Do you remember a time when the summer holidays were over and it was the first day of school? And from all your first days of school, can you remember one in particular where you started with curiosity, enthusiasm, and excitement, yet also with trepidation coursing through your veins?
I do. I was an adult. I had quit school after grade 11 and was now 30 years old, and it was the beginning of the 1980s. I spent the entire decade of the 70s travelling and exploring different cities and countries, meeting new people, learning the ways of new cultures, and living a mixture of jubilation and heartbreak, being lost and being found again.
I returned to Toronto in 1980 ready to make a brand new start. But at what? I decided I wanted to be an entrepreneur, a freelancer, and opened a business called Write For You. I was going to be a ghost writer— anything from writing ad copy to writing people’s books for them. With all good intentions, it didn’t fly, and I was broke.
My oldest and dearest friend, Alan (Bunny to those who knew him as a child), was a young lawyer and suggested I train to become a court reporter. He said, “Junie, it’s steady, the court room is always exciting, and the pay is excellent.” So that’s what I did.
I registered for the course and found myself in the hallowed halls of George Brown College at 30 years of age among 19- and 20-year-olds. I was obviously the oldest person—a whole decade older—and I felt it. But not for long! Once the learning started, I was no longer identifying with my age and separating myself from the others. I was loving what I was learning and was equally enamoured with sharing thoughts and studying with the young vibrant minds of my classmates.
Geography was my favourite subject. Who would have guessed that it was being offered in a curriculum of court procedures? However, it soon made perfect sense. We were about to be working with people from all across the world because Toronto was teaming with new immigrants from seemingly every country, and it was important for us to learn about the people and their cultures.
My favourite part was writing and sharing my essays and listening to the others share theirs. All the while I was discovering a brand new me! I found out that I loved school. I loved being in an environment teeming with possibilities. Simply put, I loved to learn! And best of all, I was good at it. A far cry from the me that floundered in every grade from kindergarten until finally throwing in the towel in grade 11.
But the pièce de résistance, the icing on the cake for me, was that while I was learning the rules and regulations of the court room, I was also spinning discs as a DJ for the school radio. Every single day at noon, I would play my favourite songs and called my program The Tune Down with June Hour.
In an era of heavy metal, I’m not sure the “kids” appreciated my selection of people like Simon and Garfunkel, Joni Mitchell, Laura Nyro, Ella Fitzgerald, Neil Diamond, Kenny Rogers, and Elton John. And of course, The Beatles! The resurgence of these greats came later. I love watching and being with young people today, grooving on the same tunes that we baby boomers found “groovy” then.
Music was and still is “my thing”. What wasn’t my thing, as it turned out, was court reporting! I learned very quickly I was not cut out to be in an adversarial environment every day. But Alan was right. The pay was excellent and for five years it paid my tuition in the night schools of other hallowed halls.
This led me to putting up a proud shingle on my door as a psychotherapist. This gave me an opportunity to do what really matched my sensitivities and make-up. Then, the same year I started up my practice, I brought in my other love—writing—and facilitated my first writing workshop called Write Where You Are. And here I am, some 30 years later, still doing both! Gee, I guess I must love it. Yup! Sure Do!
Find a quiet time to write and . . .
Think about a September in your life when you were starting a new school year. Were you a child, a teenager, or a young adult? Or were you returning later in life? Consider, no matter what age you were, what were the stepping stones along the way? Who were the people you met who made a significant impact in your life?
It gives me tremendous joy to introduce you to Carlie Kilduff. Some of us have the privilege of meeting someone and immediately knowing that we’ve met a friend for life. That’s how it was for Carlie and me. Carlie is a spoken word artist, and my friends thought she would be a perfect fit for my fundraising event, Eyes On Talent. They couldn’t have been more spot on!
Carlie not only agreed to perform spoken word, but as an event organizer, she offered to help me bring the details of the evening together. It would take me too long to describe the heart and soul of this woman and her brilliance as an organizer (and former high school teacher). I simply know is how blessed I am to have met her and call her my friend. Here now is her story:
I had no idea what was in store when I first met them. They were a group of rowdy, unruly grade nine students with a reputation for sending teachers on stress leave. Some of their teachers were referring to them as “The Sweat Hounds” but I call them “The Class”.
I was not supposed to join the roster of teachers assigned to them in September 2011, but with a sudden change of fate I found myself welcoming them into my classroom a few days into the new school year. I was supposed to teach Social Studies, but since I had never taught this subject before, I begged to have it changed. I did not want to add the stress of a new subject to an extremely challenging class. I was granted the opportunity to teach English. I had never taught English either, but since I loved to read and write, I was much more keen to accept this mission.
It could not have come at a worse time in my life. Hard stories from some of my family members were spiralling out of control, I had just landed back to work after two years of leave from the birth of my first son, and I was trying to conceive my second child with some difficulty (no wonder why!). The way that I had always prided myself on perfectly planning and staying on top of every little detail was being chipped away day by day. Looking back, it was my “perfect storm” and many great and amazing things have followed.
The bell rang that morning and I braced myself as the class came bursting through my door. There was an energy about them, alerting me that I’d better pay attention. In my years of teaching, I had worked with some very tricky students and classes, but this was a whole new level. They trickled in, a slow parade of teenage hormones and the smell of Axe cologne.
One girl in particular seemed to be in charge so I watched her intently. She pulled a desk out of the lines that I had arranged and placed it beside her friend’s desk, right at the back corner, and threw her legs up on top of the desks with purpose, placing her head down in her arms with a look that said: “Go ahead and try me.” I was familiar with students trying to make hard-core first impressions before but every one of them had previously taken a step back when I approached them with kind firmness and gave them a cue of my expectations. Not this girl.
When I asked her to separate the desks and sit up properly, with full respect and gentle guidance, she said: “No!” The show was on and a few eyes and ears perked up as I had to quickly adjust my strategy, trying to offer her a doorway out of our confrontation, by suggesting that perhaps she was not understanding that I was serious and would have to send her to the office if she did not cooperate with me, making for an unnecessary first experience together. She very slowly and reluctantly did as I had asked, with every ounce of resistance and attitude she could possibly muster while still towing the line. I knew at once that this was going to be a gruelling hour.
It was a few weeks before I was able to teach a full lesson with the class. Managing their behaviour was a massive job, and keeping them emotionally and physically safe was a priority beyond curriculum. This also fell in the midst of terrible conditions due to teacher job action. Teachers and administrators were not communicating functionally, making everything much more difficult.
This was a class full of high needs. On paper there were far too many with various learning and behaviour challenges, but in reality, there were only three or four out of thirty who would be classified as “typical” and who seemed keen and ready to learn. Poor kids. All of them.
No matter where they sat, it was always at risk of fights breaking out and I would have line-ups of students saying that they must be moved because they could not sit near so-and-so or so-and-so. There was not enough space to hide the dysfunction and damage. When I dug into their family stories I was horrified to learn what had shaped them. Collectively, as a class being together for many years in the school, they had encouraged several teachers to leave them due to stress. Individually, they were a motley crew of horrendous pain stories.
It all made sense even if it was overwhelming. Since my life was a series of pieces falling apart at this time already, I was finding my own health and well-being to be on a slippery downhill slope. I had been diagnosed with Bi-Polar Disorder in my early twenties. I had been on medications for many years, weaned off, was back on, and was off again when working with the class. Since I was trying to conceive a baby, I did not want to get back on medications or I would have to postpone the conception, seeing as it would be developmentally damaging for a fetus.
I was riding a tight line. I was keeping careful watch on my own health and professionalism. The stress was beyond anything I had ever experienced. I had always kept up with a busy lifestyle very well, being highly organized and hardworking, but the seams were falling apart and there was nothing I could do about it.
As this was happening, a small voice seemed to assure me that it was alright. I found a calm place in the storm and began to hang out there. It wanted to tell me some very important things. Letting the outside loosen, I was able to dive into this new space and it was here that I began to investigate what these students needed from me and how I could possibly give it to them.
It was a call for self-love, for compassion and nurturing in ways I had never known in my own life. This was the missing piece. There was a form of love that they needed, and school had been far too busy and preoccupied to offer it to them. Life in general does not teach us about this kind of love. Excited to have put my finger on it, I found myself at a loss for how to bring them this love, since I was also without it.
My mission from that point became one of learning how to love myself in this way so that I could love them and teach them to love themselves.
Things in the classroom radically changed and we made some serious transformations. It was surreal in many ways. Young lives were deeply touched but none more than mine. This was the defining moment of my life.
After some forward movement with the class, I had calmed down enough to conceive my second son, and with a tiny growing life in my womb, I was aware that my health was still at risk, so I had to make a tough decision to reduce my teaching load before taking maternity leave. Sadly, I had to say good-bye to the class. I had avoided it as long as I could because I did not want them to think that they had scared me away, I wanted them to know that everything we had been through together was real and true, and most of all, I loved them.
There were many tears as I wrapped up with the class. I continued teaching part-time until taking my leave to prepare for the birth of my son. My pregnancy had been hard and I needed some rest and self-care.
My beautiful son was born on June 20, 2012, making me a momma for the second time. Rather than experiencing post-partum depression like I did after my first birth, I hit the ground running. Something had touched me to the core. I was a new creation, and I had work to do.
Many amazing stories have come from and through the class. It has been a mixed bag of emotions and stories. Since working with and learning to love them and myself, I have embarked on a journey of self-discovery and self-healing. I have transformed from the inside out. This is a process still underway . . . it never ends!
I have resigned from teaching and am now offering spoken word poetry shows at local coffee shops in Victoria. I share powerful and passionate messages of love, joy, peace, healing, shifting world, and self-value. My work is deep, moving, and electric. Many people have connected with it and lives are being changed.
I encourage you to find my videos on YouTube (go to YouTube and type in my name). Please take the time to watch. If you like what you see, will you please help me spread them far and wide through your social media networks and word of mouth? This is not a business, but rather it is a ministry of the heart. I am a truth seeker and speaker. Our world is starving for truth but many are reluctant, and so I need all the help I can get in connecting these messages, delivered so beautifully through my spoken word poems, with those who need to hear them. I thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Carlie to Come
I have sensed a change of direction, or a deepening of mission for a long time. My show series has come to an end for the summer. I plan to do some busking downtown for fun and when September rolls around, I will begin anew. I am not sure exactly what is to come, but I can feel it creating within me. I will continue to share my spoken word poetry, but I see myself doing more speaking and advocating. I will be calling myself a Spiritual Health Educator and Advocate. I feel called to take on some very gritty topics like “The Voice of Depression and Suicide”, “Reconciliation with Religion”, and “This Game’s Not Fun” (about bullying).
We are always becoming. We are grown from the moments that we experience. I am forever grateful for the class and all that has come from them and the messy lessons they have taught me. Now, everybody who is touched by my work has been blessed by the class!
Be sure to watch Carlie’s Spoken Word Performance, Beauty Redefined:
I met Pam Sylvan approximately two years ago. She had just recently arrived in Victoria and happened to walk into a Sunday morning service where I was the speaker. Afterward she told me how much she appreciated my talk and asked me if I would like to write an article for her new online magazine, Downtown and Around.
That article soon became two, then three, then four, and finally a “Dear Junie” column.
What impressed me was how savvy Pam was. Having JUST stepped into this city, knowing no-one, she was taking Victoria by storm! She was quickly learning who’s who in a host of industries from art and music to the best restaurants to eat, the most popular events taking place and putting them in a magazine she was creating as she went. Pretty impressive for being the new kid on the block. Chutzpah or mojo? Pam is all about mojo and is the self-proclaimed Mojo Maker, teaching others how to get their own mojo working!
Pam Sylvan is someone who is the epitome of what the Re-Write Your Life series is all about. She’s a woman who had a very rocky start to life. She underwent some harrowing experiences and she was living her life according to what she learned from them. It was when she almost lost her life and doctors were scurrying around to save it, that she made a conscious choice to turn things around and made her life about learning how to do that. Now she does what she knows how to do best—help turn life around for others who don’t have the know how, confidence, or courage to know where to begin.
Here’s Pamela in her own words:
Today, I’m known as the Mojo Maker. It’s my way of signalling to the world that I’ve taken on the task to help those who are ready to spiral their inherent power and use that defined energy to tell their stories. As well I offer them the necessary tools that will attract people to their businesses and messages and to build the courage necessary to be happy, healthy, wealthy and wise. Basically, I’m a publicist that knows how to move a person past their blind spots, turn them on to their uniqueness, and point them to where their audience awaits.
I wasn’t always this person. Actually I started out as the most afraid and self-limiting person you would ever care to meet. The belief that drove me went something like this, ‘ . . . everyone else is better and more deserving than I am’. That simple sentence shaped my life experience.
Where did I get that belief, you may wonder? I come from an upbringing of fear and violence. Needless to say, I prepared each day to meet the noise that arose from my parents’ battles. That noise created a belief that life was unhappy and unsafe which fostered an unhealthy dose of shame since I appeared to be the only one among my friends living in such a bubble.
This was the first half of my life. Survival, shame, oppression, and self loathing. Quite the load for one so young, but not uncommon from what I later learned. As I grew into adulthood, those early messages came right along with me. Because there was no counselling opportunity for me to appropriately deal with the interjects of my early training, life was hard and happiness very fleeting.
The majority of my major life decisions were tainted with the belief that I was unredeemable and because these choices were made in my unaware state, they greatly and negatively affected the quality of my life going forward.
Despite all of this, I count myself as one of the lucky ones.
My mother is one of my greatest fans
. . . Not because it’s her duty as my mother, but from her witnessing me fall down time and time again, refusing to be beat and to somehow keep going. She remains a close ally even though at one point during my teenage years, I gave her an ultimatum to leave my father or I would disappear never to be seen again. At that point I had had enough of the violence and even though young, I summoned up the courage to take a stand. Of course this courage unknowingly was beyond my awareness, and I continued to see myself as powerless and unredeemable.
One of my major unconscious choices was my choice of spouse. We did not suit as a couple. Our temperaments differed greatly and my unhappy state continued. My one joy was the creation of my daughter.
At this point in my journey I was still unaware that I was attracting my life experiences based on my beliefs, expectations, and attitudes.
Again, I had to summon up courage to change course in life. I began to dive deeper into meditation and reading. That’s when I found direction that came from within. There was no need for opinions from those outside myself; I had the answers I needed. I listened and made the necessary moves. But first, I was laid on my behind in order to hear the wisdom coming from within.
A Wake-up Call
It seems dreamlike as I share this now. It took a bout of extreme illness for me to listen to my inner voice. Basically I was laid out so I could hear myself. I landed in the hospital nearing a stroke. As the attending medical staff rushed around me, I quieted down internally and had a conversation with myself. I realized that the reason for my illness was my inability to take the necessary actions to change my life. In that moment I made a promise to life and to myself that I would do whatever I had to do to ensure I lived and lived fully.
Today, after leaving my hometown, home, family and friends, I have restarted my life setting a new course with the decision to do so coming from a place of power instead of guilt, shame, and hopelessness.
It hasn’t been easy. At the age of 50, starting over is a bit tricky. Coming to a new town with only two suitcases, no friends, connections, or prospects was daunting, and I am still working out the finer points of new beginnings. Most of all I’m learning about myself and the inherent power I call ‘Mojo’. It’s all about knowing one’s strong sense of self to meet all challenges that show up.
We all have this ability, the difference being whether we are aware of it or not. When we wake up to ourselves there is newness to life and what seemed difficult and stressful is not there anymore. Life is not challenge free, only the knowledge that whatever shows up will be handled in divine timing.
I now lead a growing company that includes a magazine, a radio show, a boutique PR agency, and mentoring practice, all designed to help others find their own sense of power and success in what they do.
My journey has taught me a few things: it takes courage to be happy; happiness is found in the ‘now’ moment; we all have the necessary power to live the life of our dreams, and practicing extreme self love regardless of the thoughts of others is the most important thing an individual can do for themselves.
All of us are called to wake up from sleep, from living a life where the same old things keep happening. The players may change, but the events, well, they just keep on miserably repeating themselves. Sometimes we become aware through a gentle epiphany, such as in a meditation when we are still enough to hear our inner guidance. Other times the dramas are a lot louder than our heartbeat, so Life offers us a wake-up call in the form of a two-by-four.
Can you think of a time when you were either gently awakened from inner guidance that whispered, “take this road instead of that one” and you listened and found yourself moving with the tides? Or can you recall a time when you woke up from a bad dream only to realize you weren’t dreaming? You, in fact, were hit by a two-by-four and had no choice but to change your thinking and your ways. Which one of those two scenarios speaks to you at this moment? Pick up your pen and write about it, and then consider what you learned from that experience. Reflection is good (and even necessary) for the soul.
When I was almost 50 years old I finally let go of masses of shame that I was carrying about having bi-polar illness. I stated it in public—on a stage in front of 400 people for God’s sake! It was the premiere presentation of Madness, Masks and Miracles, a play I co-wrote to dispel myths and stigmas about mental illness. I thought I would die doing it. I was terrified I’d lose my credibility as a therapist and as a mental health worker. Having recently moved to Vancouver, I also feared I’d lose my new friends. I kept questioning why I was blowing THAT whistle on myself. But I did. I had to. And it liberated me. Telling the truth does that. Eventually. Besides, if I hadn’t told, I’d have been swallowed up in sea of shame and trust me, that’s no way to live. I had done it for almost half a century.
