I Sure Did Learn My Lesson!

I had a dream this morning from which I begrudgingly awoke.  In fact, I’m not sure I woke up from it at all – it was one of those dreams that stay with you for a long time and actually changes you.  It was one of those dreams that you hope to have again very soon to see if new events unfold – like a drama on television that you just can’t seem to get enough of. Only, this dream was “mine”.  It was about me.  It revealed things in me that I had buried.  It piqued my curiousity and disrupted my thinking.

I was teaching again.

I was back in the classroom.

With “badass” kids whose lives were set on a self-indulgent, anti-societal path at a young age.  So, in fact, they were only “badass” to society – not to me.  To me, they were wonderful.  They were inspiring.  They were in dire need of a mother or a father or a cheer-leader.  And that – in my dream – was me.

I can remember each student that was in my dream.  I forget the order in which they appeared to me, but I do remember each one of them.  It was my first day of school when I encountered the space in which I was asked to teach French:  a hallway.  It was a shared hallway with the Spanish class.  Not one of my students seemed to be gathered together to form the “French community”.  They were scattered and so I requested they come closer as I couldn’t raise my voice.  They did.  I knew I had already scored a point with them – at least they were curious enough to comply with my request.  The class didn’t last long as I tracked each one of them out of the class and into their issue(s).  Afterall, remember it was a dream.

One young woman, a beautiful young girl, explained to me that she wasn’t smart enough to learn French.  For some reason I knew she played hardball with others.  I explained to her that I knew she was smart enough.  “Why, miss?  How do you know?”

“Because you are badass.  And you have to be smart to be good at being a badass.”  I had disrupted her thinking.  I may not have prepped her for French as much as I had prepped her for life.

“Do you know what it’s like to have nothing, miss?”  asked another student I had chased out of the class, down the hall and into a back closet where, by the way, I found him wrapping gifts he had stolen from others to give to his family.  This young lad was one of “eleven”.  And those of you who know me, know how much that number makes me giggle – that Youtube clip always comes to mind where the two young Scottish lads are trying to operate a voice activated elevator.  Back to the boy.  I explained to him that I had taught so many students who had “nothing” growing up and how they had overcome such great obstacles to make their lives significant.  I named a few:  Adam, Stephanie, Carlie, Megan, Chris… of sooooo very many students I had come to know and respect.  After I had spoken, this young fellow looked at me with a look that told me I had disrupted his thinking.  I hadn’t taught him French, but I had already begun to help him change his life.

The one student that really stuck out for me was a very good looking young man who had used sex as his tool to avoid school and learning.  When he tried to accost me, I explained to him that he couldn’t.  “I have stage 4 ovarian cancer and have had so much of me already removed, he couldn’t take anything else from me.”  I remember the look as he left me alone to go to a quiet place and think.  He looked at me and smiled.  I knew I had disrupted his thinking. I knew he would learn from me and the lesson would change his life.

Another young woman had been nearly suffocated by her friends when a marquee tent had fallen on her (by accident?) and she was left to fend for herself.  I understood her anxieties and fears.  I talked about my own.  And how fears are not meant to control you, but to disrupt the way you think and set you on a different course.  She looked at me.

A young man had been trapped in a cage in the flat-bed of a truck – by his friends.  I called out his friends on him when I found them in the school.  I was not afraid of them.  I had nothing to lose by teaching them about life and the difference between right and wrong.  They were not happy with me – but they stopped chirping at me.

I encountered a teacher whose tactics were those of a dictator.  He made the Hile Hitler gesture to his students and they responded back. I called the teacher out on his gesture.  He was furious with me as were his students.  I explained to him how wrong he was to conduct himself in such a nature – I took it to the Human Rights representative of the school who smiled at me.  I didn’t know what that look meant, until the teacher came to try to intimidate me, fool me into thinking he was naive and didn’t know how “bad” his behaviour was.  I called him out on his nonsense.  I was not afraid.

