When my first husband, Ramsy, was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer in 2010, I had to do a lot of re-learning. Gifts I had appreciated and come to rely on, like his goal-oriented mind, his physical labour around the house, and the comfortable place we held in our community, began to disappear. It was gruelling and terrifying to watch pieces of our life, and pieces of him, slip away. I grieved those losses. I fought against some of them; some I managed to let go of more gracefully.
The amazing thing, though, is that the loss of those gifts did not mean that there were no gifts anymore. New gifts came: a clearer sense of priorities; a developing ability to say “no”; a vivid awareness of God’s presence and character; unflagging help from friends and acquaintances; a heightened sensitivity to others’ struggles. The list goes on and on. A few years after Ramsy died, I met a man who had also experienced heartbreaking losses, and who has become my new husband, Paul. He and I continue to watch as gifts reveal themselves, in flashes or in slow unveiling, in front of us, in ourselves, and in our children.
I believe we are able to see these gifts only because we are looking for them. If I had stood with my hands tightly clenched around the memories of the gifts of my old life, I would have been blind to the beauties that were flowing around and through me. Like a child throwing a tantrum in a grocery store, I would have been so consumed with being denied that box of frosted fruit sugar-o’s that I would have been unable to see the bounty being piled into the cart. I believe each one of us must play a part in opening our hands to receive the blessings God is showering over us.
Photo by Shannon Kutcher
That is not as easy as it sounds. It is sometimes incredibly painful to sacrifice the old gifts. It can feel like defeat, or maybe like betraying someone we love. It might be done with a deep sigh or a scream of rage. It might require opening our hands again and again as we choose each day to relinquish those old gifts and reach for the new ones.
If you live in the prairies, odds are that you have been on the receiving end of comments like these from a visitor or newcomer: How can you stand to live in the prairies? There’s nothing to see. I realize that to people who come from rolling hills or craggy mountains, the prairie appears flat and monotonous. I will concede the “flat” part, but monotonous or boring? I feel the opposite way about our geography.
Have these people ever seen how the sky, horizon, and highway combine in gorgeous lines and generous proportions? Have they watched the unending variety show that the clouds put on? Have they noticed the patches of colour that flash by their car windows as the pink wild roses, purple alfalfa, acid yellow canola, silvery-green oats, bleached wheat stubble or chocolate-brown cattails roll by?
I think the answer must be no. They have not found these treasures because their eyes are still looking for the familiar and beloved views they are used to, and they never forgive the prairies for not being like wherever “home” is. But among such people, I know there are some who come to love this landscape, and discover previously unknown beauties in it.
Life offers us all kinds of treasures as we make our ways through the years. I think of the thrill of choosing a treat when, as a child, I shopped with my grandma; the excitement of taking the stage in high school plays; the flutters and chills of falling in love; the mild winters I enjoyed living in Kelowna; as a parent, the softness of my baby’s hand touching my cheek; as a teacher, the satisfaction of building trust with a skittish student. Many gifts are tangible. Some are long-lasting and others are fleeting.
What I have learned, and am challenged to re-learn at each turn of my life’s path, is that I must look for the gifts. My heart and mind get used to certain privileges and blessings at each stage. It is hard to say goodbye to any of them. What I know without a doubt is that when we open our hands, our eyes, our hearts, to what our new “home” is, we will begin to see the beauties that belong to its distinctive landscape, and we will live here, now.
Shannon Kutcher is Manitoba-born and Saskatchewan-raised, the daughter of “Kitchen Table” columnist Lloyd Ratzlaff. She currently lives in rural Manitoba and spends her time teaching, reading, writing, and making music, as well as grandmothering, mothering and wife-ing her sweet family.