Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Living At Brookdale Senior Citizens Home

I never thought I would stay at Brookdale Retirement Residence in Wilton Connecticut! Coming to visit my mom has always meant staying at my brother Michael’s house. He lives 20 minutes away from the retirement home where my mom has lived for the past 3 years. On this day, we were unable to get into Michael and Lisa’s house. Brookdale offered us a place to sleep for the night. We decided to stay.

I love my life. Some of our children make fun of me - for talking to people who I don’t know, for travelling to untouched territories, for staying in simple places instead of ordinary hotels, for doing things in different ways from the mainstream, and for not letting money get in my way. I like my life! I appreciate the things I do and the way I relate to the world around me. I’m comfortable and at ease with my surroundings wherever I am and grasp every opportunity to talk to the people with whom I cross paths.

Imagine, if I didn’t live this way! I would have missed the chance to meet Al Ritchie. He was

sitting atop an electric wheelchair at the mall this afternoon. I was waiting for the chance to sign out a wheelchair so we could walk around the mall with my mom. Al was waiting for help. When I came towards the kiosk, I lifted the receiver of the phone to enquire about help. Within minutes a service man came. He approached Al.

“No, no,” says Al. “First help this woman. I have lots of time.”

“I have time too,” I answered. “Aren’t we both lucky to have so much time?”

“Well…actually,” says Al, with a bit of a shrug, “My doctor just let me know I have 3 -36 months.” As he extends his arms to reveal black and blue bruises, he says, “Take a look at this. It’s from the chemo.”

I’m so sorry,” I say as I gently touch his shoulder.

“It’s okay,” he says. “I don’t care. I’ve had a good life so far. Have you ever heard of the music group The Rascals? Well… I was one of them.”

Al continued to tell me many things about what he did in his life, finishing with, “And I love my children. I have my school bus outside, and I love those kids.”

In the meantime… mom slept.

If I didn’t live this way I never would have played Bingo with the ladies on my mother’s floor! I would never have met Gert with whom I talked for 40 minutes about her deep burning desire to go home. I don’t know how long Gert has lived in Brookdale. And I don’t know who ever comes to visit her and how often she has family coming to hug her and show her love. But I do know that the time we spent together, shared conversation and talked about her, was good. “Home” we determined, “is some place you can find inside yourself.” Gert became a little bit closer to that.

If I didn’t live like this we would have slept in some ridiculous hotel and Paul and I would never have spent the time with my mom and the other residents, singing and clapping and dancing and laughing together after their dinner and before they were sent off to bed! And we wouldn’t have been there at breakfast to see mom’s surprised smile when she saw us waiting for her at her table.

If we didn’t live like this we never would have been able to offer our bottle of home made wine to the nurses who work so hard and share so much love and compassion with the old people who are in their care. Their patience and energy and skill in working with elderly people is fantastic. I know I could never do it for very long.

The other day a Facebook friend of mine posted a quote. It said, “You can always make more money, but you can’t always make more time.” I so get it! I understand. Time to be with others is what it’s all about for me. I want to keep doing this.

One “child” tells me I act like a hippy! He wonders how I do the things I do. He imagines me hitchhiking through India and worries about me couchsurfing in Europe. Even though I don’t really do any of those things, I do do things differently! He might be embarrassed about the fact that I don’t like spending money frivolously and would rather give what I have to the people who need it most in this world, or even that I don’t care much that I don’t have so much money. Staying overnight in a hotel for $100.00 a night isn’t half as much fun as an experience in a Senior’s residence. I would rather do things differently and live deeply in my experiences. I wouldn’t have it any other way!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Next Adventure!

I feel like a teenager again! My life is wide open and the possibilities of what I can do and where I can go are limitless!

We’ve packed up our house! Paul and I have rented our house for the year. We’ve taken off again on another adventure. This time our travels take us to Central America.

Our adventure begins in New York where we visit my mom for two days. We’re having a dinner evening with friends, and then we’ll make our way to JFK Airport for our one-way flight to Cancun.

We’ll remain in Mexico for two weeks, to attend a family wedding in Cancun. Rachel and Jeff’s decision to get married in Mexico inspired this trip. The celebrations are taking place in an all-inclusive resort, La Amada in Playa Mujeres. Avoiding the high costs of all-inclusive resorts, Paul and I found a quaint little bed and breakfast about 18 kilometres from the resort.

To our kids, who were also invited to the wedding, we offered room and board. They are each responsible for their travel arrangements. 4 of our 7 children opted in! So we’re having a mini reunion! Two from Vancouver, one from Montreal and one from Toronto will be there. What a blessing!

After our Cancun extravaganza, Paul and I expect to explore Palenque to immerse ourselves in the Mayan culture. Then we’ll make our way to Guatemala.

Guatemala is a mystery to me. From the media and from many people (who haven’t been there) I receive warnings. “Be very careful. It can be very dangerous in Guatemala” they say. From our friends who have been there, and there are several, we get, “Be careful, of course, and revel in the richness of the culture and the beauty of the surroundings. It’s a wonderland!” they say.

