History in your Hands

Erich Maria Remarque once said in his novel A Night in Lisbon, “How can we be really sure of our happiness until we know how much of it is going to stay with us?” “The only way,” Schwarz whispered, “is to know that we can’t hold it, and stop trying to. We frighten it away with our clumsy hands. But if we can keep our hands off it, won’t it go on living fearlessly behind our eyes? Won’t it stay there as long as our eyes live?”

We frighten happiness away with our clumsy hands…Wow! If you think about it, history shows up in your hands and in them, what makes us happy, and it provides understanding of our ability to keep on living fearlessly.

I often look at people’s hands and nails. They speak loudly about what is important to them. Short, manicured nails speak of massage; artsy nails, glamour; broad hands, caring for the ones we love; soft hands, gentleness; scars, our wounds as we work; burns, our love of cooking; arthritic knuckles, our aging; callouses, our ability to play guitar; dirt under the nails, the joy of gardening; smooth, soft skin, youth and innocence; broken and split nails, neglect; vertical ridges, illness.

Take a look at your hands right now. Really study them. Write a few lines about your hands and see where it goes.

Life is a Mystery

“The possession of knowledge does not kill the sense of wonder and mystery. There is always more mystery.” 

― Anaïs Nin 

A mystery is defined as something difficult or impossible to understand or explain. Synonyms include puzzle, enigma, conundrum, riddle, or secret.

Writing your life is like writing a good mystery. You can dig deeper and deeper and still you may not find answers to the question, “Who am I?”

All the elements of a good detective yarn are involved: All the characters that live in you – all those roles and masks including the good guys and bad guys, the cliffhanger experiences, decisions, motivations and choices; turning points; values and intentions. And finally, in the end, you reach a conclusion, where it all ends, the final chapter. The most important part in my mind is the telling of the story in the voice of your narrator, the one who speaks from your unique point of view. These two things represent the most important elements. The Narrator is the inner you who really understands the overall story and has lived it. This is your Soul, Your Author. Your Inspiration. The Author animates your story, Your Essence illuminates the story. This is the true inside story.

If you’d like to meet other authors, find writing prompts or select a suitable genre for authoring a story, check out www.mandyevebarnett.com for delightful, positive blogs.

Happiness is…

This morning when my husband and I decide to take the grand dog to the dog park, the temperature is a pleasant –6 with patches of blue sky showing through thin cloud cover. As we stand on the deck out of the wind, I wonder if I’ve overdressed and will soon be sweating. In the car, I am too hot.

By the time we arrive at the dog park, the sun looks like an ivory disk under a gossamer veil. Out on the open field, the clouds move in, hanging low with their bellies ragged and torn. The wind blows over the land with icy cold gusts. Gooseflesh pimples the skin under my jeans. I pull down my hat and put up the hood of my jacket. My husband’s fur-lined aviator hat protects his ear, but his nose, chin and forehead are very pink.

The dog, however, doesn’t care what the thermometer says; he’s always up for chasing the ball. Today, his doggie smile stretches from ear to ear. I can’t help but smile too. Condensation from his huffing breath whitens his whiskers with frosty rime just like the earflaps on my husband’s hat.

I’m freezing. My cheeks are stinging. My husband’s face is red and raw. All I can think of at that moment is, “Give me a hot chocolate and I’ll be content.” Now that the dog is happily exhausted, we walk briskly to the car, and I tuck my chin into the furry collar of my jacket. My glasses fog up and my nose runs. I feel alive and invigorated by the cold. My senses are tingling.

I love the delicious feel of being alive.

So often, I hear people say, “I’ll be happy when I’m out of debt.” “I’ll be happy when I can go on a cruise.” “I’ll be happy when I can find the right home.” I wonder, “Is it really true that they’ll be satisfied?” When those things happen (or not) the wish list increases. The desire for more is always at work. All those If’s and when’s take over, and suddenly they’re expectations.“

If I lament missed opportunities, I’m also creating a list. “I wish I had…” “Why didn’t I…?” “What if I had…?” Now I’m on a trip down memory lane!

