Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Repeat as needed.

In the year following Sandy's death (it has been eight months today) I have been re-reading the blog posts from her last year here, on the dates they were first posted. It's a small and significant ritual that brings me enormous comfort. She didn't write very often - once or twice a month - so there are only a handful of posts left. The ritual has taken on extra urgency as I approach the last of these messages from my friend.

Am I dying?

I feel like I'm climbing a ladder. Or maybe, more properly, I feel like I'm crossing a suspension bridge. You know the kind - wooden planks laid across a pair of ropes. There's nothing significant about what lies beneath it, except that it's not some sort of great chasm; I see it as more like a river.

I'm looking across to the other side, which is a place I haven't really been to before (though I've been looking at it for some time), and counting the boards I'll step on before I reach the grassy bank.

There are only six left.

Last May 18th, Sandy wrote this:
I panicked, a little bit. It wasn’t that I might die, but that I hadn’t finished something. I had spent hours and hours organizing my house, and buying things I thought my family would need, and sorting through trash, and endlessly DOING things, that I hadn’t spent any time writing anything down for my children, or my husband, or my friends. I had things to say, and I hadn’t said them.

I think everyone knows, by now, that they shouldn't leave things unsaid. Haven't we all seen the movies where the tough guy eventually breaks down because his dad died while they weren't speaking to each other, or where the crusty old man, twisted with bitter remorse, regrets that his children never knew he loved them?

How do you know when you’re dying? How do you know it’s time? Do you wait until you DO know, or do you just start saying things, and hope that you get to repeat yourself?

Sandy was a woman profoundly divided - an exuberant and explosive person who directed amazing amounts of energy outward, and an introverted, private person who obsessed about minutiae and worried about how the world saw her. She drew anxieties inward, settling them in place within her and turning them over and over in her mind. Part of her brilliance of spirit was her ability to make something out of nothing - to expand the events of life, inflate them, change them from the mundane to the marvellous. It's what made her an amazing teacher, and a brilliant literary analyst...but sometimes it damaged her.

And so, maybe I need to start saying some things.

She carried a huge stockpile of emotion around. Most of it, she didn't even know was there until she got too weak to bear that burden anymore...an amazing (sickening, wonderful, heartbreaking amazing) part of her last year was this transformation she underwent, shedding layers of old matter, breaking through the carapace she had constructed to keep her vault secure.

We accumulate so much stuff in this life. So much flotsam and jetsam. So many superfluous items, and ideas, and opinions, and feelings. So many resentments and pettinesses. So much stuff. And for so long we think it’s important. We cling to it. We grasp it.

Watching my friend move away, watching as the distance between us grew wider and ever more impassable, was an odd sensation. Partly, it was terrible. Terrible, in the truest linguistic sense: an experience of terror. There was no reclamation possible - as time went on and the space between us, which had started as a crack and was rapidly becoming a gulf, grew wider, the moments of reconnection were fewer and more difficult to achieve.

And partly, it was exhilarating. Exhilarating, again in the linguistic sense: to bring out gladness. I felt like I was watching someone run to victory; like I had seen my friend suffer through a marathon and now she was on the home stretch, the last hundred meters.

...there is really no planning for this journey. No packing. In fact, I said to someone the other day that I feel the need to unpack for this journey.

The someone was me. We were talking about how weird it is to be together - with my mind on my approaching loss and the ways I might be able to help her, and her mind on her approaching gain. How weird it was for me to watch her go on, and for her to see me recede. She had trouble concentrating on the earthly realm, sometimes. As time went on, I stopped telling her about little things that used to distract and amuse her...she just wasn't interested. Not because she didn't care about me, but because she had started to see this world through a veil. The urgency of it was gone, for her: she knew that all things pass away.

I still saw - I still see - through a glass darkly.

Standing on the sixth board from the end, remembering what it was like a year ago, what I feel is a profound gratitude. A thankfulness that we knew she was leaving, that we got to smile lovingly at one another and say goodbye.

That she got to say things, and repeat them.

That she kept writing a blog - a silly word for an amazing thing.

That every two weeks or so, I'll hear her voice again.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Score one for marketing.

