Clarion Call

Here it is, already Christmas Eve.

I’ve already left behind beautiful Florence, where I filled my broken heart with gold: iconic art, like Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, and Michelangelo’s sculpture of David.

Timeless, elegant Firenze.

I admired the Field of Miracles in Pisa, and walked the timeless cobbled streets of Lucca.

The Leaning Tower of Pisa is a truly beautiful building.

I spent time in a medieval castle, and listened to Gregorian chants in a thousand year old church.

San Miniato al Monte, Florence, Italy

And oh, how I have been enchanted by the soulful ringing of those ancient church bells, echoing across the hills and valleys. Calling me to my own life.

What I had before, in all the other chapters, seems like a soft, sweet dream.

There is only this page now, this day. And in the hardest moments, only these words: step forward, find joy, bring all your love with you.

The sweeping view from Piazza Michelangelo.

One Year Sunrise

Dear Jim,

How did it come to be a year since you left this earth? Somehow I have moved forward through these days and weeks, building my own new life, one hour at a time. Moving towards a life re-imagined, that I can’t quite envision yet. Maybe you can see it. Maybe you see me looking ahead to the sun coming up over the horizon now, a little more often than looking back over my shoulder, to where the moon and stars have set.

It’s been such a very full and tiring year. I am 50 pounds smaller now. I can’t tell you how hard I’ve worked on life responsibilities. I went soul-searching in Ireland, then decided to take a sabbatical from work, a true leap of faith. Isn’t it ironic — I gave a talk on decision-making just months before you died…and now all life decisions and consequences are mine to fully own.

I’ve changed in so many other ways this year, too. I’ve learned to be more resilient, more brave, yet more open and vulnerable to let others in. I’ve learned that when hearts break, then mend, they grow in capacity to love. Mostly I’ve learned to love myself. In the absence of your great love and belief in me. Or maybe, in the ongoing subtle presence of it.

You are always in my thoughts, but today I find myself remembering the many times we went bird-watching. These are among my most cherished memories: quietly observing you, immersed in the natural environment, listening and watching for signs of birds in the marsh or flickering in shrubs, grokking nature.

Jim in Valemount 3.png

During these times, you became Jim the naturalist, Jim the educator. And in these moments, I became your student. You inspired questions and celebrated my discoveries. You shared your incredible knowledge, experience and passion with me. You were Essential Jim. And I basked in the light that radiated from you.

Whenever I see a bird fly overhead, I always think of you. Sometimes I think you are the bird. If that is true, I can only imagine your joy to be soaring over this beautiful earth. I hope you can see me. And I hope you are proud.

Anniversary.png

 

My Camino

I have so much beautiful music I haven’t listened to since Jim died. I know it will stir up memories from the deep center of my heart, where all the pain surrounds. But I want to reclaim this music, so it can continue to wrap around my new life.

Camino by Oliver Schroer was our beloved Sunday music. Oliver walked the Camino de Santiago in 2004, composing songs and playing his violin in churches along the way. His music is aching, soulful and pure. I listened to it, cried, and listened again and again until I found a place of peace.

Oliver Schroer

Losing someone you love is a very interior process. It feels I am walking my own Camino. A long, mostly solitary, personal spiritual pilgrimage, to find and create new meaning from this life ahead.

Oliver wrote there is both wonder and struggle on the trail, as you get to know the earth one step at a time. “There was a time in our lives before the Camino, and there is a time after it.”

As for the time during it, there is an ancient Camino word “ultreia” to encourage all of us pilgrims: go farther, go higher.

 

Iron Cross Provence.pngFootstep Rouissillon

Fill My Heart with Gold

So many things vanished when you died. As my life moves forward in time, I’ve now reached my first Christmas without you. I absorb all of the absences.

The feeling of the bed all warm and snug like a nest, when you were sleeping beside me.

Smiling at each other the moment we first heard the church bells start to ring across the city on Christmas morning.

Hearing your voice and belly laughter as you enjoyed long, good conversations on the phone with your family.

Stockings stuffed full of little joyful surprises and thoughtfulness. Warm socks, new books, sweet treats, love notes.

The comforting sounds of you cooking in the kitchen, making something soulful and delicious in your French copper pot.

The Christmas Eve fire you made for us, sparkling wine in our wedding flutes, awaiting your eloquent annual toast. Our pup siting at your feet, waiting for her expected treat.

cozy-christmas

Your loving presence shaped the holidays in so many ways.

But a tidal wave has swept all of that away, and taken you, half my heart, and our Christmas out to sea.

And I am still here.

I am still here with our ornaments, and empty stockings, and French copper pot without your soulful meal simmering inside. I am still here, occupying one half of our bed, eating breakfast quietly across from your empty chair, reading Christmas cards now addressed to only me.

Everything is so very silent.

img_9919

After five months without you, I am still navigating this new, unfamiliar life. It’s not just Christmas that has changed this year. Everything has changed.

I know one truth.

If I am to not only survive but thrive in this new life, I must adapt to all of the change. This is hard work on every level.

I am still alive. Still breathing. My heart is still beating. The half of it remaining holds a love so great and expansive, it needs a place to go. There is still something inside of me to give to the world. I still have a desire to experience the world.

I want to remain open to life.

If you are gone, and I am still here, then I will fill up all this painful empty space with the most beautiful things I can find.

The most beautiful music, and sunrises, and bright moons and constellations.

If I am still here, then I will read more books, admire more art, and travel to new places. I will clear away what is non-essential and surround myself with only things that bring me joy. I will smile more often at strangers so that we might have more human connections. I will find ways to express all the love I have inside.

