The Questions That Follow Us

“Sometimes I just wish I could roll back the years and start over.”

“Hard to imagine it.  Life would have been very different.”

Our what if’s are wistful, laced with regrets.  Not that we had any power over what happened – we were only children when decisions that would affect us forever after were made.

My brother has been visiting from New Brunswick, and we are piecing together the stories of our lives.  We share a mother, but did not grow up together.

“I don’t really remember moving east,” Laurie tells me.  “Can’t even tell you what car we drove in.  I was really torn up though;  my whole life was left behind.”

“I can’t imagine.”  I share with him what I know:  that Mom and my dad had gone to court to win custody of the children, and won.  Than my dad had started proceedings to adopt the four of them so we’d all have the same last name.

“What your father did was tantamount to kidnapping,” I conclude.  “The outcome would be very different nowadays.”

Laurie raises his eyebrows at this revelation and nods.  “Yes…it would.”

“I didn’t know you were my brother for years.”

“Who did you think I was?”

“A cousin.  That’s what they told me.”  It was taboo in those days to talk about divorce.  “Thing is, I knew all Mom’s relatives and I couldn’t figure out where you fit in.”

“Great way to screw you up.”  We both laugh.

“When did you first know?”

“I was eleven.  You were staying with an aunt and uncle in Toronto and we came to visit you.   Reggie was there too.  He was sixteen.”

At sixty and seventy, this is first time we’ve really sat down and discussed our past.  Laurie was the oldest of Mom’s six kids, twin to Joanne who died in her 40’s.  There is so much ground to cover, so many holes in each of our stories.

I love this brother, who is gentle as a teddy bear, and quick to laugh.  We see each other infrequently, seldom call or text, and yet the bond is undeniable.  We share strange preferences, and are delighted that some of our habits coincide.

I was still in the womb when he was torn away, along with our other brother.  His twin was facing a terminal illness and without health care at the time, my parents couldn’t afford to go after the stolen siblings.   As soon as he was able to travel on his own, he returned home to find us.

What if? is the question that lingers between us as we hug goodbye, now that we have cleared away the cobwebs of deceit and lies.

Is it too late for us now, or is this just the opening we’ve needed?

(V.J.’s weekly challenge is questions.)

Photo:  playing Snakes & Ladders with her Great Uncle.

 

 

A Week of Conversations

“I’m quite happy to spectate,” I offer when the cry goes out for team members.

It’s Friday night, and darts are the big event at the neighbourhood clubhouse.

“No! No! You must play.  Everyone plays.”

This is our second social this week in our new community, and I must say the locals are friendly and welcoming.

“But I don’t know how to play.  I know nothing about the game.”

“Never mind.   It’s all for fun; we’ll teach you.”

So, I am swept up into a foursome with three strangers, and before you know it, I am hitting the board – no match for the two male opponents – but my partner and I are holding our own.

“Are you having fun?” someone calls out from across the room.  There are three boards in use, and my laughter must be drawing attention.

“Can’t remember the last time I laughed so much,” I respond.  “My cheeks are hurting.”

Afterwards, Ric and I walk home, hand in hand, glowing from the experience.

To think that earlier in the week, I was worried about meeting the new neighbours.

***

This week’s focus has been on conversation – the conversations we have with ourselves, imagined conversations with pets and nature, remembered conversations, conversations observed and those we crave.

It has been an interesting week, and if you haven’t taken time to visit the various submissions, please go back and do so now.  Our community is growing!

Thank you to all this week’s contributors:

Sgoeil

Stuff and What If…

Proscenium

Wanderlust and Wonderment

Na’ama Yehuda

Cee’s Photography

Poetry For Healing

See you again tomorrow for a new challenge!

 

 

Hidden Messages

“I’m not as smart as you.  I’d probably be okay if I was smarter.”

“That’s not true, June.  You are very smart.”

“Do you really think so?”

My sister and I are doing dishes after supper.  June suffers from paranoid schizophrenia.

