Understanding our Stories workshop series

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(© Copyright Christopher Miller. ) This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Last Tuesday, I spoke to a room filled with Canadian veterans, sharing the story of my travels through the World War I battlefields of Belgium and how, while there, I unexpectedly discovered the value of my own heritage. I watched as some of the men and women present wiped their eyes.

They waited quietly and patiently, as I wiped mine.

Afterwards, they lined up to share fragments of their own experiences overseas. Although strangers, we connected in a very deep and tender place. For some, it is a very dark place.

Exploring our life stories from the perspectives afforded by age helps us to better understand the value of those experiences, leading to improved health and resiliency.

Sharing those stories is also vitally important, not only for our own well-being, but to strengthen our relationships with others and create ties of compassion between us.

Writing them down captures snapshots of our culture and preserves them for future generations.

That’s why I am thrilled to be collaborating with professors from the Centre for Interdisciplinary Research on Narrative at St. Thomas University on this upcoming workshop series.

startingpointDuring this series of three full-day workshops to be held in Fredericton, NB, I will show participants how the techniques employed in the craft of writing and storytelling can help us explore, examine and embrace the nature of our own personal stories.

Each workshop builds upon the one previous so participants should plan to attend all three sessions.

Registration is limited to 40 participants, ages 55 and older.

More info here.

Categories: All Workshop & Book Events, memories, writing | 2 Comments

Courage and Hope

I don’t get a chance to blog much anymore, but today, in the midst of my work, I happened upon this online video. (Strangely enough, it is a British supermarket ad – here is the story of the making of the ad).

The story it tells took me back more than a decade and caused me to put my work on pause to hold the memory.

The year was 2003, and I was in Belgium to run a marathon with the Canadian Arthritis Society’s Joints in Motion program. That year the society had teamed up with the Royal Canadian Legion to bring both veterans and runners to take part in a marathon that wound through Flanders Fields, past war memorials and farmers fields where plows still regularly unearthed scattered bones. Participants ran or walked to honour either someone with arthritis or a war veteran. Some came looking for the graves of relatives lost in the war.

ieper20Two days before the marathon, we took a tour of Flanders Fields, which included a visit to the Essex Farm Cemetery where John McCrae wrote his famous poem; Langemark German war cemetery, with its mass comrades grave of 24,917 servicemen and another of 3000 school children; and Tyne Cot, the largest Commonwealth cemetery, holding almost 12,000 stones mark and a memorial wall listing the names of 35,000 soldiers whose remains were never found.

As I walked the endless rows of identical white tombstones, each memorializing a precious, irreplaceable life, and ran my fingers over the lists of names etched in stone, tears flowed freely. Most of these soldiers were mere frightened boys. I began to feel the weight of human sacrifice and enormity of the loss.

Later, we visited the ‘In Flanders Fields Museum’, and I wandered aimlessly through the displays, no longer able to take in more depictions of this political monstrosity we call war. Then I found myself standing in front of two pairs of soldiers. They faced each other, hands outstretched; two British, two German. The diorama depicted a Christmas truce on the battlefield – a moment when differences fell away and men reached out to each other as their own true vulnerable selves. I stood there, unable to move. Then I began to sob.

Here was a gift: a reminder that even amidst the direst of circumstances, the human spirit – and our inner desire for compassion and connection  –- can quietly rise, courageous and unbeatable.  This gift is called hope.

Categories: change, courage, hope, memories | Leave a comment

Write by the Sea Retreat

“The sea does not reward those who are too anxious, too greedy, or too impatient. To dig for treasures shows not only impatience and greed, but lack of faith. Patience, patience, patience, is what the sea teaches. Patience and faith. One should lie empty, open, choiceless as a beach—waiting for a gift from the sea.”
― Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Gift from the Sea

 

 

2014writebytheseaCreativity ultimately finds us when we patiently pause to listen…when we step away from life’s demands and make a sacred space for dreaming and mulling and wondering and waiting. In doing so, we also nourish our relationship with nature, spirit and self.

