Sunday, 12 August 2012

The Gift of Gracie

I visited with my friends Karen and Gracie today.  I haven't seen them for a while so it was lovely to have an opportunity to spend time with them.

Gracie wanted to watch "The Lion King," so Karen and I sat down with cups of tea and caught  up on each other's news.  From time to time, Gracie would break away from her movie, come give me a big hug, then return to her chair in front of the TV.

When the movie was over, we went for a walk on the shady trails beside the river.  That lovely green shade, and the sound and moisture from the river were a delight this hot afternoon.  

Gracie literally ran down the trail, stopping only when we called to her to wait, and then standing, eyes closed, and face upturned to the light.

We headed to MacDonald's after our walk, for cold drinks, and so Gracie could visit the play place.  She particularly loved the slide and positioned herself at the top, greeting every single child who came to use it.  

By the time we parted ways, Karen and I had caught up on each other's news and Gracie had played herself out to the point of needing a good, long nap.

A pretty ordinary day, right?

And yet...

Gracie was born with Down syndrome.  

She has very limited vision.  She's legally blind, seeing from the periphery of her visual field but not the center.  

She's extremely hard of hearing, requiring hearing aids.  Her hearing continues to diminish, and she will probably one day be profoundly deaf.

Because of the way the muscles in her lower back and pelvis have developed, Gracie's hips are splayed.  She walks awkwardly, shifting from side to side as she swings her legs forward from the hip, bending her knees very little.  It can be difficult for her to cope with uneven ground.

Gracie has low thyroid function for which she'll have to take medication every day of her life, and she has a hole in her heart.  She's allergic to cow's milk and cannot eat soy products.

That's a lot of challenges for one little girl to face!  I cannot begin to imagine what Gracie's world looks like from inside Gracie's head.

And yet...

She is joyful.  

I'm not saying that Gracie is happy every minute of every day:  She's a normal kid.  She gets tired, and cranky.  She can be stubborn.  She sometimes acts out.  

But she's happy.  

She greets the people she loves with enthusiasm and joy each and every time she sees them.  She gives the best hugs and, quite literally, does a happy dance when someone she loves walks through the door.

Despite her physical challenges, she enjoys being outside.  She wants to run, and to swim, to play on the swing set, and dig in the dirt, and when she does these things she savours every single moment.  

Gracie may not see everything, but she feels it.  She enjoys the sun on her face more than any person I've ever met, and is intensely aware of the happy shock of cool water on warm skin, or of the sweet smell of the hot forest on a summer afternoon.

Best of all, she expresses her appreciation for all these things, unaffectedly, without expectation that anyone else will share her enthusiasm, simply and purely because they make her happy.  

Being with someone who so clearly finds joy in all the little blessings in her life, I cannot help but find joy in them myself.   Every time I see Gracie, she reminds me to be grateful too, and to remember how very blessed I am to have the life I have.  

It was a wonderful day.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Sunshine and Storms

We’ve all seen them, especially if we spend any time on the internet; those references to life’s storms, paired with assurances that if we can hang on, sunshine is waiting just behind the clouds.  We see them because it’s an apt simile.  Life, like storms, is cyclical.  There are good times and bad, fair weather and foul.

We had an actual, real thunderstorm where I live this week, with dark clouds, fork lightning, and thunderclaps.  It was noteworthy because we rarely see that kind of storm here, and because it was of such short duration.  We for a few spectacular minutes and then it was gone, leaving a fresh scent in the air and a noticeable lightening in the blanket of humidity that had been shrouding us for days.

After the storm moved on, I decided to go for a walk.  It was getting on toward sunset time and the sky was spectacular.  The sun was mostly hidden behind clouds, with some patches of blue sky, and though the clouds were mostly grey the edges were limned with gold and vivid, glowing, peach and pink.  Where the sun did shine through the clouds, it had the focused intensity of a spotlight beam. 

Hard not to think of the storms of life analogy as I walked.

Here’s what I thought:

When we’re in the midst of a life crisis - worried and scared, or depressed and scared, or grief stricken – we don’t want to hear platitudes.  It sounds impossibly optimistic to be told to focus on the sun that we know is hiding behind the clouds.  When people present an image like that to me in times of trouble, I half expect them to change into Annie costumes and burst in to song.

The sun'll come out 
Bet your bottom dollar 
That tomorrow 
There'll be sun!”

It may well be true but it doesn’t address the problems that are causing the storm, or your fear that you may not make it through to the sunshine.  After all, storms can irreparably alter a landscape.  They can uproot strong trees and break them into kindling.  They may go away but that doesn’t mean that they won’t leave you forever changed when they depart.

So here’s the thing:  If you’re in the midst of one of life’s storms and you’re frightened, it’s okay.  It’s okay to be scared and it’s certainly okay to ask for help.  You’d be surprised at how many people would love to lend a hand, and are prepared to do so.  Do whatever it takes to get you through.

If, when the sun breaks through, you find that you are changed, that’s okay too.  Life is all about change.  Some of it’s good and some of it’s not, but change is constant.  Embrace it and remember that if you need help adapting to your new situation, it’s there for the asking.

There are people all around you who love you, and many who don’t even know you but are filled with compassion, kindness, and generosity.  Reaching out to them when you’re in need is an act of courage, but it’s one of generosity too because people need to help others in order to grow within themselves.  Putting aside your pride in order to ask for help when you’re really in need is a means of giving a gift:  You’re giving your helper the gift of trust, and providing them an opportunity to grow and learn.

So hang in there.  Believe that all shall be well, because it's true.  The sun may shine on a different landscape when the storm has passed but it will shine, and the landscape it illuminates will have a particular beauty all its own.

Friday, 3 August 2012

Just What I Needed

Yesterday evening I went to visit a friend.  She lives in a town to the north of me so we decided on a meeting point mid-way, about an hour's drive from home for each of us.  We had a lovely visit and then, just after sunset, headed home.

I rounded a bend in the road and there it was:  the moon.  Not just any moon, either:  a HUGE full moon, hanging just above the tops of the trees, yellow against a sky that looked like it had been painted with a water colour wash.

It was wonderful.

My first response was "Damn!  I don't have my camera with me!" 

Then, as clearly as if it had been spoken aloud, an inner voice said, "Forget about what you don't have.  Look at what's here!"

I pulled the car off the road and sat, watching the moon as it rose higher in the sky, while the water colour wash darkened to blue.

And as I was watching, a feeling of perfect contentment - as fragile and evanescent as a soap bubble - settled in my heart.

I realized that, just at that moment, just in that place, life had provided me exactly what I needed.

Amazing how that happens.