I wanted a perfect ending. Now I’ve learned, the hard way, that some poems don’t rhyme, and some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next. Delicious Ambiguity. Gilda Radner
On the 1990s tv show Who Wants to be a Millionaire, contestants were able use one of their “lifelines” if they didn’t know the answer to a question. These were either: to call up a friend, to poll the audience, or to eliminate one of the multiple choice responses. How I remember this so clearly is a testament to my very active brain cells. I also must have watched the show enough to have stored this information in my mind somewhere where I could retrieve it without too much difficulty.
However that was not the inspiration for todays’ blog post. As I lay in bed this morning listening to cbc radio 2 news, I learned that a very successful program that helps to prevent criminal offenders doing “life” in prison from re-offending once let out of prison, is being cut. The program, called Lifelines, which offers support to inmates so they can lead productive, crime free lives once their jail term was up, has been running for over twenty years.
Initially, upon hearing this news, I felt angry. Why would anyone cut a program that is beneficial, especially to those who may end up causing more harm if left alone? Then I felt compassion, for the prisoners and the circumstances that would have lead them to inflict such harm on others that they needed to be imprisoned, to live behind bars. And for the victims of those prisoners who, without the much-needed support, would re-offend once removed from jail. I was reminded of some lines from a poem ,”Please Call me by my True Names,” written by meditation teacher Thich Nhat Hanh:
I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,
my legs as thin as bamboo sticks,
and I am the arms merchant, selling deadly weapons to
Uganda. am the twelve-year-old girl, refugee on a small boat,
who throws herself into the ocean after being raped by a sea
and I am the pirate, my heart not yet capable of seeing and
I am a member of the politburo, with plenty of power in my
and I am the man who has to pay his “debt of blood” to, my
dying slowly in a forced labor camp.
I came into my studio and did an hour of yoga, stretching past the aches and tension in my body. As I lay on my back in sivasana, I noticed the apple and pear branches outside my windows and their newly emerging blossoms opening through the misty morning.
I felt inspired by their beauty and fragile beginnings, grateful for my life and all life on this ancient and mesmerizing green planet.
Hanh’s poem continues:
My joy is like spring, so warm it makes flowers bloom in all
walks of life.
My pain if like a river of tears, so full it fills the four oceans.
Starting up my email, I spied the latest issue of the independent newsletter The Tyee and was drawn to watch the following extremely important 18 minute video on the BC coastal peoples and environmental groups’ resistance to the Enbridge Pipeline project. More anger surfaced. And more compassion.
My partner reminded me the other day that I have been an activist for most of my adult life: as a poet writing about my healing from a history of violence, a performer sharing those poems with others to inspire and encourage their own healing journeys, an educator teaching young people to avoid interpersonal violence by developing healthy relationships, and now as the founder of the Centre for Loving Inquiry, I mentor women of all ages (from high school to retirement) in their artistic dreaming and encourage their creative and compassionate heartrepreneurship.
Hanh’s poem ends:
Please call me by my true names,
so I can hear all my cries and laughs at once,
so I can see that my joy and pain are one.
Please call me by my true names,
so I can wake up,
and so the door of my heart can be left open,
the door of compassion.
As I enter my third decade of activism, or what I now call Loving Inquiry, through which I continue to work toward personal and collective growth & transformation, I feel compelled to acknowledge those lifelines that have kept me alive and buoyant through the cycles of success and challenge, joy and pain. I have gained all my strength from living close to nature, individual and collaborative creativity, relationships with partners, family and friends, yoga and Buddhist meditation practice.
What are your lifelines? Where do you go for refuge, inspiration, self-care? Take some time today to honour and celebrate the ways you take care of yourself.
P.S. For further reflection: here’s the first half of Hanh’s poem:
Do not say that I’ll depart tomorrow
because even today I still arrive.
Look deeply: I arrive in every second
to be a bud on a spring branch,
to be a tiny bird, with wings still fragile,
learning to sing in my new nest,
to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower,
to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.
I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry,
in order to fear and to hope.
The rhythm of my heart is the birth and
death of all that are alive.
I am the mayfly metamorphosing on the surface of the river,
and I am the bird which, when spring comes, arrives in time
to eat the mayfly.
I am the frog swimming happily in the clear pond,
and I am also the grass-snake who, approaching in silence,
feeds itself on the frog.