Em, who can't read, just picked up a box of cereal and said hopefully to her sister, "Is this a specially-marked package?"


"Aw, darn it."

I miss the days when they watched Treehouse, which has no commercials. They've graduated to Teletoon Retro, which is commercials interspersed with the Pink Panther.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Innocence Lost

Want to know a few ugly facts about your backyard?

  1. Each year in America, an estimated 100,000 children are sexually exploited.*
  2. Human trafficking is currently the second largest criminal industry in the world, netting over $43 billion each year.
  3. The average age of entry into prostitution in the US is 12-13 years.

Are you feeling skeptical? Of course you are, because you'd probably rather not believe it. I feel the same way.

A few days ago I was contacted by Child Rescue, an organisation committed to ending the exploitation of children by predators. I spoke on the phone with Lindsay Hadley, the Executive Director of Child Rescue, and she asked me whether I would be willing to post about an upcoming event that the organisation has coordinated. It's a training event for law enforcement officers, to equip them to recognise child exploitation or human trafficking situations in the field, and to manage victims and prosecute cases effectively.

This workshop is coming up soon - June 1, 2011, 14 days from now. The administration costs and the event fees are all covered by corporate sponsors, but individual officers who wish to attend (some from Canada) will have travel expenses not covered by their policing organisations.

It's strange that such a horrifying activity, which we'd like to think of as a "Them" problem - affecting people in other places, other countries - gets next to no press in North America. It seems there is an overwhelming apathy when it comes to protecting our children - strange in a culture where parents are increasingly hovering and paranoid. It's a weird dichotomy.

I'm asking you to click over to Child Rescue, read about their organisation and their mission and, if you are able, to consider donating, or sponsoring a police officer to attend the training. It's not likely that you or I will ever be in a position to offer first-hand help to the victims of child sexual exploitation, but these officers could potentially encounter these children every week while on the job. I think the least we can do is help prepare them for what they'll need to do....for where they'll have to go, and what they'll have to see.

Child Rescue main page. (Click on "Make a Donation" or "Donate $3 a week", upper right.)

Law Enforcement Sponsoring page.

If you have a blog, you can get a button from the Child Rescue blog (see my sidebar) to send people their way, and raise awareness.

* Statistics from childrescue.org

Friday, May 13, 2011


WOW, it has been cold. Around here, May is usually a beautiful month, with June being the rainier of the two. This year we've only had one or two partly sunny days interspersed among the otherwise constant rain and cloud.

I've been out in the garden a lot, though. We're planning a family reunion here this summer, so I want to make things look nice for when everybody gets here.

A few years ago my friend introduced me to the idea of the 'mowing path', and I cottoned right on to it. It took me a while to get it done, mainly because of the expense...I prefer the look of a wider paved strip, and that multiplies your cost by a lot.

I put this raised bed in several years ago, and - partly because of the shape - it has always been a pain to keep the lawn tidy around it. I don't mind things growing where they're not supposed to, but I'm not so keen on losing my carefully-stacked rockery in a wild, leggy frontier of grass.

I had some pavers left over from a different project last year, and by miraculous happenstance there were exactly the right number to go round the front of the raised bed.

So, it was time for a little clever spade work (supervised by Piper). 

I levelled the soil (difficult - old roots everywhere) and put down a double layer of weed barrier. I laid the pavers, and transplanted a bunch of 2" chunks of creeping thyme from the front yard to fill the larger cracks.

I poured on a bag of jointing sand and swept it into the cracks...this process took the better part of a day and I'm still not sure I'm finished...as long as the sand keeps settling, I'll need to keep adding more.

But for now I'm satisfied, and I must say, I think the effect is pretty sharp.

That green thing on the right side is rosemary. It's doing a little too well...the left side of the bed is decidedly disadvantaged, being planted up with a failing hydrangea and a leggy, wildly self-propagating chrysanthemum.

And now, with that done, my new wellies and I are taking a few days off.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Love Island Kids

One of the neighbourhood boys, a little messy towheaded, rubber-booted thing with no front teeth, just turned seven, remarked to me the other day, "I have a funny story from when I was little. Y'know how they have those signs that say 'No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service'? Well one time I had ONLY a shirt and shoes! So I was allowed in to get ice cream."