We have projects to look forward to when we’re there:

First of all, we are hoping to spend time with a child who we have been sponsoring for the past 5 years as an acknowledgement and an appreciation for the birth of our grandson, Oscar. We intend to visit Selvyn in a small village called, Asodisa. I am excited to make person-to-person contact with this child with whom we have been communicating and watching grow.

There is a school in Chajul, where I will be sharing my skills as a trainer of teachers. As I learn more Spanish while I am there, I am excited about working with the school in the village and learning from them about the Mayan culture. There the children are eager to participate, happy to engage with English speaking visitors and curious about what tourists have to share. Their weaving of Mayan culture and western world intrigues me.

Paul and I have also been connected to a small community in Guatemala City. There are 10 families there who have sought spiritual connection. After doing extensive research into various religions they have chosen to be Jewish! They are learning now; excited and enthusiastic about all there is to learn about Judaism. Already converted by a Reform Rabbi, they will be participating in their first Bar Mitzvah in November! Paul and I will be teaching the students about Judaism. I’m going to focus on helping the young people read Hebrew and understand Torah stories. Paul will engage musically. We will be living with various families when we’re there, and, both of us are so grateful for the opportunity to share with Casa Hillel!

I will try to learn Spanish while I’m in Guatemala. I would like to be fluent by the time I leave. And Yoga, of course, yoga…..from a different perspective and from a different culture.

There are so many possibilities for work, play and learning in the next few months, before returning to Canada. We have decided consciously to embark on an adventure into unknown territory and unknown lands. We try to make ourselves available to others however the universe grabs us and to respond in a way that reflects love, responsibility and wonderment in the world. We do so with a deep sense of curiosity, exploration and adventure. We look for time to just ‘be’ and let things unfold. It is all just a little bit scary…..and very, very exciting!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Leaving India

I am on my way back to Canada after my month in India. My time here has been incredibly rich and fulfilling and rewarding. I feel blessed; truly blessed for the opportunity to experience life the way I do!

As I pass through security I hand the officer behind the window, my information sheet that is necessary to fill in before leaving the country. I have left blank the line giving my address in India.

It is 2:00 am. I’ve been awake nearly 22 hours. I am tired, weary really, and not that anxious to be leaving India. I can’t remember the actual address of the Gurukala where I have been staying in Bangalore. The officer looks at me seriously. Please sign your name at the bottom.” he orders as he hands me his pen.

I immediately oblige, and, returning the pen I say, “Nice pen.” His eyes shift upwards to meet mine, his brow creases, and in a serious tone he says, “What is your address in India?”

“I have been staying in a Gurukala.” I respond.

“What’s the address?” He does not let up.

I struggle through my handbag to find my journal. Perhaps I had written Mah’s address there before I left. I turn the colourful pages that are filled with reflections of the past four weeks. I realize how much I have written and how hastily I recorded my ideas sometimes, in order to keep record of my thoughts, feelings and reflections. I get a bit lost in the pages, until I hear a stern clearing from the officer’s throat. I look up, defeated. I don’t have an address. I’m wondering if that would keep me in India for any undetermined time. Although I have never experienced corruption of any kind, I have heard stories, and I am tired enough and anxious enough to begin to be a bit concerned.

The officer clicks his tongue. He signs his sheet. My pen has fallen out of my journal in my rush to retrieve the address. Relieved to be moving on, I grab the pen from the desk as I say “thank you” and begin to move to the next security check.

“Is that your pen?” asks the officer. “Yes”, I answer.

“Nice pen.” He smiles. I smile too as I walk off, leaving India behind for another year.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Uma, Bangles and Love

The clouds are thick. It is still early and the sun has not yet had enough time to burn through the clouds. There are small hills here. It is morning as I awake in a bus after an all night ride. Tamil Nadu looks different from Kerala. I notice the clouds gliding across the distant mountains. Bangalore, my destination, is just a few hours away.
Green covers the land. I can see it in the trees and in the grass. Small bushes spread across the ground and sandalwood trees sprout sporadically across the land. Occasionally, thick clumps of forest separate the growth of rice paddies. The patterns formed, shine across the land. It is early morning. Farmers are out in their fields. They remind us the day has begun.
My friend Uma sits beside me, her gentle way occasionally lets me know what’s in her thoughts. She smiles with kindness evident and says, “You look like a child waking up early this morning.” She laughs.

