Just being should be enough

MarjorieOn a quick trip to Salt Spring this past weekend, I visited my friend Marjorie. She will turn 93 on April 16th.

She is as mentally sharp, if not sharper, than anyone you’d ever hope to meet. Give her a once over and she looks fantastic, years younger than she is.

Most people, however, will not discover her humour or how quick she truly is, mentally, if they didn’t already know it, because her greatest challenge is that she has lost her hearing. The result is difficulty communicating with others and a great sense of isolation. Even with a hearing aid which, apparently, brings its own problems.

It doesn’t help that she is in fact isolated because she lives on a rural property. One of her sons lives on the grounds. It’s a property that was owned by her parents and that she moved to upon her late husband’s retirement in the 1970’s. I can’t say for sure, but I sense that she wouldn’t have wanted to move elsewhere, even on island. Her home is her home. Nature is her company. Until recently, so was her cat Duchess. She has a cleaner who has become a friend who comes once a week. Another son visits from Victoria often. Her daughter comes when she can from Alberta as well as grandsons and great grandchildren.

I have always been around older people. My parents were 39 and 43 years older than me when I was born. My sisters were 11 and 14 years older. In my forties, I watched my parents’ aging and then, and it seemed to happen quickly, they were gone. But, in fact, it didn’t happen that quickly because, relatively speaking, they lived long lives. My mother lived to 84, my father to 93.  Somehow, especially with my father who remained healthy for so long, long never seems long enough.

Aging is challenging in so many ways. Hearing loss is just one of them. But what isn’t always apparent is that when you lose your hearing, even if you’re wearing hearing aids, it’s challenging to participate in conversations. People can’t be bothered. They have to repeat themselves. They hate repeating themselves. They don’t want to yell. Maybe they feel embarrassed.MarjorieatHarbourHouse

In the car driving home, Marjorie claimed that it may actually be easier to be blind than deaf because if you’re blind, people will know it, they’ll help you, they’ll feel sorry for you. Not that THAT’S a piece of cake. I’m sure she wouldn’t wish that on anyone.

I saw for myself what happens when she tried to explain that she was hard of hearing. Having to say it immediately shuts down conversation with most people who don’t know how to respond. They’re embarrassed to shout back. They’re shy to take the time to find a way to communicate. They can’t be bothered.

If you’re deaf, there are no signs. You look perfectly fine. Nobody knows you’re deaf until they try to speak to you.

On Sunday, we went to two galleries and when I engaged in conversation, she couldn’t hear what was being said between me and the other person that I was speaking with so she just kept looking.  She was on the outside. And in our society, getting old and being on the outside is the norm. I was guilty, I suppose, of not trying to ensure that she was included to a greater extent.

In a world where productivity and materialism are the Holy Grail, people who are not producing or consuming in large quantities are no longer seen as valuable. It no longer seems enough just to be. But actually it is.  Because your being is your only authentic wealth, your legacy.

It’s not necessarily easy to be the kind of person who recognizes this and looks for it – in the wonder of children, in the other of homelessness, in the wisdom of the elderly, in animals, in plants and flowers and in natural beauty and sounds.

The Island as Elephant in the Room

Finding my way back to enthusiasm for writing these days and writing whatever comes…Here’s a tidbit.

darkdockThat island was the elephant in every single room she occupied.  Every minute of every day it hovered the way a small sloop might float silently off one of its evergreen-grey tips. At the same time, it pushed her away so strongly that she feared she might never find her way back to its story – her story – again.

She closed her eyes and wandered as if in a dream. Rolling green hills. Crumbling waterside roadways. The ocean-side route she’d survey on that walk she’d take almost every single day of every season.

She could feel the breeze slipping in from the rock-pocked beaches. Inhale the scent from the grassy roadside ditches. She’d visit disintegrating cabins, mice traps lying in wait. She’d wonder about the multimillion dollar spectacles, invisible from the narrow windy roads, that very busy people, people who knew how to make real money, flew into a couple times a year.

Then, without any explanation that made sense to her,  she pictured it imploding. All of it. Cracking, twisting and sliding like the vegetable flotsam and jetsam at the bottom of the sink after she’d done the dishes by hand.  Is she the only one who still does dishes by hand?

How many years before climate change, geological shifts, maybe The Big One, would trash the place leaving only a rolling wave as explanation?

Consumerism consumed. Garden sheds, baby grand pianos, pitchforks, farm equipment, handmade pottery, hand blown glass and paintings, wooden fencing, lava lamps, tarot cards, all that jewelry, rusted out island cars and thousands upon thousands of rubber boots – alphaboot soup –  sucked into the beyond and beneath.

She imagined the urgent swirl. Down, down, down towards the rumoured crystal beds that the Dalai Lama had supposedly seen from a plane; crystal beds that surrounded the green and golden relief.  All of it.

Magnificent accumulation to dust.

Until recently, she hadn’t even thought about the shape of her beloved place. Hadn’t committed its outline to memory. Knowing suddenly seemed urgent. Just the other day, looking at a hand drawn map, she spotted a geographic Rorschach, its shape a prehistoric being swooping down from more than 220 million years ago. A Pterodactyl.

Had it always been there?  What created it, geologically, that is?  Her curiosity dormant until now.

She needed, as well, to find a way to incorporate references to all those seekers who’d washed up on its shores, intentionally, or not. To. From.  In search of. Fleeing.  Personal resurrection. Just like her. Different in all their own ways.

First Nations. Chuan. Tuam. African American slaves from Missouri, free at last. Disappointed and nervous about Californian laws, they kept moving north. Pre-empted land. 1859. Four of the first 29 pre-emptors hoping beyond hope.

Sandwich islanders. Portuguese. English. Scots. Farmers. Prospectors. Draft dodgers. Hippies. Modern day Renaissance mavericks. Outsiders.

The brave. The cowards. The hopeful. The hopeless. Incurable individualists. Dreamers.

Human history marked through oral history the way faded pencil marks tick off children’s growth on that kitchen wall on a long gone farmhouse.

Why had the natives considered it such a special place? Had it really been reserved for celebrations, feasts, burials? Was that the truth or rural myth?

Wandering to the end of that road she won’t name, intentionally, won’t share with tourists who flock there each summer, she felt what Indians must have felt a thousand times stronger back then: magnificence. Had their hearts stilled with the same quiet reverence at the waves pulsing against its beaches and thick Auburn stumped poked out from rocky land striving harder than the human inhabitants.

She wanted to capture it all. The emotion, the landscape, and the relief she felt every time her tires made that sharp cracking sound as the car’s weight traversed the metal ferry ramp deposited her; a homecoming, stillness reborn, telling her what she’d always known.

Vancouver had never been the right place. Not her best place. Not really. She never quite fit here in the city and she needed a place to help bury her grass-is-greener ways and to be as content as she might ever hope to be.