Death Is Your Gift

October 19, 2014 at 10:22 am (Book Commentary) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

“And I will show you something different from either your shadow at morning striding behind you or your shadow at evening rising to meet you; I will show you fear in a handful of dust.”  (T.S. Eliot)

Mount Pleasant Cemetery_SC

I was a Cemetery Girl. This was before goth was a thing. As a child, my best friend and I use to wander the local graveyards exploring and reading the gravestones. It was peaceful. It was quiet. It was a pleasant way to spend a coolish Fall afternoon.

It was usually Fall when you would find us in the graveyard. Leaves would be falling and the world’s axis was spinning into winter and long, cold days of nothing to do. Fall is my favourite season. It is cool. School is starting. There is a quietness in the air. Halloween is just around the corner.

Most of the cemeteries we haunted were country cemeteries; the closet one was a block outside of town. The other one we visited regularly was a mile out. We hardly ever saw anyone else there. It seemed a shame. There was so much beauty and peacefulness there and everyone else was missing it.

We come upon an old woman in black, holding an umbrella against the sun, sitting in front of her husband’s grave on an overturned bucket. She speaks to us in her own language, pointing at the face on the black headstone, crying into a hankie. Lisa gives her a fresh bottle of water. (p. 244)

Curtains: Adventures of an Undertaker-in-Training
by Tom Jokinen
Toronto:Random House of Canada, 2010

Country Cemetery (Dahlton)

I still haunt graveyards. I’ve taken pictures of cemeteries all over Saskatchewan, in Scotland and recently in Anchorage, Alaska. I’m always going to regret not being able to get to explore the historical cemetery at Skagway.

Death intrigues me. No, how we process death intrigues me. No, the history sitting around in graveyards entrances me. I am an explorer of the past. I like to explore what use to be.

I also wonder about what is beyond – beyond the shadows, beyond death. What is the next step? Knowing the plan calms me. I like to know the steps, what to do, what ie expected of me at each turn. Don’t surprise me. I hate surprises!

Anchorage Memorial Park Cemetery

I delight in exploring cemeteries and graveyards. Did you know the two terms are not interchangeable? A cemetery is an area set apart for or containing graves, tombs, or funeral urns, especially one that is not a churchyard. A graveyard is a burial ground, associated with or beside a church.

I also delight in reading books about the death industry. I enjoyed the television series Six Feet Under and always wanted to live in a large, Victorian funeral home.

The latest funeral industry book I bought is Caitlin Doughty’s book Smoke Gets in Your Eyes. Caitlin oversees the blog The Order of the Good Death that I regularly read and has a series of videos about death and the way we (as a society) deal with it. Scroll down this page for the book video.

I am a cemetery girl. I haunt graveyards. Death is my familiar. I fear not.

 

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Home: 13 Meditations

June 2, 2013 at 8:15 am (Life) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

“Home is where one starts from.” (T. S. Eliot)

I was born overseas; my dad was stationed in Germany with the Canadian Air Force. I do not remember this first home. I was not even one year old when we came back. My mother says it was an apartment and the landlady lived next door. There were a lot of steps – she mentions how hard it was too herd three small girls (all under five) outside every day. The Pram (how very European) was kept by the front door. I vaguely remember seeing a pram somewhere in my childhood travels between my parent’s houses. It sounds very different from anywhere else I’ve ever lived except perhaps Montreal – which is also, in some parts, very European.

“When you finally go back to your old hometown, you find it wasn’t the old home you missed but the childhood.” (Sam Ewing)

I spent the next thirteen years running wild throughout my small town. My friends and I had the run of main street, went to the playground unsupervised, and occasionally, hitched-hiked the ten miles or so to the lake. The lake my grandparents lived on was closer to their house (it was only about a city block out of town) so I spent more of my childhood there unsupervised. Well, not really unsupervised just not directly supervised. It was a village – everybody kept on eye on each others’ children and everybody was always free to scold us, repair a boo-boo or send us home. It was a wonderful, free childhood and I mourn its passing not just for me but because I know that my great nieces/nephews will probably never know that kind of freedom. Yes, I’m all for a free-range childhood!

