Category Archives: non-fiction

Extreme Spirit

I’m a thirty-something, a later-on-down-the-road thirty-something, but a thirty-something nonetheless.   OK, so I used to be a thirty-something, now I’m a forty-something AND a liar.

Much like you, I’m a very busy person.  I am pulled in a plethora of directions by a multitude of people each and every day that I get out of bed.  Which, incidentally, is when it all begins.  A single day has a month’s worth of activity packed into it and lasts, seemingly, about 20 minutes.   I pass strangers on the road, in the coffee shop, and while I’m about my usual business and occasionally I will see one that seems to be … smiling.  How is it possible that they have time for smiling?  And what are they smiling about?  I’m confused, haunted and tormented by their smiles.  But ultimately, I want what they have.  It’s some sort of ‘oomph’ that sets them apart from the struggling, the downtrodden and the doomed.  

Perhaps I just need to rearrange my furniture to be in line with my “chi”, or maybe its much more, like I should be seeing a new age herbalist that will begin with concocting special ‘smiling’ recipes for me that contain eye of Newt and molecules from the Dea Sea, and then I’ll be wrapped from head to toe with spirit blessed rice parchment that will have been painlessly pieced together by nearly extinct rain forest pixies, who will then squeeze their magic tears into my eye sockets each night before I fall into deep slumber.

I may look into that, I believe meeting a pixie would make me slightly giddy, and I haven’t been giddy since I was a twenty-something.  However, I believe the truth behind these smiles is less about fairytale elixirs and more about their resolve.  Their spirits are uncrushable.  Each day is an adventure and their curious minds leave nothing undiscovered.  They are life enthusiasts and their grit for adventure extends far beyond the norm.  Their passion and vigor can be very contagious and after a little more than a brief encounter with one you find yourself on their mailing lists for dog sledding in Alaska and mountain hiking on Mt. Kilimanjaro.  You know these people.

Maybe we should strive to live our lives with just a flicker or a hint of that ‘oomph’.  I, for one, am going to stop scowling at the smiling people and instead remind myself to find the adventure for myself that seems to have found them.  Something fun, something extraordinary, something good for my health and spirit, and something that will make strangers scowl at me.

I’m not much of a team player, I have problems with sharing, control and authority… and I lie, so traditional team sports are out.  I’m far too buff as it is <cough> for free weights, and I bore easily with mindless repetition. 

But… I do know a guy who could set me up for a week in a yurt with a magical chanting goat (I’m on his mailing list) and he claims you just haven’t lived until you’ve sung with a Bovidae.

Look, I’m smiling already.

 

-uberscribbler

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The Conquering Ego

egoWhen the chips are down, asking for help can be risky business.  There are some folks, however, who are all too comfortable leaning on others; they are altogether an entirely different story.  For must of us though, asking for help is like making a deal with the devil.  It means admitting that we are not the rugged, problem solving individuals that society expects us to be.  Once we ask for it, we surrender our control; we become weak, needy and incompetent.  We have a tendency to act as though it’s a complete and total character deficiency, as if we are letting our guards down to somehow invite hurt and embarrassment in.  God forbid our request for help is used against us.  We worry about what will be expected of us in return.  What price must we pay for this help since modern civilization has adopted a reciprocal relationship system (tit-for-tat) so that we don’t feel indebted to those who answered our call?  There is also the fear that we may present our request to the wrong individual and then suffer with a lifelong hovering and patronizing relationship. 

Help me.  How can two little words (three if you’re polite about it) have so much drama attached to it?  And where did the drama come from?  Deep down inside us – in one of our special places – lies an insidious beast that operates solely and inconspicuously on preventing our humility from being nurtured.  This beast is Egocentricity.   This egocentric thinking keeps us wrapped up in our own definition of a thing, even if it may be false.   Most individuals, especially those that genuinely love us, want to help us and more importantly have a need to help us.  They derive a pleasure, a personal satisfaction, and a (perhaps fleeting) sense of purpose to something outside themselves – when helping others.  

People ask me for help all the time, and I give it… freely.  I also know that I don’t judge those that ask me for help, nor do I condemn them to my egocentric thinking.  On the contrary, I credit their strength and courage to recognize their limits as well as their willingness to stretch outside themselves to push past what they know – into what they don’t know.  And sometimes this means requesting help.  How can I consider this to be a strength in others and yet a weakness in myself?

