They Provoke and Remind

Raven9 

Perhaps the Gods gave us ravens to provoke and remind us how foolish it is to assume an all-knowing human ascendancy over nature or anything else for that matter. There is no doubt that our curious descendents will, like ourselves, be lured to the woods and streams beyond the city to, as Thoreau said, "confront only the essentials of life." Raven comes to remind of us of the essentials.

Meet Stephanie Hansen

steph

15 Years ago she was in dire straits with a limited education, no money, and desperate to make a new life for herself so she set out to test Robert Fulghum’s theory: “Everything I Needed To Know I Learned In Kindergarten”.  Working with only rudimentary materials, curiosity, (need, of course), and a wealth of natural creativity Stephanie began her career as a self-taught experimental artist.  Her work was eventually sold into private collections worldwide and she opened her own art gallery to promote the work of artist’s with disabilities, such as herself, in 2006.  The gallery was a growing success, however, she and her husband chose to close the gallery late August of 2007 after the sudden tragic death of their daughter Seanna.  Stephanie raised Seanna and her younger sister from pre-school to high school with much love and gratitude, but the younger child chose not to become “daughter” and is no longer part of Stephanie’s life today.  Currently Stephanie is working on the largest creative project of her life: figuring out how to survive and thrive after the loss of her children, her second family.  Her visual art and writing helps her with that equally sad and exciting but monumental task.

art

Are you altogether gone?
Can’t you whisper in my ear
Were you the owl in last night’s dream
Or the strange old woman seer
Before I can let you go
I really need to know
Are you altogether gone?
Just whisper it in my ear

If I Could Rise

no desire to begin
no desire to be gone
no one waits for me
no one hates for me to be alone
quiet and unrequired
to smile
to touch kindly
to reassure
a day or a year could pass now
and no important love
will be missed
but all would be well
and full
and complete
and enough
if I could rise right now
and wash my beloved’s hands

Stephanie Hansen copyright 2008

Love and Loss

kelly

Losing an ordinary child is one thing. Losing an autistic child, or a child with a brain injury, is like losing your secret entranceway into a whole other fascinating world where everything has life in it if you only look closely enough, and listen intently enough, and wait long enough.  Seanna was not an ordinary child, and after washing her hands doing all other such small personal care things for her daily for over ten years her death left me feeling profoundly useless.  Not long after writing the above poem I went looking for and found a companion who needed my constant attention and touch the way Seanna did, someone who follows me around and waits eagerly for my return. 

Enter Kelly.  A very beautiful and astoundingly friendly old dog needing a new home for her last years.  I wasn’t looking for an “old” dog, but I couldn’t resist her.  She’s not doing well right now at all, a fact that is breaking my heart, but at the same time it filling my heart that I am able to bring her the comfort she needs.  As well, it is giving me the chance to heal a very deep and very old heartache.

The Greatest Gift

bear

I thought I had a story to tell about a teddy bear. But the minute I picked up the pen, I realized the real story was about anything but the bear. Long before I had a most beloved bear, I had an idolized grandmother. Angela Oakes. She was small, like me, and very quiet. A saint in a sea of…not so much sinners, I suppose, as angry, fearful, misguided family. And, Lord, but she was my savior. She did not show much interest in the things I did, but she was ever vigilant of the things I didn't get. Like forgiveness. And praise. And most of all, touch.

I was in the habit of being shoved aside. I say it was "my" habit because I believed then that I was always doing something to inspire that form of ignorant rejection. Gramma would witness the rough dismissal and remind 'whoever', "Children need to be touched. Nicely." She said it just like that: a pause, and then a gentle yet emphatic "nicely". She said children were meant to be held and to hold things themselves. That's how she came to be in charge of the things I held.

I never had to reach back in my memory to recollect who gave me which bear; they were all gifts from Gramma for birthdays and Christmases. However, the year I turned nine there wasn't going to be any bear from Gramma. She died in November. Of course, I was utterly devastated. I lost my true love, my ally. Nevertheless, the closer it came to Christmas, the more I fixated on the fact that I wouldn't get a gift from her. Confused and filled with shame, I struggled to understand the selfishness that belied the reality that she had been everything to me.

On December 25, my Aunt Lois, with whom Gramma had been living, arrived at our front door carrying a cumbersomely large maple-brown teddy bear that outsized me by a good few inches. She presented it to me and waited, obviously expecting to see wide-eyed jubilation. The only feeling that gift inspired was what I've come to know since as despair. I thought the offering was proof no one understood the profundity of the loss of my best friend. I thought they were trying to buy away my grief.

