Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Dressing For the Living

The river shawl

I'm not sure what verb to use to describe this new work I'm doing. 
Do I...
conduct
perform
provide
do
...a funeral? 

I like the word "provide" because I'm using my talents and skills to be in service to someone in need. I am providing support, comfort, guidance, and reassurance on a most difficult day. A day that we dread -- the final goodbye -- but a day that is so important, so vital to our moving from the death and into life after death. 
I base my work on this belief: Done well, a funeral is a strong and essential memory that, over time, helps us heal the wound of loss and the ache of that wound. 

So, last Friday morning, I provided a graveside service for the family and friends of a man who passed way after a sudden, and brief, illness. His wife is a member of my church congregation, and someone who makes a point of messaging me with words of gratitude and encouragement. 
My turn to provide encouragement and comfort to her. 
I was honoured she asked me to do the service, and grateful she trusts me and my words. 
Now, the interesting part of doing funerals is what to wear? For a minister, it's the same outfit for every event: black pants, black shirt, white collar. But for me, I have to think hard about the image I present. 

This is how I was raised: That appearances matter and one should look professional. 
This is what I believe: Dressing nicely and being well-groomed is a sign of respect. We are a visual species -- we judge what we see, even before someone opens their mouth -- so dressing well tells others I take my work, and myself, seriously. I'm not an ordained minister so this provides me with credibility.   
Respect for the dead, and respect for the grieving. 

Since it was a sunny but cool morning and we were outside, in this town that a river runs through, I chose my white swallow dress and wore the river pattern shawl my friend Kerry knitted as a 50th birthday present. It gave me comfort and confidence as well, knowing I'd be facing a grieving woman I consider a friend, and also many people that I know. 

Afterwards, I overhead a woman -- a stranger to me -- say, "That was a lovely service. It was better than any funeral I've been to."
I don't share that out of ego, but out of relief and gratefulness -- because I got it right. That's exactly the response I want because it means someone will think of the service I've provided, and feel good about it, feel better about the passing of their loved one, be comforted in the weeks and months to come by how we honoured their person, how we celebrated their life, and how we said good-bye. 

According to poet, author and funeral director, Thomas Lynch, of Michigan: 
"A good funeral gets the dead where they need to go and the living where they need to be. There's no easy way to do this. So do it right: weep, laugh, watch, pray, love, live, give thanks and praise; comfort, mend, honor, and remember. Grief is the price we pay for being close to one another."

Amen. 


 

Monday, September 21, 2020

Taking Down the Prayer Flags


 The season is changing. 

My morning walk now begins at seven o'clock, just as the sun crests the trees on the other side of the river. This means I get to wave at Debbie, the bus driver, as she heads up the road to start her route. 
The mornings are gorgeous, but it means my work days begins later than it should. I'm not ready to shift yet from the morning walk in the crisp air to morning yoga in the living room, and the treadmill in the basement. 

We had two nights of frost, and all the flowers are done. The red poppies that suddenly emerged in the middle of the messy lawn where the two spruce trees blew down last year are shriveled up into memory. 
I was able to salvage enough sunflowers for two bouquets for church, and one more for the house. They are dripping pollen all over the dining room table. 
The chickens are able to roam outside the pen now, in the yard, in the cucumber patch. 

A husband and friend died this morning, and I know those who are grieving. My own husband sat down on a concrete block in the sunshine, to think about the news. Death is closer to home these days. 

The prayer flags are down, tucked away safely as the tropical storm that was Hurricane Teddy gets set to arrive tomorrow. I listened to the sound of their gentle flapping throughout our hot, dry summer. Now I'll listen to the rain and the wind. 

The sun shone today and it is warm. It is always the way before the storm arrives, and afterwards, we'll wake up to another sunny day, as if the storm never happened. 
The chickens peck at the grass and climb up the steps to the back deck. They follow me across the yard, hoping I have bread in my pockets, and curious as to what happens next. 


Friday, September 18, 2020

River Supper


Something happens
in the midst of turmoil and uncertainty,
in the middle of the familiar routines and new protocols,
at the end of a weekend,
at the end of the summer,
and you don't expect it. 

You don't even see it coming.

You arrive and greet everyone, 
you accept a glass of wine and help pass around 
bite-sized bacon-wrapped chestnuts and mushroom-cheese melts. 
The host hops in your husband's truck to go light the bonfire
and the hostess rallies everyone in the kitchen to carry food. 

You are handed a foil-covered pie 
and you follow the path through the woods to the gravel road 
that winds down
and down
towards the river. 

