Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas

On a day when we celebrate the Gift of light and joy through the birth of Jesus Christ, I was reminded of some obscure and long ago memories of my youth. Not that I'm old, mind you. I've often wrote about when I receive my inspiration and when the creative flow moves most swiftly through me; it's typically around three a.m. I awoke last night remembering a man that worked at the same retail store as I did when I was in high school.

The first time I met Charles, he was coming into work at the end of the day to clean the store. He was friendly and very social. While I could understand him well, I noticed that the people around me never knew what he was saying. Curious.

One day, my boss asked him to sign his time card, and he placed an 'X' on the line. I learned that day that Charles was illiterate. He shared some of the hardships he had endured throughout his life.

This struck a deep cord in me, a person with a deep attachment to books and reading and writing. I was young, and I had never met someone who couldn't read or write, but in that moment I understood why his speech and language ability was so impaired. In that moment, I learned about life. I learned that life isn't fair and that fellow humans endure sufferings I had only just begun to understand.

In the midst of his challenges, Charles was always happy. He moved me with his bright spirit, never cross or withholding. I often wondered how I'd behave with the same limitations. And then, I thought of my great grandmother.

She wasn't illiterate, but she never learned English having come from Italy and living amongst her own in an Italian neighborhood in Chicago. She never wrote in Italian because there was no one to write home to. When she tried to learn English by speaking to the other women in the mill where she worked, they made fun of her of her accent. She quit, feeling humiliated. Thinking of that now makes me sad. I wish I had been there to encourage her to defend herself and persevere.

Both of these situations have a common foundation. Charles had a loving wife and children; my great grandmother had a loving husband and children who adored her. In the end, they had family to buoy them when the world was tough, unjust, and cruel. Perhaps hearing about my great grandmother's life prepared me to open my heart to Charles, not judge him or turn away from him when he wanted company and conversation.

The world hasn't changed much since the days of my great grandmother. There are ever increasing numbers of people who can't speak English entering our country, and the NAAL (National Assessment of Adult Literacy) estimate that 14% of US residents have extreme difficulty with reading and written comprehension. These individuals can be considered illiterate.

On this Christmas day, when the memory of Charles entered my consciousness, I am grateful for having known him and having been moved by his story and example of happiness in the midst of struggle. God bless you, Charles, wherever you are.

My mom made a traditional Italian meal tonight, one that would have meant a day's journey by mule in Italy for my great grandmother in order to buy the necessary ingredients. We spoke of our ancestors at dinner as a way to keep their spirit alive, a spirit of hope, strength, wisdom, and love.

As the new year approaches, may you be embraced by the love and support of family, hold on to hope amidst pain, and grow in love, compassion, and understanding for your fellow brothers and sisters who share your world.

Denise Chicoine

Founder, Soulful Life, LLC

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A Gentle Return

Another Christmas season is upon us, and as I look back at the past year, I marvel at how much my life has changed. The date of my last blog entry marked the beginning of a tough year. Tough because I found myself drowning in unexpected grief and loss. I chose to navigate through the pain in private, not sharing the highs and lows of such a profoundly personal journey. While my insights and experiences may have been helpful to some, I found comfort in going inward, creating silence and space within, in order to heal.

I put my usual, daily routine on hold, and plunged unapologetically into joy-filled, life-engaging pursuits. Internally, quiet and nested; externally, expressive and expansive. Discovering a vibrant life on the other side of grief was unexpected but streamed through in rays of happiness and joy. Too often denied, loss and good-byes persist as they are intimately woven into and essential to the human experience. I look at them differently now, more like portals to the next adventure and sun-drenched horizon.

Healing continues. My gratitude to loved ones and new friends whose patient and loving presence bouyed a weary soul. Recipes that Endure was also shelved this year as I took a long look at the traditions and generational patterns that persist in me and my mom. While a cookbook can be a simple, straightforward project, I wanted to closely examine the familial blueprint etched within me over countless generations. This may sound like useless, painstaking work, but that's where I live! Not afraid to do the work! The end result is a clearer vision for the book and my future; one that is grounded in service and love.

I will be posting vegetarian and vegan recipes to the blog moving forward, so please look for those.
Essentials of a Vegetarian Kitchen is available on Amazon.

Here's to keeping the heart open and the dream alive!

Denise Chicoine
Founder, Soulful Life, LLC