Not-So-Auld-Lang-Syne

I am thinking today of my friends who have said good-bye to loved ones in 2015, and are about to enter a year that their lost companions will never experience. For those gone to their sleep, 2015 was the conclusion of their road – a way station to somewhere else. We all have that final year waiting to be inscribed on our own memorials. But unless we are very unlucky today, 2015 will not be it.

My husband was a newshound. Almost as long as I knew him, at 7:30 the NBC Nightly News was his focus for half an hour. Nothing else intruded. He watched other news media as well, but for some reason that was his favourite as he grew older. He also enjoyed CNN. If a breaking story caught his attention, he’d turn to various sources for updates. At the supper hour, Canadian channels predominated – CTV or ATV, CBC, Global. The daily paper then supplied more in-depth coverage of stories already known. We were a well-informed family.

When he was hospitalized at the end, I arranged for TV rental. However, he hardly glanced at the news broadcasts, and I realized then how very ill he was. He had detached himself from the world around him. Letting go of ongoing events seemed so uncharacteristic of the man. Now, looking back, I understand that he had no further need to follow these situations. He knew it wouldn’t matter and that time, for him, was about to stop. I would have to pursue the developing stories on my own. I have not watched NBC Nightly News since then.

How he would have loved the Justin Trudeau groundswell, the election, the excitement of transition! How he would have relished the endless debates about everything from Syrian refugees to the faltering Yarmouth ferry service to the plans for Mother Canada! He would have wept for Paris and Ankara and San Bernardino. He would have recalled his own arrival through Pier 21 as the Syrian newcomers were welcomed to Halifax. He’d now be tracing the rise of Donald Trump. shaking his head in disbelief, and poring over TIME magazine for each election installment. But for him, “now” only goes as far as April 21, 2015. Whatever has come next, I cannot know.

So what is time, anyway? Is it linear? I don’t think so, nor do the great temporal physicists like Stephen Hawking and Albert Einstein, but we have to make it that way so our human brains can comprehend its passage. We assign numbers to the line and mark our progress by referring to them. But the whole idea of time is inherently a comparison between various states of existence that constantly change. If the universe were static – motionless – would we still measure time or even think about it? Would it matter? New Year’s Eve would become rather irrelevant, I should imagine. We’d be buying our champagne and sparklers just for the heck of it.

“People like us who believe in physics know that the distinction between the past, the present and the future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.” – Albert Einstein

Indeed. We choose our illusions, then, and live with them because to do otherwise would be too much for our minds to handle. Plato’s theory of forms suggests that ideas existed in perfection, separate from their reflections in our own world. In their “place beyond heaven” (Phaedrus), these forms pattern the universe, and we imitate them but can never quite achieve their purity. All, then, is imitative and – while intelligible to our senses – not quite truthful. And what we perceive isn’t always real. Colours change with the light. What looks blue to me might look purple to you. Think of “the dress” that took Facebook by storm a few months ago. What colour was it, really? And who gets to decide?

Time and Illusion. Or are they the same thing? Time AS illusion? I’m just a poet. I can’t begin to go there.

But the year turns tonight and the last people to die in 2015 will have done so. The gravestone-carvers will inscribe that final “5” and move on to a “6”. Those whom time is leaving behind will see neither peace nor war to come; neither celebration nor grief. They remain eternally in the span to which they have been assigned. We have to walk away and if we turn to look back, there is only silence. Snow, perhaps. An odd salt taste on our lips.

We – not being dead – confront whatever waits for us. We ride in an open carriage, ancient and unfamiliar, while all around us the engines roar by, or above, or under. Space stations orbit, jets trail across the horizon, race cars circle a child’s playroom track. But we’re huddled in an Emily Dickinson poem, almost 130 years after she set down her pen forever. We see only the back of our driver, who handles the reins with ease and confidence. Clearly, there’s only one direction to be taken. The horses clatter on stones that spark fire from their heels. We can look toward the very edge of the universe if we keep going. There’s Polaris beaming us north, and Orion swinging his sword arm in his solitary hunt. The blurred galaxies swim like flecks on velvet. Somewhere, angels are caroling, or maybe that’s just the solar wind heading toward its own fate. It has a low voice not everyone can hear.

