040“Thirty-five is the pivotal year of change,” Merryde informed me as we clinked glasses full of Australian merlot. The night sky was a romantic chandelier of stars—and that particular evening, Venus, Jupiter and the crescent moon aligned in a very apocalyptic way. They were eerily parallel in the November sky. I had just turned 34, and was more preoccupied with the awareness (that still caught me off-guard) of: “Oh my god, I’m in Africa.” I was as far away from 35 as I was from Canada and maple syrup at that moment.

 As for 35 being a year of change, Merryde obviously had a shiny crystal ball under the table that I didn’t see that night. But I do remember being on the verge of something, even then. It wasn’t quite tangible, but hummingbirds had been visiting me in my dreams for months. They were a sign of restlessness and spoke of change, according to a spiritual higher-up that my friend Gillian had consulted.

The moment I laid my head under the mosquito net in Africa, the restless hummingbirds were rudely ousted out of my dreams and replaced by slithering snakes (which I pooh-poohed as a coincidence considering that I was living among the world’s deadliest in Uganda).

Late night Google research investigations revealed that snakes in dreams indicated transformation. Transcendence even. I was advised to employ lucid dreaming techniques to ask the snakes what they wanted. As if that conversation would go over well.

 If the snakes bit me (which they often did), it was a signal that I was “going through a kind of initiation; a psychological and spiritual trial that had the potential to change my life for the better if I dealt with it bravely and with a clear heart.” Bravery and pit vipers don’t usually fall into the same sentence, but I made note of the possible end result.

And here I am, not exactly with three clicks of the ruby slippers, but, I’m back in the hum and vibration of my Toronto. Thanks to the snakes I guess, and the hummingbirds that initially led me to Africa. My spiritual trial has been temporarily adjourned. Or was it just beginning season two?

Birthdays (like red wine and starry nights) have an indirect way of inspiring reflection and microscopic analysis of the years and the dreams that have propelled us along the way. After an indulgent night at the Sultan’s Tent on Friday, celebrating my 35th in fine Moroccan fashion, I was unbearably full of couscous and braised lamb shank. I was sleepless and I was thinking of Bob, again.

Bob was one of my first massage client’s at the Fairmont Royal York Hotel in 2002. He asked me one question that will never leave me. He breezed in almost daily (when he wasn’t golfing in Palm Springs), a Cuban cigar clenched between his professionally-whitened teeth, stylish and sockless in his Gucci loafers. His suit and perfectly-knotted pink tie probably cost more than my entire wardrobe, but he had charm that matched his wealth. And the first question he asked me when we were introduced?

“Jules, tell me the most amazing thing you’ve done with your life so far.”

Well, no pressure there. I ran with the first flashes that were triggered in my then 28-year-old head. I told him that I had volunteered in the Costa Rican jungle for three months and lived in a hut with a tree bark floor, no walls, and a palm frond roof. That had to be amazing. (Not so amazing was having to bang my boots in the morning to scoot out dormant scorpions and the trench foot that ate at away at my flesh at the same rate as the parasites in my intestines.)

I think of Bob often, especially around my birthday–almost in preparation if I meet him again. I can picture him with his trendy red eyeglasses pushed back on his shock of white hair. “Jules, tell me the most amazing thing you’ve done since I Iast saw you.” It’s a good question—why don’t we ask it of each other more often? We should have answers ready. Are we living our lives to the most amazing capacity?

Of course I would tell Bob of my time in Africa, those precious moments with Micah and the other darling chimps in the Congo hanging around my neck like it was a tree trunk. And how I survived Uganda and the several brushes with death that came in the form of gun-toting wildlife officers wanting to shoot me and my dog, rush-hour boda-boda rides and eating dodgy goat meat from the street vendors. That was amazing too.

But there are other things, and I would need to sit him down for about 35 days to share the rest. What was amazing to me at 25 has become amusing at 35. And at 45? I’ll be writing fortune cookie messages with my profound knowledge and wisdom. 

home-toronto-amster-nairobi 753I remember copying out a passage from one of Douglas Coupland’s books (Shampoo Planet?) in my early 20s about the beauty of hotel rooms. How everyone who stays in a hotel becomes a blank page, waiting to be rewritten. You are allowed to reinvent yourself, over and over again. I loved that—it was strangely reassuring to me then.

And now? I am beginning to crave familiarity. I want to be surrounded by friends who know me and can finish my sentences and bottles of wine. Moving back to Toronto has allowed me to spend an unexpected and treasured amount of time with my parents and brother, Dax. I missed knowing them so intimately. Even though I was just a just a five-hour flight away, many things are lost across the miles. And visiting at Christmas was such a hurried emotional and egg nog-fuelled rush that we were already missing each other on the day of my arrival.

Which doesn’t mean I won’t wander off again to that magnetic place called Africa. I do want to go back, eventually. That won’t change. home-toronto-amster-nairobi 1047Africa has become an integral part of me. I want to see the chimps from the J.A.C.K. sanctuary released into the wild. I want to see Micah, bigger and bolder, finding her place among the group. I want to see the fiery Lubumbashi sunsets that I stared into this past July, and see how far I’ve travelled spiritually since then.

