Working, parenting, and teaching are three different jobs that cannot be done at the same time, says Dr. Emily W. King, a family psychologist. When I saw these words, I thought about how perfectly they summed up my life at the moment and the lives of so many parents. Caregivers are being asked to perform the impossible. Or – if not impossible, then – the highly undesirable.
We all have our particular brand of misery to dwell on – if we must. Friends of ours were in the middle of an around-the-world trip when Coronavirus swept in and terminated their plans. They planned to travel for an entire year, while he took a sabbatical and she worked from the road. Their trip was five years in the making, and in the end it was cut abruptly short by several months because of Covid. Is this the end of the world? No, but it really sucks. If their trip was a fine meal, then they missed out on those last few savory bites. There are many aspects of life that really suck right now (i.e. as alluded to above, trying to perform three jobs at once), but we also know there is a light at the end of the tunnel. We must strive for that light.
Our travel friends, the Irwins, a Canadian family of four comprised of mom, dad and two awesome daughters, adopted a family motto during their travels for when times got tough. And times inevitably did get tough: from questionable food, to disappointing – even dangerous – highly-anticipated experiences, to a police raid of their accommodation (I need to ask you guys more about that one…) The family kept it together by repeating these simple words: we can do hard things. That’s it. I believe I know where these words come from. When we caught up with the Irwins in Thailand this past November, I asked Amy, the mom, if she was a reader (as I’m wont to do) and if so, was there a memoir she recommended? She suggested I read Glennon Doyle’s highly acclaimed debut memoir Love Warrior. Glennon Doyle embodies and speaks to the words, we can do hard things, in Love Warrior, as well as in her most recent book Untamed. We can do hard things. I love this simple statement so much, which for me encompasses hope, confidence and resolve, that I want to write it on my wall; on the blank white space I stare into when I’m running on the treadmill. There are things happening beyond our control and life is hard right now. Really hard. But we can do hard things. Thanks to the Irwins for reminding me of that.
I’m reading another memoir right now as part of my Masters work called Highway of Tears by Jessica McDiarmid, a true story of racism, indifference and the pursuit of justice for missing and murdered indigenous women and girls. The book reads like an investigative report, and I’m enjoying it so far. While books serve an instructional purpose for me, I also mine them for material, reading along waiting to spot diamonds in the rough with their sparkling light. I call these gems inspiration. Well, I was inspired, fully inspired, by a run of the mill description of a town and a place with one significant detail: totem poles. Erected in 1850, these totem poles were the oldest remaining in the world. Found in the town of Gitanyou (previously called Kitwankool) in British Columbia, said totem poles were made famous when painted by Emily Carr in her painting Kitseukla. One of the totem poles depicted is known as ‘Hole-in-the-Ice’ and it was this piece of history, mentioned in the book, that intrigued me the most. The Totem pole literally has a giant hole in it. Why the hole? I felt I was that totem pole, my exterior carved by my life story with a hole in the middle. There is so much passing through me right now, and I have no way to take it all in, to digest. We are all walking totem poles, losing those we know and love through holes in the ice. There is no salvaging the damage done by the frigid icy waters below, we just know that it needs to get a bit colder before the hole will close and the ice will heal. We must brave the cold and we must survive it.
I have been unable to determine why there is a hole carved in the ‘hole-in-the-ice’ totem pole. What I do know, is that totem poles are monuments created to represent and commemorate ancestry, histories, people, or events. According to a site devoted to Indigenous art in UBC’s Natives Studies program, “Most totem poles display beings, or crest animals, marking a family’s lineage and validating the powerful rights and privileges that the family held. Totem poles would not necessarily tell a story so much as it would serve to document stories and histories familiar to community members or particular family or clan members.” Perhaps someone knows the secret to why there is a hole in the ice, but the information is not readily available. The question of ‘why’ remains one of the great mysteries of life.
We can do hard things.
I just finished listening to Charlie Engle’s Running Man. I love listening to books written by triathletes with inspiring tales while I’m working out, and Charlie’s story did not disappoint. A former drug addict, he found his way into running as a means and lifeblood to his recovery. His life was going relatively well – at least from an outsider’s perspective – when he was pegged for a crime he was innocent of committing (he took the fall for a ‘liar loan’ on a house he owned). Not long after having completed the longest run across a dessert, and adventure racing through the Amazon, he found himself behind bars. To no avail, even when uncovering new evidence to suggest he was unjustly treated and tried, Charlie was forced to serve his full sentence of twenty-one months in prison. Upon his release, he relished being a free man, and began inspiring others with his story. In a talk he delivered to college students the epiphany came to him that, “Adaptation is the key to happiness. Anything can be overcome with the right attitude.” Right now all of us are being forced to adapt, and if we can, if we will try to, then I agree with Charlie Engle, we have a chance at being happy. This hole we are feeling right now will not do us in. As far as adopting the right attitude, we can do hard things seems just about right.
I want to end this post with a gift to you, a poem that fits the spirit of this post. This poem is from a delicious little cookbook, Eat This Poem, by Nicole Gulotta, whose recipes are inspired by its poems. I hope you will savour every last sweet bite.
Perhaps the World Ends Here, by Joy Harjo
The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat to live.
The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table. So it has been since creation, and it will go on.
We chase chickens or dogs away from it. Babies teethe at the corners. They scrape their knees under it.
It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to be human. We make men at it, we make women.
At this table we gossip, recall enemies and the ghosts of lovers.
Our dreams drink coffee with us as they put their arms around our children. They laugh with us at our poor falling-down selves and as we put ourselves back together once again at the table.
This table has been a house in the rain, an umbrella in the sun.
Wars have begun and ended at this table. It is a place to hide in the shadow of terror. A place to celebrate the terrible victory.
We have given birth on this table, and have prepared our parents for burial here.
At this table we sing with joy, with sorrow. We pray for suffering and remorse. We give thanks.
Perhaps the world will end at the kitchen table, while we are laughing and crying, eating of the last sweet bite.