Community

One morning I was at the Library bookstore donating a couple of books. I noticed that the three people helping out at the store were all volunteers. I asked them about volunteering there. They were of course very helpful giving me information, a volunteer application form, and telling me when exactly the person who interviews potential volunteers comes in. During the conversation, I mentioned that I have been volunteering at London Hospice for two years and have very much enjoyed it. I said that I wanted to volunteer in more places. I said that I love books and have worked in bookstores and for the library in the past. As I left I wished them a good day.

Later, after lunch, I decided to meditate for a bit. During my sit the aforementioned conversation at the bookstore popped up, as did my words about Hospice. I started to think about community. Hospice community. Something that has always  been in my awareness from the very first time I walked into the hospice to speak with my friend and fellow meditation leader was the incredible warmth and positive atmosphere. I felt humbled and honored when she asked me to be one of the leaders of a drop-in meditation group.

As I sat there on the cushion, my heart opened wide as the drop-in meditation group came to mind. And then I knew. I had to write a post here about community and what it means to me. With this realization I felt peace. Well-being. I found myself visualizing the people in the group and the quiet, welcoming space where we meditate, the ever-present warm atmosphere, and the sense of safety there. By safety I mean the fact that everyone feels free to share what is real to them, their innermost feelings, their life experiences, and the effect that being part of this group has on them.

So what do we do in this group? It’s simple really. We usually begin with a guided meditation, then take a break to grab a coffee and/or snack from the kitchen area and return to the meditation room for some social time together, usually followed by a bit more meditating or a reading. If we feel so inclined, we share what has arisen for us during the meditation.

Some of these people have been attending for years. This group, as I mentioned, is drop-in: volunteers, staff, those who are dying, their caretakers, and people who are grieving. There is trust here. Complete trust and great caring for each other and for ourselves. To each and every one of us: We matter. And the atmosphere? Positive. Life affirming.

There is only one other time that I have experienced all of this with a group; it was with my Buddhist teacher Yeshe Wangpo’s students many years ago. That is the group that I wrote about in my post: The Retreat. We cared. We trusted. We shared. We went on picnics together, enjoyed pot-luck’s, supported each other through the rough times, and experienced retreats as a group.

During this meditation it was more of a feeling thing. I continued  meditating for a little bit and then chose to end the sit. I walked over to my computer, sat down, and began to write:

What is community to me? This drop-in group at Hospice exemplifies what it is all about: caring, trust, honesty, open-heartedness, safety, sharing what is important, and complete acceptance. Our differences only seem to enhance our experience together; there is way more that is the same. If I step on a stone it hurts. Sometimes I feel anger. I need food to live. I want to be happy. So do we all. I guess it’s kind of like the “Ten Thousand Things” spoken of in the ancient, fourth century Chinese text, the Chuang Tzu. We are all our individual selves, but we are also part of the whole. The whole can’t exist without its individual parts and the parts necessarily need to be part of the whole. I guess that another way of putting it is that the parts enhance the whole just as the whole enhances the parts.

Perhaps there is a bit of a message here? What a world we would have if everyone on the planet could be like all of us as we are with each other. A community. The best of what we as human beings can be: Loving. Caring. Sharing. Helping. Compassionate.

Community is about friendly. My neighbourhood feels like that. Where I live it is the norm for people to say good morning as they pass each other. Very special. In other neighbourhoods in the city where I live, the norm is to avert ones eyes, look down, askance, anything but to make eye contact. And to say hello? Umm…lots of strange reactions to that one. Some people can’t get away fast enough when that happens. Some people act as if you’re not there, as if you didn’t say “Good Morning.” Some people speed up the second you have passed. Let me get this straight. I’m definitely not scary looking, unless you’re a mouse or some such thing.  And then, go ahead, skitter away. I would too.

I feel blessed to have so many wonderful neighbours. A couple of them I have become very close to over the last few years. I take care of their house and garden when they are away on holidays. I don’t drive. They do things like drive me to the train station when I’m heading out of town for a day of fun, or give me a ride to somewhere I need to go. I don’t do it because I have to. They don’t do it because they have to. We just do it. It’s what neighbours do. Community. Very, very special.

One of our neighbours invites everyone in the community to their house for a giant picnic on Canada Day. How cool is that! It has become quite an event on our street. They drop invitations in mailboxes and post invites throughout the neighbourhood. More than once I have found myself smiling as I walk down our street to catch a bus and notice one of the invitations posted on a pole.

I bumped into Martha awhile ago as she was walking a dog. She doesn’t have a dog; she was helping out another neighbour who was away.

Someone else who lives nearby stopped me one day. She needed to unload. She needed an ear. She had just supported a friend who was going through a very rough time. It hurt her to see her friend in such emotional pain. I could see that she was upset. She shared. The two of us are not close friends. Does that matter? I felt honored and touched by her trust in me.

We currently live in a world where there is much strife. Much anger. Much about being caught up in “me”. Caught up in “me” versus “you”. Duality. There really is no duality. We create it. When we live in community the “me” versus “you” disappears. We become one.

Community.

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Posted in Interbeing

Insight

Something has been happening. No matter. Just be with what is. If I’m meant to understand it will happen. If I’m not, that’s just fine. I have learned not to trust my thinking head. Answers, the ones that I pay attention to, just pop up out of nowhere. That’s my signal to pay attention. I love not knowing. I love just letting be.

So what was going on? Fear. For months. It’s interesting to me that understanding isn’t something finite. It seems to change. Alter. It isn’t always easy to just let be, especially when something like the strong emotion of fear seems to run the show.

I am a meditator. Every day I sit for about an hour, simply coming into the present, again, and again, and again.

So this day was no different. I made my morning coffee, carried it over to the mini-table upon which I place the things that I like to have with me when I meditate, placed it down, same with a mug of water, my meditation bell, and the vase of brightly yellow coloured tulips. As per usual, I am sitting in front of the big picture window in our living area overlooking the backyard. I make myself comfortable on my meditation bench. Ring the bell, shut my eyes, notice what I have brought in with me. I notice if there are any strong emotions, what my thinking head is doing, and my physical self. I don’t try to change anything: I just notice. I then do a body scan, systematically going through my various body parts, one by one, from the top of my head to my toes. I imagine that I am breathing in to each part, then relaxing it as it connects with my breath. I then breath out from that part to my lungs and into the room. I then imagine something that makes me feel good, something like bunnies, or flowers, or the friendly kitty that always greets my husband and I when we walk by where it lives. I say in my head to myself with every in breath, May I be filled with well-being. Sometimes I skip the words part and just visualize that bunny or kitty and breathe that in. Then I go to the breath, just feeling the sensation of my body as it breathes in, and as it breathes out.

And so it began on this particular day. As I was following my breathing, my mind went to a new computer security system that I was going to install in my computer and then: fear. Fear? I felt my insides tighten, the nausea, and the tightness in my chest. As I have learned, I just let the fear be. I didn’t feed it with my thoughts. It just was. I stayed in the present. Didn’t have a clue. No matter. My thinking head kept going to why? Why now? Why fear? I went back to the breath, still just letting the fear be. My thinking head said, “I’m afraid of a security system? Back to the breath. Fear. I’m afraid I’ll fail with my attempt? Back to the breath and the sense doors. I brought my full awareness to the aroma of my coffee and the silky sensation of the fragrant liquid as it passed over my tongue,  seeing the leaves on the trees and hearing the sound as the wind gently blew through them, the colours in the sky, the sensation of the warmth of the air around me, and the sound of the hum of my refrigerator. I brought my full awareness to the sound of the raindrops as they connected with the ground and trees. I let the fear just be while simultaneously managing to keep my awareness on what my senses were experiencing.