I can’t stop my hungry need to see the world.

My mom told me a few days ago of her plans to travel until she’s physically and financially exhausted. Then she will be happy to be put in a retirement home to stare blankly out the window at the chickadees pecking at the suet feeder. Because then, she will be satisfied and content in what she has seen, comforted by the vivid memories of the misty moors of Scotland, the soupy canals of Ireland, her time in Belgium, Austria, Amsterdam, Italy and beyond.

And this is what it comes down to. What we have seen and who we have shared it with. Our footage changes over the years, as we edit, fast-forward and rewind through certain clips and replace them with others. All that is important is refined, but the structural bones of our life remain, stabilizing us through the years. As we stare out the window at the chickadees, what is it that we will really see before us?

home-toronto-amster-nairobi 881 Just as Jupiter, Venus and the moon realigned, I feel myself doing the same.

 But tell me, what’s the most amazing thing you’ve done with your life so far?

Categories: Polyblogs in a Jar | Tags: , , , | 12 Comments

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12 thoughts on “35

  1. connie

    Thanks Jules . . . it is as if you have been visiting my mind . . . hmmm. Your Mom and I are thinking along the same lines as we want to travel until we cannot move independently and we are ready to adopt a sedentary way of living while we are tickled by the antics of “the Chickadees”. I want to explore many aspects of this amazing world and fly beyond the bonds of the chronic pain that infests my body. Every day I ponder what lies ahead and what I can do to make living more fun and interesting again. When I was in my early thirties I was bitten by the same “bug” as you – perhaps it has really never left. Motherhood, my role as a wife, and my career super-ceded many of my secret dreams which I carry with me yet and it is my hope that I will persevere and be able to release myself from the pain ( the shackles) and be free to travel, create, and really live again!
    I like watching the Chickadees and many other regular feathered and furry visitors in our backyard but I know I am not ready to surrender to solely being entertained and satisfied by them – not for a very long time . . .

    Jules, continue to dream and actively pursue those dreams as you are doing with your African explorations and your writing. Bob was right and so are you. Keep asking that question and acting upon it until you are resigned and ready to watch from your seat by the window too. I believe you are on the right track. Good luck!

    • jules09

      Secret dreams…do tell Connie!

      A few years ago when I visited the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland I witnessed something that will be forever etched in my mind. Bus loads of seniors in their comfortable walking shoes, many of them too uncomfortable to walk anymore.

      As half the group walked towards the Cliffs, the others remained in the parking lot around the coach bus. They could no longer walk that distance, and it made me sick to think that they had spent all their lives saving for this dream trip to Ireland–and because of their age and failing health, they couldn’t see the Ireland they had envisioned. I promised myself to travel and succumb to my dreams now. My RSP’s will be a bit leaner for it, but watching chickadees at the feeder is free.

      I hope those secret dreams of yours come to fruition, and that your chronic pain takes a vacation so you can return to the self that you miss.

      Much love, Jules

  2. Wendy Marriott-Connell

    Man, I need to get out more… 😉
    Thanks for inspiring me yet again, Jules. A beautiful way to start what I hope to be a life-changing week. Looking forward to ’36’…

    ~Wendy Cottonelle (teehee)

    • jules09

      We’ll compare notes next year. And I fully expect you to cross something daunting off your list. Big brother is watching!

  3. Whitney

    Hey Jules
    wow… what a way to start a monday morning for me. That question should be posted on every mirror in every room in the house so that we can look at it and remember that the years will leave us if we don’t use them. Reading your stories and insights into the worlds of costa rica, toronto and africa have let more than a few people live vicarously through the things that you’ve done. Thank you for sharing all of that.
    I’ll definintely be spending some time today… and maybe a bottle of wine thinking about that question, what it is today… and what I want the answer to be by this time next year… and when I hit the moderately momentous ’25’.
    You’re an amazing writer ~ NEVER STOP.
    Sending lots of love. 🙂 Whit

    • jules09

      I must admit, I hesitated for a moment when you said you were drinking wine. My, how the years have passed!

      I’m certain the upcoming and inconquerable world of Whit will be as pleasurable and buoyant as a cruise along the Trent-Severn waterway.

      Keep sailing, sister, with the vibe and verve that is unique to you. Thanks for reading. Lynne put you up to this, didn’t she?

  4. Dee

    You’ve really stirred the pot with this one, Jules! How many of your readers are currently scratching their heads and pondering their accomplishments to date? An inspiration and a delight.
    Happy 35! ~ Dee

    • jules09

      Anyone who orders a nutella crepe with a side of whipped cream is accomplished to me.
      Confident and steadfast in what she wants, such an individual would even go so far as to request the icing off the carrot cake of the customer in front of her. x

  5. Leanne

    very tightly written. one of the best yet.

    • jules09

      Really? Well, thanks. I guess I should keep the post-midnight timeframe for blog-writing.

  6. Noelle

    Ahh, Jules…..you’ve lived life very well. I love your mom’s idea of travel till she’s physically and financially exhausted, I’m hoping to be in that position someday as well. Thanks for sharing your world with us.

  7. Pingback: 36 « Alphabet Soup

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