Denis: Here’s to Your Bucket List

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When Denis* moved into the apartment next door about five years ago, the noise volume suddenly increased to intolerable decibels. After several confrontations, we managed to find ways to handle the situation more respectably. He stopped blasting music in the wee hours, and I bought a variety of white noise machines to mask sounds I didn’t want to hear.

Over the last couple of years, the situation improved. We exchanged pleasant smiles and hellos, and even danced together in the park one time when there was an outdoor concert. We weren’t exactly ‘friends’, but we made peace as neighbours.

Winters have generally been quieter. With our windows closed, the sounds didn’t come through as loudly. However, one recent warm, sunny day, I heard Denis out on his balcony, banging around furniture and flower pots with a friend. He was big on outdoor living and making full use of his larger-than-anyone-else’s balcony space. I thought, “oh dear, here we go again.”

Later that day, I went to pick up the mail. I returned to my apartment door the same time Denis arrived at his.

“How are you?” he asked.

I looked up to see him with a woman pushing him in a wheelchair. I walked over to him.

“Very well, thanks,” I said. “But you don’t look like you’re doing too well.” I figured maybe he broke an ankle or something, but as I got closer, I could see how skinny he’d become. He had a slight build to begin with; but he now appeared about 20 years older than when I last saw him.

“I have terminal lung cancer,” he said. “Haven’t you heard me coughing?”

Up until that day, I had only heard small nagging coughs through the wall. But earlier that day, there had been an extended, violent cough.

I told him that I was sorry to hear about this.

“It’s okay,” he said, almost cheerfully. “I’ve been having treatments. Now, I’m just working on my bucket list.”

This intrigued me and put a smile on my face. I asked him what’s on the bucket list. He fired off a whole bunch of things he wanted to do right here in the Okanagan.

“Lake cruise, ziplining, parasailing…” were on his bucket list. I smiled and encouraged him. I wished him well.

Over the next couple of days, I wondered what I could do to help Denis fulfill that bucket list. Could I physically help him do any of those things, being that he is now in a wheelchair? Maybe instead, I could bring him some take-out dinner or even a special coffee?

I work from home and spend all day at my computer, while he’d be just on the other side of the wall next to me. I found myself anxiously listening to any sound from him that I could cling to: I listened for every cough. In my mind, I said, “Denis, you can play your music as loud as you want, any time!” It put tremendous perspective on my petty intolerances from the past. I felt guilty for wishing he’d move… I certainly didn’t want it to be under these circumstances! I hoped he would get better. Oh, please stay!

And then, it was quiet. So quiet. For days. I rationalized that he was probably in hospital for treatment; maybe they had to keep him overnight.

Then, I saw a woman go into his apartment. I heard her on Denis’ balcony, shifting things. I heard her offering Denis’ plants to the neighbour on the other side. I tried to tell myself that maybe he’s just not able to care for the plants during our hot summers while he’s focussing on improving his health.

But I knew. And I was grateful work sent me away for a week while Denis’ apartment was being cleared.

For the couple of weeks since Denis’ passing, I’ve been in a weird headspace. There’s been some guilt that I didn’t connect with him more positively as a better neighbour. There’s gratitude that our final exchange was a hopeful, positive sharing of his dreams and joys in life. There’s a deep sadness that he went so very quickly.

Predominantly, there was a disturbing, relatable feeling. Here was a man of my generation, who (like me) came to live far away from his family and ‘normal’ life. There was this feeling — entirely my feeling — of his life being unfulfilled. There was that outstanding bucket list.

What’s my bucket list? What should I be doing with my life? Am I on the right path? Should I move? What do I need to change to ensure I live each moment to its fullest? Denis’ passing has stirred all of this up.

Anyone’s passing causes us to face our own mortality and begin a very deep reflection on our own life.

Today in Kelowna, there was a Walk of Memories event. It’s an annual ceremonial walk to support reflection on loss. I only learned of it, like, yesterday. Having lost many loved ones in recent years, I felt drawn to go.

There were several gestures to partake in which gave people an opportunity to honour loved ones. My favourite was the sailing flags you could write a personal message on.

“How many flags can I have?” I asked the volunteer. She said I could have as many as I wanted, so I asked for five, knowing that even so, I’d have to write a bunch of names on at least one of those flags.

When I picked up a pen to write, there was one name that came out on top. I couldn’t say why he’d trump my parents, or my childhood best friend; peers I shared health issues with who didn’t make it; or my colleagues that were tragic losses. Maybe because Denis was the freshest, and I’m still processing the loudness of the quiet next door.

It was Denis’ name that rang loudest through my pen. I wrote:

“Denis: Here’s to your bucket list! Play your music as loud as you like! 🙂 ”

It was then that I was told these flags would be raised onto a sailboat, and take a cruise along Okanagan Lake. I feel tremendous gratitude to have been able to give Denis this symbolic gesture akin to one of those items on his bucket list. It gives me a sense of peaceful closure.

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*Denis is pronounced Deh-nee’. He was French-Canadian, from Quebec.

Denis: Here’s to Your Bucket List © June 3, 2018 | Annie Zalezsak

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Triggered Clarity

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Someone said something at me. Not to me, not directly; but it was obvious it was intended for my ears.