And then I knew. I cried. Decades have passed and yet still I suffer. Sometimes it becomes so hard. I didn’t deserve it. No one deserves that. I lived in fear of my ex-husband for such a long time: Afraid of being threatened, kicked, hit, and put down verbally. Of walking in the door after grocery shopping or gardening and knowing that I had to make it past him without my presence triggering him somehow. Years and years and years of fear, of trying to make it through my day unscathed, and of jumping when he said jump. Years. Stay with the feelings Maureen. It’s so bloody hard sometimes. Stay. It hurts. Stay. So sad.

And then, out of nowhere, the concept of “brain plasticity” popped up. Of neural pathways. Of habitual patterns. Okay, I can work with this. And then peace. L.S.A.G. That’s what I came up with, or probably, to be more accurate, it kind of just appeared. I can create a new neural pathway. And so I began. L for loved. S for safe. A for alive. G for grateful. I began to say my new mantra: I am loved by the universe/creator. How can I not be? I am one of its countless manifestations. I live through it. It manifests through me and all creation. I am loved by my husband. I smiled. Such love. S: I am safe from harm. My being hurt by my ex-husband is over. It is in the past. No more. In the present, I am safe. My second husband is a gentle, patient, and kind man. I live in a neighbourhood that is friendly and safe. I live in a safe country. Even as I write this I am feeling peace. Contentment. A: I am alive. I have this wonderful living body. And G: I am so very grateful for this largess that is my life.

And so it began. I started to say my new mantra. As I repeated: I am loved. I am safe. I am alive. I am grateful. Something changed. Gradually. Very gradually. I am loved. I am safe. I am alive. I am grateful. I noticed my stomach unclenching. I am loved. I am safe. I am alive. I am grateful. The tightness in my chest loosened. It felt as though my heart was opening. Loved. Safe. Alive. Grateful. My new mantra. My new habit. And so it began. Every time the old pattern of fear manifested I would say my new mantra. I was creating a new neural pathway. And then finally, as though it had never been there, I become cognizant of the fact that the fear was completely gone. Freedom. Relief. Peace.

The brain is so amazing. I love that one can create new pathways. The old ones don’t go. I know that. I like to think of it as the old pathways get rusty. After all, if they’re not being used, they shrivel up from lack of use. Shrinking. Shriveling. I like those images. This new pathway that I am creating, as I use it more and more, gets stronger.

In Buddhist thought, it’s like we have a storage part of our brain where everything abides. When we think or feel it’s like that thought or emotion comes up into our consciousness out of storage. While it is out, it gets stronger. When it goes back, it stays stronger. Other thoughts and emotions do not get stronger while we are strengthening the current thought that is in our mind consciousness. It’s kind of like a garden. When a thought or emotion leaves storage and arises up into our mind consciousness, we are watering it. If we keep watering it, as I am doing when I repeat the mantra, it grows into a plant. By watering the positive we have flowers. Meanwhile, in our storage consciousness, all of the thoughts and emotions not being currently watered do not grow.

Over time, I have extended the use of my new mantra. Sometimes, due to the negative events of my past, and my embodiment of them, I feel like I am not worthy. Especially of love. Now, when I recognize what is happening, I repeat: I am loved. I am safe. I am alive. I am grateful. I am loved. I am safe. I am alive. I am grateful. I begin to feel that I have value. That I am worthy of love. And you know what? The nice thing is that I can say it anywhere, be it walking down the street, while washing the dishes, and even in the shower.

Loved. Safe. Alive. Grateful.

 

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I See You

My Mum is ninety-seven years of beautiful. I love every precious wrinkle on her dear face. Yes, it is a face that shows the ravages of time, but it is more than that. Way more. It is a face documenting a life. A life that is very precious to me. A life. A legacy. I see you Mum in all that I am:

  • I see you in my ability to write. You asked me to help you once by checking over a letter that you had written to city officials. When I read your letter it was like seeing another you. A you who came alive on the written page. A you who wrote convincingly with style and creativity. A you who was pulled out of school when barely a teenager to go out to work to help your family survive.
  • I see you in the ceramic Christmas tree that you made for me so many years ago. I see the expression on your face as I open your gift. My heart opens to your happiness.
  • I see you in my positive outlook on life; if there ever was a “glass half full” person, you are it.
  • I see you in my enjoyment of physical activity: every time I ride my bike, every time I go to the weight room, every time I do Tai Chi, every time I go for a walk, I see you. I phoned you the other day and was an ear for your frustration. I listened as you spoke about not being able to go outside right now. It’s too risky for a ninety-two year old with all of the snow and ice. I know that whenever you can’t get out to go for a walk, or to work in the garden, or even to hang out laundry in the fresh air, you miss it.

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    My Mum and I on Easter going for a nature walk together.

  • I see you in me every time that I nod off when I watch a movie. I am rather amused by it. I think that I am becoming you. I like that. It makes me smile. It only started happening when I was fifty-two years old. We are each other. How wonderful is that! It doesn’t get any better than that.
  • I see you every time I play Scrabble. I remember that it took until I was thirty-nine years old before I was finally able to win a game against you.
  • I see you are not perfect; neither am I.
  • I see that you are a product of the generations as am I. We cannot be separated. I am you; you are me. I am my grandparents. I am my great grandparents. I am all the generations that have gone before. We are one. I am your continuation.
  • I see you in the marmalade that I put on my toast this morning. You made a jar of it for me because you knew that I liked it.
  • I see you in my spirituality. You are Roman Catholic; I am Buddhist. The sacred knows no boundaries. On a warm summer’s night up at Lake Huron we sit outside on the deck under the stars as we talk about life after death. You confide to me your secret fear: What if reincarnation is real? It scares you that you might come back as a worm or something. We both chuckle about that one. I see you beside me in your church as we listen to the priest talk. I share what your religion means to you. The words coming from the pulpit are universal. They are about love and compassion.
  • I see you now in front of me. I close my eyes and I see you. I will see you forever.
  • I see you were a willing and caring listener when I was having to deal with my estrangement from my daughter. It lasted years. You never lost hope; that was transferred to me. Your example taught me how to be there for you when you were having difficulty with someone you love. It felt good to do for you.
  • I see you in the pink lacy dress with the cap sleeves that I wore to my grade eight graduation. You picked it out for me. You spoke of that dress for years after the graduation: how pretty I looked in it; how beautiful the lace was. Years. Decades. I think it would have been your dream to have worn such a dress to your graduation, but it was never to be. You grew up in poverty.
  • I see you in my love of nature. I see you every time I smile as I watch a raccoon scooting across the road, or as I marvel at a blue jay flying in to the nest and watch and feel excited at the sheer miracle as he places the peanut he is carrying into the open beak of the female as she sits on the nest protecting her eggs.
  • I see you when I smell that wonderful fresh air smell of just washed laundry hung out to dry outside in the backyard. Like you, I have always loved the smell of the outdoors. It amazes me that at the age of ninety-five you still like to hang your laundry outside. There is nothing more wonderful than, after having a shower or bath, I am wearing the outdoors. I just have to breathe deeply and you are there.

And so Mum, a legacy: for you, for me, for us.

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Happy Birthday

The following is something I wrote on February 2, 2014:

Happy Birthday to my mother today. She is ninety-two years old. Wow! Bruce and I went to see her last evening with a homemade lemon cake (her favourite) and birthday gifts in tow. What a wonderful visit! She was so pleased that we thought of her and that we visited and she LOVED the cake (a bonus!). We went last night because she and my sweetie share the same birthday. Bruce and I will be celebrating his birthday today.

For me my Mum’s birthday is not only a time of celebration, but a time when I find myself reflecting on what this special human being means to me. I owe my very existence to her. IMG_8732 Here is this woman who took care of me, loved me, guided me to the best of her ability throughout my childhood, teen years, and into adulthood. And she is still there caring about me as I make my way through adult life, as I raised a family of my own, and now as I experience what it means to be a grandmother.

