Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: Good Faith and Libraries.

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I recently finished reading All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews. Like her other novels, it too was beautifully written and a brilliant read. After I finished the book, I said the same thing I always do, “Damn, I wish I had her talent for storytelling and way with words.” Miriam deserves every accolade ever bestowed upon her. And more.

I loved everything about this book, even the puzzling double ending. But it was a particular passage on page 267 that really resonated with me. Quite simply, it blew my mind.

Here it is:

“What had she said about libraries and civilization? Because you make a promise, she’d said. You promise to return the book. You promise to come back. What other institution operates in such good faith, Yo?”

I’d like to see more promises of “good faith” like this.

Good faith that we’ll do the right thing because it is right, and for no other reason. No matter how difficult. No matter how much we rail or protest or rage against the credo or moral code. No matter how uncomfortable it makes us. We can even criticize, complain and condemn. But after all that, in the end, when the rubber hits the road, we’ll listen to the small quiet voice of our higher self. The voice of reason, truth and common decency. Do the right thing. Keep our promise. We will return the book.

Good faith that when I fall back you will always be there to catch me. And I will do the same for you. We will keep our promise to each other. We will return the book.

Good faith in the ultimate goodness of humanity, that we’re more good than bad. That somewhere deep inside each and every one of us this knowing and wisdom exists. Good faith that evil is an abomination and an anomaly. Not the norm. We will keep our promise to preserve and cherish our humanness. We will return the book.

Good faith that we are, at our fundamental core, good well-meaning folks, living in good communities with good leaders, sending our kids to good schools with good teachers, worshipping freely in harbors of safety, regardless of our beliefs and definition of God. We will keep our promise to be kind and magnanimous and neighborly. We will return the book.

Good faith that when I reach out my hand and heart to yours, that you will reciprocate. And together we will return the book.

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Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: Snapshot of Mel at Four.

Mel Reading Cat in the Hat

Melissa sat in the brown Rubbermaid laundry hamper hugging her knees. She was wearing her over-sized blue sweatshirt with the Dalmatians on the front and purple leggings. Her feet were bare and pale.

She had pulled the hamper out of the closet and placed it in front of the television in my bedroom. Her petite body was fully contained with only her head peering out of the top like a sprung jack-in-the-box.

I don’t know if it was something she saw on TV, something someone said perhaps. I don’t recall. But she turned to me and said, with the simple unvarnished directness of a four-year old, “I believe in God.” In that moment, I saw her ancient soul. The one that had been around since the beginning of time.  The wise One.

And in that holy moment, for it truly was divine, I was envious of this sweet wide-eyed child of mine. Because at four, she was so resolute and confident in this elusive thing called faith.

And I was not.

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Mel hugging Teddy

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: Believe in Something Bigger than Yourself.

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Girl Warrior.  Know that you are connected to every living thing in this marvelous Universe. That’s a huge and daunting thought. So take it in. Fully. Breathe life into it. Wrap your loving arms around this notion until it seeps into your DNA and fills every cell. Clog your pores with this concept.

Figure out your place in the grander scheme of things. The beautiful, elegant, ingenious, creative, intelligent and precisely perfect design that dwells deep inside your soul. And that of every single being and creature that ever was. And ever will be. Imagine that.

Honor this exquisite essence.

Whether you call it God or Gitchi Manitou, Divine Intelligence or Great Spirit, Energy or Electricity, Jesus or Jane, it matters not. What really matters is the knowledge that you are a part of it. You are an essential drop of water in the great big sea. A twinkle in the starry night. A slice of light in the infinite sky. Your presence is requested. Here and now. For eternity.

And you are never alone.

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Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: How I Learned to Meditate.

boo on the rocking chairI learned to meditate while Ma was dying. If she had died suddenly. Or in another place. At a different time. I’d probably have a different story to tell.

As an enduring student of yoga, I made countless attempts over the years to learn the nebulous art of meditation. But I just didn’t get it.  Stilling my mind was impossible. Sitting cross-legged for anything longer than a minute or two just about killed me. Om aside, staying focused on ‘nothing’ was a ridiculous premise at best. Stopping the endless chatter inside my mind was frustrating.  All of it made me uncomfortable. Pain, pain, pain. That was my mantra.

I also tried meditating while in the corpse pose. This just put me to sleep.  Within minutes I was dead to the world. A gaping mouthed drooling transcendental disaster.

