Saturday, November 30, 2019

The Last Day of November

When I realized it was time to head out to the chicken coop to freshen up their water and collect eggs, I looked out the window and saw the above scene.
There's the coop, and the field behind it, in the middle of a snow squall. Just as forecast.

It's been rainy and grey most of the month, then the last few days have been really windy, giving us nasty wind chills. It's been the kind of wind that makes it hard to keep the house warm. Having a snowy day is actually a welcome relief. And makes it the right time to put "A Charlie Brown Christmas" on the CD player in my office for the season!

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Heart and Home in Nova Scotia

Arriving in Nova Scotia in May 2002. In the photo album, I wrote "Finally!"

Tuesday morning, after I'd dropped Mother off at the airport in Moncton, I popped in a CD of music and headed right back to Nova Scotia. It was just before eleven o'clock and the sun was high and bright after so many days of grey November skies.
The road spilled out in front of me, a smooth ribbon of asphalt, and I turned on the cruise control and relaxed.

I don't often drive by myself in a vehicle these days; usually I'm with Mother or Dwayne so this was a rare treat. It reminded me I used to do this all the time, drive long distances by myself and have hours (even days) alone with my thoughts. Some people dread that; I'd forgotten how essential this quiet time is. So many ideas percolated, so many problems resolved. You don't get this while travelling with someone.

There's a particular point on the TransCanada Highway before you reach Sackville where, when you look ahead and if there isn't much traffic and you aren't involved in a conversation, you see the highway undulating a long way into the distance through those northern Appalachian hills. When I looked ahead and saw this empty stretch of road, I suddenly had this strong surge of feeling. Like a body-sized tidal bore washing through me.

The feeling of going home.

I've lived in rural Nova Scotia for over 12 years yet when I saw that view on Tuesday morning, I felt the same way I did 17 years ago when I drove to Nova Scotia after more than ten years away. After five years in Vancouver and a yoga instructor saying "Make this the year you go towards what makes you happy." After a two-week drive across the country to get where I wanted to be.

Where I needed to be.

I needed to be with my parents as it turned out, but also the East Coast. It seems I planted the seed of my true heart in Nova Scotia's red soil with our first family visit in 1979 and it simply kept growing, waiting for me to return.

Where I needed to be then and now.

Even though I was born and raised in Ontario, even though my best friends live there and I visit at least once a year, that feeling of "coming home" to Nova Scotia is still as strong in me as it was in 2002, and then again in 2007 when I drove down to start my life with Dwayne. Permanent residency, after all those years of driving away.

Maybe because it's been such a difficult summer and fall, maybe because I'm living with the uncertainty of work, maybe because we are adjusting to the impact of Dwayne's stroke has had on our life together, for all of those reasons, perhaps I needed to remember:
Nova Scotia is home to me. Not an address home but a rooted home, a spiritual home, a place-where-I-belong home.

It goes beyond being married to a Nova Scotia country boy, it goes beyond my mother living with us, it goes beyond the field and the woods and the water. It even goes beyond my worries about what I'll do if something happens to Dwayne (you know - something).
It's a twist on the cliche "Home is where the heart is" because it simply feels like this is where my heart planted itself (knowing itself better than I've ever known it), where it lives and thrives. This is where I find my inspiration, my courage, my joy, my peace, and my hope.

Yes. And just now, a memory: Telling Dwayne at the end of the summer we met and fell in love that if I was to get a tattoo, I'd get two of them on the tops of my feet so I'd see them every time I did yoga. One would say Peace and the other Hope.
"Because that is what I found this summer here in Nova Scotia and with you."

So for everyone feeling adrift and alone, scared and scattered, like you just don't fit in anywhere, home doesn't have to be where you were born or where your family lives. Sure, those places can be home, but home is where your heart feels brave and safe, content and loved and supported. Home is where you can breathe and be free, where you are a bulb planted deep in the soil believing that at the right time, your roots will dive down and your heart will reach up until you burst into the life you are meant to live. No matter what happens in that life, when and why, you will have reached what makes you happy.

Forty years.
Seventeen years.
Twelve years.
15 months.
One hour.
How ever long it takes,
you arrive.