I love this woman with all my heart. I love everything about her: her generosity, her incredible joie de vivre; I don’t think that I have ever known anyone so incredibly positive. If there ever was a glass half full type person, she is it. I even love her sometimes critical nature. Yup. You heard me right. And to be honest, our life together has had its ups and downs. We survived. We grew. But you know what? I don’t just love the good parts; I love all of the parts. Everything that makes her what she is. Every last wart and every last flower. Hey, I am certainly flowers and warts. If I can accept them in me, I can certainly accept them in her. I mean, is anybody perfect? I love that she is part of me, and that I am her continuation. I am her and she is me. She is in every cell of my body. And I am so very, very glad. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Five years have passed. Bruce and I showed up at my Mum’s with birthday gifts and  cake (now a tradition) to celebrate her ninety-seventh birthday. My mother. My gift. I love you Mum. To a very special human being, from the bottom of my heart:

HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

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Reframe Your Pain-An End-A Beginning

Anger. Hurt. Anger. Shock. Anger. A feeling of betrayal. Anger. Quite the meditation session. Not my usual. As I sat on the cushion meditating my mind wouldn’t stop. Back to the breath. I’m in mourning? Oh my God. I’m in mourning.

I’d had an amazing weekend so far. A wonderful Saturday with Bruce, my husband: Brunch at one of our favorite haunts. A walk along the river. Sharing. Breathing in brisk cold refreshing winter air. The sound of snow crunching under my feet. Listening. The sound of the river rushing by. Water as it splashes against its ice ceiling. Seeing. Textures. Shapes. Waves of river ice. Crystal reflections. Glass daggers protruding from a floating log. And color. Brilliant white. Pale gray. Soft tans. Fully present. Took my breath away. Ice. Magic. Look up. Two dark specks? Closer now. Swooping. Swooping. Two eagles. A ballet in the sky. A muskrat, seemingly out of nowhere. Watch it dive. Resurface. My husband and I. Together. Sharing. Our eyes meet. A hug. Pure joy. A gentle kiss. Love.

We make our way up a scruffy embankment and continue on the path. Dark tree trunks, a foil against the brightness of the sunshine. Brilliant white pillows adorning the places where branches meet. Pale tan grasses, skinny stalks topped in fluffy softness reaching for the sky. More magic. And birds. A creeper working its way up a tree. A nuthatch. Wonderful silence, suddenly broken by a high pitched melody. Birdsong. The river catches Bruce’s eye again. Two colorful male hooded mergansers followed by three females. We watch as one of them dives and reappears.

After we arrive home, we prepare and eat dinner together. We spend the evening each doing our own thing, simply enjoying each others presence. It’s lovely how we can each pursue our own interests while at the same time enjoying the companionship of one another. A perfect Saturday.

Sunday arrived. I opened my eyes to the day blanketed in warmth and love and happiness. I glanced at the still sleeping figure beside me and smiled. Let him sleep. I got up, then padded my way to the kitchen and the coffee maker. I couldn’t wait for Bruce to wake up to continue our perfect weekend together.

With coffee in hand I thought, Should I just take a quick peek at my emails? Oh, what the heck. It’ll just take a moment. Then go meditate. And there it was. Subject line: Facebook Group Closed. I opened the email, read the message explaining the logical reason for the group’s ending, and then just sat there as a huge hole replaced my heart. NO. Please. No. I felt kind of sick. This isn’t fair. We’re just getting to know each other. No warning? Just like that it’s over? I like these people. Not that it helped. I felt as though the bottom had been dropped out of my world. I reread the post. The hole remained.

I had better explain. On November 27, 2018, I was invited to join a newly created  Facebook group called “Reframe Your Pain”. Formed by psychologist Dr. Perry, it was to be a place where individuals could come together to inspire each other, to share with one another, and maybe come up with ideas that would go in the direction of helping us  as we ferreted our way through the ups and downs of our lives.

It was amazing! I have never, in my entire life, encountered such a group of people. How could I have known that in such a short period of time I could grow to care so much for these individuals? And in a Facebook group no less? I didn’t think that was possible. As we encouraged each other in the sharing of our lives and feelings and thoughts we grew closer. We were honest with each other. We checked out each others blogs. Touched the hearts of one another. As we, little by little, began to share more and more, be it through an uplifting quotation, or a problem we may have encountered, we reached out. I began to feel for some of these people who actually reached out. I wanted things to go well for them. For us. I also began to realize that I seemed to be coming out of myself more and more and more. I felt safe.

I don’t know about the others, okay, for some of the more frequent posters, I think I do know. Was I the only one? The only one who was shocked? Who didn’t want it to end? A few of us reached out to each other. I decided that no. This was not going to end. These people cared and felt and trusted. And that is just what happened with at least a few of us. I can’t believed how quickly this all happened. If you had asked me in November of last year was this kind of closeness even possible? In two months? With individuals I, until then, hadn’t even known existed? People I would never ever meet in person?

So I decided, yet again, to reach out to a handful of the individuals from this now non-existent group. People who I felt I had gotten to know. One by one I contacted them. Every single one of them wanted to stay connected with me. Relief. I suspect that I am not alone on that one. To trust. To care. To share. To want the best for another. What more could one ask for?

So yes, there is an end. “Reframe Your Pain” no longer exists. But there is also a beginning. New friendships. Real ones. You know, the kind where there is trust and love and sharing.

Also, something that surprised me over the two months that I was a member of this group, was that I found myself starting to get braver. There were two posts that I wanted to add to my blog, that I needed to share. By sharing them I would feel validated. At this point in time I desperately needed that validation. I needed to share because it was not my fault. Somewhere deep inside of me I knew that to post was a part of my healing process. (See “Ripples or the Biggest Imprint of All”), but I was scared. But you know what? These wonderful people gave me the courage to do exactly that. I definitely could not have shared what I shared in this blog were it not for the suggestions, sometimes in the form of quotations (see “The Letter”) and all of our sharing and caring inspired by that quote. It really seemed to strike a chord with some of us.

An ending. A beginning. Thank you for that Dr. Perry. Without his group “Reframe Your Pain” I would never have experienced the sharing and caring and love and growth and courage that came from being a part of it. I would not now have new friends who I can connect with any time any of us wishes. Friends who I love. Friends who I trust.  Dr. Perry: Thank you.

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The Letter

I’m so sick of the excuse

“they’re still your mom/dad/sister/brother/etc.”

no, toxic is toxic

You have the right to

cut anyone off who is

unhealthy to you

 

The above quote is something a friend recently posted on Facebook, and that I have seen elsewhere on quotation sites. I do not necessarily agree with the first part of this quotation; people have to be wherever they are in their lives. I really do understand that every single one of us is the result of conditions that led up to this point in our lives. So no, the first part of this quote does not describe how I feel about this statement.

I do, however, completely agree with cutting off anyone who is unhealthy to you. My mother and I did not always have the good relationship that we now enjoy. There came a point in my life when I actually had to do that with her. It was one of the hardest things that I have ever had to do in my life. I love my mother dearly. I also loved her dearly then. That is, in part, what made what I did so hard to do. The other part? One can only withstand so much pain.

So what happened? For years, as I was growing up, I was constantly criticized, compared to others (Why couldn’t I be like them?), and never ever praised. Nothing I did was good enough.