A friend of mine calls this phenomenon time travel. The grand dog’s happiness appears to be a function of time travel. He has expectations for the future when I say, “Dog park” or “Walk” He’s learned from past experience. “Oh boy! Oh boy! Here comes a treat!” Like me with a hot chocolate! Give him a chew toy. Throw a stick. Scoop out a dishful of kibble. He’s delighted.

For me, the gift at the dog park is Presence. One half hour there and my heart sings “Happy!” Afterward, I’m aware of the savory spices in the turkey soup we eat when we get home, warm air flows from the furnace, and the physical weariness that comes from fresh air and exercise is exquisite.

The grand dog is a Teacher. I am a willing Student. Today’s lesson? “Happiness exists right here, right now. Not tomorrow. Not last week. But here in this present moment.” Good doggie.

A marriage is like…

Last week my husband and I celebrated 36 years of marriage. I could write that these years were sweet wedded bliss but I’d be lying. We’ve struggled through some tough times. Despite our differences, we’re still here, still together and moving forward. You could say I’m a stubborn cuss or say I’m a persistent person. Either way, the same words fit for my spouse.

Because I love metaphors, I Googled “metaphor for marriage.” A metaphor, as you probably know, is a figure of speech that refers, for rhetorical effect, to one thing by mentioning another thing. The search engine results for marriage included metaphors like these…trees…swords forged in fire…a horse and carriage…a duet…a road…seeds…gardens…and a host of other associations. I read every idea and marvelled at the way the contributors elaborated on their meaning. Not one fit my experience.

The truth is a marriage is created by two unique individuals, and if nothing else, we are that. My husband and I have such distinct personalities it’s a miracle we’ve gone on this long. After completing my research, I concluded that I had to find my own parallels.

I sat for a long time waiting for a metaphor to come into my mind. During my reflection time, I remembered a family holiday that included white water rafting on the Kananaskis River in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. A group of multi-aged tourists showed up for the trip, donned raggedy wetsuits, helmets and lifejackets, and then armed with paddles and enthusiasm, we waited impatiently to set off. We felt brave and up to the risk; possibly a little apprehensive. After an instructivel lecture on rafting techniques and a safety demonstration, we piled into the raft. After our guide showed us basic paddling skills, we maneuvered our craft through an easy section of fast moving water. When our crew put their backs into the oars, we became a team. We felt brave gliding smoothly around rocks large enough to create eddies. We even survived a few nose-dives that sprayed up and soaked us to the skin.

Towards the end of the adventure, we tied up on the shoreline and scrambled along the edge where we were instructed to throw ourselves into the water. Some of us were doubtful. The rafting coaches pressed us. Plummeting into a frigid mountain river took my breath away. The river took hold of each one of us and carried us 50 feet downstream where our guides waited, laughing, to pluck us from the stream.

I’ll never forget the exhilaration and shock of leaping into that water. This was the link to my metaphor!

Like a new river rafter, you first experience marriage as if you are leaping into a cold mountain river that looks beautiful from afar but turns out to be risky for the innocent participant. Initially the novelty of romance and delight takes your breath away. You feel like you can handle anything. After awhile, the excitement wears thin, and you struggle to keep your enthusiasm going. Eventually you realize there is work to it so you put more effort into it. Emotional turmoil tumbles around you, pushes you off-balance and threatens to wash you onto the shore or send you scrambling over the rocks. Slippery stepping stones in your life upset your footing. Your well-anchored opinions are washed away like gravel, swept along in rapids, and tossed over thundering waterfalls. At the sharpest curve, you learn to respect the river. Sometimes you are submerged like waterlogged debris in the current; sometimes you float like a fallen autumn leaf. Eventually, you surrender: to the flow, to life, to the love that brought you to each other in the first place. After the rapids, you realize the current is slowing.

