“A gift from the heart” – 2013 edition.

DSC_0210It’s no secret to scientists and psychologists that scent can trigger memories as vivid and real as the day they were created. Although my maternal grandfather died more than 12 years ago, pulling his suspenders out of the bag I keep them in engulfs me in a scent of Old Spice and Players cigarettes so strong that it feels like he is there with me… his rough work worn hands, blonde hair and ice blue eyes that never dimmed with age or cancer.

Today, sitting on my bed folding laundry, the window opened a crack for the requisite 15 minutes a day needed to replenish and freshen the air in my home, the scent of Satsuma  from the rarely used bottle on my dresser suddenly wafted under my nose and brought me back to a time I rarely remember at all, anymore…

Except for Christmas.

For newer readers, several years ago I posted my own personal Christmas story here to try and bring people back to the spirit of the season, and give any woman needing hope the strength to carry on. Secretly, I hoped my secret Santa would read my story and know just how much their humble gift meant to me.

Every year since, I have re-posted the story, and this year is no exception. May you find courage, strength, inspiration and hope.

“A gift from the heart”

As an adult, I think I’ve always had a bit of a love/hate relationship with Christmas.

Don’t get me wrong – I really love twinkling Christmas lights at night, the joy of seeing my children enjoy the magic, good times with friends and all the cooking…but I’m really bothered by the commercialization, obligation and fake sentiment that for many, seems to go with the entire season.

How did we -as a society – become so shallow and self-absorbed that what is for some, a very sacred time of year, has been reduced to the amount you spend on gifts – or the number of them – to prove your love or affection ? And what kind of gift is one given out of a feeling of forced obligation, rather than the spirit of love and generosity?

For me, gift giving has never been about how much a gift costs, but about what is special to the person receiving it, and the intent of the person giving it. Every year, I share this story that touched my heart forever, in the hopes the person behind it reads it, and knows exactly what it meant to me.

One Christmas,many years ago, I was lucky enough to be on the receiving end of a gift that came from the heart of someone I’m sure I must have known – but someone whose identity remains a mystery over 10 years later.

It was two years before I left my abusive ex-husband, and money was very tight. At the time he wasn’t working and I was the only income earner, and my credit cards were nearly maxed out trying to keep the family afloat. I didn’t share how bad things were with anyone at work,or my friends, but those who cared and knew me well, obviously could see how hard I was trying to keep it all together.

Even now,looking back at photos taken that year, the stress shows clearly on my face in every single one. As most parents do,or have done, I would always go without to make sure the kids had what they needed, but that year I had to actually glue the soles back onto my winter boots, and double up sweaters instead of buying a winter coat to make sure something from Santa arrived Christmas morning.

Indeed,Christmas did arrive on a crystal cold Saturday morning, and the kids were not disappointed.

Wonderfully appreciative of their humble presents, they were playing with their new toys quietly,my ex was doing whatever he would do off in his little office, and I finally moved slowly around the house to open the curtains to a new day.

As I pulled back the drapes on my dining room window to enjoy the rare sight of Christmas snow on the coast, I saw a basket on the railing of the patio fence outside.

Completely caught off guard by this unexpected sight, I stood there for a moment, simply absorbing this discovery. I shook my head, as if to shake off doubts, grabbed my house coat and ran outside on the deck anyways.

There before me, nestled in the crystalline snow on the railing,was a brightly decorated basket with my name on it.

Catching my breath, stunned, I looked around – left, then right – but could see no one. It hadn’t been there long, because it remained untouched by that sparkling diamond like frost that covered every surface not touched by snow, and I could see fresh foot prints in my garden leading to the fence. In puzzled excitement, I ran back inside the house to see what it was, and who it was from.

I sat down alone at the dining room table, slowly taking in the lovely wrapping and ribbons, but also very worried my ex would come down and wonder where this came from.

With slow motion precision, I pulled back the tissue paper that encased the contents, and suddenly the sweet smell of  satsuma mandarin orange wafted from the basket, hit my nostrils, and overwhelmed my battered soul.

Inside, were three jewel like bars of soap from The Body Shop, in my favorite fragrance, Satsuma.

I held each one in my hands as if they were the most precious gems, with tears trickling silently, oh so silently, down my face, wondering who would do such a nice thing for me. I took every single piece of tissue paper out,looking for a clue, but there was no card; only a gift tag with my name written on it in handwriting I did not recognize.

Completely overwhelmed by the sheer grace and timing of this most cherished gift, I ran quietly outside again and looked around in the snow, thinking another card must have fallen off.