Yet I have carried another secret which I did not reveal until about three months ago. It was just as frightening as exposing that I had bi-polar illness 15 years ago. I confessed that all my life I had been unable to read properly, and had been hiding it to the best of my ability. For some it might appear that I enjoy airing my “stuff” in public. In fact, I don’t like it! But it’s not for the sake of sensationalism that I do it! God no! It’s because I know the value of helping someone else with similar issues to find their own voice. Am I comfortable doing it? Hell no! At least not yet.
And here I am following it up with a story of what I experienced in school as an 11-year-old child that explains a lot of things. And when I remember that, it makes it easier to share this with you because I have tremendous compassion for that younger me and for all the children that are currently facing similar struggles. I have shared my vision challenges with you when I started to help raise money for the treatment at www.gofundme.com/junieswadron.
Now that I am learning the full extent of what my condition means, and that it is actually known as the “hidden epidemic” of Binocular Vision Dysfunction, I am joining hands with the Visual Process Society to help raise awareness about it at our Eyes on Talent FUN-d-Raising Variety Show. If you will be in Victoria on June 26th, 2016, I hope you will join us.
The story you are about to read is an excerpt from my book, Re-Write Your Life, about my hero, Mr. Logan, my grade six teacher who brought me from a place of suicidal ideation after Miss S. had continually berated me and had failed me the year before. Only now do I know the full significance of that story and the truth of why I wasn’t able to learn: I had Binocular Vision Dysfunction.
Mr. Logan, an Angel of Kindness
by Junie Swadron
The following story is about loving-kindness and a time when a true angel appeared in my life and lifted me from the depths of darkness into the realm of hope and miracles. I dedicate this story to my Grade 6 teacher, Mr. Logan. Mr. Logan was the first person in my young life who consistently reflected back to me that which made me feel good about myself. Before him, was a teacher of a different kind, Miss S., the one who crushed any self-confidence I may have found.
I was 11 years old and the youngest child in a family that was grossly dysfunctional. In between the good days, which I prayed would last, would come the inevitable barrage of fighting, followed by days of angry silent rages. My parents fought over not having enough money, my sisters dating non-Jewish boys, my brother being a rebel, and me and my laziness and depression. I hated life. I hated school. I always wanted to run away. But at eleven, where to?
The terror of Miss S.
I was a terrible student and Miss S. made sure I knew it. I had already honed the habit of dissociating, fantasizing, daydreaming, going far, far away—certainly never at my desk paying attention. I wished I had been one of those kids that poured all their pain into their schoolwork, burying themselves in books and acing everything because it was the one place in the world they could excel. But that wasn’t me.
Reading wasn’t encouraged at home and I didn’t seek it out. I seemed to be afraid of everything and it showed. And Miss S. used it to humiliate me. When I failed a test, she would announce it to the class. When I didn’t have my hand up, she’d choose me to answer the question. This would cause me to tremble and shake because she’d come over to my desk and put her sharp fingernails into my ear and squeeze. Then she’d pull me up out of my desk that way and demand an answer. Finally when she knew she wasn’t going to get one because I could hardly breathe, she’d release her nails from my ear and shout for me to stay after school.
She’d tell my classmate Mark to stay after school too. He was berated as much as I was. When everyone had rowdily left the classroom, she’d make us both stand up straight in front of her. Then with a look of pure disgust and sarcastic intonation, she’d admonish us with these words: “You two are pathetic and stupid! You’re an embarrassment, a disgrace. I promise you I will fail you both. Now, get out of my sight!”
This happened on a regular basis. That sort of behaviour would not be tolerated today. The teacher would be taken to task and probably fired. But in those years, they allowed “spare the rod and spoil the child” rule.
Mark and I would leave the classroom and walk outside with our heads down to avoid the perceived stares from the kids playing in the schoolyard. We’d walk quickly past them, shrouded in shame, wishing we were invisible. Once on the street we’d walk together in silence. When we got to the field, we parted ways. Mark continued down Baycrest Avenue. I needed to cross the field and the creek to get to the street where I lived. I walked slowly, hoping to delay whatever was waiting for me at home.
Anyway, true to her word, at the end of the school year, Miss S. marked “F A I L E D!” in big red letters across my report card. Mark found the same thing on his. It was one of the worst days of our lives. We both dreaded going home.
I don’t remember what my parents said or did when they read my report card. In my fantasy mom was reassuring and comforting. I often had those fantasies—it was what I yearned for. And sometimes my wishes came true. Sometimes she was remarkable. She could be so nurturing, so kind, so wise. But inevitably, her undiagnosed bi-polar illness would flare up and I never knew what to expect. Dad was rarely home, and when he was he rarely spoke. However, his facial expressions spoke volumes. (Aside: later in life they were my champions, but growing up, they just didn’t have the skills, as they were dealing with their own unhealed wounds.)
A summer of apprehension
Now it was summer. School was out and I knew the other grade sixes in my class were excited about going on to Ledbury Park Junior High School in the fall where they would have their own lockers and get to change classrooms between periods and have different teachers for every subject. I could only imagine how excited they’d be. Not me. Not Mark. We’d have to trudge back, shame-faced, to the same public school, back into grade six again with kids a whole year younger.
And then it came: September—and with it, the first day of school. I hardly slept the night before. I was planning my escape. Had there been street kids in Toronto in those days I’m pretty certain I would have been among them because it was a familiar notion to run away. Even when I was eight or nine I would run away from home—but never too far. I’d hide in the stairwell of our six-story apartment building. It was as far as I could go because it was late and dark and I’d be too frightened to be out alone in the night. And here I was, age twelve with the same sickening feeling to run as I thought about going back into Miss S’s classroom. This time I wanted to run and never come back. But somehow I walked to school the next morning instead.
The miracle of Mr. Logan
Once there I was instructed to go to room 6-B. I did and a miracle awaited me. At the front of the class stood the well-loved Mr. Logan. I knew from the previous year that kids in his class always seemed to be happy. He had the best reputation. He was also young and handsome and wore a warm, genuine smile, laughed easily and exuded an aura of kindness. It seemed too good to be true that he would be my teacher. I was afraid they made a mistake and I would be sent across the hall to Miss S.’s class. Once everyone was seated, Mr. Logan did a roll call. I held my breath. He was going in alphabetical order: Sammy Olstein, Sylvia Peters, David Rosenberg, June Swadron, Deborah Timberley . . . Oh, my God! Was that really my name he called or did I imagine it because I wanted it so badly? It took a moment to sink in but yes, it was true. He did call my name and then he called Mark’s too. We looked at each other and both breathed a deep and grateful sigh of relief.
And so it was. Mr. Logan became my teacher that year and it was the best thing that had ever happened to me. Not only was he kind, but he was also joyful, gentle, patient and sincere. On top of that he made learning fun. And best of all he liked me. This I knew because of his constant kindness, praise, and encouragement. He took extra time with me after school on subjects that I found difficult. I became inspired to read and conscientiously do my homework—something I had never done in the past. I wanted to learn and I did. Soon my schoolwork started to improve. I was beginning to find out that I could learn and that I wasn’t stupid after all. And as my marks improved, my confidence grew and I was able to stand a little taller. At the end of the year I held the highest percentage in that grade 6 class—a feat I wouldn’t ever have believed possible.
I will never ever forget you, Mr. Logan. In a sea of pain, you were my refuge. More than anything else, you made me believe in myself. You gave me hope and the courage to go on.
So sir, wherever you are, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. That 12-year-old girl who still lives inside me, the one who was given back her life all those years ago, will never forget you. You were my heaven-sent angel. My gift from God. My mentor, my teacher. My friend.
Today, I try to do my best to live up to your way of being. My intention is to always motivate, encourage, and care for others in my teaching and therapy practice by offering kindness and respect. I know that our souls flourish this way. I also know only too well how we shrivel, back away and die a little more inside every time we are criticized and judged. The young child in me couldn’t have known back then that Miss S. must have been a very unhappy woman to have treated children that way—but as an adult I can recognize it as such and know that every act of cruelty and aggression is a call for love.
A million thank yous, Mr. Logan, for teaching me the value of every-day human kindness.
What stories have you been carrying and burying? What secrets and shame that bind you are you now ready to release? Write about it in your journal. Share it with your therapist or a loved one, someone with whom you feel completely safe, someone who loves you unconditionally! And if you wish to go deeper in your healing process, allow me to extend my hand to you.
In today’s Re-Write Your Life installment, I have the privilege of featuring Tom Evans.
I met Tom via Skype approximately three years ago. I had just returned home refreshed after a wonderful carefree vacation spent with family and friends in Toronto.
Now back in Victoria, I was falling victim to my never-ending to-do list. Grace and serendipity led me to Tom’s online program, “Living Timefully”, and it couldn’t have better timing or better medicine. It wasn’t about traditional time management. I was actually learning how to bend time using mindfulness meditation techniques and slowing down the speed and nature of my thoughts. Not only was I getting more done in less time, I reframed my “to-do list” to a “to-love list” and I was no longer pushing to get things done. I was moving through my day with ease and not falling into bed exhausted every night.
Tom moved from being an engineer to being a modern day mystic and healer. You can read in Tom’s own words below how that happened.
Over time we have become friends and I have admired him for his ingenuity and his selfless contribution to humanity . . . and budgie birds. If I had been at all skeptical about long distance healing, I would have put that to rest immediately when he healed my budgie Joey via Skype, all the way from his house in England to mine in Canada.
My sweet bird had lost most of his feathers, was hardly eating anymore, and he sat motionless on his perch. It was getting worse and worse. A bird expert told me to add Omega 3 to his water. My veterinarian, after many examinations and procedures, told me there was nothing else she could do and said it was time to consider euthanasia.
That’s when I approached Tom and asked him if he could heal budgies. “I don’t know, but I’m willing to try, he said confidently.” I asked Joey what he thought of the idea. He said OK but didn’t exactly pose or dress up for the occasion. He was as listless as ever as Tom was offering his love transmissions over Skype.
But within one month, Joey had gained weight, grown back all his feathers, and started singing up a storm. More than that—he was flying again!
Although I want to attribute the entire miracle to Tom, I have to give credit where credit is due. It’s that “birds of a feather” equation factor. His girlfriend Madeleine never left his side. She comforted him day and night.
Before long, the two budgies were racing to see who could fly faster from the cage to the curtain rod. Madeleine didn’t stand a chance. Joey forgot he was a budgie. He thought he was an eagle! Thank you and God bless you, Tom Evans!
You can listen to Joey and Madeleine share their personal experience in a future talk on Tom’s podcast, The Zone Show. Tom is currently learning to translate Budgie to English. I haven’t mentioned that to him just yet but I wouldn’t put it past his capabilities. In the meantime, you can click on the links below to listen to some enlightened conversations with enlightened thinkers on The Zone Show. So, here in his very own words, is Tom Evans!
From Bored to Awakened:
The (re-) birth of a modern day wizard
Before I awakened in my mid 40s, I was a pretty happy and successful guy. I was talented in what I did, as an engineer and consultant, in the broadcasting industry. I was feted and in demand but essentially bored and a bit frazzled. Fortunately, I didn’t have to go to edge and come back from the brink as a part of my mid-life crisis. It was more of a mid-life hiccup in my case.
Someone told me I looked stressed and that I should learn to meditate. At first I resisted and said I didn’t have time and couldn’t make my overactive mind go quiet. I persisted though and as a result then all kinds of weird things started happening to me. I started to channel and discovered I could heal. I learned I could ‘see’ through time and see past and future lives in peoples’ auras. I partially levitated once and fully levitated another time. Since then I’ve spoken to several people on my podcast who have done these things too so I suspect, and hope, I did not go mad.
My first instance of channelling occurred on a 747 somewhere over the mid-Atlantic. The whole of what became my first published book, 100 Years of Ermintrude, came in from nowhere. I was in floods of tears and discovered later this is what happens when we get touched by the angels.
Healing-wise, I discovered that I could ‘see’ a body part back in time when it wasn’t afflicted and get it to replace the affected part of the body. I also found that some ailments, like rashes and allergies, were more like entity attachments that could be persuaded, with love and kindness, to ‘move on’.
As an engineer, I became intrigued about what was going on and set out on a mission to research what was happening to me. Initially, this research was a personal exploration. I had no idea that it would lead me to a new career and down an entirely new path.
So I went on some courses to learn about hypnotherapy, past life regression and channelling and signed up with two esoteric schools to widen my horizons. I still study with them today.
As part of this journey, I became an author’s mentor and writer’s unblocker. I found that all cases of writer’s block were actually life blocks. The writing had just brought them to the surface. I discovered how to clear any blockage and to tune people into their Muse so they too became a channel.
Typically, someone might have got a bad mark for an essay and as a result, later in life, would ‘fear’ publishing their work in case it got a bad review. Personally, I got demoted from playing Joseph in the Nativity Play when I was seven and took a fear of public speaking into my mid-40s. I discovered four types of fear were in operation—the fear of ridicule; the fear of the unknown; the fear of failure, or the fear of success. Once a writer understood the underlying source of their procrastination, and embraced it as a protector, they could move on.
Sometimes the writing itself was cathartic and I would encourage writers to switch from first person to second or third person, so they could use the memory but not get sucked down by it. Other times, we translated the action to a family of animals and used them as metaphor.
At some time, whilst busying myself in what I thought was my new calling as an author’s mentor, I was gifted four DVDs of esoteric information from someone who I can only describe as an Earth Angel. They told me I would know what to do with this information. This set me down a new path. The result was two books that deconstructed the Major and Minor Arcana of the Tarot and explain them in a contemporary framework—Flavours of Thought and Planes of Being. This led to more and more books on philosophy, mindfulness and the nature of time.
Becoming a ‘spiritual engineer’
I became a ‘spiritual engineer’; I started to create courses on how to channel, how to bend and stretch time, how to heal, how to move to heart-based consciousness and how to have ideas ‘off the top of your head’. I also moved to a new place where I had never earned less money but never been happier. Money worries disappeared; I was giving most of my stuff away free or very inexpensively. Yet, if I needed any actual cash, some would pop along, just in time. At first this way of living was scary but, with some trust, I got used to it.
At the same time that this new modus operandi kicked in, I was given access to more esoteric tools and ‘told’ how to decode them for a modern day audience. As a result, I channelled in a method of what can only be described as ‘death-less’ reincarnation that allows someone to evolve to a higher state of being and awareness, without the inconvenience of death and rebirth. This involves energizing and unifying the chakras such that higher chakras open.
As an author’s mentor, I became known as TheBookWright and that’s my main moniker online. For a while I ‘hid’ behind this persona while the real ‘Tom Evans’ lurked in the shadows. I’ve finally come out now as a wizard, mystic, healer, temporal alchemist and a generally good bloke to have a beer with. TheBookWright moniker persists historically though but these days I primarily work on the ‘book of a persons’ life’ by helping them remember why they came and assisting them to fulfill their life’s purpose.
What goes around comes around. So, by way of thanks and recognition for what started this all off in me, I have made many of my own meditations available free of charge on an app called Insight Timer. My mission these days is to help the planet awaken to a new level of consciousness by getting everyone meditating, one person at a time.
Tom first interviewed me on The Zone Show two years ago. Here I share some of my story and at the end, prompted by a certain question, I talk about my dream-vision, which still rests in the heart of me today. I just need a team to build it! Let me know if you are interested. It is for a centre called ACHA. That stands for The Academy for Creative and Healing Arts for people with mental health challenges.
In the video below, Tom and I discuss Re-Writing Your Life in Retirement. We refer to Retire, Re-Wire and Re-fire. I first heard the words “Don’t Retire, Re-Wire” from my friend Dr. Melba Burns, who is writing a book on that subject.
Tom Evans added Re-Wire because in fact, we do need to re-wire our brains from thinking that retiring is the end of life as it often was in our parents’ generation. Now that we are living so much longer, staying healthier and alive so much longer, re-firing our mindset is a fabulous choice to make. That’s what I’m doing and my life has become more exciting than ever!
Is there someone who has come into your life who has changed your perception of things, like teaching you to ‘bend time’, or heal your pet from across the ocean, or anything at all? Were you convinced that the world was flat and the atlases were all wrong? You know, something along those lines. You can be as silly as you like while writing it as I am being now. Or serious . . . or anything in between. You know the drill, just write. And if you aren’t sure how, make sure you attend our event at 7 pm on June 14th for tons of tips: Everything You Want to Know About Book Publishing.
Catherine Denison is delightful woman who is currently participating in my Author Support program.
I met Cathy a few years ago at an event in Victoria. I gravitated to her right away because she has a sense of calm about her. She also radiates grace, dignity, and beauty. Before long I was also struck by her humility and deep wisdom.
I invited Cathy to share her story of triumph over pain in today’s issue of Re-Write Your Life. Cathy’s story is one many of us can relate to. Early in life, not wanting to rock the boat, she chose to please others rather than share what she was really feeling. Today she is in the process of reclaiming her lost voice and the lessons she has learned along the way will both inspire and uplift you.
Oh, and by the way, Cathy has just submitted a children’s story/picture book called Abby and Harriet the Magic Hen Find a Miracle to CANSCAIP writing contest in Toronto. The stories of the winners are submitted to three publishers. Wish her luck!
