Posted April 13, 2011 | by Sue Kenney | in Books | no responses
A Modern Day Pilgrim
Our bodies move in precision gracefully gliding as one force caressing the still water below, as if being lead by the rhythm of a secret dance. My mind was calm. My soul surrendered in a balanced state without resistance as our crew of eight strong women rowed precisely in rhythm along the shores of Lake Ontario.
It is 5:00 a.m. Darkness blankets the vitality of the lake that rests on the shores of the still sleeping city of Toronto. Our coxswain Ann, lies in the bow of the boat steering the course while calling out the training drill. Each of the rowers in our crew obediently aligns with stroke as she leads us to work in concert through a unified timing. The set cadence acts like a mantra that frees the mind to focus the core body on the application of power transferred and then released. At precisely the same time, each rower presses into the foot stops set in the belly of the boat. Our arms act as a leverage to the long oars gently cutting the blade into the moving water in anticipation of that precise moment of contact
that will unify the crew's combined power to hurtle the boat forward.
The boat releases the sound of air bubbles beneath, a sign it is running efficiently over the water. Suspended in movement, there is an ever-so-slight resistance felt as the oar collar makes contact with the back of the oarlock with a solid "chunk" sound. This is followed by a familiar whooshing sound as the crew presses through the water in unison. In a moment of transformation, the boat and crew's 1500 pounds propel forward with force and grace, followed by a pause as we recover in preparation for the next stroke.
Over the past six years I had taken up the sport of rowing, initially to overcome the despair I felt over my younger sister Donna's diagnosis of terminal cancer. By putting my anger into the water, I believed this allowed me to be more present to the needs of Donna, her three young boys, and less encumbered with my own sorrow. It helped me emotionally as I floundered in sadness to accept her last days on earth, only fifteen months later.
Unexpectedly, my fondness for the sport grew and soon I was training and competing as a master rower. In summer 2001, following 38 days of tryouts, I had made the crew selection for a priority boat destined to represent Canada at the 28th World FISA Master's Rowing Championships in Montreal, Quebec. I was to be rowing in the company of national level athletes like Maureen, who had rowed with Princeton's crew. Cathy and Jen had all rowed in university, each one excelling in the sport to reach national level status. Gina had been rowing at a competitive level since high school. Kathy was our bow person and one of the novice rowers together with Cori and me, who had taken up rowing, as a sport in mid-life.
The average age of our eight woman crew was 42 years! The youngest person was Erin, an unbelievable athlete at 34. We competed in the A category against other boats with an average crew age of 27 to 34 years and in spite of our age, we won a gold medal. With the pride and glory of a world master's gold medal around my neck, I still longed for more in my life. Something was missing.
In October of 2001, I was a well-paid account executive with an international high-tech corporation working in Markham, Ontario. Often I worked at home or at the client's office in downtown Toronto. Earlier that week, the Vice President of Sales had asked me to come to the office for a meeting on Monday morning at 9:00 a.m. Arriving early, I checked my voice mail, updated my greeting and then went to the meeting room to find the door closed. When I entered, I recognized the woman from the Human Resources department sitting on the far side of the boardroom table looking rather stoic and holding a file folder in front of her. I tried to gather my composure as I became immediately more aware that one of my deepest fears was now a reality. I was about to face the process so very active in the new business practices today: corporate downsizing.
The Vice President of Sales was standing directly behind me. He suggested I sit down and without delay I was informed that my position was redundant. I was handed a package and encouraged to read the material at a later time when I could better distill the situation. I was asked to turn in my corporate credit card, cell phone, personal organizer, laptop and company ID card. The woman from Human Resources took me to my desk, offering me a cardboard box for my personal belongings. Many of my colleagues stopped by to offer their genuine regrets and best wishes. Rummaging through my desk drawers in a state of embarrassed shock, it was obvious I was not yet fully aware of the implications of losing my job. Once I had gathered my personal things, I was escorted to the side doors of the building, and through them for the last time. This resulted in a blunt ending to my lifetime career in the corporate world of telecommunications. I felt so very much alone.
I was a single mother and world class rower, without a job. The entire telecom market had weakened and the prospects for another position in that industry were dim. My identity was wrapped around the roles of being a mother, athlete and a business woman. The abrupt changes to my secure roles had appeared suddenly leaving me feeling abandoned and hollow. Driving home from the office I found myself seriously considering what to do with my life. This was a perfect time for me to consider re-creating myself.
After my marriage separation, our three children came to live with me in Toronto. John, their father, had moved about two hours east of the city to be in a small town, something he had always dreamed of doing. My oldest daughter Tara, who was 19 at the time, went to university at Kings College and was now living in London, Ontario. During the past summer, my youngest daughter Simone, who was 14 years old decided she would be going to live with her dad to start high school there. This was a new stage of her life and it was likely she would complete her education there. A feeling of grief overtook me as I imagined her not living with me for the next four years - and possibly longer.
Meghan, my middle daughter was 16. She would be finishing high school in June of that year with plans to go to university or college. It was likely she too would be moving out. My nurturing role was changing whether I liked it or not. Soon the house would be empty. As teenagers, many of their life lessons are learned through experience not by what I could teach them. This forced me to let go of my desire to keep control over their lives.
As their independence strengthened, my motherly efforts evolved to the role of a guide. I could show my daughters the way, but I could not take them there. There was a degree of satisfaction in guiding their souls that ultimately revealed my maternal desire to nurture other souls in the universe, in the same way. This was a turning point for me as I began a new search for my feminine role - one that didn't involve climbing the corporate ladder to success.
It was mid-morning when I finally arrived home. I hoped my friend and next door neighbor, Lucy, would be there to offer some sensible advice, but her driveway was empty. I left my little box of personal belongings on the floor inside the door. The house was quiet. Walking into the kitchen, I sat at the table not really sure about what to do next. My eyes wandered over the material things I had acquired, realizing how little they meant to me anymore. I felt sad and depleted of life's passion. There must be something I could do I thought to bring more meaning to my existence.
And so the journey begins…
Sue Kenney's My Camino - Chapter 7 Stone by Stone adaptation now translated in Spanish, German and Portuguese!
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