Archive for February, 2008

Squeezing The Colour Button

Sunday, February 24th, 2008

When I got the call last week that an old friend had died, I experienced it where most people first feel their grief. Like a pain in the heart, or a blow to the gut. All the energy leaked out of my body and was replaced with sand. I had not seen him for some years but always assumed that of course I would again. My grief focussed on just how well loved this man is; and as the news was picked up by one newspaper after another, I could feel the impact on me of his passing joining with the collective grief being felt across the country.

By Monday the sand was up past my knees, almost to my thighs, and I knew I had to get out. It was hard to lift my legs, so heavy the weight, but I got past the Jacob Haldi Bridge and a ways down the beach before I had to sit again. The sun was so beautiful and the area deserted. I found a fallen tree to sit down on and lay back on its branches, giving my face up to the sun. Going down to the river was the right thing to do. It released all the flashbacks, how can you not have them? When I first met Willie I was sixteen years old. Beneath my lids the years progressed; the images of our lives clear and in focus, held up as if from a deck of cards that a great hand was pulling up and showing one by one. All the years of music, listening to Willie play his songs; being one of the swaying, bobbing heads in the audience that recognized that love song, that favourite, that anthem of inimitable Willie P. Bennett hi-jinks.

It struck me that he is one of only a handful of men in my whole lifetime that have immediately skipped my name and shortened it to Di. It turns out that’s a shortcut to my heart. There’s some indecipherable code for why they would and why I’d love it. Instantaneous affection. My memories don’t fill a bucket as much as they are long, span these decades, and bring back sweetness. Willie P. had so many people in his life, and so many invitations. But when he was tired and knew another party or all-nighter would do him in, he would stay with us in the big house with all the kids. He could sit with his coffee, me with my tea, and we’d talk about the books we’d read. We were a couple of romantics. He picked up a book on one of his trips to Vancouver and couldn’t put it down until he found out what happened to Hannah and Tim. In a series of short stories in an Elinor Lipman book, “Into Love and Out Again,” shy and gentle Tim falls helplessly in love, while in line at the Registry of Motor Vehicles, with beautiful, nine months pregnant Hannah. During Willie’s stay with us, we took turns sharing the book in snatches, breathless to find out, like a couple of soap watchers, whether love would have a happy ending for Tim and Hannah.

When I was a kid, we didn’t phone our friends to see if they could play. We just showed up at the door, whoever got there first. Sometimes on a Saturday morning when I called on my best friend Margaret, she’d still be doing her chores. She’d come outside with a plastic bag of a white malleable substance, that had a little black button in it. And that button was full of colour. Her job was to squeeze the colour button and spread the golden yellow dye uniformly through the vegetable oil, to make it the margarine they would eat.

I thought of that childhood pastime this week. Remembered Margaret and I walking around her yard, taking turns kneading the bag, making sure the colour was evenly spread to every corner. And when someone you love dies, you do have to squeeze the colour button. Push that black thing until it’s obliterated. Let all the sweetness and regret (should have called, should have looked past the chaos of my personal life, should have bridged the past with the present, should have taken the time to say, “I remember you,” and “How are you?”) mix together and become one, and accept it for what it is. It’s the hand that we hold.

And I thought of the concentric circles of things, and how sometimes it is not until the looking back that we’re able to see the mystery of the design. I had gone in to Vancouver last Tuesday and was in my son Jonah’s living room looking at his massive CD collection. I picked a few to borrow but it was Willie’s that I played night and day. Returning them on Friday when I saw my son again, not yet knowing what this Friday would come to mean.

So I sat on the beach and pushed and pushed on the colour button, and the sand drained out of me and I left it behind when I stood up and walked away. I sang Willie’s song, Down To The Water, “Let’s go down to the water, and show me what you think is so true. Let’s go down to the water, I’d show you my crown if I could.” And I remember the sweet card of friendship, of Willie P. standing in the doorway smiling, saying “Hi Di,” to me. And I am grateful for the legacy of his beautiful music, the honesty of this wordsmith will not fade away. Willie was a musician’s musician, and I am in awe of the numbers, all the good men and women that are crying and crying for their friend. And I sent my love from where I sat by the water, back home to his lover, to his family, and to the people who spent time with him, and the friends that knew him best.

It took two days of going down to the river. As I walked back over the bridge, looking out past the railing and across the water, I could hear the sound of my footfalls scuffing along the sidewalk. And I feel lighter and lighter on this earth. Godspeed Willie. And thank you.

