Leaping versus Pushing (or: How Ilse & Ziltan came to be)
Have you ever had that feeling that change was coming, that gut-wrenching, thrilling feeling that life’s about to get really different whether you’re ready or not? That feeling of ‘I’ve got to get out of here’ even if you’re not sure what’s next?
When it happened to me in 2019 I was on a trend of being irritated with work, feeling like I wasn’t quite a good enough mother, partner, gardener and it being spring – a time of renewal and fresh life emanating from the earth – I took heed and quit my job. I’d also go so far as to say that I was seriously considering quitting my career of two decades. It felt like freedom and folly at the same time. Where would money come from? Who did I think I was, to change everything in this way? At the same time it felt like I could stretch myself further than ever before in all sorts of directions I had never even considered or perhaps more accurately, noticed.
Years earlier I was working in a place that ‘made sense’ strategically and although right from the start I was uncomfortable with a group of my fellow staff members I persevered thinking it would get better, that I would get used to it – all the things one tells oneself when something doesn’t feel right but you don’t know how or really want to change it. Eventually I spoke to my boss, the contract holder and asked to be moved to a different location but because it didn’t make sense for the company, the change wasn’t granted. And guess what? Not much later the contract was cancelled, and they got someone else to fill the role.
So when that same familiar feeling came upon me in the spring of 2019 I took heed and leaped, instead of being pushed. Soon after – mere weeks – my ever strong and tireless father suddenly showed signs of an illness, a lurking secret thing that meant his life of world travel would have to be on hold for a while. Not much later the request came to help out – as the family member with comfort in the medical field and suddenly free of obligations – I was happy to have the freedom to move into the role of daughter and support person and realized this was what the urge was telling me – be free to take care of your family.
Six weeks after leaving my career, four weeks after becoming a more involved and supportive daughter my Dad passed away of sepsis before he could be fully diagnosed. He died in the ICU in the hospital where I started my career. It was like time both stopped completely and expanded dramatically in that one moment. I could barely breathe without his breath beside mine, as it had been my whole life. There’s a type of tearing apart, a rending of the heart and soul that happens when someone you have loved for your whole existence walks no more on this green earth.
The week before his death, at my father’s behest, my son and I drove from BC back home to Alberta to go on a much anticipated camping trip – Dad had a treatment plan in place and was feeling good about next steps. Surely, he said, we could go on our trip and come back later in the summer if needed. He gave me money (a novelty to us both as for the first time in decades I had no income) to spend the night at a nice hotel along the way rather than making the twelve hour journey in one fell swoop. I wish when I hugged him goodbye I had told him I loved him, whispered it in his ear, rather than joking about his eighty years.
The next morning I awoke swathed in the soft hotel bed, white sheets surrounding me and bright light streaming through the window with a dream still with me, a bright, vibrant image and two words that I’d never heard before. My mind started to turn them over – the words, the image melding, morphing, becoming alive – and suddenly, as if no time had passed, the writers mind of my childhood and teens emerged and a story started to form. As we drove East for our camping trip the characters took to life and a host of others joined them, familiar locations grew into their homes and their life challenges became clear. That part of myself reemerging was a delight – like uncovering a lost treasure or biting into the sweetest piece of fruit you’ve ever tasted – my senses were heightened and I tingled with new life. It was like falling in love.
The afternoon after my Dad passed away I sat in my parents’ garden. The sun didn’t warm me, the flowers didn’t glow. A great echoing space enveloped me – and yet, yet – the story was there inside me, those characters, real people needed to come out, their story had to be told. In that grey gap-space of grief I was able to kindle colour and light in the story of Ilse and Ziltan. They soothed my pain with the creation of their life together, their love for each other echoing mine for writing; my grief informed theirs.
A dear and insightful friend suggested the dream was a gift from my Dad – a light for the dark path ahead. And I wonder of course, if I hadn’t leaped right when I did, would I have had a free hand to take that lamp, to walk this new path with the grace of such a gift? I think not.
Now I do my best to leap when the feeling comes (though it scares me every time) for you never know what blessings will appear to guide and soften your path.