I will go forward in life. Even with a broken heart.

In Japan, there is a special art called kintsugi where broken ceramics are repaired with precious metals: gold, silver or platinum. Rather than hiding all the imperfections and cracks, this practice honors and celebrates them, recognizing that once repaired, the object is still of service in the world…with all of its changes, illuminated.

I am a broken bowl, to be filled with gold.

img_9440

Happiness is the Road

It’s been a long time since my last post. Many golden hours have come and gone. I must tell you why I’ve been gone.

yellow-crowned-sparrow

On the day of the spring equinox — my husband’s favourite day of the year, when the season holds the promise of birds migrating back to their nesting grounds, and new growth emerges from the earth — he became sick, and never quite recovered. Then he lost a lot of weight.

On the summer solstice, he was diagnosed with advanced pancreatic cancer. And then he died four weeks later. Gone from this earth, forever.

My own world disappeared underneath my feet.

In these past four hard months, as I have grieved and breathed and somehow emotionally faced each day, I’ve also rearranged my life at home, to help me cope with this sudden new reality. All the tasks we used to share as partners in life, are my responsibilities now. So I’ve been compelled to put order to things.

The other day while cleaning out the cupboard, I found the pillow cover I bought during our honeymoon in Crete. Tags still on, still tucked inside its original bag.

In my memory, I can still hear the shopkeeper try to translate the Greek words for me, in her broken, helpful English. There is no road to happiness. Happiness is the road.

It was the perfect keepsake for our journey. We had already traveled part of life together as colleagues, then as friends, then as a couple joining our worlds. Now we were starting a new chapter of our relationship together, our married life. The future was full of promise, like spring emerging.

From time to time since then, I’ve taken this keepsake out of the cupboard, admired it, but never bought a pillow for it. An incomplete project. Five years’ worth of good intentions. As it turns out, the whole of our married life.

So, the other day I went downtown and bought a pillow. And then finally, put our honeymoon pillow on the couch.

happiness-pillow

I felt sad, wishing my husband could see it. Why did it take me so long to do this simple thing?

But then something in me softened. Maybe I felt his hand gently on my shoulder. Maybe I heard his tender voice, the suggestion not to be so hard on myself, not to have regrets. After all, we’d been busy living life! We’d been enjoying all our time together. Every minute together. Living, loving, working, traveling, walking the beach at golden hours with our pup. Nothing important had been lost.

My perspective shifted. I saw the pillow now with a different meaningful purpose: to serve as an unexpected gift to my future self, to appear again at a time when I most needed to be reminded of love. To help me remember that happiness is not something you find, or lose, but something you create, something you are.

There is no road to happiness. Happiness is the road.

 

I have so loved every step of the road together, James Malcolm Martin. Thank you for all of this happiness.

A Year’s Worth of Happiness

One of the best things I did last year was keep a Happiness Jar. The intent was to capture small moments of joy, as an exercise of appreciation and gratitude. Some people keep a journal, but I liked the idea of filling an empty jar.

Last night, during the final few hours of 2015, I emptied the contents onto the dining room table to see what a year’s worth of happiness meant to me.

Readng Jar

The first thing that struck me, as I unfolded the first few slips of paper, was how many moments I’d already forgotten. Fleeting moments of happiness, flowing past in the stream of life, thankfully captured.

The first one said simply: “Hail!” I smiled wide. Now I remember that day! It was April 1st, I was working in my office, and suddenly the window panes started rattling with a spring storm. A memory reclaimed!

I unfolded the rest of the papers, one by one.

As it turns out, nature brought me an abundance of happiness. Bright stars, beautiful clouds, the luminous moon. Birds singing, gulls crying, hummingbirds zipping past. Cherry blossoms floating down from the trees. Flowers emerging in the garden. In these simple moments of connection with the natural world, I felt joy.

Sometimes, there were whole days of happiness.

image

Sharing life with others brought me great happiness.

Valentine’s Day: “Hubby sent me upstairs to fetch something on the printer he ‘needed right away.’ It was a love poem.” My husband wrote me a poem! How could I have forgotten this? I must go upstairs and find it.

Random strangers also made me happy. There was the day I was flying home, gazing out the window at the snowy Rocky Mountains, when the man sitting in the row in front of me, poked his head between the seat headrests and exclaimed to me, “Isn’t it amazing?”

Yes. The mountains, and chance encounters with strangers, brought opportunities to experience le p’tit bonheur (the little happiness). As did warm visits with friends, family, and unexpected handwritten letters that came swooshing through our 100-year old mail slot.

I couldn’t help but wonder: Would I be inside anyone else’s happiness jar? I hope I created moments of happiness for others, through things I may have said or done last year.

With all my slips of paper unfolded, I thought about the great wealth of happiness that never made it into the jar.

The whole of our family reunion: meeting relatives from Finland, playing the mandolin with my father, visiting art museums, hiking trails along the Potomac River. All high points of the year; none of them captured. I had not written a single entry in either June or November. However, I do remember many times sitting at the kitchen counter, seeing the Happiness Jar in the corner, but not making the effort to write. If only I had overcome my inertia!

Perhaps, during our happiest times in life, we are fully immersed. And those experiences impact us in a more permanent way. They become our life stories, no note required.

Empty Jar

In total, there were 68 little time capsules in the jar: 60 happy memories; 7 contributions by family; and one fortune cookie message: “A windfall is coming for you.”

Indeed. One insightful project delivered this to me. A year’s worth of happiness arrived, exactly as predicted.