Archive for May, 2011|Monthly archive page

The Power of Words

I went to a booksigning today, with bitterly protesting son in tow, specifically so that I could meet the author and have a chance to speak to her. She’d written a poem that had been read at my cousin’s funeral a couple of months ago. The poem broke a dam of tears for me that dark day – capturing so perfectly my cousin’s spirit, and finding the words that until that moment I’d lost. I’d been so torn about my inability to write – I’d wanted to offer my family something for the funeral service, a token, some words to show in my own small way just how large my cousin’s presence had been. But I had no words, none. I was bereft.
That day, sitting so lonely amidst so many other sad, solitary people, all of us sharing the same hard benches, the same hard truth that my cousin was really gone – this poem was a gift, a garden, a balm of words.
This was one woman, writer, soul, that I just had to meet. And thank.
Today, she, in turn, thanked me.
My cousin had touched her too, of course, being the remarkable person that she’d been. But the author, JC Sulzenko, hadn’t known how my cousin, so many years ago, had inspired her to poetry that would eventually spear into me so deeply.

This is what words do.

My Dad scattered my Grandpapa’s ashes this week. He’d asked me, before leaving, if he could read the piece I’d written for Grandpapa’s funeral when it came time to open the urn. He thought it’d be fitting.
My Dad and I have been bridging, for years, a chasm between us. The fact that he asked, that he cared enough not just to read my words, but to ask me if it was alright with me – it didn’t just buttress that bridge; it shifted the ground.

This is what words do.

“What story is this song telling us, Mommy?” Bonhomme asked on the drive home tonight.
It was a beautiful opera piece in Latin, the voice piercing and true.
“I’m not sure, Love, but I think it might be a prayer.”
“A prayer? What’s a prayer?”
“It’s when somebody prays, Hon, I think she’s sad and she’s talking to God.”
“But what is praying, Mom?”
“It’s, well, it’s… it’s like your heart having a conversation with the universe.”
“But, how do you pray? How do you do that talking?”
“Well, some people get down on their knees beside their bed and do it, some people every day. Some people kneel on a special rug and do it several times a day, they even carry their special rug with them so that they can do it anywhere, since it’s so important to them. Some people put their hands together in front of their heart, some people do it at a church, some people go for walks, sometimes I feel like I’m praying when I do yoga.”
“You do? You can do praying, Mom?”
“Yup, anyone can do it.”
“But, why? When? How do you know you need to?”
“Well, um, some people pray when they’re sad, or lonely. Some people pray when they’re angry, and they don’t know what to do with their anger. Some people pray when they’re confused, or worried, or scared. Some people pray when they’re happy too, when they feel so much happiness at once that they feel they have to just share it with the whole world!”
“So praying is sharing?”
“Some people think so. I think so – I think that’s a really neat way to think about it.”
More silence. I’m congratulating myself on a successful navigation of the topic when –
“Momma, I think praying is like aiming.”
“Yah, like when you’re aiming a gun.”
My turn to be silent.
“Like when you’re aiming to shoot, say at a fox, or a balloon, or like in a videogame, or with my Lego! That’s like praying.”
“That’s not what I think praying’s like at all. Shooting a gun’s not at all like praying.”
“I think that’s what it is for me.” Bonhome says in a small, hurt voice.
Who am I to know?
“Well, Love, I have a hard time with that idea, because I don’t like shooting, and praying is something very special to me, special to lots of people, so it’s hard for me to think about praying being like shooting. But, everyone does it differently, and has to find their own way. I’m still finding my way.”
“I’m not – I know it already! And it’s not shooting, it’s aiming.” He’s proud, and definite.
I bite my tongue. It might not be my definition – but that doesn’t matter. In fact, it matters very much that it not be my definition – it’s his.

This is what words do.

“You know, Grace, I’m an artist too.” My littlest Goddaughter. She’s not comparing herself to me, knowing that I paint, but to her older sister, who I’ve taken to calling an artist as a nickname, since she’s taken arts and crafts on by storm in the past year.
“I know you are Darling. I mean, just look at all this art!” We’re surrounded by crayoned and markered masterpieces taped to every kitchen cupboard. She proceeds to walk me through the intricacies of each one.
“You know, Sweetheart, that I call your sister Artist sometimes.”
“Did you also know, that the day you were born, I had a very special name for you?”
“You did?” Her face, dejected a moment ago, glows.
“Yes, I held you when you weren’t even an hour old yet. And you waved your hands in the air, in the most graceful way I’d ever seen hands wave, and I called you my Dancer. You were dancing, and I told you then that you were just going to dance through life, and I asked you if you would be my little Dancer. And what do you think you answered?”
“I dunno.”
“Hmm, well, what if I asked you again, now? Will you be my Dancer?”
“Yes, I will!” And she demonstrates her dancey magic.

This is what words do.

