This year seems to be one that is determined to make me think about mortality.
January started with the profound and intense experience of being with a close friend, and his wife, as he passed away from cancer at the too-young age of 48.
More recent events of a friend undergoing life critical surgery, others battling cancer and those dealing with the shock of loved ones who have died suddenly and unexpectedly have made me realize that so many of the clichés we use about life and death have probably become clichés because they are so true. I am reminded that life is short and that we all will die. Including me.
But the knowledge that has really settled into my bones and blood is that none of us know how short, or how long, our lives truly are.
What motivates me, and what lights a fire in my belly, is not that I will die someday. But that I could die tomorrow. Or today.
And I could die with things left undone. Words that have not been spoken. Places left unvisited. Time still wasted on actions without heart or passion.
I am finding myself becoming wildly determined to not to wait to do the things that are important to me. After all, what am I waiting for? Last year’s journey of “fierce” has combined with this year’s journey of “stretch” to urge me forward on my path leaving behind the “I should’s” and moving toward the “I want’s”.
Two weeks ago an opportunity came up to buy a condo in an area of town in which I’ve always wanted to live. In nine days, I bought the new condo, got my place ready to sell and accepted an offer. Nine days. And I took Sunday off to visit with friends!
My initial thought was “it’s too fast, I’m not ready, I can’t do this”. But as the Committee in my head began the bickering process of why it wouldn’t work, I could also hear the insistent whisper of my heart saying, “this is what we want, what we’ve dreamed of, we can do it”. But is my blood and my bones that are new to the conversation and who are speaking up and saying “We are doing this and we are doing it now. So get it in gear and figure it out”.
So with help from friends, a good real estate agent, and an amazing mortgage broker, I made it happen. And, with the bit of money left over I am starting my travel fund to finally travel to Africa on safari. I want to see elephants in the wild.
I don’t know how long I have left. So I am doing it now. I am not waiting any longer.
As the cliché says, “there is nothing like death to make you appreciate life”.
One of the great things about having friends and family visit – aside from the hugs – is the chance to be a tourist in your own town. As excuse to do those things that I normally think, “geez, that’s a bit expensive!” Recently, my sister came to visit from the east of Canada where the temperatures have been far far below zero for far far too long. “Square tire weather” my sister calls it because the normally round tires go “thunk thunk thunk” for a bit when you first start driving until they warm up. I will skip the rather obvious point that this this is why I live in Vancouver (oops, too late!). Anyway, a visit from my sister and a warm, sunny February day in Vancouver was all the excuse we needed to head up the coast a bit and try out the new Sea to Sky Gondola. Located just south of Squamish, BC, the gondola rises up to 885m above sea level. The route goes up behind the Stawamus Chief, the second-largest granite monolith in the world. The hike up the Chief is a bit beyond my trekking capabilities and so I was pleased when they built the gondola, although I know there were some objections raised at the time about the impact on the environment. The Chief is also a popular rock-climbing spot. And, trust me, if I’m not sure if could hike up the back of the Chief, I am damn sure that I am never going to rock climb up the front of it!! This guy was heading up the rock face, where the red circle is. Ahem. The gondola ride was great. Once at the top at the Summit Lodge, there were many trails leading off with a range of hiking skill levels. We traversed our way across the suspension bridge which, for those of who who have followed my saga with heights, vertigo and paralyzing fear, I am proud to say I crossed with a minimum of panic. We also did a 1.6km trail out to a viewing platform which cantilevered out past the edge of the cliff. Amazing views of the local peaks – Sky Pilot, Co-Pilot, Ledge Mountain, Mount Habrich and Mount Garibaldi. And, a gorgeous view looking down over the Chief, the town of Squamish and Howe Sound.
And, we had some fun playing with our cameras and trying out different shots and settings. My tip for a successful selfie – always take the shot on an angle!! Then, back to the Lodge for some snacks and a rest in the sunshine. And of course, a selfie to commemorate the day!
In 2014, I picked the word fierce as my word for the year and it was a damn fine word.
I wanted to be fierce about the decisions in my life. To stand up for my needs more and compromise my happiness less. To live my life fully and not let my fear of not being liked (or loved) stop me from doing what I really want to do. To be visible and courageous and unflinching in my authenticity.
Did I succeed? For the most part …hell yes I did! Not always, of course. And I’m sure I had my clumsy and inelegant moments in which I inadvertently hurt others. But mostly, I loved being fierce. I made some really hard decisions and then hoped my friends would understand. Some did and our friendship is strengthened and more deeply valued by me. Some didn’t and the loss of that connection brings sadness but few regrets.
