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Hormoanal Hell

Many of my friends are too well aware of my rather dry humour. Or my wild and inappropriate humour. Or – sometimes – my descent into unadulterated madness.

Today,  these qualities will combine. And I shall also be adulting – specifically directed at women of a certain age and those who care about them.  Care sexually, in addition to other forms of interaction. The topic calls for a bottom-line discussion here. You have been warned.  The non-latex gloves are off.

So I’m relaxing in the tub, content with my usual foaming indulgence,  assured that I won’t be interrupted by anyone. Living alone has its perks. Nobody pounds at the closed door or hollers at me to hurry up. I bathe in blissful silence. Through the steam, I can hear Bach and Handel. Bach appeals to me because, well, he’s Bach. Paterfamilias of multiple offspring, cornerstone of a musical dynasty, and rather attractive with his enigmatic half-smile, as if he’s hiding an especially fun idea that he will never share.

I know how that feels. I’ve been doing it quite a bit lately. With or without the “fun” part.

Handel I just … like. Confirmed bachelor, beautiful soul,  man who dances to the same winds that play through my own trees. Like me, he has left the world no copy. No biological child to pass along his genes. His music is his bequest. We can’t always procreate. Some of us, however, create in other ways.

So I contemplate this small body sprawled below my chin. Explore its slippery contours, scrub them kindly. Decide that I’m in better shape than I’ve been for twenty years.  I am, in fact, younger than my former self, in most of the ways that matter. The calendar is useful for recording to-do notes but not otherwise.

I’ve been solo for a long stretch now, either in the midst of plenty or at the mercy of circumstance. I tell myself it’s a preferable state for anyone past her prime – if I’m there yet. No fuss, no inconvenient adjustment to someone else’s choices. Just … easier. I say this quite often. I have almost come to believe it, but not quite. The woman in the foam sloshes water over her breasts and thighs. She wonders whether they will be of the slightest damn interest to another living human being, ever again. Anyone who might have appreciated them is either nonexistent or dead.  So she believes.

The ego-centered “I” darts like a hummingbird from thought to thought. Droplets bead on her skin. They reflect light and perhaps her eyes. My eyes. They have sadness in them, and hope too. They are the windows to a soul not completely rubbed clean by time or chance. Rubbed raw, however. I have not bled from my flesh since age 52 but I bleed every day from parts that no one sees.

And thereby hangs a tale, which too many women know. We’ve memorized every word of it. We’re the ex-lovers who don’t dare look ahead to the next chance, the people whose cells feel uninterested in every new experience. The ladies who long for reassurance that we’re still attractive, still desirable, perhaps still destined to walk again in a couples’ world. Everyone is partnered, it seems. We’re clumsy that way. We fear to attract attention, lest we disappoint.  We might run from it – the quirky smiles, the curious appraisals, the extended hands that want to meet ours. We step around men standing at our bus stops, because we can’t ride with them. Maybe they won’t enjoy our company once they realize it comes with a certain deficit.  That’s how we think.

The medical community steps around us, too.  Once our reproductive cycles have ended, few of us ask our doctors any questions relating to sex. It’s like a slamming barn door. The horse leaves with such frantic speed we’re coated with dust, standing dry in the road. Stinging with the kicked sand.  Only 22% of women past the age of 50 ever raise sexual  concerns with their physicians. 38% of men, however, ask such questions. Still not enough – but more than we do.  (Mayo Clinic, Sexuality in the Aging Female, Carol L. Kuhle, 2016)

Why don’t we speak? Why can we not snip the silken threads that bind our mouths?

But it’s damned hard to go there. Vaginal atrophy affects up to half of all post-menopausal women. Suddenly, things aren’t so great “down below”.  Parts of us shrink. They hurt. It’s like sandpaper on gravel. The spirit is willing but the proverbial flesh is not only weak, it’s screaming. Nature’s programming ensures that we will be reproductively sound as long as this is needed and then the gyne-goddess decrees that it’s time to stop that sort of nonsense.  Like she has a say, right? We know what we want and a stop sign isn’t the sort of erection we have in mind at this point. Still … there are undeniable conditions.

For those women lucky enough to be sexually active when menopause swings its club at them, the impact of age can be diminished or at least made less awful. “Use it or lose it.” Still, we can’t predict which of us will end up falling off the veggie truck. Make that vaggie truck. Our partners call us by unflattering names. Cold. Frigid. Indifferent. They take it personally. We just take it. And when they abandon us for warmer beds, we sometimes find their forgotten packets of little blue pills in our medicine cabinets. The seesaw is unbalanced from the get-go. We fall on our asses. The thud is jarring, the consequences lasting.  Ouch.

