Outside my Magic Cottage, under the shadows of looming cedars, a length of ivy snakes up a young hemlock tree. The hemlock gasps in refusal to succumb to the ivy's stranglehold. It shows me, instead, its silvery needles turned toward the heavens in offering.
In apparent recognition of the hemlock's courage, the cedars shake loose their fronds and bestow the hemlock's naked limbs with brown baubles. It is as if the cedars, through the hemlock, acknowledge their own mortality.
A creative life is rife with fear in all its cloaks. A creative life requires plenty of courage. Elizabeth Gilbert's book Big Magic recently caught my attention. Within its pages, she explores the treacherous journey of a creative life. One section is entitled 'The Road Trip'. Here, Gilbert implores us not to stifle our fear or even to attempt to eradicate it, although this might seem the most desirable outcome, but to make space for our fear alongside our creativity. Because, she argues, in killing our fear, our creativity may fall victim too. Unless of course, I ponder, the method of the kill is creativity itself. If so, there is beauty in this, since fear is inevitable and perhaps indestructible, then so must our creativity be too.
There is a beautiful woman I know. When I last saw her, her eyes were shining while she told me a story. The story was about an old man and a little girl.
The man wasn’t really old in terms of years. But his feet were heavy and his back was bowed. His was a body that spoke of great sorrow. It was this sorrow that made him older than his years. He struggled under a weight greater than anything you or I could imagine. A weight that seemed to press upon his back and crush his entirety toward the pavement with never a chance of relief.
Every day his feet would carry his burdened body to the bus stop on the high road near the bank. And there he would sit; his load still heavy, uncomfortable between his shoulder blades. His eyes ever lowered and apparently vacant, fixed somewhere on the ground beneath his feet. His presence so forlorn, so grim that people looked away, afraid he was contagious. They looked away until he no longer existed.
Day in and day out, season upon season, he would shuffle to the bus stop and there he would sit. His body bent beneath his burden. A dark and silent shape.
Then one day my friend, while waiting for the bus, witnessed something beautiful.
A little girl came walking toward the bus stop holding on to her mummy’s hand. As they approached the bus stop, this little girl, unlike her mother, saw not just the silent shape. She saw the man. She offered him a firm, yet delicate, ‘hello’.
‘Hello!’ His eyes beamed.
The little girl smiled and continued on her way.
And that moment was complete. But what a beautiful moment it was.
Not long afterward, a heart attack finally relieved the man of his burden. All that was left was his body, still sitting, slumped at the bus stop.
Ps. I have shared this story previously, but today, while reading my two year old David McPhail's The Teddy Bear, I was reminded of it. The Teddy Bearis a lovely story, I recommend it.
Pps. I am always grateful to the great lady who first related the story of The Old Man for her intelligence and gentle nature.
Sometimes I am overwhelmed by voice. The voices around me are so loud that I cannot decipher my own. I can't breathe. I can't see. I reach blindly in the darkness enfeebled, yet frantic, until I brush against an inkling of self. I seize it and I hold on with all my might.
I began with the idea that I would draw Grandpa Capilano, the tallest tree in the Capilano Watershed reaching 61 meters from the earth. My girls and I know Grandpa Capilano well. Each time we walk his trail, we stop and pay him respect, bid him good day. We admire his trunk, broad and deeply grooved. He is an embodiment of stability and wisdom as he stands through time.
Yet, somehow, on my page instead of a rotund wizened old man, this rather scrawny, comparatively youthful, yogi presented himself amidst the lush greenery of the watershed. Somewhat surprised I carried on with the drawing until the page, which he climbed off and became two pages, was full. I can only conclude that our Grandpa Capilano must be a trickster, how else could he have survived so long so close to the city?
I rise at 6 a.m. and tiptoe to my Magic Cottage, a cup of tea in hand. I close the door behind me and breathe into my space. I light candles and settle myself for meditation, some yoga, and quiet reading, writing or drawing. I remain undisturbed. At 7 a.m. a knock on the glass door interupts me; my little girl with her blankie in hand. She slips in and curls up in the papasan chair. I go back to my musings. Before we return to the world beyond the cottage, we snuggle together coveting our precious stillness. Although I arrived on my mat an hour earlier, I feel that this time with my girl is my true meditation, my knowledge that this is THE moment, a moment that shall one day be gone and left only to memory. How can I balance my present loving with my future yearning? Yours, Zinnia