Join me and nutritionist/massage therapist Elaine Mandrona for a relaxing writing retreat by the sea where you will learn the flow of the writing process, from generating an idea and gathering details, to shaping and polishing the story waiting to be told through you.

The workshop will be held at the lovely Auberge vue d’la Dunes in Bouctouche, NB, overlooking Northumberland Strait. Each day we will interweave workshop sessions with solitary writing time.

 

When: Sept 13-14, 2014
Please register by Sept 6.
More details here

 

Categories: All Workshop & Book Events, nature, relationships, seasons, stillness, writing, writing retreat | 1 Comment

Write from the Soul Workshop

“This is the first, wildest, wisest thing I know…that the soul exists and that it is built entirely our of attentiveness.”
Mary Oliver

Many moons and months have passed since my last workshop. Life has been…well…complicated.  We all  know how it is, don’t we?  We deal with the things that come our way and sometimes have to let the beautiful, creative part of us slide by without expression for a while.

But the maple trees are budding and the last silly drifts of snow in my forest are folding in upon themselves. Last night, I heard the cries of a fox in the dark and this morning I awoke to the soothing call of a mourning dove just outside my window.

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Meanwhile, down at the duck pond, ring necks and pintails are preening and picking partners. There is excitement in the air. Reviving excitement. Creation excitement.

 pintail

How about dusting off your notebook, choosing a beautiful new pen and joining me at one of my favourite places…the delightful Artists’ Garden in New Horton? Or, if not for you…how about a unique Mother’s Day gift?

Write from the Soul
Saturday, May 24; 10AM-4PM
An Artist’s Garden, New Horton, NB
Price: $95 (includes HST)

 

Categories: All Workshop & Book Events, Bay of Fundy, writing | 4 Comments

Be the change.

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He stands alone on the curb; an island beside a river of drivers intent upon their own heroic mission…a place to be, a task to complete, a deal to transact, a person to meet, a shopping list to fill.

Although I catch barely a glimpse of his solitary shape through the traffic, I recognize the stamp of homelessness. Limp hair separates in strings about his ears, a beard wraps his neck like a scarf, sombre clothes fall from shoulders sloped by life’s burdens.  A bundle – perhaps a backpack or bag – lies on the ground at his feet.  He clutches a single piece of cardboard scratched with the handwritten words, ‘HELP ME’.

***

The Native woman sits opposite me, speaking quietly, her hands folded upon themselves. Her hair falls in greying whispers upon her cheeks; her face is creased, chiseled deep by careless words and misguided actions. She was seven when the government placed her in a residential school. “They took me from my family, my culture, my language, and put me in a white man’s world. They took my identity. Now I live between both worlds; I belong in neither.”

So she clings to her identity as a child of God. She tells me she once asked God for a word; he gave her “Harmony”. She asked why he allowed pain to come to the native people; he told her, “Theirs is the pain of people who have been denied honour, esteem and love.”

***

I’m in a taxi, weaving through suppertime traffic on my way to the Toronto airport. My driver bears the weathered look of a Tibetan Sherpa. It is May, yet he wears a furred winter cap and sagging hand-knit woollen sweater. I think he has not adjusted well to our country, then he tells me he is a nomad from the Sahara Desert near Timbuktu.

I ask him what lured him out of his desert to Canada. He wanted a better life for his children in a beautiful country, he says. Did you find it, I ask?  No, he says sadly. He has decided Canadians live too fast, consume too much, care too little. Disillusioned and disappointed, he tells me he will return to the Sahara before another winter sets in.

“I came looking for something that I now know does not exist anywhere on Earth,’ he adds.

“What is that?” I ask, intrigued.

“Freedom, justice and human rights.”

“And what will you tell your children when you return?”

If you want these things too, then you must make them yourself.”

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What have these to do with Christmas?  Good question. They are scattered stories emerging upon the page as I sit to compose this post during a winter storm. I’ve felt lost of late, and the process of writing often leads me home.  It began last year in Haiti, I believe…in a moment when I looked across an empty courtyard and saw the eyes of Jesus in a broken, battered man. Such moments change a person. You cannot go back.

