Winter solstice is in the rear view mirror. This year, spring is once again on its way as I write. Six hours and nineteen minutes into a next year. Every day creeps closer to a high rising summer.
Yesterday afternoon was a solstice celebration of connection. Acres of food, hours with friends, a happy visit. Though I did miss all the beloveds too far away or stricken with illness or long gone.
Lyndal, one of the first friends to arrive, leaned in towards my daughter and said that she was at the house the day we arrived home from China for the first time. That was January 1999. Almost 21 years ago.
Those days, the child at seventeen months clung to me. And why not? What a calamitous trauma to travel half way round the world with a woman who calls herself Mama.
Serene as a miniature goddess, this beautiful child sat in the middle of the living room floor as I lay beside her on the hardwood having been stricken with the Beijing flu shortly after my arrival home. How could I have brushed my teeth with forbidden Beijing tap water?! At that moment, an insight washed over me – I had not truly anticipated the terror that struck as I recognized how impossible it was for a single mother to be incapacitated. For this familial arrangement to work, I needed to be invincible and in tip top form. For the most part, I managed.
And now. Well now, this toddler girl is 22 and blooming with energy and ideas. And I’m filled with the indelible profound love that comes with many years of care and time to care.
Anticipating my daughter’s return to the city where she studies, I mused to her – maybe I should move closer to you. And she said, “Mom, if you had fifty years to move to the coast and make all the wonderful friends you have here, then I would say, yes, move. But look around you.”
And I did. Grateful once again for my daughter’s wisdom. And here I am on this winter solstice day in a room filled with half a lifetime of friendship – my precious family.
Then I turned to Pat, a longtime friend and colleague, who now takes her own sweet time up the walkway and stairs. I remembered how in 1987 I arrived in Edmonton that first year on the coattails of a deadly tornado. In a this new intellectual and creative community, I felt alienated — estranged from my net of friends and fellow travellers to the east, and deathly lonely. At that time, Pat was also a neighbour and I would sprawl out on her bungalow floor weeping — a dismal damsel in distress. Since I was gainfully employed, newly graduated, and healthy as a horse, it was difficult to complain to any general public about my pathetic state of affairs. I was fortunate and glad to have a tenured academic post with my newly minted PhD. And though the province was strangely foreign, many new people I met were generous.
That first Alberta Christmas holiday, Pat kindly volunteered to drive me to the airport for my first trip home. She waited patiently in her car as I reentered my house and exited again, a second large suitcase in hand. As I settled into my seat beside her, she gently asked how long I planned to visit Toronto. I confessed: “Two weeks. But I brought my summer clothes — just in case.”
It took me at least seven years to settle in here. I was a difficult transplant. But for more than thirty years, my friends and neighbours have settled in to me. Stronger now, the curvature of my spine is notched and carved by their care.
And so I affirm with my daughter – how much our friendship networks matter.
What are we but human beings hemmed together with memories? Our skin tacked here or there with a conversation recalled. An embrace and a kiss. Or a crisis fixed up over time.
Who are we but this bit of sticky taffy tenderness when our hands touch?
(Long days of welcome dark and winter cold ahead. And what will summer bring here on the Canadian prairie parkland? My Australian friends are broiling in their summer heat. The smoke from living hell fires fill their lungs. I can send love their way but what good will it do when the whole world is burning, melting, making our wrath its own.