A popular idiom suggests, “don’t borrow trouble.” It means don’t spend a lot of time worrying about something that might never happen. While I’m a minute-by-minute cynic (I want to go kayaking so I’m not surprised when a 30 kph wind rises as I leave the launch) I have never seen the benefit of worrying. I think along with the scar tissue I grew from my many surgeries I accepted the belief life is transient. What is the point of planning ahead? “We might be dead by then,” I say to my long-suffering husband who is trying to organize a winter holiday or renovations on the house.
I guess saving energy – mine in particular – being a priority, I don’t see the point on wasting any on a plan a multitude of variants can demolish in seconds. I’m sure many of you are arguing with me all ready. How can you get through life if you don’t plan? I’ve had trips, with my suitcase already loaded in our private plane cancelled last minute for bad weather, family trips set aside for sick children. Kayaking partners pulled out of expeditions, planned for months, because of deaths in the family, and big pieces of my life disappeared into the black hole of illness. Life taught me a goal can be snatched away at a moment’s notice.
My plans are based on the latest information and last-minute decisions. Yes, I realize I must book the tickets for the cruise ahead, but the cynic in me says, “Don’t count on taking it.” I am not a brink master, getting an adrenaline high from doing things at the last minute. I am most comfortable working ahead of deadline and commitments, reconnoitering a new situation before I go into it, and finishing one thing before starting another. I am mystified by my insistence on painting in the details at the last minute. What a contradiction.
Part of this refusal may stem from the annual increase in my analytic side. It is shooting up like a pubescent teen I can’t keep in shoes. I hesitate in making these decisions in case they are wrong. It is an annoying trait—yes as annoying as that contentious teen!
Right now, we are going through renovations. “Pick the type of countertop you want,” my husband requests. I dally as long as possible, then make a choice. But based on experience my gut, intuition and cynic huddle together whispering, “They’ll be out of that one.” I choose a soaker tub, and my analytic wonders if a better one will appear on the market the next day. I am infuriating, but I am not borrowing trouble.
We just had our sewage tank tested by the provincial park authorities. We fill it to the top; they measure the amount it holds and twenty-four hours later measure again. No leakage. Hurrah! Aside from the inconvenience of not using it for that period, it had no impact on my life. However, for two weeks prior to the scheduled test my husband agonized over the possibility of a leak in the tank. This would mean purchasing a new tank, and the cost of having the old one dug up and removed, moving a shed, destroying a cement retaining wall on two sides of the yard, taking down a pergola, and digging up a 25-foot Ponderosa pine. Aware this might be a possibility, I didn’t dwell on it. Take action only when required. The test is done. The tank doesn’t leak, and my husband is just recovering from a near panic attack brought on by his propensity for borrowing trouble.
While I applaud those, who embrace a glass half full attitude, I examine all the negatives up front, eliminate or accept them and think positively about the end result. Am I negative because I voice my concerns first? Is a spurt of anxiety while I assess the situation like several weeks of worry over a possible result? Am I borrowing trouble? If so, I pay the lender back before any interest is owed, because I believe things happen for the best – maybe not the way I envision, but the way they are meant to be.
“When the pupil is ready, the teacher appears.” This old Buddhist saying is as relevant today as it was a thousand years ago. It is certainly the main source of my learning. For the people around me teach me the most – not when they want to, not when I want them to, but at that magic moment when openness, understanding and lesson come together creating new understanding.
I’m certain many of my teachers stood by frustrated and feeling helpless as the lesson flew over my head like an arrow missing the target. Some arrows of learning did hit, over and over and over again, but they bounced off without sticking. My bull’s-eye remained unsullied – and I unwilling or unable to take in and understand.
But the teachers did come and from them I gained much knowledge. The first I credit, is my mother. She passed on her imagination, modelled through life, and offered up as a fanciful way of learning. without limitations, my imagination created a world in which adventure shoved me towards new ideas, new approaches and new understanding.
My second learning tool is books. From other writers I learned how to rock climb, what a bazaar in Jakarta smells like, how to perform a tracheotomy. But the lessons went deeper. From Jane Austen I learned don’t judge. Kahil Gibran taught me, “Accept your truth.” Gary Zukov demonstrates risk pays big dividends. Eckart Tolle, live in the now.
