Love at first sight

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November 16, 2016 marked the 20th anniversary of the day I met my husband. It was a chance meeting. Neither of us was planning to be at the place we met on that particular day. I was standing in line to use the washroom. He was chatting on a payphone (remember those days?). It sounds ridiculous, but our eyes met. And just like that, my life was forever changed.

When we met, I was already mama to a beautiful boy. He and I opened our circle to include one more in our tiny family. Then one wedding and a few years later, we added a daughter into the lovely mix and a year after that, another one. Bliss. This was everything I had ever wanted. 

Twenty years later, I’m still very grateful for that random meeting because the result has become the the epicentre of every single thing I value and love. But like anything worth cherishing for a lifetime, it’s complex and exquisite with parts that are breathtaking, parts that are bruised and parts that are yet to be discovered.

This love of ours has been an adventure from the very beginning and it’s certainly never been boring. We’ve made our way along epic pathways, overcoming obstacles, slaying the occasional dragon and high-five-ing when we’ve arrived at success points. All relationships are multifaceted, no matter how they happen to begin. Ours is woven through with golden moments, complex threads from the lives that came before our meeting and also many everyday ‘what is your problem?’ irritations that do their best to chip away at what’s good. There has been much joy and there has been darkness, loss and debilitating stress. There have been huge wins and also heartbreaking wakeup calls urging us both to do things differently as partners, as parents and as people.

In a weird way, I’m as grateful for the challenges as I am for the gold. They’ve led to many defining moments in my life with my husband. Like Joseph Campbell said, “It is by going down into the abyss that we recover the treasures of life.” For whatever reasons, the two of us don’t live life skimming the surface, which is too bad, because it looks so peaceful. Nope, we ‘go there’ to the deep, messy, raw and precarious experiences of life that most rational people neatly avoid. Each of us did this before we met and we continue to do it as partners in life, as parents and in our professional and personal endeavours. It’s exhausting and exhilarating but out of it comes the truest sense of trust, tenderness, connection and certainty in who I’ve chosen to love for my lifetime.

‘Love at first sight’ is such a trite phrase, I know. But once in a while, it is just the truth. I’m not sure why, but the guy I met while standing in line for the bathroom in a place I didn’t even intend on being while he chatted on a payphone in the very same place in just as unlikely a scenario … this man was meant to be my partner. It hasn’t always been easy, but it’s always been right. 

Happy 20 years to him. Here’s to many more decades ahead.

Down here on the ocean floor

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Buoyed by courage, we will rise.

It’s been quite awhile since I’ve written a blog. Life’s been rather tricky lately, making it hard to pinpoint what I’m for.

Brené Brown, one of my current inspirations, refers to my ‘rather tricky’ as a messy middle, the space where “You’re too far in to turn around and not close enough to the end to see the light.

Not seeing the light means it’s dark. I don’t love it here. I feel like I’m walking alone on the ocean floor. My ears are rendered deaf by the pressure, my eyes glued shut. Everything down here scares me. My heart races and my stomach twists. Breathing underwater is pretty tough as well.

When I described this feeling recently to an empathetic listener, she encouraged me to stop a minute and open my eyes. Look around. Take a really good look. Get perspective. Stare down those sharks. It’s the only way to gather your resources and figure out what you need to make your way up and toward the shore.

Easier said than done, but I’m trying. I’m afraid of this water and its dark mysteries. Yet, I know that opening my eyes is the only answer. If there’s light beckoning me to the surface, I’ve got to open my eyes to find it. Besides, I can’t hold my breath forever.

There is another light, too. Steady, pulsing beams of it coming from another source: people are sending it directly into this darkness. They encircle us. Their wide-open hearts shoot warm beams of hope into our abyss. Their loving hands extend, ready to carry us upward when we’ve learned what we need to learn down here. I feel the energy of all of this LOVE. I thank them ALL for the waves of good thoughts they offer. I’ve braced myself for judgement, but none comes. If there is any, it doesn’t reach me. It’s neutralized by the enormity of human kindness that winds its way through to steady my vulnerable heart. I will know evermore that Sylvia Rossetti was right – Genuine kindness is no ordinary act, but a rare gift of beauty.