I shrug off my worn overcoat of mourning, and put on hope like a lap robe for the journey, to warm my feet. In the crowded darkness, a watchmaker adjusts the minute and second hands to mark this midnight hour. I do not believe he is blind, as some might call him. He simply has no need for optics. He can feel the rightness of things.

Then come the Roman Candles and Catherine Wheels. Someone across the river sets off a string of explosions. I raise my glass to the window, seeing only my own face reflected in its pane. The reality of myself – or just the idea of me? The wine glints in starlight. A Parisian baby opens her eyes for her first astonished look at life. A very old man in Corner Brook smiles and wishes “Happy New Year” to his fragile wife. A shopkeeper in New Delhi kisses his new bride and listens to a ghazal singer from the street. Slowly, with great precision, the planet moves through her own dance.

High over my roof, wild geese vee across a skein of clouds, heading for somewhere else. No map required. They know the way.

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Life Lessons from Academia

They say that no matter what you study – regardless of how irrelevant it might seem at the time – someday you’ll find a use for that stored-up knowledge. I’m not just talking about university, but about all kinds of other options for learning. The banquet table is groaning with wide and spectacular choices.
     When I decided to take a degree in Sociology, back in the mid-‘Sixties, it was locally considered a fledgling and rather wishy-washy field. The “real academics” took majors in History, English (I did that too), various languages and so on – and the heavy hitters went for the hard sciences, Maths, Engineering, whatever else had clout. Or they did a Business Administration degree, which was called “Commerce” back then. We also had Computer Science departments – without the internet. Imagine.
      Soc majors, and Political Science types as well, were kind of a fringe element. Our courses included research methodology and other assorted topics that were just as tough as anyone else’s courses. Still, who really cared, except us? We didn’t fit so well.
      I even have a university medal somewhere, which I received for highest standing in my major field. I put it away, which means I misplaced it, and ended up becoming a teacher. I taught everything from English Lit to Phsyical Geography to History to Drama. Anything but Soc! Eventually, when that discipline was added to the high school curriculum, I wasn’t the one assigned to teach the course. This seemed kind of strange: I think I was the only one on staff with a Soc degree. Then again, I didn’t even ask if I could have that course. I kept quiet; I was used to those I already knew. Inertia is a dangerous position. My minor was Psych and that was also considered “soft” so I ignored it, too. Now there’s even a Psych course in high school. I view this as a most positive step.
      So today I look around me, and I realize that a Sociology background can finally be made relevant. Social scientists work with human beings, not lab rats or chemical formulae. And it is human beings, at the moment, who are providing Mother Earth with some very awkward parenting moments. Who better to assess certain situations – including the volatility of the Middle East, the refugee crisis, and the challenges presented by disaffected recruits to gangs (military, ideological and/or street), than someone trained in this area? Who better to study the range of societal variables than people trained to look at populations as a whole, and how individuals relate to these populations? We do understand a bit about demographics, migration trends, ethnic and regional complexities, gender roles, educational and occupational distributions, social and cultural expectations and stratification. We’re no longer soft-core. We “know stuff”. We can even “do stuff”.
      My bucket list includes a return to university, because I love learning, and I thrive in that setting. I’d want to revisit Sociology first of all. This is probably a pipe dream; it’s expensive and demands a certain level of mobility. My degree was long ago and life has intervened since then. Would I get credit for any of my experiences in the interim? I might be a tad lazy these days as well. Call it “age”, I suppose. Other than more letters after my name, I wouldn’t gain anything except more knowledge. And then there’s the interaction with others of different ages. THAT is something I’d truly enjoy!

