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Still present

I’ve been needing a break since June, but for a variety of very good reasons, my three month summer hiatus was reduced to four weeks. September saw me back in the thick, as they say, October was busy, November even more so, and December – I write all the important events on my desk calendar in red. December was a bloodbath.

Just before Christmas, I told The Mister “I need to take January off.” He replied, “February too.” Love that man!

And I’m starting to feel better. Sleep is improving. (Sleeping in more than ever!) Taking time for meditation, although sometimes that just consists of me sitting in my recliner and rocking. :-) And I finally finished my manuscript, The Magdalene Poems!

The six years it took me to write the manuscript were nothing compared to the three weeks it took trying to get it ready to mail out! When I finally finished the manuscript itself, we couldn’t find a box to fit. We looked everywhere! The Post Office had one the right size, but they’d only sell it to us if we agreed to buy fourteen more of its friends. At last The Mister, noting my increased eye twitches and teeth grinding said, “Leave it to me, Missus,” and he cut down a large cardboard box to just the right size. Mm-hm! Oh yeah! And did I tell you he can cook? Mm-hm! Oh yeah!

After we bundled it up, I started to cry. It was the last thing I expected. I don’t think of myself as a particularly sentimental person, but it seems I formed a bit of an attachment to that pile of papers. It hit me – after all the years it sat on my table, I’m never going to see the burgundy binder again. Tears.

Funny.

I emailed The Write Sisters – two colleagues who helped midwife this book into being, and their gentle wisdom and encouragement helped me find my balance again and peace of heart. I owe them much.

I took a few moments to bless the manuscript before we took it to the Post Office this past Wednesday. I said, “You’re the best I could do, the best I’ve ever done. Now it’s time for you to go.” And I gave it a final little pat after they weighed it on the scale. It reached it’s destination on Thursday (Toronto), and I sent in the electronic copy then too.

I’ve done all I could do. From this point on, whatever happens is none of my business. Time to get back to my novel, which has been waiting so patiently for me.

One other thing, though. There’s a store in the Burg, The Village Shoppe. It used to be the Bulk Food Store and still is in the front. But in the back it’s a gift store with all manner of gee-gaws and doo-hickies. While The Mister picks up his baking supplies, I peruse the back room and see what’s new. I just happened to look up at one of the cabinets, and on the top was a statue. Of a cross. And a figure standing in front of it. A woman. Hands folded in prayer. Head bowed. A dress with beautiful designs. Braided hair. A halo around her head. So, a saintly woman. I picked it up (not seeing the sign that read “Do Not Touch!”) and turned it over. “Angel Cross” it read. I turned it upright again and smiled. “If you’re an angel,” I said, “where are your wings?” I held it closer. “It’s you, isn’t it?” I whispered. “Magdalene.” Then I noticed the engraving underneath – “Peace in the Garden.” Of course. Where Jesus and Mary Magdalene met after the Resurrection.

No mistake. This was a Magdalene figure.

She gazes down on me now from my bookshelf. Just because the burgundy binder is gone doesn’t mean she has passed from me, not her story, not her presence.

She abides. And I am content.

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The pilgrimage – a story of sore feet, an aching back, and giddy joy. Part 3

It doesn’t last.

That giddy joy I experienced my first day in the garden? It was gone the next day. In its place was a contented serenity and an eagerness to get back to my simple work of washing tiles, drying tiles, and packing tiles. In two books I was reading at the time and am still reading, the authors warned not to try to prolong a spiritual consolation or bring it back when it’s gone, as this would turn the gift into something artificial and can even be the beginning of an addiction to spiritual highs. It reminded me of the story in Exodus when the Israelites were saved from starvation by the appearance of manna, the miraculous bread of heaven. The people were directed to harvest it every day and not to horde for the next, but some did and it turned wormy and inedible. That’s not how this deal works, apparently. And I find that difficult as I seek security in “putting things by.” But recently, a still small voice in my heart keeps saying, “Keep your hands open – no grasping, no clinging.” Just an openness, as Tosha Silver says, to let whatever wants to go, go, and whatever wants to come, come.

The Mister looked thoughtful the next morning when I told him all this.

“Are you still going to need to hug me at various times during the day?” he asked.

“Oh, you betcha!” I replied.

“Good!” he said standing, straightening his clothes and holding out his arms. “Proceed!”