I followed the footprints back to the curb where someone had obviously gotten back into their car, but nothing. No clues, no names, only me – standing there alone Christmas morning on the sidewalk in front of my house, oblivious to the curious stares of passers -by, in my natty old terry cloth house coat and glued up boots, tears streaming down my face … happier in that cold, cold moment than I had been in many, many years…

When I returned to work later that week, I asked everyone if they were my secret Santa, but no one seemed to know anything. From beneath lowered lids, I surreptitiously watched everyone go by my office for a look, a smile, something to show that someone was keeping a secret from me… but nothing.

To this day, I have no idea who was thinking of me in such a thoughtful way that Christmas. That one gift meant so much to me because I would never have spent money on something as frivolous as mandarin scented soaps for myself,ever,during those times, but more-so, it helped me through what was an exceedingly tough time in my life.

Just knowing that there was someone who cared enough to pay attention to something I had perhaps mentioned casually in conversation over coffee, someone who then took the time to actually bring it over on an early Christmas morning… it left me with hope.

It was an incredible act of selflessness and compassion on the part of the secret Santa. But the funny thing was, and still is, was that I couldn’t ever recall ever mentioning this was my favourite scent to anyone…

I didn’t use that soap for a long time, a couple of years actually, but kept it hidden deep in my bedroom drawers.

When I was feeling hopeless, or having a particularly rough time with my ex, I would steal away upstairs – just for a moment – and sit on the edge of my bed to open the drawers where the soap was safely hidden. The scent of satsuma would suddenly rise to envelop me, flooding all my senses …and it would always give me strength and courage to go on.

To the gift giver, it may have been just soap… but to me it was everything.

 Everything.

The scent remains my favorite, symbolizing the will to go on, survival…renewal, hope… and when I come across that scent again,even for the briefest moment, it overwhelms my soul with joy. I still don’t often spend money on things like that, although I suppose I could. I guess old habits die-hard.

And so as we enter the season that has become so commercialized that we forget the true meaning behind the celebrations,I urge you to re-connect with your loved ones,your neighbours, and even complete strangers in the true spirit of  compassion and love.

Everyone knows a person who is going through a rough time for one reason or another. Maybe they lost their job, maybe they are caring for a sick family member, or maybe they are just always struggling to get ahead.

Christmas can be incredibly hard for those who are dealing with life’s troubles. Do something special for them,keep it secret and supply them with the same faith and hope and memories that I have. It doesn’t have to be costly, just from the heart. You  may never know what a simple gesture may mean to someone else.

But I do.

Peace everyone. Merry Christmas.

Two precious gifts – one of hope… the other of healing.

As I wrote last weekend, in the annual re-post of ” A gift from the heart “ – the story of how an anonymous Christmas gift provided me with something far more precious than soap – the most valuable gifts are always ones given from the heart.

Little did I know, when I posted that story, that it would lead to another precious gift, this one of healing – and not just my own.

I met Priscilla Judd last year after she emailed to ask if I would cover the Lumby prison story. I did – yet another  story of politicians behaving badly – and forged a friendship with this feisty piano-tuner/songwriter/artist/ activist. And talented she is, composing and recording the alternative Canadian anthem that shook many Canadians to the core across the nation this year, when she released the video that was shared by thousands, from sea to shining sea.

When Priscilla messaged me on facebook last weekend, telling me how much the story moved her and asking if she might use it as the theme for a new song, I was quite surprised. Of course, I agreed,noting a certain… feeling in her statement  “…your words are unforgettable.”

I woke early this morning, as I usually do, grabbed my morning cup of coffee and sat down to do my morning rounds on the net. I was checking emails, when I saw an email from Priscilla with the simple subject line:  ‘song lyrics’.

I clicked on it, began to read… and the tears began to flow so unexpectedly, absolutely uncontrollably, that I doubled over, hands over my mouth. Taking a breath and clicking through my tears, I opened the MP3 file of her recording, and the tears began again,hearing her tears as she sang the story of my past… and more.

5:30 am, on 12-12-12,  more than decade and a lifetime since ” the gift” of fragrant soaps carried me through darkness – there I was sobbing at my desk, this time a gift of healing, a gift from one friends heart to another, my story to hers… and soon.. hers to mine.

It was as if her lyrics had unleashed thousands of pounds of baggage and pain, neither of which I was aware I even carried until that moment, this morning.

Over many emails we shared our tears, our gratitude.. and finally, Priscilla shared the reason my story struck her so very hard…

“… the bars all close on Christmas day… So ‘santa’ drops in to sleep… but before that day…

It was a couple of weeks before Christmas – I was attending alanon by then, it was a couple of weeks before my third child was born.