“You got 96% in your nursing program,” I remind her.  “Intelligence is not your problem.  You have a mental illness.  That is different.”

“I did, didn’t I?’  She pauses.  “I used to be a good nurse.”

“Everyone said you were.”

June would attempt to take her life at least once a year, resulting in the eventual loss of her job and much of her independence.

“Do you want me to do the washing?  You must be tired.”  She sets down her dish towel and backs away from the sink.

“I am fine; we’re almost done.”

“You are probably just tired,” she insists moving out of the kitchen and sitting down.

I have a revelation about my sister in that moment.  It is actually June that is tired, but somehow, unable to articulate her need, she is projecting the fatigue onto me.  This explains much of her behaviour.  She’ll often tells me I’m cold, or hungry, when I’m not.  She is really talking about herself.

“June is unable to speak directly to whatever is bothering her,” I explain to my mother.  “So we can’t take what she says at face value.”

“It must be part of her illness,” Mom deduces.

Except that I notice my mother does the same thing.  Not as blatant as June, but still there are hidden messages in what she says:

“How can you keep a husband and work full-time?” she might ask me, which I often viewed as criticism.  Or:  “You were out having lunch with a friend; what about your husband and children?”

Such statements would grate on my nerves, but now I can see there is more to it.

“Did you ever work outside the house, Mom?”

“Oh, I would have loved to, but your father forbid it.  A woman’s place is in the home.  When I did go to work, it was only after I threatened to leave, but; he never liked it.”

Mom’s ‘judgments’ are actually expressions of regret for the limitations she felt in her own life.  Apart from not being allowed to work outside the home, she also dissuaded from cultivating personal friendships.

“My children are all I need,” she’d say.

My family, it seems, are masters at hiding the truth.  Which gives me pause to think about my own behaviours.

Am I good at articulating what I need?  Am I truthful about what my needs are?

Clearly, I have work to do.

(Looking back over old posts, I found this one from five years ago.  It fits with this week challenge – conversation.  I have revised the post for this publishing. )

Fatal Fury

Really wasn’t your fault
this fury that overcame –
Words evoked onslaught,
a raging river of pain.

Didn’t mean to push you,
miscalculated my aim,
swimming in swamp waters
not a recommended game.

You floundered, gurgled,
cursed me by name –
our love story, now viral
brought an alligator fame.

( A silly ditty for Deb Whittam’s 50 word Thursday.  Photo supplied by Deb.)

Relationship Wrap Up

Relationship, I realized after posting my weekly challenge, is too broad of a subject.  We need a lifetime to examine and appreciate our interconnections, and then, likely, we’d need to begin again – such is the nature of relationship.  It slips and slides, rewards and betrays, teaches and takes away.

That said, I appreciate those who dared to jump in.  Proscenium cheekily responded by noting the relationship between spires as depicted in a photograph, calling it almost “religious”.  Had to smile at this one.   Puja Mendiratta offered many insights about the complexity of relationships, both familial and chosen, categorizing them as symbiotic or parasitic.  Sgeoil rose to the challenge by sharing the importance of listening – a skill I myself would like to better.

As for me, I have spent the week examining relationships on many levels – from time spent with a dear friend, to memories of father, sparked by his birthday’s passage, to the ever-expanding joy I derive from my grandchildren, and of course, the relationship with myself (always tenuous at best).

I promise that tomorrow’s challenge will be lighter, or at the very least, not as taxing.

Cheers all!

V.J.

 

Life With Father

“Whatever it is we need to learn from each other, I say let’s do it now, so we don’t have to come back and repeat it,” I told my father once during a period in which I was exploring the concept of reincarnation.

I imagine he lowered his chin and looked over his spectacles at me with that glare that suggested I might be treading on thin ice.

For his 75th birthday, I wrote him a letter acknowledging that growing up with him had prepared me to handle much in life, and I thanked him for that.  He said he didn’t really understand my logic, but appreciated the sentiment.