Stella and I arriving in March 2007. In that photo album, I wrote, "Home."

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

What A Difference A Year Makes

The field viewed from the top where it meets the woods. 
On this day last year, winter arrived on the East Coast. It snowed, and the snow stayed. Our spring was cold and wet and last all through June. It sucked.
But it was a great year for me. From September 2018 until July 2019, I was content, confident about my future, anticipating that future, no less. This time last year, I was so busy with substitute teaching (French! Music!) and magazine articles and producing the Christmas play, knowing that my novel was on submission and ANY DAY I would receive the wonderful news that it would be published... That carried on through the new year, as I edited the novel, and took part in a play, and landed a fairly regular substitute gig that fit right into my busy life.
In the past, my natural hopefulness carried me through everything. There was always hope. Something would happen!
Then July and August rolled around and suddenly, with the death of the ospreys, I saw the death of my dreams.
That sounds dramatic but when you live as close to nature, and those birds, as we do, it's hard not to interpret events. And for me, when everything I'd worked for and hoped for (published novel, potential literary agent) simply fell away into a vast chasm with no sound and no bottom... I fell into my own void.
All hope gone. Killed, just like this year's osprey family.

I've always had my shit together, or at least, I thought I did, and it appeared, even to me, that I did. And as I've learned about myself, no matter what is going on in my head and my heart, I don't talk about it much. Not because I consciously choose to make people think my life is great! perfect! going exactly as planned! but because I tend not to write about the hard emotional times. For all I write about myself, I don't want to bore people with any kind of "poor me" stuff.
In fact, I've been avoiding people because I didn't want to bring them down. I don't want to be that Eeyore friend.

Let's be honest: There's nothing wrong with my life. What's tormenting me is simply the result of 25 years of not making the right decisions, of letting other people tell me what to do, or at least influence what I decide to do. Twenty five years after not going into teaching. Twenty five years of being a freelance writer. Twenty five years after I first started attending the United Church as an adult. What do I have to show for any of that?
The part of me that is now upset with me for screwing up wants to shout, "Nothing. Absolutely nothing." But the sensible, and mostly in charge part of me knows that's not true.
I have skills. I have a lot of skills -- in writing, in public speaking, in presenting.
So part of me is ready, after 25 years, to give up the church work, the freelance writing and the substitute teaching and find a regular job that uses my skills.

I'm not there yet; I'm committed to my current path until June (unless the dream regular job comes along before then) and I'm committed to seeing the book I'm working on now -- which I am, for the first time, steadfastly refusing to talk about because when it's the make-or-break book, it feels like it should be a secret project so no one knows what I've failed at -- but after it's done, and on submission, with the three other books that are on submission, I'm done.

And that scares the crap out of me because who knows if there is some dream regular job close to home that will use my particular skills? I need something that replace all the freelance work that's been keeping me busy for the past four years. I need something that will keep me busy and engaged at work because I have too much energy to be standing around waiting for customers. When it comes to work, I'm a toddler: Keep me occupied at all times. That's what I love about writing; there's always writing to be done.

Yet after 25 years, I'm prepared to not be a writer anymore. I've had a good run. Time for something completely different. Preferably one that comes with a bi-weekly paycheque.

So I don't talk about what's weighing me down and sapping my creative energy and making me, at times, rather unpleasant to live with. I don't talk about how I can't imagine not writing anymore. It hurts to think I can't, after all this time, be more than a one-book author. It hurts to think all the stories still inside me will wither and die in there, kept from the light and the air.
Irony: one of the books tossed into the Bermuda Triangle of submission is a collection of essays whose through-line is rediscovering who I am after letting other people determine what I am.

Yet I've discovered recently that when you share your struggle, when you admit you've been struggling for a few months and are no longer the happy, hopeful person you've been, people respond. And they don't respond with platitudes; they just let you know they hear you and understand. Some people even help, and you end up receiving the kind of help that makes you start to believe in yourself and your work and the whole damn point of it all again.
Since I did what is called a "thread" (a series of related tweets) on Twitter about how this book I'm working on right now is my make-or-break book, I've felt uplifted by the kindness of other people.
It proves to me what others always say (and I've never had a reason to experience before) that you are not alone -- when you share what you're going through, you will find a community. It may not change the outcome of your struggle but it certainly makes it easier to endure it.