Where you once saw your husband as a heavy rock holding you down, you begin to appreciate him as an anchor. You realize the two of you handle the current in different ways; you learn to stand and let the wild water flow around you. He understands your need to float in still pools. You both learn to listen to the silence and stillness of the forest unconscious. His sharp edges smooth out, and his dark sediments slowly settle into fertile growth. The drama of the wild water fades. On the flood plain you learn to go with the flow.

Metaphor is a big picture tool that provides clarity. It shows me the similarities between a wild river ride and a marriage. It helps me step back and see the complete, overarching story of two souls who have learned to travel with the flow of life. From this vantage point, I can consider the future, and instead of focusing on the small details of past turbulence, make decisions that take the whole of the river’s course into account, from spring source to the wide sea.

So tell me in the comments…what is a metaphor for your relationship with your partner?

Compassion for the Shame-Baby

Yesterday, at a child’s 4th birthday party with red, blue and yellow balloons floating on the ceiling, big slices of chocolate cake on plates, piles of presents and 14 rambunctious children chasing each other around the kitchen, the mother of the birthday boy asked me to hold her 8-month old baby girl. We played pat-a-cake and peekaboo, and I revelled in the innocence of this small gopher-cheeked human being.

In the midst of the noise and chaos, she struggled to stay awake. I rocked back and forth, hummed a tuneless melody in the comforting way that I used when my own children were small. She eventually succumbed to sleep as a puppy does, simply closing her heavy eyelids and drifting off into dreamland.

While I felt grateful for this opportunity to revisit the world of little kids, I couldn’t help but compare it to the self-compassion work I’m engaged in myself at the mature age of 66 years. Just a few days ago, I talked with a supportive friend, and I told her about one of my Shadow Selves, “Critical Carla” who yammers at me when I make mistakes. “You don’t measure up!” “You’re a failure!” When Carla speaks to me like that, I become anxious and stressed and I see only my flaws.

Intellectually, I understand the purpose of Carla’s tirades. She’s trying to motivate me by correcting me so I’m safe from the rejection and disconnection that I fear will come with disappointing others and myself. I don’t necessarily feel her protection. Instead, I feel hurt and defensive instead of determined to be my best self. Worst of all, I feel alone.

When I make big mistakes, Critical Carla’s reactions can wreck havoc in my life. When she compares me to others whose lives seem idyllic and perfect, when she castigates me for my disorganized housekeeping skills, my frustration with my husband, my inability to balance my cheque book, or any other behaviour in which I feel “not good enough,” I feel powerless to stop her until I listen carefully and acknowledge her reason for protecting me.

Until I become mindful, the innocent child inside me continues to feel ashamed. She is, as self-compassion researcher Kirsten Neff says, a “shame-baby.” This baby needs my compassion and comfort whether it is warmth and reassurance, rocking, or whispers that say, “You’re okay just the way you are.” She needs to feel safe with me, that she is not alone, and that all human beings have moments when they feel flawed and imperfect. I can put my hand over her heart or cup her face so she feels rest easy in my arms.

Lonely Lila

Lonely Lila

Lonely Lila comes to me in darkness
when the interface grid is offline
when my soul radiance dims
i hear her whistling in the dark
then i’m not afraid
to share the gift of words
to light up the world
with forgiveness
and acceptance.

it shocks me to know
the live wire of my heart
when amplified and grounded
is powered by a great Wind
the natural source of all love

then Lila leaves her lonely lair
she illuminates the way, makes my heart shine
my eyes twinkle and my words hum.

