My last post took a lot out of me. Reflection, whether focussed on the Self or on the world around us, can bring about growth and freedom, but it inevitably costs us something too; energetically, spiritually, emotionally, intellectually. And so it should. Because it means something. I do it because it’s one of the ways I can show up for myself and other people. But I am tired and stare blankly out my open window. The briskness of fall sweeps across my skin and I surrender to my internal clock and memory which send me back in time to my youth, when wide leg pants, silk button-down shirts, hoop earrings and dark-lipsticked mouths is the unwritten uniform at my secondary Scarbourough school.
The cafeteria is alive with sounds of music blaring, hair clippers buzzing, and students yacking, an often-intimidating moment of the day and yet I am in my element as I look outside at the cluster of students on the other side of the glass wall. This is where the smokers gather, where despite the contrast of our backgrounds and circles, we have a mutual respect for one another, a familiarity, an understanding. No matter what inevitable dramas or monotonies exist within the walls of our homes and hallways, we will always have comfort and inspiration outside these windowed walls.
I roam the halls, my unruly behaviour once again landing me outside the classroom for the day. It is meant to be a lesson or a way for the teacher to cope, but for me it is relief. Time alone is rare and I am desperate for it. With my desk outside, my mind and body can be still. Besides, I wonder what I’ve been missing out on while trapped inside the classroom walls. And so I walk.
I snap back to my present surroundings. The first day of school. My 7 year-old son and I wait for the crossing guard to let us know that it’s time to cross the street. I check for his mask, hand sanitizer, health check form, enough snacks for the extra-implemented recess pandemic measures, and the rest of the usual supplies. Like any parent of a young child today, I am unsure of what the days and months ahead have in store. As doubt creeps in about our decision to send him back, I remind myself of the euphoria and comfort of finding your people. Connectivity in an often-troubling world can be medicine, especially now after so much isolation, uncertainty and unrest. And I want my child to understand the value of it.
We have been craving stability for him. In northern B.C., where we’d been living and creating work for the past 5 years, we’d begun to find a sense of it. While were on the other side of the country and what often seemed like a world away from our Toronto families, we had our surrogate B.C. families on whom we came to depend and with whom we now experienced life.
Two years ago we were getting excited for our son’s rite of passage into Senior Kindergarten. There is no JK in B.C. so this would be the first time our son would have the routine of school. Ten days before it was set to begin, in August 2018, I was diagnosed with Advanced Breast Cancer. While I touched upon this in my last post The Ongoing Attempt, it deserves and demands its own space, and I will be digging into this more next week. I mention it now to help paint the picture leading up to the current 2020 school year: we had spent two years experiencing more crisis than I’d ever known, I was in intensive treatment, moving back home to Toronto for three surgeries and to finish treatment and my little boy ended up missing most of his SK year while we were living between provinces. In 2019, his Grade One year started off brilliantly, but then came the strike and of course, the beginning of the global pandemic. Home schooling, while exhausting, was a very precious time for us; in a way I felt as though we were gaining back the time we’d lost while I was in treatment, but for this 2020 Grade Two school year, when given the option, we felt that any amount of school for him, any amount of certainty was a gift that we anxiously but happily accepted.
And I should know better. After all, things can and will change at any moment and relying too much on certainty and control, as I also spoke about in my last post, can make life unnecessarily taxing. So, as we sent him off to school with the hopes of a few normal, stable, uneventful weeks, I shouldn’t have been surprised when later that day, his teacher was sent home without explanation and that for the next two weeks, in his place, would be a new teacher every day. But these are small things, manageable things. And when I watched his classmates hiding behind their parents in line, full of anxiety, I looked over at my son, calm and relaxed from the resilience he’d gained watching his mother fight for her life and I felt relief and gratitude. He was armed with experience, compassion, curiosity and love, ready to receive the gifts of a relatively normal day at school, namely, the connectivity with his teachers and peers.
