The most beautiful day

It was green and blue all around me. The air smelled of little flowers and strawberry candies and homemade soup. There was light, tons of rays coming from everywhere, dancing in ever changing patterns, engulfing me in ethereal warmth. I had a lightness of being never experienced before, unreal in shape, yet real in essence. There was no touch but the presence… oh, the presence. How can one describe that?

All my thoughts were crystal clear. They were suspended in front of me, small soldiers in a line, some dressed smartly in their impeccable uniforms, other in rags, what was left from the horrors of the battlefields. Funny, no weapons to their side. I tried to push aside the bothering ones, those which had been troubling me for so long, coming and going, brain impulses (n’est-ce pas?), tricky brain impulses which I had not managed to tame. I was ashamed of them, they were out in the open now, there was nothing I could do to escape, to hide, to erase. I saw a hand, the most beautiful hand I’ve ever seen. It gathered my thoughts in what looked like an enormous handkerchief… why were there so many horrible distorted soldiers? The hand made a waving gesture and the handkerchief floated through the bright air making a flapping sound of tiny wings. My thoughts had vanished! Literally in thin air. I was somewhat saddened but grateful. A thought-less existence… what a blessing!

Another hand joined the first one and together they scooped me up and, in what seemed like a flick of a moment and an eternity combined, placed me on an ocean shore. It had been good, that embrace. I was surprised to feel my smile exploding as an opening bud. A wonder, to smile with no lips.

I heard a voice. You are beautiful, I’m happy you’re here with me. I’m happy you wanted to come.

I did, indeed. And I had not imagined this of course.

I’m happy to be here with you.

Just that, for ever.

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NO to Paris

6:45 am Phone call before my wake-up time. I glance at the screen, it’s my daughter calling from Paris. I quickly compute: she should be out and about, is she having trouble?

“Hi, sweetie. What’s up?”

Devastated voice at the other end, crying big tears.

“I wanna come hooooome… I don’t want to beeee heeeeere…”

Oh. The fit. First time in Paris and the image doesn’t correspond. She’s been there only two days, it’s been raining, the boutique hotel is not up to her high standards, nothing works the way it should¬†(lovely word!) etc. etc. At 19 years old, she has acted like an entitled brat for some time – Paris is the perfect place to graduate to kindergarten. What are you, 3?

“You can’t come home. You’re in Paris. Make the most of it.”

Silence.

“Have you just woken up?”

“No, I woke up really early and I was out walking for two hours, but it’s cold and people are rude and I don’t wanna be here. I’m sorry I woke you up…”

She didn’t want to take warmer clothes and the good fancy jacket is hanging in our closet at home. Oh well. Mom’s usually wrong, right?

“Baby, it’s OK. Come on, it’s gonna be good. You know what you can do? Go get something nice to eat, a croissant and a coffee, then head to the Lafayette Department Store. It’s beautiful, smells good, it’s inside, so you won’t be cold. And then you can stroll through the covered passages, they’re nearby – Panoramas, Jouffroy… Perfect for a day like this.”

“Oooo..key…”

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I spent a few more minutes of encouragement, then went back to bed to cuddle a few more minutes with my younger one before actually getting up for the day. I stifled the thoughts of worrying needlessly for my little teenager and I found myself laughing at how God puts us in quite amusing situations to guide us back into reality-check. Of course, it’s amusing for Him and others noticing it from the outside. It’s not exactly amusing on the inside. It feels stupid and annoying on the inside.

As I write this, I’m having my coffee before starting my day and week. Outside, it’s colder yet sunnier than in Paris, and there’s nothing particularly exciting in my weekly plan, just daily life in a rather boring Canadian city. My coffee is warm and I got kisses and hugs from my other two kids before they left for school earlier. The feeling still lingers – it’s very, very nice to be loved. Yes, I could have been in Paris with my husband now if I hadn’t chosen to give our daughter the opportunity to accompany her dad to see Ville Lumiere. Am I sorry having given up my place to someone who doesn’t even appreciate it? No. She’s that part of recalcitrant me who needs to learn one or two things about how changing viewpoints has an impact on the whole perspective. I can draw in perspective and I know how viewpoints work – but man, did I have to practice it literally and figuratively to actually get it! She’s gonna get it too. We all can, if we want to try.

