Monday, November 28, 2005

personality colours

It’s amazing how we can spend weeks, months even, within routine - experiencing predictable, familiar emotions - and suddenly something happens and the palette with which we colour our lives is changed. Or all the colours seem to be a different shade.

This has been a month of grieving. It has coloured my life and changed how I understand myself, family and some of the complexities of our ties.

Grandpa’s funeral is today. But I am back in Ottawa and I am very aware of the 3,000 kilometres that separates me from the rest of my family. It would be undeniably difficult to be there - I realized this week how hard it is for me to be around people expressing intense emotions. But not being there for the funeral, being back in my world where no one knew my Grandpa and few know if his passing, makes his death less tangible. It’s like the emotions of the funeral can’t reach me when I’m so far away.

And yet it was not until I came home, this home, and was in the arms of my man that I began to cry a week’s worth of tears. Their pressure was like water on a dam – pushing so hard behind my eyes that I had a headache. It was not til I was two provinces away that I could relive my last visit to Grandpa’s deathbed and cry for his parting.

How and when do we experience emotions? Am I discovering it is not so obvious as I once thought. It is not always immediate; it is not limited to a place or time.

The last morning at Mum’s house I picked a book off the shelf about the enneagram ( This ancient system distinguishes 9 different personality types, yet allows for wonderful flexibility and uniqueness within each type. I was flipping through the book and stopped to read a portion about my type. It was as if my experience of the past week was summed up in two paragraphs - how I need to feel safe in order to experience and express my emotions, how I can become distant when confronted with intensely expressed feelings from others…

This last week I saw how differently members of my family experienced and reacted to emotions. An event so heavy and significant as death was a pressure-cooker environment where everyone’s personality was in its full intensity. At times I wondered if we would be more compassionate to each other if we could understand each other the way we understand ourselves. Someone once said, ‘If we made as many excuses for others as we do for ourselves, we would be much less quick to judge.’

Sometimes I think I spend too much time navel-gazing – trying to understand why and how I react to things the way I do. But then I think that if we could all could understand ourselves better we might be able to communicate more clearly to each other and see each other’s true colours less filtered by our own lenses.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

grieving, part II

Wednesday night, a week after being admitted to hospital, Grandpa passed away. He had been ready to go for days, but his strong heart kept beating as the life-force inside him - a force that had carried him over 95 years - would not so easily give up the fight. And we had stood around his bed, caught in the complexities of grief. Each in our own way trying to say good-bye.

I had arrived in time to see him. He said my name and took my hand - his grip still so strong. He had shrunk to a pale shadow of himself - except for those strong hands.

Words fail in times like this.

But what we wanted most was for him to be at peace. "We're all okay here, Dad," my mother said, touching his gaunt face. "You can rest." See, even until the end he wanted to care for his family. Though it was often hard to understand his words in his final days, we'd realize he was telling us to go home, get something to eat, get some sleep. He waited til he was alone to slip away. As if he could not sleep til he knew everyone else was asleep as well.

I remember when my Grandma, his wife Violet, passed away. He stood beside her coffin in the funeral home and looked at the family sitting in the chapel. You are all here because of her, he said to us. And I looked around at aunts and uncles, cousins and their children. All of this life, here in this room, came from the two of them.

He and Grandma were the roots of our family tree. A firm foundation. He, so strong, dependable. A man of faith and goodness. Family is often difficult and spending time together not always easy. But it was never difficult to go visit Grandpa. I never felt judged, though I knew he was concerned for my well-being. We would talk a little. He would serve tea and cookies or sweets. His presence was peaceful. Kind.

He told my Mum that he had lived a full life and that it was his time. No one could, in good conscience, try to hold him back. He died surrounded by the life he founded. I am grateful for his life-blood in me and his example of goodness and strength.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Go in peace

I'm still grieving my great-uncle who passed away earlier this month. His death was not sudden or unexpected, but the finality of it is still sinking in. I still see him in my dreams and cry hot tears that I will never again see him awake.

And now, today, I will be flying home to Saskatchewan to say good-bye to his dying brother, my grandfather. This too is not sudden - though not as expected since, while his health has been deteriorating, not so long ago he still seemed strong. I was sure I would see him when I came home for Christmas. Now I don't think I can wait so long.

To be honest, I haven't cried yet - though I'm sure there will be plenty of that in this coming week. It's strange when one grief is added to another - somehow they both seem diminished though the combined weight increased.

My grandpa is 95-years old. Mum says he is ready to go. He is tired. He has been in pain for months. He recently had to sell his home, lose his independence, the activities he enjoyed. I don't think anyone in the family can begrudge him his death. 'Go in peace,' pastors and priests often say at the end of service. My grandpa has attended church regularly for most of his life; perhaps that is what he is hearing now: 'Go in peace.'