      Still, I can draw on those long-ago years and courses, at last. I feel rather good about that. They weren’t a waste of my time after all. And there’s the thing: nothing learned is ever wasted. The older I get, the more I believe this.                                                                                                                If you’re taking any particular program or school course or workplace training and someone asks, “Why on earth would you want to do THAT?” – just smile and say, “Someday, I might need it.” You might be surprised when this happens.

 

Be Not Afraid

The merchants of fear are busy on social media in the wake of the Paris tragedy. ISIL has cast suspicion on every innocent refugee trying to flee its cruel regime. People are assuming that every one of them is a potential agent of terror. I feel sickened and saddened  – not only by the carnage in the City of Light, but also by the vicious campaign being waged against innocent people in a humanitarian crisis of unimaginable impact. Are there any quick solutions to this situation? No. It is a logistical minefield. However, the response to catastrophe should not include intolerance toward those caught up in it. Anti-refugee bigotry is being promoted all over social media. It touches people I know; it strikes locally and it strikes internationally.

We have opened the gates of our hearts – to let out compassion; to let in hate. And thus the terrorists win. Hatred is their currency. It is cheap to mint and readily-accepted by far too many of us. But the faces stamped on these coins are quite often our own.

A number of these refugees – Syrians, at any rate – are professionals in various fields. Contrary to popular belief, there IS an education system in Syria. These folks read, write, study, have hopes of a better life. They’re not warriors of any sort. They lack access to arms – unlike the forces to whom certain more powerful nations are quite willing to sell weapons. Since 2011, as of this past September, American munitions makers have sold $7.7 BILLION dollars’ worth of arms to Syrian forces! Sadly, the US has accepted only 1434 refugees from that country. Canada has provided $718 million worth of weaponry. We’ve accepted 2300 refugees. So-called “military aid” doesn’t always fall into the hands of freedom fighters. And a considerable stockpile of US-made weapons constitutes a legacy of the Iraq war. “Many of these same countries fueling the slaughter have also been some of the least willing to grant amnesty to Syria’s refugees.” (US Uncut, Sept. 4, 2015)

I read a poignant interview a couple days ago by a pharmacist who wanted to come to Canada. He’s not unusual. He just wants to be safe, with his family, and work toward a decent future. The majority of Syrian refugees are women and children of both genders, despite what some would have us believe. 50% are under the age of 17! Not even old enough to graduate from our Canadian high schools. 24% are women aged 18-39, and 22% are men in that age range. So to those who try to spread the disinformation that most refugees are males of “fighting age” – you are WRONG. Refer to the UN Refugee Agency. Updated statistics are always available. Here’s the link to their figures. Don’t take my word for this; check for yourselves. http://data.unhcr.org/syrianrefugees/regional.php

These refugees, contrary to popular misconception, are mainly families – and they’re powerless to stand against the kind of weaponry that ISIL has at its disposal (often provided by Western countries, as noted above). They cannot simply rise up and fight back. They would be slaughtered – creating a nation of widows and orphans, worse than it is now. There’s bravery and there’s futility. Big difference. Yet I keep reading posts that the men ought to “go back home and fight.” With WHAT? Sticks? They’d be facing assault rifles and explosives and whatever else ISIL has managed to acquire. Purchased, captured or stolen, these weapons can easily fall into merciless hands.

“Ah,” you might say, “But ISIL has infiltrated the refugee camps and planted their agents among these people.” Probably true – as far as it goes. However, those agents would most likely constitute a small percentage. One Syrian passport found near a suicide bomber’s corpse does not equal four million terrorists. Two, or five, or a dozen passports still don’t signify that most refugees mean to do harm. But people bent on inflicting devastation are very good at disguising their intentions. They learn to blend in. Otherwise, it would be too easy to spot their presence. They surround themselves with innocents, knowing full well that when they do act, those innocents will be instantly burdened with their wrongdoings. Suspicion is terror’s constant – and in some ways, far more insidious – companion.