     So there I was, when, as an adult, I decided no more. I’d had enough. Hurt. Pain. Feeling worthless. I was honest with her; I wrote her a letter explaining why. Here is that letter:

April 17, 1998

Dear mum,
     I have decided that the time has come for me to write this letter to you. I have thought of doing this many times over the last year, but each time I considered it, I didn’t because I thought that there was too much to lose and that maybe there was hope for change. Well, after my daughter’s wedding, I realized all too clearly that I have nothing to lose because I had nothing to start with, and I now have absolutely no hope whatsoever that things will ever change.
     Before I begin, I would like to make one thing clear. I will be speaking of occurrences from my past as well as the present. I am not trying to dredge up the past to cause any hurts or because I hold any grudges towards you from my past. I firmly believe that the past is the past, that what happened then is over with, and that life should go on. Holding grudges is not life affirming; it is life draining and destructive. So why am I going to include yours and my past in this letter? Because, mother, the types of things that went on in the past are still happening, and these things are affecting me adversely now in the present. Also, I am not doing this to dump on you, but I need to let you know how the things that you have done, and still do and say, have affected, and still affect me.
    Let me go back in time. One year ago this month we had a telephone conversation. You were going on and on about Pat’s latest girlfriend. You made it very clear that you were extremely impressed with her. You just kept talking and talking about how brilliant she was, and what an important job she had. You also went on and on about how she was published for something or other. My response to your going on and on and on was to act totally unimpressed. This was not because it bothered me that someone had a great job and was smart; I think that it is wonderful for any human being to be so gifted. Hard work deserves to be rewarded. No. As you spoke, the first thought that went through my mind was that Pat’s girlfriend couldn’t have had a mother like you, because to be able to do well in life you have to feel good about yourself. You cannot grow up to feel good about yourself if you are constantly belittled and criticized. Even more importantly, you can never feel confident and good about yourself if you are never ever praised for anything. And mother, that describes you. I thought, at the time, that Pat’s girlfriend must have had a mother that made her feel good about herself and praised her when she did well. When someone has a strong foundation like that there is nothing that they cannot accomplish. But if someone is constantly criticized no matter how hard they try to please, they do not grow up feeling secure about themselves and their abilities. Instead, they often spend their whole lives questioning their value as human beings and having little confidence in their capabilities.
    Towards the end of the conversation, you tried to remember what it was that she was published in and couldn’t. I made it clear that it didn’t matter. I thought that if you could go on endlessly about how great she was while all you ever did, and still do, is criticize me and show absolutely no interest whatsoever in anything that is important to me, why should I be interested in you going on about how great someone else is? But you, mother, just wouldn’t quit. You pushed the point. We said goodbye. A little later you phoned me back and said that you’d found out the information. You totally ignored what I had said earlier. You were determined to give me the information whether I wanted to hear it or not. I repeated that it really didn’t matter, and that I was not interested. You still persisted. You pushed and pushed, trying to force your will on mine. I didn’t let you. Finally, exasperated, with (I assume not getting your way) you started to criticize me. Well, that, for me, was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Not only do you go on and on praising a person who up until a short while before you didn’t even know existed, but to add insult to injury, you start to belittle me. I told you, in no uncertain terms, that when you were ready cut it out, and only then, would I speak to you. I then hung up.
    I didn’t speak to you for months. Do you know what went on during those months? Did you even care? I’ll tell you what happened. At first I was absolutely furious. I thought about the fact that I have absolutely no memory whatsoever of you ever praising me for anything during my entire childhood and adolescence. I do, however, have many memories of you criticizing me. I was never good enough. You compared me to other people. Why couldn’t I be like Marie Kipp? You loved to tell me how pretty you thought she was. How do you think that made me, a child, feel? Every Saturday for years I had to do three chores as part of my responsibility to the household. Do you know that not once, in that entire time, did you ever praise me for something as simple as cleaning a toilet well, or helping with buying the groceries? All I ever remember you doing was criticizing me for not doing enough. When I would work hard to get my chores done quickly, all you ever said was, “You’re done already? That’s not enough.” I soon lost all desire to please you with chores. I am just glad that at least Dad would praise me when I cleaned a bathroom well or finished my chores quickly. If I didn’t do a good job on any particular chore, he would make me do it again, which was fair, but he always praised me when I did it right.
    When I was in grade eleven and got 100% in mathematics on my report card, there was not one word from you saying that I did a good job. I remember trying so hard to please you. To get just one word from you that said you recognized when I did a good job at something. When I got into one of the advanced math classes in grade twelve and was the only female to do so there was not one word from you. Can you imagine how I felt, when, in grade 12, after spending a whole term at school, getting up at 5:30 a.m. every day to study and work on my math, and as a result of my hard work, (and believe me it was hard work to have that kind of discipline) I got the top mark in my class, there wasn’t one word of praise from you, not even acknowledgement? All you said was why couldn’t I be like my sister Susan; she had a job at sixteen. It didn’t matter that she had dropped out of school. Why couldn’t I be like them. I grew up with a belief that nothing that I accomplished, and nothing that was important to me, mattered to you. Do you have any idea whatsoever what that was like and still is like? To have a parent who was never ever proud of you for anything?
    I then thought of the present. I thought about how every single time that you would visit my apartment you would always criticize something. If it wasn’t about the uneven blinds, or the discoloration on the rug from Dido being ill, it was about how I played cards the wrong way. I could have you over for dinner, and you never complimented me on the meal, you just criticized me about something or other. Why do you think that I never invite you over to my place any more? I am sick and tired of the criticism. I have had it. I was taught in religion class that if you couldn’t say something nice about someone, then don’t say anything at all. I also thought about how if I ever expressed an interest in anything over the phone with you, you would always do one of two things. You would either show absolutely no interest and act bored, or you would try to change the subject as quickly as possible. Meanwhile you would go on and on about things that interested you and I was supposed to listen to. I have now learned to never tell you anything about anything that I have accomplished or that is important to me. If I don’t tell you, then you can’t hurt me by ignoring it through acting bored or changing the subject. You know mum, many times during last summer when I didn’t talk to you, I wondered why you ever gave birth to me, if I displeased you so much.
    And so for over half a year I didn’t talk to you. I knew that I couldn’t stand your constant criticism any more. I had, and have had it. I will no longer tolerate you treating me in a manner that shows you have no respect for my feelings. I am a human being. I deserve better. I was depressed all summer when I cut off contact with you. I felt as though you had died. I mourned you as though you had. In my mind, and in my heart, I had to let go of the possibility of ever having a mother who cared about my feelings, and valued me as a human being. That mother did not, and does not exist for me. I had to detach myself from you to begin to heal, really heal, from the damage done to me in my past, and still being done to me in the present.
     Now I am going to talk about the event that has triggered the writing of this letter – my daughter’s wedding. Mother, I have every right to expect you, as my parent, to want the best for me, and to want for me to be happy. That is my right, as your child. It is every child’s right to expect that from a parent. Cutting me up just before I leave to partake in one of the most important events of my life was selfish and cruel. Did you ever, for even one moment, stop to think of the effect of your words? As my mother you should have been trying to help make every aspect of this wonderful event of the marriage of my daughter to Norm special for me. But what did you do? Just as I’m heading out of the door towards where the ceremony begins, you ask me “Aren’t you wearing earrings?” And when I answer yes, you can’t see them very well because of my dark hair, you say “Oh, I thought you were tying your hair up.” Well, mother, unless your eyes are no longer functional, you knew damn right well that my hair wasn’t up. So what was the point of your comment? There can only be one answer. You were trying to make me feel bad. Do you know how many times you have made a point of telling me how much nicer I look with my hair up? Mother, I have lost count it’s so many. And I am completely sick and tired of hearing it. If you don’t like my hair down I don’t want to hear it. It is not only terribly impolite to point out negative things constantly to someone, it shows that you have no respect whatsoever for their feelings. Your comment, as I went out the door to be part of the ceremony, was not only the culmination of numerous unpleasant incidents leading up to the actual wedding, but it was the straw that, once again, broke the camel’s back.
     When I was preparing for the bridal shower, I felt ill for most of it. Do you know why? I was terrified that you would say something, or do something, to make me look bad, or embarrass me in front of other people, especially Norm’s mother and sister who I was meeting for the first time. That shower was an emotional time for me anyway without having to worry about your criticism. Not only was I meeting Shelley and Deana for the first time, but Bob’s current wife and my ex-inlaws were all going to be there.
     Well, mother, you didn’t disappoint me. You did try something. Fortunately, nobody saw it. When we were helping to load up the car, you chose to load yourself down with way more than you could carry. Instead of immediately putting something down and carrying less, you started towards the car overloaded with stuff. I met you in the front hall, overloaded with stuff. You asked me to take something from you. I started to say that I couldn’t because I had something in my hand that I would have to put down first because I couldn’t help you with just one hand free, and also that I couldn’t take the whole load from you because my back has been really bad lately (which I hadn’t told you about before, because I figured you wouldn’t care) and I have to be careful about lifting. You didn’t even give me a chance. Before I could even reply, you criticized me for not taking something from you. That I had hardly anything to carry. I was not only hurt (again) that you automatically assumed the worst about me and figured that I wouldn’t help you, but I was angry that you didn’t even give me a chance to say anything. And so I told you in no uncertain terms to cut it out. That I was sick and tired of your carrying on. That I was not going to tolerate it any more. And so it went.
     Mary told me that you raved about the food that I prepared for the shower. I nearly fainted from shock. I spent many, many hours preparing that food. You said nothing to me that you even liked anything that I made. I figured that you didn’t like anything. How hard would it have been to compliment me if you ate something that I had made and that you had liked? Not very. So you see mother, the lifetime pattern to which I refer. Always, always criticizing, never praising. I am just sick and tired of it. The closest that you seem to be able to come to praise of anything about me occurred only once during the wedding. And that was the first complement of any way shape or description in years and years. And it didn’t even come from you. You passed on a compliment from someone else to me, when you said that Deana thought I was nice. I could go on, but there is no point. I think that I have made myself more than clear.
     And so back to your comment about my hair not being up just as I headed out of the door to be part of the ceremony of my daughter’s wedding. Instead of going into the ceremony thinking only of my daughter, thanks to you, mother, I went into the ceremony hurting (again) that my own mother cared so little for how I felt that she had to say something to make me feel badly just as my daughter is about to get married. Do you have any idea at all how much that hurt me to realize just how little you do care?
    Mother, right now, I really don’t want anything to do with you. I am hurting and need to get over it. I can’t if I have anything to do with you. I can’t get over hurting if you are just going to go on criticizing me about things all the time. I have had it. Talking with you is like being at war. I am always guarding myself from your criticisms. I simply can’t take them any more. There is no other person on this planet that I feel like that with. I am tired of never being able to tell you anything about anything that is important to me because it appears that you don’t care. For the time being I want absolutely no contact with you. I want to get on with my life in a non-destructive way. That is simply not possible right now if I am in contact with you. I will always worry about how you are going to criticize me next. I can’t live like that any more. Maybe by Christmas I will be ready to handle being around you. I don’t know.