Here is Catherine’s story in her own words:
I hear so often in mainstream spirituality that we need to drop our personal stories in order to transcend to non-dual Oneness. I have a different take on this. It’s my feeling that we are called to embrace the tangible intangibility of both oneness and duality at the same time because we are all unique sparks of the divine. So it makes no sense to me to deny my uniqueness but rather to feel and express it so I can grow and evolve.
That’s where my personal story comes in. It is an expression of my unique, karmic, evolutionary journey of who I am. How could we experience anything on this earth plane without the relativity of this and that? For me, the journey is about releasing identification with our stories so that we can transcend beyond to the One Absolute Presence in everything—beyond all identity and attachment.
The One is in everything but is not those things. For much of my life, I held an unconscious belief that the way to union with the divine was to deny my feelings and emotions and think only positive thoughts, in effect wrapping myself up in a false love/light bubble, denying the vulnerability of my soul. My purpose here is to grow, evolve, express, and release identifying with my story, so that I can return home to my true essence: pure light. The only way out of pain is through it, where we find the doorway into the light.
Alone in the hospital
I was stricken with polio in 1953 at the age of six in a large epidemic in Toronto. I spent long days and weeks alone in a room at the Toronto Hospital for Sick Children. No visitors were allowed, not even family. I was aware of losing strength in my legs. I attempted to get out of bed one day and went crashing down to the floor. I don’t know how long I lay there wondering why I couldn’t walk. The nurses were run off their feet and often couldn’t come when I called.
Eventually I was transferred to a children’s ward at Thistletown Hospital in the west end of Toronto. This was a time of great flux for my family. My father had just left his job with the federal government in Newfoundland to start up a private company in Montreal with a partner. He had a large family to support. My mother and I, along with my four brothers and sisters, were staying with relatives in Toronto while my father established his company and bought a house. Toronto was my family’s home base.
While I was in the hospital, my mother and siblings moved permanently to Montreal to join my father. I was permitted to have visitors at Thistletown Hospital. My grandparents, aunts, and uncles visited me continually in my family’s absence. They were not permitted to enter the ward, however. Instead, they stood outside and waved and talked to me through the screened windows at the end of the room. I remember my grandmother smiling and waving as she showed me a green balloon man with cardboard feet.
Coming home and fitting in
I was discharged from the hospital in December of 1953 using a brace and crutches to walk. I had regained the strength in my left leg, but my right leg was mostly paralyzed. My grandparents travelled with me by train to Montreal where I joined my family. One of my earliest memories after arriving home is drying the dishes as my mother washed them. She was determined that I would lead as normal a life as possible. To that end, she took on the nuns at the local Catholic school, insisting that they accept me. At that time in Quebec, “crippled” children were isolated in separate schools. Eventually, the nuns relented, and I began grade one in December of 1953.
My classmates were like angels. That’s how I experienced their energy. They accepted me fully and treated me as an equal with kindness and respect. I was the only child with a disability in the school. I made good friends. I thrived in school. In grade eleven, I was elected as President of the Student Council.
Throughout my childhood, I was hospitalized in the Montreal Children’s Hospital for major surgeries to my right foot, leg, and hip. I endured a lot of physical pain and time away from my friends and family. As strange as it may sound, I enjoyed being in the hospital, apart from the surgeries and pain. The doctors and nurses were kind, and I made friends with the other children. We used to have wheelchair races in the hallways. It felt like a second home to me.
I am grateful to my mother for encouraging independence, strength, and determination in me. She wanted me to fit into mainstream society. As time went on though, I feel my parents began to deny my disability. I was so anxious to fit in that I never complained or discussed how I felt. It was easy for people to assume that I had it made.
I attended school dances when I was a teenager. Mostly, I sat on the sidelines since I couldn’t dance. I remember leaving the dance alone one night. Tears streamed down my face as I walked home in the dark. I felt like a misfit. I was careful to wipe away my tears before entering my house. At this point in time, my parents were not happily married. I didn’t want to give them any more reasons for being unhappy.
Succeeding at life
After graduating from high school, I completed a Bachelor of Arts degree. I returned to school off and on throughout my life to further my education, and I made several career changes. I worked in clerical positions, as a Health Record Administrator in hospitals, in marketing and public relations for not-for-profit organizations, and finally in the field of vocational rehabilitation, helping persons with disabilities find suitable work.
When I initially graduated from university at the age of twenty, I obtained my first job at Pitney-Bowes in Toronto where I made many new friends. I rented a home with three other girls. We partied hard and had good times. At the age of twenty-three, I travelled through Europe with one of my roommates. My boyfriend had returned to his home in London, England, after working in Canada, so I visited him there. He left me for a prior girlfriend. I dated a Jewish boy throughout university. When we decided to marry, his mother expressed a strong concern about my disability. Could I have children, she asked? I said I could. Would I convert to Judaism? I could sense my boyfriend’s commitment was waning. I wasn’t prepared to convert, so we went our separate ways.
I married my current husband when I was twenty-four years old. His mother didn’t approve. She was unhappy that he was marrying a woman with a disability and refused to attend our wedding. We’ve been married for 44 years and have two beautiful children, a son and a daughter. My mother-in-law has come to love me over the years.
Feelings finding their way to the surface
Looking back at my outer accomplishments, it seems that my life has gone pretty well. I remember feeling proud in my 30s that I hadn’t shed a tear in years. I thought of myself as strong and resilient. It all began to unravel in my late thirties. Out of the blue, the tears would flow. I had no idea why. I sought counselling. That’s when I learned about how disconnected I was to my feelings. I would not allow myself to feel any negative emotions. My denial ran deep. I wasn’t able to express honestly how I felt about most things. It’s been a long journey since then about learning to accept and express the vulnerability of my soul.
Gradually, I came to realize that I disassociated myself from my fear, loneliness, and sense of abandonment and betrayal when I was hospitalized with polio at age six. When I was discharged from the hospital and reunited with my family, no one asked how I felt about my disability then or anytime while growing up. That was the way it was back then. We know so much more now.
A renewed sense of unity
So what’s it all about, Alfie, as the song goes? What’s the deeper meaning behind what I’ve experienced? I had a spiritual epiphany when I was eight or nine years old. As I lay on my back in the snow at the bottom of a toboggan hill, gazing up at the sky, I felt as though I was part of everything, not separate. I had a strong, inner knowing that my home was elsewhere in the stars and that I would return home one day. I lost this sense of unity as I grew older and got caught up the drama around me. But the memory stayed with me about what’s possible. I have renewed this sense of unity. It is a wondrous thing to pay attention to how the benevolent Universe constantly speaks to us through signs and synchronicity, lighting the path forward. And if we pay attention, it makes our journeys truly magical.
What I have to come to feel in my heart is this: All I see in the outer world is a reflection of my inner consciousness, both individually (the reality I myself create) and as part of the collective consciousness (what I co-create with others). I’m not a victim of circumstances. I am the creator. As part of my karmic journey, I chose to disempower myself physically in this lifetime by taking on a physical disability, and emotionally by disconnecting from my feelings. I sense past lifetimes and feel that I abused my power down through the eons and that I’ve come to atone for that in this lifetime (atone = at one). My guilt and sorrow built my disability. My karmic journey here is about releasing identification with those feelings by diving into them and feeling them fully without judgment, becoming the One in them.
I have become conscious over time of a conditioned pattern I carried from past lifetimes into this incarnation, a pattern of feeling abandoned and betrayed. I re-created this unconscious, conditioned belief when I was six years old and felt abandoned in the hospital. That experience was a reflection of my inner consciousness.
I’ve repeated this pattern of abandonment and betrayal throughout my life. I am now conscious of it, however, so I am transforming it. I’m feeling into the pain behind this conditioned belief and expressing it in order to let it go. Whenever I recreate the pattern, the outer mirror is inviting me to go deeper into feeling it, expressing it, and releasing it.
I know it’s possible to transform inner consciousness. I know because the mirror of my outer reality changes when my inner consciousness changes. With regard to that, I am greatly inspired by Bruce Lipton’s book, The Biology of Belief. Bruce is an environmental biologist. His research is fascinating. I feel there is always a deeper meaning behind everything we experience, behind everything we see in the outer mirror, and we can ascertain the deeper meaning if we pay attention.
The ultimate invitation from the Universe is to return home to the pure light that we are, our true essence. As we dissolve our emotional blockages and light up ourselves, we light the way for others. My journey homeward continues. My deep gratitude goes out to Junie Swadron for this opportunity to share a bit of my journey with you.
Write about a time when silence was not golden for you. Where hiding out was not working. Perhaps it’s now. Write whatever you need to say and hopefully, in not too long, your voice on the page will become your strength and confidence to share with whomever you need to. If it is something from the past, imagine that you spoke your truth. Write about the road you didn’t take . . . and how it feels now to express yourself fully.
On Wednesday, I put out a Facebook post asking for unconditional love because it was the first day in as long as I could remember where I didn’t want to get out of bed and face the day.
The outpouring of love and kindness I received was beyond what I could have ever imagined. I learned again that the energy of love, prayer, and kindness travels unseen from the hearts of those who send it directly into the hearts of those who are ready to receive these blessings.
My heart was fully open and receptive and I am blessed beyond measure. My well of gratitude knows no bounds. Here are some of the things I was reminded of and I hope they will, in turn, serve you.
First, it was essential to take the day off for my mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being.
Mental — I gave my mind a mental break by choosing not to engage in the dozens of projects I have on the go. When thoughts of ‘must do’ came up, I consciously replaced them with ‘not now. I will come back, I promise.’ Acknowledging that I will return to those tasks allowed my critical mind to feel reassured and to soften. I gave that part of me (my ego) an official break as well. It didn’t need to stand on guard endlessly reminding me that this and that are awaiting my attention.
Emotional — My heart was heaving with grief and sorrow. The sudden passing of my dear friend, Joseph Martin, triggered anguish that has been sitting in my cells seemingly forever. I was feeling grief not only about those who have passed, but also about the dangers threatening our world today, from a man like Donald Trump who disrespects everything that upholds truth and justice and equality, to the state of our beloved Mother Earth, the air, waters, the animal kingdom, our plants, our inhumanity towards one another, wars that don’t end. I found myself ruminating on the lyrics to Where Have All the Flowers Gone? My heart felt like it was being split open as I recited the Ho-‘opono’pono prayer, I’m sorry. Please forgive me. I love you. Thank you.
I also let the tears fall freely as different people appeared sporadically throughout the day on the screen of my mind. Some have left the earth plane, some have left because of disputes, family members who I thought would be the closest have been the furthest away, and others have left and never told me why. The last two were the catalyst for my deepest sense of heartbreak, triggering memories of abandonment from my earliest days.
As each memory arose, or even when it was simply a felt sense with no memory attached, I offered up what I, myself, was asking for—unconditional love. I also wrote a letter of apology to someone whose heart I hurt last week through hurried, unconscious behaviour. I asked Joseph’s spirit before I went to sleep the night before to write the letter for me. I know he would have done so with a full and open heart. I listened and the words spilled onto the pages of my journal which I transcribed verbatim into an email which evoked a heart-felt response in return.
My day and night ran the gambit of love and fear. Of aloneness and yearning, intermingled with acceptance, gratitude, and long sought out peace.
Physical — I allowed my body to rest. To meditate. To sleep. To eat comfort food. To listen to soothing music. To walk to the beach in the early evening without my phone. I felt blissfully at peace as I sat upon the rocks allowing the ocean winds and waves to cleanse and heal the melancholy that inhabited my body and mind.
I had an instinct to take my gaze away from the mesmerizing sway of the waves and look up. Directly above me was an eagle swooping unusually close. I felt like he was waiting for me to notice him and when I did, he soared and circled above me for a very long time. I was captivated by this gift, this miracle, this totem of freedom that came into my life at this exact moment. I laughed out loud and gleefully shouted out, ‘Thank You. Thank You! Namaste! Thank You’.
Then, I practically skipped home, stopping only once along the way to buy epsom salts to add to my long, luxurious bath of lavender. I settled for popcorn and a movie instead. Go figure! Then, just before turning out the light, I read another chapter, from Wayne Dyer’s book, I Can See Clearly Now. The book I have been savouring since he died.
Spiritual — Every breath, every thought, word, and action is spiritual, is it not? How can it not be since the omnipotent and omniscient presence of Love is always here? God is present in the pain and the glory. I knew I was being held in the arms a divine presence while I cried out my tears, just as I knew God’s hand was at play when the eagle soared above me, inviting me to hop on his wings of freedom. In fact, a part of me has always known I am never alone and never have been.
A perceived sense of separation is part of human existential yearning to go back to the garden. I have felt since I was a young child that the earth was not my real home. But I also know now what a privilege it is to dance on top of the earth and there’s no place I’d rather be.
In summary, I can say that I am happy I was able to reach out on Facebook and tell my truth. It took a lot of courage, I must say, to have reached out publicly in that way.
I also believe even if I hadn’t reached out, reaching inside, asking God (or whatever name you wish to give that which gave us Life) for guidance, or calling a friend, or reaching for that one book that is a touchstone to our spirit—that can be the salve we need to heal our melancholy.
There so many ways to look after ourselves. And it’s essential that we do. Please see the writing exercise at the bottom of the page and tell us what yours are.
I am reminded that feelings come and go. That nothing stays the same. And that I need not be alarmed when they come up in wells and swells so deep and I wonder, ‘how can this be? Haven’t I dealt with this many times before? ’ And the answer is, ‘Yes, I have’. And this is simply another layer and it doesn’t take days, weeks, or months to process. It moves through so much faster when I just honour what is and let go.
How well did you love, how well did you live, how well did you learn to let go?
I have a tapestry hanging in my hallway. Embroidered upon it are these words, ‘In the end, what matters most is, how well did you love, how well did you live, how well did you learn to let go?’ On Wednesday, I did it all. I just need to remember to repeat it on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and every day, to the best of my ability. One precious day at a time.
Thank you for sharing in my journey. May you have the most awesome day and for all the days and nights that follow, may you be blessed. Love, Junie.
Re-Write Your Life
Most of the time it’s better to let people say things in their own words rather than trying to paraphrase and explain.
Please watch these videos to learn about the profound transformations that completely liberated these people as a result of participating in my Re-Write Your Life signature program.
You will hear Jan Falkowski share his riveting story of how he went from blind rage to being able to fully forgive the man who caused the car accident where his daughter was killed.
Next watch Annie Lavack as she talks about her fears and insecurities of not knowing what she wanted to do in her life. She states that it was the processes that she learned in Re-Write Your Life that enabled her to reclaim her voice. Today she is the Minister of the Centre for Inspired Living in Victoria.
The next video that Shaw TV filmed some years ago will show you what happens in a real group setting.
The program hasn’t changed, nor have the results. What has changed are the people who have made the commitment to go forward with their life in this way.
After watching the videos, take some time, then ask inside whether you too are ready to re-write the painful storms of the past and make peace with them. Every story, no matter how painful, can become the elixir of healing, transformation, and ultimately joy!
Above: Jan Falkowski’s experience with Re-Write Your Life
Above: Annie Lavack’s experience with Re-Write Your Life
Above: Shaw TV’s The Daily visited a Re-Write Your Life class
and interviewed participants
Re-Write Your Life
An 8-Week Workshop That Will Transform
Early Bird Price extended to Monday, May 23rd!
Wednesday evenings 6:15 – 8:45 pm NEW:Beginning June 8th
Early Bird: $345
Write a list, or better still, draw a mind map, about the different ways you do or can take care of yourself when you are feeling sad, lonely, loss, grief, or despair. Then write about a time you did take action using one or more of these tools and what the outcome was. I just wrote about mine. Your turn!
I met Teya in 2005. It was approximately one year after her close to fatal car crash where she’d had to learn to walk all over again, something the doctors weren’t sure she’d be able to do.
What I can tell you for certain about Teya is: don’t ever tell her there is something she can’t do. She’ll say, “Oh yeah, watch me!” And seriously, you should watch her. On a dance floor! It didn’t take long after she started walking again that she was dancing. This woman has an indomitable spirit stemming, no doubt, from her Francophone roots. I’d even go as far as saying she has an obsession to be healthy and happy and her joie de vivre is infectious.
This is what she said about that time.
“Totally committed to regaining full use of my hand and body, I found the creative process of making jewelry to be a very effective tool on my healing journey. My heartfelt desire is to inspire other people to never give up and use their own personal artistic expressions as a medium for their own healing and recovery!”
You can find Teya at Victoria’s Bastion Square Public Market from May to September where she has been a jewelry artisan for the past seven years. Look for the woman with the big infectious smile standing behind her booth called, Dangles—Simply Elegant Jewelry. And tell her Junie sent you!
Here is Teya’s story about how she did whatever it took to walk, be productive, continue being an amazing single mom, and change her career from massage therapist to jewelry maker:
An Almost Fatal Car Crash That Changed My Life Forever
by Teya Danel (excerpted from Junie Swadron’s book, Re-Write Your Life)
I’m floating in space and all of a sudden find myself in a restaurant I worked in. Everything is twilight and surreal. I step into the restaurant and see one of my former coworkers. There is a sudden understanding that I cannot possibly be there physically. I see lots of flashes of bright light and they seem to swirl and twirl around me moving in and out of consciousness. Where am I? What is this place? I drift back into unconsciousness.