I have faith in her. She’s gonna come back from Paris with a new appreciation of things. And if she doesn’t get that, well, that just means she’s in for a longer ride. It’s gonna take more Parises, more rains, more love, more trials. How many times do we say NO to things before we say yes? People who care for us would try their best to make us feel better, but it really is up to us to truly feel better.

Hey, guess what – she just wrote to me to say she’s heading out. Can’t wait to hear how she enjoyed it. Now, how good are you going to make your life today? Find your Paris, let me know.

 

The Kingdom

King Michael I of Romania died on December 5th. I found out a week later when the secretariat of the Romanian Embassy sent our diaspora a message which announced this, along with the news of opening a condolences book for signing. I wanted to, but haven’t made it to the embassy. I haven’t followed the events in Romania since I have no Facebook account, no Instagram, no Tweeter, no tv and whenever I listened to the radio, the news focused more on our current doll prime-minister. There was nothing posted on LinkedIn – well, for a rather good reason: “king” is not among the positions popular these days; “former king” even less so.

A friend from back home sent me an emotional email saying how many tears shed, how many people at the palace gates (in Bucharest?), how sad the king’s death, how disheartening the politics of the present government, how this and how that. I wrote back with a note about how much better it would have been for the very people crying at the gates if they had taken the stance to put the king back on the throne while still alive. Too cynical? Oh well.

On a related note, a commoner died on December 9th. I was preparing for our annual concert of carols that day when I heard the ding of a message: Grandma has died. She was not my grandma, though we all called her that. The mother of our good friend, my daughter’s godfather, she had her own three grandchildren whom she raised with homemade meals and hourly care. She was an excellent cook and a dear conversationalist. Her little laugh was warm and sweet. Whoever went to their house and sat at their table was pampered by Grandma. Bunica. In Romanian, the good one, a pretty literal translation.

I swallowed my unshed tears and focused on the concert that evening. I sang for her, miraculously managing not to let emotion creep in. I found out afterwards that she had said her last confession on the day our king died and had taken her last communion the following day on St Nicholas – peace was the saint’s last gift to her, apparently.

One week later, we travel to Montreal for her funeral. A bit of rainbow traveled ahead of us, ahead of the Sun itself, like the Star of Christmas. How did that rainbow came about in the dry crisp December sky is not a matter of explanation.

It all continued into a luminous day, despite the long funeral service, the burial, the commemoration meal. A day filled with divine presence that whispered prepare, prepare, do not delay, it is all part of the daily exercise and yes, it’s hard, but so much more precious with every right step you manage and all the stumbling which you raise from. There were good people at that table for Bunica. She would have loved the company. I am quite sure she somehow did.

We left before sunset and traveled west this time. Into the night and towards the Sun, which had decided to shoot a column of light straight up into the clouds.

Apologies, I probably should have left it to your imagination. The pictures don’t do It justice, the Light we saw throughout this day. It was a presence, not an atmospheric phenomenon. It was a connection of horizontal and vertical, of all dimensions we know and those we know not. It was the light of heavy crosses carried on royal shoulders and simple backs alike, both elegant and strangely gracious in their demeanor. It was quite the literal description of heaven on earth, that which we so often imagine so differently. There were no words spoken in the car and little unseen tears of fright, longing, isolation, terrible loneliness.

That was only yesterday. I cried a lot before communion today, as I read through all the setup prayers, many of which I should, oh yes, have read last night – oh no, I am not well prepared, nor disciplined, nor good. My only gift to God today was my subdued will. Among the last, I went to the altar and when I opened my mouth to receive Christ’s body and blood, true peace came over me, but it was not this which re-established the connection. It was the hope, which took form again – a hope so long lost, it had looked like a ghost at times. A hope of conquering vicissitudes, of victorious (chosen?) battles, of flying flags and starry rainbows, built on the architecture of inexplicably luminous columns. I felt light. And for that little bit of kingdom, there are no words to express gratitude. Just imagine it.

A Perfect Day

Back to school today, right? Yes, for some. Not for me any more. 

