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December 15, 2019 – Good to Be Here, Cleaning the Bathroom

Last week, I went skiing and snowshoeing through the woods, where the sunshine cast long purple spruce tree shadows and there were lynx and fox tracks to follow. There was crisp winter air to draw into my lungs and expel—warm with sigh—glad to be alive, caught up in the mystery and healing of creation. On days like those, it is easy to remember that, “It is good to be here.”

Cleaning the bathroom? Not so much. My standards aren’t exceptionally high when it comes to the spit ‘n’ polish or the antibacterial attributes of our bathroom, but from time to time it’s got to get done. I put the mats and the waste basket out in the hall for shaking and emptying later. I clear the counter of hand lotion, razors, contact lens containers and solutions. I put the soap dish in the drawer and flip the shower curtain over the rod, readied for a full on bathtub scrub.

We try to stick with environmentally friendly cleaning supplies. None of the tile cleaners that, in the television commercials, send forth happy little spinning, foaming brushes that leave everything covered in digitized sparkles.  At our house, there is a lot of vinegar, baking soda, eco-friendly soap and a lot of elbow grease involved. I sometimes covet those little smiling brushes that do all the work.

I shake baking powder and sunlight soap into the toilet and bathtub and spray the shower tiles and mirror with vinegar.

Admittedly, there is satisfaction in the fresh shine on the mirror and chrome taps, and in scouring the clot of dried toothpaste from the counter. The toilet. I’m not squeamish about toilets. A brief stint in the military right out of high school disabused me of any reluctance about diving—metaphorically—right in. It would be nice to have something industrial with which to blast the hard water stains streaking down into the bowl. The tub is fun—there’s a lot tidal swishing of water involved. Then the dreaded tiles which, in spite my best efforts, inevitably lead to soapy water running down my raised arm from the rag into my armpit.

Finally, on my knees—with no thoughts of prayer—I double-rag, backward out the door, while swiping up matted hair balls and errant toenail clippings.

It’s easy in the forest, or by candle light, or beneath the stars, but more difficult kneeling in the hallway, to remember, “It’s good to be here.”

photo-2019-08-18-8-34-51-pm.jpgDecember 11, 2019 – I woke up to dancing

I woke up—but did not want to get—up 5:30 AM this morning. So I listened to BBC’s Cultural Frontline. Today’s show was called “Rave for a revolution”, about the power of techno-dance culture in the Palestinian struggle for justice.

In August, I traveled to Palestine with a group of young adults from Canada (read more about that in the January issue of Broadview Magazine). In Bethlehem, we were invited by our host to “a little engagement party for my nephew and his fiancée.” This little party turned out to be a feast for five-hundred and, including indoor pyrotechnics. It was the dancing, though, that inspired me.

Bethlehem is part of West Bank, and, for Palestinians, essentially a prison. Yet, in the midst of this constant stress, injustice, restricted movement, and apparent hopelessness, the dancing was positively ecstatic – the bride hoisted on chair, the groom riding the shoulders of various men, a bottle of champagne cracked open with a sword and fountaining over an elegantly dressed mosh pit of the young and the old, all bouncing to the beat of Arabic dance music. I was taken up into this raucous heaven on earth by the unaccountable joy of it. An irrepressible anarchy of joy and hope flowed through the room—joy and hope not grounded in the cruel facts of daily life but in defiance of the powers that seek to crush hope, peace, joy and love in those who dance-anyway.

This morning I lay in bed remembering the mysticism of that night in Bethlehem, and Emma Goldman, who said, “If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution.” And I remembered, it’s good to be here, where dancing is sometimes the most subversive thing you can do.

December 10, 2019

It’s good to be here. The further I travel from my Camino de Cancer, the harder it gets to remember that truth. So, in league with you who daily share your gratitude – like the always inspiring Laura Fouhse– I intend to remind myself each day that is indeed good to be here.

This morning it was -30 something Celsius with the wind chill factored in. I bundled up and went outside to shovel our driveway in that liminal time between night and day. I caught a last glimpse of the full moon and then the sun bleeding into the sky. I breathed the snap of air, felt the snow beneath my feet, and heard my neighbours beginning their days. A school bus roared past, ferrying a load of little miracles off to school. And I remembered, it’s good to be here.

Maybe you, like me, have a difficult time remembering that it is good to be here. Maybe life has taken you to places that aren’t good to be. I welcome your reflections and observations.

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Light a Fire Against the Night

Gather up what is broken
Bring what is wounded
Bring the long winter
and the impossibility of spring.
Bring hearts cracked open
by sadness, by defeat, even guilt.
Bring your whispered prayers
your raging souls,
your pain filled memories
and your dreams, stolen.
Bring your doubt and anger too.
Bring the lie, bring the lie
about the finality of death.
Bring it all, bring it all, bring it all.
Together we will carry it, like kindling.
Stack it high, brittle stick on stick
and rub those bones together,
to light a fire against the night.

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The Candle Man

In a garage, in an alley-
way in Thunder Bay,
there is an old man
who deals in candles,
on dark December nights.

A little boy, soft
in his brown parka,
peers into an open box
packed and stacked
with unlit, waiting lights.

He drops a mitten
to the floor forgotten, to
the mystery of the waxen sticks,
their cold and ready wicks,
awaiting fire, awaiting flame.

The old magician conjures up
a glass and purple globe,
sets it—like host—into small
upturned and empty hands,
entrusting it to inner lands.

“This one is mine,”
whispers the boy.
“Yes, for your advent,”
says the old man. “Yes,”
says the candle man.

And a garage, in an alley-
way in Thunder Bay,
flares with votive light,
becomes a grand cathedral,
on a dark December night.

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Do you wonder why?

Does the birch tree
cry out, when its bark
splits open, unable to
contain one new ring
of growth?

Does the dandelion
Mourn an infant seed,
carried on a warm breath
to waiting fertile soil
yet untold?

Does the green snake
gaze back upon her
discarded skin, longing
for days when she felt
less naked?

Does the still, blue pond
refuse to reflect the sky
because the geese
it hosts discover wings
and fly?

Do you wonder why
every birth, and every dawn
of every day, promises
tears of grief and of gladness
as the way?

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