Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Speed of Life

The View to the Cathedral
Victoria, BC
G. Cornwall, c. 2011

Part 1 - The Speed of Life 

"That's the speed of life," I say.
Were I to have glanced away
a moment earlier, what then
my friend?
-another sweet landmine
deep in these woods,
another sweet landmine
I don't remember planting
when last I passed.

Insidious as broom
though nowhere near
as yellow nor stable.
Solid as breath,
the faint warmth
upon my neck 
as you held close
to say

Big bang.
The breath
of goodbye
upon my neck.
The breath of goodbye 
upon my neck.

Part 2 - The Speed of Afterlife

Was it not enough to feel,
to breathe,
for the heart to beat?
In the middle of miracles
I dared ask for more.

In death,
I cannot feel breath.
The light from eyes
does not reflect.
The beat of a heart 
not heard,
for I am gone.

Is it not life 
without witness;
not miracle
without touch?

Whisper my name
that my life sounds
throughout time.
Drum the beat
of my heart
in your ear.
All will hear:
life, life, life,
echo me near,
echo me near.

-Gillian Cornwall, c. April 26, 2013.

Vancouver, English Bay
Gillian Cornwall, c. 2010

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Camp - A Short Story

c. Gillian Cornwall

I published this story, in three parts, in late 2011. For those of you for whom this is a repeat, I apologize.  
I believe all of us understand the wild things when we are children. We just need to be allowed to go out and explore for ourselves sometimes. Perhaps it is part of learning, in a semi-controlled environment, how to face our fears and dreams alone, as part of the bigger picture. I hope you enjoy this tale of mixed fact and fiction. 


   There is a particular scent to the canvas tent with its pine platform floor, replete with eight 9 year old girls, the counsellor-in-training and our revered leader, Liz. After three years of these overnights, I can quite confidently say that, while the scent is unique to these circumstances, it varies little from camp session to camp session and from year to year and tent to tent. I can not fully describe it but I will try to lead you by the nose and give you some idea because it's beautiful and peculiar and, for me, both inviting and petrifying. If one were to mix brown sugar with sweet summer sweat, dry pine and sun-warmed canvas and blend it with stale peanut butter and jam sandwiches from lunches gone by, you'd have a reasonable facsimile of what I'm trying to get at.  

   I already know I like girls. I lie among them and I barely understand how it is I am an interloper in their midst. I have no idea how it is I am different or why I am the only one who feels like this. I am the only one awake in the tent though thousands of crickets and frogs trill beyond our fabric home. They call me, incessant as the sirens of Greek mythology. One more call, this time from the loon, and I silently slide from my sleeping bag placed purposefully by the zippered net door flap. My stealthy exit goes unnoticed or without comment as it is not uncommon for a young girl to require a night time trip to the outhouse; however, this is not my planned destination. I am equipped in my Keds, sweatpants, and hooded sweatshirt having planned my adventure earlier in the evening. I am restless and intense and night time sojourns both feed my sense of adventure and calm my troubled young soul.

    I make my way down the chip trail and across the bridge as the stream below gurgles its greetings, the water on its ceaseless path to bigger bodies. Ahead, the entrance to the cedar wood looms dark and wide and I shiver a little in this moon and star-filled summer night, briefly considering the consequences if caught mid-adventure by a concerned grown-up. My consideration does not outweigh my desire and I carry on down the path and into my beloved cedar wood. While my heart thumps time to this song of escape, it is more excitement than fear as I have walked the trails of this camp and lingered in these woods since age four. I have crunched through the crisp-top winter snows and lazed at the foot of these trees in the dog days of summer. I am comfortable here and more safe on these grounds at any time of day than I ever have been or ever will be at home. I walk here at peace and rest here in the palm of my maker, my nature.
   The scent of living cedar is my mother's milk and the branches sway in a trance with the whisper of the night time breeze. I tread upon the bouncing carpet of cedar fronds and the net of roots beneath my feet. This is a place of magic. This is a place of rope swings and tree forts. It is Peter Pan and Captain Hook and everything wild and good about being a kid. I maintain a ninja silence knowing the boys tribes, including my own brother, sleep in the tree forts overhead. I smile at my courage and, quite frankly, my gall; I will not stop here. I know where I must go. 

   I know where I am drawn. There is peace in this as I walk on. It feels further in the dark than in the light, fewer distractions I suppose, but before long the woods open up to the upper level seating of the council ring and a lone star shoots across the open sky through the thick lick of the milky way. I sit, shoving my fists into the pouch of my hoodie and I sigh heavily into the night. I am a child, an animal with senses sharp and alive, nose to the cool air, eyes darting and adjusting to the light. 

