Herb Woman


I’m dreaming strange dreams again for the first time in several months.  I believe in the significance of dreams, although I am almost embarrassed to admit it.  Perhaps it is a superstition so instilled in me that no matter how hard I try, I cannot rid myself of the silliness of it, cannot even acknowledge it as silliness.  Instead, some piece of me clings to the idea that something magical lies in the interpretation of dreams, and that to receive a dream is a blessing from the gods. (So silly!)

In my dream, I was in a room with two older women and I, myself, was 55 years old.  One woman was behind me, and the other was in front of me.  There was a strange apparatus in the centre of the room, and the woman in front of me was conducting a ceremony, a Last Ritual for the woman behind me to ease her passing.  A light was reflected from the apparatus, and instead of striking the woman behind me, they fell on me. I was afraid and thought perhaps that I would die instead of the elderly woman behind me.

The ritual was over.  I never saw the woman behind me.  The woman in front of me, the Herb Woman, was putting large trays of things into an oven.  She was wearing a blue babushka, and I was wearing a red one.  I walked over to her and asked, “How do you do it?  I know you help people, but how can you do it?”

She looked at me intensely for a moment, then said, “What are you so afraid of?”

“Of ending!” I exclaimed.  “Of ceasing to be, of ceasing to learn, of ceasing to experience and learn from life!”

Again she gazed into me, then patted me gently on the hand and told me to have some tea.Image

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The Tale of I



Before starting forward, I must pause to look back to see from whence I have come and all that lies behind me, in case anything unsavoury should choose to creep up on me and drag me back again.

My history up until this moment has been defined mostly by environmental factors. To tell the story in factual conciseness would be to ignore the emotional – or spiritual – importance contained in the experience. And so I resort to parable to tell the tale of I.

There were two siblings, Abel and I, and both were servants of the gods of Choice. I scoured the earth looking for fruits with which to please her gods, but the Season was a Hard one, and the only vegetation that she could find were Bitter. Abel, though, being the elder of the two, had a flock of small lambs that were given to him for protection. To appease his gods, Abel sacrificed the little lambs and grew strong and prosperous.

I came home to discover the little ones had been butchered, their innocence bloody and lifeless under his hands. She tried to restore life to the innocent, shook their still forms, and whispered words of prayer. But the lambs would not move, and they were Lost.

I ran to the mountains to howl out accusations against Abel for all to hear. But the gods and people would not hear her. More lambs were sacrificed, and more blood was shed. I became angry and shouted out hateful things to Abel and to his supporters, to make them see that what had been done was wrong.

Finally, Abel and I were brought to trial by the People to decide whose case was Just. They observed Abel, repentant now, and said, “Behold how Abel suffers under his sacrifice! Let us Forgive him! Let us exalt him! But lo, look how I angers! Look at her hatefulness! She is one to be supressed! Let us exile her! Let us banish her from our sight, that she may not remind poor Abel of his sacrifice!”

And so I was cast out, to roam the earth alone. And she was angry. In her anger she put the Mark of Cain upon her arm, and it spread across her body, contaminating her. And those she met in exile saw the Mark of Cain and were afraid.

I lived alone for many years. Sometimes she reached out to others, but after a time the Mark upon her body would remind her of the untrustworthy nature of man, and she would withdraw, sometimes betraying before she could be betrayed.

And so I lived alone in the wilderness until she met another, with an unseeable Mark upon his body, a Mark in his eyes. And he took I, and walked with her for a time, until she was able to walk on her own, and then the other, with the Mark in his eyes, followed after her.

And I was not alone.


The Myth of the Spirit


I’m trying, sometimes with great difficulty, to understand who I am, where I’m going, and what the journey signifies. More often than not I feel like I’m not anything, that what I think I am is a construct of all those things I wish I was. And I guess one of the things I wish I was is permanent and not of such a transient nature. I wish I had some sense of spirituality, but whenever my mind caresses that sphere, I feel that it is false. I want to find my way again, to know myself and my thoughts, to understand what I believe in. If I believe in the spirit, I want to know that I believe in it and not that I am succumbing to a comfortable myth. And if I believe that death is annihilation, then I want to embrace that and to not be afraid in acknowledging that I don’t believe in the myth of the spirit. But I oscillate between the desire for belief and unbelief. I have no faith even in faithlessness.