I had no coat that fit – I zipped it from the top down belly outside and I had Dr Scholls sandals cuz my feet were so swollen. I wore bare feet in the sandals even in the snow (I hated wet socks). I was standing in front of the shoe store looking at the boots. A stranger came up to me and asked if I was Priscilla (Roe at that time) I said yes and she handed me an envelope and said that someone wanted me to have this Christmas card.

I was happy – I thanked her – I looked around – I knew no one – she walked off and I started opening the card… $50

Tears came down so hard and my two baby girls just looked at me – they were about 2 and 8 months. Anyway – I bought food for Christmas including oranges for the girls.

I was barefoot when I went to the hospital to have the baby… ‘He’ had a job!

I wore my old shoes after my baby son was born and my feet were smaller.  Oh Laila it’s heartbreaking how women can be so strong.

Sorry I’m crying at the end of the song. Gord says we can record it again if it disturbs you.  There now, I’ve shared my story with you. I sing for you and me and all the women – all of us – I love you so much – thank you for making our world brighter.”

And damn if I’m not crying again as I write this but I can’t help it. It’s just wrong, so damn wrong that this happens, that this happened to Priscilla.

It’s easy to sit and judge and say:  “Well, you could have left, no one made you stay.” – which, by the way, people have said to myself, and other women. But unless you’ve been there, unless you know what it’s like firsthand, you don’t, can’t really know… and here she’s thanking me, when it is I who is so thankful, grateful to have her and others like her in my life, for their strength and courage.. and… well, there aren’t enough words to describe my gratitude.

That’s why this song Priscilla wrote, born of my Christmas story, is about more than her, or I – it’s about all women, she sings, the souls of those we cannot see…. and love,hope and acts of kindness so random yet so vital to our humanity. Sometimes our angels walk among us. They are us, each of us, and we can be something more to another, if only we reach out and forget what everything we’ve been taught about minding our own business.

I considered myself so lucky to get one precious gift in this life from another, it is a miracle to have had another come my way at such a different, happier, point in my life.

Thank you Priscilla. Thank you.

http://www.gordonandpriscillajudd.ca/blog/?page_id=499

One from the archives,to get into the spirit of Christmas… ” A gift from the heart.”

As an adult, I think I’ve always had a bit of a love/hate relationship with Christmas.

Don’t get me wrong – I love the festive lights, the excitement of seeing my children enjoy the holidays, get-togethers and all the cooking…but I  really, really hate the commercialization, obligation and fake sentiment that also seems to have come to accompany the entire season. How did we, as a society, become so shallow and self-absorbed that what is for some, a very sacred time of year, has been reduced to how much you spend on gifts to prove your love or affection ? And what kind of gift is one given out of a feeling of forced obligation, rather than the spirit of love and generosity? Not one I want. Save your cash.

For me, gift giving has never been about how much the gift costs, but about what is special to the person receiving it, and the intent of the person giving it.  I would like to share a story with you that will always hold a very special place in my heart, and I hope, yours.

One Christmas in particular, I was lucky enough to be on the receiving end of a gift that came from the heart of someone I  must have known – but someone whose identity still remains a mystery over 10 years later.

It was  two years before I left my abusive ex- husband, and money was very tight. At the time he wasn’t working and I was the only income earner, and my credit cards were getting maxed out trying to keep the family afloat. I didn’t share how bad things were with anyone at work , or my friends, but those who cared obviously could see how hard I was trying to keep it all together.

 Looking  back at photos taken that year, the stress shows clearly on my face in every one. As most parents do, or have done, I  would always go without to make sure the kids had what they needed, but that year I was actually gluing the soles back onto my winter boots, and doubling up sweaters instead of buying a winter coat  to make sure Santa arrived Christmas morning.

Christmas did arrive on a cold Saturday morning, and the kids were not disappointed. They were playing with their presents when I finally moved around the house to open the curtains to a new day, and as I pulled back the drapes on my dining room window, I saw a basket on the railing of the patio fence outside.

Totally surprised, I grabbed my house coat and ran outside. There before me, nestled in the snow on the railing,was a brightly decorated basket with my name on it. I looked around, but could see no one. It had not been there long, because it remained untouched by the sparkling  diamond frost that covered every surface, and I could see fresh foot prints in my garden leading to the fence. In puzzled excitement, I ran back inside the house to see what it was, and who it was from.

I sat down alone at the dining room table, slowly taking in the lovely wrapping and ribbons. As I pulled back the tissue paper that encased the contents, the sweet smell of  satsuma mandarin orange wafted from the basket, hit my nostrils, and overwhelmed my battered soul.