In order for me to even the playing field, I need to let my ego know that I can not be identified on the basis of my achievements – or lack thereof.  It should also learn that I have no need to always be right, (even though I do really like to be) and that I am superior only to my former self.  I will not concern myself with what others think of me, even if their opinions are valued and loved.  Life is not a game to be won, nor to divide it’s participants into groups of winners and losers based on our own egocentrically driven ideals.

Trust, not control, will determine my course.  Faith in another, not certainty of outcome, will be my guide.  We can’t always know/be/do everything, sometimes we will need help, even if it is just a safe place to express that we can’t always know/be/do everything.  I will apply this understanding to myself and I will be better at asking for help, more direct in my approach and with less consideration to my unfaultering ego. 

The choice is mine.  Now it’s time for a chat with my pride…

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Be Brave… if you feel like it.

Pfizer Canada Inc. has a new campaign.  It’s called “more than medication” and it intends to be instructional on improving your health and wellness beyond just the use of medication.  It’s a brilliant philosophy; one I wish I’d come up with myself!   The site offers a plethora of interactive tools, informative articles and everyday tips that are prepared and presented by an Advisory Board of doctors who are considered leaders in their chosen fields, and on behalf of Pfizer.

You may have seen the commercial for this campaign on TV; with the teenage boy who paints the “Be Brave” graffiti outside the small girl’s bedroom.   It’s a very touching sentiment and truth be told I get a lump in my throat each time I think of his gesture toward her. 

As touching as it is, I also feel some bitterness about the message painted.  We are led to believe that this little girl is quite ill, possibly terminal, and we are telling her to BE BRAVE.  Not asking – commanding.  Basically, buck up little beaver, suck it up and put on your happy face because it’s much too difficult for us to deal with if you’re sad or afraid.  It’ll just be harder on everyone, so it’s better if it’s just harder on you.  (That’s not Webster’s definition but its close) So we force a cloak of courage over her and we throw this little girl into battle as a warrior.  Does she always have to be brave?  Are you always brave?  Is it even healthy to always be brave and courageous?  By toting this jargon over and over again to the ill or downtrodden we imply that to have fear or show sadness is cowardice and weak.   It is implied because we have all learned some associations to our emotions – some are good (positive) and some are bad (negative). 

Really they just are what they are… emotions. We determine what we consider good or bad or acceptable or unacceptable.  There is no great Emotions God in the sky dictating that we treat some emotions with open arms and that we turn our backs in disregard to others.  Granted that some are fun to feel while others are not so much fun, but that doesn’t mean they are bad; or not worth having.  We need to stop deciding for other people what is acceptable for them to feel and what we are willing to tolerate from them.

These associations have been around a lot longer than us, and there are plenty more unconscious associations that we make every day.  Why does it matter?  Each day that you go about your unconscious life you may be unaffected by these associations, but be sure that you affect other people, and sometimes in devastating ways that you aren’t even aware of.

I think I will write to Pfizer and suggest they change the words “Be Brave” into “Today I will be brave for you” or “We’re here” or “You’re loved” or something that doesn’t require our egos dumping a burden of guilt on someone who just might not feel so brave today.  It’s OK to be afraid sometimes, let’s tell her that.

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A woman with no nose.

As a young girl, I would hang around in my grandfather’s workshop daydreaming the hours away.  Above his bench there was a small black cast iron plate that read “I once complained that I had no shoes… until I met a man with no feet”.  Even as a young girl that resonated with me.   My grandfather and his bench have been gone for 30 years, but that simple quote still plays in my head. 

The other day I stood patiently in line for the cashier at the corner Dollar Stop.  An old woman in front of me (moving impossibly slow) had far too many packages and bags for her cane to allow, and not near enough nimbleness of fingers to find her wallet and count out her total in coins, which I knew to be inevitability.  With her back to me, I passed the time imagining her haggard features and the events of her life that led her to this moment in time where she now stood before me and my ultimate freedom from the store.

In one quick second the old woman lost her wallet to the floor and the coins bounced and rolled in all directions.  Instinctively I dropped to the floor to begin the task of retrieval.  I quickly gathered her entire payment into the palm of my hand and gently extended my hand to the woman …whose back was still facing me.   She turned slowly and deliberately, (only later did I consider it a mustering of courage) and the old woman looked me in the face with the gentle eyes of a long lived life. 