I did some fact-checking and discovered that right here in Canada, 10% of us have criminal records. While some of those crimes may have been minor, I’d guess that maybe 3 out of 10 – at least – were not. Canada is the home of Clifford Olsen, Robert Pickton, Paul Bernardo, Marc Lepine, Alan Legere and a whole collection of other brutes. We’ve spawned the FLQ. We failed to prevent Babbar Khalsa from planting a bomb on Air India Flight 182 out of Toronto/Montreal and killing 329 people – 268 of whom were Canadian citizens.

Our collective Canadian hands are NOT clean! If we believe otherwise, we are lying to ourselves. And for every hateful word or deed, for every hopeful human being denied a chance to realize that hope, the stains spread and darken. We cannot distance ourselves from the bleeding. We cannot close our borders and turn away the victims of brutality and repression. This isn’t who we are as Canadians … is it?

We – together with the US and Cuba – denied SS St Louis entry to a safe port in 1939. We sent hundreds of Jewish passengers back to Europe, where many of them died in Auschwitz and Sobibor. Surely we’ve grown more civilized since that terrible time? Surely we have …

Reading Facebook this weekend, I’m no longer convinced of our Canadian cohesion in the face of fear. But I can’t generalize. That would be unfair. I’d be guilty of the same narrow-mindedness as those who try to generalize about Syrian refugees. I think most of us are still kind, altruistic, reasonable, humane. I just wish those of us who lack these qualities weren’t quite so loud about it. But in the end, we must inevitably reveal our true character, for good or ill. May the good assume the upper hand. And may we not be afraid, because this is what terror networks aim to do – make us afraid. And then will come other emotions. Fear makes us turn on each other. It fractures our unified stance against a common enemy. No wonder ISIL is pressuring us to do this. “Divide and conquer” is an approach as old as humanity.

But division can never bring peace. That has to start from within. We can’t let go of each other. We can’t break our own civil society into fragments. There will always be someone waiting to take advantage, poised and ready to hide in the spaces between. We must not allow this. Not ever.

Beware the Honest Photographer …

Today, I stopped by one of the Facebook photo groups to which I belong. I stayed to enjoy some of the recent shots there. Then I came upon a beautiful photo, and the note with it said “unedited”. Someone had posted a comment to the effect that “unedited photos are best” – and I moved on. It saddens me when groups erect barriers between members. Divisiveness is heartbreaking. Right away, all the other photographers – the ones who might pop the saturation a bit, or adjust lighting, or refine sharpness, or crop their shots to remove an unattractive detail, or reduce noise in the shadows, straighten a horizon line that’s tilted, remove a stray insect that has left a spot on the sky – are dismissed as being inferior somehow. Only those who create “unedited” shots and proudly declare this fact are to be applauded? Really?! What’s wrong with this picture?

Every photo is edited. As soon as it comes out of a camera and is converted to a JPEG file for printing or sharing, it’s changed from the way the camera initially saw it. It’s compressed and there is an automatic loss of detail. For many photographers, shooting in JPEG to begin with, their cameras have already applied editing of one kind or another. We can store the original RAW shots as TIFF files to avoid detail loss (as I often do) but few sites allow TIFF uploads. They are enormous files. But there is no unprocessed, raw shot ever posted on Facebook or anywhere else online that I know of. Not ONE. Even a cellphone shot – especially a cellphone shot! – has been processed by the phone’s own program. In many cases, heavily processed.

Therefore, I’m mulling over the implications of being party to a lie. And it IS a lie, no matter the motivations. People feel pressured to make claims that are simply untrue. I find this terribly discouraging. Why not just look at an image and enjoy it for whatever reasons it’s been shared? Or pass it by and go on to another? Why judge its merits on a false premise?