My eyes are closed and I start to stir slowly. Again, where am I? Everything is hazy and I can’t move my body. A sudden paralyzing fear hits me: Oh my GOD, I think to myself, where’s Daved? What’s happened to him? Is he alive? My heart is aching and beating hard. I become full of apprehension. I vaguely remember him being with me but cannot place my finger on it.
The realization that something really terrible has happened slowly enters my mind. As I open my eyes the first thing I see is a railing on the side of my bed with a photo of my eight-year-old boy taped onto it. He is sitting in a hospital bed surrounded by my relatives and I see a big smile on his face. Huge relief flows through my body. He’s okay. He made it. I take a deep breath and I start to cry with relief and gratefulness—he’s okay, we’re okay. I’m still here. Where exactly is here? Where am I? I look down my body and I see contraptions on my legs. My whole body feels numb and I recognize that I’m in a hospital and I’m sensing I had a car accident. I wonder how long I’ve been here. I can hardly believe the state I’m in.
It’s August 6, 2004 and I’ trying to make sense of my condition. All I know is that I’m lying in a hospital bed just about broken to pieces and very high on morphine. I’m in very rough shape and my face is all swollen and I look like death warmed over. Thank God for modern technology and pain relieving drugs. I can’t imagine what kind of pain I would be in if I could feel my body.
I learn that I’ve had a very close call and in fact, it is a miracle that I’m still here. I’ve just been through a 14-hour tandem operation with surgeons working on saving both my legs and my left arm. There is so much damage that they can’t deal with it all at once. More surgery is scheduled. I’m in ICU and fade in and out of consciousness. It turns out that there are multiple breakages in both my legs. They went through the floorboards of my car and my right leg is off by 10 degrees. My left elbow has splintered like chicken bones, a number of ribs on my right side have been broken and the right side of my face, which hit the steering wheel, is caved in and black and blue. I’m lucky that I still have my eye.
I find out later that on my way to Nanaimo to pick up my older son, I went through an intersection, up and over an island and straight into a post that scrunched my car on the driver’s side. Much later when I get to see the pictures, I can hardly believe that I’ve come out of there alive. I’ll never really know what happened that afternoon; I have no memory of it whatsoever. In fact all I can remember is leaving the house. The rest is blank.
But there I was sprawled over the steering wheel in deep shock and not even conscious. However, the mothering bond is so incredibly powerful that even in the midst of such incredible trauma, I managed to somehow inform the police that I have a 14-year-old son arriving at the ferry terminal. Don’t ask me how I do that. I ask him a year later about his experience that day and he tells me that when he heard his name on the speaker at the ferry he intuitively knew something was terribly wrong. The policewoman takes him to the hospital in Nanaimo where he sees me and his brother in pretty bad shape. I’m screaming and have not stopped since they pulled me out of the car. I can imagine how horrifying it is for a young 14-year-old to witness his mother and brother in such an unbelievable condition.
He ends up being taken under the wings of a woman who runs a volunteer organization called Victims Services, which I’ve never even heard of. When I hear the story of his journey I say a prayer of thanks to that woman who took my son home with her, gave him a bed that night and money the next morning so he could board the ferry back to his father who is here in Canada to enjoy a holiday on the Sunshine Coast.
Meanwhile, back in the hospital, my sister Mona comes to visit every single day. She takes good care of me. She makes sure I’m comfortable and washes my hair every few days in a special little basin that sits snuggly under my head. Having lived in Vancouver, I still have a good number of friends there and they start to file in and offer support in whatever ways they can. My adopted mom luckily lives only a few blocks from the hospital and she visits me almost daily. Having my friends and family around me offers me much comfort, courage and hope that I’ll make it through all this.
Will I ever lead a normal life again? Will I ever walk? I cannot even bend the middle finger of my left hand and am unable to feed myself easily as my one hand does not reach my face. I was born a left-handed and learned, with my grandmother’s prompting, to write with my right hand in the days when it was not proper to use the left hand. Anyway, I’m grateful for my ambidextrous skills now, because I’m going to need them to feed myself. It’s about the only thing I can do for myself at this time. Being unable to take care of my basic needs is quite humbling, to say the least.
I feel a very strong sense of determination and commitment to do whatever I need to get back my life and heal my body. I believe that I can and I hold on to that thought with all my heart and soul, even though a small part of me has huge doubts given the nature and extent of my injuries. The mere thought of spending the rest of my life in a wheelchair is completely overwhelming. I begin the long journey of rehabilitation and healing and there are no guarantees being offered as to what the outcome will be.
I end up spending a month in Vancouver General, and when I am well enough to make the journey I ask to be transferred back to Victoria where the Royal Jubilee Hospital will be my home for the next two months. The surgeon who is taking over my case, a fine man by the name of Michael O’Neill, informs me upon arrival that I’m a very lucky woman. He says to me “not that long ago, you wouldn’t have made it” and I know in my heart that that is the truth. As I lie in my bed, day in and day out, I am astounded at how strong and grounded I feel. I can barely move and yet I feel totally powerful instead of powerless, which one would kind of expect, given my circumstances. My spirit is strong and my will to live and heal is just as strong. I make peace with my situation, totally surrender to it and accept what is.
Every day I get better and better. Even the pain and the long sleepless nights seem somehow manageable. As I start to get stronger I learn to shuffle my butt slowly as I inch my away across my bed and into my electric wheelchair, which offers much me mobility and a change of scenery.
Every day I am working out in the rehab section of the ward named RP2. I remember being taken into the rehab section one day and with the help of three therapists I was able to grab onto a pole and stand up on my good leg. My right leg was damaged the most and I’ve been told that I cannot put any weight on it for at least three months. So here I am standing on one leg, holding onto the pole and having a realization that there is yet some hope for me to walk. Before too long I graduate to a walker and make great progress, one day at a time. I come to realize how much of my daily life I’d taken for granted and in my present state, I truly begin to appreciate every small thing that I can accomplish on my own. You have no idea how humbling it is to have to have your bum wiped for six weeks—to not even be able to take care of the basics.
I’ve learned that out of so much adversity, so many gifts have come. The biggest one being a deepening of the bond between my sister and I. I learned, big time, not to sweat the small stuff and to be grateful every day for my life and my healing abilities. I know now that I’m going to be okay. I can see that I am an inspiration to many of my friends and acquaintances. They tell me they feel strengthened by my courage. I acknowledge myself for having reclaimed my life and my body.
Now, 3 ½ years later, I’m waiting for my last small surgery, which is an implant in my face and after that, it’s clear sailing. I am astounded by the progress I’ve made and pretty soon you won’t even be able to tell that I had a broken body. I will never look at a disabled person in a wheelchair or scooter ever again in the same way. I’ve been there done that, and my compassion and love for people has taken on a whole new dimension.
I am free and standing tall and so very thankful for who I am. I know in my heart that sharing my experience will help a lot of people. I really believe there are no accidents in life. I was meant to have this experience, to get through it and learn so much from it. It has been a huge gift, the importance of which I am only now able to even fathom. I see life very differently now and have learned to never, ever again take anything in my life for granted. I am excited and await all the new adventures that are coming my way with great anticipation and joy. I have a new appreciation for life and intend on living it to the fullest from now on.
One can never consent to creep when one feels an impulse to soar.
What does this quote from Helen Keller conjure up in you?
In last week’s blog post, I wrote about mothers and wanted to give you time to process anything related to your mom that was unresolved before Mother’s Day, which is on Sunday. I hope that you were able to do that.
“Thanks, Junie, I had a healing, loving, virtual chat with my Mom who’s in a care home with advanced Alzheimer’s. I gave her freedom from me to go and be with Dad, her parents, brothers, etc. on the other side. We also shared forgiveness, although I didn’t think of much that I needed to forgive her for.” WG
Another person wrote:
“Thank you Junie. Before last week’s newsletter, I had been thinking – oh, no, another mother’s day is coming up where I have to fake it. I took your writing exercise to heart and I can hardly believe that by the end of it, I was able to see my part in our discord and invited her out to brunch. I feel hopeful that for the first time that there’s a space, an opening and it’s going to be OK. I really want that and I know in her heart, she does too.” LF
In case you missed it, here is the writing prompt I offered:
What words of love would you want to tell your mother today? And if you don’t feel loving toward her, write a pretend dialogue between you and your mom. Tell her everything you have always wanted to say. Imagine her listening to you in a way that she never has before, and that she answers you through the wisdom of her Higher Self, the part of her that loves you unconditionally.
Were you able to do that? What was the outcome? Do you feel more relaxed, healed and at peace around her? Or are you still carrying some hurt and resentment? If so, I highly encourage you to consider re-writing that story so that you are no longer walking around in pain for things that happened in the past. We can’t change what happened, but we can change our attitude toward it.
My sincere wish for you is that you and your mom have a loving, respectful, and honest relationship and that you will celebrate Mother’s Day in a wonderful way!
My story, my truth
My relationship with my mother was as tumultuous as they come. But when it was good, it was the most loving, most engaging, most beautiful love I have ever known. And because I knew how it felt to be loved so deeply, when she withdrew her love, which could happen on a dime, I suffered unbearably. My mom, like me, suffered from bi-polar illness. Unlike me, however, it was never diagnosed, and therefore never treated. So my mom did not have the skills or know-how to make the demons go away. Oh how I wished I could have waved a magic wand and made her demons go away. I wanted that so badly—for her, for me, for my dad, and for Lorraine, Barbara, and Howard, my siblings.
Read on to hear about our mixed up, crazy, profound, and beautiful love. This is an excerpt from my book, Re-Write Your Life. Today, and on this Mother’s Day, I dedicate this story to her, Minnie Swadron.
She was all of the above. Each a different personality. Still, she was my mother. Minnie Swadron. Born in 1919 in the miniscule town of Shaunavan, Saskatchewan; first born child of Romanian immigrants, Joseph and Lily Lazarus.
I remember being at the hospital and holding mom’s hand. She didn’t know I was holding it. Or perhaps she did. Who’s to say what a person in coma knows or feels or perceives? Sometimes I would hold her hand a few inches above the sheets and then let go of it – let it fall. It was an eerie feeling but I did it hoping the sudden drop would wake her up. I wanted so much for her to wake up and smile up at me with her beautiful green eyes.
And yes, there was that day––the day that you did open them mom and you recognized me right away. And you held your hands out to me and I bent down and you kissed my face. You kissed my cheeks, my forehead, my chin, my eyes. There was a desperation to it––an aching, a pleading, a hanging on. A memorizing of every feature: the shape of my eyes, the smell of my hair, the feel of my breath upon your face as you drew me into you. Soul to soul. And I loved you more than ever knowing how much you loved me. No holding back. In those kisses, you gave it all. You kissed me with an aching need to hold on which caused my heart to split open but I understood. I needed to hold on then too. It was a moment of truth. Just us and the love––no-one else in the room. No-one to criticize your love for me. Like T. who was embarrassed by your displays of affection.
I used to be embarrassed too. I hated it when I was in my teens or twenties and even thirties and we would go to the Lawrence Plaza or for walks anywhere and you insisted on holding my hand. I guess it reminded me too much of being a child sitting next to you on the couch watching TV and you would want me to scratch your legs. It used to repulse me. But the queasy feeling left once I moved west and went back for visits. Of course I was middle-aged by then. And last October when I stayed with you after your surgery and you seemed so little and vulnerable, I would have done anything to make you feel better. So I actually heard myself offering to massage your back. I did and as much as you cooed expressions of delight, it was me, I know, who benefited the most.
And now you’re gone and I remember those Toronto days traveling the T.T.C. There was snow piled high on the ground when I took the bus from your apartment on Chaplin Crescent to the Scarborough General Hospital. Sometimes there were blizzards as I walked and waited for the bus. I hate being cold but I loved the snow. It held me. It supported me. It reminded me of so many other Toronto winters.
And the times you and I spoke with glee on the phone from our respective homes after the first snowfall, loving the beauty, the stillness, the freshness in the winter sky. We loved so many things like that. Standing on your balcony or mine mid-summer when the thunder storms crashed through the sky and the rain came down in torrents and splashed heavily onto the pavement below. We loved the drama. We even loved the humidity. And I remember when I was a little girl living on Neptune Drive when you took me outside during the rain showers to wash our hair or catch the drops in our mouths. And we’d giggle and dance in the puddles. Those were on the good days. And those are the ones I care to remember for now.
Last night in my writing group I wrote:
I’m here with you again mom. Sometimes I think I’ve forgotten you because my days get full and I don’t remember to miss you and I’ve gotten used to not calling you every day. Used to it? I don’t know. Buried it is more like it. Sometimes lately when I’ve spoken about you, I talk about how crazy you were when I was a child. I don’t talk about the summer sun shower dances or my teenage years when I’d walk in the door after school and Dick Clarke’s American Bandstand would be blaring from the television set. I’d breathe in the comforting smells of dinner cooking on the stove and then be greeted by a happy you in your hot-pink summer short-shorts and freshly ironed white cotton blouse. I’d toss my books on the table and in two seconds we’d be jiving to Elvis Presley or twisting to Chubby Checkers. And I wouldn’t talk about the numerous times my teen-age friends gathered in our living room to be with you even when I wasn’t home. They came because you offered wisdom or encouragement or simply because you were fun to be with.
No I haven’t been mentioning those times at all. And then it struck me the other day why not. It became as plain as day. Simply put, I don’t have to miss you. I don’t have to yearn for you. For your gentle words. For the unconditional love you have had for me whenever my illness struck. Without fail you’d rally round no matter if we were face to face or oceans apart. Your tenderness caressed me through the phone lines, comforting me with loving words, reminding me how courageous I am, how I’ve beat this time and time again, and how I will this time too. And you’d remind me how many other obstacles I’ve faced and how I fought and won. And you’d talk about the beautiful life I made for myself and my successful therapy practice––how I helped others when I couldn’t see that I was or when none of it had any meaning for me. And you’d remind me of the constant flow of friends I’ve always had who love me to pieces. And you’d talk to me and talk to me and even when I couldn’t imagine there could be any more words left you’d find more to convince me not to give up. You were my champion mom and possibly the reason I’m still on the planet. But the irony was you also passed this hideous illness down to me. Even though you were never formally diagnosed, it was blatantly obvious. But you fought too, mom. You fought too. Differently than me. You locked your doors. You judged and blamed and eventually scared everyone away.
But I don’t want to go there now. Because in my heart, I know you were hurting. And perhaps that was the bond between us from the early days on––well that and the laughter too. All of it. Perhaps in some strange way it’s what kept our hearts intact – beyond the madness when you got too crazy to be around. Or I did. Funny, how we held each other on a pedestal which of course, never lasted. Before long, we were side by side on the floor scraping to help each other up again. And we always did. We did it with laughter, we did it with tears. In the end, we always did it with love.
I still carry you in my heart wherever I go and on some days I miss you fiercely. Whenever I see something beautiful or funny, touching or strange, I imagine you beside me, laughing your infectious laugh or smiling your beautiful smile or making a witty comment or a judgmental one. No doubt if it’s judgmental I’ll give you my ridiculous self-righteous lecture. Inevitably, you’d take a deep drag on your cigarette, look me directly in the eyes and say, ‘Junie, don’t use that therapy voice on me’ and we’d both burst out laughing.
I still have messages from you on my answering machine, mom. In one you say: ‘I miss you, Junie. I miss you honey. That’s what I do, I miss you.’ And I feel your lonely, aching heart. And now it’s my turn. Such irony. But as I type this now, a peace has washed over me. Perhaps it’s because you’re here with me. Yes, I feel you here and yet ironically I sense you telling me that it’s time to let go. Like the vivid dream I had only weeks after you died where you came to me and said, ‘It’s time to let go of me now.’ And I fought with you. I said it was too soon. And I didn’t know if you meant it for my sake or yours or for both of us.
And I am ready to do that. It’s been almost a year since Lorraine called me with the news. It was 8:30 in the morning. I was awake waiting for the call. I knew you had died. Still, I got off the phone and started wailing. Wailing! And when I stopped, all I could remember were the parting words we used in our daily telephone conversations.
‘Bye, mom. I love you.’ And you would always answer. ‘I love you more.’
So good bye, mom. I love you. And you know what? It’s my turn to say it now:
I love you even more.
Think of your mom as a woman, apart from her role as your mother. What do you think are or were her hopes and dreams? Do you think she fulfilled some of them? Are there are others she never did? What do you think are some of the most significant things she has taught you? Open yourself to the love in your heart for your mom, the woman who gave you life and begin to write the story of your relationship. Consider giving it to her on Mother’s Day as a beautiful gift or reading it to her even if she has passed away. She will hear you still.
How do you feel when you think about your mom? Is it warm and tender or is it something else?
Every child craves a loving and nurturing relationship with the person who carried them in her womb and gave them life. Yet, as no two mothers are alike, we may fit somewhere in the spectrum from almost never to almost always having our needs to be loved and cherished met and satisfied.
If we were truly blessed, we grew up feeling treasured, respected, and adored. We knew we could come to our parents, and for the purposes of this article, our moms, for anything and she was always there for us. She listened, she dried our tears, offered encouragement, and was our champion along the path.