I want to begin to look into all religions, to find what greater Truth all of these beliefs have in common. I feel that if I can study these things, I will be able to discard aspects that I disagree with and narrow my search for meaning in this way. Maybe the only way I can find out what I am is by eliminating what I am not.


Leaving


I have found it next to impossible to continue to write about my vocation over the past few months. I was unhappy with many things, but felt helpless to name them or speak of them in fear that it might negatively reflect on the organization as a whole. Even now, I feel an acute sense of responsibility to remain mute in order to continue to cast a positive light on the numerous wonderful things the organization provides. However, because of many things, I have chosen to resign.

I have told most of my students about my intent to leave, and this breaking away has been very difficult for me. Students who I thought I had made no impact on proved to be the most upset with the news I was leaving. I know they will be fine, and I know that my replacement will be able to continue to advocate for them.

Even so, I’m sure I’ll be shedding many a tear in the next few days after the centre closes.


Cathedral


I almost had a panic attack for the first time in over a year.  Usually these attacks spring from some feeling of anxiety or an overwhelming emotional experience induced by something small and almost insignificant, like a colour or a phrase.  Today it was an Anglican Cathedral.

This particular cathedral was built in the 1840’s in the centre of a small but developing city.  Today it looks alien amidst a background of commerce.  It is surrounded by a forest of sky-scrapers and is an anachronistic reminder of a calmer age… a lost age.

‘Twas the topmost cross that first caught my attention, an outcry of black upon a blue sky. I struggled to make out the shape of it, encircled as it was by brass or  iron or some other blackened metal.  My gaze followed the cross downwards across  the roof of the tower, an octagonal structure, and down to the stained-glass windows.  These windows took the shape of what appeared to be a lily, a three looped image proudly pronouncing something that I was not yet able to hear.  Then suddenly I recognized in the shape the outline of an old friend’s tattoo, and immediately thought about what that tattoo symbolized: body, mind, spirit.

More thoughts raced through my mind, some of which tripped along their journey, slowing them to a rate at which I could appreciate them: thoughts on Kierkegaard, my tattooed friend,  and the man who mugged me several months ago.

My gaze traveled lower on the cathedral, and sculptured screaming faces stared back at me.  Their voiceless agony pierced through me, and I felt like a video camera, panning in for an extreme closeup of these lips, these noses, these eyes.  They were distorted in a disturbing way by gaping holes left in the limestone over a hundred years of Canadian weather had so efficiently cut away.

I felt the attack come over me, and for a moment I started to hyperventilate.


Art Gallery Hop


I had a great time at work yesterday, organizing and leading an Art Gallery Hop.  I took four of my students to view the art in several local art galleries in the Exchange District, taking the bus to the heart of downtown, and then walking from gallery to gallery.  It was a great opportunity to not only discuss art created by local artists, but also to discuss  the history of the city.

I had called the galleries in advance, so they knew we were coming, and some owners were especially eager to share their love of art with my students, taking them behind the scenes in the workshops where they do custom framing and where several exhibits sat waiting to be put on display.

Before we had finished our tour, each student had found a piece of artwork that especially resonated within them. 

One of my students loved a group of 4 multi-media pieces, one blue, one green, one black, and one red.  They looked kind of like branches to me, and she said the reason she liked them so much was because how well they all fit together. 

 Another student was particularly drawn to a painting of an Eden-like setting, full of different kind of animals.  The closer you looked at the painting, the more creatures you could see. 

Another student was in love with all things dragons, and there was a painting made entirely of tiles, with little bits of black on them.  When all of these tiles were set together, they took on the form of a regal looking black dragon.

The last student had two favourites.  One was an etching of a frozen river, where many stories were intersecting.  The more attention you paid to the piece, the more stories you could see.  There were also some well-known landmarks in the background, and my student remarked, “This one is all about US.”

The other painting this student particularly enjoyed was a painting of a woman in a red coat.  Her back was turned to the audience, and her face was hidden.  She looked like she was waiting for maybe a taxi, but the background was also hidden in darkness.  She told me she liked this painting because you could tell what it was, not like some of the other abstract paintings that surrounded it.  We talked about it for a bit, and I tried to help her see that this picture was telling a story, just like the abstract ones, and that what it was could change depending on the story you created for it.