There was a white surgical bandage running the length of her face, starting at forehead space between her eyes and stopping just short of her thin and chapped lips.  More startling than the presence of this white bandage was the absence of the bump from her nose.  The bandage was neatly placed, without wrinkle, and placed as smoothly against her skin as it would have been upon a tabletop.  I could hear the insensitive gasps of shoppers behind me and I squared my shoulders to block them from her view.  I kept my eyes locked on hers and with a genuine smile I took her small hand and placed her coins into them.   Her hesitancy broke my heart and in the same moment I suggested that if she was interested in throwing her money away that she might give me a moment to prepare a bag for catching it.  With this small joke the cashier giggled and the old woman smiled and spoke to me for the first time; an offer of thanks and an explanation of age for her clumsy nature.  With that, the old woman was gone and I was left with my silent curiosities and a total abandonment of my earlier impatience.

On the ride home the old woman dominated my thoughts.   Again I considered the events of her life that had led her to this moment.  The courage and strength she must wear out of the safety of her home like a coat and the sheer pleasure of a simple outing to the Dollar Stop.   This was a teachable moment for me.

What I take for granted can sometimes be as obvious as the nose on my face.

~uberscribbler

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This bridge is for you.

I’ve been asked recently, by more than one individual, why I’m doing this project.  The answer to that runs much deeper than a one or two sentence reply.  I do aspire to help people, to be available to them in whatever capacity they need from me, and to educate on the simple cleverness of just being.  However the full truth runs deeper still.  It’s who I am, it’s who I’ve always been.  I’m a traveller… an explorer of humanity and mortality. 

When my father was a young man on the cusp of his adult life, he came across a poem written by Will Allen Dromgoole.  This poem opened in him the truth of who he was and who he wanted to be.  Like my father, I am a bridge builder.

An old man, going a lone highway,
Came at the evening, cold and gray,
To a chasm, vast and deep and wide,
Through which was flowing a sullen tide.
The old man crossed in the twilight dim;
The sullen stream had no fears for him;
But he turned when safe on the other side
And built a bridge to span the tide.

“Old man,” said a fellow pilgrim near,
“You are wasting strength with building here;
Your journey will end with the ending day;
You never again must pass this way;
You have crossed the chasm, deep and wide-
Why build you the bridge at the eventide?”

The builder lifted his old gray head:
“Good friend, in the path I have come,” he said,
“There followeth after me today
A youth whose feet must pass this way.
This chasm that has been naught to me
To that fair-haired youth may a pitfall be.
He, too, must cross in the twilight dim;
Good friend, I am building the bridge for him.”

 ~Will Allen Dromgoole

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Cancer chasing cancer (An excerpt from my journals)

In 2006 I was dying.  I was diagnosed with a voracious and debilitating disease that ate away at my mind, body and spirit.  I was diagnosed with cancer.  Upon hearing my diagnosis, I knew myself to be dead within 24 hours.  I had been forever linked to a new race of people, a casualty of a physical war upon my body with a stigma of epic proportions.  In a matter of moments my identity of strength, health and confidence was wiped clean only to be replaced by weakness, pity and fear.  Total strangers would sigh their pity as I passed them and even my friends and family would avert their eyes from mine as my last eyelash came floating down before them.  I was alone… alone with death.

 

A diagnosis of cancer brings together a combination of two unfortunate diseases in one – a double whammy of stress and strain.  Physical cancer eats away at your cells with the sole intention of your eventual death and emotional cancer attacks your mind and your spirit but is as equally dangerous and unforgiving. 

 

Not all cancers are the same, nor are all emotional impacts, but what I have determined to be true is that if left unchecked and ignored the emotional cancer can be your death… even if your body lives on.  Physical cancer affects you individually; emotional cancer is contagious and can infect those around you.  I have found this cancer, the emotional cancer, to be the most debilitating, the one that caused me the most suffering, and the most widely misunderstood and untreated cancer of them all.

 

We’ve been conditioned to fear cancer, and we do so dutifully.  We fear – we fear what cancer does, we fear the mystery of it, we fear loss of life, incapacitation and loss of control.  We avoid the discussion, we encourage those afflicted to think positive and we turn our loved ones into warriors insisting that they are not trying hard enough should treatment be failing.  Cancer causes suffering, not just for some, but for all who are touched by it.  There may be varying degrees but it’s not just some who struggle with fear and self-pity while others show courage and strength, everyone afflicted will have moments of each; its only the moments that you see them that you may pass judgement and decide for them.  The emotional cancer is a culmination of all the dark feelings as well as the courageous and hopeful feelings all rolling around together competing to come out on top.  Who wins one day is a coin toss really, and each day (or hour for that matter) can be different.  These dark feelings are where our fears are; this is the mystery of cancer. It’s important to know that the cancer itself is not the monster, it’s our perceptions of it that makes it our reality.  Recognizing our feelings and accepting that we will be engulfed in varying emotions from time to time is the first step in understanding the truth about cancer.  Emotions are raw and honest and there is no shame in being human and allowing yourself to feel.  When you understand this truth, then you can begin to teach hope. 