And it carried on – that dream.  In no circumstance was I afraid.  I knew I was disturbing the bee’s nest of which was the school, but I knew that in this school – with all these students – there was honey.  They were good.  They just needed to know it.  I knew that was my job.

As I left the school that night, I looked up into a place that must have been the central meeting area – it seemed like a residential school.  Students were gathered there – I could see through the window.  I heard my name.  I knew they were talking about me.  I knew I had disrupted them.  Some were angry, some were confused, some were defending me, questioning me.

I was not afraid, rather, excited to get back to the school the next day and to finish what I had started.  I wanted to help them to believe in themselves and to believe the world could be a better place with them in it.  They were capable of doing great things – good things – beautiful things.

I wanted to teach.

I want to teach.

I am not a French teacher.  I am not an English teacher.  I never did teach geography, math, or history.  I taught about life.  I taught about self-worth.  I taught my students to be positive and to be great.  I taught them to believe in themselves.  At least – that was my goal – cloaked in curriculum so they thought they were learning about academics.

I know I disrupted their lives.  I hope it was in a good way.  I hope I made a difference.

I hope, one day, to be able to teach in the classroom again.  I miss it.  I miss my students.  For as much as I taught, I learned.  As arrogant as I was, I was humbled.  As confident as I thought I had been, they shook my foundations.  I am a better person for having taught. For having taught, I learned it is better to live with some disruption than to be sedated by routine.  The best lessons are learned when they are not expected.

This lesson, the one buried in my dream, caught me by surprise!

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Days like these…

Days like these feel like someone put up a brick wall between my brain and my eyes.  I see the day.  I feel the wind.  I smell the fresh air.  I can walk outside and feel the sand on the newly laid unistone – and I can taste my eggs.  All senses are working – but nothing is getting though.

Why are there days like these?  How long will they last?  How do I get the world through that wall to make my brain come alive?

Days like these, I just want to sleep and imagine that I’ll wake up without walls.

Days like these, I just want a do-over.  I would wake up, find my emotional chisel and start chipping away.

I guess, though, that days like these make me appreciation the other days – the days when the birds sing and my heart leaps, when the rain falls and awakens my skin, when the wind blows and the air takes my breath away by the sanctity of its freshness.  The other days are days when I am alive – I am living.  Most of my days are like that.  Maybe I’ve had too many of the other days that “these days” need to be my wake up call.

I’d rather the other days – to these days.

Cuz these days just seem to drag… they are sleepy… they are melancholy… they are lost moments that can never be found.  Those moments on the other days are what dreams are made of…

These and those … Of the two I’d pick those days anytime.

But to get to those – I guess I need these.

So – these days, I guess, can’t be all that bad?

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Safe Again

I like being home.

I know it.   I am comfortable.

To not be home – to not be in routine – is frightening.

I’ve navigated the dangerous waters.  I’ve leaped the leap of faith.  I’ve climbed mountains.

I don’t need to do it again.

I love my home.  I love my family.  I love my friends.

That’s all I need.

I don’t need to go out.  I don’t need to buy things.  I don’t need to travel.

I’m content.

I’m not running away from grief.  I’m not trying to stay ahead of it. I’ve faced it square in the eye and said, “good-night”.

I’m not burying my head in the sand.  I’ve got nothing to avoid.  I stare my life square in the eye and take it as it comes.

Yet.  I am a new person.  I don’t know what I can or cannot do.  At least, in terms of stamina.  Don’t ask me to commit to something I don’t know I can’t handle. Don’t ask me to shoot straight from the hip.  Don’t ask me if I’ll be okay.  I don’t know.  I don’t know what I can handle – physically.

Prepare me.

Give me warning.

Give me advance notice and let me think about things.

I’m better that way.

I’m not the person I used to be — before cancer.  I’ve fought hard and long to be where I am.  I will continue to fight.  But, at the end of the day, there is a price.  And that price is energy.  I don’t know how much I have.  I am no longer in control of it.  I cannot commit.  At least to something that takes energy.  I can commit to emotions.  I can commit to prayer.  I can commit to thought.  But – count my body out.  I just don’t know.