My favourite painting was a symbolic piece.  I didn’t even get the significance until one of students pointed it out.  At first it looked like a human breaking out of an egg, until this student pointed out that the egg from which it was hatching was actually the world, and that the breaking out of the egg was destroying the world.  We looked at it again, from a different perspective, and it appeared that the arm of the person was coming out of North America, and that it was North America who was destroying the earth while an emmaciated woman stood by with an arm raised, watching.

I want to do this again, perhaps in the summer, with another group of students.  It was particualarly rewarding, and this experience may very well be my favourite activity we led at work over the holidays.


Resolutions


As the year slowly dies down like the last embers in my fireplace, I sit here with my loved ones and reflect not only on the past, but also on the future.  And as it seems to be the trendy thing to do now, my family and I sat down and discussed our Bucket Lists, and I came up with the following 25 Thing to Do Before I Die.  In no particular order, here they are:

1. Go to the West Edmonton Mall.

As a child, I remember seeing frequent advertisements for the West Edmonton Mall  between my favourite cartoon shows.  For me, this place is like the Canadian Disneyland, and I would love to experience it.

2. See the Rocky Mountains.

I’ve never actually seen mountains before, but I’ve seen pictures.  Also, while studying a poem by T.S. Eliot, I was told by one of my profs that people who lived in valleys at the foot of the mountains often suffered from severe depression, since the mountains block out a lot of the sun.  I’d like to see that, to experience that kind of power.

3, Go Whale Watching.

Several years ago, when I went to Mexico, I swam with dolphins and was surprised and disappointed by their size.  I had always imagined them to be bigger.  So now, I want to see the real big ocean guys: whales.

4. Go Parasailing.

I’m afraid of heights, but I’ve done a lot of things I was afraid of, and I think I’d walk away from this one in total awe of the experience.

5. Try surfing.

I’ve gone “body surfing” (kind of) on the rolling waves in Costa Rica, but I think it would be fun to try it on a board.

6. Go to London and walk down the city streets.

I am an avid reader of Victorian Fiction and would love to walk down the same streets as some of my favourite characters.

7. See old Bedlam

Just because.

8. Visit Stonehenge.

I imagine that this would be a powerful experience.  Also, this where is the final scene between Tess and her love takes place, after the red dripping from the ceiling….

9. Visit Ireland to feel the faeries.

I find that Ireland and Canada share many aspects of colonialism, and I relate strongly to some of  the mythology of the country.

10. Read and Understand “Finnegan’s Wake” by James Joyce.

I’ve already attempted “Ulysses” and understood parts of it.  But “Finnegan’s Wake” is still far beyond my comprehension.  I had a well annotated edition in my Norton Anthology, and it took me half an hour to get through the first paragraph.

11. Walk under Niagra Falls.

When I was in grade 7,  my class traveled by bus to Toronto.  We stopped by Niagra Falls, but only looked at it from a distance and then went to a lame ass water park that wasn’t even open.  I want to go back and get a close-up look of the Falls.

12. Visit Prince Edward Island.

Because of Anne of Green Gables.

13. Visit the Reading Room of the London Library.

I want to walk down the same aisles that George Eliot and Charles Dickens walked down, and sit in the same chairs that Reardon sat in in Gissing’s New Grub Street.

14. Go to B.C.

I want to see the huge redwood forests.

15. Drive and walk up/down Magnetic Hill and experience the illusion first hand.   Walk a little way into the bush and find out when and where it ends.

16. Peruse the Louvre.

This is just something I’d like to experience.

17. Publish some writing.

Maybe a novel.  Maybe a collection of short stories.  Maybe an obituary.

18. Go to Churchill and see the polar bears.

Bears have a strong personal significance to me.  They are incredibly potent symbols of spiritual teachers, and I would love to see a polar bear in its natural environment.

19. Experience a full day of darkness in the Arctic.

It’s an aspect of Canadian Experience I would like to have a part in.

20. Ride a train.

When I was a kid I hopped trains in town, but I’ve never actually been on a passenger train, even though my father, as a former employee of CN rail, has access to a VIA rail train pass to anywhere in Canada.

21. See the real Prairie.

I’ve never been further West than Winnipeg, and I’d like to see the rolling hills and complete flatness of Saskatchewan.

22. Go Sailing.

It looks fun.  And I like water things.

23. See a giraffe.

24. Taste a huckleberry.

I don’t even know what a huckleberry is.

25. Learn from a Buddhist monk, a Rabbi, a Priest, and an Imam.

Preferably in one room.  At the same time.