Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Wrinked Memories

Wrinkled Memories
By: Gisèle Thériault
I could write about the time I stood on the upper deck of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, looking down to see Paris from a bird’s eye view; I could write about the time I swam in the Blue Lagoon in Iceland while snow lazily fell from the skies above me…but I won’t. Sure, those were all great events that constitute the great event I call my Life, but there is one memory that stands out, one memory that, no matter what, always brings a sincere smile to my face. My grandfather opening up his gifts at Christmas.

Why am I writing about this particular occasion? Well, the other day I was in a reflective mood. I was thinking about life in general, really. And about death, how really strange the whole concept is. Thoughts about family members that have passed away began to surface. This is when I realized that when I think of them, I usually remember just a few particular memories of them. Always the same ones. And that got me thinking, you know? Why is it always the same memory? What does this mean? Does this tell me something about myself? This is why I’m writing. Because I have too many questions and not enough answers. Let’s go.

When someone dies, we no doubt reflect upon their lives, but I think even more significantly, we rethink our own lives, our current situations. Am I doing what I love? Do I have a dream? Hmm… I really should get a dog before it’s too late…go to Las Vegas, even if I don’t gamble.

So, what then is the big deal about opening up a gift anyway? What does it have to do with anything? Personally, I hate it when everyone stares as I open up my gifts… I mean, what if I really don’t like the gift? If the gift-giver is present, do I pretend to like it? But that’s lying. Plus, some people seem to have an obsession with using rolls and rolls of scotch tape. It takes you twice as long to open up the gifts. And don’t get me started on wrapping paper.  You can get all kinds of wrapping paper, if you want to pay. You can wrap up a pair of slippers in shiny red paper, you can wrap up a frying pan with Donald Duck paper. The madness of it all! Before I go absolutely crazy complaining about how materialistic our holidays have become, I’ll admit something. Sure - I like watching people opening up their gifts. Most of all, I love watching their expressions.

Why?? What’s this fascination about?

Every year, on Christmas Eve, my family would drive to Grandma’s house. It’s only a five minute drive. I always thought that it took forever. You know when you’re young, and you get in a car, you’d like to arrive at your destination right away? How many times did I wish that I had a time-travelling machine? A lot. I still do. I didn’t want to go back in time though. I always wanted to go into the future; I’d heard from my older cousins that when you reached a certain age, you could go out with your friends whenever you wanted…no curfew. I liked that idea, an idea of freedom. It’s ironic how I now want to go back in time. I’m afraid of growing old, afraid of not having lived enough. To have lived enough…does that make sense? I’m alive everyday, that I know of anyway. Therefore don’t I live enough by being simply alive? I guess what I meant was that I’m afraid to have gone through life by merely floating from one responsibility to the next, forgetting to appreciate the smell of a rose or the look on a birthday girl’s face when the cake is placed in front of her. That kind of living.

After slipping on my Sunday dress and my shiny black shoes, we’d drive up the road that took us deeper into the woods and further away from the cold ocean. The road was always rough, had been rough for years. The other day I saw they were finally fixing it, taking away the old and bringing in the new. But going back, I remember thinking that there’s always so much more snow in the woods. The salty air doesn’t get this far up and sadly melt away the snow. I always thought that Christmas was more present there, in the woods. For me, snow was essential to Christmas. The Image of Christmas, almost like a Hallmark card, really. The fireplace roaring, cookies baking, radio playing Christmas songs by Bing Crosby and Perry Como, people wearing festive sweaters, and fluffy snowflakes floating down, a special gift just for me.

