Tears

tearsI cry a lot. I have always cried a lot. I’ve cried for many reasons. When I was a little girl, my teachers made fun of me in school for crying so much. One teacher, at William G. Miller Public School in Scarborough refused to let me go on a school trip to Niagara Falls because I cried so much.

I didn’t have an easy childhood. There was a stigma to being in the Children’s Aid Society (CAS). Neighbour’s children were not allowed to play with me, a teacher at Norman Cook Public School refused to talk to me. I was tainted with the sins of my biological parents. I had been abused and had nightmares. Life scared me and I had trouble fitting in. The loneliness hurt very badly.

So I cried.

My foster-father made me buy my own tissues – as if somehow that would make me reluctant to cry. Finally he tried to understand.

“Why do you cry so much?” he asked me quizzically.

“Because it makes me feel better” I explained. “When I feel sad and alone, or if my feelings are hurt, I cry about it and then I feel better.”

He shook his head in confusion. I knew he couldn’t understand; he couldn’t relate to me. I loved him for trying though.

My crying continued.

In my twenties, I was often told at work that I needed to grow a thicker skin. The only way that would happen was if I stopped feeling though, or stopped caring. I kept crying.

I cried around family too. If my daughter came home from school and told me someone had called her a name or hurt her, I cried. I could almost feel her pain. I took her pain and disappointment on myself; how I wished I could remove her pain in doing so.

Seeing homeless people or abandoned or mistreated animals breaks my heart. I have only to close my eyes and imagine the suffering in the world to feel the pain; warm tears will follow.

In my thirties, a woman named Jacqui told me it didn’t look good to cry at work. She suggested the stairwells. They quickly became my “go to” places. If I thought I was going to start crying, I would suddenly remember something I had “left” somewhere else, and would dash to the stairs to go and get it.

Once, in a meeting during a difference of opinion, someone said to me “Are you going to start crying now?” I realized it takes more than that to make me cry now; first I have to care.

I’m glad I cry. Besides the release, it reminds me that I am alive, that I have a heart, and that I care. I worry about people who never cry. Have they hardened their hearts? Does nothing touch them? Or do they only cry for themselves when they’re alone and nobody can see them?

We cannot fully appreciate the happy times in life until we know what sadness is, so thank God I cry. I love the times when I’m filled with happiness and joy, but when someone makes me cry, they’ve touched my soul. I still have a heart and I can still be hurt. I can still feel the pain when those I love are hurt.

I still cry. Not for myself as often, but for those who are close to me.I cry for the insensitivity of some people. I cry for the future of our world and I cry for  the injustices I see all around me. I cry for you and I cry for me. I cry for all of us.

I’m glad I can still cry.

Memories of Christmas Past

For the first time in many years, I’m home on Christmas with nothing to do, except clean up from the night before since we had our Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve. I tried to plan something for today. I tried to find a place where I could volunteer to help serve Christmas dinner – at a shelter or church. Getting the vulnerable sector screen done at the police station was not the problem. Most places had a policy in place where volunteers had to be trained and training was scheduled for January. Some places were surprised I was offering and didn’t know how to answer me. Some never answered at all. Emails and voice mails left unanswered.

I don’t remember any Christmases before I went in the CAS at 5 years old. I remember the Christmases afterwards though. My foster mother, Alice, would bake the week before – mincemeat tarts, lemon tarts, butter tarts, and shortbread cookies. Then there would be tortière. On Christmas eve, my father, Art, would drive us around to see all the glorious Christmas lights. We’d joke about the most extravagant ones, how they must work for the hydro company! When we got home, we’d hang our stockings, drink our eggnog, watch a Christmas movie on TV, sing some carols, and then go to bed and try to sleep; excited for the arrival of Santa.

On Christmas morning we’d find our stockings on our beds, to keep us amused until the grownups awoke. Inside were colouring books and crayons, clementine oranges (a real treat back then), jigsaw puzzles and small books to read. When the grownups awoke, we’d have breakfast at the kitchen table; usually pancakes or french toast. Then we’d gather around the Christmas tree to open our gifts. We learned patience and delayed gratification in the process! The gifts were never anything large, usually clothing, books, a jigsaw puzzle, and a toy or two. A handmade cradle for a favourite doll, a stuffed animal (mine was a poodle) that we could cuddle with at night; just little things that showed us we were loved and thought of.