Nature has been a wonderful instructor, winning my heart, mind and spirit with its first touch. I find the fearsome, awesome and mysterious amongst her many treasures. I am alive, each cell sparked with energy when I experience these powers. Nature teaches the necessity of balance – just as water can buoy me up, its immense power can submerge me. A sunset bleeding crimson across the sky delights my eyes while piercing my heart with sorrow. Tranquility/rage, healing/destruction all the opposing forces found in nature, must be learned, minded and respected.
From women I’ve ingested an encyclopedia. Shared feelings, philosophies and every day occurrences give me self awareness, and a sense of being part of the whole. Through discussions on the minutiae of life, I see others go through the same tests and triumphs. I accept who I am and why I am, supported by their openness. My women friends give me – me.
Dark times like the death of my father when I was sixteen, and many years of fighting Crohns encouraged me to grab at life. There might not be a later. I’ve kayaked rivers, lakes and oceans, tandem parasailed, and down-hill skied every mountain I can reach. I’ve camped alone in the wilderness, zip-lined across the country, been deck-hand on a sailboat, co-piloted a plane, and co-authored a book – grasping knowledge with each experience.
Thinking back over the short life my father lived, I gain invaluable understanding from his example. Know what you want, reach for your dreams with both hands, embrace the results, believing the transformative power within makes all things possible. I Wonder, what lesson is waiting for you?
When I look back over decades of my life, I discover my greatest treasure trove of learning comes from the experience of having Crohn’s disease. An old adage often voiced states, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” I believe this; and also that it makes you wiser.
The first lesson I learned from Crohns was how to deal with pain. This lesson slapped me up the side of my head for many years before I ‘got it’. In accepting pain as a given in my life, I lessened its importance, and thus reduced its impact.
While coping with the disease, I reached a deeper level of empathy. When my husband pushed me down the hospital corridor in a wheelchair because I was too weak to walk, we passed a diabetic woman who had no legs. At one point, I was attached to so many machines, tubes and drains that movement was out of the question, yet, in the next room the nurses unhooked machines from a patient who couldn’t be saved. Crohns put me in the hospital, where I learned compassion and gratitude.
I was 29 when I was diagnosed, and at that time, I ran my life like a balance sheet for giving and receiving. It was okay for me to give more than anyone gave me, but I must never run a deficit. My lengthy illness made caring for my family or myself impossible at times. I became a ‘taker’ on a large scale. This caused me considerable stress until the epiphany that in accepting someone else’s gift I gave them back a gift. I provided the opportunity for their act of generosity—so they could reach beyond their own problems and feel good. I learned that instead of saying, “you shouldn’t have” or “It wasn’t necessary”, I could ennoble their gift. I could wrap my appreciation up in the bow of sincere words like, “The energy you saved me by bringing dinner let me play with my children for an hour. Thank you.”
I concluded early if I couldn’t walk in someone’s moccasins, I could at least try them on. I gained a new respect for all hospital employees. In the long waits for test, I practiced patience. In coping with the mistakes of doctors and nurses I acquired tolerance. And I came to see I didn’t improve a situation by being negative, complaining or whining. Crohn’s forced me to grow up. (A caveat here. I admit my inner child still shows up to pout and stomp verbally.)
I can testify some people really do keep marriage vows and follow their spouse into hell. Though he often teased my mother with, “if I knew she was in this bad of shape I’d have bought a warranty,” my husband suffered terribly, as men do, who feel helpless. Yet, he stayed through sickness as well as health.
Crohns also introduced me to a few new philosophies and strengthened some beliefs I already held. I received the proverbial second chance at life and learned each moment is precious – not to be sullied or wasted.
I proved to myself over years of hospitalization and experimenting with wellness that humans are potentially self-healing by design. So, I must create the balance of mind, body, spirit that induces healing.
Out of every difficult situation comes good and I recognize the benefits at some point during or following my travail. Just as the difficulty encompass many people, so does the good – often it is a blessing with immeasurable results. For example, the changes in our family life, because of my illness, molded our children into strong, independent, adults.
I learned “man really is an island”. Granted I could reach across the water surrounding me for help and often even hold the hand extended, but bottom line is you make the hard choice alone. “Yes, I’ll have the surgery.” or “No I won’t allow you to give me that treatment.” Only I could throw the dice of life and death.
With these beliefs as an intellectual springboard, I created the lifestyle that best allows me to honor them. We built our home by the river. I do the work I love. I actively seek the solitude and quiet I know will keep me in balance.
