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Choosing Life

Pathway 9  Oil on paper on panel  16x24.5 © 2019 Janice Mason Steeves

I have a friend who turned 103 last August. She was my supervisor when I worked in the psychology department of a psychiatric hospital in Ontario. I was fresh out of university with a Masters Degree in Clinical Psychology and thought I knew it all. In the first week on the job, I wrote and submitted my first report.

My friend (we'll call her Martha), phoned me in my office which was just down the hall from hers. There were no computers in those days. She asked me in a very reproachful tone, if I had just submitted a report. Yes, I had, I replied. She told me that I was to consult with her before submitting any report. Would I please come to her office. Martha was sitting behind her desk with a somewhat disdainful look on her face. She did not suffer fools lightly and I most definitely was proving to be a fool.

Martha and I began a very uncomfortable relationship. Very slowly and gradually though, we came to like each other as I grew in my understanding of psychological testing and honoured her expertise. We actually became friends.Then, after a couple of years, I moved away. My life took me to various cities in western Canada. Martha and I stayed in touch at Christmas for many years but gradually, we lost contact.

Many years later, she contacted me through one of my galleries. She was a mere 92 at that point. I called her back and asked her how she'd found me. "Jan", she said in her usual abrupt tone, "I googled you". I chuckled. She asked sharply, "What are you laughing at?"  I mumbled something about  my Mum not knowing how to use the internet. Blah Blah Blah. She had rapped my knuckles once again.

We arranged to meet for lunch in her nearby city. Martha had always been a very flamboyant dresser. Nothing had changed. When she came to the door, she was wearing gold earrings, a leopard print blouse and scarf, over black slacks. And at 92, her hair was coloured the same shade of flaming orange I'd always known her to have.

Our luncheons became an annual event. For her 100th birthday, she threw herself a big party, sold her house that she'd lived in for most of her life, and moved  into a Senior's residence. She had become more stooped and her vision was deteriorating. But that didn't slow her down at all. She hired an assistant to help with her writing and soon after she turned 100, her first book was published, about her experiences as a Psychologist in WWII.

Now at 103, Martha walks unsteadily on a walker. Still though, she continues to dye her hair flaming orange and wears sequin tops and leopard print scarves.

I missed lunch with her last summer because she was suddenly hospitalized for severe pain. Diagnosed with bowel cancer, the doctors gave her a dire prognosis and suggested euthanasia as the first option. Farther down the options list was surgery. Martha chose surgery! 

She chose life.

The operation proved successful. It turned out to be a large non-cancerous tumour. She easily recovered and moved back to her senior's residence, where she began working on a second book about her life as a traveling psychologist after the war. That book was published just before Christmas 2018.

She's working on a third!

It's never too late to discover your creativity!

The Fourth Sign of the Zodiac by Mary Oliver

Why should I have been surprised?
Hunters walk the forest
without a sound.
The hunter, strapped to his rifle,
the fox on his feet of silk,
the serpent on his empire of muscles—
all move in a stillness,
hungry, careful, intent.
Just as the cancer
entered the forest of my body,
without a sound.
The question is,
what will it be like
after the last day?
Will I float
into the sky
or will I fray
within the earth or a river—
remembering nothing?
How desperate I would be
if I couldn’t remember
the sun rising, if I couldn’t
remember trees, rivers; if I couldn’t
even remember, beloved,
your beloved name.
I know, you never intended to be in this world.
But you’re in it all the same.
so why not get started immediately.
I mean, belonging to it.
There is so much to admire, to weep over.
And to write music or poems about.
Bless the feet that take you to and fro.
Bless the eyes and the listening ears.
Bless the tongue, the marvel of taste.
Bless touching.
You could live a hundred years, it’s happened.
Or not.
I am speaking from the fortunate platform
of many years,
none of which, I think, I ever wasted.
Do you need a prod?
Do you need a little darkness to get you going?
Let me be urgent as a knife, then,
and remind you of Keats,
so single of purpose and thinking, for a while,
he had a lifetime.
Late yesterday afternoon, in the heat,
all the fragile blue flowers in bloom
in the shrubs in the yard next door had
tumbled from the shrubs and lay
wrinkled and fading in the grass. But
this morning the shrubs were full of
the blue flowers again. There wasn’t
a single one on the grass. How, I
wondered, did they roll back up to
the branches, that fiercely wanting,
as we all do, just a little more of
Pathway 2  Oil on paper on panel  12x15" © 2019 Janice Mason Steeves


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