But there is so much on the table, the pandemic being just one part of it; the part that has given the world the time and space to take in and confront what is happening everywhere. I think back to our years in remote northern B.C. where time and space afforded us the luxury of slowing down to take in a world we’d only heard stories about. It allowed us to deepen our understanding of Canada’s history in a visceral way because in this remote part of the country, we were surrounded by the people most affected by it. And now, like the children returning to school, eager, open and unashamed to acknowledge their need to grow and learn, we have all been given the chance to confront and deepen our own understanding of the world of which we are a part.
It’s a difficult thing to realize that no matter how well-meaning or empathetic or thoughtful or aware we may be, we all have blind spots, things we cannot possibly understand without having lived them. Violet Sutherland, a gender, diversity and inclusion consultant, speaks about this with brilliant insight and compassion in her teachings. The list of resources we can turn to grows longer everyday. And while I feel so much disappointment in myself when I learn I am still missing more parts of the picture than I realized because it isn’t my lived experience, I take comfort because I know that this is part of being human.
I remember how much smiling and burying of feelings I did while I was battling cancer. Not because people weren’t compassionate, but because I knew they didn’t, couldn’t understand what I was facing and it was too exhausting trying to make people understand my lived experience; exhausting for me, exhausting for them. And so I buried it until my next breaking point, distracting myself with tasks and learning how to shift my mindset (something else I’ll be tackling in my next post), because my reality was not going to change, at least not in the near future. But the hope that it would change, that it would get better was what allowed me to keep moving forward. And when I broke and couldn’t find the resources within myself, it was connecting to people that gave me new energy and restored hope. And I was often surprised by the people with whom I found this connection.
When I think about where we are today, what is on the table, the enormous work that still needs to be done, there’s no question that we all need to do and be more so that things can be better. No one can sit this one out. Too much is at stake, too much has been lost already and too much has been invested. No one can be everything for everyone all the time. But if we can all move past our own shame and ego and comfort and be actively decent towards each other, life will become easier for us all.
It has been difficult to navigate this time of rest vs. unrest. Not knowing what to do. The overwhelm of it all. And we are all changing all the time. There is nothing about us that can stay the same no matter how much we wish we could. So maybe we just need to embrace that. There are so many resources and so much guidance available to us if we could just open ourselves up and listen. And take things in. Humbly. Gently. We all have such different lived experiences and that is the amazing thing. We can draw on each other, draw from each other. And keep finding the things that connect us.
As we pass the crossing guard on the way to school, we wave and say “good morning” as if life is somehow normal. He smiles and waves back, our soon-to-be daily ritual. My son runs off, slightly ahead of me, smiling as he sees his friends. As the wind blows gently and the briskness of fall once again brushes across my skin, the crossing guard and I exchange our own smile, the connection between us solidified. Because in that moment of reaching out to one another, despite the individual lived experiences that brought us here today, we are now part of each other’s stories. We share a connection, an understanding and a hope that the world will somehow move forward towards better.
*This week’s recommended resource: The weekly videos of Janaya Khan (available on Instagram at Janaya the Future or live every Sunday on IGTV). These have been incredibly helpful for me in processing and disseminating all that is on the table. Thank you, Antonio Cayonne for introducing me to them, and for your generous spirit.
This week’s donation recommendation: AWO TAAN HEALING LODGE
Lauren Brotman is an award-winning actor, creator and artist educator. Her company, Bound to Create (B2C), founded by Lauren and her husband Jack in 2004, is keenly interested in the beauty, boldness, and truth born from confronting the challenges that face the human spirit telling stories for the stage, recently expanding productions to film and television as well. Lauren is a mother, wife and recent Breast Cancer Survivor. For more about Lauren’s work, please visit www.boundtocreate.com. You can find her on IG @laurenrachelbrotman, you can find her company on Twitter and IG @boundtocreate and you can follow her upcoming film project on IG @ellesvalleyfilm.
(Photo credit: LV Imagery)