     I had nothing to do with my mom for a very long time. Eventually, much later, I bumped into her at a family wedding. It was awkward at first, but then I realized she had changed in her behavior towards me. I decided to give it a go again with her. The change was HUGE. No more unfair criticisms. As a matter of fact, much to my surprise, she now praised me when praise was called for. Needless to say, I was stunned. So ironic.

And now? Well, we ended up back in each others lives, happily so. That letter, coming from an honest place, was one of the best things I could have done. I never, in a million years, would have expected this outcome.

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Ripples or The Biggest Imprint of All

As you know, this blog is about people and events that have had an impact on my life. Have played a role in shaping who I am today. We do not live in a vacuum. I am the result of many conditions: my ancestors past and present, my genes, the people I interact with in my day to day life, my experiences as I ferret my way through this wonderful roller coaster ride I call my life, my spirituality, meditation practice, and all of the beauty and wonder of our world that I get to experience in nature. Okay, I simply have to share this with you: Just this morning before dawn I gazed out of the picture window facing our backyard to be greeted by something very special, an opossum scooting across the yard. What a wonderful start to my day!
 
     I have had lots of situations in my life that have effected me deeply. I suspect that for some of us, there may be one event in our lives that we perceive as having had the biggest impact of all. For me, that holds true. The following, which took place in the early 1980’s, and is written in memoir form, describes what I consider to have had the biggest impact in my life:
 
     I throw a stone at a sharp angle across the water and watch as it shatters the glass-like surface of the pond, first in one place, and then again and again until it finally comes to rest beneath the water. The circles ripple out from each place the stone touched, getting bigger and bigger until the different circles touch each other. One of these circles touched me and changed my life forever.
     “I don’t want to live anymore.” There. I said it. I had to say it. I am afraid that he won’t let me in if I don’t. I find it hard to believe that I’m even here. That I want to be here. I watch his impassive face as he first looks at me and then down at his clipboard to write something. I feel naked.
     Everything is just so strange. Me telling this complete stranger such personal information. The alien grabbing the butcher knife. She wants to hurt me. The battle between the alien and me. The alien seems so much bigger than me. Me throwing the butcher knife across the kitchen and getting out of there as fast as I can. The alien looking for the pills. Me not finding them. Me curling up in a ball on the couch. I’m hiding from the alien. The walls are closing in on me.
     “I’m going to call a nurse to take you up to the tenth floor,” says the resident. “I think you should be admitted.”
     Well, now I’ve done it. With the nurse gone, I disrobe, change into a nightgown and my housecoat, and walk over to the lockers beside the door. I glance out of the door at the nurse’s station just across from my room. I open the first locker. There is a blue flowered dress hanging there. On the shelf above it is a clear plastic bag filled with pale pink curlers. The kind with the little spikes that catch your hair and dig into your skull. Torture devices. The kind that I stopped using when still a child. Beauty at any cost. Beneath the dress sits a pair of mules. I hate mule slippers. They make me think of drudgery. I quickly shut the locker door. I don’t want its owner to see me and think I’m snooping. I hardly have time to deposit my clothes in the other locker and get back to my bed before a middle-aged man in a white hospital jacket enters the room and heads towards me.
     “Hello. I’m Doctor Hollander,” he says, offering me his hand. “I’m going to be your doctor while you’re here.”
     I shake his hand, noting its firmness. I tell my story for a second time.
He is quiet for a moment, observing me through intense, almost coal coloured eyes.
     “It’s a good thing that you came here when you did,” he says finally, still looking at me intently. “If you had even waited a week, you would have had a complete nervous breakdown.”
     The alien might have gotten me first, I think as I watch him watch me. Of Mediterranean complexion, he has thick black hair that threatens to ruin the close-cropped sharp lines framing his face. I decide that I like him. There is something about him. A sureness, an honesty. And strength. Especially strength. After he leaves, and the fear begins to creep in, I will find solace in his image.
     I don’t want her here. I watch as the owner of the torture devices shuffles into the room.
     “Hello. I’m Maureen,” I hear myself say.
     “I Lucy,” she says. The words come out thick like cotton.

     “I’ll be sharing this room with you.” I make myself smile. I have little energy to put on my mask. “I should really be in a ward but they’re all full,” I say, making an excuse for my presence. “The nurse says I’ll get moved when a space frees up.” Only briefly does Lucy acknowledge me through dark lifeless eyes. She does not return my smile, but instead turns her short, slightly thickened body, goes into the bathroom, and shuts the door behind her.

Pacing quickly around the ward again and again through the long days and even longer nights, I try to cope with the caterpillars crawling under my skin. I sit in the lounge and study my university French text for hours on end day after day until my vision becomes so blurred that I can no longer see the words before me. The drug is taking from me what little I have; soon I will have nothing left to cling to. They finally listen. My doctor takes me off the drug. The caterpillars leave and I get my vision back. I have little time for Lucy.

