Denis: Here’s to Your Bucket List

2018.06.03 Kelowna Waterfront Park, Walk of Memories (8) WP

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.

2018.06.03 AnnieZalezsak-Kelowna Walk of Memories (33) WP

*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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Love Our Mother Earth

2016-09-28-flight-to-edmonton-30-annie-zalezsak-wp

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.)

Be or Do

Photo: rdonar | 123rf.com

The ‘spiritual path’ seems to focus on being. Some take that to mean the absence of doing; others view it as meditation, or being mindful (present-moment awareness) in the midst of any action.

“I am a human being, not a human doing. …
If you are what you do, then when you don’t… you aren’t.”
— Dr. Wayne Dyer

While I understand this well, there are things that I can experience as a human being, that involves doing. All kinds of doing. And there’s so much I want to do.

In fact, sometimes I’m overwhelmed by all the doing that I want to fit in. The fun kind of doing. I want to travel, paint, dance, write, swim, and go to qi gong classes.

Then there’s the doing that I have to do, in order that I may be. Work, bathe, eat. Sometimes, all I want to do is the bare bones basics.

… you will never get it done.  — Abraham-Hicks

Ain’t that the truth. Even if you tick off every item on your bucket list, there are endless options to add on.

For me, life is not a choice between being or doing. It’s not even about balance between the two.

My spiritual path feels more like I’m ‘accepting’. Relaxing into each moment, whatever is happening (or not), and making the best of it.

Be or Do © November 20, 2015 | Annie Zalezsak

Toilet Wisdom

In a toilet stall of the women’s washroom at the Kelowna Library, I read these words of wisdom:

Look at the sky: that is for you. Look at each person’s face as you pass them on the street: those faces are for you. And the street itself, and the ground under the street, and the ball of fire underneath the ground: all these things are for you. They are as much for you as they are for other people. Remember this when you wake up in the morning and think you have nothing.

Beneath this, someone else wrote:

“Sweet!”.

We can find inspiration everywhere!

Transition from Merthyr Vale to Kelowna

Even though I’ll be back in Merthyr at some point, the pre-goodbye goodbyes were important. First, there was the announcement dinner with Canadian Jacquie’s family about 2 weeks before departure. Then on Friday the 9th of March 2012, there was “The Last Supper” with my former employers, Peter and Paul.

Zoe was there, too. Good laugh, great company!

On Saturday, Darren, Toby dog and I went for a lovely walk in Trelewis park, where we happened to see some Canada geese.

On Sunday, Viv came over to the house for a couple of hours to chat and help sort out some stuff.

She took a family photo of Darren, me, and Toby the dog.

Train to Gatwick

On Tuesday the 13th of March 2012, Darren drove me to Cardiff Central train station for the 12:25pm train to Gatwick Airport, via Reading. I arrived at Gatwick around 3:50pm and went straight to the Hilton Hotel, where I met my Loughton friend, Jacqui. We talked into the wee hours, as per usual, about anything and everything… after a filling dinner and a couple of drinks at an airport restaurant, of course! We reminisced about our trips to Portugal, and how life has changed for us in the last year.

We got up at 5:30am on Wednesday the 14th of March and Jacqui saw me off at the airport gate. It was sad, but at the same time, a healthy and happy look toward a new chapter in life.

Flying to Calgary

I usually fly with Canadian Affair, and I’m pleased they’ve gone back to using Air Transat as an airline. Much better than Thomas Cook. The service is excellent, and you don’t have to pay for soft drinks! I watched movies most of the way, but kept an eye out for the views. It was mostly cloudy over the UK and the Atlantic, but when we got over Greenland, wow oh wow!

Just so beautiful!

Leaving the coast of Greenland, it looked like glaciers on the water.

I was surprised to see snow over Alberta. Somehow, I thought it would be as mild as it had been in the United Kingdom.

When we made the descent into Calgary airport I was relieved to see that there was no snow there.

I took the airport shuttle to the Travelodge hotel near Sunridge Blvd for a few hours rest. My room had a view in the direction of downtown Calgary with the rocky mountains as a backdrop.

At 5pm, I met up with Genny and Jeannette for drinks and dinner at Tony Roma’s in Calgary’s northeast. (Genny had a pina colada, I had a blue martini.)

Jeannette had a red wine.

The following day, Thursday the 15th of March 2012, I headed out on the 10:30am flight with Westjet to the rocky mountain interior.

Despite the clouds, I could see some of the dramatic interior rocky mountain landscape as we flew over the Okanagan Valley.

I was still a bit dubious about whether we’ll still be having snow.

We made the descent into Kelowna Airport.

And landed safely in Kelowna.

I got an airport shuttle straight to the new apartment downtown. The apartment is very spacious. Apparently it’s 1200 square feet. It has a second washroom as an ensuite to the master bedroom, which I didn’t even know about!

