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the market in Shillong

the market in Shillong

I would have missed him if Ray hadn’t stopped and pointed him out.

“How would you like to make your living like that?” he says.

I look down and see him, sitting in a little window-like depression in the wall, half-buried below the road, his knees up under his chin and his head tilted forward. A folded up man; he could have fit into my suitcase. On the ground in front of him are locks and keys, his wares for sale.

My hand finds my phone in my pocket, but I can’t bring myself to pull it out and take a photo. I feel every inch of my white skin, standing there, looking down at him.

I don’t know anything about him. I don’t know the things he thinks or feels, whether he has a family, what he will eat for supper or where he will sleep. I can’t begin to understand his life.

For a half a minute, in the busy Shillong market, I look at a man in a wall like I’d look at an animal in a zoo. I can not bring myself to photograph him. I walk by and on the next block I buy a scarf. This is India.


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I have been asked to teach a class to a room full of women. I sit on a chair and smile at them, and they sit around me on chairs and wooden benches, and smile, too.

English? I say.

They look at each other and look at me and we smile at each other some more.

I am teaching a class to women in Lalmati, in the province of Assam, in India, and I do not have a translator.

I tell a small story. I act it out with flapping hands and waving arms and pointing, using all my limited acting skills, and they watch, intense and focused. I know they are not understanding but we try, together.

I pass around pictures of my family and my town. We manage to learn a little about each other, mainly the number of children we each have.

I give each woman a snowflake Christmas ornament. One woman who can speak a tiny bit of English, says, “Flower?”

“Snow,” I say, and I spend fifteen giggling minutes trying to explain snow to women who have never seen it.

Wendy and I bring out plastic beads and gold elastic, and they jump up, eager to each make a bracelet. It seems a cheap thing next to their beautiful saris, but they are excited to make and wear a pretty thing.

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I am tired, walking down the mountain at the end of the day. It seems, perhaps, a silly thing, trying to share stories with people to whom I can’t talk. I don’t know their thoughts or impressions or ideas of what we did together. I don’t quite know my own.

We sat in a circle and smiled and struggled to know each other a little and, common language or not, maybe now we do.

Guwahati, Assam from my hotel window

Guwahati, Assam from my hotel window

I haven’t been in India long enough to know much about it, other than first impressions. The things I was told are true. India is loud and the traffic is crazy and the smell is a hot, aromatic stew of spicy food, rotting garbage, and sweating bodies.

It is festival time here in Guwahati, in the province of Assam. India is celebrating Durga Puja, and in the evenings the streets are flowing with people. They trek from temple to temple, accompanied by horns and whistles and noise-makers of all sorts. It’s a headache-making kind of noise, like a junior high school orchestra warming up.

I won’t presume to know anything about anything. I can simply accept the experience as it unfolds. I think I am falling in love with India, but we are at the very beginning of this relationship, and new relationships are always exciting and full of unknown promise and uncertainty.

Mountain view from the classroom window at Bread of Life School

Mountain view from the classroom window at Bread of Life School

Yesterday, my friends and I were the only white people walking along the market street, and people took pictures of us. Today, we drove a ridiculous mountain road to Bread of Life School, where we laughed with children and ate rice with our fingers and watched a brown monkey scamper across a rooftop. The boys climbed to the top of a mountain with a new friend, and I hugged a dozen beautiful, gracious women.

India is a colourful first date right now. I suppose we might disappoint each other at some point, but like any new relationship these beginning days are meant to be exciting and intoxicating, and so they are.

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Ask me a question these days and chances are good my answer will be “I don’t know.”

Where will you live after you move?

I don’t know.

Will you buy a house or rent?

I don’t know.

Will you keep fostering?

I don’t know.

What will the kids do?

I don’t know.

Do you think your foster daughter will be okay?

I don’t know.

Why aren’t you stressed out?

I don’t know.

There are a lot of things I don’t know about how life will work over the next few months. Honestly, I’m not sure why I haven’t felt more stressed and anxious about that. I’ve felt so many other things about this move: happy, sad, excited, lonely, uncertain, melancholy, rushed, tired, joyful. But I haven’t felt much stress and I haven’t been much worried.

I wonder if all the things I don’t know have helped me focus on what I do know? Maybe. I don’t know much about the future, but I know these two things…

I know I want a smaller life. I want a teeny tiny house with a teeny tiny yard to care for. I want less stuff and less busy and less unnecessary, because I have other ways I want to live before my living is done.

