Life is nuanced and random. Today, I dressed up as a fairy with fluorescent green hair, I made my toddler cry before picture day by shooting saline spray up her nose, and my husband is flying home. At 11:05 a.m. exactly, I got my first manuscript rejection and that filled me with hope. Yesterday, I lifted weights in a gym; one of the weights fell off but no one was hurt. I saw a man pushing a young girl with purple hair in a grocery cart curse another man out, and when I asked him if he was okay, he said no, he wasn’t, then he told me why. I bought a denim jacket. I received a loaf of bread. Ariel screamed, “SHE NEVER LISTENS!” I looked at the kale in my grocery cart and I thought, there’s only one way to eat kale.
Taken at random, these events I’ve described on their own don’t make a whole lot of sense, but when you add story to these points of intrigue, you add dimension and layers of meaning. You add heart. Sit with me a while, gather round the fire, let me tell you what happened.
Kale seems like the most logical place to start.
Yesterday was a workday for me, meaning no kids, and it also happens to be the day I lift weights at the gym first thing. I was loathe to have to pick up groceries after the gym and cut that much into my work day, but after school Ariel had Taekwondo and I wouldn’t have the time or energy for a full grocery shop with all the girls in tow – and with Dan away – it was simpler to go after the gym. At the end of my weight class, after sixty minutes of exerting myself and conditioning every muscle group in my body and flinging that bar around, as I walked back to put my weights away the clip quit and the weight suddenly slipped off, all casual, like it wouldn’t have bashed in my face had I been doing bench presses. I took this as a sign to keep my eyes open.
From the gym, I strolled up the hill and over to grab a few supplies from Dollarama for my writer’s retreat this weekend. On my way out of Dollarama, I saw a man, yelling at another man, pushing a grocery cart. He was furious and I saw the small child in his cart with the purple hair and something in my heart pulled at me to speak to him.
“Are you okay?”
“No, I’m not!” then he went on the long diatribe that followed:
“My daughter here has been at Sick Kids for seven and a half years. Cancer. See, she’s got her bags and everything,” the girl looks up at me with sad eyes. I see she isn’t so little; she’s only made herself small. The man continues.
“That van blocked the only entrance ramp where I could get up onto the sidewalk with my daughter and when I told the guy she has cancer, he said he didn’t care!”
The man is shaking. I tell him I am sorry for his trouble and smile at his lovely daughter. He has been heard and I can see I have helped him to calm down by some small measure in listening. His breathing is returning to normal as I leave them. I wish them well.
I drive to the grocery store and shop as fast as I can. Afterwards, I arrive home and put my car into park as the girl’s piano teacher pulls in beside me with a loaf of bread her husband baked for me. The bread is a thank you for editing and making suggestions on a piece of his writing. In the scope of the universe, this act of kindness, the baking of the bread, may very well have cancelled out the wrongdoings of the man in the van who said he didn’t care about a little girl with cancer. I am overjoyed by this token of gratitude. In an email, the piano teacher’s husband wrote to thank me, “I like to pay people in bread.” He is a musician as well, a drummer, and he comes from a long line of Italian bakers. As a maker of a variety of art, he comes by his gifts honestly. The dough rose for eighteen hours before he baked it to perfection. Later, the girls and I enjoy slices of this magnificent fresh loaf as a bedtime snack. I slather on butter and strawberry jam and watch Elyse devour her slice. Kindness reverberates; there was more than enough bread leftover to find its way to my lunch plate the next day and probably the day after that, too. With kindness there is somewhere to go, and kindness means to go on.
I write all afternoon, but not on the piece I planned to work on. After an enlightening phone call with a friend, I end up working on her suggested edits to a piece I’m submitting to a magazine. I would I were a bread maker for her sake. I later text her to thank her for lighting my brain on fire. I pick the girls up from school, and while I’m making them a snack, utilizing the new groceries, I ask Ariel, eight years old, to please walk Oreo who is begging to go out. As I chop strawberries, I hear Ariel’s impatience mounting in the inflection of her voice, the rising whine. She calls to Oreo with no success. She melts down. In a pouty voice, yelling to no one in particular, she screams “SHE NEVER LISTENS!” referring to our deaf dog, which I think, makes the scenario funny. Oreo is fourteen years old and going blind and deaf. I remind Ariel she has to walk up the stairs to get her and to show some compassion.