“If I were asked to name the chief benefit of the house, I should say: the house shelters day-dreaming, the house protects the dreamer, the house allows one to dream in peace.” (Gaston Bachelard)

I spent a lot of my childhood day-dreaming. I was a reader. I lived next door to the library. I got to take out six books at a time. I felt rich. My first books were fairy tales populated by princesses, dragons, unicorns, ogres and witches. We weren’t allowed to sit inside in front of the television (why bother – there were only two channels and very little children’s programming). We had a front porch and along the back shelves were the high heels that my mother no longer wore. We wore them out pretending to be ladies and all grown-up. Inside the house (small as it was), I had two favourite places (under my mom’s bed and at the back of my sister’s closet) to hide, read and day-dream in. I felt sheltered, protected, and peaceful there at home.

“I live in my own little world. But its ok, they know me here.” (Lauren Myracle)

I was different from my sisters and my cousins. My family tolerated my bookish ways. I was not athletic. I never could never do the shoot the duck move in figure skating. I was not musical. I had one lesson – the teacher said it was hopeless and a waste of money for me to continue on with piano lessons. I can kinda swim. It took me until I was eleven to pass beginner swimming (that’s a story in itself). I was different. I created my own world. They knew (and tolerated) me and my eccentricities.

“Home is not where you live, but where they understand you.” (Christian Morgenstern)

I was understood. I was home. I was blessed. (Which was very good – because the outside world could be cold and dark and scary). They didn’t always like me but they always understood!

“Home was not the place where you were born but the place you created yourself, where you did not need to explain, where you finally became what you were.” (Dermot Bolger – The Journey Home )

There was freedom there. The freedom to explore and read and dream. It was there I became resilient. It was there I learned who I was. It was there that I saw myself as myself and saw myself as they saw me. I was a reader. I was a dreamer. I was a quiet child. I was perfect just the way I was.

“Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire: it is the time for home.” (Edith Sitwell)

I am a cold weather child. I do not tolerate heat well. There are tales of me fainting from the heat at age seven. Give me a book, a blankie, a warm beverage and a sturdy chair then I am comfortable. I am home. Summer never feels like home. Spring is the dreaded precursor to Summer. Fall is the best – cool nights, brilliant sunsets, heavenly full moons and the occasional welcome blast of heat.

“Everybody has a home team: It’s the people you call when you get a flat tire or when something terrible happens. It’s the people who, near or far, know everything that’s wrong with you and love you anyways. These are the ones who tell you their secrets, who get themselves a glass of water without asking when they’re at your house. These are the people who cry when you cry. These are your people, your middle-of-the-night, no-matter-what people.” (Shauna Niequist – Bittersweet: Thoughts on Change, Grace, and Learning the Hard Way)

I have many homes. I have my sisters’ homes. I have my stepmother’s home. I can fall asleep there as my two younger half-sisters knit and I dream. I can read in the house while my eldest sister gardens. I know where my step-mother keeps the everyday glasses. Their pets know me. My family is my home team and I hope that I am theirs.

Art Done by Family

Art Done by Family

“It was good to walk into a library again; it smelled like home.” (Elizabeth Kostova – The Historian)

I can walk into any library in the world and instantly feel at home. Decades ago, on our honeymoon trip, my ex and I explored libraries together. There is something about a library that says to me, “come in, you are welcome here. You are home!” I regret that when I was in Scotland I ignored the chance to pop into their National Library (I was physically thisclose to it but I was lost and sun-sick and tired and longing for a cool bath and a quiet room. I forgot where home was!). Home is an immense bibliotheque.

“How often have I lain beneath rain on a strange roof, thinking of home.” (William Faulkner)

Not often enough. I am a home-body. Travel scares me. The unknown scares me. I like to meander into a place and stay until it feels like home. Rain feels like home. I love a good thunderstorm. No, I love being inside, safe and warm, during a thunderstorm. It feels likes home.

