I got a couple of writing prompts around the same time that couldn’t be ignored, nor could the epiphany they inspired.
One was from the Isolation Journals (a writing group I belong to). It asked “How can your presence enhance the growth of your community? It was actually part of a beautiful prompt called The Human Mycelium by Fernando Murillo. In it, Murillo likened his release back into the community after a long prison sentence to the discovery of mycelium and how that natural network of fungal threads or hyphae is not unlike the threads of humanity in community that unites us all.
The next came from a story telling community I’m a part of – Story Republic. SR’s mentor, Bernadette Jiwa asking us to write about an epiphany.
This gets a little complicated so bear with me. It’s how a writer’s mind sometimes has to work through all the cues coming at us, to formulate a story that matters. As both of these arrived, I had just completed a Values workshop offered by my friend and co-Story Republic community member Saba Mirza. Sabah exudes an abundance of humanity and compassion so I was thrilled when she offered to do a workshop with us about Values. I live very strongly by my values – when I was in therapy after a bout of burnout the therapist actually said she’d never counselled anyone as firmly set in their values as me. Good or bad, it’s what gets me through tough situations.
For IJ prompt, one word stood out for me. Compassion. It’s needed in spades here in my new hometown. This emerged as my most prominent “core value” during Sabah’s insightful session.
Sabah asked us to write down situations – past, present and future – that basically felt good in our gut, where our values were being constructed or stored. There’s much more to this but for now, I’ll just share my “lists”
My aunt and uncles 25th Wedding Anniversary where we re-enacted their wedding vows with my mother and aunt being trembling bridesmaids, I was the flower girl (wearing my mother’s wedding dress!), and my grandfather walked my favourite auntie down the “aisle” – which was a dirt pathway strewn with dandelions. It was hilarious and a longstanding reminder of the power of laughter and shared stories like this in families that truly is the glue of our lives.
The last Christmas with my grandfather when we did a silent auction and he wanted the urinating lawn ornament. Again his laughter was contagious.
Going to Disneyworld with my mother.
The starlit evening when my husband proposed to me.
The birth of both my children.
All the years of cuddles on the couch at the end of the day with my kids.
Holding hands with my son, which I still do even though he’s all grown up.Watching him be one of the kindest people I know.
Holiday dinners hosted by my mother in my childhood home.
Sitting at my grandmother’s kitchen table with my favourite snack of whipping cream, syrup and fresh baked bread.
My grandmother brushing her fingers along my hand whenever I sat beside her.
Being in spaces with people who I love and love me back unconditionally.
Laughter as medicine, there is always an abundance of it.
Feeling safe, special and valued.
Being a contributor – I have always been a helper even when very young.
Food prepared and served with love. Food has always been the “glue” for our gatherings that holds everything together.
The teachings of the matriarchs who were respected and celebrated in my family
The joy and love, laughter and community in our family, that has always overshone the struggles any of us are having individually. Our love binds us, is unquestionable. We know with certainty that we will be welcomed, loved, and celebrated.
Respecting and recognizing the worth of everyone in the room.
Honouring the contributions of everyone.
Being free and safe with people you trust.
Laughter as medicine.
The power of food to bring everyone into the fold/to the table.
The strength and hope of community.
Valuing the wisdom of our elders.
Accepting everyone for who they are,
Sabah then shared another prompt that invited us to think about a situation where we could enjoy the company of people we admire. It could be anyone from anywhere. While I would love to sit and enjoy a confab with famous poets, novelists, and renowned social justice activitists – that’s not who I chose.
I was sitting down to dinner with women, four of whom I have done so many times before – my mother, favourite aunt, my mother’s mother and one of my oldest (she’s in her 80’s!) best friends.
The fifth, my dad’s mother, I never knew, but she would have fit perfectly in this group of strong-willed women who are all wise, empathetic, generous, non-judgemental, fantastic caregivers and cooks, and brimming over with compassion and humanity. I never had the opportunity to meet my grandmother Eva but have heard many stories about her – the matron of what in those days was called the “Indian Hospital”. An Indigenous Elder I met told me he remembered her, that she “saved his life”. I’m proud to be a descendent of this amazing woman who lives in my heart if not my memories. I feel her in my soul.
I’ve also come to see and appreciate how all these women love to laugh, in the case of my mother, aunt, and the grandmother I knew, full snorting, guffaw belly laughs. Humour is medicine we have all turned to in tough times.
After “dinner”, Sabah asked us to look at common threads that united us all and then to think about the values they instilled. My final list looks like this:
Sabah said that for a value to be truly “solid” it needs to “have some teeth and may require you to make some sacrifices if push comes to shove.”
That brings me back to the original prompt about how my presence enhances the growth of my community. If I were to look at this list, it makes sense that I would put these values to work where they are needed most. In this small community that’s on the streets where a startling number of people live. As a newcomer, helping them puts me at risk because the plight of those experiencing homelessness, addiction, mental health issues is a bane on this town, and has been for as long as many long time community members can remember.
But Sabah helped me see that I am in fact ready to put some “teeth” into living these values even if it means I’ll have to pay in some way. I am humbled by the resilience and grace I see in so many people who are living rough. It’s the least I can do to show some compassion, generosity, love, empathy, openness, non-judgement and kindness to people who I have come to know. I am better for seeing them and hearing their stories.
While this might “enhance my community” in some way it’s the least I can do, because Sabah helped me see something else.
Indeed, an epiphany.
I come from a strong line of women who would do the same.
The epiphany also inspired a poem.
Two writing prompts
arrive at the same time
for where I need to go
to break the lasting hold
that should have loosened
its grip by now.
The first, The Human Mycelium*
likens a network
of fungal threads or hyphae
to the human experience,
our search for connection,
The second, Epiphany**
nudges me to look
at how this realization
Both hold me accountable
to the responsibility I resist
to be present
sow the stories
so they can bear the fruit
of my troubled heart.
Can these cells of good intentions
break the solitude
that envelops me
and so many
in my community
like a single mycelium spore
spreading, growing, uniting us all.
A friend invites me
to dig deeper
take my wanderings
below the surface
of my discontent
to another time
before the loneliness.
And there it is
I need to hold,
have always been with me
cultivated those roots
I now seek to grow,
I was never alone.
*Inspired by Prompt 253. The Human Mycelium by Fernando Murillo with credit to The Isolation Journals
**Bernadette Jiwa, The Story Republic