Author

Sarah Thomson

Browsing

TO BE OR NOT TO BE

I have a weakness that I’ve fought to hide all my life. It’s a fear that I’ll be trapped within a group and I’ll disappear. Every so often, in bank line-ups, fire drills or shopping malls, I get the urge to bah like a sheep. When I was in high school, I used to feel the fear as I filed in and out of my classes, until finally, one day I stood up in class and walked out, never to return.

The freedom I felt that day, realizing that I could be independent, that I could walk alone, was exhilarating. Last week I began to notice the old anxiety creeping back, but couldn’t place where it was coming from, until one morning as I crossed a busy street on my way to work, I found myself part of the moving mass of workers rushing to their offices. The tension welled up, all around me was a sea of empty faces. But a crazy man with a garbage can lid on his head rescued me as he chanted and tapped the lid. Our eyes met and I smiled. He smiled back. That exchange let us know we still existed. The rest of the week I avoided the morning rush but it didn’t calm the gnawing worry.

Yesterday my husband decided that we both needed a visit to the cottage for a quiet weekend away from the city. In no time we had packed our skis, sweaters, extras socks, cocoa and marshmallows into the car and were on the road by mid-morning. North of Barrie the dirty gray slush disappeared and a thick, white blanket of snow covered every branch and limb. Its heavy layers were stiff from the bitter cold; they sat like folded meringue seeping over the chiseled rock walls along the highway.

We reached the lake to find a huge patch of ice cleared of snow and a hockey game in progress. Snowmobile tracks crossed each other, braiding paths through the snow in all directions. The sky was gray and a few cross-country skiers glided far out on the frozen lake. Pulling on our ski pants and sweaters, we rushed to dig our cross-country skis from the car and load up our knapsacks.

In the distance, we could see our cottage, nestled in the trees on a small island. The island is dominated by a huge, bald rock outcropping. It was nicknamed Baldy years ago after a fire burned down all the trees on the top of it. The trees are slowly growing back, but the name has stuck. One side of the rock has a sheer face reaching up to the sky. We could see that Baldy was covered with patches of white snow, although its steep walls of dark rock were still bare.

With heavy knapsacks on our backs, we rushed to ski down the small hill leading to the edge of the frozen lake. We followed snowmobile tracks across the thick snow that covered the ice. About halfway along our route the snow turned to slush for a few meters where a deep channel passes between Cedar Island and our island. My heart began to race. I knew we were crossing the deepest section of water, where currents were probably running swiftly under the ice. I thought of the huge cruise boats that tour through this channel in the summer. We stopped to listen. The silence wrapped around us.

We made our way around the slush to the white, hard snow a few meters beyond. But from then on, we stopped every few minutes to listen for sounds in the stillness. We reached the island to find the dock covered with a few feet of snow. As we neared shore the ice began to crack. Backing up slowly, we reached out to the edge of the dock — finding its safety familiar. Pulling ourselves onto the dock, we took off our skis and sat with our boots hanging over the edge. The last time we sat there, our feet had been skimming the surface of the water. We listened for sounds we might recognize. But the familiar sound of water lapping against the dock was noticeably missing. A blue jay called out, his cry seemed to welcome us and we wondered if he might be the same jay that had heckled us all summer long. The deep snow made the climb from the boathouse to the cottage slow.

Halfway up we stopped to catch our breath and take in the snow-covered forest around us. A woodpecker tapped in a tree high above. We found the cottage colder than the outside air. Ice crystals had formed on the windows and we could barely see in. We lit a roaring fire and turned on all the heaters. Gradually the cottage began to warm and the ice melted from the windows. We ate supper in front of the fire, bundled in electric blankets. We could still see our breath. We spent the evening reading in front of the crackling fire. I was reading White Lotus by John Hersey. The story is about slavery, about people crammed into ships, with their identity taken and their freedom stripped away. The slavery and the loss of self-worth in the story played on my recent anxieties. I kept comparing the slave life to that of a corporate employee. It was hard to find differences

My husband nods off over his book and the fire spits. A scratch at the window startles us. We listen to the stillness, nothing. We look out the window but the light carries only a few feet, the blackness beyond is impenetrable. We listen to the stillness for a few minutes. Then we hear a low growl, it sounds like a very big, angry cat. We turn off all the lights and search the darkness, but the night is pitch-black. We can see only the faint outline of white snow. Again a silence fills the forest and we decide to snuggle into a warm bed and look for clues of the scuffle the next day.

We woke to find a fresh layer of snow covering everything. Small flakes were still falling; seeming to dance between the tall tree trunks. The cedars and pines stood still, wrapped in their thin blanket of snow. We explored the island to see what changes winter had brought. The snow-covered landscape creates a different world from the summer island we know so well. Hard ice connects the surrounding wilderness to our safe little island. Deer, fox, bears, wolves, and maybe even cougars have access to this rock. But there are few signs in the snow. A fox seems to have made a home here but his tracks are faint, having been filled in with the recent snowfall. We can’t find any sign of the scuffle we heard the previous night.

In the forest a woodpecker has left wood chips scattered at the base of a tree. As we climb up the steep grade of rock, I place each foot into the unbroken snow and feel strong. I feel the air in my lungs and the blood coursing through my veins. Here, on this rock, we are free. We reach the top of the hill and can see the rest of the lake stretching out for miles in all directions. The wind sweeps through the fir trees, but they shelter us from its bite.

