Closing the door on 2013 (Or, why I am purchasing a lovely clean-slate calendar for 2014)

 

This morning I awoke to temperatures of a balmy 51 degrees below zero with the wind chill. It is one of those days to which we in the North are accustomed, and which we sometimes take for granted. It is breathtakingly cold, and breathtakingly beautiful. There is a special kind of stillness to a day like today. The sun sits low in the sky and casts long shadows wherever there is room to do so. The ground is blanketed in blue-white snow, still pristine in the morning, an untouched slate waiting to be marked by the day’s happenings, which, on a day like today, promise to be short-lived and few. The sky is unapologetically blue, unfazed by the cold that is keeping all of us indoors. People bundle up only if they have to, hurrying, hunched over, to their cars and coaxing them into life, fingers crossed and hoping for the best. Even my dog, Frida, who is unstoppable in the outdoors, refuses to stay out there for longer than about 15 seconds. It is cold.

Copying others’ experiments with what happens to water in this kind of cold, I headed outside with my boys, a friend and her son, to experiment for ourselves. It had warmed up a bit at that point (to a cozy minus 41, I believe) and so we really weren’t sure what would happen. The experiment took all of ten seconds, but the image captured by my friend spoke to me on levels more than those scientific. This image is, in some ways, symbolic of how I see the end to this year, and the beginning of the new one. Today, I say goodbye to 2013. To all of the sharp, unpredictable, beautiful moments this past year has held. They happened, they are over, and I am looking forward to seeing what the new year brings. Image

I realized earlier today that I have not purchased a calendar for 2014. This is something I generally do in advance, and I don’t think it’s without significance that I haven’t done it yet this year. On some level, I realize, I don’t know if I will fill all of those blank months. I guess I will go into every new year with some uncertainty from this point forward. I suppose we, all of us, do.

Negativity and pessimism are enemies of mine right now, and so in the interest of positivity, I am going to force myself to venture out in this cold today, to pick out a calendar with my boys. And I hope to fill it, day by day, with moments of wonder like that experienced today.

From my cozy house to yours, Happy New Year to all of you. May your year be wondrous, and your calendars full.

Advertisements

Guest post: From a friend (Or, why it’s okay to feel a little J-Lo when it says ‘sisu’)

For my birthday, celebrated a couple of weeks ago, my stoic Finnish friend gave me a very cool gift.

The necklace reads 'Sisu', and my BFF couldn't have timed this gift better. Sometimes we need reminders.

The necklace reads ‘Sisu’, and my BFF couldn’t have timed this gift better. Sometimes we need reminders.

And then she sent me this. Also very, very well timed. From the friend who always, no matter what, helps me redefine ‘normal’, who finishes my sentences for me, who laughs at my jokes, who celebrates my successes and supports me when I fail, and for whom I would drop everything, bare my teeth and roar if she needed it.

(Thanks, Tee-Tee.)

Sisu

Grit. Guts. Determination.

And so much more. It’s a Finnish term that is hard to translate. Sisu is about taking action against all odds. It’s about displaying courage in the face of adversity.  It’s about sticking to a plan after failing. It’s strength of will.

Many years before Tanya’s diagnosis I made “onesies” for our sons that had the word sisu on them.  It was symbolic, on some level, I am sure. But mostly kinda cute. I think it was simply me stamping a bit of my limited Finnish culture on the myriad of baby stuff happening in our lives.

Fast forward to the day Tanya told me she had cancer. Of course I was with her the days leading up to it. We talked about the possibility that it could be cancer. And I chose to believe it could never happen to her (or any of us for that matter). But it did. And the world kept spinning.  And spinning. And I kept saying (to myself and her) this is temporary, you will get through this. You are strong. You’ve got sisu. And sure, we can whisper things like you’ve got sisu and not really mean it, but I meant it. Tanya has shown me strength I have never seen before. She has been incredibly gracious—I have yet to see a “poor-me” moment. She educated herself about the illness, and stuck to her plan: she would not be swayed from getting a bilateral mastectomy; would only rely on pain meds for a short period of time; was determined to get through chemotherapy her own way, complete with wigs and giggles. And above all else, which I can’t imagine ever doing, she was willing to publicly share her story, with all its gritty details, in the hope that it would help others on a similar journey.