Yet many people had a mother who was unable to go beyond her own wounds to show affection and may have unwittingly projected her fear and anger onto her children instead. Children do not know that the way they are treated has nothing to do with them. They only know how painful it to be ignored or ridiculed or something else that causes hurt or shame.
Fast forward to adulthood
If you were one of those children who was left to your own devices to figure out how to feel safe in the world, it’s likely, if you have not healed your heartbreak, you could still be harbouring feelings of regret, hurt and confusion. You may feel angry and tired, depressed or empty. And you may be projecting those unhealed wounds onto your own children or in other relationships in your life. I hope not, but you will know if this rings true for you.
There is a strong correlation between the way we feel about ourselves and behave in the world and the way we were raised.
Choose change before the universe chooses it for you!
Sometimes, it’s not until life becomes unbearable that we either open ourselves up to change, or in many cases, life circumstances force us to. I know that was certainly true for me. After being in psychiatric hospitals time and again because of circumstances related to my bi-polar illness, I decided not to let that spoil my life. Specifically, I did not want the labels attached to my name to identify who I am. I knew I would have to re-write that story of mental illness if I were to go on and have a meaningful, productive life.
What it could cost not to change
It was my desperate need to stop the drama, my willingness to reach out, and my earnest wish to heal the pain from the past, no matter what that took, that brought me to the teachers that helped me transform my life in healthy ways. I instinctively knew what it would cost me if I didn’t do whatever it took to turn things around. It was simple, really. I saw myself remaining in unhealthy relationships, making poor choices, being in and out of psychiatric wards, having to start all over again, feeling hopeless and unworthy of love.
Thankfully, I listened to the voice of my inner spirit, even though it was only a whisper, and even though my ego was loud and enticing. I chose a path of inner peace. And when I stumble and fall, I know how to find my way back. I simply brush myself off and keep going, but with more insight in my toolkit.
Living a life you love
Today, and for many years, I have been living a life that I love. I also no longer regret the past. Those stories not only shaped me, but offered gifts of strength, insight and wisdom that I couldn’t have learned any other way. This allows me to confidently and compassionately share what I have learned with others.
I am not stating that it was a picnic climbing the ladder. It was bloody hard at times. I wanted to give up and did many times. The hardest story to find peace with was the one with my mother.
Back to mothers
I know my mother loved me. She showed me time and time again with hugs and kisses, with loving talks and was my number one champion when my bi-polar illness took hold. Unfortunately, she also shared my illness but was undiagnosed. So I grew up in a home where we never knew if mom was going to be in one of her loving moods or raging ones.
In my path of healing, I forgave my mother long ago. In fact, I love her to pieces and tell her so often, even though she passed away seven years ago. I was able to remove the label and role of “mother” and see her as a woman on her own path, often a heartbreaking one, and she did not have the know-how to make it better. That still saddens me. It hurts me to the core. She was an amazing woman, but she just didn’t know it. Her insecurities, which she used as ammunition sometimes, simply didn’t allow her to go beyond the camouflage of comfort she hid behind.
I feel like telling again, right now. Mom, if you can hear me from Heaven, I love you to the moon and back and I pray that you are at peace.
Folks, soon it will be Mother’s Day. Let your mom know how much you love her. If she wasn’t or isn’t the kind of mom you would have asked for, take the high road anyway. She deserves more love, not less. And so do you. Find it in your heart to forgive her for any transgressions and make this the happiest Mother’s day you have had up until now.
What words of love would you want to tell your mother today? And if you don’t feel loving toward her, write a pretend dialogue between you and your mom. Tell her everything you have always wanted to say. Imagine her listening to you in a way that she never has before, and that she answers you through the wisdom of her Higher Self, the part of her that loves you unconditionally.
Today I am featuring two women whose stories are in my book, Re-Write Your Life. You will be touched as you read the stories of their inner journeys with their mothers in the most poignant, real, and beautiful ways.
by Judy McIllmoyl
When I heard of our topic for this writing, I knew I had to write of you. I don’t even know your name. My eyes have never been blessed by the sight of your face. I long to know you—a longing deeper perhaps than I have an understanding of. You are my link to the past. To the love that brought me into being. You have a legacy that I will never know. What made you dance with joy? What were you most passionate about? What did you fear most, in the depths of your despair? When you awakened in the morning what were your first thoughts? When you caught your reflection in a shop window, did you ever catch your breath and think of me?
Many years went by when I did not let my thoughts come to rest on you. That wasn’t allowed. Everything was as it should be. I was with parents who loved me. Enough said. But was it enough? While never given permission to mourn the loss of the living you, you were lost to me. Where were you when I was so alone and so afraid? Is my fear your legacy to me? Is it my gifts, my deep love for nature and all things delicate and tender and easily broken?
As time leaves its etchings on me, I look in my eyes and wonder who you are. I do long to know you…as one soul knows another; not by name or even a shared past, but by an honouring of each other’s presence here on earth. You gave me life. I was once a part of you and I still am; as you are still a part of me, even though I don’t even know your name.
Masks, by Sharon Pocock
I step out of the shower and do the things that women do. Towel dry, moisturize, put products in my hair that promise the Hollywood look and god knows it could do with a little help. Wash my face, then comes toner and more moisturizer. Do I really believe I need a separate cream or gel for under my eyes? I’ve no idea but the package was cute and the jar looks elegant on the washstand, promising its own patented fountain of youth. I dry my hair and then the real work begins.
Concealer, just a touch under the eyes and hey, if I need it there, it kind of suggests the eye cream is the snake oil I always suspected. A little foundation, not all over, just on the bits that need it. Hmm, maybe it should be all over. A little eyeliner, maybe olive, or grey, or burgundy, or black if I’m in a Dusty Springfield mood. A little blush, just a touch, a suggestion of heat and then the final touch – lipstick. When I was younger it was bold colours, making a statement in a too pale face, but now in my more somber, if not more sober years, I’m safe in natural, and taupe, and suede and all the other names the marketing men created to mean the same shade of dull. It’s taken me years to hone these skills. To know which colour to hide behind, what creates the desired mask of the moment. But it wasn’t always the case.
I think back to a small, shy girl, tongue-tied in the face of boys. More at home on horseback than at a teenage party. I didn’t know the code words. Couldn’t crack the body language and the secret handshakes that make the closed world of a popular teenager go round. I remember standing, self-conscious in a pair of sage green dungarees that I’d coveted for the longest time. I thought I was the bee’s knees. I thought I was the kick. I walked into the party and thought that I would die.
The room was wall to wall with tight jeans and tighter tops. With hair styled within an inch of its life and lipstick in every rainbow colour. I stood there in my token flash of blue eyeshadow, clutching at my coke and wondering if I could pluck up the nerve to speak to the boy I liked. Finally I took my courage in both hands and made the move and he smiled and talked about our homework and then he walked away, leaving me stranded in the middle of the floor. I know that people watched and people whispered and probably laughed, but I didn’t hear them as I stood frozen, locked in my own humiliation. But I didn’t blame him. He was a teenage boy and that’s how they were. I blamed you.
I blamed you for not teaching me the language, not teaching me the code I would need to open this new door. I blamed you for not talking about lipstick and blush, powder and eyeliner. I blamed you for letting me think that my prized dungarees were suitable armour for a teenage party. I blamed you for all these things – for not giving me the weapons I needed to survive in shark infested waters. I was your daughter and you were my mum and I loved you so much, but I blamed you for not helping me become a woman. For not helping me understand.
I made so many mistakes in those black years; fell over my feet in so many ways. I look back and shiver and think of the deep pools I almost drowned in – putting myself in positions where the worst might have happened because I didn’t understand the subtext.
That was then and I grieve for the skinny girl, so unsure in her own skin, desperate to understand and be understood. Desperate for entrée into this adult world of sophistication and sexual knowledge. But this is now and I finally see the girl for what she was. And I see you in the same blinding light.
I was fifteen when he went away and you were drowning, clutching at straws to keep you afloat and I was your anchor in that long turbulent year. Your love had turned his back and found new pastures and my brother didn’t want to know. What nineteen-year-old boy wants to admit that the father he worshipped had feet of clay? So he withdrew into the strange dark world that teenage boys inhabit and left us two to cope.
We floated in our homemade life raft, keeping each other warm. I cooked and cleaned and I shopped and played housekeeper and counsellor and nursemaid. And by default you became the child in that time and I became the adult. I put away childish things and entered the adult world. The year passed and after more false starts than I can count, he came back, cap in hand and you finally smiled again. But I continued to cook and shop and be your sounding board because I was now an equal in your eyes.
Looking back, that was the root of the problem. In that long year I grew up, concentrating on the mundane struggle of getting through the day. At the end I had crossed the Rubicon and couldn’t cross back. My childhood, my teenage years of growth and learning and experimentation had gone—disappeared without ever really being explored, every unanswered question buried in a shallow grave with a sprig of rue on top.
I couldn’t go back, so I walked forward into life, ill-equipped to deal with the nuances of this strange, new world. But it wasn’t your fault. You didn’t realize that I hadn’t asked the questions. You’d been lost and I bridged the gap and when you looked again you saw a woman, an adult and I allowed you the deception.
So I stand here and look in the mirror. Picking up cleanser and tissues I start to wipe away the mask. Stroke by stroke, bit by bit, the walls come down and then tissue is dirty with beige and red and black. I stand and stare into the mirror, my face clean and bare and finally, I see myself with all my flaws and faults and I’m happy with the reflection. And as I look, I see you too. I finally see the person—not the mother or the wife, but I see the woman, with all your fears and insecurities and joys. I see you and know you did the best you could and I don’t blame you anymore.
Okay, it’s no surprise to anyone that I love to write and no, I’m not stopping anytime soon.
And here’s why (they’re Ray Bradbury’s words, but only because he said them first! Or maybe I did, but he took the credit. So I’ll stick with his story so he doesn’t sue me):
“You must stay drunk on writing
so that reality cannot destroy you!”
I am one of the lucky ones who discovered not the frivolity, but the necessity of writing in a journal right from the get-go, because I truly did think that reality might destroy me. As a child, writing in my diary gave me an outlet. It provided me with a safe place to lay my head down on the page with my words. That’s how it felt as an 11-year-old whose voice was silenced, and I came to learn that my voice on the page eventually became my voice in the world. It led me to be who I am today—because I could be true to myself. I didn’t have to please anyone on the page, just say it the way it feels and let it go . . .
Journalling nurtures me when I am afraid. It lets me say anything I want and as many times as I want and it doesn’t get mad and say things, like, “Stop boring me, do you know how many times you’ve told that story? It’s just a story!”
Seriously? Just a Story?
I was at a restaurant the other day and while waiting to be served, I heard part of a conversation at the next table. It went something like this:
Him: “Jodi, get serious; you’re not going to tell them that, are you?”
Her: “Well, why not? It’s the truth.”
Him: “Seriously, what’s the truth anyway? It’s only a story!”
Her: “But it’s my story. Don’t you think that’s important?”
The waiter came to take my order. I couldn’t continue to eavesdrop, darn! But it sure got me thinking: Aren’t we all telling stories all the time? I’ll bet that as soon as Jodi said she was going to tell her story, her friend was running a story in his own head that might have gone something like: “Oh, no. I’m trying to warn her. Can’t she see the trouble it’s going to get her into? Even if it is the truth, why be that honest?” At the same time, she could be running a story such as, “Why can’t he ever support me?” And aren’t I making up a story as well? Of course I am! How could I possibly know what was going through their heads, but there I was creating a story anyhow.
Don’t we all do that? And some of us love to write them down (maybe not the stories of the people at the next table!). But then again, isn’t that what good fiction is all about? Extracting it from real life and then adding our own take?
The Chicken and the Egg
As far back as I can remember, I have been curious about people’s stories, and for over two decades I have been helping people write their own. Maybe this is a story about the chicken and the egg. Is it because I needed to write that I got interested in people’s stories? Or is it because of people’s stories—including the ones in my family that I wasn’t supposed to tell—that got me interested writing? Or is it simply my nature to be curious?
So, yes, it’s true that I started writing as a young girl, but you may not know what inspired me to offer writing classes at the same time I became a psychotherapist. This is a fun story! It started when I read a book that had me captivated because I related to everything the author was saying. So much so that it could have been me saying the very same things. It was one of those aha moments that you can’t ignore.
A Turning Point
Some days later, I went to see my psychiatrist. He was smart, kind, forthright, and a down to earth, cool guy (they should have cloned him). He was also a bit quirky, which I liked. He doodled mandalas while listening to me. Perhaps it helped him listen better. Who knows, but those mandalas were the best I’ve ever seen. I could hardly wait to tell him what I had been thinking about!
Me: “I just read this great book about writing and I believe I can teach writing courses.”
Him: “Hmm. Which book?”
Me: “It’s by Natalie Goldberg and it’s called Writing Down the Bones.
Him: “So, what makes you think you can suddenly start teaching writing courses?”
Me: “Because she writes the same way I do and teaches a method I have naturally used all my life but couldn’t have named it until now.”
Him: “Have you ever done that before? Do you have credentials?”
Me: (Starting to shrivel) “Um, No.”
Him: “Don’t you think that would take one hell of a lot of chutzpah?”
Me: (Stopped breathing. Code blue alert! Desperate for his approval. Final dying words.) “Yeah, I guess so. It was a stupid idea.”
Him: (With a wink and a big smile) “Why would you say it was stupid? If you feel that strongly about it, then you must do it! When do you plan to start?”
Me: (Catching my breath, jumping up to kiss him. Okay, maybe not, but I could have.) “Thank you! Thank you!” (In my mind: smooch, smooch. Also in my mind: “Your sense of humour almost killed me, doc!”)
From that day to this one, assisting people to find confidence in their writing voice is one of my greatest passions! Sometimes, we do need someone else to put a positive mirror in front of our face in order for us to say YES! to ourselves!
What’s Your Story?
What are you doing today that you are passionate about? What got you started? There must be a wonderful story to tell about that. Maybe you can share it with your family tonight around the dinner table. Or with a friend over coffee. Or write about it from where you are today. What circumstances did life put in front of you so that it aligned with your values and your truth?
Or, is there something that you used to be passionate about years ago but you left it behind somewhere? Every now and again does the memory of it surface, and if it could talk, might it be saying, “Hey, what about me? Where did you go? Come back!” And your tummy aches a bit and your heart hurts because you let it go.
It’s never too late! Opportunities are vast. Just open yourself up to be living the life you love and start living that right now. Don’t wait for a life purpose to show up. Your path is already here. You are on a path. In other words, do the things you love to do and be the person you want to be now.
Become the innocent child, ready to explore life with brand new eyes. Get up each morning saying “Thank you for a brand new day” and open yourself to the possibility of beautiful things to unfold.
And remember, you are awesome! You are unique. You have so much to offer. So pull out the stops. Be bold and say “Yes” to Life!
And if I were sitting across from you right now, I’d be emulating that shrink from so many years ago. I’d be doodling Mandalas and telling you to GO FOR IT!
Today I am saying YES to myself and that means . . .
[The image of the beautiful heart wave above was sent to me by good friend Linda Rauch just as I was about to post this story on the blog. Linda and Chana (the subject of this story) happen to be the very best of friends. Talk about divine timing!]
In recent issues of Musings from Junie, I have been featuring people I have wanted to honour because they have triumphed over some of life’s hardest hurdles. The first was Lawrence Cooper, who literally went from agony to ecstasy in his life as a bi-sexual man. Next I featured Judith Rockert who survived the suicide of her talented son, Mitch, who suffered with schizophrenia for many years before taking his life.
The story I bring to you today affects me personally, and I dedicate this story to the Saffer-Spiro family: Rachel, David, Ariel, Chana, Jacob, and Shawndra—my beautiful family.
On Tuesday of this week, March 22, 2016, we received the best news ever: my 18-year old great-niece Chana (many of my friends know her as Hannah) was found to be cancer free! And it is attributed to the unmistakable power of prayer and the grace of Hashem (G-d). And for this, we are eternally and humbly grateful.
Chana is the kind of person who easily makes friends everywhere she goes—and beyond that, she has a light in her that lights up the world.
It’s not only because she is my great-niece that I say this, it is because it is true and is the opinion, I believe, of everyone she has ever met.
Chanalah, I honour you today, and I congratulate you on your victory! Nothing could make me happier than this news—other than to be there in person to give you the biggest hug in the world. I am so very proud of what you have accomplished throughout your illness. In spite of facing the most difficult time a person could ever endure, not knowing what your future would bring, you have inspired countless people around the world. You gave purpose and meaning to your illness. You chose to make it something that could bring goodness and beauty into the lives of others. Kol ha’kavod! Well done!
Today, I am also recognizing the whole family. Especially, my beautiful niece Rachel, Chana’s Mom.
Rachel’s strength, love, wisdom, faith, humour, and the ability to stay strong and positive—as well as real—during this time of fear and uncertainty, is truly remarkable—beyond outstanding! It is what can only be described as a mother’s love in the truest meaning of these words. And it didn’t begin with Chana’s illness. It began with the birth of her first child and continued with ever deepening devotion with the three that came afterward. Ariel, graduating university this year, then Chana, Jacob, 15 and Shawny (Shawndra), who just turned 11 on February 16th.
And together with David, Rachel’s husband, a most dedicated, world class dad, they have created a homestead for their family founded on a bedrock of love. The above pictures of the family were taken at Jacob’s Bar Mitzvah two years ago.
