting against the tips of the trees still standing, and the starry sky dipping closer to the earth than it had before. It was hard to watch the trees go, and the land did feel a little naked after not having been touched for so long, but we closed our eyes and dreamt of the birds that would be invited into the clearings to nest and feed, and the new canopy that was already inching its way upwards out of the soil.
Over the last weeks the lane to her cabin has been widened to make way for trucks, tractors and power lines; a trench was dug that we lay electrical wire into to bring power up to the cabin; shale was spread and compressed up the laneway that had been just grass; a well was dug, water pipes laid, a septic tank installed and a shiny new red roof put on. We loaded the contents of the cabin into a shipping container, pulled all the wooden siding and fake ceiling panels down, removed the old insulation and installed two skylights, inviting the light in from new directions. This past week the electrical wiring was put into the walls, and I watched my friend stand in the cold, gutted cabin and imagine where heat and light will soon be. A ramp that will enable her to bring her mum in for Christmas was completed, and the last planks of the front deck were hammered into place. This week, weather permitting, we will paint the walls with anti-mould paint and put fresh insulation into the walls, someone will come and spray foam insulation into the floor and ceiling, the electricity company will come and put poles up her driveway so there is power supply to the cabin, and maybe, if she is lucky, the water will get hooked up and the toilet connected, and she will have a flush toilet!! Never have I looked forward to a flushing toilet more!
It is exciting to watch this flurry of activity. I cannot be there every day, but even the parts I do get to participate in are teaching me so much, and not just about restoring/winterizing a cabin, but about communication, patience, encouragement, support, determination, faith and how essential laughter and a good dose of levity is—especially when life gets stressful.
Today is Sunday. The sky is overcast, it is much cooler, and it’s been raining for days on end. All my shoes are caked with mud no matter how many times I clean them. I am sitting at the kitchen table wearing my mother’s cozy pjs and sipping a hot cup of keemun tea. It has only been a few days since I began this blog post, but a lot has changed since I wrote the paragraphs above. It is of note to me that I wanted to get some of my reflections on what it is like to be living in such a constant flurry of change in all areas of life right now down on paper, and that since I began writing this blog post so much has changed. Unlike the rest of Canada, thus far Prince Edward Island (which has recently been nicknamed ‘God’s country’) has been relatively safe through this pandemic. We have had incredible leadership from our government, from our chief public health officer and from our head of nursing. Our economy, which is so dependent on tourism, has suffered tremendously. But being able to close our borders when things are getting bad elsewhere, the generally high degree of concern that islanders have for one-another, and the proactive approach that our government has taken since day one has meant we have had no deaths, no hospitalizations, and only 70 cases since March, all of which have been travel-related.
Overall, since the beginning of the pandemic in Canada, our region of the country has fared relatively well. As a result, our governments had created what we were calling the ‘Atlantic Bubble,’ which allowed residents of the four Atlantic provinces to move relatively freely across the region. It had been working fairly well until cases in New Brunswick started rising, followed by cases in Nova Scotia. This past week someone who had been in our neighbouring provinces brought it home, and yesterday a youth attending public school received a positive test result. The person had been on a school bus, in class and at hockey. Our health officials have responded quickly and efficiently, and are in the process of following up with all of their close contacts, but the collective level of anxiety shot up here in God’s country after yesterday’s announcement. It feels like we are all holding our breath.
I can see a teeny tiny break in the solid blanket of clouds. My Canadian friends tell me that when you can see even a tiny spec of blue in the sky it means it is going to clear. Of course the friends who told me this were from Newfoundland, whose capital city, St. John’s, is known as “Canada’s Weather Champion” because, according to the weather network, “of all major cities in Canada, St John’s is the cloudiest (only 1,497 hours of sunshine a year), snowiest (322 centimetres (127 in)), windiest (24.3 kilometres per hour (15.1 mph)) and has the most wet days per year, at around 216.” So, you know….you have to take anything they say about the weather with a grain of salt 😉
I have to share a little story. A couple of years ago I connected (as one does) with a distant cousin of my father’s on Facebook. We had one family member connection in common as well as a shared love of flowers. We have interacted a few times since then, but have never spoken in person. This past week this cousin’s niece (who lives in Oregon, and was a complete stranger to me) visited a friend in Sacramento, California for thanksgiving. She apparently loves walking through old graveyards, and so randomly decided to take a walk through the Odd Fellows cemetery, which has a lot of older graves and some lovely big trees in it. Doing so, she came across my parents’ gravestone and took a photo of it because their last name was Salvo (her grandfather’s last name). She showed the photo to her mother, who is turn shared it with her sister (the cousin I was connected with on Facebook). The cousin reached out to me and told me that their branch of the family (who I did not know at all) were having a zoom chat and they were wondering if I would like to join them as they would all like to meet me. I decided to accept their invitation, and found myself in conversation with an extended family that were full of great stories, laughter and joy. After I hung up from the call I sat here at the kitchen table totally speechless. Because the chances of someone from Oregon who is distantly related to me deciding to take a walk through the cemetery where my parents are buried AND coming across their tombstone and deciding to take a photo of it are pretty much nil. And yet it happened. And as a result I am getting the chance to get to know an entire extended family that I did not know existed. I think mom and dad had something to do with this. Say what you like – I’m certain that the souls of our loved ones continue to meddle and plot from heaven (and I wouldn’t have it any other way).