I tackled some big physical challenges and made it over the damn mountain. Twice. I spoke some hard truths and I tried to do it with love, compassion and thoughtfulness. And I walked into the darkness to poke at what hurts in the hopes of healing the wounds.
Now that it’s 2015, I’m not sure I want to let my fierce word companion go. I think I might keep that fierceness tucked in my back pocket and just keep on keeping on.
But as 2014 came to a close and I began thinking about a word for 2015 one thing became increasingly clear. The most troubled area for me in living fully is still my physical relationship with my body. I’ve put on weight (again). I never feel like I eat healthy or get enough exercise. But July’s experience hiking the Quiraing planted the seed that I needed to get along with my body more. I couldn’t force it to do what I wanted; I needed to support it.
And then, at the end of 2014, I had the incredible experience of being with a dear friend in the last days of his life as he passed away from cancer and his spirit was released from this world. As I watched his body break down and stop working, I realized that I have spent a lot of my life at war with my body. Hating it for being too fat, blaming it for the things that haven’t gone the way I wanted them to (hello rejection and heartbreak), yelling at it to be in better shape like some kind of abusive coach. Faster! Stronger! Not Good Enough!
The fact is, though, that my body is working pretty damn well. There are a whole lot of things going right each day that mean I am mobile, not in pain and able to do the things I want to. It has done its best and stuck with me even with the negative self-talk and the crap I sometimes feed it.
Perhaps instead of being at war with my body, I could instead be at peace with it. Maybe instead of yelling I could celebrate my body and all the amazing things we can do together. Perhaps if I loved my body more then this idea of self-care would become less of a battle and more of a partnership. If I could take the fierceness with which I have tackled the outside world in 2014 and turn it inwards into celebration and partnership then I might be much happier and waste less of this precious life.
And so I have chosen the word stretch for 2015. To stretch my body fully and gloriously and revel in all it can do. To expand my body and my spirit together in partnership to explore the potential of my life. To physically stretch my muscles to allow for free movement.
If fierce was the word that acted as a backstop to keep me from eroding myself away in compromise and people-pleasing then I hope stretch is a word that helps me join hands with my body and reach forward towards my goals and dreams and desires.
It’s time to make peace with the enemy.
The war is over.
Let the parade begin.
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On Tuesday July 22, we had our longest day of hiking (about 12 km) from the beach at Huisinis. Huisinis, pronounced hoosh-ih-noosh (or something like that!) is a word derived from Norse which means “house headland”. An apt description as the community consists of four houses at the end of a single track road.
On the way to Huisinish we stopped at the workshop of Donald John Mackay, a weaver of Harris tweed. In order to be called Harris Tweed, the fabric must be woven on either Harris or Lewis. Donald has been weaving his whole life and learned the craft from his Father. The colours and patterns of the tweed are very much taken from the landscape around the island; the browns, greens and purples seen in the plants and rocks of the hills.
After marveling over the beautiful tweed, we were off to the beach at Huisinis to start our trek. Given my panic-attack-vertigo-freak-out on the hike over the Quiraing, our guide made sure I knew that we were hiking over a mountain with a rocky, steep path and gave me the option of staying behind on the beach. Those of you who know me will know what I chose. After saying I wouldn’t willingly hike over a mountain again … yup, this time I did it willingly! Happy to report that while the trek was physically challenging, with the help of my amazing sister and a walking pole, I made it over the hill. It probably helped that we were headed for a beautiful looking beach so I was able to focus on that as my goal. In the first photo below, you can see the mountain on the right, with the beach off in the distance on the left.
Having achieved the beach, we took a short lunch break and then went around the headland of the beach and climbed up to a loch. Truly a beautiful spot, with the freshwater loch butting up against the salt water of the sea. In addition to lots of sheep, we were lucky enough to spot a red deer.
The trek up the hill from the loch back to the mountain path was definitely the hardest part. I honestly wasn’t sure if I could do it but having no choice I just tried to quiet the voice in my head saying “I can’t believe you did this willingly” and keep on putting one foot in front of the other. It was hot, humid, boggy, muddy and buggy – flies, midges and ticks! Making it to the top was a very proud moment – a hot and sweaty, proud moment!!
After the trek up the boggy hill from the loch, the hike back over the mountain seemed pretty easy! I truly realized how far I’d come (mentally and physically not geographically) when we reached a point in the path where we discovered that the people in the lead had gone off the hiking trail and we were, in fact, about 20 feet below the path following a sheep trail. In order to get back on the trail to get around the headland, we had to scramble straight up the hill. No path, just rocks. No problem!
Back at the van, we enjoyed the cake that our B&B hostess had packed for us and then headed back “home” for the best shower ever!!!!