We watch as two ice fishermen walk to the middle of the lake. Their voices carry up to us. They sit down on small folding chairs and work at cutting a hole in the ice. We turn away from them and hike along the ridge following the fox tracks. The pine trees are whispering to each other. We lie on top of the deep snow to listen to them. We hold mitted hands. The snow makes a comfortable cushion beneath us. A plane flies low overhead. We can see the skis it uses to land on the snow. In the distance, a dark sky threatens more snow. We’ll have to pack our things and leave shortly.

As we make our way to the cottage I refuse to follow our footprints back. It’s harder going, but there is something about breaking the smooth snow with your own foot, about creating a single track that shows you exist. It’s like the call of a single chickadee in a quiet forest. It says “I am here.”

CONVOLUTED THOUGHTS

The sun is shining and the lake is calm. Thin clouds form in the sky. It’s a perfect summer day here at the cottage and yet my mind wanders to the story of Mukhtaran Mai that is running on the front page of this newspaper. I try to imagine what she is doing at this moment. Can she leave her home at all, or is she still being persecuted for trying to change her world? I picture her sitting in her back yard, the rain has just ended and the hot sun is drying everything quickly. She is listening to the birds as they sing and go about their busy lives. She is watching them and finding joy in the moment. She doesn’t know if the men who raped her will try to kill her tonight or tomorrow or the next day —she doesn’t know how much time she has to live. But does anyone? She takes care to get the most out of each small moment and treats them like precious gems.

I don’t think she knew that her plight would cause such huge international repercussions. I like to think that her strength and self-sacrifice taught others that one person can stand up for the truth and set the standard for the seeds of civility to grow. I hope that the people in her village see her strength as noble and her actions as worthwhile even though such vision requires knowledge that may not be available to them.

I wonder about the kind of men who raped Mai – about the kind of people who can murder and harm others, people bereft of morality, who lack the values that allow them to love and respect life. In causing such harm they destroy the values within themselves that it takes for love to grow. Values such as integrity, forgiveness and the ability to honour life itself, can’t survive where there is hatred, jealousy or the need for retribution.

I wonder how a soldier is able to keep their values from being destroyed? By telling themselves to follow orders some manage to survive the ordeal, but so many come back from war screwed up, unable to love or find happiness in their lives. I don’t think anyone who can honour life can justify killing. That’s the problem with war, religious or otherwise — honouring life itself is the way one shows respect for the creation of the god to which they bow their head. By killing they destroy the ability within them to honour life and I think that it is directly connected to their ability to love. Those fighting for al-Qaeda believe they are fighting a holy war and will reap their reward in heaven, but for many of them their values, and thus their ability to find happiness in life, is already destroyed. They are picked at a young age, chosen because they can obey, because they refrain from questioning, because they have suffered and want something better for themselves than life has handed them, because they are followers.

I had a dream last night that I wrote to the head of the United Nations, which wasn’t so odd because I often fire off emails to world leaders just to see if I can get something interesting back from them. But this time I wrote telling them that the answer to terrorism is education and what they ought to do is set up “United Nations Schools” in all “at risk” countries. Very similar to those countries that have mandatory army service, the youth from all the “at risk” countries would have to serve their time in United Nations Schools. They would be paid just as al-Qaeda pays their youth, but instead of radical religion, they would be educated in world history, human rights and freedoms, and taught about different cultures around the world. In my dream I received a reply that said the United Nations appreciated my suggestion and was going to have a vote on it sometime in the next 10 years…

I finished reading the latest Harry Potter and again it reminded me that love is stronger than evil, that no matter how many people die, no matter how much fear they live with, love will always survive. It seems the terror that the suicide bombers are trying to spread is bringing people closer together, making them think about love verses evil. It has made me think about the power of knowledge and how important it is that children everywhere get an education – evil sneaks in where empty minds are hungry.

I look at my eight-month old son as he wiggles across the floor. There are so many things we must teach him. To walk, to talk, to read, to value the world around him and the life he has. I will teach him to appreciate his own life enough that he values the lives of others. I wonder how to fortify him against the comforts and enticements that pure belief offers to its followers. I think that if he learns to trust in change as the only true thing in this world that is absolute, and to understand the importance of morality, then he’ll be able to see through the frauds that use religion to gain power over others. I aim to surround my son with love because in the end I believe it will make him strong enough to overcome any challenge life throws at him.

MAGICAL MOMENTS

It rained most of the day yesterday and the downpour lasted through the night. I fell asleep to the patter of rain on the boathouse roof — something I haven’t heard much of this summer. The hot sunny days of July were beautiful and seemed endless, yet they went by in a flash. In a way, my life seems to be a reflection of this summer. So many magical moments that I try to savour, hoping they will last forever, and yet the time passes all too quickly.

It seems like only a few weeks ago that my twin brother and I were 10 years old, dreaming that the neighbour’s pond was an ocean and our raft a boat we were sailing to exotic lands. I remember another morning long ago when we woke up after a winter ice storm and found everything, from the trees in the apple orchards to the toboggan resting against the side of the house, covered in a thick layer of ice. I can still feel the excitement we felt then, and the wonder, and the way our hearts raced at the sight of the ice gleaming off the frozen fields. It was as if our world had changed entirely and every inch of it needed to be rediscovered. We imagined ourselves arctic explorers and spent the day crossing dangerous terrain. I go back to these moments and remember the joy, the beauty, and the wonder. I haven’t lost my ability to feel the moments, but I no longer seem to be able to imagine myself as someone else.