I load the girls in the car for Ariel’s Taekwondo lesson and make the decision then and there that I have been coveting a denim jacket for long enough. I would make the drive to the outlet mall in the time between Ariel’s forty-five-minute class, buy a denim jacket with two young kids in tow, and get back in time to pick Ariel up. The mall scene could have gone down two ways. The girls could decide to cooperate, or they could make my life a living hell. Magically, they cooperate. Penelope sits contentedly barefooted in her stroller. Elyse runs through the mall shouting, “We’re at the mall! We’re at the mall!” She’s elated and joyful and when I miss the store and we have to walk through the entire massive outdoor mall and then double back, she doesn’t even mind or act tired. This is a huge win. And score, I find the perfect denim jacket.
On my way leaving the mall, I check the time. Exactly fifteen minutes to get back to Ariel at taekwondo lessons. I text my husband and tell him what I just did, “I am A-FUCKING-MAZING!” I brag of my feats, as we jokingly like to do. I miss him. It feels like he’s been gone for weeks. Subsequently, I am six minutes late picking up Ariel, but damn, my denim jacket looks good.
But we’ve gotten this far, if, you’ve gotten this far, and you might be wondering, yeah, but what about the kale?
With a full cart of groceries paid for, as I made my way out of the grocery store earlier in the day, I looked down at my bursting bins of produce and product and it was the kale that caught my eye. Innocuous enough, perhaps, but when I looked at that kale, it dawned on me that other people might notice the kale in my cart, as some have before, and they might wonder what I do with it? Raw kale is unappealing, as it’s quite bitter-tasting and coarse on its own, so you have to dress it up in some way. I’ve tried kale as a dessert, as a baked chip, sautéed and as the base of a salad, and in that moment pushing my cart, I knew the truth as it stood for me, there’s only one way to eat kale. There’s only one way to eat kale, and that is the way that my family chooses to eat it every morning, blended in a smoothie. Then I thought, well, isn’t that just an analogy for life? What one person does with kale is not the same as what another person would do, and it’s just the same with the moments and events and choices in our lives. We each make our own decisions, but there’s only one right way for you to do things, and that’s the way that you choose for yourself. How I like my kale may not be the way you like your kale, heck, you may not like kale at all! But it’s the only way for me. I liked that thought. That there are right ways for each of us. There are right ways for each of us, and room for each of our right ways. And it occurred to me, I’m going to write about that.
You’re still here? Oh okay, I’ll tell you the story of the green fairy princess. It’s me, this morning. I dress up, wearing a neon green wig and a forest green dress with green socks and green fairy wings to celebrate French culture and language in Ontario at my daughters’ school. I call myself La Fée de la Francophonie, which I like to translate as The French Fairy. The students dress in green and white and walk around the block in honour of Terry Fox, combining two events into one. The garbage man looks twice and laughs as I pass him by. A mother pushing a stroller exclaims “Look! It’s a fairy!” to her baby. When I arrive at the school, the children stare at me in disbelief. Smiles creep across their faces.
I had to give Penelope’s nose a saline spray because she’s been coughing, and I want to whisk away any bad germs before our big trip coming up in TWO WEEKS.
I walked home through the streets, dressed as a fairy, feeling full and humbled by my time with the girls at the school. I decided to check my phone and that is when I saw the subject line with the title of my book. I raced home, tore off my wig and wings and settled myself on our steps. I knew the email would be a rejection. I figured the publisher who accepts my manuscript might give me a call. But I didn’t yet know the nature of the rejection. This editor held my timid little heart in their hand. The rejection was a boon; I was bolstered by their words detailing my writing as accurate, vivid and “quite reader friendly”. They liked my book; they just didn’t have a spot for it on their roster at the moment. I was told to check back. I could not have asked for a better rejection and was filled with hope.
The story of the rejection letter is kind of like the story of the kale. There is only one right way and that is the way that you are doing it. This rejection is part of my path, and though not everyone may choose to see it that way, forward is the way I choose. For that man and his daughter and for anyone else out there who needs it: I choose hope.