I will not be afraid.

Stone-arrows-mark-the-Camino

Last night I finished reading the final pages of  The Camino Letters by Julie Kirkpatrick. There is a lot that I could, and probably will eventually say about this book. About how I came to know about it and read it. About the comfort and affirmation that I have found in its pages.  Much like Julie’s journey, I feel like my finding of this book was not just by chance. I feel as though I have been walking toward this book, mindfully, for the last year – before it was ever even published. And in other ways, I’ve probably been walking toward this book, unknowingly, for a lifetime – being slowly prepared and made ready for what I would find here.

The Camino Letters is really just about a woman who goes for a long walk. Okay, maybe not quite. Maybe it’s more about a woman who goes for a long walk and invites her community of friends to come with her, in the form of tasks that they give her, one for each day. Tasks that, looking back, I’m sure just look like gifts. At least from my vantage point.

It’s about stepping out of the familiar. It’s about being brave. Being honest – with self, with others. It’s about going to the places that scare you. It’s about discovering just how strong you really are. It’s about humility. It’s about beauty. Hope. Tears. Laughter. Strangers. Belonging. Acceptance. Clarity. Death. Life. It’s about making a choice to truly live your life. To not let pain or fear or work or pride hold you in a place that will harm you. It’s about a woman who goes for a long walk and finds herself in a different place than where she started from.

That may just be skimming the surface.

I met Julie, briefly, this past summer. She was promoting The Camino Letters at an art show in a mutual friends garden. That friend had been telling me about the book for months, as it was being written. I was already intrigued and planning to read it when it came out. But I’ll never forget my conversation with Julie under the hot sun in Brian’s garden that afternoon. I remember her face as she talked about the book. I remember the pure joy and excitement that poured out of her as she told me, a stranger in a garden, about how that long walk changed her life. I remember being struck by her honesty, her vulnerability. I remember buzzing as I walked away…her aliveness was contagious.

I took my time in reading this book. I tried to walk it like a pilgrimage. Taking time to breathe, to look around, to be present in the midst of it. In so many ways it’s a simple thing – a collection of letters written to friends, a long walk in a new place…

Yes. In so many ways it’s a simple thing. Opening our eyes. Breathing deep. Living truthfully, gratefully, courageously. Trusting the ones who love us. Trusting that the journey will bring us exactly what we need. Trusting that this life is bigger, richer, deeper, than we’ve ever allowed ourselves to know.

We’re all just out on a long walk, after all. Moving, learning, growing, one step at a time…

I am tired of being afraid of being known. And so I have decided here, on this path, that I will no longer hide myself, or morph myself, or have myself sucked out of me. I will be more as I have been here. I will not be afraid.

So what that I have crazy things happening in my life that make me feel sometimes that I am losing my mind? Am I the only one? I can’t be. Gosh, I hope not. Because really, it is so strange and exciting and perfect and wonderful. I want to shout from the top of a mountain, “Look, look, open your eyes! Look at what is there!” There is so, so much more to us than we allow.


– The Camino Letters, pg. 217

there is nothing more to it than that

Often, I write all day long with white ink on white paper, late into the night, until it is all I can do to feel the letters curving to earth from the tip of the pen & then, I fall asleep. Dreaming of running, or maybe driving in a car the color of water & I wake the next day remembering nothing & I gather the stack of paper & a pen of black on the desk in front of me & the words begin to dance over the page like long legged insects across a still lake & the words in white whisper behind & underneath the new day. If there is any secret to this life I live, this is it: the sound of what cannot be seen sings within everything that can. & there is nothing more to it than that.

– Nothing More, StoryPeople

the words in white whisper

the words in white whisper

10 things i miss today.

just a list of sorts:

1.

breakfasts like this.

breakfasts like this.

2.

good moments on this patio.

hours spent on this patio.

3.

eating this.

eating this.

4.

perfect places like this.

perfect places like this.

5.

moments like this.

moments like this.

6.

playfulness without hesitation.

playfulness without hesitation.

7.

days like this.

days like this.

8.

the garden like this.

the garden.

9.

sitting in this field.

sitting in this field.

10.

campfires and the magic they bring.

campfires and the magic they bring.

Each time I have come, I have learned something more.

image courtesy of The Peterborough Examiner

image courtesy of The Peterborough Examiner

Brian Nichols is a dear friend and teacher of mine. His life truly is his art, and it is some of the most inspiring I have seen. He is just finishing up a month long visit to Zimbabwe. This article is one of a series that was published about his time there in our local newspaper this week.

……

It’s mid-afternoon on the men’s ward. The sun has reached its peak in the sky, throwing sunlight through hospital windows onto beds and patients.

A man with cloudy, cataract-filled eyes is on one bed; an infection has resulted in the recent amputation of his left leg above the kneecap. He’s extremely skinny but has lean muscular arms. He appears to be in his 30s.

He speaks broken English and says his name is Americo. He was born Zimbabwean but came to the hospital from neighbouring Mozambique. He is alone. No family members have visited.