(c) Kathie Sutherland 2015/02/03

Unearthing Essence

Since I began this blog, I’ve been paying more attention to the words I use, to their energy in the world, and to the things they convey. I’ve noticed that the subject matter I choose is often about the pain of the past. Many beautiful poetry, prose works and other artistic expressions arise from the rubble and hurt of people’s lives (think Edgar Allan Poe, Sylvia Plath and Ernest Hemmingway). I get judgmental about my writing when I continue to pull the darkness back over myself; like putting my head under the covers when it’s a beautiful day outside. Maybe that’s why, when I was a teen, my Dad woke me up by flicking the light off and on and announcing loudly, “You’re missing the best part of the day.” I didn’t like it at the time but now I see that he appreciated mornings and was grateful for the renewal that a new day brings. 

In my recent writing, I’ve tried to ease up on rehashing the past and spend more time becoming aware of the lessons that are right in front of me. I am aware that by telling stories over and over again, I am peeling off layers in a search for the essence buried under the mundane events of my life. Many days are not very interesting, exciting, or dramatic, the very things I use to create stories and poems. Perhaps that’s why I write, to relieve the tedious and repetitious nature of things. So I asked myself this morning, “What could I be writing that would be neither pained or boring but true to life?”

I could write that it was my daughter’s birthday today and that she loved all the Facebook messages she received and she is looking forward to her birthday supper with friends. I could write that her puppy, Jax, is the cutest grand dog ever, and I love that he communicates so much with his quizzical facial expressions. I could write that I finally got a good night’s sleep after a couple of long awake nights and I’m feeling more perky today. I could write that my husband makes the best oatmeal porridge, which is much better than mine probably because he uses the large flake oats and cooks it a long time.

Anyone can write about ordinary everyday stuff like this but some writers like to unearth the essence of things. They try to link today’s birthday with previous significant birthdays like turning 18 or 30 or 65 or describe the animated messages on Facebook. They try to write the thoughts a dog might have. They try to portray a peaceful night’s sleep or one with horrid nightmares and by doing so, understand themselves. They try to take the reader step by step through the precise measurements and cooking style of an oatmeal specialist. They try to write with appreciation, gratitude and renewed amazement at the darnest things.

What fascinates me is digging deeper than the surface fluff in search of treasures that exist at a spiritual level. Spiritual for me means writing in awareness of and integrating ordinary physical, emotional and intellectual experiences to find the extraordinary and connect that to All That Is. That’s one of the reasons I love metaphor. It’s a tool to connect concrete things to a spiritual abstract. I’ve been known to include a bit of twisted humour in my poems, a paradox or two, and find weird relationships between unrelated subjects. Riddles and puzzles stimulate questions about the Mystery and create synchronicity too.

Let’s consider a dog’s perspective, for example. Dogs are very intuitive, sensual creatures, present and focused on whatever they do, totally in touch with their natural instincts. A dog teaches me to stop and listen. I follow this inclination whenever I can because it feels like meditation when I pick out individual sounds and follow them until they are gone. One caveat I hold to as a general rule is… Steer clear of dog kibble and milk bones. 🙂

Here is a poem I wrote in 2001 that captures a dog’s imagined perspective on spring.

spring cycles

my dog teaches freedom
tugs at the leash
rushes headlong into the walk
she knows where she is going

i follow in her wake
believe her instinct
go where she goes
she has untamed advantage:
singular focus on scented breeze

here I stand
distracted by a plural mind
caught up in the colour of new lilacs
squeals of children at play on bicycles, water gurgling in gutters

but my dog knows better, raises her nose
obeys the call of the wild wind
with the smell of God in it

05/15/01

I believe spiritual essence lives underneath everything including the mundane. I’m always looking for it, asking questions, and listening for messages about the mystery of life.

If you like the idea of poetry as a spiritual quest, check out my poetry books on my Bookstore page.

 

 

 

 

Thou Shalt Not…

Picture by Allan Lloyd, near Saanichton, Vancouver Island, British Columbia. Published with Permission.

 

One Thanksgiving about 20 years ago, after our little family devoured turkey with all the trimmings and then slices of pumpkin pie with whipped cream, my kids disappeared to watch TV or talk on the phone, my mother-in-law snoozed on the couch, and my husband and I took our dog, Annie, for a long walk.