That would be my greatest wish for him right now. I hope his faith is being rewarded with a certainty that he goes to a better place. Those in my family who believe the same will also be comforted. I'm not sure what happens after death, but if Grandpa's faith can give him peace now, make the parting easier, then I am grateful for it.

Faith. Hope. Peace. Love. ... in so many ways I am coming to understand that, at the end of the day, they are all that really matter.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

uninformed kindness

I received one of those 'Irish blessings' emails yesterday - which I was supposed to forward to as many people as I knew within the next hour so that my wish would come true!!! I immediately forwarded it to the trash file.

I'm sure I'm not the only one who can't stand such emails - and why is it they always seem to come from people who would never write me otherwise? I don't usually have to think twice about how I handle them - except to restrain myself from firing off a reply requesting to be dropped from that person's contact list.

But then I got this email - from a trusted friend.

Subject: FW: Very you know her ?????????

Let's keep this one moving. It only takes a couple of seconds to forward and God works in mysterious ways.

P. S. If you have a second I'm sure she would appreciate your prayers.

Subject: Do you recognize this girl?

This little girl is at the Phuket Hospital in Thailand.

She does not remember her own name or anything! She has lost her parents.

She must be of Western origin. She was a victim when she got caught in the tidal wave disaster in Phuket, Thailand and nobody knows who she is, so we are hoping if we distribute this email around the world someone will know her.

Please don't break the chain, your contribution could be the one that solves this little girls problem. Please forward this to all your contacts.

The email was followed by contact info of a sergeant in Perth, Australia. Not sure if this was a hoax, I sent him an email to find out if it was legit. He replied surprisingly quickly to say this was real, but that the little girl had been reunited with relatives in January. He apologized for any inconvenience.

Further research has told me that this girl's name is Sophia Minhl. Though her parents were never found after the tsunami disaster, she is being cared for by relatives in Germany.

German officials are asking people to stop forwarding the letter. Sophia and another boy child were successfully identified through email campaigns and by photos posted on the Phuket hospital web site. I imagine that while families are grateful for the world-wide compassion that helped reunite them with their children, they probably wish they could find a way to put an end to a sort of out-of-control cyber kindness.

A website - - says child find chain letters are often based on real events, but while they may have successful results in the short term, they are so compelling that they continue to circulate long after they are useful - and eventually become problems of their own.

Even the friend who forwarded this to me said, "I am not sure it this is real, but it looks like it is. Better safe than sorry, so pass it on." Everyone means well. But these letters can turn in to monsters - see the story about the boy with cancer who asked for greeting cards

I don't want to be critical - but this seems just another example of uninformed kindness - like aid money that is thrown away on unfeasible or unsustainable projects because those responsible did not take the time to do the leg work before signing the cheque. Or the extreme example - which may be far too generous to even call kindness - when the American forces dropped 37,000 ration packs with peanut butter and strawberry jam on Afghanistan. As Indian novelist, Arundhati Roy wrote in an 2001 article for the Guardian: "Aid workers have condemned it as a cynical, dangerous, public-relations exercise. They say that air-dropping food packets is worse than futile. First, because the food will never get to those who really need it. More dangerously, those who run out to retrieve the packets risk being blown up by landmines. A tragic alms race.

Like many others, I think it is important to give - time, money, resources, etc - but IMHO our generosity and kindness have to be informed. Otherwise our efforts are at best wasteful and at worst insulting and dangerous.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

girl talk

As I do not have an internet connection at home, in order to get on-line I often end up at the local Bridgehead café. For $1.75 I get a medium cup of fair trade coffee and a wireless connection. This isn't the most economic way to use the Internet, but it has the added benefit of getting me out of my small basement apartment and providing some excellent people watching opportunities.

Today, watching the conversations around me, I am reminded of how much I enjoy watching women communicate. I'm not saying men don't talk - but women make up the majority of those who are visiting over a cup of coffee or tea here. Strains of their conversations float around the room, but without concentrating I cannot follow a single strand. Instead, I watch the language of their bodies.

... two women who look to be in their mid-thirties are chatting animatedly over tea in the far corner. Their bodies mimic each other - in the way they lean in, rest their arms on the table or sit back to laugh. Beside them, an older woman with a purple sweater and smooth grey hair seems to be counseling a young woman, perhaps in her 20s. She is leaning in, her elbow on the table and her face resting in her hand. Her whole body communicates earnestness, respect. The older woman's hands flutter and gesture - as if drawing the contours of her phrases....