Peterborough psychotherapist Brian Nichols, a 58-year-old who runs his practice from his 160-year-old East City home, has been visiting Americo for several days.

Nichols arrived in Zimbabwe in early January with Millbrook lawyer Julie Kirkpatrick and Peterborough carpenter Jeff Mathers, owner of Hickory Lane Kitchens on Perry St. The three will spend a month here before heading home. They will donate all their possessions and leave solely with the clothes on their back.

It’s Nichols’ sixth trip to Howard Hospital, a Salvation Army facility 80 kilometres north of Zimbabwe’s capital Harare in the Mazowe district of the country’s Mashonaland Central Province.

Nichols fell in love with Zimbabwe, and the work at the hospital, during his first visit six years ago.

“It gets in your blood,” he explains.

He now calls the grounds his second home, flying in every year with thousands of dollars in Peterborough donations and suitcases full of clothes and supplies.

If the hospital had the time or resources to erect plaques, Nichols’ name and those of a loose affiliation of Peterborough volunteers including Larry Gillman and Jenn Reid would be here.

Peterborough donations, collected through Donwood United Church, have contributed to everything from bricks and mortar to bed sheets to school sponsorships for the Salvation Army schools on the hospital grounds.

Reid, a midwife who teaches health sciences at Fleming College, first came to Howard Hospital in 2001. Gilman and Nichols soon followed, making annual pilgrimages.

Nichols figures Peterborough raises about $30,000 in cash and supplies for the hospital each year.

But it’s the intangibles, the hands-on care provided by Nichols and the volunteers such as Kirkpatrick and Mathers, who make the two-day voyage to Zimbabwe, that leave a more lasting impression.

Here lays Americo, wearing a beaded bracelet on his skinny wrist. His eyes light up as the white-haired, bearded Nichols enters the ward, taking out a MP3 player and placing speakers above Americo’s bed. Shona music echoes through the ward, which has 20 male patients.

The dull mood in the room leaves. Patients sit up and start talking.

Nichols pulls out a container of beads and cuts a line of fishing wire for Americo to start a necklace. He then prepares him for a massage.

“There is a lot of pain from lying in the bed. The muscles waste and the patients get bed sores, so this prevents some of that,” Nichols said, performing a Thai massage on Americo. “I believe the energy in my hands can be transferred to the person.”

Americo moans in gratitude as Nichols moves on to the next patient.

It’s estimated more than 60% of the hospital patients are HIV-positive.

As stigma surrounding AIDS remains prevalent in Zimbabwe, family members are often wary of touching loved ones with the disease.

It’s likely Nichols will be the first person to touch some of these patients in many months, said Dr. Paul Thistle, the hospital’s chief medical officer.

Nichols has worked hard over the years to teach family members, and even hospital staff, that touching is not only OK, but beneficial, Thistle said.

“He provides this physical, spiritual support -hands on -to patients who traditionally would not be touched. Because of the stigma of HIV/AIDS, they have been the untouchables,” Thistle said.

“Brian comes in and tears down those barriers and shows the nurses and the staff and the patient’s family that there is no concern.”

Nichols, who along with his wife Paulette, has raised two children in Peterborough, said a sense of calling draws him back to Howard every year.

“When I arrive, people say welcome home,” he said. “Each time I have come, I have learned something more.”

Learning to overcome suffering is a work in progress, he said. Howard Hospital has fewer than 150 beds, but it’s not unusual to be dozens of patients over capacity, lining the halls and cramming into the four wards.

Zimbabwe has one of the world’s worst infant mortality rates and is prone to epidemics such as the 2008 cholera outbreak that claimed thousands of lives.

Death is a daily part of the hospital’s reality.

Part of the hospital’s role is to provide palliative care for dying patients. Nichols often finds himself accompanying people in the last days, hours and minutes of their lives.

“I have held people as they struggled to die,” he said. “We don’t keep track of numbers, but one week I did, and there were 14 deaths in the children’s ward.”

Every death leaves a scar, he said. To wake up and bring joy to the ward the next day, he has had to hone his coping tools.

Those tools became oil pastels, paintbrushes and paper, tools he uses to create an ongoing series of paintings, his attempt to share with the world what he sees in Zimbabwe.

“I’m able to take the suffering here and make meaningful work that can connect to people in the Canadian context,” he said. “I want people in Peterborough to care.”

The paintings adorn the walls of his home and were featured in September at The Spill on George St.

An introspective person at heart, Nichols spends sundown with his fellow Peterborough travellers reflecting on the day’s events.

Sitting on the porch of a small shop in a neighbouring village, Nichols sips a quart of cheap Zimbabwean beer and talks about Americo.

Thistle has given the man a 50/50 chance of surviving his amputation.

The conversation is interrupted by a local man the Peterborough group has nicknamed -Wire Boy -an untreated schizophrenic named Tonganai Chakenetsa who wears a wire crown on his head.

Many of the local villagers tease Wire Boy, who is intelligent but struggles to make sense of his words, often rambling on for minutes at a time.

Nichols stops his conversation and begins a dialogue with the young man.

