Monday, 20 April 2009


T.S. Eliot’s “Prufrock” had measured out his life in “coffee spoons”. It is a sad image of an idle, indolent, wasted life. Most of us would like to think that we could measure out our lives with far more significant markers. Some of these markers might give meaning to our lives, point to key associations of geography, indicate symbolic preferences, something about ourselves and our value systems. As I looked out from my back porch last night at the array of deciduous trees, Manitoba Maple, Poplar, Elm, Peach, Apple, Walnut, Catalpa, Hawthorne just anxious to burst forth their leafy show this spring, I thought of how my life has had many types of markers, perhaps the most vital being trees.

As I child it wasn’t any type of tree in particular, but more the awareness of an abundance of trees when, at the age of seven, we moved from the city to the country. My father loved nature and would take me and my sisters on annual spring excursions into the woods to see the first blooms of white and purple trilliums growing under the maple and poplar bows. In March we would go to a nearby sugar bush and watch the syrup dripping from the taps in the forest of maple trees. We would take our fingers and run them under the sap, licking the sticky syrup, sweet enough even before the boiling process.

As a young bride I moved to Northern Ontario where the triumvirate of Cambrian rocks, spring fed lakes, and large, verdant woodlands, imprinted themselves on my core self. Our home was built on the edge of a Lake and the land was populated by majestic white birch. Even in winter, devoid of leaves, the tall, graceful white columns added a majesty to our surroundings. Their smooth skin was a delight to touch. My children would dare to strip some bark from a tree to make various crafts, miniature canoes, or scribble secret messages on the interior side, to be hidden under rock crevices. Birches are not a hardy tree, and every few years the spring would reveal that yet another had succumbed to old age and the ravages of northern winters. And yet as they thinned themselves, the remaining ones appeared straighter, taller, and more magnificent than ever. I think of them now as anthropomorphised guardians of our lake home for so many years.

Now, in the trimester of my life, the trees that dominate are hawthorne. They thrive both at my home and at the cottage. Their prickly branches intertwine in gnarly, arthritic kinks. A strong wind will clip them of their weaker limbs. But spring encourages bright, white blossoms that camouflage the twisted limbs. Summer is all green and verdant, offering shade and colour. Bright red balls of inedible fruit tease us into fall. And then they drop, and the bare, intertwined limbs seem to clump closer to each other, as if to give reassurance as another winter approaches. They are an ironic tree, appearing vulnerable and yet asserting independence with their needle spines.

By turns, my trees have provided beauty, detachment, meditation, protection, and comfort. And, as I reflect, it seems that each one, that has presided over a period of my life, did so for a reason, and perhaps, in part, as an avatar of myself.

Sunday, 5 April 2009


In my junior years (as opposed to my senior years) we had a lot of ways to “soothe the soul”. We just didn’t realize we needed to answer that call literally. Just as well, since it was too soon in the evolution of a self, and therefore, would not have worked anyway.

I remember dancing to “Give me that ole time Rock and Roll; the kind of music that soothes the soul.” And we did rock and roll, and jump and jive, and jitterbug, at many parties, many times. We were young, in love, and full of energy. Soul music was for slow dancing. Soul food was exotic cuisine. Soul brothers were those gorgeous black men, like Sidney or Harry, who were verboten to young, white girls like me. At that time the term “soul” was an adjective rather than a noun. And why not. We were young, beautiful, energetic, and from some vantage points, immortal.

Only after a certain age, in this case, sixty, the term “soul” became a noun .Only then did I begin to examine more closely the elements that make up my soul and me. Since time immemorial, as the saying goes, “Soul searching” has been a prerogative of the young. And many sensitive, artistic, imaginative individuals have been on this quest throughout their very early years. I feel somehow melancoly for them and their futile search. As the expression goes, “it a takes a village” to raise a child. Similarly, it takes a good portion of a lifetime to create a soul. Before having lived and matured, “soul” is just a word, a meaningless word.