Crohn’s disease appeared like a terrorist, inducing fear. In fighting the fear with love, I grew and flourished—body, mind and spirit. I broke free of its cruel death grip with a will to survive that amazes me to this day. Occasionally, my illness attacks again, and I struggle against it. But I do so now with deliberation rather than rage; because I am certain this fierce combatant still has more to teach me.
At a time when I’ve become more dependent on technology than ever, I lost my Wi-Fi for three days. As emails piled up, and deadlines loomed, I sought patience, juggled my to do list, found other ways to communicate and shuffled along as best I could. Others were just as inconvenienced. Across from me lives a woman who works fulltime out of her home – and couldn’t get on the Internet. A man, I know trades on the stock market daily and would lose thousands of dollars if he needed to sell and couldn’t connect.
Technology has brought us so far at the detriment of so much. Computers will make paper obsolete experts declared. Yet, I remember when I shopped and the clerk would ring up my sales on a cash register, take my money and give me a six-inch strip of paper. Now I wait while they print off a sales invoice, staple it to a receipt, that has a back up receipt attached, and possibly a gift receipt. Scads of paper are handed over along with my purchase. Recent statistics show the sell of books has increased and demand for e-books decreased.
I’ve moved from writing on a typewriter, where the biggest problem would be having to retype a page, to working on a PC. I am a victim of kidnapped chapters, murdered files, and updates that beat up my programs. I will never learn to fix these things myself, because the workings of a computer form the threshold of my total lack of interest. I expect my PC, like my eggbeater will do its assigned task. Thus, I’ve spent a fortune on tech assistance over the years.
Yet, technology, when it works gives me an ease, which I cannot replace. The speed of typing a manuscript into my laptop, knowing I can copy it, move it, share it, store it, and get it back, all with just a few strokes of the keys, is something I will not give up.
Using a computer for work is like having a gambling addiction. I keep going back, regardless of the risk. Will this be the time I lose it all? I wager that I can deliver, never knowing from one second to the next if my software fails, my hardware breaks, or Internet service will go down. Knowing this I still step up to the table and throw the dice.
I guess I should consider myself lucky I am such a small target it’s unlikely I’ll be hacked. I watch the big corporations facing ransom hackers and realize there is yet another player in the game. I can’t see a future when we ever have a sense of full security and safety. I have a vision of the plastic sleeve holding photos, folded like an accordion, we would take from our purses and flip open for any viewer (interested or not!) and compare it with the lengthy list of passwords we must keep near. Most of us don’t try and end up storing them in some easily identifiable file – a courtesy to any hacker attempting entrance. I have a phobia about having my identity stolen, believe my phone and laptop are spying on me, and can’t imagine giving my house over to an artificial intelligence that can inventory my fridge, decide what I will want to eat next week, shop for me online, then pay the store with my financial information. Or, God forbid, let an AI like Alexa control my home and have access to my bank account.
I realize my age is showing because thousands of millennials take these services for granted. They run their lives through the software on their phones, downloading apps that operate every aspect of their day, from making their coffee to shutting down the house at night. We worried about the crash of technology on the centennial. We are so much more vulnerable now. I wonder how our younger generations would survive being unplugged. I know I’ll go on strong with or without connectivity.
My husband and I in a combined lack of wisdom – or maybe a Covid haze, just built a grow box. I believe we were initially motivated by rumours there would be a scarcity of fresh fruits and vegetables in the grocery stores, as border closings would mean less truckers and farm workers. We have a big yard and for the past three years have been reducing the amount of labour required with choices like less pots (for me) and a riding lawnmower for my husband. Men can always find a power tool for their pleasure! So, I shake my head in confusion. Why did we take on another project?
My husband built the box over several days of hard work. We chose the back end of the Japanese garden for its location – out of sight of the rest of the yard, surrounded on two sides by fence, one by the back of the shed, and sitting on pea gravel for neatness. When I viewed the finished project, I gasped at the size. Huge! He assured me he’d used the exact measurements given him. So, together we lined it with plastic. Smiling smugly at each other, we discussed the next step. Our smiles slid off our faces as we acknowledged our second bad choice. Instructions were ‘fill the grow box with four inches of river rock and gravel, then topsoil’. We looked around our tidy, enclosed space and realized we had no way of accessing the box other than on foot. Everything going into this wonderful, raised garden must be carried in by pail. We laughed at our idiocy.
