At this middle-age stage of life I wonder: “Is there time left for me to see and be my truth?”
Recently, at therapy, a discussion around anger. My anger suppressed and turned inward.
Emotionally-abandoned as a child, my MO became to hold all my hurt and anger in so as not to create any more reasons for the adults in my life to walk away.
When certain adults abused my trust I, as any child would, turned that inside and found fault with myself.
Of course, as I grew older I learned to understand that being in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong people when one is an innocent is not a fault. It just is. If we are fortunate enough to survive we continue on our life path, however diverted, the best we can until we find our compass once again and can move on.
Still, for many years I paid the price for others’ delusions. As the perps walked off into their miserable sunset I was left with a heap of baggage for which I didn’t ask. For years I struggled to find a way to walk my path with my head held high while bearing the additional burden of a heavy, uncertain heart.
All the while I held my anger. I turned it inside. Beat myself up. Disguised my pain with the quest for perfection demanding nothing less of myself. Nothing I did was ever good enough. I lived in a constant state of needy anxiety, expending my precious energy making good for everyone but myself.
Well, in recent years this has stopped for the most part. My guided journey to self-awareness has helped me to release a lot of the baggage and, to some degree, lifted the weight off my heart.
Perhaps now it is safe to express my anger in a wholesome and healing way. And perhaps by learning to freely express my anger I will finally secure my voice.
I was 10 years old at the time and my form teacher at school had issued a challenge during an English lesson to write a poem for spring. It would have been this time of year, in fact.
I wrote it. Handed it in.
A few days later the teacher was distributing the marks and asking some of us to read our poems to the class.
On my paper he’d written “Very Good!” but in front of the class he asked me, “Are you sure you didn’t copy this from somewhere?”
I was a tender and insecure child being raised in a broken home and in the shadow of my mother’s operatic glory. To have the light shone on me at all was difficult enough but to be accused, perhaps even in jest, that the work I’d handed in was not my own totally mortified me. I defended myself, of course, and he seemed to accept it, but I have never forgotten how ill it made me feel to have someone question my integrity as a writer.
I know this poem by memory. To me it is one of my greatest early writing achievements. If I ever publish a proper book of my best poems this will have pride of place on the first page.
All other writing has sprung from this creative moment. It was the first time I saw myself as a writer and, ironically, the first time (and hopefully the last time) I was accused of plagiarism.
There was a huge gap of time before I was able to see myself as a writer in adulthood. Though I kept journals and occasionally wrote poetry I had disassociated when I was growing up so pursuing dreams and cultivating my talents was beyond my comprehension or ability.
It wasn’t until a kindly woman, my boss at the time, gave me a good, swift kick in the proverbial derriere (I was in my late 20s) that I began to awaken from my deep creative malaise and see myself as a writer, perhaps for the first time. I was working as her administrative assistant in the corporate relations department of a real estate association, and she saw something in me she thought needed cultivating. However, she had to threaten to fire me before I was able to wake up enough to see it myself.
This incredible woman waded through the muck of my unconsciousness to find something long hidden and almost lost, and gave me the opportunity to reclaim it. She taught me how to build an employee newsletter ~ research, write, edit, produce. It started at four pages and, as I got the hang of it, quickly grew to eight pages. Circulation about 150. I learned quickly and loved doing it. In time I was promoted to Editor of the association newsletter ~ a weekly publication circulated to more than 25,000 realtors in the Greater Toronto Area.
I suppose I share this to demonstrate the difference people can make in our lives, and to demonstrate that if we can only get out of our own way we might resurrect an important piece of our life puzzle.
Had my school teacher been more supportive and understood me and my life situation better he might not have been so free with his accusation and I might have had more confidence to pursue this obvious talent. There was no one at home to do this, so left to my own devices, confused and with nowhere to turn, my only alternative was to let it go. Even as a child it hurt too much to have my integrity questioned.
But, as I’ve learned, it takes just one person to see potential and show you what’s possible for you to start believing in yourself. And, as I am learning again in these middle years while pursuing a long-lost equestrian dream with a new coach, this can happen at any time in your life.
Music has always been a part of our family fabric.
From the ancestors who played in the brass bands of northern Michigan in the 1800s to my grandfather who played a multitude of instruments in his living room, to my grandmother who warbled like a bird while painting portraits of her beloved mountains, there was never any lack of music in my family.
It was only logical then, that at some point a generation would cultivate the gift of music and do something with it.
One side of the family inhabited the rock genre for many decades, touring the west coast of Canada and the U.S.
On our side of the family my mother Lois McDonall, in the early 1970s, burst onto the international operatic stage as a dramatic soprano specializing in the Bel Canto repertoire.