Knowing Tanya, I am not super surprised that there are people whom Facetime her early in the morning seeking her consul, or that people stop her in the mall and tell her she’s an inspiration. It’s really not that surprising because she has always been a standup person in a crisis: be it a baby whisperer who arrives late at night when you are exhausted and on the floor wanting to give up, or the person you meet for coffee because your marriage is dissolving. She personalizes your pain. You see it in her eyes. She understands. She empathizes. She’s got your back. And that is why I think so many of us were willing to be her tigers during this journey. Because she has been a tiger for so many of us over the years: roaring on our behalf when need be. And now, despite her own question marks and her own pain, she continues to roar for others. She continues to be available to share her time, her insight, and her self so that others can travel this road of uncertainty with a friend by their side. And to me, that means traveling with sisu by their side.

Fixed identity crisis – or, why this is just as good a time as any to change the way I think.

A friend of mine came to town for a visit awhile back and arrived with a couple of lovely gifts: a long letter enclosed in a thoughtful card, some brie cheese infused with truffle (!!), and a book entitled “Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change”. Obviously, my post-chemo, radiated brain zoned in greedily on the cheese, which was nothing short of amazing. I have a special relationship with cheese. And truffles? Don’t get me started. This girl knew what would cheer me up! 

Throughout chemo and radiation I found it impossible to read. I could handle magazines, but my brain was just not focused enough to start on any of the piles of books that people so kindly brought over after I was diagnosed, knowing how much time I was going to have on my hands. I am normally a voracious reader, and those who have been in my home know that there are no rooms here without some form of reading material piled up in a corner, on shelves, atop the piano, beside my bed, on the bathroom counter, etc, etc. We are a book family. It has bothered me to be away from it, and I’ve actually wondered lately if my taste for reading was going to abandon me forever, if I was permanently changed this way. 

Just this past week, I’ve been slowing down when I walk past these piles of unread stories, and have picked one or two up, trying to decide what exactly I can handle right now, when I curl up to lose myself in someone else’s story for awhile. No cancer stories, nothing super heavy, something to wake my mind up. I came across the book Living Beautifully and decided to kill some time flipping through it while I figured out what I was actually going to read, and within minutes, I had my yellow stickies out, and armed with my pencil I was woken up, quite literally, and startled back into reading because this may just be the best-timed read of my life. (Yes, I have already thanked my friend.)

One thing that has happened in me over the course of the past nine months is a desperate need to clear my head of anything negative. To slough off any superfluous shit, for lack of a better word, and to let go of some pretty heavy baggage I’ve been carrying around for years. We all have it. It’s heavy, it slows us down, and sometimes it keeps us from being free to move in different directions. Sometimes those bags are so big they stop us from going through doors. Sometimes we curl up around those bags, longing for something they once held. Sometimes they’re so exhausting they stop us, completely, from moving forward. 

An expression I’ve used a lot as of late is ‘putting someone in a box’. We all do this to a certain extent. Sometimes we do it out of ignorance; sometimes we do it out of fear. Sometimes it’s a defence mechanism; others it’s possibly our best offence. When we put people in boxes it’s safe. Very black-and-white. No further thought required. We don’t have to question our own thoughts, our own motives. We can do this to others, defining how we see them, and therefore how we react to them. We can put ourselves in a proverbial box as well, limiting ourselves to descriptors and characteristics that fit into that box with us. 

Realizing you’re guilty of this is painful. Scary. Risky. I’ve been trying for several months now to articulate how intense it has been for me to literally change the way I see the world and the people around me because I’ve decided to let go of my past. And it’s really, really hard. It is impossible to explain, or so I thought. 

And then this book. 

The concept of ‘fixed identity’ and how a crisis (like Cancer, maybe) can take the first blow at your fixed identity was explored in the first chapter, and I was hooked. Someone was talking my language. It talks of ego-clinging, of unmasking, of taking off our armour, of tolerating uncertainty and opening ourselves up to new ways of thinking. 

And it’s terrifying. 

And exciting. 

I daresay that no one who has been treated for Cancer would tell you they came out at the other end of treatment unchanged. Perhaps some would say it changed them for the worse. Some may cling to their fixed identity fuelled by the need to feel ‘normal’, meaning the same as they were before. I maintain that within this experience, this long, isolating, painful, scary experience, there lies the potential for real growth. Not the tumour kind. But real growth. I once heard a grown man inform someone that he was done with counselling. Had done that work. 

With this new, changed perspective, I am realizing that I hope I am never done this work. We are all works in progress, as I have said before. I know I still have a lot of work to do. I hope I get the time to do it. 

For now, I’ll start by turning the page.Image

Today was the first day I went out in public with nothing on my head. Why not a media conference?

Video

I was asked to share my experience about chemotherapy at a media launch for a fundraising campaign today. I’ve been trying to figure out the right time to leave my house without a toque for a few weeks now; today felt like the right time. Kinda forgot about the whole news media thing.