At the end of the walk, the pie still safely in your hands,
you come around a wide copse of poplar trees
who leaves are rustling in the evening wind,
the sound of water rushing in a stream,
and you see it before you:

a table covered in bottles and beverages,
a bonfire and a barbecue,
the field and the trees. 

Two men in conversation. 

Your breath catches in your throat and you think,
This. This is what I've been missing. This is what I've been craving.
This is what I need right now. 

This spot.
These long-lost friends. 
This sunset meal. 

Supper by the river. Hamburgers and sausages, sweet potato salad and green bean salad. 
Wine. Mint water. Iced tea. 
Pie.

I've never done something like this. 
We're so used to gathering on decks that this -- what words describe it? It felt like entering another world. It felt like coming home.
I don't know why I felt like that. I don't know why my heart leaped. I don't know why I exhaled like I'd been holding my breath for a very long time.

Perhaps it was just the unexpectedness,
the visual impact of the space,
the al fresco setting,
all coming together in that moment,
during this time
when gathering
is done with caution. 
Outside. Where it's safe to breathe.

That's it: This was abandon. This was freedom. This was elemental. 
Sky. Earth. Water. Fire. 
Friendship. Food. 
And laughter. 

All the while, the river flowed past us,
the tide rising,
as always, not unexpected, 
like our breath,
and we didn't even notice.



Thursday, September 10, 2020

Our Season of Sunflowers

The Giant Russians alongside the chicken coop



Despite knowing they won't be here for long,
they still choose to live their brightest lives.
~ Rupi Kaur

We've reached the end of the sunflower season and what a season it was. Our best ever in the seven years we've been growing sunflowers on our property.
For the first few years, they were small patches here and there -- in front of the chicken coop, or in a strip alongside the vegetable gardens. For the past five years, Dwayne has planted six rows -- 400 seeds! -- on the lot next door by the road. 
People ask, "Why do you plant so many sunflowers? Do you sell the flowers? Do you sell the seeds?"
It's not a business venture at all. We do it because it makes people happy. We live on a busy road so lots of people watch the progress from tilled soil to sprouts to the first blossoms. All through June and July, people would stop Dwayne in town and tell him about how well his plants were growing! 

I decided to plant sunflowers in the "dirt bath" area I created for the chickens along the sunny side of the coop -- a spot they've not yet used because they prefer my flower gardens! Once they are let out into the yard for their fall forage, I figure they'll see the sunflowers and make a beeline for the dirt underneath them. 

Speaking of bees, I'm not seeing as many this year as in previous years. In fact, every year, there are fewer and fewer bees. Over in Dwayne's patch, I should be able to hear the buzzing of bees flitting from flower to flower but sadly, it's too quiet. Only the occasional bee, instead of a bee per blossom. 

We need to pay attention to that, unless it's really too late. 

Dwayne's sunflowers are visible from a half a kilometre away.





Friday, September 04, 2020

In This House

 


It took me all summer, but I finally finished the signs inspired by my niece, Mimi, who made the same ones that her father nailed to a tree in the front yard of their Atlanta, Georgia, home. 

Only I can't bring myself to nail them to the pine tree by our driveway because our winter weather will be hard on the signs, even if they're lacquered, and I just don't want to drive nails into my tree. I'll have to work out how to wire them together then hang them from one or two nails. 

For now, my easel works perfectly as a display since these signs inspired this week's church message: In This House. They're in my kitchen right now but on Sunday morning, those signs and that easel will travel into town to the sanctuary where I get to say, "In THIS house, we believe..." 

You better believe it. I'm getting a little radical but you know what I say: I'm too old for this shit. We don't have much time left to fix this world and start living like decent human beings. We know how we are supposed to live; we simply choose not to do it. 

Please: Love your neighbour. Take care of each other. Don't be an asshole. 

That last one is from the Gospel According to Sara. 


Thursday, September 03, 2020

Inspiration


Inspiration is everywhere these days. I received a text this morning from a friend who bought Field Notes, the book, a couple of years ago, but moved -- and didn't find the book until she unpacked! 
Receiving her text and another friend's email inspired the following: 

These are discouraging days for everyone. A teacher friend who has started back to work in Ontario emailed me last night to say she didn't phone because she was in a crying kind of mood, "all work-related, everything's fine, just overwhelming".

Yeah. These are the days of the "crying kind of moods". Our work lives are complicated, even disheartening, at the best of times, let alone now, in the worst of times.

I'm filtering this through my personal experience as a writer to illustrate what we need to do: Reach out to each other and give a compliment. Right now is the right time to tell someone they are good at what they do.