I’m not here alone, so I won’t disrespect the people or the story with details. I do feel compelled to share that things are hard right now. I feel like it’s ok, because maybe things are hard for you, too. Maybe you’re in your own abyss. Maybe knowing that I am, too, will bring you comfort. 

We can hug it out on the other side. We’ll high-five each other for having the courage to open our eyes under water. Having shared the truth of our stories, maybe we can empower each other to feel a little stronger, a little braver and a little more courageous when the next ‘messy middle’ inevitably presents itself again. 

And together, buoyed by this courage, we will rise.

The Pure Joy Of Singing

Among the things I’m for, it’s definitely making music. I’m also for Mark, one of my most favourite people.

Mark Boogieman

Kathy Matkin-Clapton is the choral conductor for the U of L Conservatory of Music Choirs-Children’s (6-10), Youth, (11-16) and Incanto (16 & up.) If you’ve lived in Lethbridge for any length of time and had kids that liked to sing, there’s a good chance they experienced the joy being in one of Kathy’s choirs. (Both my kids did.) Kathy was the vocal director for a couple of shows I’ve done and we’ve shared the stage for a few as well. It’s always a better experience when Kathy is part of a project. Not only does she bring her expertise to the benefit of those around her, she is a consummate pro on stage. In between rehearsing scenes we’ve had many great talks both of a serious nature and of the rather inane. I’m not sure I’ve laughed harder than in a rehearsal for A Little Night Music. We were listening…

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Totally doing this.

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Political stances are popping up like crazy beans in my newsfeed these days as our October 19th election draws ever closer. I’ve become acutely aware of how offended I feel when those stances blindly ridicule the party I’m most aligned with. I’m also acutely aware of how delighted I am when someone does the same to the party I’m least aligned with. Double-standard much, KMC?

So, when I put my own politics aside in favour of being a reasonable, open-minded human who wants the best for everyone and who knows she is incredibly lucky to live in this amazing, democratic nation, here’s what I’m left with.

I am NOT for:

  1. Fear-based politics that slander or deride a party. Period.
  2. Rumour, innuendo and rhetoric that throw gas on the fire of ignorance. It’s a disservice to every political party and candidate and it is a disservice to our country.
  3. Pressuring others to bend to a certain kind of political will. Stop it already.
  4. Not voting. Because not voting is silly. Period.

I AM for:

  1. The facts. Because that’s how important decisions should be made.
  2. Genuine inquiry. Because asking questions with an open mind actually opens the mind a little more. And so on. Etc.
  3. Talking to people with opposing views about politics who don’t try to change my mind and who are willing to do the same for me. Because it’s interesting. And somewhere in that middle ground, there’s an enormous opportunity for cooperation and change.
  4. Gaining new perspectives. It’s the heart and soul of empathy and the antidote to nasty judgement that polarizes us on important issues.
  5. Voting. I’m not going to lie. I have been emotionally moved every single time I’ve voted. Which has been in every single municipal, provincial and federal election since I was 18.

There is no political stance in this little rant-a-roo. Not a shred. Just a human stance and a deep belief that democracy is a gift. I love gifts. Don’t you?

Act of kindness.

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Sometimes a gal gets thirsty. Thinking she simply needs a quick sip of water, she approaches a well. It’s dry. Hmmm. A little thirstier now, it’s on to the next well. Also dry. Alrighty then … at the next well, instead of water, up comes something that looks and tastes suspiciously like toxic goop. Not one to give up and kind of dying of thirst, she moves on to what looks like a well. It even offers water. Hallelujah! But wait … before she knows it, the well is telling her how dry it is and the dang thing turns around and drains her.

Huh. Where does a girl have to go to get a clean, sweet uncomplicated drink?

Life isn’t always like this for me or anyone, of course. But it certainly is sometimes. And when it is, here’s what I absolutely know is true: it feels really bad.

Bad enough that I try never to do it to others. I fail at this frequently, but since one of my core values is that I don’t want people to walk away from me feeling bad, unheard or unseen, I genuinely work at it heart-to-heart engagement when I interact with people on a personal basis. If I fail, I reflect on it and then I try harder next time.