 

~uberscribbler

 

 

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Long overdue thanks.

I have a considerable number of thank you letters to write.  I have always been a procrastinator when it comes to these kinds of tasks, and I’m not certain why I can’t match my good intentions with the will to actually perform the deed. However, I have always had faith in myself that at some point in my life I would make restitution to all that have touched me.  That faith gives me the courage to continue to face the folks closest to me, time and time again.  At this point in my life it seems almost too monumental – and absurdly unfair – to let it go any further. Besides, I’ve learned some things.

gratitude

Last summer I was diagnosed with cancer.  In the months since then, I have been overwhelmed by everyday acts of kindness. They zoom in on me from all directions.   A kindness that I have never known and that has, at times, overshadowed the ugliness of this disease.  The word “kindness” doesn’t quite seem strong enough.  It’s an almost incompetent and somewhat inadequate description.  There is no word applicable or one that has my need for strength of conveyance.  With the exception of perhaps the word truth.  I have seen the inner truth of a lot of people lately, and I’m humbled and awed by the beauty of it.

The truth I have felt most significantly has been that of my parents.  As an adult, I have wrapped myself in the glory of my own family and have forgotten the once upon a time of my youth.  The way in which you love your own children is the way that you are loved.  Denying it or not feeling your parents love does not constitute or guarantee its absence.  I may have grown up and become an adult and a parent, but I did not leave my youth behind as I might have thought.  It has been here, in me and around me, the entire time.  This disease has given me new eyes to watch with, and a new heart to understand with.  The absolute truth of what I know is that your life is not a linear succession of milestones, but a vast circumference of love and memories.  I did not leave home and embark on my own life, home came with me.  Always and undeniably, I am but a child of my parents.  And through the truth of their everlasting strength and indomitable will, I have returned to their clutches for protection from death‘s threat.  Their arms did not open to embrace me, but had been open all along.  I had only to notice it.  There is no reservoir of gratitude deep enough nor wide enough for me to indulge, so however humbly, these are their letters.  I write these knowing that I haven’t the courage to stand before them and acknowledge what they have done for me, or continue to do.

Dear Mom,

Thank you for life.  Thank you for antiseptic on a scraped knee, years of clean clothes, sweet affection and your on-going, endless love.  Thank you for picking me up from school in that rusty-old-barely-red heap of a Toyota that at one time I thought I might die of embarrassment to be seen in.  For I know now that you came for me, it matters not how.  Thank you for the sleepless nights at your sewing machine, so that I might have new clothes for school.  Thank you for using a shampoo that smells of coconuts. When I’m engulfed in your arms, I’m reminded of good times with sunny days on the beach.  Thank you for tirelessly coming to my appointments, for holding my hand through bad news, and for your brave face through my diagnosis.  You have remained positive and courageous in the face of all that is evil to me.

Thank you for loving my children with such reckless abandon.  I have peace that your love will find them regardless of my circumstance.  Thank you for the times that you did not stand up for me.  Your weakness in those moments gave me the courage to stand up for us both, and showed me that in your moments of great courage, I, too, may show weakness.

As a mother myself, I do understand the all-encompassing scope of your feelings for me.  We have a link and a bond untouchable by any two other people in the universe.  You carried me, you loved me shamelessly through my teenage quirks and forced a smile through my most challenging of temperaments.  And through my grief of this disease, you carry me still.

I am so sorry for the tears that have touched your cheeks and the sobs that have kept you awake at night.  It seems a cruel punishment of nature that a mother should ever know the heartbreak that she may have to watch her child die, that you are helpless in preventing it and can only hold me and hope.  For you my greatest tears have been shed, and my greatest grief has been known to me.  I feel your sorrow as I felt with my own child years ago, mixed with the grief I feel in the possibility of a future separated from my children, by my own death.

Your suffering is unbearable to my heart. It consumes and overwhelms me at levels incomprehensible.  I pray silently in your presence for the courage of your strength.  Thank you for never believing that I have become too big to sit in your lap, and for stroking my hair while I cried for myself in your arms.  Thank you for allowing me to be 5 years old with you, everyday of my life.  I love you desperately and I need you more than I tell you.