It's hard to find the right word - but I almost want to say it is comforting to watch these conversations. Seeing expressions of concern, empathy, joy... Even if I am not actually part of these conversations, they reach me and in a sense communicate some goodness to me as well.

Monday, November 14, 2005

inspired by the Yes Men

In my last entry I asked how I can bring peace. Sometimes I feel my arms, my reach, is so small...

Then I watched 'The Yes Men' last night - a documentary about a few very ballsy guys who practice "identity correction". Their website - - defines this as:
"Honest people impersonate big-time criminals in order to publicly humiliate them. Targets are leaders and big corporations who put profits ahead of everything else."

The Yes Men name comes from funny-house mirrors where reality is exaggerated to the point that it becomes hilarious or grotesque. Passing themselves off as members of WTO, these guys gave speeches and did tv and press interviews around the world. With intelligent, dark satire they advocate for corporate and economic power. What seems to amaze them, and likely most people watching their movie, is how so many people sat through their lectures and interviews and did not notice the monstrous and often bizarre image reflected back at them.

At the end of a long series of FAQs on their site, someone asks the Yes Men if, with all their pranks and odd activit they think what they are doing is making a difference. They reply, "
We guesstimate that it is, somehow, somewhere. At least it’s better than sitting on our asses waiting for the world to change on its own."

I like that. It's always inspiring to meet or hear about those who refuse to be small and do something big. These guys managed to reach globally and they have not only been successful in embarrassing large corporations and the WTO, they recently held DOW's feet to fire over the Bhopal disaster in India - see

Sometimes I feel so helpless. Other times I feel so inspired. I want to change the world and then recognize the egotism and naivety of that desire.

At the end of the day, at least you want to feel like you've made some sort of difference? Don't you?

Friday, November 11, 2005

How to build peace??

Veterans are being honoured across Canada today. Even though its past 11:00, people coming in to the coffee shop I'm at are still wearing poppies. CBC Radio has been broadcasting interviews with vets, stories about vets, stories about war... This morning the new Governor General was among the many dignitaries laying wreaths at the Cenotaph near Parliament Hill.

When I worked in the Reserves I used to enjoyed participating in Remembrance Day parades - even though, being in Saskatchewan, it was always cold and the roads we marched on in our thin-soled dress-boots were slippery with ice and snow. Inevitably someone would forget his or her gloves and so, for the sake of uniformity, we would all march with bare hands in biting winds. But I like the solemnity of the services and the respects paid to the old men and women wearing berets and military decorations pinned on jackets too big for their stooped frames.

Our veterans made great sacrifices and too many died. They deserve to be honoured. But while I have great respect for them, I wish, wish, wish the focus we gave to the war today would fuel a greater drive to prevent future conflict and bring peace to existing ones.

'The World at War' lists 39 ongoing conflicts in the world. How many hundreds, thousands of people will die in these conflicts before the next November 11th? Will they be honoured with marching bands, wreaths and speeches in years to come? Or will they just become statistics, forgotten victims of global political and power struggles?

And how can I, sitting here in my little world, do anything to change their fate??

If you know, could you tell me?

Thursday, November 10, 2005

take your flu shot and stick it

So after writing about expectations, dying, grief... here's something a little more innocuous:

a.k.a. the flu shot.

I've never had one before this year. When I get sick, which isn't often, I trust my home remedies of rest, lots of water, oregano oil and a few hot toddies. But for the first time in my life I have a 'family doctor' and she is an intimidating woman with a Czech accent and a no-nonsense face. She pointed out that while I may be healthy enough to fight off a flu, I could infect others around me. "You must think about the public good," she said and my socialist heart fluttered.

So I let her assistant prod my left arm, swab it with alcohol then plunge a needle into the muscle.

"Will I get flu symptoms?" I asked.
"Oh no. This won't even hurt. You won't feel a thing."

Hmm. For the record - that night I had a fever and felt quite flu-ish: chills, lethargy, no appetite, etc. My arm, which hurt when she jabbed it, ached the rest of the day and into night. And here's the real good part - two weeks later - it still hurts! I'm not kidding (and I'm not a wimp either, well, not really). I can still tell exactly where she jabbed me and there is a nagging discomfort in the muscle.

Did you know there is mercury in the flu shot? Maybe next time I'll just break a thermometre and suck on that for awhile.

Ok, I'm being a bit dramatic. But for anyone out there debating the flu shot this year - don't let the avian flu panic infect you. Even World Health Organization officials admit the best we can do is wash our hands. (I love these reports: doom! doom! death! millions infected!!!... prevention? well, wash your hands.)

You may have elderly or frail people in your life you want to protect by immunizing yourself. That's great. All for the public good I am. But let's keep things honest at least.