“ And then I laugh, because it’s so ridiculous and so gorgeous and it’s all I an do to not melt into a fit of giggles. So what if I’m ninety-three? So what if I’m ancient and cranky and my body’s a wreck? If they’re willing to accept me and my guilty conscience, why the hell shouldn’t I run away with the circus? It’s like Charlie told the cop. For this old man, this IS home.” (Sara Gruen – Water For Elephants)

I am learning how to be home in my body. I’ve spent decades in my mind and only paying attention to my body when it yells at me. The older I get the more I realize that it is important to love your body and to treat it like the blessed home it is. I hope to be spry enough to run away with the circus or to a mountain cave when I am ninety-five.

“I have learned that if you must leave a place that you have lived in and loved and where all your yesteryears are buried deep, leave it any way except a slow way, leave it the fastest way you can. Never turn back and never believe that an hour you remember is a better hour because it is dead. Passed years seem safe ones, vanquished ones, while the future lives in a cloud, formidable from a distance.”
(Beryl Markham – West with the Night)

Leaving home is like peeling of a band-aid – it is best to do it quick and clean. I leave quickly but I plan my leave-taking for months, years, decades. I knew at thirteen that I wasn’t staying in that small town forever. I knew at twenty-five that it was time to stop living in basement apartments. I knew at thirty that I had to try a big city at least once and so I planned and I left and somehow (ironically) I also keep coming back. I go from yearning for large to yearning for small.

“No matter how dreary and gray our homes are, we people of flesh and blood would rather live there than in any other country, be it ever so beautiful. There is no place like home.” (L. Frank Baum – The Wonderful Wizard of Oz)

As Dorothy so famously said – there’s no place like home. The hardest part is defining where home is and getting there!

“Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” (Robert Frost)

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Waiting For Lilacs

May 27, 2012 at 8:15 am (Recreation, Weather) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

These four weeks between the middle of May and the middle of June are my second favourite time of the year as I watch and wait for the Lilacs to bloom. My most favourite time is October when the leaves are changing colour and morbid is in fashion.

Almost blooming…

We’ve had a few weeks of rain and sunshine. Spring is busting out all over; every where you look the world is morphing from winter brown to various shades of green.

Emerald green.

Grass green.

Pine green.

Spring green.

Budding…

I am a purist. I love lilac Lilacs the best. I use to think Lilacs only came in the one colour.

The Lilac trees beside my apartment’s parking lot are white and lilac, the ones across the street are a deep, dark purple.

I’ve yet to see blue lilacs.

Or Alexander Pink.

Lilacs,
False blue,
White,
Purple,
… … …
Among your heart-shaped leaves
Orange orioles hop like music-box birds and sing
… … …
Lilacs in dooryards
Holding quiet conversations with an early moon;
… … …
Above a cellar dug into a hill.
You are everywhere.
… … …
You flaunted the fragrance of your blossoms
Through the wide doors of Custom Houses—
… … …
The dead fed you
Amid the slant stones of graveyards.
Pale ghosts who planted you
Came in the nighttime
And let their thin hair blow through your clustered stems.
… … …
You are the smell of all Summers,
The love of wives and children,
The recollection of gardens of little children,
… … …
May is a green as no other,
May is much sun through small leaves,
May is soft earth,
And apple-blossoms,
And windows open to a South Wind.
May is full light wind of lilac
From Canada to Narragansett Bay.
… … …
Amy Lowell, “Lilacs”
Copyright © 1955 by Houghton Mifflin Company.

Full Bloom…

The smell of Lilacs in the air speak to me of home.

When lilacs last in the door-yard bloom’d.

I didn’t know what a dooryard was until I read Ray Bradbury.

I had never heard of a dooryard.

I had played in front yards, back yards and side yards.

So you know – a door yard is a yard or garden by the door of a house.

Lilacs in the sky…

If I ever own a house, it will be surrounded by Lilacs.

And not just lilac Lilacs but also, blue, pink and white Lilacs.

Though this may be sacrilege, I’ve come to believe that all Lilacs stir my heart.

Though I’ll always love lilac Lilacs the best, there may be room in my garden for the others as well.

Not Lilacs … 🙂

“April is the cruelest month, breeding lilacs out of the dead land, mixing memory and desire, stirring dull roots with spring rain.”

T.S. Eliot

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