Ma used to say that God works in mysterious ways.  I didn’t get that either.  I’ve always expected God to be more direct.  Obvious. Straightforward.  Shoot from the hip. Strike with a bolt of lightening. Flood the earth. And part the seas. Regardless of their color.

Who knows. Maybe Ma and I were talking about different Gods.  Despite all those Sunday mornings sitting side-by-side in the ass-numbing wooden pews of Christ Lutheran Church. Hers was an enigmatic deity filled with paradoxes, parables and puzzles. And with an inexplicable and absolutely unfathomable approach to running things. Mine was simple. He/She spoke my language. Read my letters. Understood the complexities and subtle nuances of the word fuck. And why it was part of my daily vernacular.

Then Ma had a heart attack.

I thanked God for not striking her dead instantly.  Which He/She most certainly could have, especially if He/She was in a particularly angry mood on the morning of Ma’s heart attack. Remember all that scary shit from the Old Testament?

Instead we got another 18 months to enjoy Ma’s presence on Earth. And what a gift that time was.

Most of the last six months of her life was spent in a hospital, on the West Coast.  She came for a visit a few months after the heart attack and never left.  By this time The Old Man was living, and I use this term loosely, in a dreary Senior’s home back in Northwestern Ontario.  They died 5 weeks apart, and 3 thousand miles away from each other.  They hooked up in heaven though. At least that’s what I believe. That notion brought me comfort then. It brings me comfort now. Then, I’ve always liked stories with happy endings.

We held vigil by Ma’s bedside. 

ma + aimee + abbyAt times there were enough of us to form a small crowd. We clustered around Ma’s frail sheet-draped declining body. Her little flock of fragile birds. Still hungry to be fed. We took turns holding her hand. We laughed. Cried. Prayed. Told stories. I’m guessing there was nothing unusual about our good-bye time with Ma. We weren’t the first family to experience this.  But this was our first time. Our first rodeo.

My heart was fractured. Armor chinked. Equilibrium faltered as the earth beneath my feet shook. I was standing on a fault line with nowhere to go. With my lifelong safety net lying in a bed dying.

This was also a time of transformation.

My favorite time with Ma was when it was just the two of us.  Not just because it was precious mother-daughter time, which was slipping rapidly and elusively away. But because it brought me peace.  In the midst of family chaos and emotional gut-wrenching wringer days, this quiet alone time with Ma became a place to escape. A safe haven. A sanctuary. It was the sheltered harbor where I moored my heart and allowed my spirit to rest. Next to hers.

It was in this quiet place that I learned about God and his mysterious ways. It was during these soft murmuring twilight hours that I learned to meditate. Ma taught me everything I needed to know about the stuff that mattered in life. This was no different.

Hours would pass. Time had no meaning. I sat next to her bed in the clinically designed hospital chair, with the hard vinyl seat and wooden arms.  The type fashioned for short visits and good posture. Neither of which applied in this situation.  But it didn’t matter.

Very little was said during these visits.  Words were no longer necessary.

I watched Ma sleep. The gentle rise and fall of her breath against her flannel nightgown. The stillness of her body.  Her peaceful repose. It soothed me. Ma had always been able to comfort me when I was hurt.  Nothing had changed in that regard.

I slipped effortlessly into rhythm with Ma’s breathing. Inhaled. Exhaled. I closed my eyes. I let the world drift away. There was no dying. There was no living. There was just being. Ma. Me. God.

And with the ease of a soaring eagle, I was meditating.

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: Tick Tock.

The clock on the wall keeps ticking.

The clock on the wall keeps ticking.

Start. Stop. Slow down. Speed up. Wait. Proceed with caution. The traffic signs of the Big C trip. We’re forced to walk when all we really want to do is run.  For our lives.  Things take time.  There’s a process.  Procedures to follow.  We get it.  But we’re also scared out of our minds.  The Big C clock is ticking.  And we don’t know if we’re running out of time.  The meticulous orderly pace is excruciating.  Never fast enough.  At least not for me.

When we returned from our weekend getaway, things moved swiftly at first.  We arrived home late Monday night and by Wednesday afternoon we had the results of the PET scan.  The cancer was localized.  Just below the tongue. Our greatest fears, that E was riddled with cancer from head to toe, were banished.  We were grateful and did the happy dance. High fives all around.  Big sighs of relief could be felt from coast to coast.