I don’t mind seeing people share their camera settings by way of information. This choosing of settings, too, is an editorial process but knowing the specifics can be helpful to others who are trying for similar effects. And all cameras have settings. One can see them by viewing them in whatever photo program is being used. Time, date, shutter speed, exposure time, ISO – all are there. Very useful details they are, indeed. And then there’s Image Stabilization. It eliminates a fair bit of camera shake; some of us have none-too-steady hands. So isn’t this an artifice as well? It’s certainly a form of assistance!

Still, there’s this implicit disdain for those who avail themselves of photographic tools and refuse to state otherwise. I wish I knew why this is happening. Ansel Adams manipulated his photos, decades ago. Nobody found them lacking or unworthy of praise. Why is it that now – with the remarkable technology that has been created for our use – it’s apparently wrong to take advantage of it?

Would we want to undergo abdominal surgery by kitchen knife as opposed to laser? Or refuse to refrigerate seafood and chicken because it’s not natural? Or entirely avoid our vehicles in order to travel on foot? Or paint only with our fingers because, well, brushes are artificial? Or write a book but reject the idea of proofreading for errors? I could go on but I’m sure that’s unnecessary.

Call me confused. And somewhat downcast as well. But at least I’m upfront. I edit my shots, period. I won’t try to fudge the issue by stating otherwise.

Here, by the way, is a photo I took this morning – overcast, calm, a tad dull. It was RAW to begin with and got converted to JPEG. I’ve post-processed it, of course, to share it here. How I did that, and what I chose to adjust, I won’t divulge because it shouldn’t matter. In any art form, the means to the end makes little difference. The end ought to be all that counts.

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Looking for a Road to Follow

It’s been quite a year. And sometimes I sit and wonder which direction to take next. I’ve been mulling over the idea of not writing poetry any more; of setting aside my cameras; of moving into some new territory where I might find acceptance and peace – from myself as well as from others.

Life has become a competition: Who can write the best poem and win the top prize? Who can create the most amazing photos with the most public applause or “likes” on Facebook? Who can garner the highest level of support for his or her position/views/candidacy/social status? And increasingly, I wonder why some of us even bother to enter that gushing stream. I wonder why I, in particular, bother. It’s rocky and the water can knock us over. In the end, what’s left but to fall and get thoroughly wet?

If I define myself by “success” – whether it’s placing in a poetry competition or getting a ribbon for a photography prize or being named to some committee or other – that seems like a narrow sort of frame. Maybe it’s time to walk outside the canvas and head into unknown lands. My view is shifting. Success doesn’t mean what it once did. Maybe I’m just too old to be taken in by veneer. I want the real wood underneath, even if it’s rough and grainy.

I have many sins to count and correct – or at least to cancel somehow. Regrets. Atonement. Stubbed toes and twisted ankles. I’m not the person I was in my younger years; none of us can remain as we were. For me, this is a good thing. We can never go back again; we can change not a single blip of time past. We can only live in the moment and hope it will matter to someone.

A poem – like a photograph – is an in-the-moment sort of creation, which is probably why I’ve enjoyed writing this form or wandering around with a camera in hand. But still, I sit back and reflect on whether or not my own moments are worth recording. It seems egocentric. Writers in general are an egocentric lot, I think. We have to be in order to push out and tame those ideas and memories, like having too many babies and not quite knowing how to afford them. There’s an uneasy line between too much of self and not enough of it; between embracing the reader and retreating behind a barbed fence. More than any other genre, poetry bares us to everyone else. We pull out our still-beating hearts and lay them bloody on the ground at our feet. We’re either mad or out-of-touch or stuffily outdated. We draw in the trampling crowds and we also drive them away.