     Settling in to life on the ward, I am surprised to discover that I actually like it here. I meet many people: Jan, a warm, sensitive, caring individual who is always trying to cut herself. She says the pain from the cuts is the only way to stop the pain inside. When she first arrived five months ago she was near death, beaten senseless by her husband; Jenny, a whisper of a woman, soft-spoken, gentle, gang raped by a group of bikers; Joanne, whose cancer has spread to the other breast. Dying is hard for some people.
     There is a piano on the ward. For the first time in thirteen years I play. I have forgotten how music can touch the centre of what I am. My meals are cooked for me and after a few days I am allowed to leave the hospital to go to a movie, or for a coffee if I feel like it.
     Late one Monday afternoon, as I sit alone in a cafe a few blocks from the hospital sipping an espresso, I suddenly realize why I really like living on a psychiatric ward. For the first time in a long while I feel safe. He can’t get to me here. Later I will listen to him as he tells me that they had no right to not let him talk to me, even on the phone. I am his wife. I guess he thinks he owns me.
     “She is so sullen, Jan,” I say, a few days later as the two of us head back to our rooms after a group counselling session. “I wish they’d hurry up and find me a space in a ward room.” I look at her as she walks along beside me in her white pajamas with their thin red stripes. She is not allowed to wear street clothes until she stops cutting herself.
     “Lucy feels the same way,” she says as she peers out at me through pale blue eyes set in a not quite chubby, milk-white, freckled face.
     “Lucy?”
     Jan remains silent for a moment. She looks uncertain. “Lucy went to her nurse and told her that she wanted you out of her room.”
     “Her room?” As I look at her I can feel my cheeks getting hot. I have been here for two weeks and my relationship with Lucy has not progressed much beyond mere tolerance. I gave up the forced show of friendliness after the first week. I know that I have wished that she was not my roommate, but I didn’t even once consider that the feeling was mutual. Somehow I don’t like this. It tells me something about Lucy that I do not want to know. It also forces me to run from something in myself that I do not want to see.
Jan looks uncomfortable.
     “What did the nurse say to her?” I ask, watching as Jan avoids my gaze.
     “She told Lucy that they are keeping you in her room,” she says, finally looking at me.
     I am disappointed and satisfied by this.
     The alien is back. We are sitting on a chair in the room. The alien hides when I am not in the room. The room is my torture device. Four grey walls, two short, two long. Two doors. Soundproof I suspect. But not alien proof. As I sit there with my arms pressed tightly against my ribs and one hand grasping the other in my lap, I feel as though my soul has been ripped from me. I am nothing. He told me so. I hear the sound coming from somewhere deep inside of me. Crying. Why can’t I just rip this pain from my chest? I look at the figure in front of me. Annie. Quiet, intelligent, compassionate, Annie. I watch as she is replaced by a foot. Kicking. Kicking me. It’s raining kicks. Do you take Maureen to be your lawfully wedded wife, to have and to hold, until death do you part? How many kicks does it take to kill a human being? Will it ever stop? Only the alien can save me. She can help me to go somewhere where there is peace and I can finally rest. No pain. There is no pain in this place where she will send me. She tried to send me there once before, but I couldn’t find the pills. I am so very tired. The foot is replaced by a face. I cringe, garbage on the floor. Where can I hide? I will go crazy if I can’t escape. His blue eyes are consumed with hatred. I can feel it piercing right through me. The hatred hurts more than the kicks. They can only destroy my body. What did I ever do to deserve this hatred?
     “Maureen.” A gentle voice. I look once again at the small figure of the nurse in front of me.
     “It’s not you, Maureen. It’s him. No one deserves what he did to you.”
     I want to believe Annie. Why is trusting so hard? After awhile I have no more tears left. I feel completely drained. A shell. I don’t think I have ever felt this empty.
     A couple of days after my conversation with Jan, I lay on my side on top of my made bed reading a book, or at least pretending to. What I am really doing is Lucy watching. At the moment she is hunched over her side table rooting through the top drawer.
     “If you’re looking for your brush, I think the cleaning woman moved it,” I say, my voice friendly. I smile at her. Lucy looks at me and says nothing. For a second I could swear that I see a flicker of something in her eyes besides deadness. “She was in here a little while ago cleaning the bathroom. I saw her pick up a blue brush off the counter and put it into the medicine cabinet.” I watch as Lucy looks at me for what seems a long time, and then turns abruptly, and heads towards the bathroom.
     What a strange little woman, I think as she enters the bathroom and immediately opens the medicine cabinet. By now I have learned that I am not the only one that Lucy does not talk to. She seems to have little to do with anyone. I often see her shuffling around the corridors of the ward, or sitting in one of the lounge areas, always subdued, always keeping to herself. As I observe her brushing her washed-out brown, shoulder length, slightly frizzy hair, I wonder if she doesn’t talk to people because she can’t speak English very well. From what little I have heard her say, I have figured out that she is Italian. As Lucy turns off the bathroom light I quickly look down at my book, pretending to read. I hear her come out of the bathroom and go back to her night table.
     “Mareen?”
     I lift my eyes from the pages of my book.
     “Thank you for brush.”
     “No problem,” I say, surprised at this acknowledgement, but not showing it. Again I look into her eyes. I am searching for something. Anything. They remain as expressionless and washed-out looking as her face. “I’d miss my brush if I couldn’t find it,” I say. We look at each other for a moment longer before I go back to my book and she goes back to her night table.
     Still I don’t read. For the first time I wonder what her story is. I glance up from my book as I hear her shut the night table drawer. Still unaware of her audience, she picks up the small oval image with its plastic gold-painted frame from its place beside her phone. She polishes the Virgin Mary. Why is she so withdrawn? She seems so different than anyone else on the ward. Everyone here has a different story, many sad, some horrible, but everyone else here is at least friendly towards other people. As I look once again down at the pages of my book, I make a mental note to myself to ask Jan about it.
     The next day, on my way to Jan’s room, I run into Liam, another patient on the ward.
     “Hi, Liam.”
     “Hi. I’m glad I bumped into you,” he says, smiling broadly at me. “I’m in a mood for playing Go again. Interested?”
     “I’d love to Liam, I really would, but I’m on my way to Jan’s room. I’ve got to talk to her about something.” Liam has been teaching me how to play the oriental game of strategy for the last week. “Maybe later.”
     “I don’t think they’ll let you see her. She’s under guard in her room,” he says, the smile suddenly disappearing.
     “She’s what? Why?”
     “I was just talking to her friend Alice. She told me that last night Jan got hold of a drinking glass from the kitchen and managed to break it without anyone hearing. Alice said Jan cut her arm up pretty badly. I imagine it’s going to be awhile before they let her out of her room again or have any visitors. She has a nurse posted in her room twenty-four hours a day.”
     “Oh, Liam.” I feel terrible for Jan. Until now she has managed to go an entire month without cutting herself.
     “Yeah, I know.”
     After I leave Liam I wonder if Jan will ever be better. She has been here for half a year and still she cuts herself. Will I be here that long? The alien is showing up less and less these days, but I am still not rid of her. I wonder what is worse: cutting yourself like Jan does to escape the pain, or ceasing to exist to be free of the pain? I decide that I could never cut myself. Not like Jan does, again and again.