So we fear to try again. We are afraid to love. We’re scared to disappoint. But  there’s really no set route to the finish line here. There are many other options besides the planted flagpole. We grew up with some pretty ground-breaking books to guide us. We’re not our grandmothers. Women are adept at adapting. We can express our physical interests and desires in several different ways – rather pleasurable, at that. For both parties.

But ours is very clearly a penetrative society. Viagra has made it even more so. And we cannot always be penetrated. Not by choice, merely by biology’s punches over time.  We are (we’re led to believe) lessened if we don’t engage in the whole nine yards. Or six inches. Or whatever fits.

As I write this, “I Attempt from Love’s Sickness to Fly” soars through the room. I used to sing it, many years ago; this was one I learned when I was studying voice, because I asked to learn it. I would give much to sing that lovely, anguished piece again. The last person to play for me is gone now;  I have no love from which to fly or even limp. And a natural process is hardly sickness.

So here it is: I want to raise a window, lean outside, breathe the same joy I used to feel every single morning of the world. Shout to the sun. Become once again the woman I am inside – the woman who has never walked away. The burning self within the shell. Venus rising from the sea, or a tepid bath, or just a small bed where cats stretch with the daylight.

Yet that woman is anxious and discouraged. My current doctor has been forthright. “If you are ever in a position to consider a new relationship, there are treatments.”  She’s a young woman, and I think she gets it more than most. Over-the-counter supplies can help, I suppose. They have cutesy names like Replens and Satin. Or maybe it’s Satan? We – the already-defeated – hesitate to go there. We don’t want to speak to a pharmacist. We study the packaging, squint at the instructions. Sounds messy. Sounds a bit futile. And rather paradoxical, since we won’t need this stuff until we have a use for it, or use it until we need it. I guess a crystal ball goes with the potions and lotions and creams.

The doctor’s more potent arsenal includes estrogen products. These can be effective but their content casts a long shadow. Female cancers. Breasts, ovaries, uterus. Deadly consequences of our craving for wholeness.  Back in the day, when I believed myself less vulnerable and perhaps more obligated to act, a prescription was handed to me. With a warning – “I don’t want you on this for more than three months.” Great, right? Make the beast with two backs and then die before my time, if I’m unlucky. And trust me, I am unlucky more than I care to admit. I’m the woman who sprained her ankle once, driving to Halifax. Guess I pressed too hard on the gas pedal.  You haven’t truly encountered embarrassment until you’re on crutches because you’ve got a heavy foot.

Then there are the sources of these creams. Premarin is a big zero for me; it comes from pregnant-mare urine. I know way too much about the PMU farms to ever consider that particular treatment. Estrace – estradiol cream –  is made from plant-based estrogen, which makes it much more appealing. Still, if we’re contemplating either of these products, it’s advisable to read the monographs and chat with the medical pros.  Then we’ll be aware and informed. These substances  aren’t what our bodies ask for – only our minds.  So there can be tricky side effects.

Meanwhile, I’m not sharing this piece on social media. We’re immersed in silence when attempting to discuss such topics. We can post messages of hate, or truly horrendous jokes, or graphic images of wounded creatures. But this health information might be deemed a bit “much” by some folks.  And since I do want it to be read, I’ll use discretion – for now. I’m not exactly a model of discreet behaviour.

But I’m a woman; I hurt like so many of us. The sadness never leaves my eyes.  I’ll do what I can to help it leave yours – or hers – or the quiet lady’s, as she’s browsing the pharmacy shelves. The one who simply won’t ask, won’t speak. Won’t admit to her own grief.

Information for Further Reading:

The Globe and MailTaking the stigma out of vaginal atrophy – without a little blue pill

https://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/health-and-fitness/health/treatments-let-women-prolong-sex-lives/article21368960/

The Guardian – When it comes to menopausal hormone therapy, women are left guessing at the risks

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/aug/30/menopausal-hormone-therapy-treatment-women-risks-breast-cancer

Livestrong – The Types of Estrogen Cream
https://www.livestrong.com/article/70133-types-estrogen-cream/

Mayo Clinic – Sexuality in the Aging Female
https://ce.mayo.edu/sites/ce.mayo.edu/files/S_4-Kuhle-Sexuality%20in%20the%20Aging%20Female.ppt.pdf

Medscape – Vaginal Atrophy: The 21st Century Health Issue Affecting Quality of Life

https://www.medscape.org/viewarticle/561934

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.

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.

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.