I like who I am – who I have become.  I am older.  I am wiser.  I am more me than I ever thought I could be.  I still want to please, to accommodate, to assist.  But the bank is limited.  And I don’t know how many funds I have in reserve.  I have some – I think.  I must spend them wisely.  And knowing what is wise is the key.

The more I live, the more I learn.  If I take time to think.  I cannot busy myself with physical lest I have no time or energy for the mental.  It is one or the other.  Balance is my key.  I cannot run from grief.  I cannot run from life.  I don’t want to.  I am good right now to live my life.  I am not bitter.  I am not resentful.  I count my blessings.  I am okay with here.  I am good with home.  I like being home.

I am alive because I know my limits and I know I have limits.

I am not the same person I was.  I will never be the same.  I embrace the change.

But change disrupts.  Learning to live with this disruption is a challenge.

I like being home.

I am comfortable here.  And I am safe.  Again.

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54

In one week from today, I’ll be 54.  I used to think that was ancient.  I used to think that was so far away.  More than a half century of living – how have I changed?

I have more wrinkles, that’s for sure. I’m slower – that’s for sure true.  I have more time, more patience, and it would seem – more to do.  I’m sure I don’t.  I have less to do but it seems I have less time.  Time flies.  That’s what changed too.  Technically, time hasn’t changed – I have.

How else have I changed?  I have been forced to grow up.  With both parents having passed away, I am no longer able to count on my Mom and Dad for support.  Don’t get me wrong – I still feel like they are there, in spirit, for council.  I just don’t get the physical presence, the hugs, the kind and supportive words.  So – I have turned more reflective.  I have to think for myself.

Growing up is about seeing choices one has and making the best of the choice one makes. That’s called being responsible.  I think.  There are no second-takes in life.  At least, not in this one.  I’m okay with that – more than okay with that.  Moving on is not difficult to do for me.  I live, I learn, I try to adjust my sails to catch a better wind the next time.

Growing up is about knowing happiness is a choice.  No one can make a person happy – being grateful is the key.  I’ve counted my blessings though my days.  When I don’t, I can become negative.  Remembering to count blessings isn’t always easy until it becomes a habit.  And then happiness follows.

Growing up is realizing that being bored is a matter of personal choice too.  It is an attitude.  When life offers such rich opportunities, how is it possible to be bored, unless one chooses to not see the bounties in front of one’s own eyes?

Growing up is about realizing the joy of giving back.  The greatest rewards in my life have been the times when I’ve done things for others.  I’ve stuck by my family and friends through poor health and through death.  I’ve put myself in others’ shoes to offer my empathy and support.  I’ve put my money where my mouth is to support others who were in need – so they would have a chance to realize their own dreams.  I’ve worked hard so that others would find rest.  I’ve taught – and I’ve learned.

Finally, growing up is about finding hope and keeping faith.  It’s about never giving up and knowing the sun will rise the day after it has set.  The rain nourishes the soul; The snow soothes the temper.  Having hope – when life seems so bleak is the only way to live.  What’s the point of giving up?  Believing in a reason, believing there is a purpose, and believing in a future (no matter how long) is not easy to do – but the alternative is too sloppy and ugly.

I will be 54.  That’s three more years than I thought I’d have after my cancer diagnosis.  Since then, my life has changed dramatically.  My family’s lives have changed.  My friends’ lives have changed.  I have found life.  I am beginning to understand myself.  I have a lot more to understand but, in time, I believe I will grow and learn.

More than a half century of learning.  If I could put my life lessons in a bottle – to cork them up and pass them along – what would my elixir taste like?  I would hope it would be sweet. I would hope it would be intoxicating.  I would hope someone would appreciate them and find joy in the lessons.

Cheers to life!  Cheers to birthdays!  Cheers to living!

Posted in acceptance, aging, Uncategorized | 13 Comments

Ah, La Pluie!