It made me angry. It made me mistrust her. It even made me think I hate her and never want her in my presence again. A virtual stranger says a few words I take personally as a judgement of me, and it sets me into a complete tizzy. Which makes me call her names in my journal, and changes a big decision on a direction I was heading, turning me 180 degrees around.

At first, it seems like I’m giving away my power to this person.

I work through the emotions. They are all over the place.

But the more I write them down, I pare away at the truth.

I realize that this is happening, because a choice I made to go down a certain road, no longer feels like it’s in my best interest.

In my mind, it seemed like a good idea, and for months I’ve been planning for this. But right here and now, it feels all wrong, and this woman showed up to scream it in my face. Indirectly, so I’d take issue, and uncover the real, less magnificent (but ultimately more important) choice for the next step in my life.

Sometimes, clarity is triggered in an unpleasant way. The important thing is listening and being willing to change plans according to what feels right and empowering.

Triggered Clarity © January 1, 2018 | Annie Zalezsak

Sounds and Scents

Photo credit: Annie Zalezsak

Sounds and scents take me back to long ago distant places that seem here and now, tugging my heart, whispering in my ear, “Come back!”

The pools in my eyes attest to the futility of the idea that it could ever be re-lived. Even my mind knows the truth: that my memory lies by omission.

Sounds and Scents © December 7, 2017 | Annie Zalezsak

Seabank Studio

Photo credit: Annie Zalezsak

Seabank Studio, silent and serene
Bathing in big moonlight every night I dream
Penarth Pier, pizza, puppies, people
lonely seashore, tidy tides tidalling.

Walking, wandering, welcoming who?
No one, no where, by myself, too.

Lonely, legacy, sea air keeps us healthy
Peaceful and noisy, impoverished and wealthy.

Atop a tower, tides rushing gently
Trapped in tiny trendy, gone half-mentally.

Yearning, churning, burning
all the while, learning;
Ready, steady,
left and now I’m mourning.

I’m sorry I didn’t appreciate you more, Seabank Studio. I picked at all your faults. The thin walls (I could hear the neighbour pee). The hymn-singing piano lady below (that was nice, actually). But the brash, brass (out-of-tune) band on Sundays, oh, I hated you! And I cursed the perfumed breezes that gave me headaches.

But laying down at night, to the sound of the tides, the moon’s gentle light filled my spirit (I always kept the blinds fully open at night to let her in).

A stupid grievance with the maintenance man was the last straw; I had such little patience then.

Every place has it’s good and not so good.

This place was a jewel and its imperfections, a decade later, seem insignificant. I wish I had explored it more.

Seabank Studio © December 7, 2017 | Annie Zalezsak

Toil or Dream

Photo credit: Annie Zalezsak

I’m aware it’s nearly a year since my last post. I got caught up in the day job. In October, I was drawn back into reading spiritually uplifting books. Today, I read (the first stanza of) this poem, and it asked me to return to writing here.

The Cry of the Dreamer

by John Boyle O’Reilly

 I am tired of planning and toiling
 In the crowded hives of men;
 Heart-weary of building and spoiling,
 And spoiling and building again.
 And I long for the dear old river,
 Where I dreamed my youth away;
 For a dreamer lives forever,
 And a toiler dies in a day.

There’s this tendency I have to become so work-oriented, I forget that what truly nourishes my life and soul is creative activity. While I’m fortunate enough to enlist creativity in my job, I forget and neglect that my soul craves something deeper, someplace meaningful to linger on a regular basis, and give my personal reflections a safe place to flow.

This is where I planned to do (at least some of) that. I now acknowledge this is more than a frivolous past-time; it’s a downright need.

I welcome myself back.

Toil or Dream © December 6, 2017 | Annie Zalezsak

Women’s March

Kelowna, BC, Canada was one of the cities that participated in rallying to support the Women’s March on Washington, DC on Saturday, January 21, 2017.

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I am so grateful to live in a conscious, caring, aware community that exercises our freedom to voice thoughts, ideas and concerns, safely in public.

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I have a lot of respect and gratitude for the willingness of Beth Farrell and Alison Moore to take the lead on this event, and for organizing it so well. It’s the movers and shakers like you that make it easy for the rest of us to just show up.

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Thank you to all the speakers who shared their words of inspiration, their personal experiences and insights, to make us all understand better, and feel more connected in a purposeful way.

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(See many more photos in my Women’s March album on Facebook.)

I appreciate the thought-provoking and eloquent words shared today. I’m still processing my personal ‘calls to action’. In this photo below, I think Alison captures what many of us felt: freedom to proudly and safely express who we are, what we think, and how we’d like to change the world.

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Women’s March © January 21, 2017 | Annie Zalezsak

#womensmarch, #whyimarch

Love Our Mother Earth

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Our Mother Earth cradles us,
upholds life,
provides our every need.
Her boundless love
contains us,
sustains us,
despite our growing greed.

Like rebellious children
her boundaries we test;
yet by her unconditional love
and providence, we are blessed.

Please stop poking and prodding her.
Give back her dignity.
Surrender to HER rights.
Let her rest.
Let her heal.
Let her BE.

Love Our Mother Earth © November 26, 2016 | Annie Zalezsak
(Inspired by the Pray for Standing Rock worldwide synchronized events, specifically the meditation held at the Pandosy Peace Centre in Kelowna.)