After we got dressed, we’d help my mother in the kitchen with the turkey. We’d chop onions and celery for the stuffing, and prepare the turkey for the oven. Even the phrase “sweet and savory” reminds me of my childhood Christmases. In the afternoon the relatives would start to arrive. They’d bring bottles of wine and boxes of candy, such as chocolate covered cherries and Allsorts licorice. We’d all talk at once, in French and in English and eat until we’d almost burst. I’d pass my lima beans to our dog Rex discretely, and he’d be grateful because someone snuck him food from the table!

Dishes were done in shift work. When the tea towel from drying got too wet to dry anymore, another person with another towel would take over. Clean up went by quickly.

So while I spend an uneventful day today, I’m reflecting on my parents, and how grateful I am for all that they gave me and taught me. I’m grateful for the “normal” childhood, for the values demonstrated, and for the lessons of charity that were their most important gifts to me. I tried for many years to recreate that feeling of Christmas and family in my home. I hope I did. Because it isn’t about the expensive gifts, it’s about family, friends, and above all else, love.

This Christmas, I wish everyone much love in their lives.

Marking Time

ClockThe following is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to anyone living or not, is unintentional. 

Fifteen minutes to three o’clock.

I was nervous. I flew into Vancouver early this morning. Why did I agree to meet him today? By the time I had cleared the arrival gates and taxied to my hotel, I only had time to quickly wash up and unpack my suitcase before heading out to Gastown.

Ten minutes to three o’clock.

I promised to meet him at the clock in Gastown. It’s one of only a few landmarks I know in Vancouver. I haven’t been here in twenty years; things have certainly changed. I’ve changed, and I’m sure he has too. Would we still be able to relax and laugh together? Time will tell.

Five minutes to three o’clock.

Time moves slowly on the west coast. Or so he always used to say. I have no idea why we lost touch. Same country but different ends of the world it seemed. He told me on the phone that he had never married. I wonder why not. Is it rude to ask someone that question?

Two minutes to three o’clock.

I hope I don’t embarrass myself by talking too much about myself or asking weird questions.

Now I see him (at least I think it’s him). Did he always wear such thick glasses? Recognition slowly dawns on his face (at least I think it’s recognition – we agreed to meet here and I’m the only one here).

“Sarah?” he asked. Just for a moment I saw the doubt in his eyes.

I smiled. “Hi Mark, is it really you?”

His face lit up with a grin as he wrapped me in the biggest hug I’d had in years.

Then at exactly the same time, we both started to laugh.

Finding Hope

When I hear Donald Trump talk about closing the borders to Muslims, and I see how many Americans agree with him, I tell myself it’s because they’re American. Canadians have always cared more, we are a caring society after all. Many Canadians feel the same way though, and that disappoints me because I know we’re better than that.

The news depresses me. “Toronto the Good” has stabbings, murders, robberies, and more, happening on an increasing basis. A spoiled rich boy drives drunk and kills three small children with their grandfather, and now they’re talking plea deal. A random woman who worked in the financial district walks into a drugstore downtown and stabs an apparent stranger, who later dies. As a society, we’re going mad it seems. I read about a man who died alone in his apartment, undiscovered for weeks. No family or friends. Completely alone. I feel so sad for this man I didn’t even know. Nobody should be alone.

I put Christmas music on in my car and headed out for dinner, for a brief reprieve from the tragedies of the world. For an hour, I seek quiet music, good food, and relaxation.

We ended up at a restaurant called Jacx on Woodbine Avenue, just north of Newmarket, Ontario. I haven’t been there in years, since it was called the Ladle. I was happy to see it quite busy – the business is doing well and that’s good. We sat at a small table beside a couple with their child, and ordered. When our neighbour’s meal came, it was huge – she had ordered the lamb shank. She saw us looking at her plate, and started telling us how good the lamb was there. Then she asked us to give her our bread plate, and she’d give us a piece to try. A complete stranger, offering to share her food – amazing! We declined though as neither of us really likes lamb.

20215 Woodbine, Queensville, ON L0G 1R0
Jacx Restaurant – Bar and Grill

A solitary keyboard player sang songs that nobody under the age of forty or maybe even fifty would remember. He played well, although some songs were a bit fast. His singing was unfortunate – I’ll just leave it at that. The lady at the table beside me got up and walked over to an elderly gentleman sitting in a booth, pulled him to his feet and started to dance. It was incredible to watch the friendliness and warmth of this complete stranger.

It doesn’t matter what I ate that night. I met a woman from Newmarket named Fran, her husband Dave and son Christopher, and I realized that not everyone has closed their hearts. I learned a lesson from Fran last night – to always talk to strangers, always be willing to share good things, and don’t hesitate to dance!