My husband did the river rock on his own, together we hauled in the gravel. The next day I shovelled the box of a half ton truck full of soil into two pails, while he carried alternate pails, trip after trip. I worried about his weakening legs. He expressed concern for the tendinitis in my arm. Every eight pails full we stopped to relieve the muscle spasms in our lower backs and chat. The sun shone, the air had a lovely damp earth smell, harmony reigned.
I looked like a bent hag as I hobbled around the kitchen making supper for my hard-working guy. I so admired his perseverance, and the multitude of skills that had gone into designing and building the box. The next morning, he shuffled stiffly as he brought me a cup of tea, telling me he appreciated that I’d sacrificed my kayak arm to help him by shovelling. As we hugged – an excuse to rub each other’s back – he insisted he’d finish alone while I rested. When I questioned his jumping up and down into the truck, he said he’d build a ramp. With visions of him crashing onto the sidewalk, I insisted I’d shovel. Together we finished the job. His mother always said, “It doesn’t take long if there’s two of us.”
Together we stood by our box appreciating our work. As we levelled the rich soil our hands touched, and our thoughts meshed. We grinned with satisfaction at what we’d accomplished together – planning, building, filling and hopefully growing something in our grow box. We relaxed in our double glider in the Japanese garden and felt peace settle around us. The grow box is a permanent fixture, we agreed, at no time will we put the energy into emptying it.
I think of the great lumbering thing with affection. If we’re lucky (neither of us is a gardener) we might get a crop of veggies in the fall. However, the big take away is our garden has already produced a bounty of kindness, mutual respect, appreciation, and love.
I rock myself in bed at night, back and forth – self soothing my restless spirit. I am waiting. Around me the world does the same, struggling from country to country, individual to individual to wait out Covid -19 and variants.
Thirteen months have passed, and I have nothing to show for my time except my fortitude for waiting. Even the incremental steps that lead me out of the long wait back to normal life are making me wait. Early warm temperatures melted the snow and ice on the river seem so early I have an expectation of the activities I do in Spring. And yet, I hear farmers talking about seeding, while fields lay barren before them for weeks, and say. “Way too soon.” I’ve bought seeds for a garden, but there is still two months before the “Plant after the first moon in June” my gardening guru neighbour stipulated years ago.
The river is so low this year only the cement launch at the marina allows entry unless you wish to slog through metres of mud. I wait for a water level that will grace me with a shoreline, whereon I can pull in for a picnic, a swim – all things it is too early to do.
I wait for a revived interest in immersing myself in a television show, a book, a puzzle. Alas, I have spent so much time bathing in these occupations I am a wrinkled prune, all my desire for a good soak washed away.
I’ve watched and waited for special events I could attend each year – Ag Days in Regina, the Stampede in Calgary, Wings Over the Rockies in Invermere – I anticipated like the raising of a flag signifying a new day, the return of my life as I knew it. Slowly, these events are whittled away by government protocols, until too thin to survive – they die, victims of Covid.
Especially, I wait for that which counts most, the demonstrations that tell me I am loved, living my best life, blessed. Hugs from my children, laughing and dancing with my grandchildren, talking with my siblings in the same room, without masks. I wait to invite friends for dinner, or walk into a restaurant with a group for a celebratory occasion.
Waiting is different than just having patience, for it implies hope. If I hang in long enough, this too will pass. And I do find hopeful signs.
As I wait, I see the potential for many good outcomes. Lost jobs mean more hungry people, which has inspired sustainable community programs to feed them. The demand for a cleaner planet has accelerated the production of cleaner products, from electric vehicles to plant based foods. Forced out of gyms and bars, desperate for a break from children with an abundance of pent-up energy, families are recreating and exercising together outdoors, instead of separately hunching over screens inside. The long wait is paying off with new space endeavours, new vaccines, and in some countries, new, rational leaders. Grabbing onto these positives with needle sharp claws lets me hang above the precipice of depression, anxiety, wonder if it will ever end, a little longer.
I wait for an infusion of motivation every morning and rock myself at night waiting for release from this covid cage. Perhaps I will have a better understanding of solitary confinement after this. Like the prisoner sentenced to solitude, I have only myself as a resource. The strength, resilience, faith, patience I need must come from within. Will I have enough? Well, that too, is a waiting game.