:-)

One of the books is by Joyce Rupp, called Walk in a Relaxed Manner: Life Lessons from the Camino. It’s about her pilgrimage along the El Camino in Spain, a 37 day, nearly 500 mile excursion. I didn’t think I’d enjoy the book at first, but it became a kind of conduit of uncannily timed answers, advice and encouragement for my own pilgrimage in the garden. For instance, when I decided to take on this project of dismantling the grotto, I wondered when I’d find time to write. That afternoon, as I started into her book, I read that she resigned herself to the unavoidable truth that sometimes in life we must sacrifice one good for another, and in this instance her sacrifice was, you guessed it, writing. It was such a great relief to say, “For the next ten days, I’m putting writing aside to work in the garden.” There was no guilt about setting my mind and heart on a work that was not writing-related. To my bemusement on day six, I think it was, I woke up with a short piece of fiction almost completely written in my head, and actually found time that day (though I wasn’t looking for it) to write it down! And this burst of creativity is continuing – so yay!

Each succeeding day, Joyce had something to say about what I had experienced that morning. When I came in on the second day, footsore and weary, I read her comments on how unfriendly we are towards our bodies, especially our feet, how we demand so much but give so little. Thereafter, I toasted my tootsies in an Epsom salt bath whenever I could followed by a loving massage with Burts Bees Coconut foot lotion. Ah! the luxury!

I found that whenever The Mister called me in for lunch, I was most reluctant to go. “I just have a few more tiles!” I’d plead like a little kid begging for five more minutes before bedtime. He’d say nothing but narrow his eyes and purse his lips. “Ooops! I know what that look means,” I’d mumble to myself and come in immediately. And Joyce constantly struggled with her competitive spirit to walk beyond the limit she and her companion had set for themselves or try to pass other pilgrims. She realized that for the sake of efficiency she could well miss the spiritual lessons that were waiting to reveal themselves to her along the road. Like her, I found it a great temptation to speed up and get more done, but with time and practise I was able to catch myself more often and remind myself of the real reason I was doing this work.

My labours in the garden and the insights of Joyce’s book came together in a rare, wonderful, unexpected melding of the physical and the spiritual that made every day of my short pilgrimage a lesson and an adventure. I am grateful beyond words for the whole exercise. Every lesson made me more willing to be taught, and every synchronicity prompted me to be ever more alert to the signs and little messages left along the way.

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The pilgrimage – a story of sore feet, an aching back, and giddy joy. Part 2

The Mister built me a wagon over the winter to use in my gardening. When it was completed, he took me for a ride around the basement in it. I don’t think I’ve hooted and hollered that much since I was six, and he offered to repeat the experience down our avenue once the snow cleared.

I demurred.

BUT it’s been an absolute godsend for gardening! It was waiting for me by the picnic table early Monday morning, filled with tiles I’d picked up over the weekend. I tried hard not to look at the plethora of tiles still lying on the ground as I fetched a basin of water from the hose and a bit of soap, rolled up my sleeves, donned a pair of latex gloves, and dived in.

I mentioned in my previous post that the weather was supposed to turn mild over that week. It didn’t. It turned gorgeous! The constant whisper of leaves overhead, the morning coolness giving way to a gentle warmth, the peaceable rhythm of washing the tiles, stacking them in drying racks (something else The Mister made for me – that guy is SO handy!), dumping the dirty water in the composter (couldn’t bear to waste it by throwing it on the lawn) and starting all over again, all of this gentled me into a meditative state of mind. But a happy state of mind. An absurdly happy state of mind.

Which is generally when my inner grouch likes to put in an appearance.

“Whatcha smilin’ at?”

“Grouchy Pants! I was wondering when you’d show up. Where you been?”

“Same place as always, Princess, right behind your eyeballs.”

“What brings ya by?”

“I want to know why you’re smiling.”

“I’m not smiling.”

“No, you’re right. More like grinning. Idiotically.”

“Nice.”

“So why are ya?”

“I don’t know.”

“Yeah. That never works with me. I’m not leaving until I get an answer.”

“I have no business smiling,” I admitted.

“Grinning. Idiotically. And you’re right. Up to your elbows in filthy water swarming with who knows what kinds of germs, not to mention feral cat poop…”

I froze.

“Relax, Princess, the latex’ll save ya.”

I started scrubbing again.

“Your bunions are screaming, your back is begging for mercy, and there’s a stitch burning in your side that won’t quit no matter how you change your posture, you can only look forward to days more of this same nonsense ahead, and yet here you are. Grinning. Idiotically. What gives?”

I looked up for a moment and rested my elbows on the edge of the basin.

“Well, it’s like…everything is just so…you weren’t looking for it but…and then you think…”

“You know with your gift with words, ya ever consider becoming a writer?”