Trying to figure out what career path to take, or how to contribute to the welfare of humanity has nothing to do with one’s soul. Instead it is all about ego. Legitimate soul searching can only begin to happen after the ego has released its grip on ambition, vanity, greed and false altruism.

Today, as I was walking along the beach of my lake house, I felt a sense of awe at the grandeur of nature, the endless landscape of the water that was only halted by the commanding arm of the sky. The winter waves had rolled in more rocks, pebbles and sand.

I reminded of the brilliant novel by William Golding, “Lord of the Flies”. The story begins on a mountaintop, after a plane crash, with a handful of young school boys as the only survivors. The story, which evolves into grim contortions, concludes on a beach. In between, Golding makes boulders, rocks, pebbles, and sand, significant symbols and metaphors. Most importantly, he does so in that descending order, to correspond with the reversal of evolution playing out in the raw, naked edges of the world of these prepubescent boys.

And I thought about my own raw world, the evolution of my children, their ambitions, their focussed lives, just as mine had been. And I looked down at the whole panoply of rocks, pebbles, and sand. And I thought to myself, this experience of mine is so intimate, so personal, so illuminating, and yet, so much larger than me. And I suddenly felt a sense of warmth. Ironic how, when we realize that the world, and specifically, our world, does not revolve around us, there is such a sense of release, of freedom, of that “peace that passes understanding.”


The word is out. Those of us who think we are entering the last stages of our lives may really only be halfway there. Now, unlike the proverbial childhood journey to grandma’s place, “Are we there yet?” the possibility that grandma’s “place” is still a distance away, is awe inspiring. At the same time, it is not without its challenges.

According to the prominent medical voices of the day, keeping old age at a distance is not a passive activity. We need to be active participants in our own lives. But, I wonder, how does that differ from when I was younger? Certainly, throughout my adult life I was always careful about what I would eat, took regular exercise, and was constantly checking calendars to keep track of family schedules. Mind and body were rarely still. The soul wandered hither and yon. I didn’t much pay attention to that element of myself.

Now, in my senior adult years, I begin to dither. “What day is it?” I email someone, waiting for a response. Nothing arrives. I wonder if they are okay? Did they receive my email? Finally I get a response and realize it is only a day later. Time has this funny way of both expanding and compressing at the same time. What is going on here?It is as if the body is going through new calibrations. This internal control system is rebooting itself and saying something like:

Since you have been blessed to live in a safe, healthy country and you have strong genetic components, and you have lived a relatively balanced life up to this point, we will be reassigning you to track three with current extension options for track four. The Manual is still a work in progress, but we have the outline and the index. It looks something like this:

Eat small portions of healthy food at 3-4 hour intervals. Maintain a BMI of 24.
Get regular exercise. EVERY DAY.
Nurture yourself and your relationships with friends and family.
Get 8-9 hours sleep a night.
Laugh, love, hug, dance, sing, play.
Be mindful of the small moments of beauty and grace in your surroundings.
Drink lots of fluids, including red wine on occasion.

The list seems quite manageable to me. Almost too easy. I understand how living life forward is essential to good health. However, there is still trailing behind me the caboose of a life lived unwisely at times. And then I begin to question whether this second half of my life is possibly an opportunity for atonement, not in any religious or mythological way, but rather, as a time for gathering together the strands of my life, and allowing the soul, that has been waiting on the sidelines for so long, to work as a cleansing agent, to help clear away the grief, guilt, and sadness of past events. It is that element of “unconditional love” that we all carry around inside, taking for granted its presence, shoving it away most of the time in those busy early and middle years. But my soul has been patient, and must have known that at some point I would come to recognize its power and energy to revitalize my inner self. Yes, I am a part of all that I have met, done, said. Indeed so are we all. Now, I realize that it is time to sit still and listen to the inner voice of reassurance and renewal and love. It seems as essential as any of the tangible replenishments in a day.
Do you think they will remember to put that longevity feature in the Manual?