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joy and the story of my tattoo

The story of how I came to have a tattoo is also a story about joy.

 

It all happened about 17 years ago.

I am not even over-dramatizing when I say that when my first marriage ended, I  resolutely hauled all of the clothes out of my closet as I sobbed, threw everything in garbage bags, grabbed my beloved basset hound, and drove away from my life as I knew it in the dead of night.

 

I ended up back in my parents’ home and very gradually and gently, began to re-build and create a new life,

 

this life.

 

My break from my first marriage was abrupt and harsh, and though I knew for sure that leaving was for the best, there was much to grieve and much that I still cared about in that little  town that I had so quickly left behind.

Karen, for instance -not me, of course, but my dear friend Karen, the woman who had been my principal through my first few years of teaching elementary. Karen had become my mentor, not just in teaching, but in life: in leadership, in spirituality, in all things good that I aspired to become.

She worried about me after I left, calling me, sending me uplifting gifts, and even driving us both all the way up to Edmonton and back on the day before school started back in September so that we could attend Lilith Fair together.

 

What I remember most about that trip, though,  were the deep conversations during the long car ride –

 

Conversations that still stay with me even though she has been gone 9 years, having died of cancer a little over a year after my mom died.

 

On another car trip that summer, her and I  went to Calgary and each bravely got a tattoo in honour of her 45th birthday.

I had an orange and blue star inked onto my lower back, inspired by the paper lantern that hung in the bedroom of my new apartment.

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The walls of that little bedroom in the top floor suite of the old house that I was renting were painted orange and navy blue and my landlord (who would become my future father-in-law) apologized profusely for this fact. I didn’t care, though,

I loved everything about that apartment, especially the bedroom. 

I would look up from my bed at that beautiful star,

while the bold, strong colours on the walls cocooned me up at night.

Emerging from underneath my feelings of hurt and betrayal was a sense of freedom and renewal that I had never before quite experienced,

an exhilarating sense of possibility that from that day forward I could and would re-write my life. I would choose new words to define my days,

words like integrity, truth, adventure, kindness,

 

Joy.

 

And when I went to bed at night in my little apartment, even though I was alone, I felt

 

happy.

 

I rarely even remember anymore that I have a tattoo. It is mostly hidden, and I can’t see it. For a while I stated that I would, at some point, go back and have the star filled in with a more intricate and detailed design to make the tattoo more artistic and interesting, as it is really just an outline of a star filled in with solid colors.

 

However, even as I said it out loud back them, I doubted I ever would.

My minor act of rebellion was complete and I had no desire to subject myself to more needless pain.

 

The outline is enough.

 

Thank you, Karen, for your big love that summer and for holding my hand through the pain that I needed to then bear,

for generously taking me into the fold of your true self, uncovering to me truths and desires and ideas that I needed to understand then to be who I am now.

 

I am ever amazed by the intricate paths that the stories of our lives lead us down, cleverly and magically winding,

seemingly finding the fullness of circles (and stars)  to complete.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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On birthdays, Maya Angelou, and lilacs

Every week I am going to speak to three topics: anecdotes, books, ideas, products, or innovations that I believe are peace-building, heart-opening, community-celebrating, love-spreading vehicles. Complaining and criticizing are easy traps to fall into, but I am convinced that building up holds far more power and transformative energy.

So, my sweet friends, here goes…Our world is a beautiful village and peace does begin at home.

What I am thinking about / loving this week….

Birthdays

Last week was the engagement,

then this week brought us yet another reason to celebrate…

Olivia turned twelve.

Admittedly, I do have a thing about birthdays. I believe they are truly worth celebrating. Life, after all, is challenging and none of us are immune to pain and difficulties. To some degree, most of us struggle with our sense of worth in this crazy and messy world.

So why not spend one day a year (or 2 or 3) whooping it up, and celebrating the mere fact of our honored presence on this planet? Also, why not wholeheartedly celebrate the birth days of those that we love and hold dear?

My mother was a master of the art of celebration. It wasn’t that she ever tried to be her own version of Martha Stewart. Rather, she simply oozed joy and delight and invited celebration. She was happy to bake a cake and plan a meal, welcomed guests with laughter and hugs, was ready to dance in the kitchen or sit and chat and share a glass of wine, and she loved buying gifts….

