Risky Business

She moves cautiously when it comes to matters of the heart

and

leaps with wild abandon while in pursuit of life’s significance.

Growing up the way I did, with the family I did, in the house I did my growing up in, I was anything but a risk taker.

I was the quiet child, the well-behaved child, and the family peace-maker.

I was the kid who didn’t step on the cracks or lines, for fear of breaking backs or spines.

Always did what was expected of me and followed the path that was laid out by my parents for me to follow.

Most of my risk taking has involved my career or financial well-being.

Following my accident, I went back to work for a brief period of time, and then when my ex husband sold the house we owned and I got my half of the proceeds, I chose to go back to school, which was pretty risky.

Incredibly risky, in fact.

I was the sole financial provider for my sons, and would be cutting our finances in half. If we could live on half of what we were accustomed to living on, I could pay my tuition, and cover our living expenses for the time it would take me to complete my studies.

I had a budget and would have to stick to it absolutely in order for us to get through it. Knowing not a thing about budgets and how to prepare them, I didn’t know to make sure I had contingency plans in place if there was anything that arose, such as blown transmissions, or increases in the price of gasoline. I don’t think I even had anything set aside for clothing or medications. I just made the decision, after worrying it around and around in my brain, and I jumped.

It was never easy but I still cannot believe how fast it all went by and then I was finished!

We had a few bumps in the road – once they cut my electricity 2 days before I got my monthly student funding, and we used the barbecue and showered during the daylight hours. We all went to the library during the evenings to do our homework and use computers, and I surely didn’t have enough extra food in the fridge those days to worry much about spoiling! Coolers full of ice kept what we had safe.

When I think back to those few days, it almost makes me feel sick, but both my sons have joked about how we are survivors and how I can cook anything on a barbecue, so I am hoping the trauma is at a minimum for them.

Once my schooling was over, I took the first position I found, even though I was far from qualified for it. It meant I had to get up at 3:30 every morning and take a train (of all things!!) to a hospital far, far away from my home, in order to start by 6. I worked in that position and also took another position that I would go to afterward from 4-10 at night.

I did that for 3 months until I felt “safe” again financially. The second position eventually offered me full time work and that led me to yet another position, on the recommendation of nurses I worked with.

I hopped about in that fashion for the next 3 years, steadily increasing my salary and being recommended by doctors and nurses I worked with for better and better positions.

Positions I had no business applying for. Positions meant for folks far, far more intelligent and experienced than I was at that point in time.

I have always been a quick learner, and I watch people and how they do things. It’s how I learn best, and I used that to my full advantage during those years. I took positions that I knew I was capable of doing at some point, but would have to fake it till I made it.

Being risky and taking chances without the fear of failure has allowed me to grow my personal network and to achieve the things that I have during my career.

It was also a great example to show my sons, as they have both taken some gnarly risks career-wise, but have landed well!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Circles, Chains & Old Men

He leaned close to me as he left my home 2 weeks ago, and I moved closer, as well, expecting his customary good-bye kiss on my cheek. With a rattly whisper that only the elderly have, he said in my ear ” July 1968. Look for me and help me understand.”

I said “of course” as I received the good-bye kiss and after making sure his coat was buttoned right, I sent him out my front door, wondering what he meant, and worried a bit about him, as I could sense his distress.

I met Moe almost 20 years ago, when he was speaking at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting that I was invited to attend to watch my friend pick up his 1 year chip. As I walked out of the meeting and to my car, Moe started walking faster to catch up to me and walk by my side. He told me he had sponsored my friend and had witnessed his many struggles, that he believed until my friend loved himself, and came to terms with his trauma from his childhood, he would continue to struggle with his addictions. We walked together, talking, and I felt myself warming to this wiry little man, who in his 60s, had me walking faster to keep up with.

When we arrived at the parking lot, he handed me what he called his “card” – actually a scrap of white paper with his name and phone number hand written on it, and told me to call him if I ever wanted to grab a coffee or chat. I think at the time, he thought we could work together as support for our mutual friend.

Over the years, he has been in and out of my life. We have gone years without contact, and then he will reappear suddenly or call me out of the blue and ask how things are going with me and my boys. When his wife died, he took over caring for her developmentally delayed daughter, who is a few years older than I am. Sometimes he needed advice on medical issues with her, or just someone to write a letter advocating for more care for her. He seemed to struggle with bureaucracy.