Eventually, sensing the general source of my upset, Aunt Lois read me the card attached. "To my Stephie, from Gramma." Several months earlier, knowing she was dying, Gramma bought the beautiful bear and ordered it hidden away until Christmas. Knowing, as deeply as she had known me, how desperately I would need something to hold onto then. In her wisdom and her kindness, she provided me with a lot to hold onto ever since. Most of which I can't even touch.

Every birthday, every holiday, I wrack my brains trying to think of something special to give my youngest stepdaughter. I am never able to think of anything more special, more useful than a teddy bear to hold…a teddy bear to remind her of who loved her and how she was loved.

Stephanie K. Hansen Copyright 2002

Temple of Solace

textile

by Stephanie Hansen

Stephanie Hansen likes to come to the Temple of Solace to palliate some of her sense of loss and grief. It is the perfect retreat.

Take the time to visit the Temple of Solace at Soul Food and find a place to express loss and grief.

The Soul Food Cafe and the Temple of Solace are not just for those who are feeling isolated because of circumstances such as that which I have experienced. It is quite simply a refuge, a safe place to retreat. Visitors to the Temple may be searching for some kind words as a result of a loss of a job, a way of life, an empty nest, the loss of a teddy bear, the death of a pet, the loss of property, loss of a way of life, a lost muse, a sense of abandonment: about almost anything. Personally, I have found that kind words can reduce me to tears, simply because I am not as accustomed to kind words and kind actions as I am at steeling myself, putting up my armour to protect myself from the pain of what feels like rejection.

When you arrive at the temple, choose a rug from the pile Monika Roleff has provided, wrap it around yourself, rock and keen or wail if that is what you feel like doing.

Join the Temple of Solace

"What have you done with the garden I entrusted you with?" asked the creator late one night, as she sat with me under a sky filled with stars.

"Why I have done many thing" I replied. "See that constellation over there! That is the Soul Food Cafe. And the brightest star in the constellation is the Temple of Solace."

The creator, who has often felt in need of solace herself, who has had caused to wonder about the merit of what she has created, who has, herself, puzzled over the folk who have never really appreciated the nature of her work, smiled a knowing smile.

We sat, relaxing, drinking some of the mead she had bought with her and admired the collective handiwork, talked of just what is possible late in to the night.

Heather Blakey - Soul Food Cafe

Click to join lemuriantemple

Click to join The Temple of Solace

 

 

 

 

The Rookery - Day Fourteen

She didn’t care if it took her the rest of her life to find it, or even if she had to ride a donkey to get there, but she would find that place where she belonged one day, that place where creativity and the celebration and exploration of life and beauty were what mattered most. 

Thankfully for Sister Christmas Riversleigh Manor is not located at the end of the earth and she found it when she was plenty young enough to enjoy herself immensely. 

Little Sister Christmas - Part One

stephanie

Yes, it’s true that all children believe they must surely love Christmas more than all other children, but she had special reason to believe that in her case it might be true.  Her family actually needed Christmas.  They needed its Magic!

Each year Little Sister watched Christmas Magic transform the general greed and household harshness into acts of consideration throughout the season culminating in the ultimate Day of Generosity and Goodwill that was Christmas Day.  December was the Month of Forgive and Forget.  Even her mother played the game of decking the halls, hanging mistletoe in the doorways, and displaying the children’s treasured handmade ornaments and gifts on the tree and tables for all to see.

During the rest of the year the children received no gifts or playthings other than one gift on their respective birthdays, but all was set even at Christmas.  One year, for instance, there was a racetrack as big as the living room with lots of cars!  There was a purple Tonka truck and a ride-on duckie (Oh, how she loved Duckie!!!)  The softest pyjamas in the whole world and colouring books and picture books…oh the list went ON!  There were also endless smiles and sincere thanks.  Little Sister and her siblings played together for weeks and laughter reigned for a long time and the Magic healed them all for a while.

However, what must be known is that Little Sister’s parents came together to have children later in life than most others, and so it was that they were the age of grandparents with very young children.  They were always tired and irritable (at best) and started wishing the children were already grown up long before they were ready to be independent around the house, much less out of the house.  The December when Sister was five she saw her mother deliberating over the largest box of Christmas ornaments in the living room and a stream of excitement shot through her.  “Mom!  Are you going to start getting the house ready for Santa?!”  With her fists planted resolutely on her hips, the unhappy mother twisted around to look at her youngest daughter for a long moment, apparently deliberating over her reply, then said simply, “I’m really sick of having to put this stuff up every year just to have to take it all down again.  I’ve decided not to do it this year.” 