The sudden purge of angry skies
The sodden path of muck
The sonorous beat upon the roof
And I become unstuck

A burst of lighting in the air
An angry crack of words
A turbulent ride of feelings fly
The flock of startled birds

The storm does rage upon the land
Confusion marks the way
Like daggers shot from fists clenched tight
The nerves of steel do fray

Take cover from the storm anon
Take solace in the flight
For after the rain, the pause takes place
And day does turn to night

Slowly chaos finds its groove
And fury finds its peace
The gentle rain begins to fall
From Heavens full of Grace

To quench anew the desperate thirst
To replenish and replace
My bucket fills, so once again
My challenges I do face

I pause, I think, I find my path
My purpose to reveal
This storm that once raged deep within
Has now a new appeal

Without the rain, there is no life
Without dark, there is no light
I see the other side of things
Without wrong there is no right

I step outside to feel the drops
As they tumble upon my soul
And cleanse away my mortal wounds
Yes – life has had its toll

The joy of rain still sings to me
Until the time does come
When I no longer fill my cup
When I know my life is done

So – vive la pluie, long live the rain
Let us savour every drip
Let us invite the storms, the rain, the calm
… And then let’s find our grip!

Posted in cancer, Cancer Journey, celebration, challenges, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

I’ll See You in My Dreams

When I was young, I walked alone
Or at least that’s what I thought
It was only me, myself, and I
I was well schooled – but never taught

And as I grew, I began to learn
That “me” was really “we”
Not one small step I walked alone
Life’s lessons – I began to see

An outstretched hand, a worried hand
A hand that propped me high
A hand that fed, and clothed, and soothed me
When I failed before I’d try

The more I’ve lived, the more I’ve learned
The richness of our roots
The lessons taught by life alone
Are enough to fill our boots!

Each step I walk, each stone I turn
Reveals another key
And enables me to open doors
To a new eternity

An eternity of souls I take along
I hold them in my heart
They have not gone – they are not lost
Each one does play a part

Now I’m older  – and I can see
They speak without a word
I know the lesson I will teach
For it’s one that I have heard

There is nothing new, in this old world
For time and time again
A hug’s the cure, the fix, the seed
Which inspired the old refrain

I walk upon the shoulders now
Of the giants whom I have known
I’ve loved them, nursed them, listened carefully
And as a person – I have grown

We are so tall, we walk so strong
When we do not walk alone
When we remember the lessons taught
We thought that we had known –

She – and he – and they – are here
Their wisdom speaks to me
I hear their words, I live their lives
Their gifts have set me free

One day, I hope, to walk with them
The silent, mighty team
Those I’ve loved and kissed good-bye
Till then —
I’ll see you in my dreams!

Posted in acceptance, advice, aging, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

I Too, Want to be a Giant

I have heard, on two occasions this week-end, this marks the end of an era:  at my colleagues retirement party and at my friend’s funeral.  These words are bitter-sweet to me in that one needs to have something special – but that that special thing has to also end.

Last night, I hosted a retirement party for my dear friend and colleague, Sandra.  We taught together in Continuing Education for many years, which also means that we navigated some pretty tricky waters together too.   We learned how to be better teachers together.  We learned how to be better cheer-leaders together.  We learned that teaching students was more important than teaching curriculum.  We also learned that we don’t have to agree in order to cooperate.  That differences of opinion can be enriching.  That history belongs to those who take risks in innovation – and that also meant it was totally critical to not judge.  There is but a mere core of the original Barrie Learning Centre “power-team” left now.  Our “era” is closing.  Education has shifted to on-line learning and our days of live classroom learning are closing.  We changed lives.  We did.  And those lives will, in turn, create their own era.

