Moving Regally Through Life

Heidi raises her head when she sees me and moves toward the gate to meet me. She moves slowly but regally, with a grace and calm acceptance of the limitations her advanced years place on her body. She ignores the younger horses in the herd that nip and chase each other in their version of a game of tag. Those days are gone for her. Still, her bearing commands respect. Unlike humans, this mare seems to know that growing old is a privilege, not an affliction. I envy that.

We are conditioned to revere youth and to treat ageing like a disease to be held at bay. It’s a fool’s errand but we arm ourselves with tools to do it anyway. Women turn to a bottle filled with a magic potion to temporarily restore grey hair to the shiny blonde, brunette or red hues of the past. Hundreds of dollars are spent on creams, serums and lotions that promise to hide the “signs of ageing”.  Men fret over hair that has absconded, leaving an ever-widening expanse of scalp visible. They mourn the loss of their strong, youthful bodies and start fitness programs with the goal of recovering their six-packs.

It’s all so exhausting. But this war against the physical signs of age is mostly harmless. The real damage of ageism is in the mental well-being of older people.

In a survey analyzed by the World Health, 60% of respondents said older people are not respected. The lowest levels of respect reported were in high income countries. What impact does this have? Older people who feel less valued often suffer from social isolation and depression. Published research even shows that those who view their own age negatively don’t recover as well from disability and live 7.5 years less than those with positive attitudes.

I won’t lie. I don’t love the crow’s feet that crinkle at the corners of my eyes. I accept but don’t embrace the loss of a lithe, youthful body. And yes, regular touch-ups hide the roots of gray hair that stubbornly appear every few weeks. But I’ll be damned if I’ll let anyone make me feel that I am anything less than a productive, valuable member of society. Like Heidi, I intend to continue to command respect as I move regally through life.

The dance, music, colour and culture of Ukraine

As we celebrate Easter today, my thoughts are with my Canadian-born Ukrainian friends. Their Orthodox celebrations will be held next week and I’m sure they will be subdued this year. It’s hard to think of anything Ukrainian as subdued though. The memories I have of my Ukrainian friends are filled with color, music, dance and enormous pride in their culture.

I met these friends back in grade school, a melting pot where French & English Canadian children learned to read and write side-by-side with children of Italian, Polish, Ukrainian and other descent. I learned more about their traditions through them than any book could have taught me.

Easter, for example, meant that my Ukrainian classmates would be decorating Easter eggs. Unlike the clumsy creations most of produced, theirs were pure works of art. And no wonder. The technique is time-consuming and uses hot beeswax and dye to create ornate designs and patterns of breath taking beauty. Called pysanky eggs, the tradition dates back to the pre-Christian era when eggs were thought to have great powers including protecting homes from fire, preventing famine and ensuring good health.

One legend tells of an evil monster. The more pysanky people made, the tighter the chains were wrapped around the monster, keeping it at bay so that it didn’t destroy the world. It’s not much of a stretch of the imagination to put a face to that monster in world events of today.

There was no lying in bed or watching cartoons on Saturday mornings for my Ukrainian friends. Saturdays were for Ukrainian school and dance lessons. They didn’t seem to mind, though, because their parents had instilled such pride in their culture in them. And when the annual Christmas concert came around, the rest of us wished we could have gone to the dance lessons too.

The concert always had a Ukrainian dance number. It doesn’t do it justice to call it simply a dance number; it was performance-art. The girls would enter the stage to lively music as if they were skipping on air. They wore wide skirts embroidered in red, green and gold, a crown of coloured paper flowers on their heads with ribbons streaming behind and wide smiles. But it was their shiny red boots I coveted and loved best of all.

Then the boys would leap onto the stage in their Cossack pants tied at the waist with a satin sash. Their strength and athleticism was impressive. Squat kicks, pirouettes, split leaps -they did it all. These were my classmates – how did they all learn to do this?

The pride, resilience and strength of Ukrainian people has been on display for the world to see for more than 40 days now. So on this Easter day, my thoughts and memories are with them. May this conflict end soon.

P.S.: Whether you celebrate Easter, Passover or Ramadan – Happy Holidays!

Hopefully Awaiting the Season of Renewal

Photo by Frank Cone: Pexels

Winter is not going out like a lamb this year in Quebec. Its exit is more like that of a disgruntled dog that resents having to move his old bones to make room for a new puppy in the family.

The world is still bleached of color. The grass is a dull, tired brown; farmers’ fields are the colour of powdery dried bone and tree trunks are a drab grey. Yesterday fat, wet snowflakes fell from the cloud cover that had been with us for days. Winter’s extended stay, along with the troubles our planet is experiencing, make it hard to believe we are in the season of renewal. But feathered friends and other creatures have arrived to help raise our spirits and our hopes.

The robins are back! They look fat but it’s a smoke and mirrors trick. They’re donning their natural down jackets by puffing their feathers up to insulate themselves against the still chilly weather. But the very fact that they’re here is a sign that spring can’t be too far away.

A few days ago I heard the honking of returning geese. They always sound like an off-key orchestra to me but it’s the sweetest sound in the world in the spring. (And the saddest one in the fall.)

Earlier this week when I was out for a walk I saw Sylvester, our neighbour’s cat, for the first time since the fall. He’s a sweet-tempered cat with tuxedo markings that visited us regularly all last summer but likely spent the winter indoors. He jogged right over to me like a long-lost friend and gratefully accepted a scratch on the head.

Soon enough, buds will form on the trees and explode into tender, vibrant green leaves. Yellow daffodils and pink, red and white tulips will poke out from the soft earth. And the sun will warm our skin until we once again believe that renewal is possible.