With a gasp, Little Sister shouted, “NO!  Santa will think we don’t celebrate Christmas!  He won’t come here!”  At that her mother rolled her eyes in an exaggerated ‘here we go’ gesture and drawled, “Oh come ON!  Your brother and sister know there’s no such thing as Santa Claus.  Don’t tell me you still believe that stuff!  YOU know better!  YOU’RE not a baby anymore!  There’s no Santa.  YOU know that you’re father and I buy everything.  And we’re tired of trying to figure out what you want, anyway.  This year we want you to just make a list of things for us to go and get so we don’t have to wrap it all like it’s a surprise.  Wrapping paper is too BLOODY expensive!”

Saying nothing, betraying nothing, Little Sister solemnly turned and went to her room to sit and cry among her many soft and friendly bears.  She did believe.  She had not known.  And her heart was absolutely broken. The news was a terrible shock, but she had been shocked before and her bear friends were not new to her tears. Was there no – had there never been – any Magic after all?  But she had SEEN it!  It changed them for a while and she had felt the change.  But wait a minute!  If her mother could make the Christmas Magic, then so could Little Sister!  And that’s how she became “Little Sister Christmas”.

Before her mother could put the boxes away, Little Sister Christmas dried her tears and went back to the living room.

“Mom?  I know it’s a lot to do on top of everything else you do for us.” 

“You’re darn right!  Do you know how much dust gets all over the place when I start sticking this stuff up on the top of all the doorframes?  Who do you think has to do all the regular laundry and wash and iron all the towels and cloths and tablecloths and napkins and things with Christmas pictures on them too?” 

“That’s what I meant, Mom.  It’s too much to do it all, so I’ll do the Christmas stuff.  Just leave the decorations to me.  And I’ll clean it all up when Christmas is over.  I promise.”

The mother looked her little daughter up and down skeptically, but sensing a troublesome argument otherwise she growled, “Fine.  I don’t care.  Do what you like.  Long as it’s not me!” 

Quickly before her mother changed her mind Little Sister flew into action decking the halls like they had NEVER been decked before!  She toiled for a week making sure everything was straight and bright and shiny and utterly perfect.  She stood on chairs to wash and iron tablecloths and napkins and to dust, then vacuumed rugs and polished everything except the new puppy dog whom she brushed until his coat shone.  Little Sister Christmas saved that season’s festivities and that year the goodwill and gifts and laughter came again along with the Magic that healed them.  For a while.

steph

She played her role faithfully every year even though her duties grew quickly as the participants’ Spirit of Giving Up outweighed their Spirit of Giving.  Soon Little Sister Christmas took on the duty of buying the paper and wrapping all the gifts her family bought for one another, and in another couple of years still she was making lists of suggested gifts for them to get each other lest they simply hand each other money.  However, as was bound to happen eventually, Little Sister Christmas lost her job altogether.  That too was the year that The Spirit of Giving Up overtook her as well.

The older father retired when Little Sister began high school and when she was only fifteen her parents declared that they were “Tired of work, tired of kids, tired of Christmas, and tired of cold winters.” They were going to go to a retirement village somewhere warm, leaving in November and returning in the spring.  Her sister had already moved into her own home with her fiancé, and though her brother still lived at home he was a very busy and social lad who often stayed overnight with friends.  Thus,  when her parents quit being parents, Little Sister quit school to stay home and wander the halls of her empty home feeling very young and very old and very confused. 

When Christmas Day finally came she stood at the picture window looking at the beautiful lights on all the houses, seeing the trees lit up in every front window, and wondered what happened to her family.  Something had happened to them but she just couldn’t put into words what it was.  Most of all, much more than anything, what she couldn’t and thought she wouldn’t ever understand was what it was that made her so leavable.

Little Sister Christmas Part Two

Of the three children, Little Sister alone was the Peter Pan child, the ‘forever child’ of parents who had always been old in their hearts.  While her sister raised a baby and waited tables, her brother raised his baby and studied for his final university exams, but Little Sister merely worked the occasional temp job for a little cash then spent it on shrimp cocktails and Bogart movies that she watched until three in the morning,  dreaming about a life she’d never have.  She tried to finish her schooling a few different times but each year when her parents went away, Little Sister eventually wandered her own way too.  Oh, she had the very best intentions of sticking with it!  But she would make a better elf than a scholar.  She was born to thrive surrounded by red velvet and fairy lights, ribbons, bows, tassels, fringes and all things festive!  She was born with a spirit that would celebrate life or collapse under the weight of it.  So whenever she could, she celebrated, and every time she couldn’t, she collapsed.