Within minutes, the two are on the ground, using a stick to scrawl images into the red, dirt road. The art project turns into a dancing match. The two perform flips and break-dance to the entertainment of about 50 onlookers who have circled them.

“I just wanted people here to know he’s likeable,” Nichols explains as he walks back to the hospital grounds in the dark.

For Nichols, coming to Zimbabwe is about making connections, if only briefly.

Faced with the daily reality of death, Nichols has developed a positive outlook in the past six years that he attempts to teach each new visitor.

“I know many of the people I see on the ward won’t make it through the night, but wasn’t I fortunate to make that connection with them before they died.”

(Written by Galen Eagle, The Peterborough Examiner )

the man got down on his knees for music

Beethoven

Beethoven

Shane Koyczan finds a way to get me to stop everything i’m doing and listen to whatever it is he has to say. I listened to this one on repeat today. It’s kind of just the way it has to be done. There are so many words said with so much heart, if you only listen once you risk missing the point.

Listen.

Then listen again.

what i am is

i spent my morning today with one of  my favorite people. his name is mr. jones, and what he lacks in size and years he makes up for in courage and delight.  in the middle of playing cars and watching cars and making music and eating snow and jumping on beds and building towers and destroying towers and trying out words and bursting out laughs, mr. jones and i spent some time dancing.

this boy has a soft spot for a certain songstress named Feist and her 1,2,3,4 masterpiece that she sings on the streets of Sesame. her smooth voice and spot on counting mastery woos him every time, and gets his little hips wiggling and his voice ooooohing. she’s pretty cute too, and i think that doesn’t hurt.

i must admit that i had never fully explored the wealth of Sesame Street music that is, apparently, out there. amazing, really. and while no one really won the boy childs heart away from the countess, we did break out some good moves to a few other songs. including this one, which i think tied as a favorite for me.

you might think you’re too old for Sesame Street now. and if that’s the case, i’m really sorry. i am. and i hope soon you can find that part of you that you grew out of somewhere along the way, and when you find it i hope you dust it off and try it back on, because i’m pretty sure that if you just take a deep breath and wiggle your old bones a bit, you’ll find that childlike part of you still fits you like it was made for you.

because it was.

and it still is.

and sometimes we just need someone to come along and feed us some fresh snow and remind us to stop taking ourselves, our lives, so seriously. to loosen us out of whatever we’ve grown into and help us remember how to dance.

me and mr. jones

me and mr. jones

big art in small spaces

collage madness

I am. I am not.

a thursday afternoon in a small back room in an old motel.

beautiful art, honest art, was born.

grateful to bear witness.

a tale…

A curious man once asked to visit heaven and hell. Expecting hell to be a terrible, frightening place, he was amazed to find people seated around a lovely banquet table. The table was piled high with every delicious thing one could possibly want. The man thought, Perhaps hell is not so bad after all.

Looking closely, however, he noticed that everyone at the table was miserable. They were starving, because although there was a mountain of food before them, they had been given three-foot-long chopsticks. There was no way to carry the food to their mouths with such long chopsticks, and so no one could eat a bit.

The man was then taken to heaven. To his surprise, he found the exact same situation as he had seen in hell. People were gathered around a banquet table piled with food. All the diners held a pair of three-foot-long chopsticks in their hands. But here in heaven, everyone was happily eating the delicious food, for the residents of heaven were using their extra-long chopsticks to feed one another.

illustration by Yunmee Kyong

illustration by Yunmee Kyong

till you yourself burst into bloom

IMG_2137

I hope you will go out and let stories happen to you and that you will work them, and water them, with your blood and tears and laughter ‘till they bloom, ‘till you yourself burst into bloom.

-Clarissa Pinkola Estes

me and the honeybee.

the house that lillian built

the house that lillian built

This is a story.

This is a story of a family.

This is a story of a woman. A man.

A baby dropped off on a doorstep.

This is a story of a log cabin. A pet bear. A long sleigh ride. A lost love. A bad reputation. A broken heart. A car accident. A second chance.

This is a story of acceptance

of loneliness

of resilience

of friendship

of faith.

This is a story found in old letters, pressed flowers, and black and white photographs.

This is a story written in a grandmothers morning prayers and a young girls autographs.

This is a story full of ordinary moments that are too many to ever remember,

that are too significant to ever forget.

This is a story of a beekeeper,

a quilter,

and the passing of time.

This is a story of an artist –

curious,

heartbroken,

humbled,

And a family who were brave enough to let her come in.

“The truth about stories is that that’s all we are.”

– Thomas King

morning prayers

morning prayers

the wish of me

the wish of me

( Letters Home will be up in The Music Market Cafe for the month of November)

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Words + Photos + Credit

Unless otherwise noted, all original photography and text are property of Raechelle Kennedy. If you see or read something here and feel inspired to share it somehow, please be considerate and give the artist (me!) credit, or even better, drop me a note and make sure I don’t mind.
Thank you!

Here + There

Secondhand Sainthood and the gift of losing it all – Topology Magazine, December 2015

Ten Things Made – Topology Magazine, December 2015

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