Today, I attended a funeral for my dear friend Thelma.  She was a fantastic role model and confident to me.  She lead my children in church choir musicals and inspired me to be a contributing member of the church.  Thelma taught me how to listen and inspired me to become a loving listening.  She laughed a lot – found irony in life’s situations – and did her very best to tackle them with grace and dignity.  How can I not try to learn from that?  Thelma taught me to consider all my options before making decisions, to think of the “children” first (always), and to NEVER forget your roots – acknowledge the shoulders of the giants upon which you stand.  We had a pact, Thelma and I:  we would never give up – we would always have hope.  I sang at her funeral while her dear friends Eleanor and Jim played the scores from the children’s musicals Thelma has given to our church members. We all sang.  She would have wanted that.  She loved music.  She especially loved her family.  Above all else – she loved her family.  Her death marks the end of an era.  Her inspiration, however, lives on in those whose lives she changed, influenced, and supported.  And those lives will, in turn, create their own era.

A retirement and a funeral:  both mark ends of eras.  Both provide occasions where new opportunities arose.  No one wants to say good-bye.  No one wants to let go.  And so – each event spawned new opportunities.

As sad and as exhausted as I am emotionally – I remain affirmed that I am a better person as a result of belonging to those eras.  I would not have it any other way – I am privileged.  I am honoured to be able to stand on the shoulders of the giants whom I have known and love/ loved.  And I will never forget that it is because of them – that I am who I am today.

The depth to which we mourn is directly reflected in the depth to which we have loved. I will mourn the “ends of these eras” forever.  I am, however, committed to do the very best job I can do to live a life that will provide the opportunity for someone else to note – when I leave, that my departure marks “the end of an era”, for having marking that end – means I have made a difference.

And that I too – am a giant.

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I’ve Been Stuck

I’ve been stuck lately.  I’ve not know what to say – to write – how to articulate / process what has happened.  Of course, rather than simply write and process through my emotions, I’ve avoided this blog.  Finally, today, I saw my therapist.  My emotions came through like a flood-gate.  It felt to good to finally let it all go… not to say that more isn’t coming, but at least I purged just a bit to be able to manage.

I knew something was wrong this morning during fitness with Vandie.

“Are you okay, Stacey?” asked Laura, my fellow labourer in step-class.  Between she and I we can keep Vandie believing that we can keep up.  In reality, it takes two of us to make a full fitness participant and these days, Laura is out-pacing me 5:1!

“I’m okay.  I’m just exhausted.”

Normally, I can push through the fatigue, the pain, the shortness of breath.  (Remember, it’s a fitness class so I’m supposed to be out of breath) This morning, I just couldn’t bring myself to “give ‘er”.  I had lost my grit.  I didn’t want to carry on.  I just wanted to sit down and cry.  I knew I was grieving.  For fuck’s sake – I just lost a dear friend of 30 years.  Why shouldn’t I be tired?  But – it is not forth-coming to put two and two together when one is grieving.  It’s like “rules don’t apply”.  You know what I mean?  I couldn’t see the forest for the trees… and so on.  I was never so happy when the cardio stopped and we took to the floor routine where I could hide my lack of interest in carrying on.  My arms hurt, my legs hurt, my feet hurt – my heart hurt.

“Stacey, are you sure you are okay?”  Laura asked again.

“I’m not okay – but I will be.”

“Yes.  You will be – because you know tomorrow is a new day.  You’ve been through this feeling before.”

And I had.  In truth – I’ve lost both parents.  I’ve lost many body parts to cancer.  I’ve lost my health virginity per se – if that’s a thing.  I’ve lost confidence in my body.  I’ve lost control over so many things… and now I’ve lost my Thelma.  My friend.  Of 30 years.  My mentor.  My rock.

It wasn’t all down hill today, though.  I got up from the floor routine (amazing, eh?) and made it to my therapy appointment at RVH to see “my” Kelly.  I am so very lucky that she is mine – I trust her.  I don’t feel judged.  She has tissue ready for me.  She is kind.  She listens.  Thelma would have really liked her.  So – I talked – I gushed – I cried – I laughed.  Then – I booked another appointment in another two weeks.