     “Fifteen two, fifteen four, and two for the pair of queens for a total of six,” I say, looking first at Diane and then at the audience that we seem to have gathered. “Is that right?”
     “You forgot the queen, four, and ace,” she says, looking at me with a grin.
     “Damn! I keep forgetting that you can use more than two cards to get fifteen,” I say, the exasperation showing on my face.
     “Don’t worry about it,” she says, still grinning at me. “You’re catching on pretty quickly for someone who’s never played before. It takes awhile to get the hang of it.”
     It has been two days since Jan cut herself. Diane and I are sprawled out on the carpet in the small lounge. We have been playing cribbage for an hour or so. I often come here to relax, play a game with one of the other patients, or to chat. Today there are six of us. Two of the patients are watching Diane and me. Directly across the room, a couple of others are huddled together, deep in conversation. One of them, Suzanne, starts to giggle. Diane and I smile at each other as we look up from our game. Jim is telling another one of his jokes. I look at the two of them and leave.
     I know all about jokes. Day after day I cower, pressed against the wall, bowing to raised hand. Night after night I dream. I am on a bus. A man gets on. He shoots me. I am on a raft, fleeing from warriors. They impale me on their spears. I am in a dark alley. A man in a black leather jacket finds me and beats me with a crow bar. Death has many faces. Day after day he lowers his hand.
     “I was only joking,” he says.
     Yes, I know all about jokes.
     Suzanne’s laughter pulls me back. Jim has finished telling his joke. I look around me, my eyes finally coming to rest beside a picture hanging on the wall just inside the entrance to the lounge. I am astonished by what I see. I look away. The others haven’t noticed. When I turn to look again the smile is gone. Unsure, I look up. Our eyes meet for only the briefest of moments, but that is enough. She knows that I have seen.
     Later, as I lie on my side in bed, looking at the roundness that is her silhouetted against the night, I can’t stop the thoughts from coming. I guess I must have seen her in the lounge. I mean, she was there. She is so quiet though, and mousy looking; it’s easy not to notice her.
     I close my eyes. I can hear the two night nurses talking. I wish they’d be quiet. How can I sleep with them talking and the lights glaring in the doorway from the nurses’ station? I roll over onto my back and look into the darkness above. I remember reading once how even if you can’t fall asleep right away your body will still get what it needs. It must be true; even though my eyes are open and I can’t stop thinking, my body is resting. Maybe if I concentrate on my breathing I can make my mind stop. I shut my eyes again. I focus on the air rushing in through my nostrils. I feel it go past my sinuses, my throat, and into the dark space surrounded by my lungs. I feel my chest expand as my ribs give way to the gentle but persistent force behind them.
     Lucy understood the joke. I can’t get over it. She understands everything. Everything. It’s all been deliberate. An act. Nothing but an act. Her thick accent and hard to understand words have served her well.
     Damn, now I’m thirsty. At this rate it’ll be dawn before I fall asleep. So much for the breathing exercise. I get out of bed and pad over to the bathroom to get a glass of water. Quietly I shut the bathroom door so as not to disturb Lucy; the sound of running water might wake her. My eyes shrink against the harsh glare of the fluorescent light illuminating the sink. I look down at the grey-pebbled pattern of the linoleum flooring until my eyes adjust, then turn on the tap.
     How could I not have seen? Just because she says little does not mean that she can’t understand what’s going on around her. I run the water for a minute and then fill my glass with the now cold water. She fooled everyone, including me.
     My thirst gone, I return my glass to its spot beside the sink, turn off the bathroom light, open the door, and walk back towards my bed. As I tiptoe by Lucy’s bed, I stop to look at her bunched up shape. She has the bedclothes pulled up tightly under her chin. I stand quietly for a few moments, not moving, wondering. What are you hiding from? What is so terrible that you shun all human contact? I watch the silent rhythm of her breathing, barely discernable under the smooth line of the covers. Her face, visible in the harsh light cast from the doorway, looks so peaceful. Without the deadness that are her eyes, she looks completely normal. As I look at her, I think of my son. He’s what I call a boy’s boy. Never still. Forty-five pounds of mischief. But when I pop my head into his bedroom doorway to check on him just before going to bed, I look through the nighttime shadows into the face of an angel.
     Over the next few days I find myself thinking about Lucy a lot. For the first time I confront some things about myself that I am not very happy with. I’m ashamed for having dismissed her so readily. I finally admit that I used the excuse of being so immersed in my own pain that I couldn’t deal with hers. That was true when I first arrived here, but not now.
     After breakfast a few days after the card game, I go to my locker to get my shampoo and some other toiletries for my shower. I look up at Lucy as she enters the room.
     “Good morning Lucy. How’d you sleep?” I ask. I smile at her.
     “Sleep okay,” she says without expression.
     “I envy you,” I say, meaning it. “I had an awful time getting to sleep thanks to the nurses yakking too loudly. I wish their station wasn’t so close to our room.”
     Lucy looks at me for a moment; she remains silent. “I go bathroom now. Be long,” she says abruptly. “You need things?”
     “No. No… I’m okay,” I say, caught off guard by her response. “I’m off to the shower. Everything I need is in my locker.”
     Lucy says nothing. She turns towards the bathroom.
     “Lucy?”
     She turns back to face me.
     “Thanks for asking.” We both stand there for a moment doing nothing. She raises her eyes to meet mine. Smiling shyly, she looks at me briefly, then turns and enters the bathroom. I just stand there looking at the closed door.
     “How could I have been so blind and so prejudiced?” I say softly to the figure behind the door. “You didn’t stand a chance.”
     I linger for a moment longer and then walk over to my nightstand. I dump my toiletries on my bed and then open the night table drawer, reaching towards the back of it. I have always prided myself on looking at people as equal and not stereotyping anyone. So what did I do with Lucy? I turned her into a caricature. I decided that just because she was frumpish-looking, middle-aged, and Italian, she was probably not very interesting and therefore not worth my time. I feel the familiar softness, grab the corner of my leather make-up case, and withdraw my hand. Just before I shut the drawer I decide to grab the shopping bag wedged in beside my book against the inside of the drawer. I shut the drawer and throw the case, along with my deodorant and other toiletries, into the bag. I saw only what I wanted to see. It was easier to hide behind my disapproval than to deal with her. I turn and head towards the door of our room. Stopping in the doorway, I look back one more time in the direction of the bathroom.
     “Lucy, forgive me. I had no right to shut out your pain,” I say softly to the still closed bathroom door before heading briskly into the hallway towards the showers.
     As the week wears on the hallways become my nightly companion. My doctor prescribes sleeping pills. Still I haunt the corridors.
     Friday after lunch, as I’m heading back to my room, I run into Stuart, one of the nurses on the ward.
     “Hi Maureen. I’m glad that I bumped into you. I need to talk to you about something.”
     “Sure. No problem,” I say, as I look past rectangular steel frames into soft hazel eyes.
     “It’s about Lucy.”
     “Okay.”