Psychiatric assessments of my father concluded (on more than one occasion) that he was genius bordering on eccentric.  If anyone had asked us children – which no one did – we would have said he was impossibly tyrannical.  He certainly knew how to manipulate circumstances, and people, to meet his needs.

He could also be inspirational, and when he wasn’t in a rage, quite sentimental.  It was confusing to be his child.  I both basked and burned under the fire of his being.  So many times, I wanted to move away and forget him, and yet, I was always drawn back, seeking more approval, longing to understand.

At the end of his life, sickness and pain mellowed him and we were able to discuss our differences.  I told him how I felt alienated by him as a child, as if I was a burden he regretted, and he cried and told me that family was everything to him.

“You had a funny way of showing it,” I said.

Then we talked about what a tortured life he’d led, and how even as a child he thought God was punishing him, and that he’d never known a moment of peace.  I felt compassion then.

It wasn’t until after his death that I began to see another side to his story, and to understand my own complicity in his suffering.  The righteousness I felt about how he wronged me, wronged all of us, blinded me to the depth of my father’s pain, and in retrospect, I see that he really was a person of courage, admirable actually, in how he carried on, despite his personal challenges.

My father may have been a bastard to live with, but he was a bastard with a soul, and that soul was tortured throughout his eighty years.

Life with father taught me to doubt myself and be wary of others, and it taught me to be tough, determined, and eventually, compassionate.

He never held it against me that I could not accept his truth.  I only hope I can one day forgive myself.

(This week’s challenge is to reflect on relationships.  As one contributor pointed out, there are friendships and blood relationships, the former a choice, the latter imposed. I didn’t choose my father, but I can’t imagine who’d I’d be if he hadn’t been in my life.)

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The Gift of Friendship

I am the one who put forth the relationship challenge this week, and I have to confess, I am struggling with how to articulate my feelings.   Fast approaching my sixtieth birthday, I find I am sentimental, or maybe, it’s that after years of isolation due to illness, I now treasure relationship more than ever.  Either way, how can I do justice to something that means so much?

Our trip this week was to the home of a very dear friends, whose acquaintance dates back to high school days.  L is the anti-thesis of me:  calm, and steady.  Just being in her presence puts me at ease: I feel safe, respected, and accepted.

There are times in my life when L has been my champion.  During an unwanted pregnancy scare, she confronted my then boyfriend as to his intentions.  When devastated by an unforeseen divorce, she hugged me and told me I didn’t deserve it, and then furnished a home for the kids and I.

Recently, she told me that people are naturally drawn to me, that I make them feel better about themselves.  Her words surprised me – are we mirrors for one another?

The gift of her friendship, knowing that I am always welcome in her home, has value beyond words.  Of course, the same welcome is extended to her and her husband, but as I always do, I wonder what I bring to the relationship?

Loyalty, for certain, but I hope something more.  I hope that I bring to her a comparable comfort, a knowing that she is loved for who she is, and a reassurance that she is never alone – that I care always, even when we are apart.

I have struggled with relationships, likely the product of a troubled childhood, and I chastise myself often for not doing enough, for not being enough.  I feel as if I’m overbearing, and a burden, and worry that I have taken more than I give.  Even as we pulled away on Saturday morning, and a warm glow lingered, I felt the doubts seep in.   It is a demon I have to overcome.

Forty-six years of friendship should teach me otherwise, and the text I received when we got home:  Love having you…anytime…any (or no) reason!

How blessed I am.

How about you?  Is there that one relationship that makes you feel better about yourself?

Love to hear from you.

(Featured image is from personal collection.)

V.J.’s Weekly Challenge #4: Relationships

“The people we are in relationships with are always a mirror,
reflecting our own beliefs, and simultaneously
we are mirrors, reflecting their beliefs.”
                            – Shakti Gawain

A friend of mine used to say (and I paraphrase).

“May you experience as many relationships as you need to be whole.”  

I like the way she thinks.  It is unreasonable to expect that one person will fulfill all our needs.  Romantic relationships aside, our friends, children, siblings, parents, and co-workers all contribute to our sense of self and how we interact with the world.

