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Musings and Reflections


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Settled Into The Bone

October 15th is the feast day of Teresa of Ávila, a saint whose words have often spoken to my heart. On the days when we feel oh so weary, so very bone weary, this imagery of allowing God’s presence to settle in our bones and the releasing of ourselves to sing and dance and praise, and love, it is like a balm and healing ointment.

Not all days feel like days to sing and dance. Not all days feel like days to praise. Some days are heavy laden with memories, with hurts, and sorrows. Some days the sorrow reaches the bone and it aches deeply and you are short of breath, spiritual breath, emotional breath, mental breath.

But then a thing happens. Slowly, the breaks begin to heal. The sorrow, enveloped by time, cradled by love, nurtured in patience, begins to make way for new beginnings. The scars, not always visible, will remain, but life invites us to try again, to welcome the new day with a new hope.

October 15 is also Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. This past September marked ten years since my traumatic miscarriage at 16 weeks. That day, a decade ago, I lost my son. His name is Luca Olivier. He was my second, his big brother was so excited for his arrival, my husband and I were so excited to see our family grow.

I held him in my hands for a brief moment. A moment so brief that even a decade later it hurts to know that it wasn’t nearly long enough. For so many years, I was haunted by the trauma of that day, by the things that felt like they were my fault, by the moments that that couldn’t be undone, by the heart crushing sorrow that penetrated every cell of my body and settled deeply in the depths of my soul as they took his tiny body from me. It was one of the darkest moments in my life.

The seasons that followed were not linear. There were highs and lows, there was much healing, and yet there were moments that felt as though I was being pulled back to the earliest days. After a decade I am in a completely different space with my grief. I have been able to hold the hand of others who have experienced loss, I have told my story, and I continue to speak about Luca, because he existed and he was mine and I am grateful for even those brief months we spent sharing this body of mine. I have organized prayer services, I have written about loss, I have raised awareness. Through it, and in the midst of it, there has been healing.

And then, last year, on the anniversary of the day I lost him, the day came and went and I forgot that it was the day. And this year, it wasn’t until the day after that I remembered. And I was consumed by shame, by guilt, and by a different kind of grief.

But then I realized that sometimes healing means no longer needing to relive the pain in the same ways. And in some ways the pain has morphed into an honouring memory rather than a gut wrenching experience. I will never forget the way I was treated in that hospital that day, it traumatized me deeply and still makes it hard for me to walk into a hospital without anxiety, I will never forget the pain of labour, the utter distress of having my water broken by the doctor and knowing that there would be no turning back and that everything about that pregnancy was over in that moment.

I don’t want every memory that I have of this sweet boy of mine to be marred by the darkness of that day. From the moment I knew I was carrying his life within my womb, there was pure joy and wonderful anticipation. There were dreams of family and there was the excitement of a little boy who would talk to my belly so excited to be a big brother. There was love, so much love. There is love … deep and abiding and it has not ceased.

And so when faced with guilt or shame, I also realized that the darkest parts of my sorrow have had a chance to heal. I can think of Luca now without the very raw feelings of those early days and years. I would not begrudge my body when bones and muscles and joints heal in the aftermath of an injury. I would rejoice in the moments when I no longer needed crutches or a cast, or the day when I realized that I was no longer limping but walking at full strength again.

It has to be okay to walk again. It doesn’t mean that you didn’t love enough, or hurt enough, or that it wasn’t a big deal. It means that healing has taken place. It means that the sorrow has made way for hope, for joy, for new beginnings and for more love. It means that you have taken the pain and allowed the presence and peace of God settle deep into your bones, and hold you when you thought you couldn’t carry yourself any longer. And in the surrender of the pain and the sorrow a new road has emerged. It doesn’t erase the one that brought us here, it simply offers a new way. And along this path you may find others who need you to walk alongside them so that they too can walk towards their own healing. May we always be open to that journey, for the road of grief is to often lonely and overwhelming, but the yoke when shared makes such a difference.

Luca, sweetheart, mommy and daddy love you dearly as do your big brother and little sister. Thank you for touching our lives so deeply even in your brief time in our lives.

Warmly and with Love,

Magdalena

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On Beginnings

Beginnings can be such funny things.  Sometimes beginnings are welcomed and embraced, and other times they seem more like endings than beginnings, and we wrestle with all that brings and means.  Sometimes you don’t even realize you are at a beginning until you have waded out into the proverbial waters a bit and look back and think, “ah, so that was the beginning!”  Sometimes it’s better that way because you don’t spend all of your energy over-analysing just how to begin!  Because, after all, formal beginnings can also be pretty awkward and scary and overwhelming, even when those beginnings are ones that we welcome and desire, and even more so when they are not.

Most of my life has felt like a series of constant new beginnings.  I attended eight different schools between kindergarten and grade twelve.  I am an immigrant two-times over.  I am some variation of a third culture kid.  And I have yet to find a place that I can call home without having to delve into some long-winded explanation of how I got there.