Every day I wonder if I'll ever publish another book. I try to be okay with that, but honestly, I'm not okay with that - but I don't know what else to do. This morning, I received a note that read, in full:
“Good morning! I finished Field Notes last night – I loved it!! It is like you have taken the words from my own heart and put them on paper…so many similar stories ha ha. I even have a Christmas tree ornament I bought here years ago with the word “Laugh” on it. Scary & awesome. The story Funeral For A Mouse made me cry, I really felt that one. And the stories of you driving the car and teaching in the outdoor school made me laugh out loud ha ha. Such a good read – I will treasure this book!”

A book to treasure. Oh, my heart. 
It's amazing how one simple yet joy-filled text can give a person the energy to keep going, can help a person believe in themselves and what they do, even when everything is overwhelming.

We can't hug with our arms so let's hug with our words.

These are hard days but you are good at your job. Whether you're a teacher, a nurse, a barista, a janitor, a cashier -- just to name a few -- your work matters and makes a difference. Even if you don't see it, you will make a difference in at least one person's life each and every day. Keep going. Keep doing what you do. You are good at what you do. 

We need you.

Even when you're in a crying kind of mood.


~ by Sara Jewell, originally published on Facebook 


Tuesday, September 01, 2020

The Starbucks Story


It's been a busy two weeks since I last posted, including two days last week at a Mental Health First Aid training course in Halifax. I stayed at the hotel where the course was being held and lucky for me, there was a Starbucks nearby so I could pick up a coffee on my way back from my morning walk on day two. 

Inside the store, I was doing everything wrong – like not realizing we no longer pour our own cream – so I finally ended up explaining that this was my first trip away from home, away from my own home where everything is organized according to my needs, not according to pandemic protocols. 
I have no idea if the young woman serving me really heard my story through my mask and the plexi-glass barrier but regardless, it was a very good cup of coffee that I quite enjoyed. 

Later, I went back to that Starbucks during our mid-morning break. Different clothes, different mask; I didn’t expect to be remembered or recognized as the hillbilly who couldn’t even find the door to go in three hours earlier. 

This time, I had to wait for my order and as I stood on my designated spot on the floor, I looked around. 
“This section temporarily closed” said the sign in the middle of a long, wooden table with eight chairs around it. 
“This section temporarily closed” said the sign on a bank of seats along the window. 
It was disheartening to witness in person how we can’t gather anymore at any of our favourite places. Most of our former activities – much of our former lives – are truly off-limits now.

Then I heard, “Here’s your coffee, Sara.”

How did she know my name? Wow, these guys are good. I grabbed my coffee-to-go and MY NAME WAS SPELLED CORRECTLY on the sticky receipt. How did they know? 

Because I was wearing a name tag for the course. 
I laughed, the person behind the counter laughed, and I said we should all wear name tags.  
I headed out feeling special and light-hearted.

                           

As I crossed the parking lot and hit the grassy verge at the street, a wave of emotion swelled up in me. 
For everything we have lost. 
For the way everything has changed. 
For what has been lost and may never be regained.

In that moment of upswelling emotion, I could have cried. For the way our world used to be. When we could be around others and chat and laugh without fear. When we could connect with others without face coverings and hand sanitizer. When we could hug and touch, comfort and acknowledge. When we could pass on the sidewalk without averting our heads, or stepping out  onto the street. 
When it didn’t feel like we were avoiding each other. 

Yet consider what happened: On that morning, in the early days of our “new normal”, during this new way forward into a different future, I was called by name. 
I felt recognized and known. 
In the midst of the shitstorm that is the world right now, when the news is distressing and overwhelming yet we need to sit with our discomfort because this IS our world right now, someone spoke my name.  

It happened only because I was wearing a name tag so it’s not the literal fact that matters but rather what it represents: The power of speaking a name, the impact of hearing your own name spoken unexpectedly in the midst of all of this chaos and uncertainty.
There is so much we don’t know about the weeks and months to come but – 

I know you.
You know me.
We still connect. Even if it’s fleeting.

Remarkably, life is going on. 
We are the same yet different.
We are finding the way forward; even if the path seems more treacherous, it is still familiar. 
We are figuring out ways to do what we need to do. We are willing to give up our wants. 
We are more resilient and creative, more adaptable and innovative, more compassionate and thoughtful than we give ourselves, and others, credit for.
Which is why we need to work together – with, not against each other. 

It’s why we need to wear a name tag when we go out into the world. 
Because hearing your name spoken from behind a mask, from behind a barrier is the sweetest encouragement we can get in this brave new world we’re living in. 


~ by Sara Jewell
cross-posted on Facebook at @JewellofaWriter