More about speaking up, speaking up,

I don’t know about you but I need all the inspiration I can get. 

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Have you ever had someone say “I’ll pray for you”, and you kinda wished they wouldn’t?

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A Double Rainbow, rail fence, green field, trees, a blue sky peeking through–everything you need

A Rainbow, rail fence, green field, trees, a blue sky peeking through--everything you need

This was one end of double rainbow I saw at my barn. They are not uncommon there, which contributes to my sense that it is a very special place. Do you have a special place that is special like that? Maybe from childhood? What does that place give you? When I am writing fiction (which I’m not very good at) I try to remember how important a “sense of place” can be. What do some places make possible in your life?

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Why do we speak?

I was reading about the Truth and Reconciliation gathering held recently here in Calgary. Aboriginal people find the courage to tell the story of what was done to them in the name of God, good order, socialization, whatever, and the devastating consequences to their lives. That made me think about my Floodcatcher Trees, holding onto the debris of past trauma, and my thoughts turned from the impulse to tell our story to knowing why we tell our story.

There is nothing incidental in the title of these gatherings: Truth and Reconciliation. It asks each speaker to tell their truth not so that people will be punished or shamed, but so that reconciliation becomes possible. We cannot reconcile with the people, if we do not reconcile with the truth of the consequences.

We live in a time when people often intone the call to “move on” and the need “to get past it”. We most often hear that as someone directing traffic around the consequences of their or someone else’s actions. And we are not always people who want to know the consequences, or want reconciliation. We want consequences to be invisible, and the story lost to amnesia. But that only makes the consequences haunt us, and the story keeps turning up like a bad penny. Moving on, and getting past it, happens when we know the consequences and the story that created them. Dazed, stricken, upset—however it all affects us—we find ourselves still standing, and strangely able to move on, step by step.

Once, many years ago, when my denomination was still not ready to makes its apology to First Nations people, I ended up in Saskatoon airport waiting for an early morning flight. An aboriginal man struck up a conversation with me right out of the blue as we waited to board. Very unexpectedly and suddenly we were talking about our work and our faith. He seemed to sense that I was at a low point and, unbidden, he told me of his community’s struggle to come to terms with the abuse of their children by a priest. He lived way up in the north part of the province. He told me how the community handled it, and how the cycle was stopped once the story could be told. As he spoke he drew a circle in the air with his finger and stopped just before he came round to his starting point. You have to break the circle, he said. And the circle is held by silence. Then he took my hands and looked into my eyes and told me it would be all right. He had no idea what my own trouble was, and he did not ask. But when he held my hands I felt like he held it with me, for a moment.  I had this overwhelming sense that I had been blessed so utterly and thoroughly. And I knew I would keep going, after all.

The point of telling our story is only partly to take the debris off our lives, piece by piece. It is also so we can take  another’s hands, and hold the burden of their debris with them for a moment, look into their eyes and tell them “it will be all right”. And they will know it can be true for them because it was true for us.

Truth and Reconciliation. 

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Floodcatcher Part 2

In September, When I stood in the ruins of the Elbow Falls Picnic area, and saw these trees still holding the debris of the flood’s devastation I felt a subdued urgency about the image. Using my friend’s back-up camera I took several pictures. When processed in b&w, this one image was darkly compelling, and tears welled up. I wasn’t sure why, but something made me post it here, and after a few days I knew that image was important not just as a witness to the flood’s path, but as an symbol of my own experience of my life’s devastation. I felt like those trees—still standing and still alive, but unnaturally dressed in the debris of an event I had not caused and could not avoid.

Looking around, the landscape was completely changed. Paths abruptly ended in mid air, grassy slopes were sliced like the heel off a loaf of bread, exposing brown earth and rock and roots. Mud caked everything. The dirt of the river bottom had been washed away leaving an industrial looking gravel bed where the river once ran along the edge of the picnic area. Tables, of course, were long gone over the falls and smashed to bits. And the river…you could no longer see it where it now ran. It was way on the other side. Nothing was the same, even though we were standing in the same place we had stood four months earlier. It was all gone. But the floodcatcher trees, months later still held branches, roots, pieces of tree trunks thrown into them during the worst of it. Ten and twelve feet up the tree trunks went the broken bric and brac of western forest. Would anyone come to clear it away? Should I?

I don’t know about those trees, but it’s probably time for me to look down and start clearing off some of the debris that has been sticking to me. Piece by piece I will do it. The shock is wearing off. I don’t have to stand perfectly still anymore, bracing myself against the flood of terrible truth that is the lie of an entire lifetime. It has screamed down my cries, drowned my weeping and shredded my core like a plug-in appliance. It’s done. It’s my turn now. To speak.

 

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Floodcatchers

Floodcatchers

I took this just upriver from Elbow Falls, Alberta, four months after the devastating flood we had in Calgary in June. Tree trunks close together formed catcher’s mits for flood debris as the water overran the picnic area where this was taken. The river moved past its former gravel bed in the background, running now beside those trees across the way. So you also can tell how high the water was by how high the debris goes in the catcher’s mit.

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George Costanza opposite day

My life is full of subtle cerebral operations, nuancing words and thoughts until they are the bowl of porridge that is just right. It’s thrilling.

But when my life bogs down in things I can’t change, or dead ends daily, subtlety doesn’t work for me. Life needs serious adjustments and I don’t know where to begin. So four years ago, when the rug was pulled out from under my life, subtle wasn’t going to cut it. If I was going to change things for the better, I had to work like a big front end loader.

I remembered a Seinfeld episode when George realized every choice he made generated result he didn’t want. So he began to stop himself every time his instinct or habit suggested a certain direction, and he would choose the opposite. As his day unfolded he found his whole was full of success–he got the job, the girl, the apartment, etc.  So I decided I had to do the George Costanza opposite day treatment in my own life.

It wasn’t easy. Just holding myself back from my first instinct was a challenge. But bit by bit I began to do exactly the opposite of what I would have normally chosen. For me, it wasn’t quite like the tv show, but I did find I generated way more life opportunities for myself. Some of them have turned out to be significant.

It’s scary to choose differently. And it’s exciting, too. I sometime have clients who are “stuck” and tell me how the same thing happens to them over and over again. And I tell them all about George and me. For many of them it is a simple way to take back control in a life and pry it out of choices, behaviours and assumptions that aren’t working. Nothing subtle about it. More like an front end loader approach.

But you know, I remember the guy with the front end loader who came to move massive six foot long pieces of limestone and huge granite boulders to form a wall at my barn. He was meticulous and exacting. He could have iced a cake with that thing. So maybe, with experience, subtlety will still possible on a George Costanza opposite day.

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