I remember the way my brother was as a child. We both loved to build things, but he had a way of changing the world with his imagination. A snow fort became an igloo that we had to build quickly to save ourselves from the coming snow storm; a race home from the bus stop turned into a race for our lives because a pack of wolves was on our tail and would tear us to shreds if we stopped running. We went from two kids hanging in the upper branches of a tree while a summer thunderstorm blew us to and fro, to sailors being blown about in a north Atlantic gale. I now wonder why he never went into writing stories, as his imagination still seems much more vivid than mine ever was.

As I watch my son stand for the first time I feel joy far deeper than anything that my youthful imagination could have generated. I realise now that I also used my imagination to gain a sense of control over my life in order to make the ever-changing world a little less frightening. But at some point over the years I stopped trying to shape the world to my needs and instead learned to embrace the changes that life threw my way. I began to feel joy in the moments as they came to me. The real world generates deeper feelings than I could have dreamed possible in my youth. I wonder if I will feel even more deeply when I’m 80? It’s as if the more I’ve learned, the more meaningful reality has become.

It all comes back to savouring the real moments that make life wondrous. I suppose that is why the truth is so important. I know now that life will be short and perilous and at times full of sadness, so it seems all the more important to make every moment of it count and to take care that the magical moments don’t get lost, forgotten or missed.

I remember the night that Greg and I were married. Our wedding song came on (Never Saw Blue Like That by Shawn Colvin) and instead of dancing, my husband and I handed roses to every woman in the room. That was a huge magical moment. The song is about seeing the world differently, seeing the colour blue differently for the first time in your life, because someone else has made you look at life from a different perspective. We wanted our friends and family to understand that our love was like that. We married because we wanted to see a more expansive world than our single lives allowed us to have. I will always remember the way Greg looked into me and whispered the last line of the song “I never saw blue like that…”

Then there are the smaller moments that often get overlooked but still offer a sense of joy and wonder… the taste of a fresh peach or the smell of an orange being peeled. It is so easy to take these moments for granted in this world of newer, bigger, better and more, more, more.

I just got my son off to sleep. He’s still at the stage where he falls to sleep while I feed him his bottle. I sing to him as he rests in my lap with his soft hair tickling my chin. There is a peacefulness that we share, a happiness to hold and be held – the bond between mother and child. I’ll store this moment in my memory and save it for when he’s a teenager and disappears with my car and his girlfriend for the weekend.

Then there are the moments that I have with my husband that are etched into my memory. The feel of his hand on my skin, the way he smiles across a crowded room at me, the way he explores the world around him and can find joy in almost anything. I think of how he describes savouring a dish he had in Africa . He always describes it the same way and each time I hear him tell it I watch him savour the moment and try to share it with others. He doesn’t want newer, bigger, or more — he knows that one small experience can be better than a mountain of gold. He values the truth as much as I do because he understands that magical moments don’t come from our imagination or a creative story.

Magical moments come from real experiences that matter, experiences that can be savoured and held with respect, experiences that make life worth living.

