Two True Gifts of Christmas

imageThe best part of the Christmas season for me are those unexpected gifts of goodness, insight, connection, and light that sometimes come our way. They are gifts of magic. And they are all around us, when we are open to receiving them. Here are two from my world that may lift you up.

The first story is about Sister Lorraine Malo, a beautiful woman I have known for many years who died in June at the age of 76. She was born in 1936, and entered religious life in 1955 at the age 19. She was a woman of unshakeable faith, who lived through unspeakable horrors, and yet spent her life serving others–always smiling, always hopeful. For most of the last 10 years, she helped orphaned and very sick children in Haiti–befriending them, teaching them, consoling them, and playing with them. I just found out recently that she had died, and it made me very sad.image

On my way out of Toronto last week, I stopped in at the Sisters of St Joseph to make a donation towards the work she started in Haiti. I also hoped to speak to a sister who knew Sister Lorraine, and was with her at the end. And as luck would have it, I ended up having a very emotional chat with Sister Pat Boucher who shared with me some of the final days, moments, and memories with her. We both cried. Towards the end I noted that Sister Lorraine died just a few days shy of her 77th birthday. Sister Pat had asked her what she wanted to do for her birthday about two weeks prior to that.

Sister Lorraine said: “there is nothing to plan for me, Sister Pat…because I will be in heaven.”

If anyone deserves to be there, it is surely Sister Lorraine. And I have absolutely no doubt that she is there now, watching over all the souls she touched.

The second story happened just this past week. I stopped by to say hi to the Wongs, my next door neighbours for 15 years. I usually pop in once a year since since I moved away in 2008. Mr. and Mrs. Wong don’t speak English very well, but somehow we manage to communicate, at least superficially. Mrs. Wong and I had never shared more than a brief hug, but on this day, it was very different.

Mrs. Wong asked me for my address. I tried to explain that I don’t really have an official home address right now, following the profoundly painful experience earlier this year of separating from my wife. She locked onto my eyes and started crying. Then she held my hand, grabbed my arm, and tried to explain to me that her son was going through a similar experience, and how worried she was about him and her five-year-old granddaughter. I shared with her some thoughts on how I am somehow getting through this, and how important her family’s support and the support of her son’s friends would be over the coming months. She told me to be strong and to never doubt my goodness. And for the next 20 minutes or so she held onto me tightly and did not let go. She never stopped looking in my eyes.

It was an extended moment of very close, intense physical and emotional connection that I have very rarely felt in my life, in particular from a relative stranger. We locked onto each other, and somehow in those moments, we gave each other the gift of comfort.

“It is only in love that the human heart is happy and in loving action that fulfillment and peace reside.”–Sister Lorraine Malo

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The Cottage

For the last several years, we have been fortunate to have the opportunity to rent a friend’s cottage during the winter months while she is away. It’s a cozy little spot, only about 90 minutes drive from home. In the summer, the lake is packed. Nice, but in the fall, winter, and spring there are only a handful of people. That’s when the magic really happens.

For a number of reasons, this will likely be a very short cottage season for us. But I have just arrived, and as always, I feel so very grateful to be here. The cottage has always been a very powerful draw for me. My wife and son enjoy it as well, but not the way I do. I am thrilled to come up here for a week or two at a time when I can, on my own. Perhaps too thrilled.

I think this is the 5th or 6th season for us, but it is only just starting dawn on me why I love it here. My time is my own. I can spend it however I wish. I am not responsible, or feel responsible for anyone else. I cook nutritious meals, and enjoy doing it. I read for hours on end. I write. I think. I listen to music. I sing. I meditate, sometimes twice a day! Back to basics at the cottage. I am able to just be.

At home, I am distracted by the endless list of things that have to get done, that I am responsible for, and I sometimes neglect myself. And it can make me resentful. There I said it.

At the cottage, I can just take care of myself, heal, rejuvenate. Peace, quiet, free of static and distraction. Life moves at a much slower and richer pace here.

Ironic isn’t it that I have saved and planned and sacrificed to create a home, yet I need to get away from it to get centred and in touch with my flow?

I suppose I have always appreciated my time alone, ever since I can remember. Always a bit of a loner. Always somewhat of an introvert, although many aspects of my life might indicate otherwise. Some people need others to recharge. Not me. I am someone who needs to turn inward. And I need the separation and quiet to do it.

I am not complaining. I have a very good life, and I’m surrounded by incredible and loving people. I am very, very fortunate. But time alone at the cottage gives me the space and perspective to truly appreciate it (and I know that this is a troubling paradox…save this one for another day).

But I also realize that ultimately I must learn to find this stillness wherever I am. That will take some work.