I’m a solitary soul these days. This, too, might be part of aging. Gradually, the companions of my way have fallen behind or wandered off the road and gone somewhere else. I still hear footsteps around me; I still watch tiny figures in the distance. Whether or not I join them, or they wait for me to catch up, I can’t say. Robert Frost spoke of stopping by woods on a snowy evening – alone except for his little horse – and he seemed okay with that. Some people make camp in those woods, sit in circles around cheerful fires, talk into the late hours, with mugs of hot chocolate or beer. I’m the one stopping to gaze among the trees but going no further than that.

Meanwhile, it’s cold outside and my house hasn’t yet acquired its morning coziness. I’m sitting here in stocking feet without so much as a fire in the stove. This, friends, is what being alone can do to a person. We simply forget to worry about things, even basics like striking a match or putting on slippers. And then younger folks call us senile. 

This ramble hasn’t taken me anywhere. My camera still sits at my elbow. The words still gestate in my head. A blue jay in the hedge reminds me of birds and baseball. Flight and defeat; hope and resignation. My empty coffee cup begs for attention. It’s unfilled – like me, I guess. I need to pour into it the steaming brew of bone-toasting joy. One gesture at a time, right? Then the fire, and the footwear. All is well with me; may it also be well with you.

Thanksgiving Monday

After yesterday’s wind-tousled afternoon, it’s hushed here. Gulls have assembled out on the river, perching atop the exposed rocks and drifting like ghosts in an endless stream. Perhaps some fish are returning to the sea, and these birds have come to try their luck. The eaglets are whistling in high voices, sitting on power poles where the view must be unparalleled. Trees have begun to shrug into their fall wraps – a touch of orange here, a kiss of crimson there. Clouds descend to silver the mirror, then quietly depart. The sky arches above me like an upturned cup, filled with the wine of life and celebration.

My Facebook news feed speaks of politics, prejudice, accident and evil intent. It also shares personal posts. A friend mourns the loss of his brother today. Another friend recalls her father with love and sorrow, as he’s been gone for many years. Still another battles a disease whose very name can terrify the bravest heart. My husband’s ashes rest in a plastic case, awaiting release to the air and elements. All is not “happy” here on earth. Not everyone is entirely thankful for what this day has brought to their doorsteps. I will temper my own optimism, which is seldom loud in any event, and acknowledge that for too many of us, this day is simply one more round of struggle and disappointment. It seems almost cruel to flaunt my bounty and my blessings while they have so little.

Yet I would be less than honest if I overlooked the vireo flocks trilling among the maples; my bright-eyed dog keeping watch in the yard; the sheen of water moving forever to a dance of rain and gravity. I can hardly ignore my little family, with a daughter whose strength awes me and a son-in-law whose kindness and patience are gifts to the soul – not to mention a grandson whose whole being is full of laughter and promise. I can never omit a step-granddaughter whose presence lends so much joy. They’re with me every hour, whether or not we see each other in the flesh.

And it would be a shame to dismiss my helianthus, with their gold spires that flare against impossibly blue monkshood. The former – also known as Jerusalem artichokes – are edible and nourishing at their root; the latter are toxic and would kill me if I tried to eat them. So it is, I think, with the barrage of information that runs down my pages and disappears. I have to find the nourishment – the simple, humane touches – among so many less compassionate stories. I want the sunchokes, not the poison. I want to draw down the light if I can. These brief blooms do it, with no thought but survival. With no care but to fulfill their appointed places at the time chosen just for them.

May I fill my own place as well as I can manage, and graciously accept this span that has been granted for my use. May I leave peace, birdsong and sunflowers in my wake.

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Musings on Moving …

Selling a house, and moving everything out of it, can teach us some valuable lessons about people – including ourselves. We learn what we’re made of! We discover which members of our personal circle most value and support us. We uncover inner resources that catch us by surprise. Through the course of the transition, our perspectives shift and waver. Our vision blurs and sharpens. Depending on our ages. we might exclaim, “This wasn’t so bad – now I know better for next time!” or “I will never move again until they carry me out in a pine box!”