Not only did I adore all of that about her, but I feel it and get it and embrace it all in myself too.

So again, why not celebrate?

Surely the marking of another year is worth a gathering, a cake, a feast, and laughter.

Happy Birthday my twelve year old girl.

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Maya Angelou

I cannot now pretend that I closely followed the work and life of Maya Angelou, nor can I pretend that I have read most of her books or her poems.

What I do know of this fascinating woman has come to me in small snippets:

a quote or poem of hers I may have come across in another book, an interview with her and Oprah that I saw, and so many references to her from other writers and teachers.

Still, I find myself quite struck by the news of her death this week,

and riveted by the descriptions of her as they have come in from different news sources –

she lived a life of relentless creativity’,

‘she was a sculptor of words’,

‘she lived a life as a teacher, an activist, artist and human being. She was a warrior for equality, tolerance, and peace’ (Guy B Johnson)

she moved through the world with unshakeable calm, confidence, and a fierce grace‘ (Oprah)

and then there’s her last incredible tweet from a few days before her death, that has been spread the world round already,

‘Listen to yourself and in that quietude you might hear the voice of God’.

Be still my heart. What honoring words of pure inspiration are these,

describing a woman who fully understood her own power and willingly stepped into it,

owning herself with no apologies,

and understanding always that true power and strength is guided, motivated, and fueled above all by love.

What a woman,

one that I now am even more inspired to get to know deeper.

I will finally be reading I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings as I have been intending to for years, and I along with so many others, will be letting myself be mentored by Maya Angelou‘s essence, her spirit, and her words long after her death.

‘There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you’ Maya Angelou also once said,

and so may we all be graced by her beautiful example, and all be empowered to find our own voices,

everywhere.

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Lilacs

Have you noticed the lilacs in full radiant bloom (how could one not!?),

and noted their heady gorgeous Spring fragrance?

Is it just me, or do these sorts of recurring wonders of nature become only more miraculous as we age,

and become more aware of the fragility and beauty of it all?

I see you lilacs, and you are a sight to behold.

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On Mentors, Trading Eggs for Pants, and Doodling

Every week I am going to speak to three subjects: books, ideas, people, products, or innovations that I believe are peace-building, heart-opening, community-celebrating, love-spreading vehicles. Complaining and criticizing are easy traps to fall into, but I am convinced that building up holds far more power and transformative energy.

So, my sweet friends, here goes….Our world is a beautiful village and peace does begin at home.

What I am LOVING this week…

1) Mentors

This week my step-daughter Alex is finishing her second education practicum. Of all her teacher-training experiences thus far, this particular semester has shone the brightest largely thanks to the beautiful mentoring that she has received from the teacher to which she was assigned.

These last several weeks, when Alex has come over, her eyes are bright and alive as she tells story after story about her days in this classroom. She expresses boundless gratitude for the experience, and exudes excitement and passion for what is presently happening in her life. Even the difficult moments are recounted with cheerful perspective.

We couldn’t be happier for our girl. What more could any parent want for their child than to see them happy and energized?

Last year at this time Alex was struggling with not only a walloping bout of vertigo, but also with establishing a sense of direction that felt right.

The fabulous mentoring that Alex has received this spring has certainly played a part in her renewed sense of optimism. It’s not even that anything is ideal or perfect about this teaching assignment,

rather something about it, or perhaps everything about it, has managed to reach her heart in a very real and significant way.

And so the power of mentoring has been on my mind as of late.

Personally, I have had the opportunity to be mentored by some incredible women   who have virtually changed my course,

changed who I am

changed what I am about.

I will write about those women on another day.

Today I am focusing on the indescribable gratitude I feel towards the people who have, are, and will mentor my kids. Today, the peace prize is being handed over into your deserving arms.

From my very first days of mothering, I was acutely aware of my responsibility to nurture independence and resilience in my kids.

This means letting them out into the world and trusting (this part has been SO hard for me) that they need to find their own footing, learn from their mistakes, and explore,

so that slowly but surely a strong sense of self can begin to emerge.