 Inside, were three, jewel like bars of  soap from The Body Shop, in my favorite fragrance. I held each one in my hands as if they were the most precious gems, with tears trickling down my face, wondering who would do such a nice thing for me.I took every single piece of tissue paper out,looking for a clue, but there was no card; only a gift tag with my name written on it in handwriting I did not recognize.

Suddenly overwhelmed by the sheer grace of this most cherished gift, I ran outside again and looked around in the snow, thinking another card must have fallen off. I followed the footprints back to the curb where someone had obviously gotten back into their car, but nothing. No clues, no names, only me – standing there alone Christmas morning on the sidewalk in front of my house, oblivious to the curious stares of passers-by, in my natty old house coat and glued up boots, tears streaming down my face … happier in that cold moment than I had been in many, many years.

When I returned to work later that week, I asked everyone if they were my secret Santa, but no one  knew anything. From beneath lowered lids, I surreptitiously watched everyone go by my office for a look, a smile, something to indicate someone was keeping a secret from me… but nothing.

 To this day, I have no idea who was thinking of me in such a thoughtful way that Christmas. That one gift meant so much to me because I would never have spent money on something as frivolous as mandarin scented soaps for myself, and it helped me through what was a very tough time in my life. Just knowing that there was someone who cared enough to pay attention to something I had perhaps mentioned casually in conversation over coffee, someone who then took the time to  actually bring it over on an early Christmas morning… it left me with faith. It was an incredible act of selflessness and compassion on the part of the secret Santa.

 I didn’t use that soap for a long time, but kept it in my drawers.

When I was feeling hopeless, or having a particularly rough time with my ex, I would steal away upstairs – just for a moment – and sit on the edge of my bed to open the drawers where the soap was safely hidden. The fragrance of  satsuma mandarin would suddenly rise to envelop me ,flooding all my senses and it would always give me strength and hope to go on.

To them it was just nice soap, but to me it was everything.

 Everything.

The scent remains my favorite, symbolizing the will to go on,survival… and whenever I come across that scent again,even for the briefest moment, it again overwhelms my soul with joy. I still don’t spend money on things like that, although I suppose I could. I guess old habits die-hard.

And so, as we enter the season that has become so commercialized that we forget the true meaning behind the celebrations,I urge you to re-connect with your loved ones,your neighbours, and complete strangers, in the true spirit of  compassion and love. Forget about all the expectations of expensive gifts and costly parties, and show your love in another way.

Host a holiday potluck where everyone brings a dish that has particular significance among their family,and ask them to share that memory with all.

Toast the traditions of  our older generations that perhaps did not have the basic luxuries so many of us do, that we often take for granted.

Play secret Santa and give a gift from the heart – anonymously- to someone whom you know could really use it.

Everyone knows a person who is going through a rough time for one reason or another. Maybe they lost their job, maybe they are caring for a sick family member, or maybe they are just always struggling to get ahead. Christmas can be incredibly hard for those who are dealing with life’s troubles. Do something special for them,keep it secret and supply them with the same faith and hope and memories that I have. It doesn’t have to be costly, just from the heart. You  may never know what a simple gesture may mean to someone else.

But I do.

Peace everyone.

Life is a process

There is something magical about the very moments when the darkest part of night begins that unstoppable slide into dawn.

Sitting on the floor beside the window in my bedroom, I watched it all, wrapped in warm chocolate coloured chenille throw. The softness of the chenille felt comforting to me, like a good hug, and as the nearly imperceptible changes began to move the night sky outside, I pulled it tighter around my shoulders.

I couldn’t sleep last night at all, my mind as full of thoughts as it were. After tossing and turning for what seemed like an hour in the bed, I got up to look out the window and was surprised to see  the most remarkably bright stars for this urban area. And so, as I would when I was a child, I grabbed the throw, rolled up the blinds and sat to enjoy the night outside my window. I’ve always had a fascination with space, often dreaming as a child of travelling far away, exploring new galaxies and discovering new planets and new civilizations. Stuck here on Earth, I had to satisfy that deep longing by watching Star Trek,reading the Rendezvous with Rama series ,and laying outside in the snowbanks at night in Prince George, in awe of the northern lights dancing and embracing the sky above.

Yes, I suppose you could say I’ve been a geek since birth. Only rarely in my life have I found another person to indulge this passion with. Once, as a  very young woman, I did have a friend who loved the stars as much as I did. We would often drive out into the country, park in a field or open area high on a hill, and then lay back on the hood of the car to drink a couple of beers and watch the heavens. We would count satellites, find the constellations, and sometimes have deep philosophical conversations about the origins of life and everything that has happened since. We spend many nights that way over one summer, driving back home through the bush only after the rosy glow of dawn revealed Venus in the morning sky.