Fearing she couldn’t bear the burden of another winter alone, when Sister was in her late teens she went to her parents to plead with them to stay home that year.  She knew they didn’t feel any obligation to her, but what about someone truly helpless?  What about their faithful old german shepherd? Her mother had a weak spot for him and had shown a lot of concern for the poor dog when he had slipped and fallen on the stairs two or three times recently, so Little Sister played on that concern with all she had.

“I’m scared!  Please stay home and help!  I’m having terrible nightmares about him crying in pain at the bottom of the stairs.  It’s awful!  He’s getting old now and might need to be taken to the vet and I can’t take him myself.  You should stay here in case he needs you.  Just think of how awful you’d feel if he needed you and you weren’t here.”  She kept after them for a couple of weeks until she came home one day and didn’t see the dog around.  She found her mother reading the newspaper in the living room and asked, “Mom?  Where’s the dog?  Did Dad take him to the vet?”  But she didn’t answer.  Her mother often didn’t answer questions when she didn’t feel like being disturbed but Sister had a bad feeling about this so she asked again.  Finally the paper crashed down in a heap on her mother’s lap and an ugly angry snarl of a face spat out the words, “Oh-for-god’s-sakes-we-had-him-killed!  Are you satisfied!  I hope you’re satisfied!” and up went the paper again. 

The words were simple.  Sister knew what they meant, but at the same time she didn’t.  “Have him killed”?  Your parents can’t have your best friend killed.  That’s bizarre!  Braving her unpredictable mother, Sister demanded more information.  She was sorry she did.  “You wouldn’t shut up about how old and decrepit the damn dog was so we had him killed!  Your father’s at the vet right now! You don’t have anyone around to bother you for half the year and you only had one thing to do and that was to take care of the dog and you were too lazy and too selfish to do that!  I will never forgive you for making us kill that dog.  NEVER!” 

“Making them”?  Oh god.  She knew her parents well.  She could see them doing it now.   It was one hell of a leap…oh why hadn’t she foreseen them making that twisted….

But it didn’t matter now.  She had made a terrible mistake in judgment and her childhood friend died for it without her getting to say goodbye to him.

That was how Sister’s siblings had the story related to them by their parents: their little sister had complained endlessly about having to take care of the dog and demanded relentlessly that the parents euthanize the aging feeble shepherd until the poor old folks finally caved in fear that she wouldn’t properly care for their beloved pet and so put their darling dog to sleep out of compassion.  And that was how she went all the way from being known as Sister Christmas to Sister Selfish. “Selfish” is how they renamed her, referred to her, and resented her foreverafter.  From then on she learned resignedly to take from them and from everyone else what little was offered whether it was good enough or not.  With a reputation like hers the gentle and generous people she needed around her were both appalled and repelled.  They left her well alone once her family told them what kind of lazy, selfish person she was, and how her apparent impoverished circumstances were her own fault.    

However, everyone and everything has a limit, except ignorance of course, and Sister Selfish was destined to abdicated her miserable throne.  One year, Sister became extremely ill on Christmas Day.  A fever ravaged her body so terribly that she had to crawl to the phone for help because she was too dizzy and weak to stand up.  When her older sister answered the phone she declined to come to her aid: “It’s Christmas Day!  I’ve got a turkey already in the oven!  Just take some Tylenol and go to sleep.  You’ll feel better later.”  But Sister knew better and demanded a ride to the nearby hospital.  After many attempts to shame Little Sister into stop asking her for help the older sister agreed take her to the hospital. 

Outside the emergency room doors, as she was stepping out of the car, her sibling handed her a twenty dollar bill.  Weeping with the pain of the infection, dizzy and sweating profusely with a dangerous fever, Sister asked, “What’s this for? And was told flatly, “For the cab ride home.” 

Incredulously: “You’re not coming IN?!” 

“It’s Christmas DAY!  I’ve got FAMILY!”

The end.  Absolutely the end.  Of something.  Of Sister, on some level it felt, but she was too ill to fall any further apart.  She had to concentrate her efforts on getting into the hospital without landing face first on the asphalt beside the car.  So she turned away then, stood, and fell gratefully into the arms of a waiting nurse who saw her coming. 