As we marched along the street, I commented on the number of cars parked at the house next door and people coming and going with boxes and bags. I suddenly felt lonely and nostalgic for my mom and siblings. The word nostalgia still conjures up my yearnings for home. It’s not surprising that this word, which comes from the Greek, means homesick.

I’d spent many years away from the noise and busyness of my first family back on Vancouver Island, and every holiday for years, I felt sad rather than joyful. Even advertisements for long distance phone calling cards, especially the ones with grandparents and parents, children and teens laughing together under winking lights and festive candles, made me ache for the family gatherings of my childhood. I envied those who were connected and belonged. I felt that I did not.

Each time I rewrote and edited these Thou Shalt Nots, I wondered what lesson I was supposed to learn. Over time, I realized that the thoughts in these vignettes were what made me nostalgic. By writing about the loss of people and communities I had left behind so many times in my childhood, I was forgetting about the gifts of my transient childhood. I was choosing to be sad about things that were long past, things I couldn’t change.

The following Thou Shalt Nots came to me after our walk that day.

Thou shalt not covet holiday gatherings. Evening shadows cast by the setting sun creep across the yard and the prairie sky looks like a slice of peach pie topped by purple whipped cream. The spruce trees to the west are etched black against the fading light. Straggly vees of late-leaving geese warble overhead. The light from living room windows stitches a patchwork of yellow light on brown lawns. I peer into the living rooms of other people’s lives where families gather at festive tables or huddle in the flickering blue of TV football. I am like a little lost girl with her face pressed against the candy store window, the one who wishes for a taste of childhood Thanksgiving long since passed away.

Thou shalt not covet a place in the tribe. Leaves rattle across the pavement and autumn dust crunches under foot.  A crust of ice covers the puddles and the grass is coated with frost. I shiver. Some days, my heart seems frozen too, I feel restless and tossed about, rootless and ungrounded. I feel like an outsider in our community, even though I have lived here for more than 20 years. I envy the tribal roots others have.

Cinnamon coloured poplar hearts with jagged edges make a carpet under the trees as they have for hundreds of years. This leaf rot create food for next year’s growth and insulates roots from the winter cold. I love the wild woods close to our neighbourhood where aspen groves provide shelter for the young saplings, and as each one grows old, it feeds the life of the ones that come after. Deer, coyotes, porcupines and birds make their homes here. I wish I too could be a tree because they represent wisdom, growth and acceptance.

Along with yellowing pictures of my grandparents and little black and white photos of my parents on their wedding day, one of my favourites is of an old green cottage on Lake Mississippi in Ontario. I remember the few times we stayed at “The Elms” and what a delightful summer place it was. In particular, I remember my 8 year old self fishing for sunfish off the dock, wet footprints on gray weathered wood, the sound of loons and the reedy smell of lake shore. Inside, at night I felt comfortable and at peace under the handmade quilts my aunt made. My grandmother’s ashes are planted there among the elms. Those trees whisper to me now, telling me I do have a tribal place, a natural place where I do belong.

Thou shalt not covet history of place. On weekends, our daughter plays ringette. The local arena is filled with the sound of catcalls punctuated by whistle shrieks, voices floating in icy puffs, the swish of skate blades on artificial ice, and the slap of a rubber ring on the boards. I’m aware of the teenage boys at the snack bar, the ones in baggy pants, bleached hair spiked; tittering girls with glossed mouths and glittered hair; clutches of moms with coiffed grey hair, wearing leather jackets, carrying designer handbags, their wide buttocks in tight B.U.M. jeans. Ringette players like my daughter among them are groomed to curl and swoop, snowplow, deke, dart, wind up and let fly. I’m watching her easy manner with her team mates.

I wonder what it would be like to hang out with junior high school friends, see your grade 7 crush grow up and marry your best girlfriend from Brownies. What is it like to graduate from a local high school, get married at the church you were christened in, by the pastor who remembers you as the littlest angel from one Christmas long ago? What would you give to attend your own 25 year high school reunion and really understand the woven network of relationships in a small community?