The thread continued, as I became more involved in local activism.  As is often the case, when you wade into battle, you discover the enemy is not who or what you think it is. While facing an oil and gas industry that degrades the environment, negatively impacts health, and widens the gap between the rich and the poor, pits neighbour against neighbour, we found even greater enemies… complacency, prejudice, judgement, oppression.

Having visited a country where people trampled by government corruption and foreign industry survive by re-manufacturing mountains of our cast-offs and garbage; where climate change, exacerbated by the burning of fossil fuels, causes severe weather events, I can no longer ignore how my decisions affect others. The words of a woman ring true, “We used to think God was punishing us, but now I am angry because I realize it is the rich countries that are to blame.”

In August, I spent three days camping and participating in sacred ceremonies at a First Nations conference. As we sat together in a clearing in the forest, watching nighthawks and waiting for the first stars to appear, I saw people making a heroic effort to reclaim their cultural traditions, pride and strength. Later, some were arrested for upholding their sacred duty to protect Mother Earth. It’s a commitment to duty that few of us might understand. We forget that it takes many diverse trees to create a strong, healthy forest. Protecting the garden is their Great Mission; one they may have strayed far from, but have we not strayed also from ours?

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I’ve become more sensitive to prejudice and judgement as I’ve learned how Canada has oppressed native populations, withholding the honour, esteem and love we should have afforded our First Peoples, and how our policies affect those in other countries. And then, when a stranger tells me that my country – the one my ancestors built on their pursuit of freedom, justice and human rights – seems bereft of these values, I realize he is right. We have fallen far from our heritage, from our beliefs, from our values.

Cloistered in the insulation of our busy lives, we often only remember the poor at Christmas. We believe the oppressed live elsewhere. We forget the voiceless and belittled who live amongst us every day. It all seems so huge and dangerous…this chore of opening ourselves to compassion, and of feeling love for the unlovable.  But how we walk in the world is so important to our heart and soul.

Remember the man with the ‘Help me’ sign?  I would like to tell you I did the right thing. But while I sat conflicted in a parking lot across the street, watching and wondering whether I could provide what he needed, a beautiful stranger stopped to offer help. So I sat alone and wept, realizing the man on the side of the road was perhaps not mine to help, but his image was mine to carry.  Like the man in the Haitian courtyard, I knew he would never leave me.

So, this Christmas, as we celebrate the birth of a rebel who challenged the authorities of his time, I return to the profound wisdom offered by a nomad immigrant driving a Toronto cab. “If you want these things, you must make them yourself.”

Be the change you want to see in the world.  Watch for Jesus in the eyes of those around you.

I leave you with the words of Nelson Mandela, who broke the law to create monumental change:

For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains,
but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.

And a hope that, in the coming year, you will find your own Harmony, and pursue one personal change that makes the world a freer, healthier, more diverse place.  Remember: be gentle with yourself if you fail, but carry your lessons well.

    I’m sorry I’ve been away so long…God Bless and keep you safe,

Deborah

Categories: change, community, courage, earth, relationships, writing | 10 Comments

Light of the World

“I am the light of the world.
Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness,
but will have the light of life.”

 ~John 8:12~

The sun casts its late afternoon light upon the tops of the birch trees behind my home as I sit here, mulling over words that seem reluctant to show me their shape. This is the way with words…I must simply begin with faith, to find out what needs to be said.

It is 3:30pm on Christmas Eve…about -5°C, the ground white with frozen snow left from last week’s storm.

The vegetables are prepared for tomorrow, homemade eggnog is chilling in the refrigerator, the turkey is ‘brine-ing’, gifts are delivered, others are scattered beneath the tree. All is well and solid in my world.

My heart has been searching for the precious, sublime moments cast quietly amidst the rush of this season…straining for a glimmer of light amidst the despair…despair felt both with people whom I love, and with grieving strangers beyond our borders.

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And my willing heart has found a treasure trove … the cold glitter of moonlight, the pungent drift of wood smoke, gentle flakes dancing, the haunting strains of a violin, friendship that needs no words, shadows cast by flickering candlelight, an aged sanctuary bathed in light, an impromptu trio of voices…the music of the ages.