Of course, it all came to an end one night when I pointed out a  particularly spectacular pulsating star and he suddenly turned to me with big puppy-dog eyes and revealed his true thoughts actually revolved around romance, not stars…

I guess there were many ways I could have responded, but I was young and unfortunately what came out of my mouth was less than sensitive : “Oh geez, gross!!! You’re like my brother!!”

Ahhh.

The innocence and beauty of youth. I still feel bad for how I responded, some 20 odd years later!!  It was a lesson for me, and for him, of that I am sure, and that is what it is all about. Life is a process, one that never ends until we do, and even that ending will become a part of someone else’s process of learning.

Earlier last night, I watched The Last Lecture – again –  likely the 15th time for me, and this time I watched the shorter, reprised version, with no less impact.  It did, as usual, put some perspective back into my life, but it also made me really think about how important it is to appreciate the journey every step of the way.

Having been through not the easiest life, most of the things I value are intangible, meaning you can’t hold them in your hand, or see them, but they are there, nonetheless.  Honesty is above all, for me.

Truth.

Love.

I love my kids with every fiber of my being. Each one of them has taught me more about living, love, patience and forgiveness than I could have ever learned on my own.

I have a few great friends, and several more good ones. I don’t need much as long as I have all of that.  Simple really, but I certainly didn’t make it through the tough times without a few angels dropping in now and then. And trust me, I do believe in angels, but if you are looking for some fluffy white wings, I can guarantee you that isn’t going to happen.

First and foremost, my grandfather,Poppa, who was my best friend growing up, and into adulthood. There was the angel who left me  the gift of hope in the form of fragrant soap one Christmas.

And there have been others. Big Jim was a man who lived next door to me for a while when I was with my first husband. He was a big man, full white beard and a belly to rival Santa’s as well as a reputation for being a hard ass. We used to walk past each other like two porcupines, wary as I was of his wrath, and he of mine should he open his mouth and make some stupid,sexist remark as he was known to do. We never did warm up to  each other while we lived side by side, but it was only when we moved that I saw another side of Jim.

I was packing up the back yard items, and he called over my son and asked if it was ok if he gave him something. My son was only young at the time, but already his affinity for woodworking and design was evident. Jim gave him a work bench with grips, so he could build and carve safely. I was surprised and wondered what all the change of heart was about. Wandering over to his back yard, I thanked him for that, because my son was clearly overjoyed with his new gift.  Jim turned away and muttered something, then gestured to me to come into his shed.

I did so, not without a fair amount of trepidation, not knowing what was in there, or what awaited me. Jim rooted around in some musty old boxes, took some items off a high shelf and finally pulled down a dirty old nasty package. He blew the dust and cobwebs off of it, opened it up and took out an item that took my breath away.

It was a stunning, blue glass Japanese fishing float. Having lived in Steveston for years among the fishermen, I knew what it was immediately.

Jim took my hand, put the float into my palm, and folded both his hand around mine.  He leaned over and looked me in the eyes, his blue ones sparkling and fierce with emotion.

“I’ve heard what it’s like for you through the wall sometimes. I know what he does.

Caught completely off guard, my insides clenched and I looked down as I tried to draw my hand away from his… but he held fast to my palms and that float.

“This is a very old Japanese fishing float that I found off the coast of Prince Rupert when I was a young guy fishing. I’m told it’s very valuable, so I held onto it all these years. But I got to thinking about that float when I heard your husband knocking you around and thought it might do you some good.”

Tears welled silently in my eyes, and dripped down onto our hands, seemingly in slow motion, but he wasn’t done.

“I’m pretty sure it’s been knocked around a bit too, you can see the wear here and there, yet it made it all the way across that huge ocean. And that’s the point, ya see? It made it through the roughest storms, it made it on the shores here and there and it’s pretty damn hard to break. That’s the point. It survived a journey harder and longer than one would think possible and it’s still just as pretty as the day it was blown.  And it’s yours now. Get it?”

I did get it, and I hugged him hard then, standing in the dirty old shed with the float in my hand. We didn’t really talk again much before we moved, but I hid that float to keep it safe and right now I have it perched on a bowl of shells on the mantle.  The kids dropped it once and it’s survived several moves unscathed.

It’s a remarkable thing, that float. It just seems that it can’t be broken. And neither can I.

Green doube patch japanese fishing float