Shortly after I met him years ago, he shared with me that the last time he drank, he woke up in jail in Toronto, and suffered his last hangover there.  He spoke of the struggles he had endured, but didn’t share specifics and I didn’t ask, always cognizant of the A.A. code of silence and the promise of anonymity. I didn’t feel it was my place to start asking questions, as he was simply “old Moe” to me and had, within the short time I had known him, taken on a fatherly sort of role with me. He showed up for birthdays, holidays and even once to help me move. By then a 70-something year old man, he convinced my teenage son that knocking down the back fence was the smartest way to get the trucks as close to the door as possible.

A true rebel, with a twinkle in his eye and a wise cracker if you ever met one.

Every pet and every child or baby in the world goes straight to Moe. They sense his gentle nature and he sits quietly with them, frequently putting them so at ease, they fall asleep in his arms or lap. He talks about his love for his mother and how she never judged anyone. How I remind him of her. The Catholic upbringing and the altar boy stories. How once he had his first sip of wine at 7, he was at church so often, his mother thought he had aspirations for priesthood.

He told me so many stories, I wondered if they could all be true or were they just  ramble-bragging of the sort that old men do, once their virility is starting to fade and the days ahead are much more mundane and boring than the days past. Lots of war stories and hints of knowing “connected” men back in his Cabbagetown days. Stories of stealing anything that wasn’t nailed down- beer off the back of trucks, racks of women’s fur coats left unattended, and fruit and vegetables stuffed into pockets, for eating later, during the time of day that those more well off had dinner plates in front of them.

This past year, he has suffered falls and he broke his collar-bone 6 months ago. He is slowing down now at 83, and has lost 3 close friends in the last month. He blames himself for one of them, telling me if he had driven over to this place when he didn’t return Moe’s call, maybe he would still be alive.

It seems to me he has always loved to take the blame for things out of his control. I reassure him that life is like that- random, and that we all have our time on this earth and our stories are written before we get here, so basically fate or chance carries us along. I sense he knows the end is nearing for him, and while that eventuality has made him less impatient with the little things , and more accepting of his limitations physically, there is an undercurrent of urgency buzzing within him, like a hot electrical wire.

He has been visiting more often, laughing after our chats, with the comment ” how much do I owe you for the therapy, dear?” or “cheapest head-shrinker I ever saw!”

I gave him a key to my house, as he lives in the basement of his step-daughter’s house, and sometimes feels unwanted and expresses a need to “run away”. Hearing that broke my heart , so I quickly fetched a spare key I had lying around and tucked it into his tiny hand, the skin so thin and tissue-papery that I could feel the bones underneath like a baby bird’s. I patted his hands gently and told him to use that key anytime he needed.

I have the sense he is wanting to close his circle in a neat fashion and be prepared for when he meets his maker. He is cleaning house, wanting to make his peace, and in the twilight of his life, searching for answers to all the why’s he still has.

So when he left that day, I thought about his request and decided I would look up that date and his name in Google, and see what he was asking me for. I knew instinctively that it must have to do with his past and understood that if it could be found with a simple Google search, it must have been something fairly news-worthy.

I remember feeling a bit apprehensive as I typed his name into search engine. My hands were shaking a bit, and I felt uneasy, like a voyeur.

It was one of those moments that you know have the ability to change your life in an instant.

And it did.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Akhilandeshwari

Akhilandeshwari is a South Asian Goddess who is known as ‘She Who Is Never Not Broken’. Akhilan-“ means, “never-not-broken” and “deshvari” is a Sanskrit term for goddess.

As human beings, we are broken over and over during our lifetime. Broken from grief, from heartbreak, from loss and traumas, both physical and mental.

A question I am frequently asked is how I have endured and survived some of the times I have been broken- both literally and figuratively.

The truth is that it was at those times in my life when I was most broken that I have made deep acquaintance with my pain and suffering. Mostly in silence, frequently with hot tears running down my face, but always with an open soul and inquisitive mind.

I learned at a very young age that I was going to be the only one to save myself.