And so, almost two years ago, when another beginning was swirling and forming in our lives in the form of  a move across state (a state that is bigger than some small European countries) and into yet another great unknown, there was little left but to have faith and leap.  I had been ready to move, I had longed for it, prayed for it, had even tried to make it happen a couple of years before but until that very moment it simply wasn’t time.  But the thing is, even when you are ready to leave a place, even when you know that where you are headed is a good beginning, there are always some apprehensions.  What will it be like?  Will it be right?  Will this place feel like home?  And all of a sudden, even though you didn’t want to be where you were anymore, you can’t help but wonder if where you are going will allow you to continue the things that you did love about where you were.  You know, all of a sudden you wonder if what you must give up will be worth what you might gain.  Or what if you don’t gain, but lose?  That’s the trouble with beginnings; you just don’t know where they will take you and how things are going to turn out.

My answer came in the form of serendipity.  Moved and settled in, we began to explore.  And as it turns out, some things were lost but a great many new things were gained.  As we explored, we found ourselves bumping around on a back road and parked in front of a very old country grocery store that I would have never thought to stop in at, but my husband was adamant.  He had read a review online that they had amazing burgers.  I felt less than confident, but in we went, children-in-tow.

And yes, serendipity.  The burgers were actually very good.  But there in the most unexpected of places I found eggs, beautiful, country, farm-fresh eggs.  Some brown, some white, some the faintest shade of blue, and varying in sizes but a beautiful sight to behold.   Now that might not be of any consequence to anyone else but in that moment they meant so much more than eggs.  Like my own little private reassurance that ideals that I had reached for were not as far off as I might have thought.  Having left the comfort of a city that prided itself on organic living and food, I now found myself wondering how I could hope to continue those aspirations in a place that seemed spartan in comparison.  But upon finding my eggs, I saw that a new door was being opened up.  And door to support local farmers and local agriculture in a very tangible way.  It was a dream that I had held onto for a long time but somehow never materialized.  And here it was, this lovely, lovely beginning in the form of an egg.

Farm Eggs - Magdalena Altnau

The irony of this egg metaphor is not lost on me.  All manner of the usual suspects pertaining to egg symbolism are present … birth, renewal, new beginnings … even the old stand by, “which came first, the chicken or the egg?”  Though perhaps my two favorite thoughts on eggs come from two vastly different worlds and yet some truths and observations transcend our societally defined boxes.

Some time ago, I was introduced to the culinary classic that is The Art of Eating by M.F.K. Fisher and as I have been wading through this hefty tome I stumbled across these wise words:

“Probably one of the most private things in the world is an egg until it is broken.  Until then, you would think its secrets are its own, hidden behind the impassive beautiful curvings of its shell, white or brown or speckled.”

And it’s true isn’t it?  Hidden away behind a shell that is at the same time sturdy and fragile lies a very private place, and until cracked open the contents remain secret, safe, and intact.  Have you ever held the most perfect-looking egg and felt just a little guilty to crack it open?  To shatter the perfection of that form?  I felt that way about my first blue egg!  After all, it was the loveliest shade of pale blue.  How could one, in a swift tap on the rim of a bowl,  simply shatter such beauty?  But alas, the egg was cracked and I might add, thoroughly enjoyed as it was just as delicious on the inside as it had looked on the outside, and despite all my apprehension at the thought of cracking it open, it was entirely worth it in the end.

Farm Eggs  - Magdalena Altnau

In a rather different context, C.S. Lewis used an egg metaphor so splendidly that it I have been toting it around in my mental filing cabinet for years now.  He boldly and brilliantly posited :

“It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg.  We are like eggs at present.  And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg.  We must be hatched or go bad.”

Doesn’t that rather nicely bring us back to beginnings!  Because after all, a beginning is a lot like being on the inside of the egg.  It is a safe and sheltered place and so often starting off into the unknown feels like cracking into that lovely shell and taking a chance at what might happen once we are exposed.  So often that shell is one we have built around ourselves in the form of comfort and our own set of known variables.   Even when the comfort wanes and things start to feel cramped, moving beyond our comfortable shell requires a surrender and vulnerability.  But without cracking ourselves open to beginnings and ends and all the gooey stuff in-between we will no doubt  “go bad” as Lewis warns.  Beginnings are vulnerable places and we so often question ourselves relentlessly about what might be lost and whether what might be gained will be worth it.  But as M.F.K Fisher advises, “the best thing to do with aged eggs is not to buy them, since they are fit for nothing, and a poor economy.  If you find yourself the owner of a few, change your merchant with no more ado.”  How can one argue with that?  If we are hesitant at cracking ourselves open, for fear of what lies ahead, we risk stagnation and rot.  And anyone who has unsuspectingly come upon an egg that has gone bad knows what an awful stench that is!

It seems to me that I would rather be a bird flying freely through the air … even with all the risks and vulnerabilites and uncertainties.

So here’s to new beginnings!  To cracked-open shells, and birds spreading wings.  Here’s to my hope that as I once again begin this journey of sharing my writing out loud that I have the courage to be myself,  to ponder and ask questions, to embrace changes, and to welcome all the new beginnings that life has in store for me, both big and small.  And I hope that you’ll join me, too!