Let me share some of the back story with you!
This is me holding Chana 17 years ago. The photo was taken at my beautiful late sister Barbara’s (Rachel’s Mom) home in Toronto in 1998.
Barbara honoured me (which she always did) with a beautiful good-bye pool party the day before my 3,000 mile road trip to my new home, Vancouver!
When I pulled up to her house to say goodbye, a ladybug landed on the windshield. That ladybug became the story of miracles yet to come—especially the night she tragically passed away. I will share the story with you in a future newsletter.
Fast forward to Chana at age 15
Here we are in front of her house before she went off to Thich Nhat Hanh’s Buddhist meditation and mindfulness retreat. While her friends were shopping at the mall, she was sitting somewhere in a lotus position! That girl has always been on a spiritual path seeking out the goodness in humanity and giving it back 100-fold.
Victoria visit May 2015
Chana didn’t just arrive by herself when she came to visit me. She brought with her 30 pounds of cheese! A few days before her flight, she called me to say, “Oh, by the way, Auntie Junie, I’m coming with 30 pounds of kosher chesse. I hope that’s OK.” “Seriously,” I asked? Isn’t that the size of a small child?” She explained that she was delivering it to Rabbi Kaplan in Victoria. (Don’t ask about where I kept it in the meantime!) Anyway, the good news is that it was converted into yummy cheese blintzes and an array of other goodies that we feasted on for the Jewish Holiday, Shavuot.
Chana’s visit began with her koshering my kitchen. She was a great teacher, explaining all the while the reasons things are done. I figured it was a fair exchange since she was doing the majority (okay all) of the cooking.
Above (left) we are about to have a delicious Shabbat dinner with friends.
I loved every precious moment we shared on her visit to Victoria. Above (right) we were picnicking and painting rocks at Beacon Hill Park.
Chana returned to Toronto at the beginning of June to spend the summer with her family, then she was off to Jerusalem—a long awaited dream, to begin her first year of university.
And this is where her life took a turn no one would have ever suspected in a million years! It was also where her true hero’s journey began!
Jerusalem—a dreadful diagnosis
Only two weeks after arriving in the Holy Land, she was diagnosed with cancer and her world as she knew it began falling apart. Rachel flew out immediately to bring her daughter home, a home they had just moved into two weeks earlier, still filled with unpacked boxes while they were getting the other three children settled in school. Suddenly this unexpected dread was brought into their lives.
Doctors, hospitals, treatments, fear, muddled with hope and always uncertainty flooded their home. Yet, this is what I experienced when I went to visit them in November, two months after the diagnosis. I am about to quote myself (ha ha) from a blog post I wrote while I was there. You can read the whole thing here.
“… in spite of the gravity of the situation, this is not a depressing household. Instead, it is light and love, laughter and tears that make up the day-to-day life under this roof. I can’t say it is life as usual, because of course there is an underlying fear of the unknown. People’s nerves are frayed and it can also be messy at times.
But let me tell you what else exists here: The house is filled with kids and their friends coming to visit or staying for dinner or a sleep-over.
There are relatives and rabbis, neighbours and friends dropping by to share their love and support. I have been delighting in 10-year-old Shawndra’s natural theatrical storytelling talents, and admiring 15-year-old Jacob for his humility, even though he is knowledgeable and wise beyond his years. I love my neighbourhood walks with Sprout, their gentle collie-terrier.
Sometimes after a long day, we’ve all cuddled on the couch to watch a movie and laughed a lot at the funny parts. Ariel, the oldest, has been coming home from Queen’s University on weekends and what a joy it is to see how all the kids gather around her, smothering her with hugs and kisses. That’s my favourite part—witnessing the demonstrative expressions of love and affection that are simply natural to this family.
And Hannah—well, even with an uncertain future, even though her magnificent waist-long, thick black hair has been shaved off, she continues to be a shining light and inspiration for everyone who meets her. Her faith has not wavered; her thirst for knowledge and passion for life are as fierce as ever.”
Shawnny and Sprout! I loved taking Sprout for walks during my visit. It was the walking meditation I needed.
In December, Chana had her first surgery and they waited for the results, praying to hear that everything was clear. Their life could begin to go back to normal.
They did not get the news they were praying for. The doctors explained that in order to be as certain as they could be that the cancer cells were gone, radiation was recommended.
They were crushed. Not only did they seek a second opinion, they considered alternative treatments as well as flying to New York to a top oncologist. The answer pointed in the same direction: proceed with radiation.
A “god wink”: in the midst of fear an angel of hope and promise appeared
Rachel was sitting in the living room beside herself with worry when the doorbell rang. It was a friend, a rebbetzin (rabbi’s wife), who was in the neighbourhood and decided, on the spur of the moment, to drop in.
Rachel told her the latest news and could not contain her tears. The rebbetzin comforted her and told her that this was the time to increase their prayers even more. She told Rachel that Chana was to hold a conference call and request prayers from relatives and friends and friends of friends everywhere; and to put it on Facebook. Rachel didn’t even know what a conference call was. But Chana did and in no time at all, it went viral!
How Chana used these calls is truly remarkable!
Every night from that day until this one, except for Shabbat, Chana has held a conference call where people have been calling in from many parts of the world. Not only was she asking for prayers (which everyone recites together), she has been giving inspiring talks, often reciting passages from the Torah. But beyond that, Chana has used her illness an opportunity for people to do mitzvot (good deeds). And that is exactly what has been happening.
I’ve quoted some of her wisdom throughout this post (she calls herself Chana and her Hebrew name is Chana bas Rachel Leah).
Chana with her dad. He is so happy she is inspiring good deeds at a time like this.
And look at the joy it’s giving her! We’ve been told that the joy is in the giving. Is there any question?
Here is Chana with her little sister, Shawndra, who is auditioning for Canada’s Got Talent (well, maybe one day). She is a natural born actress and keeps us all chuckling with her theatrics and antics! You’d love her!
Here are Chana and her cousin kissing her bubby, David’s Mom, at her 90th birthday party (the day I arrived). She has been a rock in Chana’s recovery. Having survived the holocaust, she holds an inner conviction of faith and strength which has been helping her beloved family throughout.
When Chana visited me last spring, she painted the picture below and gave it to me as a gift: “Ki l’olam chasado”. It means “His Kindness is Forever”.
Let us learn from Chana’s wisdom
What good deeds and acts of kindness can we offer each day to everyone we know or meet for the first time such as a shop keeper, or even someone we pass by on the street? Hmm, pass by? Don’t pass him or her by without a smile. J And do not forget yourself in the equation!
Continue to pray please!
So…back to today! A call for continued prayer—for Chana to be healthy and vibrant and living her life to the fullest! And that each of her future medical examinations will confirm that she continues to be cancer free. Baruch Hashem. Amen.
And finally, Chana—here is how Rabbi Kaplan has honoured you—besides constant prayer from the congregation: you have inspired goodness at his school in Victoria:
“THANK YOU” does not come close to expressing the gratitude I feel for everyone who has shown me so much kindness and generosity in the past week since I wrote about my vision problem, the cost of the treatment, and my GoFundMe campaign. Your financial contributions and/or notes of love have uplifted me in ways I can’t even express. Bless You!
And now it’s YOUR TURN to receive. And it comes from your very own creativity. Your gifts to the world.
Creative expression is what makes our spirits soar. It is innately who we are; we are creative beings. We are born with the gift of imagination.
Doing one’s art often transforms suffering into beauty. It prevents a person from dying with their song still inside them. When we lose our impulse to create, whether it is painting, writing musical scores, designing landscaped gardens, writing our book, photography, whatever our talent is, something inside of us slowly begins to die.
When we get it back, we soar! Life has new meaning and purpose. We are in the flow of Life and Love. And all is as it was meant to be.
“One can never consent to creep when one feels an impulse to soar.” —Helen Keller
Getting in the flow is as easy as ABC
So how do we get back into the flow of life, and honour our heart’s promise, when we may not know where to begin?
It’s a simple A, B, C formula (simpler than we think):
A. Sit quietly and with deep sincerity, ask the angels, God, Universal Intelligence, Spirit—whatever you wish to call that which grows the flowers and births all life—“Please show me the way. What do I need to know in order to take my next steps?”
Hold the intention to receive clarity about your next steps and expect to get it.
B. Stay awake for signs that will point the way.
Open to receive unexpected messages from books, people, events, signposts. There are no limits to where guidance will come from.
C. Follow the guidance you are given.
“Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.” —Goethe
Each step, no matter how small, could lead you to magical opportunities. Serendipity isn’t a miracle. It is within the natural order of Life.
“God Winks”, as I like to call them, are universal gifts to us that are available everywhere and at all times. Say YES to yourself and watch the God Winks show up in places you would never have thought to look!
What if it’s a book?
Do you have a creative impulse to write a book? Is it serendipitous that you’re reading this now? Only you will know the truth of this.
Has anyone ever said to you…
“I think you should write a book.”
And you said, “Me? I don’t think so.”
Yet it sparks something in you that resonates deeply but you brush it aside. Or perhaps it has been a secret desire you have had for years but you don’t know how or where to begin. Maybe you are already in the midst of writing a book, blog, play or short story, but can’t seem to stay focused, so you stop.
Check out these two scenarios:
You want to write a book
You don’t know how or where to begin
You don’t think you are good enough
There are things you know about and care about
You are hesitant to say them out loud
You are afraid of what people might think or say
There are other reasons too
You begin to shrink
Your dream ENDS here.
You want to write a book
You don’t know how or where to begin
There are things you know and care about
You are hesitant to say them out loud
You are afraid of what people might think or say
There are other reasons too
Still, you say to yourself, “I am willing to feel the discomfort,
put my fears aside and GO FOR IT.”
Your dream BEGINS here.
It is here that you will step into the magic of Universal Mind and Flow. You will no longer be burdened by whatever kept you stuck. Instead you will be doing what you have dreamed of, and as you move toward your life’s purpose, you move toward your divinity. And this is the gift you give yourself, by answering the call of your creative impulse, your heart’s promise.
“As we move toward our creativity, we move toward our Divinity.”
—Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way
I have successfully coached many individuals to move from writer to author. In the process, they have also found their authentic voices which, in many cases, had been silenced for years.
“I had the opportunity to attend Junie Swadron’s Author Support Group earlier this year. My manuscript, Julia’s Secret, had been stuck in a drawer for a couple of years at that time. I received amazing support and guidance from Junie and from the group. Junie is a wonderful facilitator—honest and heartfelt. The sessions were full of fun and extremely encouraging. Julia’s Secret is now finished and just waiting for the illustrations! My blog is out there too. The Author Support Group was a brilliant kick starter. I recommend it 100%—with all my heart.” —Anne Sture
Please contact me for a free consultation to discuss your writing dreams, and after our call I’ll send you my preliminary Author’s Questionnaire to really get you excited about moving forward with your project!
This week I had an experience that demonstrates the truth of my statement, The sweet whisperings of your soul meet you on the page and something shifts. You begin to stand taller and one day you notice that your voice on the page has become your voice in the world.
On Tuesday, I woke before dawn consumed with angst. It had to do with something I had been hiding for years, which was connected to feelings of unworthiness. I didn’t know I felt that way—at least on such a big scale—until I was diagnosed with a severe vision problem about a month ago (which is treatable, thank goodness, but the cost of the treatment is thousands of dollars). The condition is described as: Convergence Insufficiency, Binocular Dysfunction, and Visual Processing Deficits.
I had been hiding my inability to read properly since my childhood; the realization that I actually have a vision problem began just last month when I was directed to a TED Talk presentation by Dr. Cam McCrodan, an optometrist here in Victoria, BC, who specializes in treatment of visual dysfunction. As I watched him, I wept because almost everything he said described me to a T!
Sharing a secret
I shared my “secret” about my reading problems and the news of my diagnosis and proposed costly treatment with my dear friend Frances, and she said, “Oh, Junie, this is a perfect opportunity to do crowd funding.” We were at a restaurant having dinner. Suddenly, I started feeling queasy. She went on to say that asking friends and acquaintances to contribute to a crowd funding campaign was the perfect solution to the cost of treatment, and a worthy cause. The queasiness bought prime real estate inside me and settled into every cell of my being—especially after another dear friend Teya had the crowd-funding site up a few days later! When she told me she had done it, I freaked out! “What? I never said to put it up!”
How was she to know that I had been sitting with the shame, fear, and guilt that had continued to natter at me since my dinner with Frances? After waking up in that same dark place Tuesday morning, I grabbed my journal and, as usual, it didn’t fail me.
Confiding in my journal
After pages of seemingly going nowhere, eventually I found myself directly inside a little girl’s psyche with all of her guilt, pain, and shame. I kept my pen moving and then found myself inside the source of the pain, exactly when and where I was when I adopted the belief that I wasn’t deserving. I wrote and I wept and eventually came into a clearing: a meadow of beautiful spring flowers, a gentle breeze caressing my wounds, and songbirds singing love songs above me. And in this sacred setting, I forgave my parents and all of those who contributed to that little girl’s pain where she thought she wasn’t good enough. I offered them my love and it came back to me one-hundred-fold.
By the time I put my pen down, I was singing—literally! I was one of those songbirds singing out my love. And I knew that I could go ahead with the crowd funding. If people judged me, I would still be okay. It would be an invitation to peel away another layer of ego that holds me hostage whenever I take seriously what I perceive others are thinking about me.
And that was just the beginning of my day! Before I walked out of my house to go to my team meeting at the Schizophrenia Society at noon, three more miracles occured!
One, I picked up one of Wayne Dyer’s books and opened it randomly to a page titled, Money and Self-Esteem! Seriously?! How DOES that work? Anyway, it spoke and affirmed of all the things I had just been writing about.
After that I sat in silence for about 20 minutes feeling love pour into me and out of me, and then the phone rang. It was the supervisor of a company where I had stopped services about a year ago, but they had still been charging me a monthly fee. It was my error, as I hadn’t cancelled my plan in the way they had specified because I didn’t read the directions properly. Without a moment’s hesitation, she told me she was going to refund me the money. Two days earlier an employee of the company had told me that a refund wasn’t possible because I hadn’t followed the company’s policy! I literally cried in gratitude with this offer of a refund.
Next came the third miracle: feeling that I AM deserving and that it’s okay to be me just the way I am, I went to my phone and made a video of myself honouring my sisters around the world for International Women’s Day. The day before I would have been mortified to put a video of myself on Facebook without make-up and looking less than svelte dahling!
What started the ball rolling on this sense of joy and freedom and these miracles was this simple equation: Despair + Journaling = Alchemy & Transformation
How does that work? Because you get to tell your truth. All of it! No one else but you and the page. No one there to correct your writing or have an opinion about it. Just you, a pen, and some paper.
Well, there is one other secret ingredient that sneaks in there when we allow it, when we aren’t judging what we write. God. The Universe. Universal Intelligence. Love . . . name it what you will. But I guarantee you that It is always with you in ways you could never imagine!
Today, commit to writing in your journal about something that has been niggling at you, something that has been keeping you in guilt, shame, unworthiness, self-doubt, even self-loathing. Write deeply into your truth. Don’t hold back. Let your heart spill onto the pages until you find that you are no longer a person writing, but an energy moving through space and time, and when you awaken from this writing reverie, you will be someone other that who you were when you first began.
P.S. More miracles … I just went downstairs to the laundry room and what was on the table? A card saying, “You Make a Difference”! Thank you for the difference you make in my life. Love this day, and go out and make a difference. Love yourself and let that love shine into everyone and everything you think, see, and do!
This is the second in a series, featuring people who have gone through difficult times and, through their own processes of healing, have come to a place of peace. Unless we are people like Eckhart Tolle or Byron Katie who have had spontaneous awakenings, it can take a very long time… and yet with perseverance and grace, we are healed.
This week I am proud to feature a dear friend of mine, Judith Rockert. I met Judith approximately twenty years ago in Toronto and there was an instant camaraderie. Not long after we met, she learned of my bouts of deep depression, the revolving-door hospitalizations, and became a rock for me.
Unfortunately, she had had plenty of experience as a caregiver for someone with mental illness—her very own precious and truly gifted son Mitch, who lived with schizophrenia. Mitch took his life some years before I met Judith. Judith is a hero to me. Below is Mitch’s story told in Judith’s words. In addition there is an audio-file you can listen to, starting with a recording of Mitch playing music with friends.
In November 2015 when I was visiting Toronto, Judith took me to see Mitch’s artwork in the gallery where it is now permanently housed, and I had the privilege of having Judith share the stories that went with each piece.
If you have a story you’d like to share with us, please tell me about it or leave a comment below.
Mitch Rockert: 1957 – 1983
by Judith Rockert
Much of the 25 years of my son Mitch’s life were a living nightmare for him and all of us who dearly loved him. He was conscious, warm and loving, funny, handsome, tender and charismatic. He was brilliant, a talented musician, a creative artist and he also had paranoid schizophrenia with severe psychotic bouts. He was in pain with no relief in sight. He was a spectacular person with deep insight into his condition.
It was the dark ages of mental illness. Very little was known or explained, there were poor medical facilities for people like him, and terrible communication between doctors and families. In these times, secrecy was standard, and people hesitated to discuss suicide for fear of triggering another attempt—and there were many. Meds were riddled with side effects that were unmanageable.
