Strangers, space and stories (or, how I finally made some room)

Sometimes life places people in your path at exactly the right moment, in exactly the right place. A stranger who wants to talk on a plane, or a stranger who’s okay with silence. Sometimes the universe is kind that way. We all know that sometimes that’s not the way it goes, and we deal with those days too.

I was at the market a few weeks ago, picking up some gratitude gifts for the people who would be putting us up on our road trip. I picked up a Jamaican meat patty downstairs, made short work of it, and headed upstairs to say hello to a friend whose art has found more than one home in my house. En route, I passed a man I have known, but not known, since we were kids. 13, to be exact, although he lied about his age way back when. I’ve had pictures of that 13 year old in an album for – well, since I was 13. It never really made sense to me that we somehow made an unspoken agreement that we didn’t know each other. When I moved here, and our paths crossed over the years, and they have often crossed, we never spoke about having met each other. I thought he had forgotten. It was a Grade 8 class trip, and there were many people there. Easy to get lost in the shuffle of memory files.

Well, for whatever reason, I stopped in my tracks this particular Saturday morning, and backtracked. Decided I needed another beef patty. Called him by name, tentatively. Put out a bridge. And in that moment, in a flurry of handshakes, hugs, I’m sorries, and laughter, he crossed the bridge, and we both gained a friend.

Why did it take almost 30 years? How many other misconceptions have hindered relationships? How many of us walk around hogtied by stories we tell ourselves, or that others have told us?

We went for a walk in the woods yesterday, one of those transformative, energizing walks in the woods that creates all sorts of space in one’s head. I’ve been really trying to find my hook for writing for the past couple of weeks and it hasn’t come, until one of many moments that stopped me in my tracks during our walk. I was telling him a story from my past during our walk. A story about regret, a story that still makes me feel shame, a story about treating a stranger poorly. My new friend stopped me. Said ‘Hey. I don’t want you to tell that story again. You don’t need to. It can stay here. And that’s okay.’

Whew. Well, let’s take that lesson and splash it all over my life, shall we? There are so many stories that don’t need to be told again. Stories that don’t make anything richer with their telling, stories that don’t do anything but bring pain up fresh again. Some stories just need to be put away.

And then he did this, after a good feed of leftover Indian food:

Everything in its place.

Everything in its place.

And there it was. Space created. Sure. It’s a napkin and a jewelry bag, probably with a bit of curry on it somewhere. But it was a powerful image. Put those stories in here, he said. That small little space is where they can live. You, though. You live out here. Look at all that room.

Yeah. I think that’s where I’ll live.

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Basket therapy, bits and pieces, and what we leave behind

I put together a couple of baskets this morning (well, rubbermaid containers that were supposed to be baskets) of donations for the women’s shelters in town, following my sister’s lead and rallying my friends to contribute. We had been asked to contribute essential and non-essential objects so that the women who received these baskets would feel safe and taken care of, but also treated. So, along with the cleaning supplies and dish towels there is chocolate and nice hand cream, candles and blankets. Well, somehow this exercise got me thinking about essential and non-essential items in my life, and this got me thinking about how my sister and I have been making fun of my mother for cleaning out her house and cleaning out her little baskets of memories. How we’ve tried to make her feel that, because she’s giving us her framed photos of ourselves as youngsters, she is somehow unsentimental. And then I started thinking about the little piles of rocks around her house, and the little piles of random objects that decorate my windowsills. I am shamelessly sentimental. Always have been, and it’s gotten me into trouble on more than one occasion. But I don’t buy school photos every year for my boys. I don’t save their work from year to year. I don’t have an outfit from when they were babies saved away, ready to be offered to them when they’re adults.

Absolutely non-essential items. But the art made with dried berries and wire, and the 'ring holder' made out of wood and a nail by my youngest are priceless to me. The brass pitcher that once belonged to my Nanny, and the crystal, yet to be hung up, given to me with a hug from one of my beautiful friends, are also in this pile-up, each of immense value to me. How would I put things like this in a will?

Absolutely non-essential items. But the art made with dried berries and wire, and the ‘ring holder’ made out of wood and a nail by my youngest are priceless to me. The brass pitcher that once belonged to my Nanny, and the crystal, yet to be hung up, given to me with a hug from one of my beautiful friends, are also in this pile-up, each of immense value to me. How would I put things like this in a will?

I save the weirdest things. And I have to wonder if those things will have value to anyone else when I’m gone. Likely not.

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Bits of bone and beauty, and stories told.

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Beeswax and boxes, and stones skipped by my son, who doesn’t concentrate on very much for very long, but who can skip stones for hours on end.

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Wood collected by my youngest that we both agree looks like a bird, sitting beside alabaster eggs that I know sit in a far-away friend’s home as well, memories of our climb up the Tower of Pisa and a wonderful get-away.

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Small round pebbles and slate shaped like daggers, and my youngest’s voice conjured up from years ago: ‘Mama, look how round (pronounced ‘wound’) they are!’

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Sweetgrass, sage, and healing.

Some of the things that have the most value to me have absolutely no monetary value to speak of, and likely hold little or no meaning to most people who would hold them in their hands.

This got me thinking about what we leave behind. What I will leave behind. What I came up with is that it won’t be things. I don’t have many things to give away that anyone else would value. The sad thing is that all of these treasures I hold so dear will likely, whenever I leave this earth, get put in a box or a bag and gotten rid of, because who wants to hold on to bits of wire with age-old dried berries on it, anyway? My kids will likely say things like ‘why did Mom have so many rocks all over the place??’ Or, ‘What’s with all the sticks standing up in corners?’ My estate will be very different.

Which is why I taught my boys how to dance the other night. I wish I had taken a picture of it; I couldn’t. I was busy teaching them how to put just-so-much pressure on my lower back, and how to hold my hand just-so so that they could lead. We had fun, and we will practise, and they will hopefully, some day, ask some lucky person to dance on a dimly-lit dance floor, and know what they’re doing. And they’ll remember that their Mom loved to dance. My Dad taught me to dance when I was young. It worked. I’m paying that forward.

Amongst the other lessons I learned this past week, because there seems to be something to learn around every corner these days, was how to teach my child how to say he was sorry. We had a rough morning last week. Someone woke up with his nose seriously out of joint, and I was tired, and it was early, and it was his brother’s birthday and he was really out of line, and so I jumped right into that fire and fought it with fire, big loud Mama voice, threats, consequences sentenced, escalation all over the place, tears, you name it. Totally pointless. I was exasperated, and wasn’t finding any files as to how to make anything better. I started reading. And what I found inspired something so simple, really. How do I teach my kid how to say he’s sorry? How does he learn what a real apology sounds like? How will he ever learn to recognize the difference between a forced ‘check-the-box’ apology and a genuine, heartfelt ‘I’m sorry.’? What a revelation. Model that sh*t. So I phoned my child at his Dad’s, because that’s where he was by the time this revelation struck. Asked him if he had a minute. Told him I was upset. That I had lost my temper and that I needed to apologize because I should have waited until we had both calmed down to address consequences for the poor behaviours. Told him I shouldn’t have raised my voice at him. Told him that I loved him. Asked him if he accepted my apology. Which he did.

And I thought there. That’s something I can leave behind. The essentials. They’re not objects, but there are some real essential things I want them to take from me. We’ll start this week with dancing and saying you’re sorry. And we’ll go from there. And I’ll continue to collect my rocks and memories.