While I’m always for reciprocity in relationship – as in I’ll meet your needs and it would be great if you could meet mine – sometimes life just doesn’t work that way. If people are like wells, I need to know which one to turn to and when. I need to learn to simply accept that, like me, people will succeed and fail in meeting the needs of others.

As that ancient storyteller Mr. Aesop once wrote, ‘No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.’ I don’t offer this as yet another trite, Tumblr-ized, platitude. I do believe that listening – really and truly listening – is one of the most exquisite acts of kindness we can extend to our fellow humans. Really listening, to me, means validating someone’s experience. It gives me the chance to know someone’s heart just a little bit. And when I am truly listened to and heard, it is one of life’s cleanest, sweetest and most uncomplicated drinks.

Who’s not for that?

it’ll shine when it shines.

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I didn’t know that ‘It’ll Shine When it Shines’ was one of my brother’s favourite songs until after he passed away in 2011. Since that time, I’ve listened to the song many times. I understand why he liked this tune so much. Just like my brother, it’s ‘shoot from the hip’ on the surface. But, if you care to have a look, there are layers and layers of elegant truths that sit just beneath that surface.

My brother was far from perfect, but I think that posthumous reflection should stray toward the ‘best of’ side of people. There is no peace to be had in focusing on imperfection.

He was an enormous man with a gruff exterior. But then you’d see him smile. Chances are he’d take your hand, say ‘Hey brother/sister’ and maybe even pull you into a bear hug. If you looked closely, if you accepted him as he was, you’d see the love literally spilling out of his eyes. If you gave him more than 10 seconds, looked beyond the obvious, what you got was gentle, tender and incredibly good.

He held my babies in his enormous, gentle hands and wept at the sight of each of them. As they grew, he loved them fully, just as they were. His face would light up whenever he saw them and he saw only the best in each of them, even when I couldn’t. He always got up to hug us hello, even when his body ached. And he never failed to say ‘I love you’ at every departure.

In his own way, he was always in pursuit of peace. He’d seek it in his relationships with those he loved and through quiet time spent tinkering (he called it ‘Louis-ing’). He’d look for it in stashing cash, finding bargains and in showing up for people when it counted. An avid fisherman, he also sought it on the banks of rivers and lakes, his rod in one hand and a can of beer in the other. 

Life didn’t always go the way he hoped it would, but he lived it with a simplicity that I find myself longing for lately. A true ‘it’ll shine when it shines’ philosophy that goes something like this: ‘Get out there, live with your heart wide open. Look for goodness in the little things and stop getting bent out of shape about the things you can’t do anything about. Just be. It’ll shine when it shines.

Thinking on all of this, I totally get why my brother loved the Ozark Mountain Daredevils and their sweet, philosophical tune. There is an exquisite truth to their poetry that’s got me feeling pretty reflective. There are a great many things in this life that are rip-out-your-heart hard. These are things I can’t do anything about. Things that happen to me or to the people I love. There are much bigger horrors that happen every day and in every corner of our world. Things I can never understand or control.

What I can do is live my life fully. I can be kind and grateful for all of the goodness I get to experience from dawn til dusk. I can be accepting. I can be forgiving. I can let love flow in all directions. I can be still when life hurts and trust that all will be well. It will shine when it shines.

Bit of an aside before I wrap ‘er up. A couple of weeks ago, my daughter and I bought ukuleles. Playing and singing together every day is the most fantastic thing for me. The first song we’ve tackled is in honour of ‘Uncle John’. This means that I get to experience ‘It’ll Shine When It Shines’ with my beautiful girl every day. I’m not a very good ukulele player and we forget the words and we’re out of tune and don’t always know which chord to play. But, as my brother might have said, it’s all in the experience of living, loving and letting things be what they are. The Ozark Mountain Daredevils’ spin on this is:

It’s in your heart, not your head. And you’ve got to sing and sing and sing.

And so I shall.

p.s. If you haven’t ever heard the Ozark Mountain Daredevils perform ‘It’ll Shine When It Shines, have a listen here. It’s pretty sweet stuff.