“Thelma grounded me,” I explained to Kelly.  She knew what to say to make things better.  She knew when to listen – and how to listen.  I had no idea there could be so many ways.. until her ear was gone.  Not only her ear – her heart – her marvelous mind – and part of me went with her.

“I am so lucky to have been part of her family – her family – we were more than friends.  I promised her I’d be there to help her stay in her own home as she aged.  I promised her I’d be there with her as she fought cancer.  I promised her I’d be there for her always.  I promised her I’d do whatever I could for her family – and I made good on those promises. I really did.  I have no regrets.  I do have, however, a hole in my life which I hadn’t realized was so big. It is so big – I couldn’t see around it – I still can’t.

I can only imagine that my own Mother had a big hug waiting for her when Thelma “moved on”.   I sometimes imagine the conversations they would have about family, and about life.  Thelma would have talked about dogs – but my Mom would not have connected too much on that front.  Grin.

I’m still processing.

“I’m further from death than I have been for a long time, Kelly,” I explained.

“I feel it in the way you talk, Stacey,” she replied.  “You said your Dad confessed that he thought he had figured out his purpose on Earth before he passed away.  You said he mentioned his purpose was to make people happy.  Let me ask you – do you know your purpose?”

I thought about it – my mind went blank.  What is my purpose?  It’s not like I haven’t thought about it before.  I know I like to help people.  Is that it?  Maybe.

“I’ll have to take some time to ponder that, Kelly,” I replied.  “Yes, I ‘ll give it some thought.”

I felt no pressure when I walked out of her office.  The anxiety had somewhat dissipated.  It wasn’t gone.  It wouldn’t be gone for a while – I am grieving.  But – I felt lighter.  I was definitely feeling lighter than when I entered her room – emotionally.  And that was a step in the right direction.  The dam had burst.  It wasn’t pretty.  I’m sure there was emotional shrapnel all over Kelly’s office after I left.  But I felt better.  I hoped I hadn’t damaged her… my words had been like bullets fired from an automatic rifle.  (Why these analogies of war?)

Now – time to see what burst from the dam and rebuild.  One piece at a time.

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Hugs

Hugs to the Mothers who hugged us tight
Who held our hands and kissed us good-night

Hugs to the Mothers who are in our dreams
To some are icons, heroes, maybe even our memes!

Hugs to the Mothers whose lessons remain
Firmly and deeply entrenched in our brain

Our mothers, our grandmas, our aunts, and our friends
Remain our care-givers straight through till our ends

Hugs to the Mothers who have long since gone
Who may not be here with us – but whose memory still lives on

The teacher, the nurse, the provider, the calm
So blessed to have known you and to have called you my Mom!

Posted in appreciation, attitude, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 16 Comments

Let Me Outside!

Oh, let me outside!

Outside – oh, outside!  A blue strip of sky pokes through the gray cloud with the promise of spring.  Lift me up, move me along, let me float through the clouds.  Let my mind take flight and soar far above…

Outside – oh out there!  The trees are in full bloom.  Their tender tendrils’ potential wait to erupt at the first hint of sun.  They are poised, ready to grow, ready to grow!  So many questions, so much to learn!  The young branches sway in the wind and play with the breeze.  They bounce and swing and inhale the glory of the morning.  Arms stretched to seize the day.

I need some of that outside inside today.  To bathe in the glory of the woods, to rinse in the chorus of the birds, to wrap in the warmth of the spring sun — ’tis the elixir my mind craves.  Point me in the right direction – towards the east – towards the rising sun.  There – is the light.  There is the beginning.  Point me to the door and lead me into the woods.  Let my feet touch the damp floors of the forest where the rain-sodden earth transforms old into new, rot into life, and lifts the mighty oak from the acorn.  Shower me in sunlight as I walk on the dappled path through the trees.  Let me hear the babble of the creek as it tells of its tales – the marvels of the world – the depths of the oceans!

Let the outside come in and fill me today.  Open my eyes to see beyond the flesh.  Ground me in your spring, root me in your soil, let me grow in joy.  Let me outside!

 

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