I once had one of the most memorable encounters with an 86-year old woman named Janice that has left a deep imprint, reinforced every time I drive by the bus stop where she was hit by car and died 4 days later.
Janice and I met randomly – or not – at the library. “Isn’t it amazing how much wisdom is hidden inside all of these books?,” she asked, looking up from the book in her hand. The curious sparkle in her blue eyes hadn’t faded over the years, I thought. “Yes,” I responded, “One of the reasons why I am here.” Janice tilted her head down, once more studying the book in her hand.
“What book do you have there?,” I asked. She smiled.
Janice was 86 years of age. As a young professional, she worked as a secretary to the psychology department at the Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, BC. The perfect place for Janice to discover her gift as a natural mediator and healer. In conversation, she recalled a student storming into the office one day.
“The therapist couldn’t see the young man right away, so we got chatting in the waiting room.” Janice’s eyes drifted off to the side. She squinted slightly as if she was trying to re-create the entire scene in her mind’s eye. “By the time the therapist was able to see the student, there was no more need for him. The young man was able to calm his anger simply by talking about it,” she explained.
“All I did was listen and ask a few strategic questions to help him realize that he can let go of anger. That it was just one choice away.”
Janice and I discussed the spell that emotions have on us – how they affect our thoughts and actions. “We have to take responsibility,” Janice implored as she revealed the cover of her book, in an endearing, theatrical gesture to emphasize her point. ‘TAKING RESPONSIBILITY,’ it read in big font letters. We both laughed.
Janice believed in the power of healing. As the wife to a German man who was raised during the Nazi era, she felt a deep sense of compassion for his shortcomings as a husband and father.
“It wasn’t always easy,” Janice remembered. “Sometimes he would get angry out of nowhere, pack his bags and leave.” When her husband returned – which he always did shortly after – he would do so with a heavy load of remorse. “He would say, ‘I don’t know what’s wrong with me, Janice!”” Every time, she welcomed him back with open arms.
She lived in integrity with Love as her life philosophy:
“Everything that doesn’t appear as love is a call for love.”
Janice knew that everything her husband experienced during War inflicted pain and suffering on him and others. The emotional residue from those wounds still affects them 50 years later. In true saint fashion, Janice was able and open to seeing the wounds behind her husband’s words and actions, but she understood that she could never heal them for him. That wasn’t her responsibility. And still, she said quietly, “I wish he could have practiced self-forgiveness and let go of the things that happened in the past – for his own health and happiness.”
Janice also spoke of teachers that inspired her to cultivate a deeper sense of compassion for self and others. One of them was her husband’s friend – a German fellow who married a Jewish woman. Due to his cultural background, the wife’s family never spoke or otherwise acknowledged him. He was never invited to any of the in-law gatherings, whether they be Sunday dinners or grand weddings.
“He never held a grudge. He never got mad at his wife or her parents. He knew better than to take it personally. He knew that they were only acting from a place of pain that they endured during the War times,” Janice explained with admiration. The in-law family was projecting the suffering they endured as Jews onto him because he happened to be German.
Janice broke off. Her eyes lowered, her thoughts deepened.
“We all need to start taking responsibility for the pain that resides within us. We need to start forgiving ourselves and others.”
An hour passed in no time at all. Janice and I danced from one topic to the next, covering a lot of ground – between and beyond life and death.
Some of the subjects were deep but never felt heavy. Janice had a lightness about her. Often she would weave in personal stories. They never seemed distracting, and served more so as reminders about the interconnectedness of all things.
“The other day, I watched two birds on my porch – one male and one female,” is how one of them began.
“Every time the male got close, the female would skip away. Then, the male turned his butt towards the female and started to walk backwards. He thought that if he couldn’t see her, then she couldn’t see him and wouldn’t walk away. I could see how much fun the female had watching this little guy get crafty.”
Janice laughed in delight.
I got the sense that she found joy and beauty in a lot of ordinary things, which is one of the reasons why I think she was such an extraordinary person.
“Would you like my phone number?,” I asked Janice as our conversation came to a reluctant closing. Her eyes lit up once more. “I would love that,” she responded, and I knew she meant it.
Janice never called. She died in a tragic car accident four days later.
This post is in honour and memory of Janice Farrell. May we all find joy, beauty, peace, and inspiration in her life wisdom after 86 years of being here. May she continue to grace us with her light presence in whatever shape or form.
May we honour ourselves in her Spirit and those who came before, by taking responsibility for the pain that resides in all of us.
May we remember that death is a constant companion that could bring our life or those we love to an end, at any moment.
May we heal.