MARCH THAW

The morning sun wakes me. The sky is bright and blue. Last night’s snow storm has vanished and the sun light twinkles on the snow-covered fields beyond my window. Rabbit tracks leave the only blemish in the garden below. A crow calls and I notice birdsong for the first time in months. Something stirs me to open the window and breathe it all in. The air has lost the dry bite of winter; although still cool, it smells of a warm day to come. The huge icicles along the eaves don’t have their frosty surface. They shine as the sun melts them. I listen as they drip, I hear sounds of water trickling. This is March, 1979 and I am 11 years old. My parents built our house themselves. It was always under some phase of construction. After getting dressed, I check the room next to mine to see if my twin brother is awake. His room has a dutch-door (the top half opens while the bottom can remain shut.) We shared the room when we were small, but when my eldest sister moved out I inherited her room. This morning my brother’s head is hanging over the edge of the bed and his eyes are closed. I can hear his heavy breathing, not yet a snore. I walk down the hall, passing my other sister’s room. She is reading a novel in bed. My eldest brother is still asleep in his room. The bathroom we share is at the end of the hall, at the top of the stairs. I wash my face and brush the tangles from my hair. In the family room I build a fire in the hearth. The floor is polished concrete. It is dark and warms with the heat from the fire. An oval carpet sits in the center of the room. It feels like rough rope under my feet. I don’t like its shades of mustard and brown. I always walk around it in protest. My dog, Sally, gets up from the couch on the far side of the room and comes to greet me. I notice that she trots around the carpet instead of coming directly across it. We are bonded in our protest. She licks my hand and sits beside me as I ball up a newspaper and pile wood over it. My father designed our house so that the kitchen, dining room and front hall separate the kids’ bedrooms and family room from the adults’ living area. On weekends we have guests; few of them have children. They stay in the adult wing of the house. We’re not allowed beyond the kitchen without permission. Last night, I snuck into the dining room to listen to the adult discussion. I like to lie with my blanket on the soft carpet and listen while they talk in the living room below. I listen to their laughter but don’t understand all of it. I fell asleep, but don’t know how I ended up in my own bed this morning. In the kitchen I grab some bowls, cereal and milk. I put the kettle on for tea and take everything to the table in the family room. The room is cold in the winter because the French doors are not yet in and the polyethylene that hangs in the opening doesn’t insulate very well. But this morning the fire warms the family room quickly. My twin brother comes down the stairs still sleepy. He pours his cereal and milk. He hasn’t brushed his hair and it sticks up at the back of his head. He throws the empty cereal box in the fireplace. We watch it burn. He too feels excitement in the air. Change is coming and he wants to explore and visit the creek at the bottom of our driveway. We leave our dishes in the sink and rush to pull on our coats. The sunlight is bright and makes my brother sneeze. We smell the smoke from our fire. It’s warmer outside than we thought and our coats become a burden. We trudge through the wet snow. Its crisp, dry, crunch is gone, replaced with the wet splashing of our boots in the meltwater. Brown patches of earth appear, wet and muddy in the fields. Last night’s snowfall is melting as quickly as it came. I smell the earth in the air, there is a familiar scent I can’t quite place. It’s the smell of dew on a green leaf. The hint of spring; of life hidden in a damp twig. We walk along the stone wall that borders our apple orchard. The large boulders were pulled from the fields by my father and eldest brother but we can’t remember when. We remember summer afternoons spent working behind the tractor, loading stones from the fields onto a trailer and following it to the wall. Each of us worked to build it. As we grew older and stronger thestones became larger rocks. Over the years we all grew proud of that wall. The stone wall follows our property line until it meets a grove of cedar trees where an old log fence continues down into a swampy marsh. A stream cuts through the marsh under our driveway and empties into a pond on our neighbour’s property. My brother and I stand above a large culvert looking down at the stream below. The melting snow fills the stream, rushing water brown and murky. We find twigs and drop them in, then run to the other side of the driveway to see whose stick will be the first out of the culvert. The chickadees in the cedars call and sing, we think they are congratulating one another for making it through the long winter. We walk past the lower orchard, to an old section of forest to rocky to clear. We come across fence rails pulled down when my parents reclaimed the land and planted the apple orchards. We decide to build a fort with the logs. They are wet and heavy. We build the fort strong and solid, working through lunch and finish late in the afternoon. We want it to last forever since it will be the last fort we build on our farm. We talk about our move in a few weeks. Someone else will own this land. Other children will play in our forts. We wonder if they will discover all of them. My brother remembers a figure that he whittled last fall and stored in the hole of an old apple tree. He wants to go to our hiding spot to see if it is still there. I ask him if he will miss our farm, if he will remember all the secret places we have. “Of course,” he says without the slightest sadness. I’m not as brave as my brother and the thought of change frightens me. But all around me the world is changing. I think of the old winter snow melting away, of the sound of the icicles dripping, water trickling and the fresh new scent of uncovered earth; and my fear subsides. Over the years I’ve come to learn that every change brings a whole new set of circumstances and possibilities. And, no matter what happens, I will always have that warm day in March, 1979.