On the drive up, I always sat in back with my sister. And, as on ordinary drives, I could never see outside, through the window. I was too short. I’d put my head back in hopes of stealing a peek at what was going on outside our moving car, but to no avail. Looking from the outside, most likely you would’ve seen a small nose peeking out at the lower edge of the window. A small fog-cloud forming on the surface of the window, a result of my warm breath against the glass. (Sometimes I’d draw little pictures in that mist, usually a heart). Nevertheless, I always knew when we were close to the house because of the two trees looming in the distance. These trees, maple trees maybe, standing on opposite sides of the road, towering over the road, almost like a bridge. Or like two lovers forever separated by the street. And, the limbs of these trees, entangled together in a big jumble of a mess, would create the outline of a goldfish. We were near when I saw my fish.
My grandmother always had a few Christmas gifts waiting for us at her house. I thought they were from Santa. My mother told me Santa would stop there early on Christmas Eve because they were old people and had to go to bed early. Boy was I ever a sucker. Now that I think of it, it’s as though my entire childhood was a big, fabricated lie; Santa, the Tooth Fairy…you know what I’m talking about. So we’d finally get to the house. Walking through their front door, I could usually smell lobster in the air. That’s what they ate every Christmas Eve. I personally didn’t like lobster at that time, I much preferred Kraft Dinner. And Kraft Dinner was cheaper too. Still is.
It’s strange how potent the sense of smell is, how it lives in your memory, makes a home sweet home there and usually stays until you die. Helen Keller said: “Smell is a potent wizard that transports you across thousands of miles and all the years you have lived.”  My grandmother’s house was very old, a century old at least. And I remember that it had that “old smell”…not old as in rotten, but old as in “lived in”. Years later, after both of my grandparents had passed away, we returned to the house to sift through their things, clean up (my grandmother was a serious, professional pack rat) … There was still an old smell but it wasn’t the same. And there was no smell of my grandma’s cooking anymore…only the smell of an old, empty house. No living souls in there anymore. No grandma knitting, no grandpa sitting in his chair, petting the lazy, purring cat. Empty.

Walking through the kitchen, whose walls were covered with badly framed pictures of Jesus and of Saints….oh, and of the Pope, towards the living room, I couldn’t wait to see Pierre, my grandfather. It was like a déjà-vue that wasn’t actually a déjà-vue, every time. He was always sitting in his chair. I’ll never forget that chair. It was an old chair, from before the whole Lazy Boy reclining chairs phenomena. Just a good, comfy chair. There was always a grey, wool cloth draped over it, probably to hide its real ugliness. So Pierre would be sitting there, his feet perched on his foot stool, an old leather one that had a few holes in it, the stuffing slowly escaping its cramped quarters. I would’ve thrown it away, but to him, it was still good. Did the job. He always had the same brown leather slippers on, and you could always see his socks peeking at the ankle; grey wool socks with a red and white stripe at the top. My grandmother had knitted them for him. No doubt he had a dozen pair of the same colors.
It was quite a sight to see my little Pierre sitting in that chair; he was a tiny, old man. He didn’t have much hair left, just a few little whitish hairs here and there, almost unnoticeable. Almost like a Homer Simpson hairdo. He had big glasses that seemed to take over his face; usually he would wear false teeth, but sometimes, on Christmas Eve, he wouldn’t wear them, take a break from them. Who needs teeth when you’re not eating anyway? So you can imagine that when he’d look at you and smile, that great big grin of his that would light up his eyes, it was a wonderful site to see. It was the most generous, warm smile. Genuine.
Better than any Hollywood made-up smile.

I didn’t know then that it was that smile that would help me mourn through his death quite a few years later.

Now, he also usually had a plaid shirt on, and his pants were always held up by suspenders. I thought that was the cutest thing ever. He was so thin that his clothes seemed to float on him.
I would watch him slowly unwrap his Christmas gifts; he always seemed to adore his gifts, as though they were the best things he’d ever received. You could hear the gratitude in his voice. I wouldn’t even be thinking of my gifts that I was supposed to open, not thinkin’ about it at all. The best gift of all that night? (Be prepared for a sappy answer) My grandfather’s happiness. His happiness was also mine. Perhaps I learned then, at such a young age, that the quote by Margaret Storm Jameson: "Happiness comes of the capacity to feel deeply, to enjoy simply, to think freely, to risk life, to be needed." was true… I always felt proud in his presence. I felt that he appreciated me, needed me. Fact is, I needed him.

I saw him, Pierre, not long before he passed away, literally just a few hours. Sometimes I regret having gone to the old folk’s home. I remember walking to his room, feeling absolutely helpless, like I was a little girl once more. I could feel my heart thumping. I’ll never forget what I saw when I walked into that room, the feeling that overwhelmed me. There he was, my grandfather, Pierre. But it wasn’t him, not really. He was barely conscious of the world around him. He didn’t look peaceful. I hated that. I wanted him to be at peace, yet I wasn’t ready to let him go. Perhaps I was selfish. Perhaps I didn’t want to face another day without seeing his smile, the way it lit up his eyes and made his face wrinkle up. I wanted to have just one more Christmas with him, to watch him unwrap his gift, sitting in his old, raggedy chair.