Amazingly, though, wonderful role models (extended family members, teachers, coaches, assistants, friends’ parents)  have appeared in their lives,

modeling qualities that I don’t have, lighting fires that I can’t light, sharing perspectives that I don’t have, teaching skills that I don’t own, and relaying lessons that my kids are tired of hearing from my voice.

Thank you, ALL of you,

and this week, thank you in particular to one specific master middle school teacher who was able to show our daughter what teaching can be,

and that it is a wondrous profession, worthy of commitment and passion.

2) Trading Eggs for Pants

Given that it’s Easter, I thought I would most cleverly inject an egg related topic.

I have a very dear friend, you see, who actually delivers farm fresh eggs to my house every week! This brings me no end of delight.

I love it when Andrea stops by with my goods and we get to have a brief chat,

I love when I am baking or cooking and I pull out the eggs from the fridge

and my heart sings, My friend gave me these beautiful eggs  –

I love that these eggs are so big and plump that the top lid of the carton often won’t even close.

Also, I love how wonderful everything tastes when I use these wholesome eggs, and I am not just imagining this.

Andrea and I have a long and magical history of reciprocity.

We met waitressing together as teenagers and became fast friends. When I divorced in my late twenties and returned to Lethbridge, she guided me to an apartment to rent right away. My new apartment ended up belonging to Dan’s father, and so I consequently met and married Dan. After Dan and I married, I was teaching grade one full time and I arranged to have Andrea do her final teaching internship with me. When I left teaching once Olivia was born, Andrea took over my position. And so it has gone with us two.

Now it’s eggs.

In turn, I give Andrea books and clothes that my kids have outgrown.

She shows up with the eggs, and I hand over a bulging bag of old egg cartons and other assortments:  pajamas, used books, shoes still in relatively good condition, and sometimes, pants.

The other day when we met for coffee we argued over who should pay.

She said, ‘You clothe my kids.’

I said, ‘You feed my family’.

This is how I think the world should work. It really is a beautiful arrangement.

3) Doodling

I am on a quest to learn how to play. This is a very serious and real quest.

I have imagined and prepared for this quest my entire life (long before the wonderful Brene Brown appeared on the wellness scene).

Dan and I pretty much decided that we were getting married on our second date after a lengthy theoretical and wine-induced discussion we had at the Saigonese restaurant about the importance of play. He had actually based his architectural thesis on this idea.

Now this was a man I knew I would love for a lifetime.

Here’s the thing, though. I can write and talk about play forever. I am sure that I could even muster up a fairly successful thesis myself on the topic if required .

However, I am not so good at applying it in my own life.

I am very good at setting up play experiences for others. I will set out the paints and clean them up. I can plan a Harry Potter Party, Hobbit party, fairy party, day at the office party, you name it  -and it will knock your socks off. I can imagine it and execute it for others without fail.

When it comes to planning play for just me, though, I often can’t be bothered.

What I have come to realize, though, is that all this new talk about play being essential is not just fluff.

Play fuels and renews joy. Play is an antidote to lethargy, hopelessness, anxiety. Play creates and triggers meaning. Playing grounds us in the moment. Play builds peace and connections.

So this week, I am working on my doodling because that’s a safe and gentle place to start.

Yes, I did say doodling. Shhhhh…..don’t tell. It’s a bit embarrassing and not at all ‘productive’.

Not to worry, though, my small segments of doodling are still limited to my black pen, and are interspersed between very official and important tasks such as making grocery lists, checking banking info, returning emails, and filling out forms.

Watch out world, though, because when I really get into it

I might actually break out the colored pack of fine-tip markers and

I may even lose a little track of time without even a fleeting thought as to whether or not I am being ‘productive’.

Who knows what that might eventually lead to.

Bring it on.

For anyone else brave and silly enough to enter the realms of absolutely purposeless doodling (it’s actually quite a trend) check out this absolutely marvelous book, ‘Creative Doodling & Beyond‘ by Stephanie Corfee.

What are your thoughts on mentors? reciprocity in friendships? How do you play?