THE FUNERAL ON THE HILL

I went to my aunt’s funeral. It was a beautiful funeral held in a small old church, on a hill, looking over the sea. I could see Vancouver across the bay. The day began wet and misty. By mid-morning the sun had burned off most of the cloud, although thin wisps still lingered in the mountains, snagged by the peaks. My twin brother and his fiancée spend most of the morning preparing sandwiches and hors d’oeuvres. My eldest sister and brother-in-law pack plastic spoons, paper napkins and plates in boxes. We rehearse and go over our plans for the day. A nervous sadness hangs over us. We try to shake it off. My brother-in-law’s usual laugh is reeled in this morning. My sister seems tight, drawn up to full strength, her sadness lurks inside her. We talk about life, we remember our childhood. Although time has stepped between us, we are familiar. We are all still the same people, older, with grey streaks in our hair. When I look at them, I see the brothers who filled my childhood with laughter and the sister who, at times, seemed more like a mother with her love for us. We are all more thoughtful today. Our window looks out over North Vancouver and the mountain ridge beyond. Steamy white threads of mist rise out of the mountainside, unwinding, gently tugged by the rising sun. We wait for my brother to arrive, wondering if he will be late. But he is on time when things have meaning. We wrestle with ourselves, wanting to place meaning on the emptiness we feel. We notice the bright blue sky as we leave the condo with packed boxes under our arms. The sun is warm, although the air holds a coolness. We arrive at the tiny old church just as a dance class ends. Young women file out and we rush in to set up the tables and chairs. The one-room church has a square piano in the corner. Bare wooden dance rails run up both sides of the church. Above, huge beams and rafters are filled with cobwebs. A large, stained-glass window occupies the front wall and shines blue, green and red patches of sunlight on the bare wooden floor. Although it is noon, it still feels like morning. Fresh, cool, mountain air blows through the doors. Guests arrive. We stand around, drinks in hand. Everyone sits and the eulogy begins. We remember my aunt Liz. The treasures of shells, rocks and stories she brought back from her trips to exotic, far-away lands. The pleasure she took in teaching and the struggles she went through. Tears fill my sister’s eyes as she speaks; she lets her sorrow out. My brother-in-law steps up beside her, there for her, but unobtrusive. We listen to Highland music. We celebrate the life of Elizabeth O’Connor. We are glad we were part of it. She will live on in us. Old women, with gentle smiles and soft condolences, pick at the food. My brothers and I drink most of the wine. The sun dances in coloured patches on the floor. Long shadows signal a change in the day. Morning has slipped to late afternoon and we must pack up and be out of the small church before another dance class rushes in. We drop off the left-over food at the condo and head to a trail that my aunt Liz loved to hike. The wet forest reminds us of illustrations from the storybooks of our childhood. Green moss covers the rocks, logs and bark on the trees. The wet wood is filled with magic and fairies play, just out of sight. Moss hangs from limbs and huge pines block out the sky. Enchantment and beauty surround us. We stop at a small lake. The forest is reflected on its still surface. We circle around another lake and come to an opening in the forest. In the distance, a huge snow-covered mountain reflects bright sunlight into our eyes. A stone landmark tells of a plane wreck decades ago that was just recently discovered. We think about how precarious life is and marvel that we ever made it through childhood. The sun is low, the day is ending. We go back to the condo and sit and talk about our lives, our dreams and our futures. We don’t bother to turn on any lights. My brother-in-law lies on the floor at my sister’s feet. My twin and his fiancée curl up on the couch. We watch as the mountains turn from green to dark grey, with glints of pink at their peaks where the last rays of sunlight touch. Lone birds fly, black specks high in the empty sky. I mention the moment we are in. I love the peace. My brothers make fun of me. I tell them off. Some things don’t change, we are the same, but older. We are family, together again for this moment, in our love. On the plane home I think about my own death. I don’t put much faith in life after death. I think we only get one chance at life. I hope part of me lives on in the things I have managed to do during my life. There are so many things I’d want to say to my family and friends before I die. I’d want to tell my husband that I love him more and more every minute. That even though we fight sometimes, I love his determination and tenacity. That I haven’t felt the warmth, security and peace that we have in our home since I was a child living under my parents’ love. What we’ve got isn’t simply the newlywed kind of love, it feels more like something we’re both creating and keeping vital. Like a flower we’re watering and caring for that will live for as long as we do. At times I feel in awe of his strength and desire to learn, and his curiosity in the world around him. I love to watch him think; he stores away each idea. I love the way he researches things that interest his friends and family. The way he studies up on Grade 10 math in order to help his nephew. It’s hard to think of him with another woman. But if I were gone, I wouldn’t want him to be alone. I think that we learn so much from deep, loving relationships and I’d want him to keep himself open to love. I’d want him to keep growing, to keep being curious and alive. I’d want him to splash through the puddles in a summer thunderstorm; to climb a tree on a windy day and sing, “Born free, as free as the wind blows, as free as the grass grows…” at the top of his lungs. I’d also want him to dive into the lake at dawn on September 21 (no matter how cold) and let out a scream like we did on the morning of our wedding. I’d want him to know how much I love him and to know that when he misses me I’ll be in the wind whispering in the pines, in the butterfly that lands on the dock, in the sound of the rain on the roof. There is so much I want to say to my family and friends. Some I miss and wish they were living closer, but I love that we can pick up a conversation that we’ve left off months ago and continue without a pause. I’d want to say goodbye to each and celebrate what great people they are. But that’s another day. Today I am healthy and alive. I’m not passing up the opportunity to focus on what is important and I’m awfully glad I went to my aunt’s funeral in that tiny church overlooking the sea.

THE SON, THE MAN, AND THE STORY TELLER

He climbed the hill yesterday and looked out over the lake. The leaves have begun to change and the air has a chill that warns of colder days ahead. Fall is here and the leaves drop, matting the forest floor with various colours. They feed the earth and the circle of life continues.

We sat on the warm rock at the top of the hill and I watched our 11-month-old son pull the seeds off the tall grass around us. He has so much of life ahead of him — and in my belly I feel the kick of another baby, due in February. I think of the days ahead when all four of us will climb this hill and look out over the lake. We’ll take one of those family shots with the lake and the bright colours of fall in the background landscape. My husband has a picture of his family taken long ago, on the same hill. I want this circle of life to continue.

I think about all the things we must teach our son to make him strong. I want him to be honest and true, and I hope he grows up with the same sense of inner confidence that guides his father through life. I think my husband’s confidence comes from his accomplishments, and perhaps, more importantly, from constantly living up to the values he holds inside.

I’ve always thought that the best way to teach is through storytelling. So perhaps when our son is older I will tell him the story of a man I once knew. It’s the story of a man who lacked inner confidence because he avoided facing the truth.

The story starts with the man as a small boy, born the youngest in a large family. The boy was very funny and loved to make his sisters and brothers laugh at his antics. Unfortunately, the boy’s father was a man who continually had to prove himself. He didn’t know how to handle the boy and grew jealous of him. He kept telling the boy he was foolish, until one day the boy believed him. From then on the boy decided he had to make the rest of the world think he was smart and so he began to tell lies.

He became very good at telling lies, incorporating partial truths to lend them validity. He took experiences that others had and pretended they were his own. The lies he told made people think he was clever and experienced.

As the years passed, the boy learned how to do many things but his capabilities could never keep up to the fictitious man he pretended to be. He fabricated a past that made him seem exciting to others and surrounded himself with friends who didn’t know any better. But the more lies he told the harder it was to live with his true past, and so he moved far away.

The man didn’t believe any woman would love him for who he was, but only for what he made her believe he was. And so he continued to lie, and the more he lied the weaker he grew inside. He thrived on the feeling of pride that came when people admired him for who they thought he was. But this pride had a way of undermining his self-confidence and he began to drink heavily to feel better at the end of each day.

Then one day he met a woman who demanded the truth from him. He confessed and told her that he was a compulsive liar. And despite his flaws she wanted to help him. She could see the man he wanted to be, the man he was deep inside — and she fell in love with that man. They married and dreamed of having a large family, of exploring the world together and creating many happy memories.