I should clear something up, before I continue. Pierre wasn’t really my real grandfather; he was my great-uncle, my grandmother’s brother. My real grandfather, Michel, was killed when my father was only 6 months old, therefore I never got to know him. When I was very young and didn’t quite understand the concept of death, I believed Pierre was indeed my grandfather. Naturally, because he did live in the same house as my grandmother. It made sense. After my real grandfather was killed, my grandmother never re-married, kept her wedding ring on until she passed away. Pierre never married once in his life, remained a bachelor. So they stayed in the same house. But in my heart he was my grandfather, even when I realized what the truth was.
Most of all I remember Pierre’s wrinkled face. Yeah, I realize that wrinkles = old age. But to me, it doesn’t signify that you’re less of a person. There’s a certain sweetness to them. Sure, I’ve seen pictures of him when he was my age, a handsome young fella. Youthful. Health. All his hair. But I remember the wrinkled, 100 year-old Pierre. Wise with age. Maybe what I want to believe in is wrinkled memories…I don’t want to be old but I want depth in my life. I want a handful of memories which will show that I have loved and been loved. The American poet Samuel Ullman said:

Now, isn’t it a little crazy how we value material objects? I love my clothes, my books, my cd’s. But none of them can ever give me the joy I get when I remember, so clearly, Pierre. When I actually have the time to sit and think, I always come to the realization that, when everything is said and done, all we have left is memories. Simple.
Simple is good.
I was thinking about all this last Christmas; and now, it’s not the same. Not the same kind of Christmas. Much of all that magic is gone, even if I want it all back. Christmas is no longer a spiritual holiday. It’s just a good time of the year for businesses. It does make me sad. But I can’t do anything about it. One day, I’ll have a family of my own, and I just hope that my kids will feel that magic, that feeling that makes you think that your entire lifetime will be full of joy. Eat candy when you want. Watch cartoons when you want. Have your grandparents around all your life. Have them hug you when you’re sad, when you’re big sister’s picking on you. Be able to feel complete joy at watching an old man open up a gift. Those are the simple things that make up life. Once you realize that the little things in life are indeed the finest, you will better understand who you are. Then you will lead a more complete life, and have the satisfaction that you’ve not missed out. Sure, through life we miss out on a lot. I haven’t seen Bob Dylan in concert yet, and I haven’t climbed Mount Everest, nor do I plan to. But my point is that I have people in my surroundings that I love, and because I take the time to absorb their memories means that they’ll stay with me as long as I live, which means, to me, that my life is, and will be, complete. The American pianist Oscar Levant said:
So true. I couldn’t have said it better. In fact, it’s taken me an entire essay to say this.

Memories. Not concrete. Yet so powerful. Memories are but thoughts. I have a million different thoughts, make decisions with those thoughts.  Pierre still teaches me today, helps me to see what I should do. His memory keeps him alive, and keeps my spirit going.

Now Pierre’s tombstone lies stone-cold in the Meteghan cemetery, some moss finding a home at the base of the rock. The rock that spells out his name, birth date, and date of death.
Cycle of Life.
I visit occasionally. I bring flowers. That’s what you have to do, right? He lies next to my grandmother, next to his father, and next to my brother, who never lived long enough to know life’s many complications. Cemeteries don’t freak me out. It’s part of life. I crouch down in front of the tombstone and I can see Pierre, in his old chair, rocking back and forth.
I can hear his voice so clearly when I think of him, hear it perfectly. I can’t describe his voice to you. But his voice still exists with me. Why can I still hear him? Did he have that much of an impact? Yes. I’m not saying he was an angel on earth. When he was my age, I’m told he was known to be a drinker and had many a party. Is this why I relate? Imperfect yet good at heart.
Was I impressed by Pierre merely because of his age? I’ve always been fascinated with history; so was I fascinated by the fact that he’d seen a lot of things? He’d lived in a time much different than mine…could this explain anything? Maybe.