I met Uma in Fort Cochin. She and I became friends easily. Though Bangalore is her home, a pleasure visit to Cochin brought her to my teacher’s Sajee’s house for a welcome respite from her home on the hill. It was a treat to return to Bangalore with Uma this year. Our trip, by over night bus was so much nicer with her company!
Uma embraces the simple joys of life. Though most of her time is spent in meditation and prayer, she loves drinking beer, dancing with friends, laughing at silliness, surfing the internet on her (archaic) computer, and listening to her favourite radio Tamil music stations on her mobile phone. She anticipates friendly visits from neighbours and family members. She has lived at the Ashram, an orphanage in the outskirts of Bangalore for the past 40 years.
Uma paints. Her use of colour is vibrant and rich. Pinks, oranges, blues and browns are used to create beautiful Indian women, Gods and deities, and flowers. She says her most creative times are after the monsoon passes. Then, she is more able to settle outside and ‘watch the world as it turns’. The sun shines. The climate is more comfortable. Her room becomes brighter and inspiration ignites.
Gentle, meditative and very sociable, Uma’s life story is rich and intriguing. Her first marriage was arranged, as is common in Indian culture. Abusive and destructive, Uma was able to leave the relationship, leave India for France, and quickly fell in love again. Her second marriage enabled her to give birth to a daughter. That marriage also didn’t last long and Uma found herself, alone, back in India. Her partner and young daughter remained in France. Uma lives alone now after several relationships. After several long term relationships, he is presently single and continues to find love where ever she can.
Uma’s room sits atop a hill in a small orphanage in the outskirts of Bangalore, very close to where I am staying. She is the “mother’ there, having reached that Brahman reputation of honour and respect. She tells me she never leaves her room in the Ashram other than to sit and watch the world from her stone balcony that overlooks the hills of the village. Young women come to bring her food daily. The doctor visits weekly. Visitors come and go during the day checking in and sharing conversation and tea.
My one visit to Uma happens during an annual festival (Sree Gundan Jareeya) in her ashram. It is similar to a community Church picnic with about 5,000 people attend. The ashram hosts the neighbourhood as a way of sharing thanks for the support the neighbourhood shares during the year. Bushels and bushels of rice and curries are set out on huge banana leaves for eating. Delicious Indian deserts and chai is served. Families with young children in tow play and sing and dance. Crafts are displayed and jewellery is sold.

Venturing down from Uma’s balcony we come upon a pleasant woman sitting cross-legged on a colourful mat. Surrounding her are hundreds of glass bangles neatly organized on home made cylinder tubes decoratively covered in newspaper. She smiles at us as we approach and waves her hand in welcome and to come closer.
Uma insists that we all decorate our arms with the bangles. There are four of us ,all together…myself, and 3 friends, Mah, Nagri and Uma. Each one of us, in turn, extends our arm to have the bangles ceremoniously squeezed over our hand on to our arms. Each one of us receives 12 bangles, different colours for each depending on the choice made by the bangle maker.

The price for all the bangles is 200 rupees ($8.00) but the experience we share is priceless. I feel so blessed to be with these amazing and beautiful women. Each of us is so different, and yet, each of us is so much the same. Women like Uma, Mah, Nagri and even the old bangle maker make my life sing!!! We all walk away singing the joyful jangle of bracelets from our swinging arms, as we make our way home.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Leaving Bliss

I’m in a bus, passing through Tamil Nadu on my way to Karnataka. My journey in India is almost over for the year. I’m going to visit a friend in Bangalore before I make my way back to Canada.

It has been a perfect visit this year. I have had full rich days and have noticed the quiet in my soul. Here I don’t feel the complexities of life. I notice simplicity in my surroundings and in the world around me. I find joy in a simple smile and a sincere “good morning” greeting.

Sajee said, “So many people know you here.” It is true. I feel a part of the Fort Cochin neighbourhood. When I sit in a cafĂ© drinking chai, people stop to say hello. I feel familiar…. at home.

Our Shanti Yoga community has strengthened. We have grown to love each other in a deep and special way. When I left, we shared tears. We all know we will never come together again in the same way. Life doesn’t stay the same. We move on. Each moment is now and now is all that really matters.

I suppose I have guided my path to live in this way. I have worked hard, created a strong reputable career, helped bring up 7 incredibly creative, generous and independent children. I have served my self, my family, and my community and worked hard to make our universe a better, kinder, healthier place. Now, I feel the desire to explore the world, to find people and places where my skills are wanted, and not easily found. I want to reach out to others in different cultures, and learn about others ways of thinking and living. I want to live in the ‘now’ and simply enjoy.

This month in India has given me the experience of just ‘being’. My life here has been rich. I have, as Robert Fulghum prescribes, “learned some and thought some and drew and painted and sang and danced and played and worked every day some.” I have marvelled and wondered at the world. I know my presence has affected change in others and I am different as a result of those that have been presented into my life.

I think, for the first time, I will be able to transfer this experience in to my every day life. I have discovered something grand about myself! I love life wherever I am! Some people think the “grass is always greener on the other side.” My challenge is seeing that the grass can be just as green on the other side. When I’m in India, I’m happy. When I’m on Gabriola, I feel great! In Toronto, I think it’s the greatest city! The challenge is leaving the place where I am. I am happy and satisfied wherever I am!

Leaving India is sad for me. There is comfort in the fact that I will be back again. I will never have the same experience I had this year. I can’t. It is over. There will be others. And I will continue to ‘be’ here…where ever that ‘here’ might be.