Three weeks later E met with the Surgeon, who examined his mouth and discussed his role in the upcoming surgery.  Because this would be a 2-surgeon job, eight days later E met with the Plastic Surgeon.  At this point, it was exactly one month since receiving the results of the PET scan.  To a cancer patient and his family this is an eternity.  With each passing day I grew more anxious.  My mind went to its dark place, that cavernous dwelling filled with irrational horrors.  All the ‘what ifs’ were examined. I snooped under every rock and coaxed all the scary monsters out.  My thoughts Teased and taunted. It was crazy-making at its finest.

I think E was scared too.  In between surgeon appointments he was baptized.  This was something he had been contemplating for a few years but he became obsessed with the notion after the diagnosis.  He wanted to come right with God.  Get things sorted out between the two of them. The surgeons could heal his body but only God could repair his brokeness. This would be his first step towards spiritual healing.  Truth is, it was more of a first dunk then a step.  I can only describe it as a full backwards drop into the watery depths, John the Baptist style. E emerged gasping for air.  Regenerated.  Renewed.  Reborn.

The triad of Divine Es – elation, euphoria and exaltation – wouldn’t last long.

The meeting with the Plastic Surgeon brought E to his knees.  Shaken.  Shattered.  Scared out of his wits.  Later that evening, he described the procedure.  He shuttered and shook his head as relayed the gruesome details.  I thought I was going to throw up.  The surgery wasn’t going to be pretty.  Lot’s of cutting skin and veins here, and moving them there, and then there, and there.  Visions of Roger Ebert danced through my head. Enough said.

The day after the meeting with the Plastic Surgeon, E’s Mama died.  He got the news at 7:00pm on the Thursday and was on a plane to Nova Scotia the next morning at 8:00. He spent a week with his family and friends, buried his mother and was back on the Westcoast by Good Friday.  The next evening his band performed at a Bluegrass Fundraising event.

It was the last time he would sing.

E’s surgery was booked for May 6, which seemed like light years away. Everything was moving in slow motion.  To us, the medical world was dragging its collective feet. Our anxiety eclipsed their tempo.  We felt like lab rats scurrying through a maze of white coats and mysterious technology. Humming machines.  Little cogs caught in the big wheel.  Dancing on peanut butter.  Plenty of action but really going nowhere.

E was diagnosed the first week of December, met with the Radiation Oncologist the end of January, had the PET scan in the middle of February, met with Surgeons in the middle of March and would have the operation on May 6.  When someone you love gets the Big C diagnosis you just want the “evil” extricated from their body.  We all wanted it out.  Like Lady Macbeth, I cried, “Out, damned spot.  Out. I say!”

Yes, I’ll admit, a bit dramatic.  But still.

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: Best Laid Plans and How To Blog. Or Not.

Boo in B+WA year ago I started a blog. I didn’t have a hot clue what to write about.  It was just something I felt inspired to do. The goal was to write two posts a week.  Maybe more, if the muse struck with high pitched frequency.  Kind of the opposite of lightening.  Easy peasy lemon squeezy.  Really, how hard could it be?

Bloody hard.  I’m not one to make excuses, especially when it comes to myself.  But it turns out writing one post a week was a challenge. Two, damned near impossible.  And more than that, well forget about it.  What I didn’t realize a year ago was that I actually had a bit of a life beyond the iMac and the things that go on inside my head.  So I reset my sails, pared down my goal and determined that one post per week would do.  Not only would this do, it would be an enormous accomplishment.

This is my 54th post.  Bravo for me.

Little back story. I had read an article online in The New York Times by Eric Weiner called “Americans: Undecided About God.”  This article intrigued me because the premise was something I thought a lot about. God was on my mind.  Here, there and everywhere. Just a little insight into my interior world. I thought it would be interesting to engage in an online conversation with other folks of a similar ilk.  I thought there had to be millions of people out there who would love to do this.  And most importantly, participate via my blog.  Looking back, I don’t know if I was incredibly naive or full of hubris.  Or just a pompous ass.  I’ll leave that for you to decide.  Keep it to yourself though.  My ego is fragile after a year of this.

Long blog short. This didn’t happen. None of it.  You know what they say about best laid plans. I don’t either.  But I think it had something to do with mice and men.  And things not always turning out the way you expected.

As it turns out, this confounding cliche proved to be true for my blog about God. It’s painful to be reduced to a literary cliche, I might add.  Thank you very much Mr. Steinbeck.