My name was once scratched on a desk in a school. This was an act of disobedience and disrespect for property but it was also a lonely testament to classmates and community that I was there once, that I existed, evidence of my being aside from faded yearbook photos.

Thou shalt not covet a resting place. Along the bike path through the park are benches dedicated to community leaders. Across the river, I can see an old white church, its spire poking upward to the sky. I’ve been there, and marveled at the variety of people who are buried in the cemetery next to it. Memorial gravestones remember little children who died in an influenza outbreak in 1917, young men who give their lives in World War II and old couples married for 65 years, still together even in death.

I don’t remember cemeteries at the Army posts where I grew up. I don’t remember gravestones and resting places for weary foot soldiers heading to a final home. I once told my children to fling my ashes to the wind. This seems fitting for a woman who compares her soul to drifting mountain snow and seabirds floating on foamy whitecap waves. But now, I think my ashes could be planted beneath a tree so I can nurture it and feel the wind in my branches as it grows.

Thou shalt not covet writing by local authors. Writing is a time machine that allows me to accept and honour my past and see its relevance in my life now. The story of my family history, traditions, beliefs about community, and the emotions they stimulate, needs to be acknowledged and released. My story, both past and present, is unique to me and I will honour it.

I used to be afraid that Little Kathie would be lost without this childhood story of loss. I wanted to protect her so I continued to believe the myth of the separate Military Brat. It seemed so real at the time but after I wrote my Thou Shalt Nots, I felt less isolated, less alone, less crippled by my backward view.

Now I see that Little Kathie is intact and whole in the here and now. Her memories are in my writing and they are safe inside my adult heart.

 

Playing with Perspective

My first memory is of a tiny speckled bird shell. I remember wind blowing and dark earth. I cannot say where it was except that when I was three, we lived near Penhold, Alberta. I wrote a short story based on this momentary glimpse of innocence and wonder, and it brought back feelings about my parents, siblings, and summer picnics. Somewhere inside me, that curious child still lives.

I loved the outdoors back then. I was fascinated by caterpillars and feathers, dandelion seeds and ants. I loved to touch, smell, taste and observe the world around me. I noticed that round rocks roll and leaves fall down not up. In those days, at the playground, I tested my ability to climb, jump, swing and twirl. I developed physical strength, coordination and balance, as well as social skills, creative game playing, problem solving, confidence building, and a connection to people and place. At the time, I didn’t realize I was learning. It was all play to me.

What is your first memory?  Is it a small snippet without context? Writing about this memory in the present tense may bring up feelings about the experience. Feelings do not know the date and are just as powerful to your Child as they were when the feelings first arose.The gift of this approach to stories from childhood is described by Alice Miller in her book The Drama of the Gifted Child…”the experience of one’s own truth make it possible to return to one’s own world of feeling at an adult level – without paradise but with the ability to mourn. And this ability does give us back our vitality… awareness of old feelings is not deadly but liberating.”

Your story is unique because it is your perspective on events, a viewpoint that may be far from the factual truth but very accurate in terms of emotional and intellectual insight. Memory is unreliable because it comes to you as a reaction to a present event and manifests as a fleeting glimpse of a scene from childhood, an emotion such as fear or fun, an impression of a person, even a reaction to a smell. I recall tears welling up in my eyes once when I smelled pipe smoke. I turned toward the smell expecting to see my father smoking his corncob pipe even though he had passed away 30 years before. This is the power of memory.

Now, as I near “senior status” I’ve been visiting a new playground – the one in my imagination – where I can grow by playing with perspective. I’ve learned a great deal about my inner world by writing from my senses, feelings and especially, from my imagination. I can creatively capture a moment in a poem, a sentence, a story or vignette. I do not want to miss the miracles that occur every moment of every day, the way a Child perceives the world, free to explore and experience with the joyfulness of an open heart and mind.