When it’s my time to go, I don’t want it to be totally sad. Sure, I secretly hope people might cry, and talk about how much I’ll be missed. We’re all selfish like that. But I hope that right before I die, I will have gleefully sat in my own rocking chair, being happy about the hundred years that I have lived and proud of every wrinkle on my face.
When I leave this world, I hope to leave my own legacy of smiling grandchildren who will find their very own goldfish trees in life. 

Thank you, Pierre, for unknowingly sprinkling my life with your wisdom, your jokes, and your toothless grins.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

It's good to be insane: let me inspire you ... (with a little help from Einstein)

A little inspiration post from yours truly, the Canadian G.

9 days ago I started the Insanity Workout Program. It's precisely that, no BS; it's insane.

Insanity is Albert Einstein

Let me explain. We've all heard his famous quote concerning insanity: "Insanity is doing the same thing, over and over again, but expecting different results."
But let me shed some more light on my interpretation.

About 5 minutes into doing this Insanity workout, I start to think to myself: "Am I insane for doing this? I must be insane for doing this. I am about to die". About 10 minutes in, I'm almost drowning in the gigantic droplets of sweat rolling off my forehead as I hurl my body up and down and sideways, grunting, and yelling and swearing at the instructor on the laptop screen. (sexy, n'est-ce-pas?)

Why? Why?! The Insanity!!

... 45 minutes later, I lift up my head after the cool down, heart starting to beat slower (descending from a Ferrari engine rate to a BMW engine rate, approx.), feeling extremely tired but extremely proud that I pushed through it all, once again.
Then, I look in the mirror - I am Albert Einstein.
No, really.
I have a slightly crazed look, sometimes my tongue is hanging out, and my hair is sticking out like his magnetic head of hair.
But I did it and I'll do it again tomorrow.

Accomplishments come in many forms. This isn't about working out, about looking great. It's about proving to myself that I can do something that I once thought impossible. We often convince ourselves that we're not good enough, and we never end up trying. In the end, it is far better to have tried then to regret a million things not tried. Our egos get in the way. We need to change the way we think so that possibilities become endless.

           Our life is shaped by our mind; we become what we think. Suffering follows an evil thought as 
           the wheels of a cart follow the oxen that draws it. Our life is shaped by our mind; we become 
           what we think. Joy follows a pure thought like a shadow that never leaves.           - The Buddha

But here's where Einstein is slightly wrong : I keep doing this workout over and over, and the reason I expect a different result is because that is what I am getting - strength, self-confidence, and a new kick-ass attitude. Yeah Yuh!

I'm very happy to be insane.

Yours Truly,
The Canadian GT .. yeah.

             And now, Einstein on a bicycle.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Mickey, you are...


People should never just vanish...

I address this to Mickey… but. it’s probably my way of dealing with this horrible situation. An attempt at understanding evil, understanding the impossible.

A Letter to the love shown by the people of Lafayette.
           A Letter to Mickey.

Dear Mickey, whom I’ve never met, I think about you all the time.
          I wonder if we’ve crossed paths in town before, at school perhaps? Or maybe on our bikes. What does this mean? Maybe nothing at all. Or perhaps all of this self-reflection that many of us have undoubtedly been feeling in the last couple weeks does mean something; maybe it means everything.  Maybe, just maybe, we’ll look at the people around us a little differently. Maybe we’ll pay more attention.

Dear Mickey, I see myself in you. I think you’ve captivated everyone for many reasons; there’s a purity that gleams in your eyes, an easy-kind-of-freedom that radiates from your smile.

You are our daughters and our best friends. You are the butterfly that tickles a little girl’s nose.

The fact is we’ve all grown throughout this ordeal. We’ve learned about ourselves, about the precariousness of life. Maybe most importantly, we’ve learned to grow as a community.

I close my eyes and I send you my love, wherever you are, Mickey.

Love, me.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Kisatchie National Forest, LA : a weekend of lessons

I finally got to go camping in Louisiana, during Easter weekend at Kisatchie National Forest. Boasting more than 600 000 acres, this place was sure to tickle my camping fancy. There's not much I enjoy more than camping out in the wilderness. Forget the well laid-out campgrounds. I want to be in the middle of nowhere, where I can find myself once again. I want to hear the wind in the trees and the birds (and the bees). After a rough couple weeks of unexpected news (which is always followed by questions of: what do I want in life?, etc) this retreat was needed. Hikes, gourmet camp food, hot sun, bugs, and yes - the Easter bunny found me out here!