Good Life

Peeling The Onion

Sunday, February 10th, 2008

I got so lost in the past few weeks. All I’ve done is spend time with Ross and Rachel, Monica, Chandler, Phoebe and Joey, Will, Grace, Karen and Jack. I should have known better, creating such an artificial environment for myself. It just didn’t work, I’m not very good at that way of relaxing. Now I feel like I’m getting a case of the spiritual bends, coming up from where I lay so low. The thing is there’s been a lot of sickness in January, and all the resolutions and high hopes and grandstanding deflated like a big, fat, garish Happy New Year balloon.

I’m not normally sick and I’m not good at it. I’m a smiley on the outside, snarly on the inside, kicking about the attic kind of sick person. Just leave me alone and let me plummet in peace. Ha! It has caused me to think a lot about the nature of illness. I’ve been reaching for the Louise Hay book, “Heal Your Body – The mental causes for physical illness and the metaphysical way to overcome them.” Looked up sinus problems. The doctor had said that half the people in Langley had a sinus infection right now. “Irritation to one person, someone close.” So, other half of Langley, you know who you are.

I gravitated towards a Larry Dossey book, “The Extraordinary Healing Power of Ordinary Things,” which has 14 chapters, of 14 natural steps to health and happiness. Slowly and painfully I’ve been squinting my way through it. The chapter on Tears was particularly relevant as a significant part of my poor health this past month was an eye infection that lingered on. I read as naturally and as often as I breathe, so my frustration at not being able to take the world in through my eyes has been especially trying. I learned that emotional tears are more protein rich than tears caused by an irritant, but both contain toxins, proof that crying not only releases stress but improves health. I’ve wondered why my eyes are faltering again. This happened not that long ago in Texas and Louise said, “Anger and frustration at what you are seeing in life.” We all know I struggled with my vision of Texas but here I am, back in the attic, believing that I have an attitude of gratitude.

In Julia Cameron’s “Artist’s Way,” she talks about the Sanskrit word kriya, which means a spiritual emergency or surrender. And again she points out the similarity of words, that kriya is so close to crias, or when our souls are crying.

In one of the most spectacular un-Hollywood crying scenes I’ve ever seen, the actress Juliet Stevenson in Truly Madly Deeply bawled her eyes out through the entire movie. Tears ran down her face; she wiped away mucous from her nose with her fingers, the sides of her hands, her shirt sleeves, the front of her blouse. She pressed her palms against her eyes and still the tears streamed out. Many years ago I was in a play in which I had to stand and simply read aloud a letter from my husband. The letter in itself didn’t say much, but because of the behind the scenes improvising I had done on my character, there was a line three quarters of the way down the page where, like clockwork, a tear left my eye and travelled slowly down my cheek. Was I faking it? Do actors fake those tears? No. It is in our memory, our bodies’ memories. Unlike the definition of crocodile tears, phony tears crocodiles shed for their victims, as they are devouring them.

I think of how I’ve always said that walking is my meditation – Solvitur Ambulando – and January was a month without walking. Being so stationary I have been unable to leave my own disquiet. Walking is a way of moving into the eye of the storm where it is quiet.

In the chapter on Music there was an anecdote about a woman with a sinus headache who had heard about toning and humming as a way of curing sinus problems. She began making a sound that vibrated through her whole head and her sinuses opened up and began to drain. My experience was more amusing than curative, as Gazebo the cat reacted quite out of character for him. In frustration I had thrown myself across the bed and began to chant Om over and over. The first Om was still reverberating when he ran across my bed, stared me in the eyes, and then head butted me. I have no idea what he thought I said to him.

But something that both Roslyn and Freud kept pointing out to me was, “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.” And that means too, “Get over yourself already!” Being tired of being sick is a first sign of health. I’m still not sure if I learned anything at all that first month of this new year. I couldn’t use my eyes but I heard the double meanings in every word. How to be a patient patient? Be healed in body and spirit so that I can walk with my heel and my sole on the earth again. A tear in the spirit that causes a tear in the I/eye.

We think of onions when we think of crying, the most common cause of tears in the world. The word onion is a derivative of the Latin unio, which means oneness and unity. Spelled with an “o” but pronounced as though it’s “union.” Throughout the ages and encompassing many cultures the onion has been venerated and celebrated. The Egyptian King Ramses IV was embalmed with onions in his eye sockets. Could there be a more fitting place?

January is over. I’m relieved. I’m ready to get on with it again. But our bodies do speak to us, and for us. They remind us of the wounds and weaknesses of our physical beings and the spiritual need we must put our attention to. And so we go, peeling down, down, down through the layers. If we can laugh until we cry, so can we cry until we laugh. So cry baby, cry.

Good Life