   In this ring, some eternal part of who I am, something I have yet to comprehend, releases and I know I have not come here to be alone as I originally thought. I have come to connect to something, to connect to everything, to belong. My young, taut, clean body breathes in the power of the love of all. I hold this cool night air in my lungs, eyes closed, connected; full. As I release this breath, my self mingled with the universal soul into the one. I open my eyes wide to see the mother wolf staring at me from across the ring. Her two cubs are in tow, wrestling each other and the mother sits, our eyes lock. I gasp. I stay. I feel the hot tears on my cheeks. I understand the journey from longing to belonging. Purity. Comprehension. Love. 

-Gillian Cornwall, c. December 2011.

Photographer unknown
Me - 2nd from the left
Likely 12 yrs old.

If you're a kid and you want someone to talk to about anything, call the Kids Help Phone at:

If you have the ability to donate or want to participate in the walk on May 5, here's where you can find out more: 

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Love is Louder than Loss

Approximately 13 years old

In the Time of the Mill Pond

White-blonde and tanned, a body like a boy, strong and able, peach fuzz arms and legs, I peddled my bike with the metallic blue fleck paint glinting in the summer sun, white grips on chrome replete with multi-coloured streamers framing the white plastic carrier basket that held my brown bag lunch.

I coasted through 1970s suburban Richmond Hill, through the tarmac playground of McKillop Elementary. I thumbed my nose at the Monday to Friday routine, fully ensconced in my Saturday freedom. I cruised down Lucas Street to Mill Street and all the way down to the Mill Pond where I'd lay on the grass in the mottled shade of the weeping willow to eat my peanut butter and jam sandwich and drink my Pop Shoppe Cherry Cola - a Saturday treat. 

After lunch, I parked myself at the edge of the pond to watch the minnows and the sweet mallard ducks plopping into the pond after a waddle across the fresh, damp grass. On this day, a magical creature appeared on a log at the water's edge in the form of a painted turtle with his green and yellow striped skin and his exotic red and black patterned undershell. I immediately named him Eric; I don't remember why - probably a boy crush from camp. I found an empty Player's cigarette pack in which to transport him, figuring he would appreciate the nautical theme and brought him home in the basket of my CCM cruiser.

I had no idea where I would keep him and no idea what his basic needs were. Upon arriving home to our orange brick house with the green garage door, I parked my bike and my dad's green wheelbarrow caught my eye. I took Eric and the barrow around to the backyard to set up his new digs by the tap under the kitchen window. I knew Sara, my Siamese, would make short work of him if he were in the house and my mother would make short work of me if I brought him in. I created a rock island for him and filled the wheelbarrow sufficiently to offer a decent sized pool for my small friend. I went inside and pulled down the appropriate Encyclopedia Britannica to read up on his needs and diet. I was too young to fully comprehend that I had removed him from his natural environment and placed him in an entirely lonely and foreign land. I would come to understand this before too long. I kept him alive and treated him as well as one can treat a reptilian pet, until the big split.

I had to get rid of Eric when my parents finally announced they were getting a divorce. Don't feel bad for me, I was happy I wouldn't hear nor see them fight anymore. The damage to the house, to us, to them, might finally end. 

My first unhappiness in this situation came when I realized my impending choices were:
A.) living with her
B.) living with him.
Where was C.)? I wanted my own place! I honestly believed that living on my own would be a better set up than with either of them. They seemed crazy with anger, disappointment and bitterness. I believed I disappointed them. I feared them. Their pain was palpable and somewhere in my thirteen year old being, I knew it wasn't going to be great, either way.

My second unhappiness came when I heard we would be moving into an apartment with my mother and that an apartment was no place for a turtle or "that damn cat". Eric went to live with a neighbour. I believe he lived a long life with a nice family. Looking back, I can't say he was happy but at least I know they took good care of him.

My third and ultimate unhappiness in this untying of my family came after my mother, brother and I had moved to our tenth floor, 3-bedroom apartment on Yonge Street in North York. I was over the moon excited when I found out that we could bring Sara to live with us in the apartment - much to my mother's chagrin. She said we were going to the mall to purchase a new dish set, where we would meet up with our father who had something to tell us. I couldn't wait to see him to tell him that Sara wouldn't have to stay in the offices of the family business anymore; she could come to live with me! 

In the middle of Sears , I saw my dad and ran to tell him the news. He wasted no time in telling me how the secretary had taken Sara home from the office because she "thought the cat was crying". Sara suffered from weepy eyes. Maybe it was a Siamese thing. He told me how she had escaped from the secretary's house and how he had spent the last two days searching for her through the Richmond Hill countryside and how she had not turned up anywhere. I begged him to take me looking for her right then, to keep looking until we found her. She was my best friend and constant companion. She used to go for walks with me and lurk under the covers in my room when my mom came up to see if "that cat" was hiding there. Eric was awesome, for a turtle kind of pet, but Sara, Sara was the good thing in my life, the unconditional love we need from somewhere - particularly as a child. He said he was sorry but, no, she was just gone and that was that.