In Canada, there were no locked facilities and the professionals clearly indicated that if Mitch wasn’t confined, he would surely take his life. Keeping him alive until after he turned 30 was the goal, as apparently the illness becomes a washed-down version after that. I was determined to find answers, doctors who could help us—I committed to leaving NO stone unturned.
I found a hospital in Connecticut that met our prerequisites, and he was admitted in 1978, remaining there for 4 years. Following his return to Toronto, he took his life in a subway in April of 1983 at the age of 25.
How did I cope? Those were gut-wrenching days for me. I was the owner of a travel business that was very demanding. In some ways, it probably saved me, occupying my mind with something other than mental illness.
In other ways, my physical being was breaking down. I experienced huge weight gain, crying and sobbing daily in emotional pain, hiding from those that didn’t ‘get it’, trying to keep the family together, keeping the peace between our staff and my business partner, whose morals and values were the polar opposite of mine, and always wearing a mask to the outside world. I lived a pretense.
Quite apart from the issues of psychiatrists, hospitals, electric shock therapy and anti psychotic drugs, I came to realize that the rest of my life was toxic. I was pulled in many directions and needed a warm heart and arm around me. Both eluded me. There was no refuge.
I was really alone and from that I learned to be strong within myself. I discovered that I had whatever I needed inside of me. I was my light—my light was in me. I was my strength; my strength was in me. I relied on my own resources for comfort and sustenance. I found my power.
I also think that having a fatal food allergy has strengthened my core. I must be vigilant daily in my food intake whether I’m cooking for myself or eating in a trusted restaurant. My very life rests in my hands so I’ve grown strong within myself. I’m very outgoing, well-travelled, and love people, so I bond with others easily and am interested in their lives.
During those years, I connected with two psychotherapist friends that I could talk to. It was a great relief to speak openly about Mitch’s condition and the heartache caused by the chaos of mental illness.
For those of you facing a mental illness diagnosis of a loved one today, the dark ages have morphed into the light. There are now better drugs, improved medical facilities, better communication between families and doctors, and a host of supportive services available. An openness and acceptance have evolved where only hiding and shame existed.
Search out every resource and give some of them a try. Some will fit with your story and others will not. But know that hope is here where there was a vacuum in Mitch’s time. I encourage you to search, to find a new piece… something you didn’t know before; something that will help you and your loved one. My open heart wishes you many insights on your journey.
After Mitch’s death, I sought advice and guidance and when I was ready, there was a divorce, saying goodbye to the business I’d nurtured, and finally a knowing that Mitch had achieved the success he was so driven to accomplish—taking his life and ending the pain for which there was no other answer.
Years later, I wrote this poem:
The open window frames the midnight sky.
A sliver of a silver moon hangs suspended, keeping company with a myriad of stars.
Translucent clouds appear as if by palate, brushed here and there amongst the heavens.
During this tranquil moment, I think of you Mitch, a spirit free of pain, having paid your karmic debt while here on earth.
Gone are the incarcerations and confinements that bound your soul.
Your purity and goodness transcends the higher plane you now call home.
My heart is full of maternal love for who you were; for the legacy and life awakening lessons you left behind.
There is great peace in knowing you are finally free~~~and so am I.
Gainey Ranch, Scottsdale, Arizona | Winter 1992
Mitch’s Art Exhibit Opening
Several years ago, I was looking for a permanent place for Mitch’s paintings to be displayed. A friend introduced me to Dr. Nehama Baum, the Director of the MukiBaum Accessibility Centre in Toronto. Dr. Baum opened her arms to the idea of being a home to Mitch’s some thirty pieces of artwork. She suggested an opening night to introduce his work. She is a maverick in this field; a woman of great wisdom and experience. Using Dr. Baum’s person-centred Multi-Focal Approach, the Centre provides services, treatments, and opportunities to people with complex autism and other developmental, and/or neurological sensory disabilities.
Below is a recording of the art exhibit opening (wait 10 seconds for the sound to start). You’ll hear Mitch playing guitar and bass on two songs. He and some friends recorded the songs in Connecticut a few months before he died.
There were several speakers that evening: Bob, a cousin, spoke of his connection to Mitch and their shared love of the outdoors, Dr. John spoke of his work with the brain, Dr. Baum spoke of the dream every parent has for their child, and I spoke of Mitch, his life and his death.
Instead of offering a writing prompt this week, I would like to put this to you: if you are a parent, friend, or caregiver of a person with a mental health challenge, or are someone with a lived experience of mental illness, it would be wonderful to receive your comments. You can leave a comment for Judith or share your own journey below.
For myself, as a woman with bi-polar illness, diagnosed at the age of 19, I can say that today there is so much more hope. I am blessed to work part-time at BC Schizophrenia Society in Victoria and there are wonderful programs that are life changing and are also free of charge. You can see what we offer here.
I am beginning to feature heroes and heroines on my blog—everyday people who have undergone heartbreaking, soul-crushing challenges, and are now on the other side of them.
Even though they weren’t sure how they were going to get there, they did. They found that they have more strength and resilience than they ever thought possible and now wish to share their experiences so that others in similar circumstances can learn and grow from the lessons they have learned along the way.
Are you ready to share your hero or heroine story? If so, just tell me what your story is about and I’ll be in touch for sure!
Today I am proud to feature Brand New Author, LAWRENCE JW COOPER!
Lawrence is one of my most recent book coaching clients and his beautiful book, Bi: A Bisexual Man’s Transformational Journey from Agony to Ecstasy has now been published! He is a master of prose and poetry, a man called to enlightenment, born from the utmost depths of despair as a wise man, shaman of the heart.
Here Lawrence gives you a glimpse into the transformation that led to the writing of his book:
Bi: From Agony to Ecstasy by Lawrence JW Cooper
My life was in ruins. My gender issues that I had tried so hard to conceal had blown up in my face. My wife of 33 years divorced me, I was forced to take an early retirement from my career as a psychologist, and I went into a deep dark depression. I was admitted into an eighteen-week program for depression, anxiety disorder, and a personality disorder with gender identification issues. I was placed on heavy medication, and developed some coping skills. But drugs and therapy of the mind were useless; I needed to heal my soul.
Black clouds have appeared on the horizon again,
Blocking out the warm rays of the morning sun.
There is no clarity again today,
Just the knowledge that there can never be a reason
That can be believed.
There can never be hope
That can be realized.
There can never be faith
In anything without a foundation.
There can never be peace;
There can never be love.
There is only myself,
With no sense of who I am,
And no idea of where to go.
After therapy, I sold or gave away everything I had, settled into a small mountain village in Costa Rica, and started a ten-year process of deep inner healing. I gradually peeled away the layers of the onion of pain. With the help of my reborn spirit, I was able to toss out all the medication and enter into a peaceful state within my own soul. This eventually led to a series of spiritual strategies and insights that have carried me here, to this contended place, where I am at peace with myself and my gender. I have experienced a spiritual awakening that has given me a deep heart based peace, and a spiritual joy that is now at the core of my being. I learned to love myself which, in turn, set me free to experience true love for the first time. I now live a life of bliss with an amazing woman who accepts my gender issues and loves me just the way I am. When we have issues we resolve them and use these moments to learn and grow as a couple and as individuals.
Throughout this healing process, I journaled my path from agony to ecstasy in poetry. At the urging of my wife I compiled this book of feelings through poetry, added personal stories from my journey in prose, and tossed in psychological and spiritual insights in essays from my present views as a conscious psychologist.
But I was still not sure I wanted to share these deeply intimate feelings; that’s when I decided to engage in a one to one coaching program with Junie. That is when I found my voice and realized that I have a message that needs to be told. We explored the area of the target audience. The original hope was that it may be of help to other bisexual men and their families. But the view and the work itself have evolved into much more than that.
This is above all a one-man journey, not only to peace, but to ecstasy. This is about my discovery of the divine nature of my inner soul and the great capacity of my heart to love my Self and the people around me. This is a book of spiritual conquest of the shadows of my human experience. I share this collection of feelings and insights with you in the hope that together we may transcend the shadows of this world and be the creatures of light that we are truly meant to be.
The Voice of Love
There is a new voice,
The voice of a Spirit Divine,
Telling me I need to throw off these chains,
And run wild before the wind.
It implores me to open my Self up
To everything I have feared,
To explore the depths of the forbidden,
And to learn to desire the undesirable,
So that I may experience the excitement of the unknown,
And stir my consciousness with arousal and yearning,
Until my soul is empowered to melt opposites into oneness,
And my heart has been set free to teach chaos how to dance.
Write about a time that you were stronger than you thought. Begin with: I never thought I could do it, never thought I would see the light of day again until…
Author Support Group
Are You Ready to Write Your Book? Sure? Not Sure? Let’s Talk! I’ll be offering an Author Support Group this spring, on Wednesday evenings for eight weeks beginning April 13th. Your dream begins here. And you won’t have to do it alone! It will be my joy and privilege to guide you right to the finish line, either one-on-one or as part of the group. Read all the details here.
I almost always have the intention to get up early in the morning and go for a walk before I do ANYTHING else, including showering—lest I be tempted to check my emails or engage in some other time-squandering activity. “No,” I tell myself. “Just get up, brush your teeth (that one’s non-negotiable), and throw on your jeans and a sweatshirt—any one will do—and go.”
Then morning comes, it’s semi-dark outside, and the warmth of my bed and comforter often seduce me back to dreamtime. Today was no exception except that my brain started ruminating on the refrain in Rumi’s poem, Don’t Go Back to Sleep:
The breezes at dawn have secrets to tell you
Don’t go back to sleep!
You must ask for what you really want.
Don’t go back to sleep!
People are going back and forth
across the doorsill where the two worlds touch,
The door is round and open
Don’t go back to sleep!
The words were relentlessly insistent. I sat up, turned on my night lamp and noticed the book I had taken down from my bookshelf last night and placed there called Writing the Sacred:A Psalm-Inspired Path to appreciating and writing Sacred Poetry, by Ray McGinnis (which I highly recommend). I opened it randomly to a page that read:
“I wake up and a new day has begun. There is air to breathe…daylight. The earth is renewing itself with sunshine; or watering grass, gardens, and vegetation with rain. Birds sing; waves lap upon the shore. The earth pulsates with life.
…Most of us have a place we like to go that we call sanctuary; a place that is restful, healing, beautiful and revitalizing. I have a number of these places. One is close by, requiring only that I step outside my front door. There I can view the wonders of English Bay, walk along the seawall, listen to the waves crash along the shore, hear seabirds, and smell the salt in the air.
I have a route that usually includes Vancouver’s Lost Lagoon. On my way, I encounter raccoons, squirrels, chipmunks, skunk, occasionally a coyote or beaver, swans, geese and other waterfowl.
When some people begin their day with the news, I begin it with a fresh encounter with the natural environment outside my home.”
Okay, this is no accident that Don’t Go Back to Sleep is echoing in my ears and this book and these passages await me. The book has 219 pages and I open it here? No accident.
And an even bigger coincidence (of course, there is no such thing), Ray is writing about a place I once lived, and the walk he takes is the same one I took almost daily and coveted—and it was also a stone’s throw from English Bay and Lost Lagoon. But that’s not all:
Just last night I answered an email from a woman who is receiving coaching from me to write her book. She said that she has been feeling depressed lately and is far behind in her work and is not motivated to write. She’s also in Vancouver and won’t be back until Thursday. “Can we hold off for now?” she asked. In my reply I let her know that our process is about nurturance and not pressure. Among some comforting words I offered her, I suggested she take time between business meetings to walk along the beaches of English Bay and Lost Lagoon! The very words that were on the pages meant for me this morning!
This was too obvious a message to ignore. It was stronger than a shake or tap on the shoulder whispering, “Junie, time to get up.” No, this was a message that was clearer than clear. And within minutes I was out the door.
It was cold and wet but that didn’t stop me. I walked down the street four blocks and was in Victoria’s answer to Stanley Park—Beacon Hill Park, which is lush and vibrating with new life: daffodils and crocuses are lifting their colourful heads in joy, the peacocks, ducks and geese are swimming, diving, flying, and walking upon the earth, in the pools, and in the fountains. The soft rain is leaving glass bubbles on the tips of leaves and in puddles on the pavement. Even the gray sky has a silver lining running through it this morning. And I can’t forget to mention the magnificent cherry blossoms that are showing off their pinkness in mid-February. In Canada! Seriously!
Oh my… Thank you Rumi and thank you Ray McGinnis. And to you, I say, don’t go back to sleep. No matter where you live, there are sounds and sights and smells that only come in the morning to wake us up in ways that nothing else can. This is what awaited me… just beyond my doorstep:
Don’t go back to sleep. Set your alarm for 6:30 a.m. and go for a 45-minute walk, taking your journal with you. Walk with all your senses awake: breathing in the air, notice what you see up close and in the distance. Are you warm enough? Are there other people on their way to work? Are you strolling city streets or pausing in nature? What sounds do you hear? When your senses are full, take yourself to a neighbourhood coffee shop, order a latte, take out your journal and fill the pages with your fresh memory of visceral and sensual delights.
Blessings to you,
P.S. If you live in Victoria and you want to join me for a silent mindfulness walk and a chatty coffee afterwards… email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love an early morning walking buddy to tell me, “Don’t go back to sleep. Don’t go back to sleep.”
Please listen to it because it could possibly save your life or that of a loved one. And please send it to anybody you know who may benefit by it.
On Sunday, July 19th, 2015 I attended a vigil in Beacon Hill Park for a gentle and kind man named Robby Holly.
As I mentioned above, when Robby took his life it was a shock to everyone who knew him – including the people who were his closest friends. Although I didn’t know Robby well, I did know him to be a kind, gentle soul and like a brother to many.
There was a big surprise party last month for his 59th birthday –followed with dinners, gatherings with friends and other outings. Then one day he just didn’t show up for work. Nor the next day or the next and then he was found dead. No-one could believe it! Firstly, because he didn’t show it and secondly, because he never reached out to tell anyone he was in such despair.
How often do we not show what we are really feeling? How often do we wear a ‘have it all together’ persona to mask our pain? We tell people we are fine or even if we tell them that we are feeling sad or anxious or depressed, we won’t mention the severity of it – that we are scared, even having suicidal thoughts – or worse – we have a plan. We simply do not reach out.
Robby did not know how to remove the masks so that people could see his torment. It’s an impossible place to be. It’s shame based and most of us who carry these feelings don’t want to show how bad it is. We want be seen as having our “shit together.” I think the most prevalent reason for this is because we think people will consider us needy – a burden and will leave us if we show our vulnerability.
There were about 35 of us that gathered on short notice to honour Robby’s life in Beacon Hill Park. Once seated on the grass, we passed the talking stick, and each of us spoke from the rawness we were feeling. We removed the masks we typically wear for social occasions and shared from our hearts how we were affected by Robby’s choice to end his life.
What struck me was how personal this was for so many of us – having either tried to take our own life or that we have had a close friend, spouse or family member who did.
It seemed like every person who spoke, whether or not they tried to end their lives, have at some time gone through the dark night of the soul and felt alone and very frightened. I think the biggest message that came in loud and strong among us was that we must do whatever it takes and reach out to someone. I know how hard reaching out can be – but I urge everyone reading this – that if you are suffering – tell a friend – tell a loved one – call a help line. Please don’t choose to be alone.
On Sunday we came together as a community, even though some of us had never met before. But no matter how close we were to Robby or to one-another, we bonded in that sacred circle and we intend to keep the bond alive. We know it can literally save our lives or the life of a friend. Perhaps this is the biggest gift Robby inadvertently gave us.
As a society, isn’t it time for us to tear off the deceptive masks that turn us into robots – mere shadows of ourselves? Loneliness and isolation are the ultimate cause of our suffering and staying there perpetuates it. We do NOT need to suffer in silence.
I urge you – as a person who has gone as far down the rabbit hole as anyone can go, please – put aside the shame, the fear or whatever it is that stops you from reaching out and find someone to talk to. Be courageous enough to save your own precious life. Even if things seem hopeless right now, circumstances do change. It takes a lot of faith at a time of deep despair to believe that but sometimes it just takes one step that could make all the difference in the world. It’s not a small step. It’s a huge, courageous leap to punch in 10 numbers on a phone…but it could save your life and the heartbreak of everyone who loves you.
Also, you do not need to wait until things are in a critical state. When you are well – call together a group of friends and begin a conversation to discuss what to do if anyone of you are going through a tough time. Dare to be honest about what you need and honest about what you are able to give.
I know most of us are busy with our own crazy long to-do lists and it’s a legitimate concern about putting one more thing on our plate. But that’s the beauty of coming together as a community, a group of friends or family members. No one person has to do it all. Caregiving and duties can be dispersed. Someone can prepare meals, we can drive someone to their appointments; someone can take their loved one for a walk in nature, pop in a dvd – watch a movie together or simply sit quietly and hold your loved one’s hand. And if you don’t know what to do, ask, “what do you need?”
We all need each other; we all want to feel needed and there is no shame in that. In fact it’s a beautiful thing to give and to be open to receive. If you notice a friend in need – please reach out because they can’t always do it themselves. And don’t wait for someone else to take the lead. It may be too late.
I’m going to ask for your help right now. Please take a moment to respond to this post, listen to the interview on the cost of wearing a mask and share your own stories.