The trees never seem to sleep. They watch over us as we drift off into slumber. Although I was very tired as I lay curled up in a sleeping bag, my mind suddenly became very clear, and I knew I had to write.

The full moon was lighting up the sky and creating beautiful silhouettes for me 
throught the tent's netting:

The forest is a desert
whose silence makes
the crickets blare
symphonies of
And forces you to look into
the cold shadows
of your heart.

Tree limbs stretched
out above your head
Not judging you but
patiently showing
you what you're
to ignore.
The moon 
watches you
over you
It can teach you
more enlightening things
about yourself
Than the Sun ever could
Because when the moon arrives
at night,
It shuts off the lights of the World
and achingly shines
its spotlight on your
Earthly self.
There's nowhere to hide
in the Darkness.
April 8th 2012. GT. Kisatchie.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Doobie Brothers Road Trip.

I was sitting in the library, not at « work », but working on my thesis. Well, in all honesty I was looking at my screen thinking intelligent thoughts about Acadie, while listening to Classic Rock. The Doobie Brother’s “China Grove” came on my Itunes. (go ahead, play it)

My foot started to tap. I possibly did some subtle air-guitar playing. Nonetheless, it put me in a good mood, as it usually does. I was transported to my dream land, a land where my dreams come true and everything's nice. Ah yes. I imagined me taking the road trip I’ve been meaning to take, across America. Summertime. Windows down, classic rock blaring, sticking my hand out and feeling the pressure of the air in and under my hand. Stopping in interesting towns. Eating interesting food. Laughing uncontrollably with fatigue. Almost running out of gas a few times. Sleeping in a tent, and once, at a cheap motel because it was raining too damn hard.
Lots of coffee cups in the backseat.

All of this ignites the flame that lights up who I really am.
Here's a picture of my 2 great friends, when we took a road trip to New Orleans last year... the dream continues, but the dream is now. I'm going to make my dreams come true. (apologies for sounding so cliché. actually, I'm not sorry. I'm proud of my clichéness). Leave a comment. About anything that makes your foot tap, or about your dreams. Be sappy with me, my  friends. Peace ;)

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Afternoon Groceries on my bike.

The splendor of a warm afternoon rain unearthed the beauty in the misty air as I rode my bike to the grocery store.
Pedalling allows me to glide through the world. Freer than most folks stuck in their cars. I feel closer to the trees. I feel every little bump below me. I hear things I'd never heard.
Time is no longer measured by anxious small moments that have deadlines so near you can taste them. Heart pounding and short breaths.
Time is measured by the endless possibility of tomorrow and of the upcoming year. Life is eternal. As long as you feel its Energy. The heart smiles and you breathe fully.
A little girl with hair so blond in a car with her mom stopped at the corner where I was waiting to cross. She was probably 12. Her shy gaze looked up at me, down at her lap, and back up at me. I smiled. She smiled back.
She was me at that age.

A glance in a mirror. 
What have I accomplished in 15 years? What have I endured?
I remembered who I was then, a girl that wanted to save the rainforests, play with monkeys. I was going to change the world. And by night I was a ninja.
Possibilities. Growing older closes doors that actually cannot be closed because all we have are windows. It's all about how you choose to see.

I wondered for a moment what the girl thought about me. 
Sometimes I feel so connected to my surroundings, it's as though I am them and they are me. Maybe that's why I have so much faith in others.
Easier to get hurt.
I'm so grateful that I get the chance to have a 'bike' kind of life. My days have movement.
Our lives are but a passing wind, from childhood to the last breath. I want to fill my days with love from now on.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Surprise!'s Life.

Life as a Surprise.
Some people will surprise you in good ways, and unfortunately, others will surprise you in very bad ways, something you would never have expected from them.
It may throw you on the ground, and you may feel as though the dust inhibits you from breathing and from properly seeing the world spinning around you.
Just wait for the dust to settle. It'll come in a day, a week, maybe a month. But it will come.
And when it does, you will lift yourself off of the ground, and you will find a new, beautiful path that you had never seen before. Maybe you will hop on a train and end up somewhere new. Or maybe you'll stay somewhere familiar, as strong as ever.
Nevertheless, just hold on to that invisible thing that is Hope. It'll get you through anything my dears.

ps: and if not, eat dark chocolate and drink coffee.