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This is the lovely little St. Mary’s Anglican Church in Hillsborough, NB, a tiny architectural treasure built in 1887. Unlike many churches, you won’t find this one boldly centered on the village’s Main Street.

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No, St. Mary’s is unobtrusive; almost shy. The humble little structure with windows stained with glass, cedar shakes and a practical chimney instead of a steeple, is tucked away on a back street, amid century-old trees and leaning tombstones.

Like its members, it does not strain to call attention to itself, yet those who stumble upon it quite by accident feel as if they have inadvertently touched upon a secret longing.

St. Mary’s has a small, but faithful congregation, less than 30, really. Oh, but the care that you will find here. Most all participate in the ritual of service. While Sarah plays the violin on Sundays, her daughter solemnly crawls about at her feet. The ladies knit and sew and bake to raise funds. They gather materials for medical kits, and stitch dresses and shorts for children in other countries. They check on each other when one is missing for a few Sundays in a row.

They gather regularly for meals in the evening, or tea and cookies after the morning service. They epitomize Christ’s love, one for another.

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Two weeks ago, some of the men clambered over the steep pitches in biting cold to string Christmas lights along the peaks. Outside, the gleam of white lights now sparkles modestly against chilled darkness.

Inside, reverence reigns in a warm sanctuary where hand-knit afghans and cushions soften stiff, narrow pews. High wooden ceilings, arched and ribbed like the hull of a ship, resonate with rhyme and ritual, hymn and harmony.

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We came here, for a silent vigil, several days after Newtown, finding comfort in the worn wood infused by countless liturgies and prayers. The following Friday morning, one of the members made a special trip to open the church. Inside, he grasped the thick hemp rope attached to the iron bell lodged high in the belfry outside the peak, braced himself part way down the aisle and began pulling on the chord, ringing out a solemn tribute into the winter air…28 times in remembrance of the dead.

We may be separated by miles and borders, but are joined by the nature of our small town souls.

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We returned this weekend, to light the manger scene and put out cookies and hot chocolate for those seeking a quiet interlude with God. Candlelight flickered as visitors were warmly welcomed to come in a sit for a spell in the silence.

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A few came, anxious to spend a moment pausing silently in remembrance of One who is the source of our longing…the One who also did not draw attention to himself, but came quietly and unobtrusively on a darkened street in a small unremarkable village, an unexpected Light in the Darkness.

Tonight, more will gather just shy of midnight, candles lit, voices rising.

To all my friends, near and far, I bid you a sweet finale to 2012 and a tender Christmas season. Watch for those single precious moments and capture them firmly in your grasp. There is something there for you, a treasure, a glimmer of light and longing that has much to tell you.

I am so grateful for your many words of encouragement, your thoughtful comments, your friendship and wisdom offered. Heartfelt love from my heart to yours,

God Bless and Merry Christmas,
Deborah

Categories: community, faith, Matters of the Heart, peace, writing | Tags: , , , , , , | 13 Comments

Protecting hearth and home

Something I love is being threatened.

My ancestors were among the first to settle this land. I am at home here and when I walk these crisped leaf-laden paths, the souls of my feet grind the skins of these trees into soil that’s alive with my heritage. Strength and fortitude has nourished this soil, these trees, those rivers…all of them as much a part of me as the genes that live on in my cells.

When my soul is weary, I head to the shelter of the forest, to the gentle slope of my mountain, to the places where the tide caresses the shore.

I am there now, watching the tide ebb and flow over the frozen marsh. Pausing over the fresh snow where fox paws cross my path, or where coyote and I strode the same space, each of us feeling the frost in solitude.

Can anyone blame me for loving and caring for the continuity of place?

This is my land, my birthright. It sustains me in the same ways it sustained my grandparents, great-grandparents and all the generations before. Albert County is in the blood and bone of me.

