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The Bear, Part 1

Death consumes me.

I am fighting a bear that is 1000x stronger, 1000x more vicious than me.

They tell me to be brave, to have hope, to take one moment at a time.

I believe the voices that say I am stronger than him.

I tell the bear and he laughs and grows 100 more teeth to rip at my flesh.

He stalks me while I do the things that show that I’m still alive – while I put on clean socks, while I brush my teeth, while I try to sleep.

My death would mean less to the bear than a mosquito does to a windshield.

I beg the bear for a merciful death, for release. I can’t remember why I try to flee from him.

He does not show mercy. While he hunts me I can no more choose to die than I can choose to live.

The Bear, Part 2

Who is this bear that stalks me at night when I am alone, when I am most exposed?

Perhaps he is chemicals and broken synapses in my brain. A hallucination caused by disordered biology. I swallow the pills that they tell me will tame him.

Or, he is a loud roar, no more of a threat than the rolling thunder at night. A desperate cry composed only of Fear. Like dark clouds dispersed by a strong wind, he is quieted to sleep by their assurance that dawn will come and Love will Win.

Or, he is a fragmented part of me, a distortion in a fun house mirror. I invite him in, so that both he and I can become more whole.

Or, he is the escape I hold on to when being alive means experiencing pain. The dark shadows projected against cave walls intensify the size and threat of the bear. I have rejected my own nourishment so that he can grow stronger. I have given him more power than he deserves. When I call for help, the Universe answers with Light to help me see.

The bear and the terror are real. The struggle and the wounded flesh and the monstrosity of feeling caught between life and death are real.

Yet, even as he hunts me, I sharpen my weapons. I find strength left like bread crumbs by those who have been chased by their own bears. I reach through the isolation; my community is my arrows. I scratch my words into rock faces; my  voice is my spear.

I am hunted by him, but night by night I learn more of his secrets. For tonight, the bear and I will rest.

I am still alive. I can choose to live.

Here is the question:

“If you really knew your own worth, if you knew you would not fail or be judged, what risks would you take?”

The following is my response:

Be bold. Speak life and light into our personal and collective brokenness.

Admit. Own and apologize for when I’ve been mean, hurtful, racist or selfish. For when I’ve judged another person, and assumed less about them than who they truly are.

Reconcile. Seek and offer forgiveness. Seek and offer grace. Seek and offer peace.

Last night, I went leafing through an old journal, one that I kept while I travelled across Canada with ten other young people.  While we were in New Brunswick (in the town that would eventually become my home for four years), we made up a treasure hunting game that involved a van, a blindfold and a lot of sugar-induced hyperactivity.  The blindfolded person would make decisions about which direction to turn at intersections, taking us in circles and down sidestreets until they shouted STOP! – at which point the driver would park, we would all jump out and begin running desperately around trying to find treasure – any treasure.  An incredible leaf.  A swingset.  An ice cream shop.  It didn’t matter what the treasure was, so long as it was considered treasure by the beholder.  It was all inspired by the Calvin and Hobbes books and Calvin’s claim that there is treasure everywhere.  And really, there is, if you go looking for it.

As I drove home through downtown Hamilton today, this idea of treasure everywhere wandered through my mind.  I looked at the people walking along the sidewalks, waiting for buses, coming out of stores.   I looked at the drivers who were passing me.  I looked at the shops and thought about who their owners might be, who might work in them.  I thought about the people I’ve met downtown.  Agnus, who came to Canada from Vienna fifty years ago; Dave, who runs an art/book shop; Jenny, the artist I wrote about a few months ago.  And so many others.  Downtown Hamilton is a busy place.  There are people everywhere.  Treasured people.

But these people are so fragile.  Some of them have been very obviously broken by poverty or addictions, abuse or mental health issues or unemployment.  Some have very obviously fallen through gaps in the system – be it the mental health system, or the education system, or the justice system.  And there are others who you would never know are broken.  Who walk around in nice clothes, with jobs and kids and smiles on their face, while society hands them every kind of mask they could possible need to hide what exists on the inside.  Because people are so fragile.  So easily broken.

And yet, these same people are so resilient.  Some of the most caring people I have met have stories of abuse and cruelty in their past.  People who have been treated like garbage by family or society who choose still to love and trust and reach across the space between us.  To try again and again and again to get on their feet, despite others knocking them back down.  To believe for something better.  Or even to just keep going in the absence of that belief.

I am astounded by this paradox.  The fragility and resiliency of humankind.  I see it everywhere.  On their faces.  In my own reflection.  I see it in you.

It’s raining again tonight.  I would like nothing more than to be sitting across from you in the living room, drinking peppermint tea, listening as you tell your story.  Having this conversation face to face.  But there is space between you and I.

I use this blog to try to reach through the disconnect.  To share something.  To be something other than an island.  “You’ll find us reaching into screens that echo back our discontent.” (source)  We spend so much time defining our independence.  Building our walls.  Living our separate lives.  There is space between you and I.

But we need each other, desperately, I think.  I need you.  Society tells me admitting this is weakness.  Vulnerability is seen as something to overcome.  I choose to believe otherwise.  Only through relationship with you am I made human.  Ubuntu.

Yet community is not easy.  Community is process, not outcome.  I need you, as you are.  Not as I wish you to be.  I need you with all your flaws and weaknesses and gifts and beauty.  I accept you as you are, where you are.  I welcome your gifts, your weakness, your vulnerability.  I invite you into mine.

I volunteered at the Freeway coffeehouse tonight.

One of my new friends came in to work on one of her many ongoing art/craft projects.  Her art might not be valued by a lot of critics or the general public, but when you see how much joy it gives her, it becomes a deeply meaningful experience, a privilege to share.

When I commented on the beauty of her most recent project she responded by saying “I am very good.  Before I felt so stifled, but now I feel like a butterfly, so free.”

I could have wept, right there on the spot.  I was so moved by her self-awareness, her grace, her recognition of the beautiful and rare gift of being able to express oneself.  This is a true artist.

Journey.

I remember all that has brought me to this place.  Intermingling of light and darkness.  For better or worse, I am who I am.  And I am still becoming.  Stop looking for the big ‘wow’ moment that will forever change my life and live for the small moments that are here and now.  Appreciate the connection of this moment to the journey I have just come from, and the one that will go on from here.  In small ways and small places I continue to journey forward.

Mystery.

I accept that I will never be able to understand it all.  Some of my questions won’t ever have answers.  Be okay with the mystery, even delighted by the mystery.  Birth and death, growth and pain, healing and disease, hope and despair, brokenness and redemption.  It doesn’t make sense to me, but gravity doesn’t make sense to the birds and yet they are able to fly.

Community.

Community is never perfect.  And I wouldn’t want to hang out with perfect people.  I wouldn’t belong there.  It’s good that sometimes I don’t like the things you say or do, because it means its okay when you don’t like the things I say or do.  I still want my roots to become entangled with yours.  And maybe if I listen more and judge less, I will learn something from your story.  I might discover that you and I are not so different.

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