But life is never easy. They struggled with mortgage payments and working long hours. The man found that being honest wasn’t easy. It was very difficult to admit that he made mistakes. He was afraid his wife would begin to see him as the fool he thought he was. His wife, however, was very strong and insisted on the truth. She forced him to live up to his promises and keep his word no matter how trivial the issue. At times the man grew frustrated and annoyed. He didn’t understand why he had to do things the hard way. Over the years he’d grown lazy and didn’t want to bother learning to do things when a good story would make people believe that he could anyway. The emotional turmoil his wife put him through was almost more than he could take. His wife insisted on the truth, threatening to leave him without it, and so the man worked at becoming honest.

Over the years his wife’s determination paid off and one day the man found that it had become easier for him to tell the truth. He didn’t have to keep track of the truth the way he had to with his lies. He began to feel stronger inside and realised that he wasn’t the fool that he had always believed himself to be. By being honest and living up to the morality inside him he had gained a sense of strength that nobody could take away.

His wife and family loved him for who he was. Eventually the man went back to school and learned to become a writer. All the years he had spent telling stories had sharpened his imagination and so he decided to write children’s stories and became a best-selling author. He had many admirers, but for the first time in his life he didn’t need them.

TO BE ALL THAT YOU CAN BE

My son had his first birthday yesterday. I watch him now playing with my husband on the living room floor. The fire in our hearth burns warm and my head is filled with plans for building this newspaper. Should I begin with designing a simplified distribution system or develop plans for a women’s coffee club series? My son rides around the room on his new tricycle — he can’t quite reach the pedals so his father pushes him. Like my son, this newspaper is growing out of its infancy stage. It is now learning how to walk on its own. The greatest thing about having a young child, and a young business, is that they force you to look at your primary aim in life.

Last night I imagined my own funeral. I thought about what I would want my husband, my son, my family, my friends, my employees and even my customers to think of me once I’m gone. I found that I had a common desire with each of them. I want to be known as someone who inspired them, someone who cared enough to help them believe in themselves so that they could live to their full potential. I’m not sure where this desire came from. They say childhood experiences shape the person you become, and the most life-changing event I had as a child occurred in the late seventies.

I was 11 years old, and my family — like so many other families at that time — lost our farm when a bank manager decided that because of the rise in interest rates and the fall in real-estate values, my parents were suddenly a high risk. The bank called in the mortgage giving my parents 30 days to pay it back. And back then, if a bank called in your mortgage no other bank would touch you. The bank sold our home to the first bidder that came along, for a fifth of its value. My parents lost almost everything they had over the course of a few weeks. Suddenly they went from building a farm, to being flat broke without a roof over them. They had no idea where they were going to live, or what they were going to do. The future looked quite bleak and my father seemed to have lost his purpose. I remember the hushed whispers and the emptiness that hung over us.

But then some close friends of my parents learned that we had lost our home and they immediately stepped in to help. They suggested my father find a house to purchase and they mortgaged their own house to finance it. They showed my father that they believed in him. They listened, they gave him their time and he went from a man who had lost everything to one who still had potential to do great things. Over the years my parents were able to pay them back, but I wonder if those friends know the effect their actions had on us?

Although I was only 11, their selfless action had such an impact on me that I decided that helping people to believe in themselves and to see a bright future was one of the grandest things anyone could do with their life.

At that age I didn’t have anything tangible to give, but looking back I think that is when I began truly listening to people, hearing their stories and their problems. I guess that I was trying to give the only thing I had – which was my time and attention. In return I learned so much more than I ever could have without giving the time.

I remember having intimate talks with my classmates and when I finally moved away, my mother got a letter from my teacher a few weeks later. He said that each morning I used to talk to all my classmates before the lessons began and since I’d left, his class was much harder to get going, they weren’t as open. He wasn’t sure what I’d done, but he’d noticed something missing. That was the first time I realised that my actions could have an effect, and that my aim to help people was actually possible.

Today I realise that this newspaper is a reflection of my primary aim. In each issue we try to carry intimate articles that inspire women. I want to make people think, grow, and learn. If this newspaper gives even one person the desire to look to the future, if it gives them hope, then I will have passed on what those friends gave to my family so many years ago.

And now I must sit down and figure out how to get this newspaper into the hands of as many readers as I can. I will have to grow the business and constantly adapt to the changes in the market. I’ve learned that our readers are professional women over 30 who want more than the glossy fashion magazines offer. They seem to appreciate the thought and emotion that goes into each article we carry.

As this newspaper grows I grow with it. I’m learning to step back from the daily problems and see the bigger goal. I also see the opportunities that others have missed. This newspaper is being read by thousands of professional women. They are women that all the other publications haven’t been able to consistently reach. And yet we’ve managed to attract them and it’s because we’re doing it the same way I did as a kid: We’re listening, giving our attention to issues that matter, speaking intimately about those issues and working to inspire each and every individual reader to be all that they can be.

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With this issue I would like to welcome Michael Gerber to our pages. His column will focus on the issues and struggles facing entrepreneurs. With over 80 percent of small businesses today being started by women, I believe Mr. Gerber’s insights will inspire many of our readers. Mr. Gerber is author of the best-selling book The E-Myth. He is also a renowned motivational speaker and president of E-Myth worldwide.