I’ve been doubting myself a lot lately. It’s been a tough month, just now beginning the slow heavy slog of recovery from years of too much. Too much stress, too much strain, too much everything. And when I doubt myself, I have too many words, all of them wrong; or I have none. Last night, I spent the evening talking, and listening, to some dear friends who see more clearly than most. And I spoke of my doubt, of my worry, of my wondering whether I was doing anything worthwhile at all with my life, or if I still could. We all did. They each face difficulties much greater than mine, lives fuller and bodies frailer, and I doubted even bringing up my own sorrows and sweats. As I doubt writing what I write, so self-indulgent as it sometimes seems – doubting most when the words don’t come at all. But I did speak, and we came to the conclusion that it’s not about hitting the mark, whatever that might be, but about showing up. Speaking up. Fumbling through the hard conversations, dragging yourself out of bed. It’s about what you do with the days when you aren’t at your best. Talking about, writing, sharing, demonstrating the hard stuff – connecting.

This is what words do.


Oh, my son, my own, my ode.

You are my heart.
Yes, walking around outside my body, as someone once famously said.
I always took that to mean an extension of having your heart in your throat – that heady mix of glee and fear and awe. Like watching a sky diver knife through the clouds, over and over in an endless crackling movie loop, and never getting to see them land safely.
When it comes to your kids (which is what that famous person was talking about, after all), that’s what I always thought that line meant.

And then, there was you.
Walking, for you, was so passĂ© (even when you couldn’t yet).
You don’t walk around outside my body – you leap, pound, race.
You do no tread lightly upon this earth.
Instead, you stake it. Like the flag upon the moon, proclaiming your gloriousness for all to see. Forever altering the landscape.
You are my scarred, stretched, stomping heart,
taking flight outside my body, never to land.


Waves crash, scour, and sweep.
Today: smiles, stickyface, jokes, pretending, mudsquishing, gunshooting, awe, squirming, tickling, total tantrum.
I am the sand between sea and shore, buffetted.
And scultped into something beautiful, strong, strange, and true.
A mother.

Opening Up The Floor

“So, how was your day today, Love?”
“Yeah? What did you do?”
“Watched some shows.”
“What did you do at Godsend’s (a.k.a daycare provider) house today? Did you play?”
“You said earlier that Godsend’s daughter stayed home today because she had a cold. Did you get to play with her?”
“What did you play with? Did you build anything interesting with the blocks today?”
“Yeah, but, but I got grounded from the blocks so I can’t play with them.”
“Really? You got grounded? Why?”
“Godsend took them away because I was putting them in my mouth.”
“Oh. That seems reasonable, since you know you’re not supposed to put things in your mouth. It’s not clean, and it’s not safe, and it’s not polite. And it’s not a very grown-up thing to do.”
“So what else did you do? Did you bake, or colour, or chase?”
“Yeah. Yeah but, but Mom? When Godsend was out of the room, picking the girls up at the bus stop, I sneaked.”
“You sneaked?”
“Yah! I sneaked into the livingroom, and got the blocks out, and got my blockgun!”
“When Godsend wasn’t there?”
“Yah! And I went powpowpowbampowbangfzzzzsh! And then, when she was helping the girls do their homework in the kitchen, I went fffshshsssssppttptptpfsshshshzzz! And when she came into the livingroom, I put my blockgun down, and put my hands up in the air, and she didn’t know that I sneaked!”
“And you know what? In my neighbourhood, the houses have shield domes.”
“Oh yeah? Why’s that?”
“So they can shoot at each other with their bubble blasters! Like this, kpobambampowpowppfftshshshssspptt!”
Mother-son shooting ensues.
“But Love, what if one of the houses had a blockgun instead of a bubble blaster?”
More shooting.
“But the blockgun house doesn’t have a shield.”
“Why not, Mom?”
“Well – because it has to keep on hiding.”
“Oh yeah! So the other houses don’t know that it has a blockgun instead of a bubble blaster! Because blockguns are so, totally, COOL!”
“Exactly. Very cool. But, how do you think the other houses feel, to have such a sneaky, hiding house shooting at them?”
“Um, oh. Bad, maybe.”
“What do you think we should do?”
“Uhhhh… build blockguns for all the houses?”
“I was thinking maybe writing an I’m Sorry card, with a picture of your blockgun on the front, and giving it to Godsend.”
“Yah! That would be perfect!”
“And maybe that would help you not feel so bad, if you were, say, feeling a little bit bad.”
“And maybe saying what you’re sorry for, in the card.”
“Like, sorry for putting blocks in my mouth?”
“What about the sneaking?”
“Oh yeah!”
“And the not listening, which is why Godsend took the blocks away in the first place?”
“Oh. Yeah.”
“So, do you want to use markers, or crayons?”
“MARKERS! C’mon, Mom, let’s go, go, GO!”

And he’s off.
We write out the whole story for Godsend, with Bonhomme writing the word sorry himself. And after lights out, I tell the whole story to Dearest, this time NOT biting my tongue, and reflect upon this historic day.
A day of such conflicting emotion. Usama bin Laden was killed last night, ending a decade of distraction, ending an era. Perhaps now we will be able to refocus all those considerable resources to tackling the issues which allowed that towering personality to tower as he did. It is not until we can talk meaningfully about right and wrong, having built the tolerance needed for that necessarily conflicting conversation, that we will be able to create a new era, whatever it turns out to be.
Dearest and I then spent the rest of our short evening watching a documentary on Shah Abbas, a legendary Persian who transformed his country via patience, prudence and tolerance; via dialogue and diplomacy. And then we capped the day waiting for election results to come in for the Canadian federal election, monitoring debatably-legal tweets.
This, all of this, is how we build our future. One difficult conversation at a time.