The flu shot is not painless.
The flu shot does not guarantee you won't get sick - it may even make you sick.

So the next time my steely doctor and her jabbering assistant try talking me into getting shot for the greater public good I'll tell them just where they can put that needle.... yeah, you know.

Well, okay... probably I'll just roll up my sleeve like a good girl and grit my teeth. Then go home and make a hot toddy and put an ice pack on my arm.

Monday, November 07, 2005

anticipating 31

I've learned as I've gotten older that the best way to avoid disappointment is to lower my expectations. I'm a bit of a dreamer and I used to spend far too much time anticipating how lovely a holiday, birthday, celebration, party, date, relationship... would be. And I would inevitably end up disappointed.

But the problem now with keeping myself perpetually un-anticipating is that I seem to have lost a bit of that fun, childish excitment. My birthday is tomorrow and for the first time in years I actually have reasons to look forward to it. I have a lovely man and good friends to celebrate with. My mother has already sent a couple little gifts I can open when I wake up... But I don't feel anything besides a vague contentment. Of course there is something about celebrating less then a week after my great-uncle died, but more than that I think the effort over the last few years to suppress any anticipation.

Is this really the secret to happiness - live fully in the moment and not in the future or past? What if part of living in the present is to savour the anticipation of future pleasure?

By not anticipating that my birthday would be anything particularly special this year, I didn't bother to invite friends till late this afternoon. You could say I didn't put any effort into making it special. Keeping expectations low means I didn't really try.

There must be a balance here between expectations that drive you to achieve more, build better, etc and those that lead to disappointment. I'm thinking I may have gone too far on the side of lowering my hopes. I no longer really think I'll get published, so I'm not sending out much stuff. I don't expect friendships to last, so I don't put much work into them. I even wonder sometimes if I am holding out in my relationship since there is that voice in the back of my head telling me not to expect too much, not to really expect him to still be around when things get bad, grow old....

So I think I've found my resolution for my 31st year:
Dare to hope a bit more
Risk more. Strive more. Dream big.
Disappointment be damned.

Friday, November 04, 2005


My great-uncle passed away yesterday. And though it's not a surprise, the finality of it all is hard to grasp. I know he's is gone, but I can't stop wishing to see him again. To talk to him. To have his voice waiting on my answering machine: 'It's Uncle Henry. Nothing urgent, just calling to say...'

I know that so much in life is fleeting - it just seems so unfair. Life isn't fair, my mother used to say. And like I child I want to stomp my feet and demand it to be so. It's not fair that my uncle was taken away when I was only getting to know him. How is it that someone who brought into my life such love, acceptance, support, and encouragement be already gone? Gone.

Yes, I know. I have the memories. I have a photograph of him standing in a shaft of sunlight by the mulberry tree at his farm... But memories can't replace him - there are such a dim, small shadow of his life.

Still, I will treasure those memories. I'll be grateful for them, grateful for him. I'll cry a little yet still feel blessed.

Blessed to have, however briefly, walked on this earth with him.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

for my great-uncle, dying

I don't know if you're already gone. This sadness I've felt for the last two days tells me you will not be here much longer, if you have not already left...

How to say good-bye when I'm 500 miles away?

The last time I saw you, I knew it was the last - but the room was full of people and I didn't want to seem pessimistic. Hard to say 'I know I'll never see you again so I must say good-bye now'. But I did now and that knowledge was breaking me inside, but I didn't want to cry right then - under bright lights and family eyes.

I also wanted to keep hoping that you would find the strength to fight. I though if I said good-bye you would think I didn't believe you could make it. Torn between the truth and an encouraging lie, my honesty and my words failed me.

In the months that followed, I thought maybe I'd been wrong. Maybe you could pull through and I was thinking about how nice it would be to get to visit you again. Go down to your farm in Indiana, which you call the halls of liberty - where time doesn't matter and the days slip by with music (of course, always music), crossword puzzles, walks with Sandy-dog, chess games and your anecdotes, quotes, erudite tidbits of wit and information. Before going to bed you would say good-night and tell me not to stress. My reply would be, as always is, 'there is no stress here'. Outside there would be a silence deep with peaceful sounds - leaves rustling, trees sighing... and in the morning a chorus of birds and you, already awake, listening to the news in the kitchen...

I've only really known you a little over a year and am so grateful to have had the chance - and yes, a little angry that it's over so soon. You were already 84 when I met you (when you'd see a recent photo of yourself you'd ask who the old goat is). A car accident and a wreck of complications... these have taken what time you may have had left. But I can't feel cheated because I have been truly blessed to know you. You have been a source of such generous support and I can only hope, can only pray with every inch of my being that in your last moments on this earth you will know how much you were loved and how dearly you will be missed.