(Song Dedication: Walk of Life by Dire Straits)
Does anyone else experience a time warp over the holidays? It’s the one time of year that I know the date, but not the day. Completely confusing for some reason. I would like to attribute it to my utter commitment to presence, in which I am so engrossed that I lose all sense of time. However, deep down I know it is actually the opposite issue, where I am flying from one moment to the next also known as auto-pilot.
As I come in for landing on what is the 27th day of December 2018…I stretch my brain to establish what day of the week we are on now…Thursday. Okay, getting some baring on time…but how fascinating it is this discombobulation.
Fascinating yet disorienting.
Like I said, feet now firmly planted in the now I have some time to reflect and connect some dots.
On Christmas Eve, I took the dog downtown for an early morning walk before meeting a friend and former colleague from the Okanagan (where I began my teaching career and taught for 7 years) who was in town visiting her family. I was a bit nervous about what might come up in conversation only because I defined her as the die-hard-live-for-teaching type educator, like how I use to be. I have since shed that skin thoroughly, and although my affinity for teaching still exists, it just feels different now; especially since I’ve now taken 14 months away from the classroom to care for myself better.
I was preparing for the when are you going back and it’s such a shame type comments and questions I often hear from others and so the dog walking was as much for the dog as it was for my own self-preservation.
Toward the end of our hour long walk I took a completely different route, so I could cross my imaginary finish line outside the local coffee shop. As I headed up from the very base of our main street and crossed busy highway 97 (that cuts right through our little town’s core) I looked up to see him walking down the same street towards me.
My heart beat picked up a notch or two and I quickly reached to my earbuds to turn off my music. As he walked closer, he was wearing the same jean jacket, faded blue jeans and sneakers I always see him in. He held a burning cigarette in his left hand.
As our paths met, I took my earbud from my ear and slowed down to smile. He kindly looked up at me (or the dog, most people notice the dog not so much me) and the sun was in his eyes as he took a drag of his smoke, releasing it into the air like the hot breath that should have been coming from my mouth too, were it cold enough but not this year, not even a stitch of snow at that point.
As he was about to walk past I took a deep breath and said bravely, “Excuse me…(he paused in mid-pass) can I ask you a question?” I had been waiting for this opportunity for many months now. I knew it had been at least 6 months, because the last time I saw him while we were both walking, I chickened out…he was on the other side of the street…there were people around…I had someplace to be…he probably did too…I talked myself out of it and felt the disappointment linger in my chest for a few days after. I resolved to not let myself down the next time. And here it was.
You see, I have been observing this man for over a year. If I had the wherewithal, he was probably present in moments before that too, but mindfulness was not my forte before a year ago. Anyway, this man of First Nations decent, wearing denim and running shoes, with a flowing head of salt and pepper hair can be seen walking up or down Highway 97 on any given day of the week, depending on what time of day it is. In the morning he is going down the hill and in the afternoon well, what goes down must go up…wait what?You know what I mean,
The geographical layout of our city has the downtown built upon the banks and open surrounding area of two rivers (the Fraser and Quesnel Rivers). The outer lying areas are far reaching to all compass points and once you leave the lower lying river area you must proceed up whichever hill of your choosing. Heading south on Highway 97, the hill is approximately a 3 kilometre climb, never-mind the distance prior to and following the ascent. From his regular walking routine; and when I say regular, we are talking postal service commitment here, no matter what the weather, he’s out there trekking away hands buried deep in his pockets when necessary to shield them from the elements. I’ve observed him in wonder, curiosity and inspiration projecting my own story-telling whimsy onto what had to be a compelling reason for this ardent undertaking.
So here we stood, face to face finally. So interesting that he had no idea about me yet I, in all my wisdom and presence, had a fully scripted projection for the conversation about to ensue. So I did as I promised and asked him, “Why do I see you walking up and down Dragon Lake hill so often?” (Compelling journalism work I know…cue eyeroll). He simply replied with, “I have no car, I live in the south end of Quesnel and I have stuff to do downtown, I walk that 6 days a week.” I wasn’t quite satisfied so I poked a bit deeper, “Have you always lived here, like, how long have you been making this journey?!” He said he had been walking that route since he moved to the area in 2014 and added that in 4 years he has blown through 5 pairs of Wal-Mart running shoes. I responded with a witty, not so witty, “I bet you have!”
Still unsatisfied with my detective work to uncover this elusive story, but sensing a guardedness of how much he cared to share with this complete stranger, I offered my admiration, something to the effect of, “Well, I see you. And I have wanted to tell you that for some time now. Your commitment inspires me and I appreciate you taking the time to talk to me today.” We exchanged smiles and Christmas wishes and continued in our opposite directions.
I wore my smile for the remaining 2 blocks of main street and sat down in the window seat to meet my friend for a coffee. The exchange slipping slowly from the forefront of my mind as quickly and uneventfully as it had materialized, I prepared to navigate the original conversation I had set out to accomplish that morning.