I used to love school when I was a kid, there was something magical in learning about words and numbers, places and histories (hint: school was a solid institution those days). It also made me feel more likeable: in the culture I grew up in, getting an education was the only way you could stand up for yourself against class equality (no, I have not mis-spelled it). And if you were smart enough, parents would be proud(er) of you – so one was pretty much psychologically bullied into getting a degree of sorts. 

Many years and a few degrees later, I started to teach – I quite enjoyed it. It gave me purpose, it felt like I was contributing my knowledge to the betterment of the young. Alas, the young were less and less interested to learn… anything. Last year, I had four students who cheated on technical drawings (!!!) – basically copied them from one another which qualifies as plagiarism, while nearly a whole class of others failed to attend presentations of out-of-town professional guests who I had personally invited. Guess who was guilty in the end for students’ inability to properly perform? That’s right, me!

I fully realized it about two weeks ago. As I was just starting a trip on my own along the Columbia river gorge in Oregon, I hear my phone ding! An email from the coordinator of the program announcing dryly that there are no teaching assignments for me this fall and no winter course in drawing. It was the easiest thing to get mad – yet I looked straight at the Vista House and I forced myself to marvel at its magnificent location on top of a cliff overlooking the entire valley. The automobile enthusiasts in the 1920s had chosen well this spot for a journey halt.

The morning was simply splendid. I went on the top terrace and I slowly glanced from left to right. The picture below doesn’t even begin to describe the landscape, but what can one ask of a cell phone camera? Frankly, I think it did quite admirably at capturing some of the grandeur.

“Lord, help me to enjoy this day and this trip.” I made a mental promise to myself to let nothing spoil the joy. I let my eyes linger on the colours and my lungs get filled with the fresh air. My head was full of negative thoughts, trying to convince me how inept I had always been at making myself pleasing to the bosses, how terrible a teacher I was, what a failure of a mother I am as my children had chosen to spend their day browsing shops in downtown Portland…

“Stop!” I cried aloud. I closed my eyes tight with anger and then I looked up in the faint hope I might be able to release that. It didn’t exactly work instantly. So I looked up in the air at my imaginary (?) enemy and I said with a smile: “you shall not win today.”

With this determination in mind, I drove further into the woods and I stopped at a few of the waterfalls which make the travelers’ delight on the Historic Route 30. Sad as I kinda was, I didn’t expect the magnitude of beauty which gradually engulfed me with every stop I made.

Latourell Falls looked slim and elegant like a lady all dressed up to celebrate:

I found the Bridal Veil hidden behind tall rocks at the end of a descending trail:

Further down the road, Wahkeena Falls does justice to its Native name as the “most beautiful”:

… By now, my negativity had pretty much melted and had been carried away in the waters. From the base of Wahkeena, I decided to take the Perdition trail up to the Fairy Falls. Little did I know it would take me a good hour of rather strenuous climbing. The first half of the climb was on an asphalt trail – how the heck did they pave that and why, it really makes one wonder.

Then the Perdition lived up to its name as it did not seem to end… Not only that, but in due time I entered a strange domain looking much like Tolkien’s Rivendell.

The trail went up and up. There were only a few daring others following me or descending (and those had encouraging words of “just a few more turns and you’ll see it”). Finally, when I had almost lost hope, the Fairy Falls came into full view. Smaller than I had imagined it. But the closer I drew to it, the more fascinating and mysterious it grew to be. It had a symmetry about it which defied laws of merely physical nature. Indeed, later on that evening when I browsed the photos I had taken, I noticed a round face right in the middle of the falls… spooky!

I drank some water from the river.  People looked at me in a strange way. One said: “I wouldn’t do that.” I thought to myself: “too bad, city girl, you don’t know what clear fresh water you’re missing on – but hey, who am I to teach you anything.” I began my descent. My heart was beating fully alive with the overpouring beauty. There are no words to describe the poetry of the moment. ‘Blessed’ is the closest I can find.

The afternoon was leaving way to the evening when I made it to Multnomah. It is the second highest falls in the U.S. and it is truly magnificent.

As I stood on that bridge separating the two parts of the waterfall, I thanked God for my loneliness that day. I thanked Him for walking with me in the conscientious discovery of pure joy. And I was glad beyond all words and worlds that my own will had not let some stupid small-minded folk spoil the magnitude of the discovery which was to come.