It has a mountain view in the distance. (Everywhere you look in Kelowna, there is a mountain view!)

There’s a family of mallards that hang out just down the street. They make me smile! I also saw a car with a British Columbia license plate and a Cymru Wales dragon flag bumper sticker on it!

Exploring Downtown

A few short blocks down Bernard Avenue is the lake. I took this picture today, Sunday the 25th of March. It was only 5 degrees celsius, but there were people out walking in their flip flops and sandals, and others sitting outside cafes drinking their coffees. Typically Canadian!

It looks like visitors can take a short cruise on the lake.

There are some historical information boards on Kelowna.

I encountered the infamous Ogopogo (aka Nessie to the Scots).

Walking back on Bernard Street, I popped into a few of the boutiques that were open for a lazy Sunday afternoon trade.

Starting my second week at work tomorrow!

Sandy Taught Me

Annie and Sandy, 3 December 2011Sandy is a lurcher that spent two weeks of his life at our house. Getting another dog was something we’d thought about over the years, but we never pursued the idea until I saw Sandy’s picture on the Evesham Greyhound and Lurcher Rescue website just over a month ago.

Sandy Pandy in foster care

I admit, we didn’t entirely think it through. But something in Sandy’s face just drew me in. We took our 10+ year old lurcher, Toby, to meet Sandy, and all was well between them. So we arranged to pick up Sandy on the 19th of November 2011.

Sadly, as the days went on, I realized my breathing had become more and more laboured, with wheezing and coughing. Allergies didn’t occur to me until after several scary episodes. I realized that we couldn’t keep Sandy long term.

I’m extremely grateful that we had this chance to have Sandy in our lives. In two short weeks, he taught me so much!

Sandy

Just Because You Love Someone, Doesn’t Mean You Have to Live With Them.

It doesn’t mean they can’t live without you, or they can’t have a good life with someone else.

So often we hang onto people that may not necessarily be good for us. They may be cute and beautiful and quite a character. They may be fun and great company. But if being together brings either person discomfort, resentment creeps in over time. Rather part in love, than be together in a way that is not good for either. Often, we can love people more with a bit of distance between.

Annie walking with Sandy

If I Am Willing to Walk for the Dog’s Health, I Must Be Willing to Walk for My Own

Even though we’ve had Toby for 8 years, I used to go on a fraction of the walks he shared with Darren. When we got Sandy, it was essential that I go, too. I found I really enjoyed the walks and felt so much healthier. I decided that this is something I must continue to do for “me”. If I can find the discipline and motivation to get up at 6:30am daily for someone else, surely I must honour myself equally as much!

Sandy's focusStay Focused on What You Want

Forget everything else. Just keep your eye on the thing you want most! The goal, no matter how high, ideal, or lofty, is always achievable. And once you do acquire it…

Value Everything You’ve Got

Cherish it, delight in it, relish it!

Sandy's treat

Be Willing to Share… Even if it’s Your Final Crumbs

Even when we don’t know where our next meal is coming from, we must trust that our needs will be met. Meanwhile, it’s kindest to share what we have while we have it. It actually makes us both feel happy when we share.

Toby and Sandy share

Listen Intently

When you truly listen to instructions carefully, you are bound to be rewarded.

Sandy listens

Be Polite

Be open to meeting new people and remember that good manners go a long way.

Sandy is polite

Share Your Perspective With Others

When you share your views and insights, you all learn something.

Darren, Toby and Sandy on Merthyr Vale's tram road

Twists and Turns

Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.

— John Lennon

I’ve never been one to plan. I like to do things spontaneously, by whim or whatever feels right at the time. I know that this is not practical, and often not feasible. To be a responsible adult in our society seems to require setting down roots and partaking in pension schemes. It’s building a nest egg, it’s having a life plan.

In my life, it seems that whenever I made some kind of decision to settle in a place or commit to a project, a spanner would be thrown in the works. The result would find me in a new country, an alternate life, so far removed from the direction I was headed in. It has made me tend to float around, indecisive, and keeping options open.

It was only a few short months ago when I was convinced I would live for a few months travelling around Europe. And now, nothing could be further from my desires. Suddenly, Merthyr is the place for me to be, on so many levels. I’ve found my place, my people, and more and more, I sense my niche is slowly kneading out a groove here. While the outcome remains to be seen, it just feels right to be here now. It took 9 years and a willingness to leave forever, to get to this point.

Following a straight path to a well-defined goal rarely runs smoothly. Life has a way of throwing us unexpected twists and hidden turns. Funny thing, I do believe it’s far more fun and interesting in the long run, to just ride the tide. We may not predict where we’ll wind up, but in latter years, I’m convinced we’ll look back (with a youthful mischievous expression) on the many surprising adventures we encountered.