It was her career and a vital part of our formative lives. Divorced and raising two kids on her own in a land far from everything she knew, mom was the sole breadwinner and worked long hours to provide for my brother and I. We enjoyed a comfortable, but not extravagant life.
Given her humble beginnings in the middle-of-nowhere, Alberta, and the difficult upbringing she had as an only child in a deeply troubled home, her success in her chosen field of music was nothing less than miraculous. (Some day, when I feel so inclined, I may write about it.)
As you might imagine, then, our home was filled to the brim with classical music.
All through my formative years my mother’s career base was the English National Opera in London’s West End. My brother and I went to the opera a lot, so our memories of music revolve heavily around this experience.
To bring balance, I guess, my personal tastes leaned toward the country rock of the Eagles and other contemporary bands of the 1970s and 80s.
Both my brother and I learned to play the piano. He eventually moved on to the clarinet.
My musical training finely tuned my ear and to this day if an artist in any genre is the least bit sharp or flat, I cringe ~ turn down the sound, change the channel, turn the dial, walk out of the bar. My ears are spoiled for true sound. I suppose that’s why I’m not a big fan of auto-tuning.
Does this make me a music snob?
Perhaps. But I know what I like and I don’t like my ears assaulted. I’d rather listen to no music than be offended by something I don’t like.
Of course, I sing. Both my brother and I do.
Our small family enjoyed sing songs around the piano of a Sunday evening. Mom took the soprano part, I sang alto and my brother switched between tenor and bass. He’s always been clever that way.
In my late 20s I had the privilege of joining the 180-voice Toronto Mendelssohn Choir as a soprano and relished 12 seasons of pure music joy.
I’d always loved choral music and it was on my bucket list from a young age to sing in a large choir. This particular choir is one of the world’s great symphonic choral organizations, and one of the oldest. It’s noted for its pureness of tone and versatility. Singing with this amazing institution is one of the great music highlights of my life. Handel’s Messiah, Mozart Requiem, Brahm’s Requiem and so, so many more amazing choral standards and contemporary works resonate so deeply it’s like soul food to me.
Following my tenure with the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir I spent almost 10 years in a vocal trio ~ ChoirGirlz ~ so called because we met in the choir and decided we wanted to try our vocal chops on something new. Bluegrass and country was our first experiment, which went so well we expanded our repertoire to include a little bit of R&B, vocal jazz, as well as a lot of original material written specifically for our finely tuned voices.
We performed in bars, at fundraising concerts, at festivals, and recorded three CDs. We had a blast.
In 2010, we disbanded. We’d all had enough and it was time to move on.
I haven’t performed in public since, except for a hair-brained attempt at rock music in a temporary band a couple of years ago. Not my vocal genre at all, but fun. Through it I met a great voice coach with a jazz background and thought I might nurture myself into jazz. I enjoyed workshopping that for a while and have a great voice for it, but sadly adrenal fatigue put a wrench in the works. I just don’t have the extra vitality it takes (at this point, anyway) to sustain a performance to the standard I like and an audience deserves.
On one level this makes me sad. Still, if I was focusing on singing I wouldn’t be writing and that, to me, is where the thrust of my creative energy lies at this point in my life.
I have many fond memories of singing and the good fortune to have had it all start in a home filled with love and glorious music.
Once music is woven into our hearts it’s part of the fabric of our lives forever.
This highly-charged prompt brought the word “father” to mind.
Two fathers, actually. My Heavenly Father, with whom I have a good relationship and who has no need to write me such a letter.
And my Earthly father, who is a completely different story.
I do not wish to disparage him. Certainly, he had trials enough growing up that scarred his life. Still, as Iyanla Vanzant (@IyanlaVanzant) tweeted last evening … “Parents are people with hurts, wounds and stories – still children have the right to expect parents to be present.”
He was not present. Not in mind, body or spirit and, in fact, he declared during a phone call when I was 16 that if anyone was going to be hurt in this relationship it wasn’t going to be him.
So, is it possible that such a man, an intelligent one at that and a good writer, would ever know or understand my heart enough to know what to say in such a letter?
I doubt it.
And I have accepted it.
Our life paths have taken far different routes. He makes no effort to be in touch with me and I have no need to be in touch with someone who willfully hurts me.
Not all relationships are meant to be.
Conversely, I have always felt a strong connection to my Father in Heaven. He is the one, in the midst of life’s storms, who tells me everything will be alright. He is the one who wants only the best for me. He is the one who surrounds me with love and shows me my potential.
(This image is so full of meaning for me I hardly know where to begin.)
There are no coincidences. This is something in which I have firmly believed for some time. For good, or ill, life gives us what we need to learn and develop as spiritual beings in a mortal experience. It also makes available the tools we need to negotiate each challenge. It is up to us to be open of mind and heart so we can recognize them when they appear.