Now, if you are someone who seeks the egg-gathering, gardening, canning, or whatever-ing kind of life, that’s great! I did that and I loved it for many years. The goats and the chickens and the butchering and all the gritty beauty of life and death that country living has offered our family has been wonderful.

I’m glad the kids grew up on our little farm and we’ve been blessed by so many country experiences. But I’ve learned to let go of things, even when they’ve been precious and lovely things, when the time is right. And for us, now, the time is right right right. It’s bittersweet, of course. There’s some loss and that means there is some grief. But there’s beauty and freedom and healing in a good goodbye said well at the right time.

I know I want a “funner” life. Okay, it’s not a word. Whatever. A funner life is what I want. I’m not saying I want a more leisurely life or more money or more holidays. I think (and I’m figuring this out as I go, you guys) it means I want to engage in better ways with the things that make me who I am, deep deep down in my soul. Or maybe in my gut. You know?

Simply, I hope to spend the next years of my life doing what I’ve always encouraged in my kids: to be true to who they were created to be and to live out of the confidence that who they are is enough.

Who I am is enough. That takes a certain amount of courage to say when you’ve spent most of your life trying to be good, be better, be more, be seen. But it’s truth. And I think it’s the key to having fun.

A smaller life and a funner life. It’s a start.

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I wrote this amazing post the other day. It was really good, you guys. You would have liked it a lot. And then I lost it (don’t talk to me right now about farm internet) and try as I might, I couldn’t remember the way the words had gone together.

They were words about how a random, throw-away comment can sometimes wiggle its way into your head and haunt you for years. It’s happened to me more than once, but the time I’m thinking of was when, years ago, a friend and I were talking (who knows what about?) and she said, I hope I never get fat arms. I hate it when women have jiggly arms.

Now, this was back when my arms were young and skinny, but from then on I was terrified of getting jiggly arms.

Time and children and a few thousand cookies later, I spent a year being Mom to a little girl, which was wonderful and fun but also hard and challenging, and I super-snacked through the struggles of loving her. One day I saw a picture of myself and, horror of horrors, my arms were fat. And the shame of having fat arms, of having let myself go, was overwhelming. I resolved right then to never ever ever wear short-sleeved shirts again. Ever.

I wrote words about all of that in the post I lost the other day, only I wrote them better, and then I ended with a whole thing about how I’ve made a kind of peace with my arms, and the rest of me for that matter, and some more tralala about loving ourselves for who we are on the inside and all that stuff. There are a thousand articles out there telling us the same thing.

Then, boom, I lost it all and I spent the day frustrated and out of sorts because losing words is not fun for me.

Here’s the thing though, because God is awesome and has amazing timing. See, after supper, while the dirty dishes were still scattered across the kitchen table and the children and I were in the living room doing living room things, there was a knock on the door. I walked out to the entryway and found two women there, a friend of mine and a young girl. It took me a second to get my bearings enough to realize the girl was my girl. The girl I’d written the lost words about that very morning. The girl who’d given me fat arms.

Guess what? I didn’t give a fiddlestick about any of that, and my arms worked just fine for holding her in the tightest, squeeziest hug I could manage.

I met a friend the other day, a woman I hadn’t seen for a few months, and when she saw me she said, Oh, you look so young! It pleased me more than I think it should have to have that word applied to me, even though it was most likely out of charity and sweet friendship.

I really think I should be more mature about my maturity by now.

But in spite of that, I think I’m entering this new year with a sense of beauty I haven’t allowed myself to experience before.

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There’s this period of time, you see, between being young and beautiful, and being old and beautiful. It’s a settling time, a learning-to-find-peace-in-the-changing-landscape-of-one’s-body time. It’s my time, and while I’ve a ways to go, I’m finding the adjustment more peaceful than I thought I would. I’m looking at us all, myself included, though wiser, kinder, gentler eyes. We are gorgeous women, we really are, in our wholeness. Gorgeous in our years and our bodies and our spirits and our minds. Lovely in our selves, beyond the youthful yearning for perfection.

These days I am sweet to myself, mostly. I look myself in the eye and I like what I see, because what I see is a woman living her story, treasuring the chapters past and anticipating those to come. There’s no hollywood script with perfect words or well-chosen wardrobe. There’s little yearning for better or more. There are only lives, mine and yours, winding and bumping and crashing their ways through the days allowed.

