Hugging Meditation

For those who live alone, with nary a human about, can you remember the last five people you touched? On March 12th, I went to see Hamilton in Toronto at Mirvish with my daughter. Things had not yet shut down; in fact, this turned out to be the second last performance of Hamilton in Toronto. We knew the virus was coming, but I wasn’t carrying hand-sanitizer yet.

We ran into hometown friends while we were there. Did I hug them? Or was my caution level high enough not to – we saw them in the evening after a long day of hanging out on the York campus watching news reports roll in. If I did hug them, it was so casual and automatic that I don’t even remember if it happened. How could I be so complacent about this now rare commodity – hugs?

I hugged my daughter, certainly. I don’t recall that hug specifically but I can’t see spending all day with my daughter and not hugging her. Surely I did.

A friend of mine had stayed at my house to take care of my new puppy while I was in the city. I got home at 1AM so he stayed over on the couch. Seeing as how isolation was in place overnight, and given that I had a cough so if I was sick, he was already exposed – I suggested he stay for a few days. He left on March 17th and I haven’t touched a human since.

Who are the last five people I hugged? My dog-sitting friend. My daughter. Maybe a couple from our hometown? A friend who visited the Saturday before this prolonged intermission?

I don’t remember when I last hugged my son. That hurts.

There are a lot of motivational posters and greeting cards extolling the advice “Live Each Day As If It Is Your Last.” Many of us are more keenly aware of the fragility and impermanence of life now. For over three thousand Canadians that last day was written by COVID-19. How many of their loved ones are sitting in their isolation, pained because in addition to their grief, they cannot remember when they last hugged the departed?

My motivational poster for the After will be “Give each hug as if it is your last.” I want to be present for the hugs of the After. I want to remember them. Thich Nhat Hanh, the Zen Buddhist monk, teaches a practice called “Hugging Meditation“. Though it’s going to be awkward for my friends and family, these hugs include being “aware of how precious it is that you are both still alive.”

Who are the last five people you remember hugging?

Who will be the next five people you hug?

Memory Book

Tonight we are gathering in Midland in memory of my Mother. It occurred to me recently that I would need photos of her, as well as a Memory Book for people to write in.

She didn’t want a service and insisted that if we do anything, it was to be small. She didn’t want people to make a fuss about her. But she also did not like to be overlooked or ignored. It’s a fine line to walk.

So we’re seeing a play in her honour at our community theatre home, Huronia Players. We’ll toast her with red wine – truly her poison, as it killed her in the end.

It’ll be nice to see people and to hear stories but it’s also bittersweet, fraught, too tangled to be parsed in a short blog post.

In any case, two days ago I went through all my photos to find ones she would deem acceptable to put on display. I could hear her denigrating herself “I’m too fat in that one, too old, too stern” and her pride “Yes, that one, it shows off my ankles.” When illness made her ankles swell, she mourned them.

So many photos – up until digital cameras and Facebook. Photos of friends from two decades ago, and some of those friends we will see tonight. Some people in the photos are dead, some have moved out of our lives, some I can’t recall who they are. Photos of my mom with her ex-lovers, and photos of me with mine. I can hear my kids on some unknown future day “Oh, nice shot of mom, too bad he’s in it,” when they look for images to put on display for my memorial.

The older you get, the more every experience loops back to past experiences until every present moment has echoes and somehow the process loops forwards as well and every death forecasts our own.

Gathering moss

Sitting at McCabe’s waiting on Improv friends. It’s $8 beef dip, baby. Where’s the beef? Here, dripping hot and cheap like ya like it.

This blog post has no purpose apart from to ooomph me some momentum. I’m talking to real people a bunch now and the voices in my head are getting antsy.

How would the rolling stone translate? A scribbling writer gathers no… tedious inertia? I dunno, that’s awful, tell me what it should be. But the point is if I’m blogging then I’m more likely to post but when I stop for a week, like if I’m unexpectedly slammed by jetlag and wander about concussed for a week, then I don’t blog. I write “blog” on my to-do list and then I don’t ever scratch it off and I feel guilty and like I’m unworthy and all those thoughts that were dealt with in therapy, weren’t they?

OK the first friend is here for our pre Theatre on the Edge beef dips!

Blog, crossed off!

Comforts

That’s the food court at this local mall. There’s free wifi. There’s a McDonald’s but also a Sabadores do Porto. I’m eating Indian because I’ve been craving it since not having it in England. With beer, because it’s a food court that has beer.

I was freezing earlier because it’s raining and cold and the apartment has no heat and my big cardigan got stolen. I was hungry and beyond frustrated over passwords and banking. I was concerned for what’s next. I was grumpy from so many causes that it seemed insurmountable. It was time to seek some comfort.

Walking to the mall while the rain took a break got me some exercise and got me to some heat – both needed comforts. Additionally I saw interesting things, like a Nutella cafe, and engaging curiosity always feels good. Bought a lovely and warm scarf, check, that was on my to do list. Love checking those items off! Next was food which was probably more of a need than a comfort. As a sidenote, I’ve mostly stopped feeling “hungry” anymore. It’s like my body clock has just given up. I discovered today that for some reason my phone didn’t switch over to Portugal time. I was an hour ahead for two days and it didn’t matter at all.

