HOW DO YOU SAY GOODBYE TO PARADISE?
Bowen Island is one of my most cherished places in the world.
The following was written for a Toastmaster’s Meeting when I was leaving Bowen Island – a place I lived temporarily and will love forever.
Toastmaster’s Ice Breaker for March 13, 2002
Thank you Master Toastmaster, Good evening fellow Toastmasters and guests:
How do you say good bye to paradise?
As some of you learned, last week, I will soon be on a journey to Seoul, Korea to join my partner where we will teach English and travel to – at this point, unknown destinations. This isn’t all that new for me as I love adventure and love to travel – it’s just that I didn’t think I’d be doing it this way at this stage of my life for what could be an indefinite period of time.
So this fits into tonight’s theme of new beginnings –and what I wish to tell you about me. However, before we can enter into new beginnings, don’t we need to be complete with what is happening now? And that’s the hard part. Letting go of B.C. – Vancouver, and most recently, Bowen Island and what that has been for me.
It has been almost four years since I packed up my cats and my computer and headed west from Toronto. I was drawn to the west coast most of my life, from my first visit here in 1971 when I hitch-hiked with a friend across the country as a young hippie to visit my first boyfriend, Bo, who had since travelled India, became a bohemian Monk and landed on Texada Island.
Travelling across the prairies and into the Rockies for the first time, in the summer months when the sun cast its light and shadows onto the fields and mountains like a Chagall painting will always remain a highlight of my life. But nothing prepared me for the raw exquisite wilderness of Texada Island, where there were no roads and it took us over 3 hours in a jeep traversing the 20 or so kilometers of dense terrain, and what seemed like deep jungle, with deer running wild and then to finally meet up with my friend nestled upon a beach between two mountains hosting the most magnificent waterfall and breathtaking view of the Gulf Islands and Pacific Ocean. I thought I had landed in paradise. And in fact I had. Only my 20 year old spirit could not fully appreciate the subtleties of meditation and a raw food diet that was being offered to me – so I quickly fled paradise to seek out more adventurous turf and I found myself writing lyrics for a rock band in Vancouver at Oil Can Harry’s.
That summer was the one I would draw back from memory for years and years when I wanted to call up a time of unbridled creativity, synchronicity, and acceptance into community. That was the way I chose to remember it when I brought it up against a background of trying to fit into a traditional system that didn’t seem to have much use for poets and artists of which I wanted to believe I was one.
So for the entire decade of the 70’s I travelled to different cities and countries, appreciating the newness of each experience. And then in the 80’s, driven by traditional values, I set down roots, back in the town of my birth, and remained there for twenty years when the dream came back in full swing…and I couldn’t ignore it any longer.
I remember the day that I decided to move to Vancouver for good. Whilst visiting a friend on one of my numerous visits to the west coast, I found myself standing alone at dawn on Ambleside Beach in West Van and asked the question, “Well, Junie, are you just going to keep dreaming about moving here or are you actually going to do it?” I felt a resounding “YES” flood through my body and I knew in that moment there was no going back. And almost to the day one year later, –I set sail on the 401 in my old 1983 Beamer and parked it in the West End… next to Lost Lagoon and Stanley Park and I have felt home there ever since… up to and including when I discovered Bowen Island in a way that mattered.
I was drawn to this island just two months after arriving in Vancovuer and hearing about the labyrinth on Xenia. And in the pouring rain in November of 1998, my friend Alexi and I walked it and I remembered saying a prayer in my heart to one day know the people who created this beautiful refuge and place of protection. Last summer my prayer was answered. I brought a friend visiting from England to Bowen. We walked the lake and then wandered Xenia, looking for the lodge. Instead our wanderings brought us unwittingly to Angelyn , founder of Xenia, sitting outside her house relaxing and enjoying the sunshine and the quietude. There was an immediate heart connection that has remained ever since.
And just prior to that meeting, my dear friends from T.O, Paul and Carolyn came to Vancouver and the first place my partner Lee and I took them was to Bowen Island for a day trip. They surpassed us and now live on the island permanently and grace us here tonight and always, with their presence.
These trips to Bowen were feeling more and more special and I wanted to find a way to make it more permanent. So I will share with you the most significant and profound experience that truly anchored me here – which also happened last summer.
On July 25th, I performed in a play that I co-wrote called Madness, Masks and Miracles https://junieswadron.com/mental-health/madness-masks-and-miracles/ which was written to help dispel myths and stigmas about mental illness. It’s about the madness I think most of us go through at some time in our lives, the masks we wear to cover it over lest we be ostracized for it and the miracles that let us take off our masks and be real.
The morning of the play, a friend called me and told me the unfortunate news of the death of a Bowenite, Judith Mallet. Some of you may have known her. I never did, but was asked, just days prior to this, if I would visit with her because of the work I do as a psychotherapist, but more than that – because of my own bouts with clinical depression. It never happened. I never got to visit with her.
Angelyn who was in the audience of the play that night, asked if I would speak at Judith’s memorial. I told her that wouldn’t know what to say. Angelyn’s response was perfect. “You don’t need to know right now.”
It resonated with a truth inside of me and so I went. And in mysterious ways that one cannot explain, it was Judith’s death that brought me to Bowen Island that morning and led me to where I have spent the most gracious days since arriving in British Columbia. I saw the bulletin board on the ferry that I had never noticed before, which held the ad for the cottage where I currently live. Her transition from this life and this island signified a beginning of a new life for me.
And now it is my time to say goodbye as it is only a winter rental and a place I have used as a refuge after my 12 hour weekend shifts at a long term care residence for people in the Downtown Eastside. I often arrive on Mondays and feel the stress literally burn off of me as I crossed over the planks of the ferry that put me on this side.
Last September, when I signed the lease, Spring seemed like light years away. And now it is only days…and if I could stop the clock, somehow I would. Yesterday I sent an email to Lee in Seoul. It said,
“Good morning sweetheart…
I awoke here this morning on my beautiful island…for one of the last times. I am feeling the letting go in me and it is painful today. I want to fully embrace the gifts that this island has given me and know how to leave with grace. Change is so quickly upon me now. I must remember that there is goodness waiting beyond here too.. and yet, this island has provided me the healthiest place I could imagine to heal, to rejoice, to dream, to grieve, to create, to hear myself think, to sing and dance out loud and to breathe myself Home again….’
I guess I have come full circle…just as the hippies of the 60’s & 70’s in our idealistic and heart-centred spirit of brotherhood, peace and love welcomed me to this fair land, each of you have done the same 30 years later.
And so it is not only the trees and the earth and the deer and the ocean and the mountains and unprecedented beauty of this island for which I give thanks. And for the ritual weekly walks with Carolyn on the sacred paths of Cape Roger Curtis or the hike to the top of Mt. Gardner with both Paul and Carolyn last week where each of us felt lifted between heaven and earth… It is also the so many, acts of kindness I have received since arriving here.
Last month after the snow fall, Alan de la Plante showed up, upon a moments notice, shovel in hand to dig my guests car out of the snow bank…and when offered genuine thanks, his only comment was, “Hey, no worries – just pay it forward…” These shall be among the memories I shall savor and revere for all my life and only hope that I too can pay it forward.
My experience has been the same at Toastmasters. I have felt welcomed from my very first day even with my sporadic visits. I can now boast to know the true meaning of the word that was chosen by last week’s grammarian… Community. I know what it’s like to be embraced by a place and the people in it.
How DOES one say goodbye to paradise?