And now, the gas and oil companies have moved in. Oh, they’ve been here awhile, drilling away in the distant hills, and I have been as guilty as others of complacency. Of being too busy to take notice. But I notice now. Because my blessed Albert County sits on top of a goldmine of oil and shale gas and my neighbourhood is being threatened by the poisonous process and greed of hydraulic fracking. And my government’s ears are deafened; its vision obstructed by dollar signs.

If you share a corner of the world that is coveted by the industry, then you know that fracking involves mixing huge volumes of fresh water with toxic chemical and sand, then pumping it into the ground with ferocious velocity to shatter the bedrock. You know that it endangers groundwater and aquifers, spews noxious fumes into the air, involves noise and truck traffic and diminishes property values.

It destroys the land. It fractures communities. It contributes to climate change.

You also know it poisons fresh water and segments the landscape, stripping trees and vegetation, interrupting wilderness pathways and migration routes, gouging quarries for sand, stripping forest for highways of pipelines. You know there is a rising tide of opposition throughout North America and Europe. You know that people and animals are getting sick from the downstream effects of the industry. Entire countries, provinces, municipalities have enacted bans or moratoriums. Yet the lure of profit is pushing governments to ignore health, lifestyle and environmental dangers to ‘improve economy and create jobs’.  You know that the prosperity is for the companies and shareholders, not the landowners left with the lingering mess.

The past months, I’ve been wallowing in the research, pulling myself out of the toxicity of each new study I read in order to grab a lungful of fresh air and re-energize myself. We have started our own opposition group (Water and Environmental Protection for Albert County), developed a website, circulated petitions, organized community meetings, joined a larger alliance of others who share our concerns (so excuse me for my absence from blogging!). We protested at the Legislature.

Meanwhile, our government ignores the voice of its people and plunges its head in the sand, spewing out platitudes and unfounded figures of wealth and prosperity that are built on a foundation as tenuous and shifting as the sand pile its buried in. Our news media is owned by the oil industry, so the mass of opposition is understated and largely unreported.

It’s demoralizing, discouraging work. But if you’re going to fight, you have to understand what you are fighting….and what you are fighting for.

Our lives begin to end
The day we become silent
About things that matter

~Martin Luther King, Jr

Categories: Bay of Fundy, community, connection to place, earth, fear, landscape, loss, nature, wild spaces | 10 Comments

Autumn in Albert County

I want to cling to fall; to hang, clasped tight, onto every blessed minute of it. My eyes have not yet opened wide enough to take in the kaleidoscope of colour bursting over the hills and valleys, cold waters rushing over granite, the mist drifting with the morning light, or the harvest and hunter’s moons heaving themselves over the horizon.

 

If you pause to listen, you will hear a conversation with the light, and slopes that rustle with bittersweet knowing…alas this is a fleeting thing. Like a twilight that lingers, echoing with the song of a distant coyote. But perhaps beneath the  howl, beneath the sorrow of leaving lies the sharpest kind of living joy.

 

I live in hill country, where hardwood slopes erupt into a stained glass mosaic for a few short weeks. The sun bends low in the scarcity of these days, peering up the skirts of the maples approving them with inner light.  And, then one day, as if they cannot sustain this glory for long, the brilliance tarnishes into a tawny blush as they drop their skirts, crinolines crinkling and gathering in the shadows at their feet.

 

It is a stunning land, come October…a land that teaches us of the ephemeral, and the everlasting, rhythm of nature’s seasons. I have basked in 52 autumns here and a part of me that sleeps all year, comes alive with the damp chill rising, with the applause of the birch and the tremulous flicker of the wheaten aspen, the ripples of marsh grass, tamped and swirled as a yellow dog’s mane.

I welcome this time of gathering…of geese and ducks, of mushrooms and winter’s wood, of community suppers and pumpkins, of warm soups and apples, of seeds and nuts and dusk, even as I bemoan its passing. A time of celebrating the golden wishes that came to rest and the approaching quiet that blankets it all.

You will go out in joy
and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills
will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field
will clap their hands.

Isa. 55:12

Categories: Bay of Fundy, connection to place, earth, landscape, nature, seasons | 8 Comments