For many years, I ran and ran and then ran some more. I managed to keep my life busy and full. I kept the lessons and the learning and the inevitable time for reflection at bay until I was forced to face all the broken pieces of me.

As a dear friend calls it- the time was coming for excavation, a time that would be forced upon me for digging deep inside.

To remember. To reflect. To open doors leading to places I had been trying to avoid going for years. And I had a whole lot of places I had been avoiding.

Emotional pain was always something to be avoided at all costs, and if I had to hurt in that way, it was best to stuff it deep and forget it if I could.

Maybe i could find someone else in even more pain than me and try to help them. That sounded better than having to look at my own. Find someone even more broken than myself and try to love them back together again. I have had whole relationships that started from that very criteria.

Distractions. Deflections. Denial.

I am indeed like Akhilandeshvari, she of “never not broken”.

I like to think that I finally stopped running and invited my pain in for tea.

But it didn’t really work that way.

One day a few months following the death of my brother, I found myself crying and quite honestly couldn’t stop. I sat on my couch, totally alone, and for the first time in my life, I allowed it all to wash over me. All that sticky, hot, aching pain.

I invited it in and let it wash all over me. I sat with it, my home growing dark as the hours slipped by around me.

The losses, the abuses, the neglect, the regrets – everything I had kept behind those doors for years. I felt at times like I was psychically shattering. My heart ached and my lungs felt full. Every part of my body was like a sponge, taking in more and more pain as every one of those doors opened, one at a time.

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Look at it. Deal with it. Look at your part in this.

Call it a Come to Jesus moment, or a transformation, or even a nervous breakdown if you will. All I know is that once I allowed it to happen and really spent the time picking through all the broken pieces, I began to see the prisms of light within me and within my broken pieces.

I believe that people are drawn to me because of my brokenness.

I think they must sense that if they share their own stories of suffering with me, I will listen and be with them in their pain.

I am not fearful of pain anymore, mine or anyone else’s.

Pain has provided me with the lessons I most needed to learn and has been the best tool for growth I could ever ask for.

My Voice

I have been noticing that by the time most women find their voices and their truths, they have basically been deemed irrelevant and uninteresting by virtue of their age.

I have seen it happening at work with younger colleagues but mostly in my personal and social life (such that it is!).

I was honestly gutted when 45 won that election last year. Gutted. Slayed. Bewildered & very, very saddened.

It hit me like a ton of bricks that the patriarchy is alive and well and still running the show. I was not a huge fan of Hilary Clinton. I can admit that. I admired her years of public service and the things she had accomplished in her career, but also side-eyed some of her statements and interests. I was dragged into lively debates with my kids on the whole Bernie vs Hilary thing. Ad nauseum.

 

I live in a so-called Socialist Paradise – Canada, so I certainly have reaped the benefits of a robust social safety net and access to health care, regardless of what the balance is in my bank account.

So, I get why some believed Bernie was the one to go with, even though I am one of those voters that votes in the safest alternative. She would have been that.

I just cannot get past the fact that in my heart, I believe that she lost because she is a woman– and an older woman, at that. One to mock for her sensible shoes and her tidy, but boring pantsuits. The way the media slammed her in regards to her appearance and her energy levels ( even though both 45 and the Bernster were older than her!) was the finishing touch on my forming my belief.

When I was younger, I was taken aback at the loud, feisty females who proudly proclaimed themselves feminists. I was surrounded by men that viewed feminists as “bitter hens who couldn’t find a man”. “Man-haters”. “Bra-burners.”

In my mind there wasn’t a need to be so loud and confrontational about things. I was a babe in the woods, still nodding my head and rarely speaking up or joining conversations that the men were having. Still wrapped in my belief that some man somewhere was always going to be handy to make sure my needs were taken care of.

My ex-husband used to like to tell people that my mother was a “man-hater”. This seemed to occur following any statement that he made that she might have her own opinion about. She was 50-something when this started occurring regularly.

He would laugh and try to shut her down by proclaiming ” oh, you just hate men- you are bitter is all.”

She was most certainly not a man hater.

She had just reached an age where all the years of listening to some blow hard pontificate on every subject under the sun had caught up with her, I think. She was full up with having things man-splained to her. My Mother, who read an average of 4 books per week and worked full time; who never missed the news or reading the paper daily. She sat for years and listened to men decide and tell and direct and make decisions about her life.