This time last year, winter came early. This week, it's going to be wet and cloudy until Saturday. I have an article to write and a school visit to do (in which I'm going to gush about how much I love being a writer). The book I'm not talking about is coming together really well. I'm excited about the book.
And that's making a difference. All the hope about publishing is still gone... but at least I'm enjoying my last writing project.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Remembrance Day: Peace On Earth

A Remembrance Sunday flower arrangement at Upper Sackville United Church.
For the first time in the six years I've been working as a lay worship leader, I had to create and lead the community worship service for Remembrance Day because it was my church's turn to host.
It was nervewracking because I felt a lot of pressure to offer a meaningful service.
And my nerves are still shaky because I'm not sure it was good enough. Oh, it was fine, but I feel it could have been better. It wasn't until I was home and watching the ceremony on Parliament Hill in Ottawa that I thought, We should have read that, and We could have had a piper.
I love bagpipes. How did I miss the opportunity to have a piper in the church??
Anyway, my theme was peace. The congregation didn't really know the first two hymns (because I chose hymns for the words, not their familiarity) but they belted out "Let There Be Peace On Earth" after my message.

Here is the text of that message, titled "Peace On Earth", delivered this morning in what was likely the shortest Remembrance Day worship service in history -- 35 minutes!

"Tomorrow, November 12th, is the day we start decorating for Christmas – for that season of “Peace on earth, goodwill to all”.

That’s seven weeks of hearing about and singing about “Peace on earth”.
For Christians observing the Season of Advent leading up to Christmas Day, it’s seven weeks of waiting for the “Prince of Peace”.

For Jesus, who, in his ministry, said, “My peace I give you.
Who said, “Love one another.”
Who said, “All who pick up the sword shall die by the sword.”    [Matthew 25: 52-53]

But today, November 11th, is not for decorating or anticipating. Today is for remembering. Remembering why “peace on earth” is still the wish, the dream, the hope of so many, and the reason so many soldiers and civilians died in two world wars, and other wars, and continue to die in conflicts around the world.

For peace on earth.

Today is for counting our blessings – the blessings of freedom, safety, democracy – for which so many gave, and continue to give their lives, their futures, and their freedom.

Today is for blessing the peacemakers.

Even though humanity doesn’t have a history of living in peace with each other, we do know what peace is.

There’s the Biblical peace, from the Hebrew scriptures: “Shalom”Most of us likely know “shalom” as a way of saying hello or good-bye – as in “Peace be with you”. However, the original meaning of “shalom” goes further than a single blessing:

Shalom is ALL the blessings of peace, harmony, wholeness, completeness, prosperity, well-being, and tranquility.

That’s a lot of blessings to pack into one word: Peace, harmony, wholeness, completeness, prosperity, well-being and tranquility for the world, for this community, and for each other – for everyone. 

If we everything we did and said – whether we are standing in the legislature, standing in the middle of a protest, standing at the front of a classroom, or simply standing in our own backyards – if everything we did and said was meant to uphold that whole huge notion of SHALOM for our neighbours…

It invites us to IMAGINE peace on earth.

Which takes us to the John Lennon concept of peace:
“Imagine all the people living life in peace…”
What’s important about Lennon’s peace movement is that wanting peace and protesting war isn’t about diminishing the lives of those who join the military, who fight, who die – FOR PEACE.
It’s about the dream that no one dies in war or because of conflict ever again.
“You may say I’m a dreamer but I’m not the only one”

And there’s the global concept of peace.
International Alert is a non-profit organization that works for peace in areas of conflict.
I-A believes peace happens when people are able to resolve their conflicts without violence and work together to improve the quality of their lives.

This means everyone has power to participate in decision making, everyone has an equal opportunity to work and make a living, everyone is equal before the law, and everyone lives in safety, without fear or threat of violence.

Sounds like SHALOM, doesn’t it?

“All we’re saying,” John Lennon crooned, “is give peace a chance.”

Imagine if PEACE became our default.

Imagine if the answer to a problem wasn’t to bomb but to build – to build bridges of connection and bridges of understanding.