APPLES, MUSIC, AND NOSTALGIA

We went apple picking with friends today. There were only a few apples left on the trees. The puddles in the lane had a thin cover of ice on them. The noise from a tractor just over the hill, combined with the smell of apples rotting in the field, and the cold, fresh air with the sun casting long shadows through the orchard was a moment I wanted to capture and hold on to. There is something magical about the Honeycrisp apple. Grown in Ontario and best from mid-October to early November, it is an apple like no other — it tastes like honey mixed with fresh morning dew.

The sound of classical music on a Sunday morning brings balance to the day. It has a way of explaining life with all the tragedy, chaos, love, and heartache that make humanity so beautiful. Today, Sibelius’ String Quartets pull me into his story; it is a tale of life, filled with frivolity, sorrow, happiness, and ambition. A young violin flirts with life while her older and wiser companions watch. They smile in memory of youth untouched by sorrow, nodding and following as life pushes and pulls the young woman to maturity. She remains brave through tragedy and sorrow; growing stronger, she encounters beauty and love, experience begins to shape her, adding depth and edge, but her voice never loses hope and the desire to add to the world around her. Do I read too much of my own thoughts in the music?

I met an old friend today who is one of those people who seems to get better with age. He’s done very well for himself and has grown from a mid-sized company to a very large business. I find myself studying him, wanting to discover how he does things, and how he’s become so successful. He is one part connector, one part achiever (with a huge drive to succeed). But there is also a part of him that wants, like the rest of us, to matter. He gives much of his time to charity. As well, he tells me that he loves to gamble and is pulled by the immediate gratification of the instant win-or-lose situation. He is a risk taker with very good judgment. If he were music he would be Mozart’s Symphony No. 29 because he is a man who seems to celebrate all that life has to offer.

Having closed up the cottage for the winter, we are back to spending most weekends renovating our home. We bought this old house six years ago and every winter we try to tackle a few rooms. Today, we finished the kitchen and I’m suddenly feeling nostalgic. I remember coming home from work to find our newborn son asleep in his car seat on the kitchen table, and my husband making dinner, with his customary glass of wine and notepad beside it on the counter. I remember our two boys playing hide-and-seek with the littlest hiding in the kitchen cupboard, giggles giving his presence away the minute I walked into the room.

Old houses are like people — they weather and are changed by time, and by those who have touched them.

Sarah Thomson can be reached at publisher@womenspost.ca

A QUEST FOR KNOWLEDGE

The rain pounded in torrents on the boathouse roof last night. I fell asleep before it ended and woke up sometime after midnight to the stillness. I could hear a loon calling in the distance, its yearning voice searching for something lost. The moonlight, reflecting off the lake, made oily shapes on the ceiling. The shapes kept melting just before forming something my mind could identify – their dance was alluring – the patterns seemed to carry knowledge just out of my reach, like a conversation spoken in a strange tongue.

I’ve always hoped to get a firm hold on knowledge, to be able to identify it clearly and have it sit solidly in my hands, like a dictionary or a book, but I seem to rush past it as I whirl along consumed with one project or another.

If knowledge could form into a shape it would look like a withered old apple tree standing alone in a farmer’s field, dropping fruit that rots on the ground. Occasionally a child comes to play in its branches. She reaches for an apple and bites into the sharp fruit. She explores the deep cracks in the bark and hides things in the hollows of its trunk. But life pulls her away, and she forgets about her hidden treasures. She remembers the tree from time to time, and dreams of its branches reaching up to the sky. As time passes she drives her children by the old tree, but they don’t have time to stop. The malls are just down the road. Nobody notices the old apple tree and it may get cut down soon to make room for a subdivision.

Can we lose the knowledge we have? I read somewhere that we have lost the knowledge and skill that built the great cathedrals across Europe. Our stone masons, our tilemakers, our craftsmen have lost the knowledge previously handed down through years of apprenticeship. New technology is introduced every week, but can it replace the old?

Something tells me that our society isn’t getting any wiser. I may know how to use certain computer programs, how to drive a car or how to handle certain tools, but I’d struggle in the world of my grandmother – a world where every herb and plant had a use, where every bird and shrub could be identified and where even the slightest change in the weather was noticed. The more knowledge one had the easier life was. I believe this is still the case, although it isn’t as noticeable now. Knowledge has changed, but is the change for the better?

I often blame time for my lack of knowledge. I don’t have time to read all the books I should, to study the weather, to improve my understanding of the world around me. But I have just as much time as my grandmother had. When did life lose its simplicity? The world expects things a little faster than it once did, but I can still walk at my own pace. I have to force myself to slow down, stop and read a book, perhaps I’ll pick up Carl Honoré’s new book titled Slow (Random House). It looks at the new trends such as slow foods and other ways to slow things down.

This newspaper pushes me to learn and drives me to think; I hope it also does that for others. We try to base every issue around a theme. This month the focus is on work. Does our society still work in order to live well or are we living in order to work?

My work is my life and without it who would I be? I can’t honestly call what I do work. It doesn’t feel like work, although I do have time commitments, scheduled meetings and a list of things that must get done each month. I don’t feel as if I’m punching a clock because the clock doesn’t separate my life from my work, I work from home, from the cottage and from the office. Whether it’s meeting a new client, responding to e-mail, writing an article, searching for financial backing, or editing a column, I love every aspect of what I do. To know that I can publish words that will, in some small way, pass on knowledge is perhaps the strongest driving force.