Men who for the most part who had never seen the inside of a grade 8 textbook in their lives.

Then I guess somewhere around her 50th year, she blew. And looking back at it all now, it was really quite glorious.

So, what I haven’t done due to holding back is become much more vocal about my opinion on things, out of a fear of being labeled a “man-hater”.

I actually have an opinion on a lot of things.

A variety of things.

The glass ceiling at work.

Equal pay.

Politics.

The current reconciliation program with our Indigenous Canadians and the racism I see daily towards our original land owners.

I want to tell my son that it isn’t a “cute” look when he tells people he just throws his money at his partner, and lets her worry about the bills and deadlines and groceries and every other damn thing he thinks is beneath him spending his valuable time on.

I want to tell the man I report to at work that just because he acts like one of my children, he wont be treated with near as much patience and that I am not the “fixer” just by virtue of having the vagina.

I might even cut my long hair off just to spite the last asshole I was in a relationship with. Years of dealing with all this hair just because he found it more visually appealing to him….

So, I have been holding back on being that woman.

And it’s over now.

Only women bleed- my ass.

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The OG Shannon

Individuality.

Something we all strive for, I guess, since we first looked at someone and hoped we were not like them at all. Our core uniqueness and character comes from the fact that we all see and experience life through different eyes and distinct perspectives due to experiencing particular events in our lifetimes.

I am aware that I think very differently than others think and also respond to events in ways that others cannot understand. By now,  I am long used to the reactions I get, so don’t tend to let them bother me in the least. I am pretty much an open book to those I invite into my inner circle. That circle is actually pretty small, the older I get, as not everyone can be trusted with knowing the real me, in all my uncensored glory, and with the tact sometimes of a drunken 3 year old.

I am fortunate where I work, as most times when I comment in inappropriate ways, they think I am joking around. That works great for me, as I don’t have to pretend and can basically say what is on my mind at any given moment in time. Of course, I am very aware of my audience at all times, so behave accordingly when I absolutely have to.

Examples:

  1. Co-Worker standing at my desk waiting for me to acknowledge their presence.

Me: “Can you be helped?”

2.  Co-Worker complaining about flight delay during departure for her 20 day   Mediterranean vacation. Launches into long, whiny, entitled rant on losing 2 hours of her holiday time sitting in the warm heated airport waiting for “her” plane to be de-iced twice prior to boarding.

My reaction:

hangover

So, in a nutshell- very low tolerance for bullshit and pity-parties, and some pretty intense black humour.

I could blame the humour on the Irish in me, but really think it is due to the life I have lived and even more so the things I have seen.

I’ve seen a lot- both in my personal life and in my career, back when I worked Hospice.

My experiences make me unique and quite the individual- some have even suggested I can be “a handful” at times.

I wouldn’t have it any other way!

 

 

 

 

 

Balance & The Art of Letting Go

Balance to me, at this point in my life, is about the art of letting go.

For the first 50 years of my existence, I was gathering and taking and acquiring all manner of things: money, homes, friends, partners, loyalty, favours, safety, peace and most of all –  love.

Around the time of my 50th, I had an epiphany of sorts, and the thought popped into my head that I really didn’t know shit about anything. Who was I to be counseling loved ones and friends when they came to me for advice? How could I possibly give anyone direction when I had always blown around like a leaf in the wind most of my life, accepting and constantly adjusting my sails, according to the ferocity of the storms and tragedies? I had done a fair bit of living, so possibly I was helpful in that I could relate to many things, and provide tips or life “hacks”. But in truth, I did most of them a disservice even attempting to direct them on the right path.

In the last few years, it has been all about letting it all go for me.

I have let go of trying to control anyone I love and have become quieter and more attentive to their physical cues. Everyone knows I am still here for them, but that maybe it is just to sit with them in silence, or give them some home made soup, or a hug if that is what their bodies seem to be signaling to me.

I am no longer throwing on my cape and dashing to rescue every loved one anymore. They need to learn their own lessons, after all- we all do, even if sometimes those lessons leave scars.

I am relying on my instincts and my body more then I ever did in my past.

I am not holding on to toxic partners, for fear of being alone, because I have come to realize that I actually love my own company and look forward to whole days where I can do what I want, eat what and when I want, and do what feels perfectly right for me.