I am softer now, and it’s not just in the skin. There’s a deeper gentleness that forgives easier and accepts flaws more gracefully and is more content with the making do of imperfection.

Today is the first of a new bundle of days. There is some magic in this beginning, if I look for it. It’s the magic of renewal, and renewal is meant to be kind and sweet and encouraging. I’ve spent other firsts more critically. I’ve seen failure and need for improvement and I’ve been stern with myself.

Today though, this first day of this new year, I’m not looking to recreate. I’m not looking to improve on or make better. I’m not scolding myself for not being more or not doing enough. Instead, I’m smiling at myself and laughing a little at the way that smile folds up my face in generous lines. I’m combing my hair and not telling myself it’s too long for my age or too silver for its length. I’m pulling warm clothes over a body that has borne three babies and hugged sorrow and shaken with anger and with laughter. I’m pulling bright red fuzzy socks over feet that have walked miles around the world and around my kitchen. I’m rubbing sweet lotion into fingers that have held the hand of a husband for almost half my life, and it’s all a wonder.

Women, we are adorned, so adorned, with all our years and all our stories, and we are beautiful.

Hello new year. Let’s be friends. Let’s mark these days with laughter and great love and sweet moments and grace. Let’s be quick with forgiveness and happy to overlook the small offence. Let’s wear comfortable clothes and drink our tea with honey and read good words and smile at all the children. Let’s be women… gorgeous, lovely, beautiful women… in our worlds.

Blessings on your heads, blessings on your hands, blessings on your hearts, dear friends. May 2015 find you drowning in kindness and love.

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Here in Canada, we’re about two weeks into the whole Jian scandal. If you aren’t Canadian, or if you are and you’ve been hiding under a rock or in a cabin in northern Saskatchewan or you’ve been lost at sea for the past several days, our Humpty Dumpty of radio took a great fall.

I don’t need to go into the details. They are there, like all scandals, in scarlet internet letters. Let’s just say the host with the most, our national treasure, the CBC’s so-called greatest asset, has been toppled from his throne amidst what began as a Toronto Star news story and has evolved into, as of now, allegations he assaulted and sexually abused nine women and a man. The Toronto sex crimes unit is investigating at least three complaints against Ghomeshi. No charges have been laid. Ghomeshi has hired a criminal lawyer.

This story has been sadly interesting to follow.

I kind of loved Jian Ghomeshi, you see, the way you love someone whose talent you respect and whose work you follow. I didn’t listen to him every day because, well, I’m a busy homeschooling mom. But when we travelled, say to Moose Jaw for shopping or to Regina for dentist appointments, I was happy if the trip coincided with Q, the CBC radio program he hosted.

Listen, I’d say to the kids. This guy is the best interviewer I’ve ever heard. He does his homework. He’s a great example of someone who knows how to use words well. He’s living inside his talent. I hope you find ways to do that in your lives.

So it’s been sad. And interesting. And rather curious to watch as the public (including myself) responds in various ways.

Mostly, people are rushing to assure each other that they are against violence toward women. Mostly, Jian has lost public support, in spite of his early assertions that all his activities were consensual and nobody’s business. Mostly, even those who initially agreed with him that what happens in the bedroom is out-of-bounds, have turned on him. He doesn’t seem to have many friends left.

I’ve wondered about my personal response to all of this. Initially, I was so sad, but when I voiced that sentiment publicly it was interpreted as support. I think. Who really knows what anyone means within the limitations of social media conversation? But that’s how it seemed. That being sad was unacceptable because, by gosh, he’s a horrible person who has done horrible things.

But, you see, I’d just found out about the horrible things and I was having trouble reconciling the horrible assertions with the voice I heard on the radio.

Honestly, I’ve moved on from sadness to disappointment to barely reading beyond the headlines anymore because the story has become, as all these stories do, a media thing. There will be jokes and stories about what the maid or the chauffeur or the guy who sat next to him at that fundraising dinner said, and who knows how it will end up when all the chips have fallen.

The thing I’ve learned, or relearned, maybe, is that talent isn’t representative of character. So what I’m saying to my boys now, is, Listen. This guy was a talented guy. He lived inside his talent, but talent isn’t everything. Be the most caring, loving men you can be, because that’s worth more than a silver tongue any old day of the week.

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