BIRDS OF A FEATHER

I have three amazing nieces. One of them is a free-spirit. At the age of three, she had her own mind and was firm in her beliefs. That’s not to say she doesn’t listen to others because she also has wisdom. She may not agree with you or act on your advice but she will patiently absorb your perspective. A change from when she was three.

Her Mom, my sister Dawn and I were sitting in her kitchen, chatting about our favourite musicians and fave songs, sipping on tea. In strolls Jess (who I called Muffy then) in her onesie and declares that  she likes Marilyn Manson. Perplexed I look at Dawn and ask, “Who is Marilyn Manson?” She ignores me and a battle ensues between Mother and child, “No, you don’t. Yes, I do. No, you don’t. Yes, I do”. After a few minutes of the same argument, my sister  exasperated raises her hand, points down the hall and in a firm voice says, “Room, now.” My three year old niece sauntered down the hall, turns and softly said, “Yes, I do” before she shut her door to us.

Now, in her early twenties she works as a Dental Assistant, still as sassy and spunky as ever. She recently experimented in some bold hair colouring. First a full head of neon pink before graduating to rainbow colours. As her aunt and artist I though she looked beautiful and I applauded her bravery. It’s not easy standing out from the crowd in our die-hard conformist society.

Beautiful, brave Jess with her hair now faded to Easter colours.

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A couple of weeks ago she relayed a story about how one of her patients asked her boss why he would allow her to work in the office with her vivid hair. To his credit he said, “I like it, many patients like it and she is not hurting anyone.” Bravo.

Bravo, bravo, bravo. With the caveat that personal choices cause no harm, why do people get so worked up about what others choose to do, with and to themselves? Some folks get so angry with others who paint outside the lines or think and actually live outside the confines of those boxes they’ve chosen for themselves. I’m not fond of young men who wear their pants around their hips. I don’t want a view of their manties but that is THEIR choice. While our sensitivities may be offended, our life is not in danger.

On my last trip to Las Vegas I saw a man who wore a crochet bag around his family jewels which was held in place by various crochet strings weaved around his body. He did not have any body issues whatsoever and while I did find myself staring, I was not offended, nor did I need medical attention. And if you choose to use your body as a canvas, that is your right. I’m not fond of a full body of tattoo art yet find much of the art beautiful. Neither of these choices would suffice for me as personal expressions but I respect they are for others. I respect their freedom to make choices. It is admirable and I applaud anyone who has the courage to do what they want to do with their life. In fact, I encourage others to see themselves, be outside the “norm” and discover what it is they truly like, who they truly are and free themselves of any restrictions society has attempted to place on them. If you want to live in Indonesia and help save the hundreds of orphaned orangutan, please, do it, they need you. Anytime I see someone somewhere expressing themselves I have more faith in humankind. When I am lucky enough to witness the celebration of uniqueness in each individual, my heart swells. When people free themselves of these false societal bonds of normalcy, it someone provides others, myself included with the impetus and power to do the same.We need more freedom fighters. We need more inspiration. We need more awe.

We are individuals and it’s time we appreciate and respect our own great uniqueness in whatever manner you chose to express it. I paint, I write. I explore and right now, I’m off to the hair salon.

Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You. ~ Dr. Seuss

 

DEATH

Death is no more than passing from one room into another. But there’s a difference for me, you know. Because in that other room I shall be able to see. ~ Helen Keller

Death is weird. We think we know it, and accept it. We think we know and accept one day it will happen to us. We don’t, not really. We understand the concept but not the reality. Why is that? Many have come back from near-death experiences and have glorious reports. Death often seems lovelier, less brutal than the daily news served on a dark dreary platter of ugliness yet it’s still one of our greatest fears.

Death has power, great power. Death instantaneously places us in a frosty, firm stasis and effortlessly finds our frailty and holds tight and fast until we acknowledge its power. There is no life without death, period. We all know this but yet we don’t. Why don’t we get it? And in getting it, why don’t we hold life more precious still? Only death gives us a sharp, crisp, clean pinpoint focus on how precious all life is, not just our own. Perhaps we’ll never know. Perhaps we really don’t want to. What we do know is that when our time comes we want it to be peaceful and painless.