It felt a bit selfish in the beginning, but now it is feeling mighty fine.

I am also letting go of material things I have hauled around with me from home to home for years. Holding onto items that mean nothing to me anymore. Downsizing, is what they call it, I guess.

I am also downsizing on resentments, anger, bitterness, grief, and unrealistic expectations of how others should treat me. It’s up to me to set those boundaries and rules.

I want to minimize on the material and maximize on the experiences and the moments.

I recently was in Mexico with my sons for my bonus daughter’s wedding.( Ain’t no steps in THIS house except the ones leading up the stairs!) As many my age have experienced, getting all the “kids” together in one place once they have grown up and moved on is a feat in itself.

Well, I had them all close by for a whole 8 days and it was a series of the absolute best moments of my entire life.

Most of the wedding attendees were younger than me, with the exception of the groom’s Mother. And yet- it seemed my hotel door was constantly swinging open and shut with the arrival of one of them or the other.

They came to sit with me and watch the sunrises and we all came together at the end of those long, hot days to watch the sunsets together at the ocean.

They popped in to invite me for dinner with their families, in the event I was dining alone.

The one family had a little one that I would just take by the hand and walk slowly with through the glorious landscaping and along the beach. Or just sit with…play with his baby-fine hair as it blew softly across his cheek from the ocean breeze.

I sat the morning of the wedding on my patio, watching the sun rise and closed my eyes and said a prayer for the first time in many years.

I thanked God/Creator/Buddha/Mohammed- all of them.

Thanked them for the beauty and the warmth and the opportunity to watch my strong, healthy, handsome sons playing in the ocean and laughing- oh my GOD, so much laughter!

Asked that they bless the marriage we were about to witness later that day, and keep that young love alive for the rest of their lives.

I took a straw hat of my mother’s and a bandana that my brother wore so often you could see through it. Packed them in my suitcase on a whim.

My brother’s bandana is tied around a little palm tree trunk- a thin little trunk that must indicate it has years of growing and stretching to the sun before it.

My mother’s straw hat I filled with all the pesos I had left in my purse, some chocolates, as well as the boldest and most fragrant of the beautiful tropical flowers that made up my corsage.

And a note, (that I likely incurred $20 in internet charges for) in order to write it in Spanish for my housekeepers that week. I thanked them for their graciousness and their hard work.

That is my balance- the holding on and cherishing of the moments that matter, but also at the same time, letting go of that which I no longer need to carry with me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Acceptance

The challenge this week over at the sandbox is about acceptance and the differences between acceptance, passivity and resignation.


I have been passive in my life, especially in my younger years, when passivity was a means to get along and not cause a scene even when I most definitely should have. Being passive is similar to a leaf blowing in the wind without utilizing any of its own energy in order to gain the momentum for movement. It’s staying in one place and allowing outside forces to move you in whatever direction those forces choose. Pliant. Immobile. Weightless, without plan or thought of changing direction. 


Resignation arrived in my thirties. The years where my main concern was my sons’ wellbeing and keeping them fed and loved enough to thrive and just getting through the day, in order to maintain. The years of caring for sick relatives and even sicker men. Resigned to the fact that I needed to stand still and in one place, to push down thoughts of what my life could be if only there wasn’t so much weight upon me and responsibility tangling about me. Allowing my struggling spirit to give in to the demands and letting my dreams go into hibernation. A settling. A relief of sorts. Mechanical.

Acceptance has come to me in my middle years. My time since all responsibilities to others have disappeared. Enough time to myself and quiet in order to get back in touch with the spirit within. A period of reflection on choices made and of decisions needing to be made in regards to the rest of my life. 

An almost Zen state in the evenings when the dusk sneaks in the windows and I put off turning on the lights. When I sit quietly in my chair, with the kitten purring against my chest, eyes closed, in reflection and thanks for a day without pain or chaos or regret.

Acceptance that in the letting go, I am opening my soul to all the potentially good things that could be heading my way. 

Accepting that every decision I have made in my life was primarily made with a good, caring heart, and that it is not my fault that my light drew the darkness as well. 

Acceptance that everything is as it should be, and that I am exactly where I am supposed to be at this time.