I’ll leave you with this for tonight. Do not forget: if you want to find joy, you will. Sometimes it is a mighty fight against your own judgement – but boy, is it worth it!

As for the beginning of school today… well, it feels to me like time for a change.

Time for a Treat

Thursday morning. Man, it’s the middle of the week. Bad news: work is still there and won’t go away by the weekend (worse than bad news: you don’t have a job; keep reading and hopefully you’ll find some helpful ideas below). Good news: you can take a break any time to recharge your batteries. And what better time than today!

Today you’re gonna GO OUT and have coffee, tea or lunch. With or without a friend. Preferably “with” – a friend who’ll have coffee with you at any time really cares for you and…

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(yes, this is my photo of a sewing kit I bought and I intend to sew this little thing – will post it when ready)

But maybe you are a loner and you don’t have friends (yet! – you’ll make some in due time, plus see picture above). That’s OK, you have a date with your best “friend” then: YOU.

You’re gonna dress nicely for this, even if you go to the cheapest place in town. Why? You respect yourself, you respect your audience, friends, family etc. It all starts with you. Even Jesus Christ gave us the command as such: “Love your neighbour like yourself.” Well, if you don’t love yourself, you can’t really love someone else. Makes sense? That coffee you’re gonna have will make YOU feel good first and foremost, whether you’re helping yourself or others. Get that?

So start with putting on your best comfortable clothes and shoes. Open the door and go straight to that shop and try spot a table by the window or by the fireplace or in a nook. It’s part of treating yourself. Enjoy every sip. This is not the time to start dieting (by the way, any diet sucks – if it’s not attached to a doctor’s prescription or to a healthy and balanced pattern of fasting, don’t inflict it on yourself. I’ll write a separate posting about fasting, promise.)

Talk to your friend or to your self. Take that half an hour or more to focus on positive things. It’s OK if you need to cry and be comforted, just try not leave the table on a sad or angry note. Think of something good for that last sip.

Worst case scenario: you’re totally miserable, you don’t have any friends, you don’t have any money, your best clothes are mostly rags. OK. All it takes is your will power. Do you wanna feel better? Here’s what you do: You put on your best rags. You take a look at that Monday mirror and see that you’re enough the way you are. You get out of your current physical environment and step into a coffee shop and ask for a glass of water and sit by any available window for 10 minutes. Think about the good stuff in your life, anytime, anywhere. There must be something, dig deep into your memory and let the good bits resurface. If a bad memory tries to take over, push it aside gently saying: “I don’t need you right now.” You do this exercise as often as you can (think of), and in a short time you’ll feel better, more confident, richer and more sociable. Stick to it, baby. It’s called the discipline of feeling good.

In any of these instances, appreciate you took the time to dress up and go out because you deserve it.

Happy Thursday!

 

Mirror Words

Monday morning. Wake up. Grab a marker, the bigger the tip the better.

Find a mirror. Check bathroom. There must be a mirror there. Or back in the bedroom, or in the wardrobe. Hallway is OK too. Wherever. Just find a mirror. Don’t look into it just yet.

While in front of the mirror, close your eyes and do a mental check for a word which defines your self. Preferably a positive word: kind, beautiful, smart, patient, good, witty, funny… It’s OK if it’s not positive.

Now open your eyes and write this on the mirror: I AM [word]

I am kind.

I am beautiful.

I am smart.

I am patient.

I am good.

I am witty.

I am funny.

If your word is not exactly positive and inspiring, write it on the mirror anyway, then cross it with a line and write instead: who I am.

Such as:

I am dumb who I am

I am angry who I am

I am fat who I am

I am lazy who I am

I am anxiety-full who I am

I am unlovable who I am
Under this first sentence write the second: I am enough.

And then the third: I am loved.

Now go start your day. ¬†Next time you look yourself in the mirror, you’ll see a human being with qualities and flaws and courage to keep going. Each time you’ll see that human being, your good beautiful kind smart part will conquer ground. We all need that throughout the week, which is why this is a good exercise for Monday.

You really are beautiful the way you are, in every cell. Believe it and you’ll win the hardest game there is: that of changing your self for the better.

Happy Monday!