A side note: The Newfoundlanders are right. The sky is clearing, and there are a few tiny rays of sunshine beaming into my kitchen now as I write.
I have always been fascinated by how changes in the environment around me lead to shifts in my own heart and behaviour, and how internal growth and change in turn influence my surroundings. Life this year has been re-shaping the landscape of my heart, and while not always a particularly fun or graceful process, I am grateful for the ways that I am being invited to turn up, offer support, see things from a fresh perspective, learn new skills, and let go of patterns that are not serving me any longer (and making me wonder if they ever did).
There is a gift in grief that I am learning to appreciate the further I get from the loss of my parents. For me, the gift is that my heart has been cracked open. That may sound like a bad thing….I thought it was a bad thing for a while. But I’m realizing that I was allowing life’s circumstances and experiences to determine how and how much I could love. Having my heart crack open from all the loss has hurt like hell, but it has also made space for way more love than I thought I was capable of, in more forms that I thought were possible. That may sound hallmarky…maybe there is more space in my life for hallmarky sentiments these days….don’t judge 😉
All the change also brings with it fear and uncertainty. There are days I am so exhausted I don’t want to get out of bed (for the record, I DO). There are times when I let my fear take the reins, and it isn’t pretty. I sometimes cling to an outcome that isn’t always possible or even what is best for me or those around me. I forget that avoiding interactions and situations that I find scary also avoids the possible learning and growth opportunities that come with scary. I’ve noticed lately that my body and heart have the wisdom to show me the way past the fear, but I do have to make the time and slow down enough to listen. I don’t always like what I hear. I judge myself. I even project my parents’ voices onto my thoughts and feelings. But I’m learning to listen better. To show myself and those I love more kindness and compassion. I notice that something in me propels me onto my yoga mat more these days. It’s like my little island on an island. A place where I can let my body move in the ways it needs to in order to release tension where I don’t always even know I am holding it, and bring me back to the essentials. Back to my breath, heartbeat, prayer, and the hammock of silence out of which, if I am willing to stay long enough to receive it, a deeper, more grounded sense of what my next right step is, emerges.
One thing I really value lately are relationships in which there is space to make mistakes and grow. Space to acknowledge that even when we are all trying our hardest we are going to mess up sometimes because we are pushing beyond our comfort zones, and we don’t have all the skills we need for the new ways of being we are working towards…we acquire them as we try. Trusting that those who say they love us are loving us without expectation doesn’t come easily when love has been saddled with demand. Learning to act from a place of trust that my heart will not lead me astray is scary when I have allowed the voices, hopes and dreams of my parents and even judgements and expectations I project on friends to influence what I have given myself permission to feel and dream into in the past. I hold myself to pretty high standards—which can be a good quality. But it can also prevent me from taking risks that might actually help me grow in ways I have never imagined are possible.
I’ve been giving myself permission to mess up lately. To let my heart love enough that I move beyond the fear and the need for assurances and promises that I am realizing were actually preventing me from ever really loving and being able to be loved. To letting go of outcomes and focusing on the joy – my own and the joy of those I love. To helping myself and my family and friends realize our individual and collective joy, even if doing so takes us in directions I do not entirely understand, and even if it means letting go and watching those I love walk away. There is joy in watching those I care for find joy—even when that joy doesn’t include me. There is joy in admitting I’m wrong. There is joy in brief sparks of love that were never intended to last, as well as in giving sparks that seem like they can only be brief the chance to become something more. There is even joy in the ache of letting go because it reminds me that I have loved places and people deeply, and what better gift is there than that?
The sky has cleared. More change. I have sipped my way through a second cup of tea. My body is telling me it is time to step onto the island of my yoga mat and move a little. I’ve written the morning away. It’s time to step out into the rest of the day. To continuing the task of dividing the pile of dahlia tubers that is still lying on my kitchen floor waiting patiently for me to complete the task. To a hot shower. To some laundry. Some poetry writing. Maybe a walk for some fresh air before more rain clouds blow in this week. Some quiet reflecting before more flurry of activity.
And you? How do you move through change? How do you find opportunity for growth and expansion in life’s cracks?