I’ve been thinking about death a lot lately. My New Year’s resolution to post weekly was halted by my Mom’s unexpected death January 12th. Yes, I knew she was going to die. One day yes, I knew she would die but not that day. I didn’t want her to die. Not on that day, not on any day, but she did. Her thoughts have ceased, her breath still, her body is gone, never to be warm, feel warm and I never, to feel her warmth again. Death….. yours, mine and those we love will one day, someday come to pass.

Grim Reaper, art by Anne Stokes at http://www.annestokes.com

The image most people associate with death is the Grim Reaper. I don’t see death as grim and final. Yes we are overwhelmed with sadness and no longer can we caress those we care for but death for me is simply a status update. I was brought up to believe and still believe that energy never dissipates but transforms. Since you and I are pure energy, when the electrical connections mainly our brain synapses stop telling our lungs to breathe and our heart to pump blood, we cease to exist in human form. We migrate into something else, something far less tangible to the human mind and almost unperceivable to the human eye.

From the millisecond your Dad’s sperm entered your Mom’s egg, you’ve been changing. From the miracle of birth to the silence of death we all go. So I ask again, where does this fear of death come from? Why does death have such power over us? Why is it our deepest, dreaded fear? I think it’s because we want more time to fill the space from miracle to silence with all the joys of life, love and experience all the beauty in others, ourselves and our glorious planet. We fear death when we fail to achieve our purpose. We fear we won’t get all the love we have to give out and receive love in kind. We won’t get to see all the wonders of the world. We won’t get to finish that project we started to help others, or leave a mark, a historical reference showing we lived, that we meant something. Never again to feel and see the joy in our children’s, grandchildren’s, lovers, friends faces when we embrace takes my breath away. Yet, if we live fully, deeply, without compromise, full of integrity, honour we have nothing to fear, not even death.

Death takes away but it also teaches us the most important lesson. When someone we love dies we remember. We remember to love, love, love, love, love. Live today, loving. Love as if it is the only thing you know how to do. You cannot fear death when your heart is full of love. You can mourn it, respect it, accept it and then move on and when you move on, rest assured you will take all the love of each person with you.

This piece was started March 14th but I never got around to posting it for one reason or another. I dallied because it’s not a topic many want to discuss let alone read during their leisure hours. Another reason was because death was all around me, wrapping me in a blanket of porcupine quills. Almost daily someone shared their news of the passing of a person they cherished. I’m still shocked and saddened at the unexpected loss of one of the best men I knew. My dear boss was buried April 14 leaving behind his wonderful, charming wife and three children, all of them people you’d wish to call your own family. My best and dearest friend was told two weeks ago her dear Mom had at most a year to live. My beloved friend celebrates her birthday March 2nd followed March 5th by the sudden and tragic death of her favourite brother. Her father’s death, which has never left her, is March 14th. With no time left to breathe she recalls the memory of her dear, dear friend who after a lengthy, hard-fought battle with AIDS died on March 25th. Sadly I pray that when her Mom leaves us, she does so in March so she can strike this month off as normal, wear black daily and render it the month of mourning with no pretence on her grief. She can then celebrate the remaining eleven months with full vigour as if to make up for the lost month which holds her greatest losses of all.

But life and death is not like that. It does not give us our way. It reminds us only that we are here to live, and live we must so when we die, as we all must do, it will be without regret.

However you view, celebrate, fear or attempt to ignore the thought of death, you cannot deny it. You cannot stop it. You cannot avoid it. You cannot control it or how it will happen. You can only control how you live.

I wish you all a life of love, without regrets, or too many regrets at best and throughout your long days and years, my best hope is that you strive to live your life with an open heart. A grand, humongous heart perhaps as large as a dwarf planet. Yes, live your life with a heart so big and full of love for yourself and others than when the feared, foreboding call of death beckons; you almost welcome a change in conversation.