Blessed are those who give peace a chance.
Blessed are those who imagine everyone living in peace.

Blessed are the peacemakers for they are the risk takers. They are the brave ones.

Blessed are the peacemakers who do their work – who speak with mercy and act with justice – despite the arguments and conflicts and the outright battles crashing around them.

Blessed are those who put on a uniform and picked up a gun for they hoped to be peacemakers, too.
They fought – were injured – died – for peace on earth, goodwill to all.

For all the blessings of peace, harmony, wholeness, completeness, prosperity, well-being, and tranquility.

And they want us to remember this – not just on Remembrance Day, and not just at Christmas time – but every single day we live and breathe, work and study, gather and celebrate in the freedom they gave us.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be remembered."

- by Sara Jewell

Sunday, November 10, 2019

The Gifts of November

November's first snowfall with the Manitoba maple
Here's an excerpt from the message I'm sharing today at church in Sackville, New Brunswick: 

For many of us, November is the season of lament.
We lament how brown everything turns, how the leaves are gone, and the gardens are tilled and vacant.
We lament the darkness, the wet, the dampness, the cold. The snow! Too soon, we say. 
When November arrives, the season of dying, of dormancy, of shutting down has begun.

November is that “nothing” month between the vibrancy of October and the festivities of December – with only the remembrance of war, of suffering and death in the middle of the month. For many of us, the blood-red poppy is the symbol of November.

For many of us, November is the month of melancholy. It’s the month when there is nothing to celebrate. Every weekend from January to October, we have something to decorate for, to shop for, to anticipate. Even Halloween has become a month-long “celebration”.  
November, however, is the month darkened not only by the time change but also by the shadow of war.

But – thank goodness – even before Halloween, HOLIDAY decor begins springing up in malls and shops, assuring us that once we tire of jack-o-lanterns and horror movies, we can lose ourselves in wintry traditions of Christmas and New Year’s.
We just need to “get through” November – this bridge month between the “fresh start” of September and the bright colours of October, and the parties and bright lights of December.

This reminds me of a poster I once had: it was a photo of a horse standing at a fence in a misty pasture, looking out beyond the fence.
The caption read, “Hope is not a way out but a way through.”
A way through. When things are misty and unclear, when the days are dark and gloomy, when the light disappears and the rain or wind keeps us tucked inside, we seek a way through.

...How on earth can there be a MOMENT OF JOY in times of suffering, loss and death? 

There HAS to be.
Because HOPE is a way through, not a way out.
Because the gifts of JOY and HOPE and LOVE and PEACE – even if the gift lasts only a moment – are the lights that shine in the darkness.

I was thinking about this as I walked along a dirt road near my house. Everything was bare – the leaves were off the trees, the fields were brown, the wind was sharp – it was a typical November afternoon: barren and bleak and bitter – but what did I notice? What shone out of the barrenness like a tiny little beacon of joy?


Red, round rosehips in surprising abundance on the straggly, prickly stems of the wild rose bushes.
Now, if ever there was a perfect metaphor for November, this is it:  
We don’t want to be stripped bare, pared down, laid open – we don’t want the straggly, prickly days…we prefer the sunshine and warm temperatures, the beautiful roses and lush green leaves.
But there isn’t one of us who hasn’t been stripped bare, pared down and laid open at some point – by loss – by change – by suffering. Whether it’s through death or divorce or disease… it happens to us, it happens to someone we love. 

...We have a tree in our front yard, a Manitoba maple, and when all the other trees on our property have lost their leaves, the southern side of this maple tree still holds onto its leaves – BIG YELLOW LEAVES.

When we look out into the yard, whether it’s sunny or rainy, these leaves glow – they become these lovely golden stars. 
Yesterday, in the cold sunshine, those stars dotted the snow covering the yard.
On a rainy day, when the sun isn’t even shining, they gather the light.

It’s like sunshine cascading down from the sky.

This display doesn’t last long –  but it is a gift. It is a reminder there is always hope, and there is no darkness, no emptiness, no dread that cannot be pierced, filled or vanquished with a word of kindness, a moment of joy, or the smallest ray of light. 

~ By Sara Jewell