Archive for January, 2010

Looking Sideways

Wednesday, January 13th, 2010

Our lives take on such different shapes, each one from another. Years of seeming sameness, when one can look rooted to the very same spot, can suddenly transform, and then the changes come one after the other. Faster and faster.

I have been home from Texas for ten months now, and both Mary and I looked at the calendar on December 29th and wrote, “Wish you were here,” and, “Wish I was, too.” Only ten short months but I have been chafing. Feeling as if my life is moving so slowly, the chasm so wide between my struggle to live in the moment, whatever it brings, and the leaps I wish to take. And yet there is movement. Increments.

With great sadness I left the Attic and my friends in that wonderful house, and am now ensconced in what I call the Loft. For all my mourning it was time, and my new home with different friends is again very, very special. The thought of leaving the skylights had me in despair. But here I am, the Loft is high and bright, and I have not lost the sky. This house where I now live is on a rise, the wall I face from my bed is glass. There is the western sky, with only the bits and pieces of coloured rooftops below, and the bare branches of the trees in between. I will not miss the sky at all. I’ve been given more than a glimpse, it is all there. Choosing these changes has tested me. Wanting to embrace Lao Tzu’s, “When I let go of what I have, I receive what I need…” My friend Anna’s words resonate, have comforted me, “You are moving faster into your future.”

I am working again in a bookstore, so there is the calming and exhilarating company of the books that I love and the books that I will someday read. “When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.” Walking through the industrial area from the bus loop in Langley to the major intersection where Chapters is located, triggers something in me, something bleak, and sometimes holy.

Bridging two worlds is the little community shuttle bus that drives the nine kilometers from Fort Langley, winding along the country road through fields we go. Frank the bus driver plays the best blues. Oftentimes the fare counter is broken and we all ride for free. Leaving the sleepiness and pace of Fort Langley for Langley, my feet hit the pavement for my walk to the store, and the journey is both inner and outer. Langley is a car culture. A pedestrian walking the sketchy sidewalk on that particular road is a rarity. I see it in the drivers’ faces, what an oddity I am, how they can’t relate. They stare through impenetrable glass as they race past.

And November. November was my last month in the Attic. My books were boxed up, the decision made, my life in transition. New job, that adjustment, and the rain. Oh! how it rained. I have always admired the sucker punch of Edna O’Brien’s book title, “August Is A Wicked Month.” November was a gaping hole the deluge poured through, every day an endurance test. I thought, “November Hasn’t Scabbed Over, Yet.” November had its own shade of black.

I struggled with myself. Not liking me. A lack of gratitude is, in my experience, the worst character trait to be missing. I’m still grappling to understand how dark my inner landscape. I am not completely unaware; I know very well how much I have and how very rich I am. I sloshed along the road to work, struggled in gusting winds with my umbrella, drenched to my knees. Guarding myself against the walls of water thrown up by the cars that would not slow down in the puddles that accumulated along the roadway. Entering the brightly lit/in your face/you’re on public display, pre-Christmas retail world was like coming in from the cold and wet and then being hit with a bucket of ice water. No more solitude for me. But it was not the job nor the people in cars that I resented. I wasn’t sorry for myself, nor did I envy them. I understand my choices and where they have brought me. I came to this – that although my shoes were wet, I still had feet. My comparisons brought up not anger against the haves, but looking sideways, pain for the have nots. For all that I felt, there were those that felt far worse. November’s blackness was a lack of hope. Mine would return, but what about the longsuffering?

Every day I pass a store named nood: new objects of desire. Something happens to my soul when I see that. This transparent marketing of a way of life (because you can never ever get enough of what you don’t need) makes me very, very sad. I risk my precious life inches from hurtling vehicles unmindful of my vulnerability in the dark and rain. Walk my to and fro at a human pace, foot to ground. And all about me the Christmas hysteria sped from one store to another, shopping for Jesus. Shopping for Jesus. And that was November, and December, too. For Christ’s sake, indeed.


The road to the ferry that is no more is a good one for me. Now that the ferry traffic is gone, it is deserted enough. Once I cross the Jacob Haldi Bridge my little town is behind me. The silence rises up from the earth, I can see it seeping up the trunks of the trees. The silence sifts down from the sky, flows through the bare branches. There are more moments of silence than the occasional car. It is still. There is the sound of me again, the sound of my own footfalls. Here I can walk safely, not distracted, nor looked upon.

Sometimes it is hard to reach such a short destination. I want to continue on, but I’m stopped by the channel. I do nothing but stand and wait until I really see the mountains, letting everything come into focus. Until the quietness wraps itself around me. I am standing on a small, government wharf. Down the ramp from it there are three fishing boats moored. One is called ADVISE. I wonder about the naming of that one. There is a cocker spaniel named Dusty that barks at me from the deck of the furthest boat. The shifting water, a few bobbing ducks, the land across the way, the faint but steady roar of the highway that runs along its shore. Then the mountains lift from the back, ice peaked, sometimes invisible in a low sky socked in by rain clouds. Leaning on the railing I look east up the channel, turn and look west. Getting my bearings, finding my place, gathering in all of me and rooting and resting my weight down through my body, through my shoes, onto the wooden dock. This moment is my home.

I met a man named Natch on my way back down the road. We stood in the wet day. He asked me how I was, and what little social pretension I have fell away. Why lie? “Sad,” I said. Looking out at the trees, rain falling on our faces, he said, apropos of nothing, “It takes a long time to get over things.” We stood quietly, standing in our knowledge, in our own histories. I told him the road to the ferry dock was good for me, and that I hoped I wasn’t bothering anyone, as I was walking through land of the Kwantlen Nation. He said no, it’s a good walk. Then he told me a story, and I knew that these stories come along for a reason.

He said two of his uncles had been killed on this road. In the fog when cars used to speed recklessly to the ferry. Just racing down that road to get in the lineup. Natch said he’d been fishing one day, he was on the far side of the channel in his boat when he got a feeling, and heard a scream. He got his boat back to this side as fast as he could. He heard the emergency vehicles, saw the lights. And when he got there the police were there and the ambulance, and his dead uncle. A kid sat in the back of the cop car and Natch got in and sat with him. The kid just kept shaking his head and saying that all he saw was the uncle on the windshield and his face looking in at him before he was thrown away.

I don’t know Natch, but I know he is a forgiving man. The way a person tells a story tells a lot about the storyteller. Natch was shaking his head now. His uncle dead, a horrible death in the fog on a cold road. An eighteen year old kid rocking back and forth in the back of a police car. At the funeral, Natch said, the moment they were laying his uncle in the ground, that kid in the jail cell, his heart stopped. He just died. Two deaths, Natch said. For nothing.


In one pocket my purple amethyst heart, folded in the other a piece of paper with the words of Camus, “In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.” These are the talismans that keep me strong and keep me walking forward. I pray for those whose seasons never change.

Good Life