This week, I am challenging myself, and any who follow along, to examine a connection and ask the questions:

  • How does this relationship inform who I am?
  • What have I learned about myself through this connection, and…
  • How, if at all, has it made me a better person?

I might also ask what it is that I bring to the relationship.

All are welcome to participate.

Just add a post to your blog on the topic of relationship, and create a link back to this page, or enter a link in the comments below.

The challenge is open all week (and ongoing), so feel free to post at any time.

You might add VJWC as a tag, and or use the challenge banner:

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Looking forward to your responses – always enlightenment to be gained.

Reflections on Synchronicity

First, a thank you to all who participated in this week’s challenge, and to those who took the time to comment.  This interaction means so much to me – maybe more than I can ever articulate.

Up until 2004 – when I returned to university to become a teacher – I practiced an examined life:  dared myself to ask the big questions, followed a spiritual path, and considered myself a student of the universe.  I felt connected to life, with a sense of purpose, which was to be the best me I could be, in service to others.  The all-consuming reality of teaching, shifted my priorities, and I became immersed in a different way of serving, and set aside my former pursuits.

While I started this challenge, in part to replace the hole left by Word Press, I see now that it is motivated by a deeper need – the longing for community and a shared quest.

Another oriole flew in front of our vehicle again this week, but this time Ric saw it coming and avoided the collision.  Sometimes, we drive through life on automaton, missing the miraculous.  Being aware, we are more fully engaged.

I am engaging again – asking questions, opening to answers, revelling in the greater mystery.  I hope that the same is true for you, too.

If you have not already done so, please take time to read the links and comments on the original challenge page, and my first response.

Not all answers reveal themselves right away (and some never do); it is the asking of questions that matters.  Tomorrow’s challenge poses more pondering.

In the meantime, Ric’s health is good, so all is looking up, for the moment.

Till tomorrow.

V.J.

VJWC #2: Synchronicity Part I

An orange flash dipped in front of the truck, with no time to veer.  We arrived at our destination to find a Baltimore oriole embedded in the front grill.  I was heartbroken.

At any other time, the appearance of an oriole would be auspicious.  Usually showing up in pairs, these birds arrive in summer and bring with them such cheer.  This is the first oriole I have seen this year, and the circumstance is horrific.

sparrowmarkingsCall it superstitious, but I’ve always believed birds are messengers.  It’s a relationship I established as a young child, when locked outside of my house for hours on end.  I would wander through the back woods, and commune with an invisible force I called Mother.  Times when I felt afraid or anxious, I would ask Mother to send me a sign, and little birds would land at my feet bringing reassurance.

Decades later, when my marriage of seventeen years ended abruptly, and I was falling apart, I pulled into a parking lot one day and put my head down on the steering wheel to weep.  I said a prayer to God to help me find the strength to go on, and when I raised my head all around me were birds.

Birds bring me joy, and an undefinable sense of comfort, and to know that we were the cause of this beautiful bird’s end leaves me with a sense of foreboding.  Is something off?  Is this a warning?

A spiritual teacher, who taught me much about the ways of nature, once said that if a bird sacrifices its own life to bring a message, then it is important to pay attention.  I like to be pragmatic, and would think this just a sad coincidence, but the oriole is a bird that means something to me, and I can’t help but think of its mate, now woefully left behind.  It echoes my own fear about losing my mate.

NewlywedsAt the very least, this incidence serves to help me face my fears.  Ric meets with the oncologist, his family doctor, and another specialist this month.  In a few weeks we will know how he is faring.  Since 2012, he has gone through treatment for stage III cancer, and triple bypass surgery after surviving two heart attacks.  Concern is inevitable.

I am the one who put forward the challenge to be on the lookout for synchronicity in our lives.  Makes it hard to ignore this one.

I’ll keep you posted.

(V.J.’s weekly challenge #2 is synchronicity.  Featured image is actually an Altamira Oriiole, taken in Texas.  The last image is Ric & I on our wedding day.)