No, I’m not a winged critter, though I saw plenty of happy fowl on my kayak down Swift Current Creek, April 9, 2021. Clouds floated across a pale blue sky, the thermometer sat around 11 degrees Celsius, and the wind was 22 mph from the southwest – a tail wind for the most part, I concluded.
Joined by a friend, I looked forward to this first paddle of the year. I had reconnoitred the creek a few days earlier, and though there were several rocky passages, I decided we could get through with a few short portages. We drove down the back alley behind my friend’s house around noon, loaded her kayak in the back of the truck alongside mine and headed for the southside of the city.
While she and my husband unloaded the kayaks, I danced about on one foot then the other changing my shopping shoes for booties and Dawgs, grabbing gear that hadn’t been loaded in my kayak – and in general looked like a newbie without a clue. For someone who double-checks gear, insists on precise timing and lives on the premise “a place for everything and everything it its place” this was an awkward start.
My humiliation increased as my husband launched me into the creek just after my friend floated away. As the current caught my kayak and whirled me backward down the creek, I realized the water flowed much higher and faster than three days earlier, and I hadn’t freed my rudder and could not put it down. I yelled at my friend and I managed to get myself turned around and up beside her so she could release the strap. Back in control, I promised myself a deep breathe. Not a chance! I rounded a corner right into a stretch of rapids that required picking a route through a boneyard of rocks.
From one side of the city to the other we would go through seven sets of rapids, some so narrow, maneuvering through the rocks at speed injected adrenaline into our systems, like junkies getting a fix. The high carried us down longer stretches of quiet water, protected from the chill wind by steep banks of dried grasses. Pairs of Mallard ducks came out of hiding and led us down the creek for some distance away from their nests. I enjoyed these restful moments, when chatting with my friend about the last set of rapids or what appeared ahead, prepared us for the next wild ride.
We passed under eight narrow bridges and found we had plenty of head room – until we didn’t! Coming up fast on the last walking bridge, I suddenly realized the higher water made necessary easement iffy. In the lead, I yelled at my friend, and as the creek swept me under the bridge I slid down as low as I could in my cockpit. With my hands raised, protecting my head, I felt the steal girder tickle my finger. On the other side, I looked back and saw my friend slide free. No decapitation today!
Now, I split my attention between the water course and my phone, so my husband could locate us for the take-out. As we yelled out recognizable landmarks along the bank, we approached another rapid. I dropped the waterproof case holding my phone, which I’d tied onto my kayak, and calculated the best route through the rapid. A jungle of rock showed on the left, metres ahead of two big rocks that rose out of the white water on the right. I steered right, heading for what looked like the deepest water between the two biggest rocks. My kayak should just fit. With my rudder up, the current caught my bow. I paddled hard aiming for a grassy strip on the right, but the big rock caught me, tipped me on my side and flung me over.
My paddling buddy passed between the two rocks as I came up for air. “What should I do she called?” “Stay in your kayak,” I returned, knowing we’d have even more trouble if she got out in the fast-flowing water. Gasping from the shock of the cold water, I slid out of my overturned kayak, and found I could easily stand. Now I faced a new quandary. The current pressed my kayak against the large rock, with such force I couldn’t slide it free. I had a steep bank on my right, and a 14.5 long kayak with only 4.5 feet of water between rock and bank. It took ever bit of muscle I had to pull it off the rock and angle it downstream, until I could slide it onto a low spot on the bank. I pumped my kayak out, while my friend backpaddled and picked up a few tips on what to do when you capsize. DON’T CAPTZIZE IN THE FIRST PLACE is my best advice. An inch of water sloshed around me as I continued downstream, located my husband on the west bank and began the yelling discussion of the best take-out spot. He jumped back in his truck and we met up on the far side of the #4 highway. I paddled downstream, did a quick upstream turn around my paddle into an eddy, where the quiet water helped me maneuver my bow onto a grassy bank and get out safely. My friend joined me. We dumped the remaining water out of my kayak, loaded, and I took advantage of the drybag I always carry with a spare set of clothes, and changed. Although all my gear was soaked, I didn’t lose anything but a plastic water bottle. At least, my professional packing and preparation paid off.
We both agreed it was a wonderful adventure – a prime start to the paddling season. I got the advantage of practice, and she received a lesson in what not to do, and what to do, when the ‘not to’ part throws you a curve. I’ll quack along with the happy ducks for a while.