Here’s an example from my own life.
As all who follow this blog will know I have a horse whose registered name is “Shakespeare.” This is a beautiful and meaningful name in its own way, however it’s a bit cumbersome as an every day name at the barn.
So, while I was waiting for him to come home for the first time nearly eight years ago, I spent a bit of time noodling over what name I could give him that would evoke his larger than life personality, cuddly nature and solid physical form.
The name “Bear” came to mind fairly quickly. My home is populated with several collectible bears, and “Bear” includes a letter formulation of “ShakespEARe.” On the surface it made perfect sense, so I soon decided this was going to be his barn name.
Still, I had no idea of the deeper meaning to be held here.
During my trauma-filled childhood I comforted myself with stuffed bears. I’ve always had them around me. I guess they are, and always have been, a totem of some kind.
A couple of months after Bear came home and while I was studying natural horsemanship, I was introduced to the idea of the bear’s spiritual meaning. When I considered the trajectory of my life and the healing that was already in progress, things began to make sense.
The bear has several meanings that will inspire those who have this animal as totem:
The primary meaning of the bear spirit animal is strength and confidence
Standing against adversity; taking action and leadership
The spirit of the the bear indicates it’s time for healing or using healing abilities to help self or others
The bear medicine emphasizes the importance of solitude, quiet time, rest
The spirit of the bear provides strong grounding forces
Let’s look at the list again and how it relates to my experience.
The advent of my horse, Bear, acknowledged a significant time of healing in my life (no. 3). A time where I’ve had to go to ground (no. 5) and practice solitude and get rest (no. 4). Doing this has brought a greater sense of self-awareness and helped me to reclaim my life. Mr. Bear, as he is often called, has helped me to find the strength I need (no. 1) to smile in the face of adversity (no. 2) as I take action to manage, and heal from, the traumas released by therapy. And he’s helped me to find the confidence (no. 1) I need to move into a new and exciting phase of personal growth.
Bear is an incredible catalyst for positive change. I throw my arms around his neck and thank him every day for the beautiful healing role he plays in my life.
Is it a coincidence my beautiful dream-come-true should attract a name that represents healing on so many levels? I think not.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, our passion ~ whether it’s golf, sailing, horses, knitting, music or whatever ~ is our teacher. At a deeper level it speaks a language that touches our hearts and can heal us. All we need to do is choose to listen and respond in ways that lift us up, not tear us, or our passion, down.
My teacher, my catalyst for positive change is my horse ~ my Spirit Bear.
I am blessed.
This is my response to this week’s free writing challenge with Kellie Elmore. Slightly off the beaten track, but I don’t question these things in a free writing format. 😉
I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’m seeking professional help to unravel and make peace with my life.
Starting in my late 20s I began to experience wake-up calls. People and events emerged to shake things up, most often sending me into an emotional tailspin.
My initial response was always that of the victim.
“Why me? What did I do?”
Then one day something started to happen.
I started to wake up.
My grandmother’s death when I was in my early thirties snapped me out of a career malaise. Instead of being bitter about the loss of someone I loved I was going to honour her memory by honouring my heart’s desire.
I embarked on my true journey with the horse. Granny would like this, I thought, as she was also passionate about horses. More importantly, however, she’d want me to be happy.
My two years as an equestrian coaching intern were a refiner’s fire. The veneer of my “happy” married life began to be stripped away until I could finally see the truth of its dysfunction. The victim was alive and well and absorbed into the drama of another who, I quickly realized, resembled my emotionally distant, self-absorbed and delinquent father.
Within a few years we divorced. I sought my first round of counselling and avoided dating once I realized I was attracting variations on a negative theme. I was determined to relinquish emotional baggage and find a healthier way of being.
My eyes were opening.
Eighteen months later I met my future husband. A kind, gentle, thoughtful, caring and emotionally mature man. (What he was doing with me took me a long time to understand.) The road was rocky. I’d had no experience being with such a person. But unlike the previously dysfunctional men in my life, he was genuinely interested in my well-being and demonstrated through deed, and not just word, his devotion.
I learned to accept I might be worthy of something different than my normal experience.
My eyes opened further.
Two years later, tragedy in the riding arena as a school horse I’d been riding died following a freak jumping accident. Getting back in the saddle was difficult. The silver lining came a few months later with the opportunity to part-board a beautiful thoroughbred mare, Murphy. This lasted nearly three years.
And then Murphy died of cancer. More blinding misery, but the courage to look for a silver lining.
