One minute life is normal. I am chopping veggies to sauté for pasta dinner. The next thing I know I am breathing in laughing gas as the paramedics struggle to get me into the ambulance amidst massive construction on the street in front of my house. It was raining. I spent that Friday night in the ER in a morphine haze. All I could think about is that I truly do live in a sheltered cocoon as I watched a young mother with desperately sad eyes sitting next to her daughter’s hospital bed wondering if her daughter would survive a drug overdose. A young man who had been stabbed in the back walked past my bed. The patient who was in a head on car accident was sent to the ICU. I laid there in the most uncomfortable bed and pondered how so much trauma happens daily in the world and yet I rarely see it so close. My life is far from perfect and I have seen my share of trauma, my friends and family have too but that night my broken body reminded me of how fragile life is and how quickly it can change. The next few months I needed time to heal from trauma.
I spent a week in the hospital with the overtaxed, overworked and overloaded medical system and I was surprised by the great care I received. Prior hospital visits have not necessarily gone this smoothly. Perhaps the Pandemic has brought even more kindness and compassion out in the most challenging of professions? During the time I spent in the hospital I had a strange sense of calmness and a feeling that everything was going to be ok. It could have possibly been the drugs? I was also buoyed by the love that surrounded me. I am grateful for the visitors, flowers, candy, meals, chocolate and gifts. An outpouring of caring flowed to me from all across the world – literally. I was very emotional with every gift. I am blessed.
After a week, I left the hospital and my peaceful countenance disappeared rapidly. Suddenly doing simple daily tasks like eating, moving across the room and getting into bed became an ordeal with thoughts of writing and painting never entering my head at all. I swore. I swore a lot. I was annoyed at myself for getting frustrated at this temporary interruption in my life knowing full well that I would heal one day when so many others will not.
After my first week at home, when getting through the day became a bit less exhausting, I began to enjoy my “forced stillness”. I spent time on the deck recovering in the garden. In this situation there was nothing I needed to go and get done. I couldn’t go. I didn’t think about emails, organizing my online art class or decluttering the linen closet, no zoom meetings, no plans at all. Just friendly visits and home care and time with my brother and my pets, the squirrels, chipmunks, crows and deer.
I had time. The days were long but went by fast. Memories flooded my mind. I relived the loons floating on the water with their mystical calls at our cottage at Tie Lake. The dragon flies, turtles, ducks, beavers and bald eagles were my constant companions with the occasional moose grazing in the marsh across the lake. I had time then too. I sat on the dock, magazine in hand and simply listened to the water lap against the shore. Perfect moments that occurred decades ago but are still so present with me now as I recover.
Then as if in a time machine, I am transported in my mind to Keoma. It was there that I learned to paint. I lived in a large log house on ten acres in the middle of the prairies with Mom and Dad. The prairies have a stillness all it’s own and despite growing up in southern Alberta it wasn’t until I reached this place that I really understood the power of the space all around; earth and sky. Nothing to get in the way of the mind’s eye. In that place, I was once again given the gift of time. The hours melted into days as I watched the fields of canola grow. I studied how the cadmium yellow blooms in the foreground paled in the distance to a buttery Naples yellow. I learned how cool colours recede in the distance and that the sky is always lighter at the horizon. It was winter in Keoma when I put my first paintbrush to canvas. A big surprise? My first ever painting was of the view from our cottage at Tie Lake. Memories are all connected. In Keoma I watched the red tailed hawks catching wind currents. I watched the mommy swallow teaching her babies to fly. It was there that a young coyote with a broken leg rested on our deck. I would pause while washing dishes to watch the bees crawling between the log walls and happily buzz past my nose in search of sweet nectar on the stovetop. What better way to spend your time?
At these magical places, I was given the precious gift of time. Time to be still and to simply observe. Now as I recuperate from my recent injuries, this forced stillness reminded me of times when I had chosen stillness.
During my convalescence, I set up a temporary desk at the kitchen table as I was unable to move around. Books, notepad, pens, water, snacks, painkillers and the ever present iPad. The internet and social media helped me to feel connected to my friends and family. However, the most important tool of this new desk was the beautiful bouquet of off-white peonies the color of fluffy clouds at sunset. Their scent filled the kitchen which never failed to bring me to the present moment. The magic of the peonies did not lay in the flowers themselves but in the tiny yellow spider, the color of lemons, that lived amongst their petals. Can you imagine what a peony smells like from inside itself? He never left the blooms and everyday there was the faintest webs scattered amongst the various petals. I was mesmerized by him and cannot recall how much time passed as I watched him do what spiders do. I named him Henry. Every morning when I would arrive at the table for my morning cup of coffee, he would crawl out from the centre of the peony. Perhaps it was the morphine, but I swear he would raise his front leg and wave good morning to me. The peony blooms lasted longer than he did. One morning he simply did not appear. Perhaps he crawled away and moved on to another place or possibly he chose the centre of a perfume filled peony to be his final resting place?
In my Mom’s book “Animal Speak” by Ted Andrews, Mom highlighted areas and wrote notes throughout her well worn copy. This book is one of my treasures. As I flip to the page on spiders, one of her highlighted areas reads “Spider can teach how to use the written language with power and creativity so that your words weave a spell around all those who read them.” Thanks for the message Mom – and Henry! As I sit and ponder my summer of excruciating pain and struggles, I am grateful to be on the mend again and for the lessons learned. The struggles of others that I witnessed are still at the forefront of my mind but I see the love and support that I have all around me in my life. Now. Moving forward from that place, I wield this pen to weave that love out to all who read these words. And remember to be still. Decades from now when I think about this period of stillness on Boundary Street during the summer of 2022, I will remember Henry.
***This blog post was written in July but I was unable to type it until now. My period of stillness is continuing while I get back to teaching and painting. This precious time gave me space to re-think my business so that I can incorporate stillness into my daily life and business life. Big news is coming soon! Stay tuned! And thanks for being here.
For more on my thoughts on stillness, you can listen to my “10 Minute Monday Art Tips” that I recorded on July 25. To view, click here and don’t forget to subscribe so that you never miss an episode.