I experienced this today when I stepped outside into cold winter air. The sun was shining in a clear blue sky. Chickadees hopped about in the spruce tree beside the deck. Snow glittered. As I write this now several hours later, I remember the feeling of cool air on my skin and the aliveness of the moment. I set aside my complaints about icy highways and wind chill factors and instead, choose to see the world with new eyes. This is the gift of your Inner Child.

 

Camping Revisited

 

I can revisit places and experiences from the past when I write stories, essays and poems. Now that I am older and wiser, I see things in a different way. On our last camping trip of the season one year, I discovered that storytelling also contributes to my growth.

Early in the summer, we took our RV to Long Lake Provincial Park, a well-kept, family-oriented getaway spot. Most campers abide by the late-night quiet rules, and aside from busy weekend afternoons when the jet skis and power boats roar up and down the lake, we take the most pleasure in nature at the sites with a view of the lake, some tall trees, and a reedy beach for the dog to have a swim.

Now, on our last outing of the summer, the cool October wind blows across the lake and makes us shiver as we step out of the truck to set up our trailer. Golden aspen leaves shush above us and a lone gull cries as it skims the whitecaps. After lunch, we hike up the trail and sit at the picnic table we used in early September. The breeze funnels down the road and whisks the leaves into mini-tornadoes. The grey ash in the fire pit is cold and lifeless with no hint of the snapping, fluttering and huffing warmth of our previous visit. No campfire smoke hangs in layers in the treetops either, and only the smell of leaf rot rides on the wind.

The sun is a white disk hidden behind a thin layer of cloud. The watery light intensifies as clouds thicken, and then, without warning, sunshine comes up like theatre lights. It sharpens the angles of the wooden posts, and defines the shadows of picnic tables on the grass. There are no lawn chairs in the sunny spots and no awnings for shade.

Down on the beach, the playground swings are pushed by ghosts, and the squeals and shouts of kids are silenced at the water’s edge. The only creatures on the sand are three gulls sleeping with their heads beneath their wings. I miss the sounds of summer the most: the laughter, the weekend neighbour tentatively playing Puff the Magic Dragon on a guitar, wind chimes plinking at the trailer down the way, and the faraway murmur of people in boats out on the evening water.

I take the best from each campsite: the view of the lake with boaters buzzing by, seadoos bucking and kids on tubes screaming with excitement; the one close to the boat launch where the dog has the best spot to dive into the cool lake and fetch her sticks, then return to shake water all over me. At that one, I could lie on the dock at night and see starlight reflected on the water. A third one has a picture window view onto the wilderness, spruce trees towering above dead poplar trunks full of sapsucker holes, the setting for a moose dripping marsh grass from its muzzle.

I have memories of childhood camping beside a stream somewhere in Ontario where raccoons ate the marshmallows right out of the picnic box; my sister’s pet turtle got away into the forest; we slept in a canvas tent big enough to fit all eight people in our family; my mother mending a rip in the roof with a curved surgical needle, dental floss and paraffin wax. I remember the taste of hot chocolate at the campfire and the evening warbling of loons.

I know I can never go back to these special moments from childhood or to the adult camping trips at Long Lake but I can recreate the emotions they engender. I can take details from a movie, pictures from a magazine or a story I read, and mix them together. Then I can recall the sound of the wind in the trees, the way ducks fly in formation at the edge of the lake, and how the stars pop out at night just when the light is nearly gone from the sky, and write to record.

The truth is, I can revisit my whole life this way. I can retell a story in a poem or a short vignette to re-experience pleasure or fun. I can also bring to mind a painful story and give it a new ending from the lessons I’ve learned. I can rewrite my life to heal.

The past is gone. All I have is the present moment when the Storyteller in me connects to you, the Reader, through our shared human experience. Our stories can unleash powerful emotions, allow us to explore difficult topics, bring new self-understanding and awareness of what is important. This is the gift of writing as legacy.