			

Wedding Weekend …

Yesterday, August 29, 2015, my Facebook news feed was sewn together with weddings! Summer holidays conclude in hope and celebration. I don’t get to witness many marriage ceremonies now – at least, not personally. Last one was my daughter’s. Part of the downside, I suppose, of having a small family and also growing older. But that’s okay, because my imagination takes me where my body cannot. I imagine the festivities, the beaming couples, the toasts and streamers and baskets of cards. The music and above all, the laughter that ascends to some special heaven set aside for beginnings.

I hover, invisible among the pillars or stained-glass windows or tents and gazebos and lattices. Nobody knows I’m there, but I am, sending out whatever good wishes my ethereal self can manage. I used to be an occasional wedding singer (another casualty of time). My song these days is one of thanksgiving for commitment, community, courage and faith.

So if you were one of yesterday’s – or any day’s – most fortunate brides or grooms, I wish you a long and varied journey of growth and discovery. I don’t wish you endless bliss and delirious love, because those are unrealistic expectations. Such intense feelings rise to their peak and then diminish in the realities of simply getting by. Paying bills, buying groceries, paying more bills. Facing disappointments, appreciating successes. Keeping a house of welcome and safety. Raising children with all their quirks, promises and challenges. Planting a tree, building a future. Sitting at hospital bedsides, holding hands at funerals, moving bags and baggage from place to place. Putting a “for sale” sign on one lawn; removing a “sold” sign from some other lawn. Missing absent friends and parents. Sucking in a deep breath the first hour of that new job. Hugging each other on retirement day.

Eventually, you find yourselves looking in the mirror and wondering how those grey-haired faces got there. You weep for the bitter loss of some dreams, and for the overwhelming realization of others. You reach an understanding that marriage embraces change – constant and continual change. You can no more stop that process than you can shrink yourselves back to nursery school. Nor would you want to do that.

And every now and then, something will catapult you backward across the years. It might happen when you need it most. Fate has a way of sending messages. Suddenly, you might be reminded of why you’re married to this one chosen person; of what you believed when it all started. This little nudge can be as mundane as opening a book, where a spare wedding invitation has marked your place for decades. Finding in a drawer, carefully-wrapped with plastic, a sugar rose from your fancy cake of long ago. Or a faded corsage. Or a crinkled program with the names of everyone you loved then, and still love now – printed forever.

You’ve selected this road to follow. You might have chosen another, but that wasn’t part of your destinies. As Robert Frost reflects, your decision will make “all the difference” to you both. You, in your own turn, stand to make differences to someone else. We all do. May your promises be joyous in their fulfillment.

Congratulations, best of luck, mazel tov!

A Brief Gathering of Old Classmates

Class of ‘Sixty-Four

All our decades somersault, deposit us
in this circle of cross-legged strangers
whom I almost recognize. We put them
together like a wall of fragments: eyelid,
earlobe, bone. Laugh or grimace.

I cough without sound; nothing must smack
of mortality. We balance carefully, attentive
to hips and knees and feet, spines
no longer flexed like spring birches.

Backlight from a window casts our runes.
Her fine hair glows angelic. His shoulder
curves, a hillside traced on shadow.
Your eyes belong to the boy hidden
in them. We study each other, look away,
people the spaces with our own memories.

Dust spins in sloped rays that settle
on the floor. I think of stars slowly turning
until one finds us worthy, offers us life.
A hopeful fly circles my glass, perhaps
meaning to drown herself in bliss.

We speak quietly at first; explore
this new country. The room recedes
while stories form around us. The past
rebounds off our hostess’s painting
of a young girl, playing her flute forever.

Somebody mentions band concerts,
army cadets, gym, rifles. Male affairs.
I once stood with my swirly-skirt friends
– proper ladies – and wondered why.

But I have worn a dress today. I tuck
my legs, wish I could sit like a lotus,
then unfold, petals sharp as blades.
Glory from the mud. Surprise bloom
after such long and secret growth.

My chardonnay splashes, magnifies
the coffee-table grain. It’s like viewing
the universe through the wrong end
of a telescope. What we have become
is a contraction, yet the detail shines
with greater clarity than it ever did.

Science teaches us the definition
of gravity but we need no illustration
beyond a breast displaced, a chin
dropped, a belly tugging free from its
moorings. We bow to the dominion
of a force far greater than ourselves.

Yes. Gravity, regal and cruel, Henry VIII
of physical laws. I briefly rub the back
of my neck and this room shudders
with the ring of a crown falling. No one
else notices. You refill my drink and grin.

Brenda Levy Tate

for my Wolfville High School companions