As soon as she entered the waiting room she was assailed by the sound of crying children.  One quick note of the absence of any bloody bandages, slings, or obvious bruises told Sister that their greatest tragedy and source of their tears was being unnaturally wrenched from beneath a toy-laden Christmas Tree on Christmas Day for the sake of some heartless cold or flu bug that couldn’t read a calendar.  Catching the attention of the first Candy Striper that walked past her, Little Sister inquired whether the gift shop was open that day.  Confirming that it was Sister handed the girl all the money she had with her including her sister’s $20 and told her to get as much as she could with it to make up an impromptu Christmas party for the poor little tykes in the waiting room. 

The Striper and Sister blinked at each other kind of blank-faced for a few awkward seconds, both of them equally surprised by the unexpected request because Sister had only just been plunked down in a seat when the Candy Striper was hailed.  The new patient wouldn’t have even had a chance to think about the request before she made it.  But that’s just the thing: the Christmas spirit isn’t in your head; it’s in your heart.

When she was in kindergarten her class put on a Christmas play.  Her part was to recite the very last line: “and goodwill towards All!”  Throughout her life she believed that was what Christmas was for: it was specifically the time we were to practice exercising the spirit of goodwill towards All.  Sister was grateful to the gentle, considerate nurse who brought her an icepack to help cool her feverish, pained face, and tried not to think about how alone she was.  She couldn’t see the children in the room because she was resting her face in the towel-wrapped ice pack but, one by one, their cries subsided as the small gifts were passed around the room with assurances that Santa had heard they were there and sent them extra gifts by “special mail”.  The sweet and savvy gift shop cashier with her own Spirit to spare had taken the time to wrap the presents and tag them “FROM SANTA”.

Looking up, she was greeted by the glow of genuine smiles, and in the growing hush of the room Sister could swear she felt her pain subside.  Was this a return of Christmas Magic?  Hesitantly, oh so barely moving her lips lest anyone see, she whispered, “Are you still there?”  There was no reply.  She waited a long time, but still none came.

Hours later, after the doctors and nurses had given her plenty of proper care and attention, Sister walked home in the Christmas night air feeling much stronger.  The way was not long at all though she was too ill earlier to have made even the first step on her own.  Now, the walk was a pleasure because it gave her a chance to see all the beautiful festive lights she had always loved and to view the Christmas trees in the windows up and down the streets around the apartment building where she lived alone with her two cats.

Finally home, she put on the kettle and checked her messages.  Two of them were the expected “Merry Christmas” and “call us if you feel like it” from her parents and brother, and the third “Just seeing if you got home alright” from her sister” with another “call me if you feel like it”.  She didn’t feel like it on any count and so she erased the messages and hung up the phone.  After a moment she unplugged the phone as well.  She knew she would never phone any of them again.  She would answer, but never call.  She expected to feel sad, but didn’t.  She’d already been sad.  It was time to stop, not start.  And so she went to the bedroom to collect her favorite warm blanket and a teddy bear.   She had dragged that particular bear about openly and unashamedly from one phase of life to the next, from one heartache to another inevitable heartache.  Every life was full of them and she believed that teddy bears were made to gather the tears of the broken hearted.   

When the kettle boiled she made a hot chocolate to go with the bear and the blanket she’d placed on the couch.  Turning out all the lights except the ones on her stunningly decorated Christmas tree, Sister snuggled down contentedly before it on the couch beside her beloved cats.  There in the reverent peaceful glow of a thousand tiny lights the answer she’d waited for in the hospital came to her.  Soon, she heard the sound of a long lost soul say to her, “No, I’m not altogether gone,” and she became Sister Christmas forevermore.  It was her choice.  Never again would she let any small-minded or small-hearted people block the glow of her fairy lights.  A girl has to set priorities, damn it, and she was just the kind who needed to keep tinsel in her top drawer!  She didn’t care if it took her the rest of her life to find it, or even if she had to ride a donkey to get there, but she would find that place where she belonged one day, that place where creativity and the celebration and exploration of life and beauty were what mattered most. 

Thankfully for Sister Christmas Riversleigh Manor is not located at the end of the earth and she found it when she was plenty young enough to enjoy herself immensely.  (There is a thing about traveling with a donkey but we won’t get into it.  This story is way too long already.

THE BEGINNING

Copyright Stephanie K. Hansen 2008