My heart truly broke for the first time in that moment. That was when I learned what it feels like to lose someone you love and who, you are certain, loves you. I had no power to change it, no power to take action, no power as a child, no one to talk to and nowhere to turn. Unconditional love was gone.

Insult to injury, my mother made me stay in that store, stay and help her pick out dishes. I stood there staring blankly at the Noritake plates she held up before me, fighting back the tears, while she told me to behave, to try to be civilized. I tried. I stood there, completely distraught, coming to pieces, feeling something die inside me while she compared dish patterns. I wanted to run, to go to find Sara myself, but I knew what it would cost me in trouble, knew what she would have done. I felt like a coward, abandoning Sara like that. I knew she would be looking for me and wondering where I had gone, why I had left her alone. I couldn't even tell her I was sorry. I hadn't even said goodbye. 

I left a big piece of my childhood in the mall and came home with plates, bowls, cups and saucers. I closed myself in my room and prayed Sara would be found by people who would love her well, that she knew I had not abandoned her and I promised her I would never forget her. I never have. It was then that I closed myself off from my family in some ways and waited, day upon day, until I was free to go my own way.

-Gillian Cornwall, April 11, 2013.

I survived the abuse, the fighting, the new schools and the bullying of my childhood because I was lucky enough to access one amazing high school counsellor and a couple of good friends as a child. 

It took some searching to find the supports I needed, both as a young person and as an adult. The cost has been high and more than financial. When I was a kid, it would have been great to have someone to call, anytime, for free, to have someone listen, tell me what I should do, tell me it would be okay.

I am strong from my journey but parts of me were stolen and they cannot be returned. The wounds have healed. The scars remain.  It was a long journey to this place. It took strength and courage each step of the way to learn to love, to let go, to give without need and share the stories of the path I walked.

Help one another. Be kind. Give what you can freely give. Let us love one another well.

If you're a kid and you need to speak to someone right now, call the Kids Help Phone at: 

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Settle Up / Settle Down

Photo of me taken by my friend, Bruce
Garden of the Gods - Keahiakowelo
Lana'i, Hawaii

I am surprised and, sometimes, distraught when I reflect upon containment, on plunges never taken. How much have we missed in our lives by closing our eyes and our hearts in fear? Would we live a larger life in a shorter time if we were forced or, even just able, to see and be twice as much? People have done this in war time, a result of increased odds of not knowing if they would receive the gift of another day of life and love.

I have a Veronica Shorffstall poem going through my head this week as I have taken certain actions in my life for myself:

Comes the Dawn

"After a while you learn the subtle difference 
Between holding a hand and chaining a soul,

And you learn that love doesn't mean leaning
And company doesn't mean security,

And you begin to learn that kisses aren't contracts 
And presents aren't promises.

And you begin to accept your defeats
With your head held high and your eyes open,

With the grace of a woman, not the grief of a child.
You learn to build your roads

On today because tomorrow's ground
is too uncertain for plans, and futures have 

A way of falling down in midflight.
After a while you learn that even sunshine

Burns if you get too much.
So you plant your own garden and decorate

Your own soul, instead of waiting
For someone to bring you flowers.

And you learn that you can really endure,
That you really are strong

And you really do have worth
And you learn and learn ...and you learn

With every goodbye you learn."

-Veronica Shorffstall, 1971.

So, I say, save me from the terror of the parting words, "If only..." or "I wish...". It's true. I fear the possibility of these statements with my dying breaths far more than I fear the potential in a life well-lived, yet I could be doing so much more with my time.

I wonder what it really means to 'settle down' - why 'down'? I suppose 'settle up' only means to pay one's bill. Perhaps we must settle up before we can settle down. After all, what goes up...

Nonetheless, I don't see why one needs to settle at all. I am not specifically referring to the physical - nature and time take care of a certain amount of settling in this regard. Some of my reticence with the term comes from my lean to cross-reference settling with stagnation.

I don't want to become a slow and sleepy dullard, bloated and non-responsive after a lifetime in front of a television, watching life rather than participating. I don't want to end up humming commercial jingles and dreaming of products beyond my means and need. 

More. I ask more of myself and the freedom to accept more. 
Awake. I watch, participate, learn and teach. This is how I want to live and love. I want to embrace life fully without fear. 

Where love, joy and kindness have visited, there exists heaven.

-Gillian Cornwall, revised April 6, 2013. 
Veronica Shorfstall poem found here

Buddha - Hawaii
G. Cornwall, 2006