First things first, however: our mainstays and companions for the duration. Without them, we simply couldn’t make it. They’re the ones who arrive on our doorsteps, or provide us with behind-the-scenes assistance, even when they stand to gain nothing. They just want to be there, either in person or otherwise, with a word or gesture of encouragement. A friend or family member will pitch in to wrap dishes or pack kitchen goods. Or volunteer to pet-sit. Or clean out the garage. Or haul trash to the dump. Or just share a positive message at the end of a hard day, maybe a Facebook joke, perhaps just a “thinking of you” text when it really counts. Not everyone can be physically present. The older we get, the less strength we have. The less mobile we are. But kindness takes many forms. An upbeat and thoughtful note puts extra bounce in our steps. It means someone cared enough to share a moment of his or her day – just for us.

In the case of a short-distance move, someone might bring a truck and load it with bulkier and more awkward items – drawers, footstools, chairs, framed art. Things that aren’t quite heavy enough to leave for the moving van but too substantial to shove in a car. Things we want to see safely transported because of their sentimental or familial value. Some people actually enjoy having a hand in this sort of thing. An acquaintance will drop off a steaming mug of coffee and a stack of cardboard boxes left from his or her own move. Someone else will bag up clothing – a very painful experience for a recently-bereaved or newly-separated homeowner, or a parent whose grown children are now gone off to their own destinies – and take it to a local charity or pickup site. The possibilities extend from one horizon to the other. Human charity does begin at home and in the home.

We also find out who’s mainly at the edges of our lives, and can be counted on not to materialize or communicate even when the need becomes obvious. “Call if I can help,” some will casually remark, knowing we never will. Or emails and private conversations will fall silent. Messages once exchanged on a daily basis will suddenly stop. It’s as if the usual senders are afraid of what we might ask. They shouldn’t be. Most of us are too proud and/or stubborn to ask for anything! We can hope, maybe, but we’re also realistic. These no-shows can include some folks we’ve always considered to be right there with us, every step of the way. It can be disappointing to find out otherwise – but that, too, is valuable knowledge. And we should never impose on someone else’s presumed ties to us, nor on their time. This, too, is inconsiderate. We cannot expect people to simply drop everything for us, not even if we’ve previously done it for them. People have commitments; illnesses strike; things change. It isn’t always a tit-for-tat deal. Both sides of the equation aren’t necessarily equal. And it’s not going to make us any happier if we keep a tally of good deeds unacknowledged or favours unreturned.

Still, half the secret of living successfully is knowing whom to trust – and this rebounds on us, too. We need to stare at the mirror and reflect on the person we see in it. We can hardly ask, “Where are you? I need you!” if the response will be, Well, where were YOU when I needed you? We must be worthy of trust. The first stone can’t be tossed through that mirror unless it shows a perfect image. In other words, we can’t even pick up a single pebble.

Then there are the homeowners for whom moving is intensely private and personal. They don’t wish to have others involved in it. They much prefer the do-it-yourselves technique. Some associations with various household goods might not be happy ones. There could be questions which the owners don’t want to hear, let alone answer. The reasons for the move could be the result of tragedy, marital disruption, financial hardship or some other unfortunate occurrence. In such cases, there’s an element of tent-folding, so that in the end, it becomes possible to “silently steal away”, as Longfellow suggests. At the end of the day, departure is fraught with both regret and release.

Yet there are those precious few who do mean it when they offer help, and hope to be approached. They truly want to be called, and they will come. In fact, they won’t even wait to be called. They’ll see our vehicles in the yard and know we’re home and hard at work. We’ll begin a day of packing, then notice them pulling into the driveway. “What would like us to do?” they’ll ask, then do it. Our relief and gratitude might well extend to hugs and tears. For the truly stiff-necked among us, who simply cannot seek assistance, this intervention comes as an immense and therapeutic boon to body and soul.