Your loving daughter.

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Dear Dad,

You have been more to me than my daddy.  You have been my teacher, mentor and friend.  I’m not sure what it is about little girls and their daddy’s, but I would believe anything you told me.  If you told me that I could grab a star from the night sky with my own fingers, I would believe every word, without question.  Because daddy said so, and I am your little kitten.

You have been the strong and vigil pillar of my life, never wavering.  You have plucked me out of danger and protected me from the boogeyman, real or imaginary.  You have been my hero and I have silently worshipped you.  You, the gentleman cowboy, with your mysteriousness and strength, you terrified me and mystified me… both at the same time.

Thank you for my shiny red toboggan, and for pushing my frozen and happy face down snowy hills for hours after your body told you to stop.  Thank you for giving me the room to make my own mistakes, for not handing me the solutions to my problems but turning me out to find them myself.  This has been an invaluable lesson in accountability, one which will find itself on the doorsteps of my children.

Thank you for always being approachable and giving me your undivided attention whether my rants be purposeful or not.  You have shown me great respect and I hope to be as dedicated to the feelings of others, as you have been to mine.  Thank you for never giving in to me, for never doting on me as daddy’s little girl, and for teaching me to face what life gives me with my shoulders up and integrity in my eye.  Thank you for teaching me the value of a soul, and for the kind nature that has been passed down through your genes.

It has never been easy for me to watch you cry, it feels as though the world is coming apart and all that was once secure is now shaken.  I have been selfish.  I have looked to you through a child’s eye for longer than my childhood.  My daddy is just a man.  A good man who weeps in the presence of a broken heart.  Forgive me for not recognizing the truly remarkable man you are, and have always been.

This disease has burdened your heart with such profound sadness and grief, and I am so sorry for it.  What is a daddy to do when he can no longer protect his little girl from the boogeyman?  Especially when that boogeyman creeps in silently in the night and wraps it’s fingers around her throat.  You admitted to me that you had asked that boogeyman to spare your child, and take you in return.  What depth of love you feel for me that you would beg God to die, so that I might live?  A sacrifice of such monumental proportions that my own soul aches confronted with such purity.  I’m ashamed and burdened with my own guilt that at one time I had offered you, for the life of my son.  My utter selfishness condemns my heart. Forgive me, once again.

For all the greatness you have shown me, thank you for the little things as well.  For shaving your head every time I had a round of chemotherapy.  Not because you would be hairless as I have been, but because you would understand that people look at you differently, and that you, like I, would spend time explaining ourselves to the ignorance of strangers.

The universe holds no boundaries for those that love with conviction, and I shall take you with me wherever my journey leads me and I will remain your little kitten, forever.  I love you desperately and need you more than I tell you.

Your loving daughter.

In writing these letters, I have determined that the vehicle of communication was not as important as the message.  So my regret in my lack of courage is superseded by my need to be heard.   Am I too hard on myself considering all the atrocities that we bestow upon ourselves and each other as human beings everyday?  I am no different, striving to find that perfect peace.  As a race we are a work in progress,  and I find it is a very interesting time to be alive.  Would I really want to live in a perfect world?  What revelations and growth would I achieve from eternal peace and harmony? Where would be the adventure and life altering epiphanies?  We struggle so hard, so that we might live.  Actually live.  We face extreme hardship and adversity so that we might experience unprecedented levels of joy and exultation.  The deeper our hurts, the stronger our love.

In facing cancer, my egotistical mind keeps asking why me?  But really, why not me?  This could be my opportunity, maybe it‘s my time to learn, or perhaps it’s my time to teach.  This lesson may not be for me, but for those who love me and are connected to me.

What greater cause of adversity could there be for me,  than to be able to allow those I love to stand beside me in battle with sorrow, so that they might truly appreciate their ability to live and to love.  What greater service could there be?  In the face of what they could lose, they might find again what was once lost to them, and feel the truth of each other.  And in sharing their truths with each other, there may be an awakening in them.  Something that moves beyond them and reaches out in kindness to strangers, this time for no reason other than that their truth must be told.  Hopefully, one day, it will not take death to loom near to teach us to live.  It is a day that I hope to see.  This cancer, my cancer, I’ve come to accept and appreciate.  It is the tool that teaches humility, even if I am the only student today.

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