Lists and plans comfort me. I was fine for the last two months of floating around without a plan. It’s exhausting though, and expensive and inefficient. I want to travel for the rest of my life but not aimlessly nor non-stop. And preferably not always alone. The delights in life are heightened by sharing them. I’ll be looking for travel buddies. Don’t worry, I won’t be a stickler for the plan. Changing plans is just as good as having them.

It’s amazing how some warmth and some food can turn everything around. As the Desiderata cautions:

But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.”

I’m coughing and sniffling with a cold so I don’t want to go make friends today. I don’t have the energy to dance or make jokes or even ask very interesting questions. I’m grateful every day for social media and for my friends sending me love and encouragement. It helps get me through until my perspective returns.

Soon I need to find a warm hoodie to snuggle into at the apartment, take some cold meds when I get there and if the internet is back, watch some Netflix. Netflix and… warmth.

I’m home for December to have Christmas with my family and friends and to seek comfort during the first Christmas without visiting my mother.

Then I might hop in my car and brave the United States, if it’s still there. If the vote today doesn’t make things worse. That’d be the bravest adventure yet! If my son can do it then so can I! Although, last we heard he was snowed in at a mountain village. But having a great time! Though entirely without a plan. But with his good friend! I wonder maybe instead of trying to decide if a situation is overall good or not, it’s best to just decide it’s good and then strive to make it even better. Yes. That decides it. I’ll look for a hot chocolate place on the walk home.

Oh Honourable Thief

I resolved last night to accept that my things were gone. I cancelled my bank cards, changed pertinent passwords, got new hostel keys, and activated the lost iPad locking. I spent a bit of time feeling violated and fearful, then I went out to MAD About You improv in English. They have two guests per show who they interview and the answers become the offers to create the improv – one per half. I was selected and so I told the room about my backpack being stolen. It’s always good to talk these things out! It was the Hallowe’en show so the questions centred mostly around fear. To a question about nightmares I answered “I recently had a nightmare where I disappointed some important people in my life terribly and I woke up crying.” I love how theatre = therapy. The show was really excellent and the players were great people.

In the morning I got a message that the police had found my credit cards, driver’s license, and hostel keys! They had been left out and a citizen had returned them – I think the thief wasn’t going to sell or use them and wanted them to be returned to me. Jorge of the Lindyhoppers said petty thieves will never use the cards for fear of being tracked and are too unsophisticated for fraud. Unsophisticated but also thoughtful to leave them out to be returned. I wasn’t sure how to get back to the police station so I looked at Google Maps to see if it keeps a running record of everywhere I’ve been and it does, of course. So Maps took me back to the policia and on the way I got to thinking how I can recreate most of my journal from the Cloud. Google knows every restaurant I’ve eaten at, every place I’ve lingered and wandered. Every photo I’ve taken is somewhere on Samsung and Google. I’ve sent emails and Messenger messages and texts and WhatApp notes and I’ve posted on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram. Really everything I’ve experienced is somehow documented on the Cloud. And so I came to terms with the loss of the journal.

That combined with the sunshine and the return of all my ID and my hostel keys made me so much lighter. My natural state is one of general joy with bursts of excitement. I had forgotten that fact until I returned to it after quitting the bank. I was so excited about the future! Then my Mom’s illness became more demanding and then, of course, she died. And the joy was gone, it was all grey and really I went to the UK because I was afraid if I didn’t do something rash I would wake up and find that I’d gone back to the bank and that twenty years had passed.

Somehow in struggling with the loss of all these things, I’ve found my way back to the joy. During this trip I’ve mostly been happy. Engaged, interested and on occasion excited and deeply contented with highlights of joy. There has been so very much beauty and I’ve been often moved, at times to tears. Walking along the street today I was able to be “in the moment”: joyful, excited about the future, and thrilled by the moment. It was good to be back.

I bought a little notebook that I really like and will carry in my new hip bag that prevents me from having to put my stuff down when I dance. Long journal entries I can do at home: the notebook is for jotting down things like “the cashier says Luton is not England… not anymore” but also things like the list of what to bring the NEXT time I’m on a red-eye flight.

Late this afternoon, I got a Twitter message from a new Jorge saying he thought he had found my journal! The photocopy of my passport was still in it and he used it to find me on Twitter. We made plans to meet up at a bar called “Oh My Game” – like a Canadian games cafe. I felt a bit nervous of course, so I used the Messenger location-sharing feature to share my whereabouts with an actress from the improv group and apprised her of my plan. There was no need for concern though – Jorge #2 was a pleasant young man who was out playing games and drinking beer with his friends. He had found the journal discarded in a public area.

The other items I’m sure are now being sold and I’m quite fine with that. The robber identified the items I most required back and left them to be found. I’m grateful to this honourable thief for the lesson, and for not making it sting too badly.

And I’m grateful for the dancers, actors and gamers who are out there being good souls. And for my many friends who sent me messages of love and support. All these people make this a world where joy is possible.