Often, these impromptu sidekicks reap some of the goodness they’re sowing, because they might well leave with useful stuff we don’t wish to carry to another location – small appliances, books, decorative items. Candles and boxed foods and area rugs. Table lamps and flower pots. Whatever catches their attention in the process of being helpful! Whatever we’re happy to offer by way of a thank-you gift. Everyone walks away happy. This, too, is a blessing all around.

Although the above is a generic piece, and not necessarily relevant to my present circumstances, I am in the middle of selling a house and clearing out. My husband has passed away and, since we had two properties – town and country – I can’t possibly manage both. So the town place will be passed to another family. It’s a lovely home and I’m sad to leave it behind but there’s little choice. It’s imbued with David’s spirit. I hope he will be content to wander in my country gardens now. He enjoyed those too. I have chosen to dwell in a modest place where nature is close and quietness surrounds me.

We’ve been party to something like thirty real estate transactions so far, both as sellers and buyers. With David or solo, I’ve spent a rather nomadic existence by times. Land, a woodland cabin or two, country places, town properties, building lots … we’d acquire them, enjoy them, sell them as our situations changed and hope to break even if not make a bit extra. We once had to move my mother from her home to ours, when she became too infirm to live there alone. Let’s just say that was an interesting experience, because she was a packrat and she and my father never threw away anything.

Out of that particular undertaking has grown a healthy skepticism when it comes to saving stuff – yet, well, I still do it. I’m my mother’s daughter, all right. My husband, having grown up in extreme poverty, was also inclined to collect possessions. Combine two people of similar habits and you create a house-moving monster! We’re made, not born that way. When I finally head for another stage of my own journey, my own daughter will be faced with all my leftovers. I hope she’ll find something she can keep, cherish and hand down to her descendants. I guess everyone wishes for this. We save because someday, somehow, we pray that we will be remembered through our material legacies. These are far less important, however, than the other kind, the intangibles – qualities of character, expressions of kindness, acts of selfless love and concern. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. (1 Timothy 6:7)

So today is yet another in the necklace hung around my throat, a bead to be counted off as each task concludes. When all is finished, I will tuck away the empty thread of this year’s memories. It has been a difficult passage through the Valley of the Shadow. Still, light falls on the mountains and illumines the path beyond. I remain grateful for what I’ve been given, for all whom I love, for those who care about me as well. I’ll close with Longfellow’s poem, from which my earlier quotation has been taken. The “day” stands for me as a symbol of all that we do, of all that is now, but cannot continue except through some kind of transformation. The sun moves to another part of the world. We welcome a cessation of the brighter hours with their demands and obligations. The onset of darkness is merely our respite from care.

The Day is Done
~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The day is done, and the darkness
Falls from the wings of night
As a feather wafted downward
From an eagle in his flight.

I see the lights of the village
Gleam through the rain and the mist,
And a feeling of sadness comes o’er me
That my soul cannot resist:

A feeling of sadness and longing,
That is not akin to pain,
And resembles sorrow only
As the mist resembles the rain.

Come, read to me some poem,
Some simple and heartfelt lay,
That shall soothe this restless feeling,
And banish the thoughts of the day.

Not from the grand old masters,
Not from the bards sublime,
Whose distant footsteps echo
Through the corridors of time.

For, like the strains of martial music,
Their mighty throughts suggest
Life’s endless toil and endeavor;
And tonight I long for rest.

Read from the humbler poet,
Whose songs gushed from his heart,
As showers from the clouds of summer,
Or tears from the eyelids start;

Who, through long days of labor,
And nights devoid of ease,
Still heard in his soul the music
Of wonderful melodies.

Such songs have power to quiet
The restless pulse of care,
And come like the benediction
That follows after prayer.

Then read the treasured volume
The poem of my choice,
And lend to the rhyme of the poet
The beauty of thy voice.

And the night shall be filled with music,
And the cares, that infest the day,
Shall fold their tents, like the Arabs,
And as silently steal away.