Not that God isn’t a hot topic.  He/She most certainly is.  It’s just that very few people wanted to read my blather on this theme week after week.  Good God jumping Jehoshaphat.  Truth is, I didn’t even want to talk about it.  I only thought I did.  I thought I had tons of things to say, given the amount of time I spent pondering. Contemplating. Meditating. Ruminating. Praying to and mulling over God.  Turns out I didn’t.

I had about three posts-worth.

The thing is, I didn’t deliberately change course with the blog.  It just happened.  It took another three posts to realize that I was telling these stories about my life growing up at 204.  As it turns out very few were interested in that either.  So on that level my little foray into blogging was a colossal failure.

Either I have an extraordinary talent for picking lousy topics to write about. Or very few people care what I have to say about those topics. Or I just write poorly about the topics that interest people, and therefore, refuse to engage. Thus, the lights go dim on computers worldwide whenever one of my posts is broadcast.  Regardless, my naive, hubristic, pompous dreams of blogging to the masses was possibly just a tad grandiose.  Do you think?  Don’t answer that question.  Remember the fragile ego.  May the echo of cracking ice on a frozen country pond haunt you eternally if you dare.

Fortunately, I’ve learned to not let those kinds of failures stand in the way of having a good time.  And that’s exactly what this past year has been.  The time of my life.  I wouldn’t trade it for a wiener on a stick.

It wasn’t easy.  In fact, it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.  Except for childbirth.  Truth is, this blog was a bit like giving birth.  In this past year, I gave birth to a new me.  The authentic me.  100% genuine.  Bona fide and real. Most importantly, it gave life to the storyteller me.  And it set me free.

Before Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter came to life, I never in a million years would have considered revealing the things I did.  The thought was enough to make me shudder and hang my head in shame.  Oh shame. How vindictive, rancorous, spiteful, venomous, cruel and unkind you are. You are the schoolyard bully.  The coward. Tormentor and thug.

But through God’s grace, and one blog post a week, you are gone.  I, and those who shared this journey, have been liberated. Telling these stories about my life growing up with Ma and The Old Man at 204 didn’t cause my heart to stop, my world to implode as I had so feared all my life.  No.  In fact, the exact opposite was true. My heart beat stronger and fiercer.  My world exploded with love and kindness, compassion and empathy, joy and appreciation.

Although I didn’t intend to go down this path, I am so grateful I did.  Along the way, I discovered my parents, Ma and The Old Man.  I got to tell their story with all of its complexities.  Their complicated love for each other.  Their unconditional love for me, my siblings and their grand children. The lessons that love taught me.  Somehow through the rush of time and the dailiness of life, I’d forgotten that.  Or dismissed it as being trivial.  Or worse yet, not true. But this past year helped me to realize and remember all the love that lived at 204.  In all its shades, muted and glorious orange, the highlights and the dark shadows, the frostiness and the humidity, the large blue skies overhead and the beige sand beneath.  The home in our hearts and the heart in our home.

On one of our many walks together, Ma said, “I’d love to write my life story but I don’t know how. And who would read it anyway?” This notion, this gut-wrenching, heartfelt cry touched me.  Far deeper than I realized at the time.  It took years, and much practice as a writer and storyteller, to bring her story to life.  A simple tale about an ordinary woman, who in many ways, lived an extraordinary life.

I can write Ma.  I can tell your story.  Does it matter who reads it?  I think not.

As for The Old Man, had I not written this blog I may never have realized just how much I miss him. Orneriness and all. He had always been such a thorn in my side.  Not any more.  Extraction is complete.  Wound healed.  Only love remains.  I am proud and honored to be The Breadman’s Daughter.

Although there weren’t any grand discussions about God in my blog, the presence and influence of the divine was the underlying melody throughout.  God was present in every grace note.  Not only in the process of telling the story.  But in the stories themselves.  It was there.  In the space between the notes.  The reading between the lines.

As for those grander God discussions, I learned that in the end, I’m ill-equipped to have those.  I’ll leave that to Eric Weiner or Wayne Dyer, Louise Hay or David Javerbaum, even.  I could never write something so sublime and witty as The Last Testament.  Not in a million blog years.

What next?   More storytelling.  I think I’m better at that than blogging. I’ve joined Cowbird, the online community for storytellers, so all five of you can find me there.  I do have a few more Daughter stories to share with you.  You’ll find those here and on Cowbird.

If the blog survives, it’s my plan to take it in a completely different direction.  At least I think I will.  As you know, I’m easily sidetracked. And we all know what happens to best laid plans.

One parting thought, watch out for mice.