“Funny.”

“Just blurt it out, for cryin’ out loud.”

“Nah. I know what you’ll say.”

“No, you don’t. Come on.”

“OK. I’m in love.”

“Shut up!”

“I knew it!”

“You’re in love. With whom, may I ask?”

“Not with. Just in.”

“Huh?”

I scrubbed away thoughtfully.

“It’s this, all of this, the breeze in the trees…”

“The ache in your knees?”

“…the billowing of my clothes…”

“The bugs up your nose?”

“I know it doesn’t make sense, but joy is stealing into my heart, and I didn’t ask for it, and I don’t know why it’s here or how long it will last, and it’s burning brighter and deeper, and I couldn’t turn it off if I wanted to. And I don’t.”

GP was thoughtful for a moment.

“But you’re the Goth, the Dark Poet. I’ve seen you darken up kids’ nursery rhymes. And not just once.”

I laughed.

“Yeah, I got a few of those published. Ah! good times. But you’re right, I’ve always been more comfortable with the dark emotions. And it’s a wee bit disconcerting to be so helpless in the face of such elation.” I placed the last tile from the pile in the drying rack. “But all I want to do right now is find The Mister and hug the stuffing outta him.”

“He’ll like that.”

“I expect he will. So is that it? Any other bon mots for me?”

“Just one. I’m happy for you, Princess.”

“Thanks, GP. See you tomorrow?”

There was no reply.

TO BE CONTINUED

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The pilgrimage – a story of sore feet, an aching back, and giddy joy (Part 1)

Those of you who follow my wee blog know that two years ago I lost my best friend to cancer. I was felled by grief, stunned by the loss. I spoke to a dear friend (a social worker) about how difficult it was to move past the outrage and anger, and she asked, “Have you made a space for your grief?” And from that came the idea of a memorial garden for my friend, only instead of flowers, I’d make it out of tiles I had accumulated over years of yard sales.

The garden has been such a blessing. The designing of it, setting out the different pieces, rearranging, adding to, taking away from, it all gave me a chance to find expression for words I felt would devastate me if I spoke them aloud – I loved you. I miss you. Why?

Healing came slowly, but it did come. And in the years since I lost her, the garden has gone from a project to place of sanctuary and peace. This year I added a few more tiles, a meditation chair, and a gorgeous new birdbath! A graceful pedestal arching up to hold the basin, it looks positively ecclesiastical. The Mister and I have taken to calling it “the font.” Sunday mornings during my hiatus, I would wrap a shawl around my shoulders and flee to my garden. I’d start by standing at the font and make a confession of sorts, placing my faults and failings in the water as the surface rippled in the breeze and the trees swayed and swished over head. I’d watch as the sunlight crept across the ground, illuminating different areas as it progressed in dappled grace. At the end, I’d sit in my meditation chair and breathe and give thanks, and breathe and wonder, and breathe and just look, and breathe and breathe. I was always reluctant to leave, but if I tarried too long Someone would send bees to chase me off. One of them actually lighted on my arm! I called on my Supreme Being.

“Dude!” I said, “What the….?”

“Oh relax, lovey. I’m just playin’ with ya.”

“Playin’, huh?”

The summer was wearing away quickly, and at the end of August the temperature took an abrupt nosedive. We even had to turn the furnace on a couple of mornings to warm up the house. I feared an early Fall and wondered how to prepare the garden for the winter. Last year I took in the more delicate items I thought would not fare well in the cold – some little ceramic houses and plaster cast statues and such, but I left the tiles out. When I checked them in the Spring, every single one of the terracotta tiles had exploded! That’s what they looked like. Shattered from the cold. The others had survived, but I didn’t know if I should chance it again.

“I think I’m going to have to take in all the tiles for the winter,” I told The Mister.

“Yup. I think that would be best.”

I looked around at them despairingly.

“That’s going to be such a big job.”

“Oh yeah.”

“I think I can leave all the river stones out though.”

“Mmmm…”

“What?”

“The squirrels. If they scatter them into the lawn, it could make things a little dicey for Greg (our lawn cutter.)”

“So I have to put everything away?”

He gave a little “sorry” shrug.

I resolved to start on Monday, the 18th, since our local meteorologists were predicting a blissful turn toward the temperate for that entire week. They were so right! I set my alarm for half and hour earlier so I could exercise, shower, and eat before tackling the garden each day. And I found I was actually anticipating my day’s work with a certain amount of eagerness…

TO BE CONTINUED

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