Maybe there’s hope for us after all.

Work in Progress

creative-writingThere are a couple things about keeping a blog that I find frustrating. One is the administration of the blog itself. For example, I would like to also post some of my creative writing, but I’d like it to be in a separate section, so it doesn’t seem so out of place. I’m not sure how to do that on WordPress. I don’t even know if WordPress is the best option to go with for my blog. With Christmas coming up next week, I may need to leave the “learning” until the new year.

The other frustration is not knowing if anyone even reads what I write. I guess it’s like the tree falling in the forest – if nobody hears it, does it make a sound? I’ll keep writing anyway (it’s who I am) and maybe someday, people will find me. Maybe they’ll even give me suggestions. Like feedback. Or comments. Or just say hello!

The Fountain Pen

penThe following is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to anyone living or not, is unintentional. 

There’s something special about the feel of a nice fountain pen; it makes you pay more attention to your penmanship. Penmanship – ha! People don’t even care about that anymore. These days all that matters is quick and easy. Cheap ballpoint pens and lined paper from the school supply store.

When I was a young girl, I learned to write with a nib pen and a blotter. We learned to write with style, nice and straight (although I do remember putting lined paper under my stationery to help me write straight, but eventually writing straight became a habit). Not that any of that matter anymore. When was the last time I received a handwritten letter or note from anyone? I can’t even remember. Everybody wants to communicate by email these days. It’s just not the same. With handwriting, you can get a true sense of the person who’s writing, in the slant of their letters, or how they cross their tees. What are you going to do – bundle up your love emails to read through when you get old? No, it’s just not the same.

I’ve seen so many changes in my life, and some are absolutely amazing! Automatic washing machines and dishwashers – well, I won’t complain about those. I even like my computer; I love having all that information available in seconds. No, my regret is that with all these modern conveniences, we’re losing some of our social graces. Social graces such as a handwritten note to a hostess, delivered the day after a dinner party. I can see it now in my mind, a linen note card, tastefully embossed, with graceful strokes of a fountain pen. You know that somebody took a few minutes out of their busy schedule to pen a note of appreciation.

It isn’t that people don’t have time anymore; it’s that they don’t take the time. If they’re appreciative, you may find out in a quick email sent from their smart phone on the way home. “thx aunt em for a lovely dinner :)”

People don’t appreciate time the way they used to. They think time is infinite – well, maybe it is when you’re in your twenties, but let me tell you, when you get older you realize that time is finite and it goes by much faster.

That’s one of the reasons I appreciate a finely crafted letter or note. It’s also why I still use a fountain pen. I still take the time to create a beautiful letter, with good penmanship. It’s almost an art form; something beautifully written in these days of quick emails and text messages. It gives importance to what I am writing, made obvious because I took the time.

To Whom It May Concern,
I, Emily Stanford, being of sound body and mind, declare this to be my final testament …

The Season for Giving

 

Syrians

Christmas is just around the corner. This is the time of year that embodies the spirit of giving. And yet, for so many people it’s only about receiving, and their giving is limited to their immediate circle.

There is a refugee crisis happening and as we accept some displaced people into our country, the ugliness of some people is starting to show. A familiar refrain I continue to hear is “we need to help our own first”. Such concern for the woes of our society is admirable, or is it? What do these people actually do to help others in OUR society? Most of the time, absolutely nothing. They donate neither time nor money to any charitable cause.

Some of the people making these remarks have very comfortable lives, sometimes owning several houses. There they sit in their comfortable, heated homes, complaining that the people we’re helping don’t look as destitute as they expected. As if somehow they need to suffer more before “deserving” our help. Or they’ll complain that the coats that were donated (we live in a cold climate) were too expensive. Companies should only give them cheap things. They don’t deserve any better than that. How dare someone be given a $400 coat for free. Ikea is giving away furniture – what the heck! I’d like a free couch too!

It’s the “me” generation. Screw everyone else, let’s just worry about ourselves. I’d like to say I’d refuse to help these people if they ever needed it, but that’s not who I am.

It reminds me of a US state governor who voted against providing aid to another state during a disaster. When his state was hit with a similar disaster, he demanded the federal government step in and provide aid to them.  There’s a word for people like that – actually several words. Hypocrite, selfish, greedy, uncaring, cold hearted, unChristian.

It’s also ugly and disgusting.

Oh, and the comments about “helping our own first”? Some of my ancestors were aboriginals (Cree and Metis). It’s a good thing they didn’t think that way, isn’t it?

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