In the publishing industry there is one requirement that a person must have to become a publisher: She must be a little nuts – not completely nuts – but a little. I’ve noticed the trait in publishers of both small and large publications. There is an element – a passion – that drives them to print words and thoughts, to get ideas out into the realm of conversation. But the passion is consuming. It devours the separation between home and office, between night and day, between rich and poor. While there might be some financial reward at the end of the road, most publishers don’t do it for that.

Lately, I’ve wondered if the passion gets lost with mergers and acquisitions? So many newspapers seem to lose their unique voices and the eccentricities that make them a vibrant part of their communities when they get bought out by larger media organisations.

The passion of the publisher disappears from the pages. I wonder if a publisher of 10 newspapers has as much passion for each of them as I do for mine?

I’ve talked with the presidents of international corporations, with artists, musicians, and writers and what I’ve found is that those with passion don’t separate their work from the rest of their life. Instead, what they do is an integrated part of who they are.

This newspaper was a challenge from the start. I put far more of my life and passion into it than anything I ever did before. I used up most of my savings, rented out my home, moved in with my mother, lived without holidays, new clothes or even a car. I leaned on friends and family, and with their help I was able to build a newspaper that is finally self-sustaining.

I didn’t do it to become rich, but for the reward of knowing that little by little we’re spreading knowledge. By making people think, by debating ideas and discussing issues, by capturing a unique moment and passing it on, this newspaper is doing something good in the world.

I must thank the writers involved, and the advertisers that make it possible – without them we couldn’t afford to print and distribute the 60,000 copies we publish each month. I encourage you to support our advertisers. Please call TD Canada Trust at 1-866-228-8881 to find out how to win $100,000. Their continued support is allowing us to grow.

MOTHERHOOD ISSUES

The morning is sunny and warm. Outside my window tiny buds have formed at the tips of the tree branches. The magnolia tree across the street is in bloom. My desk sits in a large bay window and the sun streams in, not yet filtered by the leaves that will soon shade and hinder my view. On the sidewalk far below I can see parents walking their children to school; the lawns have turned green, and yellow daffodils dot their edges.

The birds woke me this morning. I think they are building nests in the eaves. Spring has a way of bringing life right in the front door without knocking. It feels like a long-awaited visitor, and so too does this baby growing inside my belly. I’m now 12 weeks pregnant. The ultrasound this week showed our tiny baby – six centimetres long – scratching its head. I am still a little dazzled by it all. After trying to get pregnant for over a year, after giving up on months of fertility drugs, suddenly finding that a new life is forming inside me seems a little miraculous. It’s as if nature didn’t want us to tamper with her, but it also reminds me of how large a role circumstance plays in life.

I can see why some people believe that life is predetermined, that we all have a destiny we are bound to live out. With such randomness, the mind needs some form of stability. But the more I think on it, the more I find it hard to believe that the future is etched in stone. There are too many circumstantial events, too many random acts colliding, for any explanation, religious or otherwise, to apply. But believing in an explanation can, in a big way, ease our mind about life’s precariousness.

A friend I work with has breast cancer. Over the last few weeks she has learned that she will have to have surgery; she is scheduled for her operation in a few weeks. We work together. Over the months, I’ve grown to respect her work and her outlook on life, but most of all she reminds me to value every moment and the people that bring happiness to my life. I have slowed down enough to notice the changing sounds that the rain makes, the birds singing at dawn and the happiness that stirs me when I wake to see my husband sleeping soundly next to me.

I try not to worry about her, but not worrying is an impossible task. Worry has a way of settling over you – it’s a weight that pulls on your emotions and tugs at your mind. Another friend told me that with children, the weight of worry never goes away. It is a weight I must learn to carry.

How will I teach our child to navigate such an unpredictable world? I want it to cherish life and the world we live in, to try to make the world more beautiful, to give something back for all it receives, and to treasure each moment they are alive. But how do you teach this? How do I become a good mother?

I can look to the two mothers I have in my life to guide me. My own mother, whom I admire most for her strength and grace, and my husband’s mother, who is filled with gentleness and love.

When I look at my own mother I remember my childhood and the times spent with her. I remember summer days at the lake where my twin brother and I learned to swim. I remember singing with her in the car and the way she would speed the car up as we approached a small hill on a country road in order to make our stomachs rise along with our giggles of glee. I remember the way she would read bedtime stories to us as we snuggled in under each of her arms. The more I think about her, the more I realize that she taught us to value life and contribute to it by the way she lives her life. My mother always seems to notice the colour in the sky and the sound the wind makes in the trees. She directs our gaze from the room we are in to the world outside us in the way she looks beyond herself and treats others in her life.

When I look at my mother-in-law I see a woman who can see beauty in everything around her. She cherishes the time she spends with her family and can love so easily it seems to spill out of her. She cares about the people in her life so much that at times I think the worry weighs her down. But with so much compassion inside her, I think she draws strength from her ability to love them. When I think of her, I think of the way she can laugh at herself, of her smile and the joy she takes in the little things life brings her way.

Will I be as good a mother? I know I will read to our child as my mother did. I will cuddle and keep it safe. I will love it without question, but will I be able to teach it how to cope in this world that seems more perilous now than ever before?

When I remember the freedom of my childhood, disappearing for most summer days in the woods, playing without supervision in the park, or exploring the city until the street lights came on, I realise that our child will grow up in a very different world.

If I can pass on what the two mothers in my life have given to me, if I can teach this child to find strength in love, to embrace the world and everything that’s in it, then I think this baby growing inside me will have a good chance to flourish no matter how precarious this world becomes.