Five months later, a dream come true when Bear entered my life. Finally, a horse to call my own. But I wanted to be an aware horse owner. I wanted to build a relationship based on trust. I turned to natural horsemanship and enrolled in Chris Irwin‘s Train the Trainer program. While I was fine tuning my horsemanship skills the horses were reflecting back to me how broken I was, my insecurities rearing their ugly heads and demanding my unbridled attention.
Another wake up call; another realization that I needed more help.
Enter art therapy and meditation. I became more grounded and a beautiful collection of veil paintings was born of my unburdening. This journey lasted about 18 months.
And I was still working with Bear ~ the experience of self-awareness around him bringing greater depth and meaning to our relationship. A new self-confidence was emerging; the victim was beginning her retreat.
And then my eyes opened some more.
A week in Sarajevo in February 2009. Panic attacks. Anxiety. My inner personal hell rising to the surface and reflected in the sad, unhappy state of a recovering war-torn city.
Within weeks I was sitting in a therapist’s office, the depression and anxiety, the feeling of being stuck and weighted down by things beyond my understanding more than I could bear.
The true work of unravelling a lifetime began sitting in a chair opposite a stranger whose only desire was to help me along the road to wellness.
The pain, anger, bitterness, grief, shame, the trauma of abuse laid bare. The broken-ness of my life lying before me like the scattered pieces of a puzzle waiting to be re-assembled, but with awareness.
Eyes ever opening.
And with this a sense of liberty. The freedom to begin to see myself differently. The triumph of survival and a new-found understanding of what it means to thrive. The tools to rebuild the puzzle of my life into something more functional. An opportunity to create a clearer picture of who I really am while releasing the illusion forced upon me when I had no concept of self and no choice but to absorb and reflect the drama and dysfunction of the adults around me.
Free writing is a great exercise and a little more challenging when the memory is involved.
As mentioned in my last Free Write Friday post on the Childhood Gift, my childhood is very much a blur. During last week’s free writing exercise I couldn’t think of anything to share besides the bear story. Which is fine ~ it’s a nice story. Somehow, though, it left me feeling empty.
The fact is, my mother had given something of great meaning to me when I was a child (besides a roof over our heads, food at the table and a youth steeped in culture), but what it was I just could not recall through the fog of memory while trying to free write on the topic.
That was until a memory jogging discussion with my therapist on Tuesday reminded me of a special gift I still have and that means the world to me.
I’m actually surprised I didn’t think of it as it’s within eyeshot every day.
I don’t recall the exact age I received this thoughtful gift. Maybe nine years old. And I don’t even remember how it was given to me. Perhaps for my birthday.
When my mother toured with the opera company she would frequent antique shops in the various British cities she visited. She would often return home, after a few days away, with easily transportable items she hadn’t been able to resist, like old picture frames and glassware.
This beautiful print of a grey Arabian mare and her bay colt sheltered in an Arab tent took pride of place on my bedroom wall throughout my formative years. Now, despite more life-altering physical moves than I care to remember during which I lost or misplaced many possessions, it somehow graces a wall in our family room.
I guess this print and I were meant to be together for a lifetime. 🙂
The Arab Tent has become even more meaningful in recent years …
Before Bear arrived in my life I was part-boarding a beautiful grey thoroughbred mare called Murphy. For two years she felt like she was my horse and her owner was happy for me to treat her as such.
In the spring of the second year, Murphy became quite ill. We didn’t know what was wrong with her and for several months she was on-again/off-again with work. By autumn she was dropping weight rapidly and a trip to the equine hospital was in order.
She arrived on a Thursday. Within a day and after several tests she was diagnosed with cancer of the peritoneum (lining of the heart). She was dropping weight by the minute. By Saturday she was dead; euthanized. There was no staying the tide of that terrible disease.
Her loss was devastating to me.
I took two weeks off from riding and then, determined to get back in the saddle, started riding school horses again.
Then, about a month later, my future husband suggested it was time to turn my life-long dream of having a horse into reality.
Three months later Bear entered our lives.
Going back to The Arab Tent for a moment, what amazes me is how prophetic this beautiful piece of art seems ~ like a mysterious foreshadowing of what was going to be.
My experience with the grey mare (Murphy) gave birth to the brown colt (Bear).
I get goosebumps just thinking of it.
Now every time I gaze upon The Arab Tent in my family room, I am reminded of these two beautiful horses that have graced and brought important meaning to my life, and how their coming was, seemingly, pre-destined.
All that remains is for me to view the original of The Arab Tent at The Wallace Collection. I hope that day comes soon.
God works in mysterious ways His wonders to perform. I’ve experienced enough of life so far to believe this with my whole heart.
You just never know the profound significance of a simple gift.
I’m so glad I remembered this piece of my life and my mother’s role in it.