Upon her arrival, we hugged and smiled and exchanged updates but her concern for me was not career oriented what-so-ever. She was engaged and sincere in her questions and comments, already having a pretty solid background of my past year, being an Art of Beingness Blog follower. She was open and authentic with her own challenges in a honourable teaching career spanning 3 decades, and in this had one piece of advice for me, “Do not rush the very important work you are doing now, there is nothing more important and teaching is not everything, or even close to that.” She continued by encouraging me to remember,”…there are many ways to teach…it doesn’t have to be the way or the where of what you use to do…” Oh the relief! I thanked her repeatedly, for she is an educator I have always admired in her commitment and pedagogy, and for her to share this insight, which is one I already held near and dear to my own heart, to hear it from her held it’s weight in gold. An affirmation of sorts.
Christmas eve rolled into Christmas morning, into afternoon meal prep and soon the turkey was resting and a multitude of dishes were being arranged to consume. Another oddity of the holidays…the time commitment involved in the making (process) vs. the fractional consumption time. Christmas night turning over into Boxing Day morning and finding that as the minutes slipped through the hour glass I had missed the opportunity to call Wales and speak to my Biological Father, who I knew was alone on Christmas Day.
I made it a priority to call Boxing Day morning, forgiving myself the oversight the day before realizing the 8 hour time difference made it difficult to connect. Like meeting the “walking man” on the street, I noted the anxious shift in my chest and throat as I began to dial the 011 44….It rang several times before he picked up and when he did he answered clearly with, “Hello? John here.”
I responded with the same hello adding a Merry Christmas and, “It’s your daughter, Sarah.” He quickly rebounded with an enthusiastic “Merry Christmas!” and I felt my heart settle back down a few ribs. As I prepared to have a conversation, I cleared the chair in my bedroom to have a seat (because heck ya it’s got shit on it, its effing Christmastime!) while asking him how his day was yesterday. He said it was quiet and was spent mostly on his own, sending my heart down a few more ribs to that sinking sensation of regret for not calling the day before. I tried to explain why I hadn’t called on Christmas and he interrupted with, “Oh! Is this the Sarah from Canada?!” I guess he needed a moment to orient himself to my accent. Heart dropping a bit further, I confirmed, “Yes it is.” Stopping before clarifying myself as “…I am your daughter from Canada…” I held my tongue in true english form, finding in this space a glimpse of the inner workings of how far his memory has deteriorated.
Rather than continue riding the elevator of emotional shifts, having my heart drop another floor into one of the less conscientious chakras, I allowed this to happen instead. After no more than 60 measly seconds, he said, “Okay then, well I must be going.” I heard the TV blaring in the background and felt a bit perplexed, but knew well enough that I wouldn’t get anywhere by trying to wrangle him into a deeper or just plain longer conversation so I conceded with an, “Okay” and listened to the phone line disconnect.
This bit all sounds very melancholy, and for a moment I allowed the reality to permeate me, sitting alone in the chair that I still should have been conversing in. But that ‘s it, the should of it all. That’s the dejectedness right there in that one little word. I was should-ing every-fucking-where. She should say that. He should have a deep reason for doing that, he should have a story to tell, he should be over the moon about his daughter reconnecting after 17 years, he should remember her…He should remember Me!
But should is another word for projecting, and from this place there can be not only mass amounts of angst but disappointment, anguish and dis-ease. So with some time to help me reframe and as said earlier connect the dots, my brain has done it’s important work and assisted in a synthesis of events leading me to a deeper lesson. The “walking man” taught me that what might seem an action of epic proportions is just an act of necessity and it need not a harrowing story to validate what he chooses to do. However, in this, there is also the fact that that story is his and it is his right to withhold or conversely share what he chooses with a perfect stranger. It is not my choice or within my power to exercise. It was my job only to observe and listen and god willing, maybe learn something if I could let it happen without all my preconceived notions blinding me.
I am learning to understand and accept the current “now” of what “relationship” I have with John. In order for this to happen I must be willing to release the past, the ideas of lost childhood and fatherhood and finding them in this new “us” configuration. There is a tragic story here certainly, if I chose to breath life into it and tell it, or I could choose to be present to right now; where there is no context or interdependence, just “Sarah from Canada” to him. To clarify though…to him…not to me. I am so much more than that and he is more than his words and limited memory. It is up to me how I can either embrace or reject it all.
And because I have lived in the shadow of fearful rejection for so long, and that hasn’t served me so well overall, I think this year I will choose to embrace acceptance, presence and generosity and see how that works out. May your New Year bring new insights, revelations and appreciations for your own self. May you discover your greatness, your joy, your life as it was intended; no longer dictated through shallow shoulds or coulds.