Writing is my go-to resource. It can be a life-saver.as our wisdom is within us.
Here are 3 writing prompts that you can write from to learn your deeper truth.
1. Sometimes I wear a mask to protect me from…
2. The price I pay for wearing a mask is…
3. I am willing to…
Set a timer for 20 minutes and write. Be sure to share it with a loved one, therapist or someone you trust.
Or place it right here in the comments box. Your comments could easily be the salve that brings hope and relief to someone in despair.
There is a program I facilitate at the BC Schizophrenia Society in Victoria called WRAP. It stands for Wellness Recovery Action Plan. It is an evidence based program designed for anyone in need – not just someone with a mental illness – to get well and stay well. Part of that program is about putting together a support team for times of crisis.
A painting that my friend Davida created as a gift for my 40th birthday.
Happy Birth Day Davida. Baruch Hashem
The following letter, another among the many that I am writing for my new book,
If You Only Knew…A Book of Letters is dedicated to Davida Hoyos. She was my friend for over two decades.
Today, August 11th would have been her birthday and it is fitting that I honour her today although I wrote this some time ago. It remained in a drawer with much of my other writings. Today I am removing it from that drawer and onto this public forum to share my love for her out loud.
Davida, if you only knew…
If you were still alive, today would be your birthday. And more than likely, we would be celebrating it in the one of the many ways that you love to celebrate. You were the ‘quintessential Leo. ”You loved bravado, good taste and a good party!
One of my favourite parties was when you asked everyone to bring you something that represented something we loved.
I made you the Cat Jam Jazz/Blues Band set on a two-tiered cardboard box that I painted purple. It was equipped with a mirrored dance floor with dancers and musicians – all cats, of course – and made with pipe cleaners and it was the most fun project I had ever worked on! I mean, it did represent things I loved and continue to love – music, dance, and cats!
And how I loved you for as long as our friendship was alive…and still.
So many things I wanted to tell you. I hope you can hear me now.
What was buried so deeply in a protective bolder so that I wouldn’t shatter into rock, then crumble into sand, erupted last night in a shocking blast of dynamite. There is no protective cover now –I come to you raw – my soul fully exposed…and in memory I see you there when you opened your door as you had for two decades of our lives always dressed to the nines –larger than life – all 5 foot ten of you and your flaming red hair wild and our hugs which sometimes felt more like a visits, just as often got cut short by the excitement of what we were about to share…. the latest news coupled with gossip and giggles, disappointments and tears as we cared and we shared and paired as no other in our lives at that time. And even with daily visits when we lived in the same building or the most – weekly visits when we didn’t’, we came to each other brand new every time. And then the day came that I dreaded, the day I had to tell you my news that I was moving to the west coast – to the place my soul longed to be for 30 years – and I watched as your face went pale as you attempted a smile and told me how happy you were for me. And although you may have been, it was just too damn hard for you…not again…not again…too many endings to bear.
You couldn’t stand the pain of another person you loved leaving you. You chose your few friends carefully and with any perceived threat you would leave them before they could leave you. So you withdrew from me…and then withdrew even more and you built walls to protect your heart which left my heart broken so deep in despair that eventually I copied you and built my own walls to cover a loss that no words could comfort.
And then Carla’s call one week ago. 5:30 in the morning. Sorry to wake you. June, but I knew you would want to know. Davida died yesterday morning. And I shrieked NO! And I hung up the phone with tears streaming down my face and grabbed my journal and madly scribbled 22 pages of heartbreak. But it wasn’t enough – there was more. I was driven now, the damn had burst. The rock was now sand and before it was swallowed by the sea, I had to embody it all. You, me, us… So I found the file that carried the remnants of our life – almost too heavy to carry filled with all the cards and letters and poetry and paintings that I could never throw out and even though it split my heart open to be with all these memories that spoke our story of love – a love that was supposed to last forever no matter where our geography took us, I needed to remember every one. I needed to get drunk on your essence. So what I always wanted to tell you Davida, is deep inside I always missed you and I do still.
So here we are meeting again.. a meeting beyond the veil. But it’s a transparent veil and I can see your eyes. I can almost touch you.
You know, I looked at your painting the other night before I went to bed. It has been hanging on my wall since I moved here 3 years ago and has hung in every home I’ve ever lived since you gave it to me for my 40th birthday – 21 years after we met. And I looked at it that night as though I was looking at it for the very first time…and it was curious. I wondered if I should still keep it there. Maybe I should take it down. After all, you weren’t in my life any more. The friendship was long over. But as I stood there taking in the brilliant colours of every flower on the canvas, so vivid you could almost smell their fragrance and the monarch butterfly finding its’ nectar in the calla lily, a sadness washed over me…but also a love so pure that I knew I couldn’t and I wouldn’t take it down.
We haven’t spoken in about 4 years – no it’s probably been 7 or 8 but I want to lie … I want to believe that it never happened at all. That we spoke every day. That you did wish me well, that you withstood the geographical distance between us and you changed your adamant refusal to use email and so we would, and we’d talk on the phone and you’d come to visit me and I’d show you what drew me to this wonderous land and I’d make you my first priority on every return to Toronto. And we’d still be holding hands across the miles…to this very day…or at least ‘til the day you died. And now you left me. You left me. As long as I knew you were alive, there was always a tinge of hope that we’d find our way back to one another. You were not just my friend, you were my mentor. I could never repay you for what you taught me.
I was only 28. You were 30 when we met in Montreal and I have to admit I was intimidated by you. Intimidated by your worldliness, your stately beauty, self-assurance, intellect, sophistication, passion for theatre and painting and Judaism and your poetry…oh yes, your poetry…which is what bound us together in the first place. We began to meet regularly and read each other our poetry. Mine always felt insignificant compared to yours. Yours were filled with stunning imagery, metaphor, never superfluous. You used words I had never heard of but I knew what they meant because my heart understood.
And somehow my poetry moved you…or perhaps it was my ability to be vulnerable and opening my heart on the page, not in a sophisticated way, but in a real way that made you love me. Your poetry became your medicine as you blasted through your world in a flurry of activity, at the hub of the Montreal’s largest cultural events.
You immersed yourself so completely so you wouldn’t feel the unspeakable loss of Leo’s death. It happened only a year before I met you but it took months before you told me the details. Until then you assumed the Jacqueline Kennedy stance of holding your head high, dignified. You put a padlock on the part of your heart that died the day that he did.
There you were, on vacation in Mexico with your best friends, celebrating your 6th anniversary when suddenly he keeled over on the dance floor and was dead by the time he hit the ground. A brain amorism. Six months later your other beloved best friend died, your father. The man you worshipped. The man who taught you the richness of life. The one with whom you shared Torah and philosophy and literature and politics. The one who instilled in you a love and thirst for knowledge where learning became as essential as breathing. And you brought this learning to your students for 30 years.
Davida’s place. The place for kids to come after school to work on the subjects they couldn’t pass. The students that the teachers and parents and psychologists believed would never know academic achievement having failed year after year. But not you. You threw away all the so called professional reports and found the soul of every child and loved them back to life. Little by little they began to stand taller and their grades improved until they aced them and went on to university. That wasn’t a one-time deal. That was the norm. And it wasn’t just the kids. It was me too. Without your encouragement, love, mentorship and tutelage, I would never have gone back to school. You saw my intelligence and ability when I could not. You told me I was an excellent writer when you read my papers and you were not one to compliment when it came to academics unless it was deserved. And you guided me to the halls of York University and your joy was unsurpassed with each of my successes.
Even after you told me that our friendship was over and to please stop calling you, I couldn’t. So I sent you a video of my play, Madness, Masks and Miracles and you wrote me a letter that praised the writing, the performance, the brilliance of it, and your words meant more to me than any other accolades I received.
So Davida, if you were here, and of course you are, with all my heart I thank you. I thank you for the hugs and the love and scrabble games and the picnics and camping trips and the sedar dinners and oh my gosh…I could go on forever, couldn’t I?
And here you are right now beside me. Just as you were the night I stood and looked at your painting. You came to tell me all is forgiven and that you always loved me too.
You came to tell me you are at peace…and there is nothing that I would ever want more for you. I love you, my forever friend.
My latest book is called, If You Only Knew… A Book of Letters
As the title suggests, it is comprised of letters that I am writing to people who have had a profound impact on my life.
This letter is a tribute to woman who was a very close friend of mine.
Her name was Deborah Millar. She was an internationally acclaimed composer, performer and vocal coach. And an extraordinary woman.
Some of you may have known her. Feel free to post a comment below if you like.
My dearest Deborah,
I am listening to Ave Maria over the phone that another dear soul, my writing buddy, Debora Seidman, is playing for me from her home in Taos, New Mexico. Earlier, when I heard her introduction to this song, talking about the divine feminine – about passion and peace and purity…it brought me to these pages. I leapt from my chair and onto this computer, where I am writing to you, finally… with my heart wide open. Ave Maria is still reverberating throughout my whole being and bringing me to you where you remain alive. And you greet me here. You are also greeting me with an open heart and beyond that, a tender smile, full acceptance, forgiveness and light. Thank you! Oh, yes, thank you! I have been so burdened for letting you down.
I know that you understood. So perhaps this letter is to myself in some way. A time for self forgiveness – because I only want to remember us the way we were – once we melted away the boundaries of teacher and student and became sisters, dancing this way and that, in this crazy, wonderful, mixed up and mysterious world together.
I will never forget the first time I laid eyes on you. I would never have known you were an acclaimed composer and vocal coach. How could I have known when you walked into my home on the first day of a new writing circle and introduced yourself to me in an almost apologetic manner? You were not quite sure you should be here. You were not quite sure if you could write – but thought you would like to give it a try.
I felt your humility along with a presence that was captivating. The kind that enfolds a person when they look into the eyes of a wise woman, a shaman, a teacher of the highest order. You carried a presence and a dignity that was both regal and simple at the same time. An impossible mix … yet you were able to hold each with equanimity. Without pretence. Even later, when you were very sick, even when you were the most vulnerable a person can be, you remained noble and gracious.
And on that first night when you wrote from an exercise I offered and then tentatively shared what you had written, the silence that followed was breath taking. It was the kind of silence you experience in a concert hall after a performance of the highest calibre. That all consuming inhalation when the audience becomes one entity that can no longer hold its breath, and so it explodes into a torrent of thunderous applause. It was like that after you read and I wanted to leap to my feet and give you a standing ovation. I think we all did. And I probably would have if I was sitting in the circle beside you and not the teacher.
And your writing continued to evoke that same response week after week until you began to trust your own voice on the page in spite of a lifetime of doubt. Children’s stories, poetry, prose, song lyrics and memoir came tumbling out of you in the same way a parched and starving person would grab and clutch a flask of water and then gulp it down. Each piece seemed to be written as though it would be your last.
You were writing as though your life depended on it and it did. You were writing for your life.
For a long time it was only me who knew the demon you were fighting. I wondered if you were going to share it with the others in our circle. It seemed awkward that you didn’t with the intimacy that was present. I never questioned your choice. I just wondered. And then one night you arrived late looking disheveled and very pale with make-up that tried to cover a face tormented by pain. I rose to greet you and hug you and wished that hug could melt away the hopelessness I read in your eyes. You sat down, tried to smile but the mask cracked and you wept and you told the group that you had stage four cancer. That you had just come from seeing the doctor who told you to get your affairs in order.
You courageously tried to summon the brave part of you and declared that you were going to fight just like you had for the last four years. You told us that you weren’t supposed to have lived beyond six months when you got the first prognosis. But then, in an almost inaudible whisper, you said you weren’t as confident this time.
You continued to come to the group – sometimes having to miss because of the fatigue and nausea from the treatments. But you continued to write. And then write more.
Writing became your devoted spiritual practice. You were reaching in to find the voice that you privately tucked away in order to survive all those years ago. Buried deep within you were secrets and pain no-one would ever know about once you took your place on the stage as an internationally acclaimed composer, conductor, and performer and voice coach. And on top of that you donned a quick wit and wild sense of humour that could bring the house down equally as you much as when you were performing.
After 16 years of an illustrious career in Europe you returned home to Victoria to make your name here.
Of course, I tell myself you moved back so we could meet. How else could I have met you? And had I not, it would have been a terrible loss in my life – to not know one who loves as deeply as you.
And at first sight I felt a sense of familiarity. I knew immediately our relationship would be more than teacher and student. And later when the workshop was over and you asked to continue privately, of course, I said yes. And so you did and began writing with a vengeance – telling stories of your life you never dared to tell before, memories purging out of you about people and events never revealed to another living soul. You were ready and felt safe enough to unburden, sister to sister, friend to friend, soul to soul. In fact, you were willing to tell it all until the suffering of the past would become stories of strength and heroism.
When your body became more and more frail, writing became your prayer, your way to God. And our visits became less about your book, and more about two people needing one another. For me, it was to give all that I could to a friend whom I loved. For you, it was having me to hold you as you sobbed, when the terror took over…when you knew you had to surrender to this vicious beast that was devouring your body when more than anything else in the world, you wanted to live. You had to, you said. You needed to leave your legacy…your book…what you now understood. If it were to help even one other person, you said that is all that mattered.
The book took a dramatic shift from teaching people how to sing – a user-friendly, `how to book` about what you have learned about the body and posture, vocal chords and breathing techniques and examples. It was a book of the heart, daring to tell parts of your own story. How as a child your own voice was stripped away bit by bit. It was a book about who you were and who you have become.
Your hand couldn’t move fast enough across the page in order to share how vital it was to speak your truth, reclaim your voice, your power, and ultimately your life. It felt like a desperate act. The longing was so great. And that’s how it ended. Sadly, that’s how it ended.
The curtain came down before the last chapter got written. Before the dream was ever realized.
I miss you, my friend. And I need to tell you, finally, I am sorry. I am so sorry for not being able to tell you back then why I couldn’t continue to see you. Why our private lessons had to end while you still needed me so.
The truth was, dear Deborah, I too was dying. A different kind of death – but a death all the same. The death of my spirit, my joie de’vivre, of all I knew of life, of friends and laughter and ocean walks and love and of meaningful work. Instead the curse returned – the unrelenting suicidal ideation, anxiety and crippling depression – what I have come to call the torture chamber of my mind – part of my diagnosis of bi-polar affective disorder. This is when hope feels like the farthest thing from my truth.
Yet, how on earth could I tell you that! You, who were really dying…your body disappearing in front of me…how could I tell you then, that I too was dying in my own way. My dying was filled with shame…the kind that comes from the stigmas around this insidious, crippling disease. I learned at a young age to put on a tight mask so no-one would know I was suffering inside.
But now the mask was crumbling and I couldn’t let you see it. I don’t know what lame excuse I used. I only remember how you gasped, and swallowed tears, trying desperately to understand.
And the only other thing I remember is it split my heart open to tell you that … that it made me sink into an even larger pit of self loathing – but I swear, Deborah, I didn’t have another ounce of energy to give anyone. I was barely getting myself out of bed then. It couldn’t have been worse timing.
And from that day, until now, even though we would see each other again, the guilt I have carried has been enormous. I know it is time to forgive myself – it is long overdue. I know you have forgiven me.
I just wish we had met as children and were best friends so we could have shared a life time together. But you know…every moment we did share, things we did together, things said and unsaid, were and will always be, precious to me.
Deborah, you made a magnificent impact on this earth. I hope you know that. You were so brave, and beautiful and talented and funny!
And you were such a gift to me. It has taken me this long to write. Is it a year? More?
Here I am typing on the very same computer where you put your fingers when we had our closure on the last day of our sacred writing circle. We were reading out the letters we had written, that expressed our appreciation for one another.
You waited to be last. Then you went to my computer and put on the Leonard Cohen song “Dance Me To The End of Love”. When it was over, you said, “Junie, this is my gift for you. This is what you do for us. You write us to the end of love.”
Now I am remembering our last time together. Our walk in Beacon Hill Park. It was a beautiful, glorious day. You told me you weren’t afraid any more. You told me that you had come to peace with your life. That you had been seeing a minister at your church and he has been helping. I could feel all of that to be true. You truly had a peacefulness about you. We made a plan to meet again in a few weeks after I returned from California. You wanted me to come to your house and see Gaston again…your beautiful, fat, regal cat whom you adored.
I called you as soon as I got back to hear your voice, to confirm our meeting. Someone else answered your phone. I asked for you. She said, I’m so sorry to tell you, Deborah transitioned two days ago. I put down the phone and I wept.
I knew you were looking forward to coaching the Getting Higher Choir at their performance at the Alex Goolden Hall. And I was told later that you did it. In fact, there was a video of that evening. I watched it and it was shocking to see you being held up, supported to get up the few steps onto the stage. You were so ill. But one tenet you upheld to the very end is that the show must go on. And on it went.
You died the next day.
What a hero. I wonder if you were at your Celebration of Life. I hope so. And maybe it was good you were where you were, because there were no more seats left in the hall! That’s how loved you are! I hope you heard the choir as they lifted up their voices to the heavens to you. I was there and listened to dozens of people who came up and shared their personal adventures of you. Paid their tributes to you. Do you have any idea of how many lives you touched?
What an enormous life you led. How brave you were. How grateful I am to have known you, to have loved you.
Without a doubt in my heart, I know we will see each other again and will continue where we left off holding each other to the end of eternity, to the end of love.