     “It’s nothing much really. It’s just that a space has come up in a wardroom. Technically you’re supposed to be in a ward since you don’t have insurance coverage for a semiprivate room, but I wanted to know if you’d mind staying in the double that you’re in now? It won’t cost you anything.”

“I don’t have a problem with that. But why?”

     “Lucy has never expressed an interest in sharing her room with anyone else until now. She always wants to be alone. Anyway, she noticed the empty bed in one of the wards and I guess she was afraid that we might move you, so she came to us and asked us not to. She wants you to stay with her. So, if you don’t mind, we’d like to keep you in with her, at least for the time being. We think that it will be good for her.”

“Stuart, I really don’t mind staying put.  I actually kind of like Lucy.  She’s okay.”

“Alright then, it’s settled,” he says, sounding pleased.

     I smile to myself as I walk down the hall after leaving Stuart. So now she wants me. Well, Lucy, I guess the feeling’s mutual. I want you too.
     Many hours later I find myself pacing up and down the halls, again and again. So much for sleeping pills. I look at the clock as I pass by the nurse’s station. Great. 3 a.m. This is ridiculous. I’ve been walking the halls for over an hour. Now what am I supposed to do if even drugs can’t make me sleep? I walk around the ward one more time before going back to my room. I tiptoe quietly by Lucy’s bed so as not to wake her. Climbing onto my bed I just lay there, staring at the ceiling. Why am I so tense?
     “Mareen?”
     “Lucy, I’m so sorry. Now I’ve gone and woken you up,” I say, turning to look at her.
     “No. I awake for me. What the matter, Mareen?”
     “I’m having trouble sleeping. I took a sleeping pill ages ago, but it’s not working.”
     “Maybe something bother you?”
     “I’ve been tense lately,” I say softly. “I talked to Stuart about it, but it doesn’t seem to have helped. Every day it just seems to get worse and worse.”
     “I go close door. The light no good for sleep.”
     “But what about the night nurse?” I ask. “If she sees the door shut she won’t like it. It’s supposed to be open so she can keep an eye on us.”
     “She not one trying to sleep.” Lucy says matter-of-factly.
     Surprised by this response, and amused by her logic, I remain quiet as Lucy gets out of bed, walks over to the door, and shuts it.
     “You sleep now.”
     “I hope so Lucy, I really do. Goodnight and thank you,” I say gently, before rolling over and shutting my eyes.
     “You look awful.”
     “Thanks, and hello to you to,” I say, looking up from my book. I manage a smile. “It’s nice to see you up and about.” I notice the dark circles under her eyes, smudges next to lily-white skin. Chancing a quick glance at the edge of her sleeve, I see the thick bandages encircling her wrist.
     “I’m feeling better. Mind if I join you?”.
     “Sure. I’m not having much luck reading this book anyway. This is my third attempt with this chapter. I just can’t seem to keep my mind on it,” I say. I close the book, place it on the lounge coffee table, and watch as Jan sinks into the green brocaded armchair to my right. We are alone.
“What’s up?”
“Besides insomnia and feeling like an explosion waiting to happen, not a whole lot.” I have to smile at the quizzical look she gives me. “It’s nothing that I’m sure won’t eventually get sorted out,” I say, serious now. I know she cares and I don’t want to offend her. “Thanks for asking.”
     Jan looks at me silently for a long moment.
     “I hear Lucy has decided she likes you.”
     “Lucy?” Well, that was certainly out of the blue. Now it’s my turn to look quizzical.
     “How on earth did you find that out?”
     Jan grins at me. “She told me.”
     “She told you?” Jan just looks at me with a warm smile and slightly curious expression on her face.
     “Maureen, I think it’s great she wants to stay with you. Do you know how long it’s been since I’ve seen her show an interest in anything? She’s been here three months this time round and it’s the first time I’ve seen her come out of her shell.”
     Now it’s my turn to look quizzical. “She’s been here before?” I ask.
     “Yes, this is her third time. Last time she was only gone a month before she was readmitted.”
     “Well, what…”
     “Oh, there you are.” Jan and I both look up at Margaret, one of the nurses. “Your doctor’s here to see you Maureen.”
     “Okay, I’ll be right down.”
     I get up, grab my book from the table, and turn to look at Jan. “We’ll chat later,” I say, before turning to follow Margaret down the hall.
     I am tense all the time now. My doctor wants me to leave the hospital for entire weekends, a test run he calls it. What about the alien? I keep trying to will her away but she is stronger than I am. It’s like she owns me. My counselling sessions with the nurses have become a nightmare. I dread them. I come out of them feeling worse than when I went in. I know what a caged animal feels like. Pacing around and around and around for hours and hours. Going in circles. Every day the same thing. Around and around. There is no way out. It makes you crazy. At least things are better with Lucy.
     “Hi Lucy,” I say as I throw my coat and weekend case down on my bed and head over towards her. She is lying down on top of the covers of her made bed, but her eyes are open. She sits up.
     “You have good weekend Mareen?”
     “Yes, I did,” I lie. I pause for a moment. “I brought you something.” I thrust a brown paper bag at her and watch as she opens it.
     “Mareen, you shouldn’t buy for me.”
     “Of course I should,” I say, grinning now. “It’s just a little something to have with your coffee.” She sees the chocolate dipped biscotti. For the briefest of moments I am watching a child at a birthday party who’s just unwrapped her prize for winning “Pin the Tail on the Donkey.” Someone had told me that biscotti were Italian. I guess they were right.
Later that night as I lie awake in bed I smile as I think of Lucy and the biscotti. For once I don’t even care that it’s 4 a.m. and I’m still not asleep. I wonder why no one visits her, why no one brings her things to brighten her day. It’s funny that I didn’t notice her lack of visitors before. Why would anyone not want to visit her?
     I survive my second weekend away. As I throw my coat and overnight bag onto my bed I look down at the plain white bedspread through unseeing eyes. The sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach is all there is. Fear eats you up. It ruins weekends away. Next I’ll be gone. Maybe for good. Doesn’t he know that I’m not ready? I walk over to the closed bathroom door to knock on it, but notice that there is no light shining out from under it. I look at my watch. Dinnertime. I haven’t eaten; I’m not hungry. I go back to the bed to grab my case and coat. After depositing them in my locker, I turn and pause for a moment as I gaze at the room. I look past Lucy’s bed to her night table. The Virgin Mary is gone. I notice her made bed and the too smooth pillowslip on the too perfectly fluffed-up pillow. Tuesday is laundry day. My stomach becomes a knot. I turn back to the lockers and open the first one. Empty. The knot grows. Moments later I stare at the empty space beside my toiletries in the medicine cabinet. I’ve got to find Jan.
     “Jan,” I say, catching up to her at the end of the hall near the visitor’s lounge. “Thank goodness I found you.”
     “You’re back.”
     “Lucy’s gone. I just got back from the weekend and all her stuff is gone.”
     “It’s okay Maureen,” she says, her tone gentle. “I had hoped that I’d meet up with you sooner at dinner to let you know that she’d been discharged. She left right after lunch today.”
     I stand there trying to absorb her words. I did not expect this. I guess somehow I expected Lucy to be here forever.
     “I’m going to miss her too,” Jan says quietly as she gazes at me.
     “I wish that I’d had a chance to say goodbye,” I say. I feel hollow.
     “I don’t think even Lucy knew that she was going to be discharged on the weekend.”
     We stand there gazing at each other for what feels like a long time. I glance down for a moment, and then look back up into her eyes. “What happened, Jan? How did Lucy end up here?
Lucy reaches past the pickle jar, grabs the cheese, and closes the fridge door. After putting it on the counter beside a basket filled with panini rolls, she turns towards a large pot on the stove beside the counter. She stirs the soup, lifts the spoon to her lips, blows on it for a moment, and tastes. Basil. She walks across the kitchen and down the hallway to the basement door. After making her way down the steep steps she heads to the cellar storage area. Seeing what she’s looking for, she walks over to a line strung with various dried herbs, pinches off a sprig of basil, and heads for the doorway to Sal’s workshop.
“Sal?”
Seeing that he’s not at his workbench, she walks over to his empty stool, turns off the overhead light, and heads to the rec room. He’s fallen asleep again. She sighs. He’s tired all the time now. She reaches the doorway to the rec room and goes in.
     “She found him hanging, Maureen,” Jan says quietly. “He had tied a rope to an overhead beam and hung himself.”
     “Oh… Jan. No… Why?”
     “He had a heart condition and had been told by the doctor that he only had a short time to live. There was nothing that they could do for him. So that was the route he chose.”
     I place my suitcase down for a moment and turn to look at what has been my home for the last five weeks. My eyes find the night table. Once again I look at the empty space where the Virgin Mary had been. “Thank you Lucy,” I whisper, as I pick up my suitcase and head out the door.
     I throw another stone at a sharp angle across the water and watch as it, like the first, shatters the glass-like surface of the water, first in one place and then again and again until it finally comes to rest beneath the water. Again the circles ripple out from each place the stone touched, only this time, a maple key, buffeted by a light breeze, gently spins its way down to the surface of the water, finally coming to rest on one of the circles. I watch as a new circle begins and the first circle disappears under the ripples extending out in new directions from where the key hit the water.
     Over the decades since this event happened, I often found my mind wandering to Lucy. Even after all these years, as I write this, I feel the tears filling my eyes as I remember her beautiful, gentle, broken self. She will never know that getting to know and care for and love her gave me back the will to live. Perhaps it is better that way.
     Lucy, I sincerely hope that you found happiness. I hope that you found peace. You will forever be a part of me, dear one.
     Thank you.
Note: The section near the end that is in italics comes from my imagination.
Note: With the exception of the analogy of the ripples at the beginning and conclusion of this memoir, every event in this memoir happened. The names of the people have been changed.
Thank you: I will be forever grateful to my incredible, wise, and compassionate psychologist and family doctor for being there for me to phone and say “Help, this is what’s happening”. I trusted them completely so took their advice to go to the hospital to get admitted.
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