Autumn has leaned in and lightly brushed Summer’s forehead with a kiss. The clouds are more robust and cast in a lovely hue of slate grey. The sun, requiring more beauty rest, sleeps later in the morning and slips away a bit earlier in the evening. The rains, which all summer were self-conscious and shy, seem to have become comfortable in their own skin and let loose with unpredictable abandon, dousing one playfully without a moment’s notice.
The staccato of lids snapping on jars of pickles, relish, and applesauce can be heard in the kitchen, and it is another sign of Autumn’s imminent arrival. It is the time of year when I become a hunter and a gatherer of food, scouring roadside stands and small markets looking for the produce I’m grateful someone else makes the effort to grow. Every year I call my Mom and ask again how to make yellow bean salad the way she did. We discuss again how to keep those little dills crisp. Often those conversations will trigger memories for Mom of her own mother’s canning methods and there will be nostalgia in the remembering as well as a sense of ancestral matriarchal preserving being passed along for posterity.
My neighbour lady will call me in July – “Chudy, do you need raspberries?” – and so begins our neighbourly exchange of Harvest apples, black currents, raspberries, and tomatoes. Exchange is a generous word because, other than the Harvest and St. Lawrence apples, mostly it’s me benefiting from her pickings. When stopping by at another neighbour lady’s paltry roadside table to find baby cucumbers, I see a face in the window and out she bustles with a daughter or two in tow. She thrusts a handful of late asparagus to me, and tells me just to take it when I ask how much. That handful of asparagus feels like a token of friendship. We admire her purple tomatoes, discuss rainfall and apples, and then go our very different ways.
We live in a farming community and have many Old Order Mennonite neighbours who live with an outwardly distinct lifestyle. While our heritage is rooted in that same tradition, the divide in how we live our lives, at a glance, can appear both deep and wide. However, the common goal of filling our cellars provides this nonthreatening shared space where we can interact, and I realize that though we may appear quite different outwardly, our lives can touch meaningfully nonetheless.
Creativity, joy, and loss don’t require a dress code.
When I see the patches stitched into colourful patterns, when we tell each other of our grandchildren, when we touch lightly on the loss of her son, then I see that we are nothing more, nothing less than two women sharing life experience. Our differences need not be what defines us and certainly need not separate us. While what we each bring to the table may look vastly different, we can still share that same table. We may land in two very different places if we were to discuss issues we grapple with, but that need not be the litmus test of belonging.
It is much too easy to allow assumptions related to outward appearance, skin colour, and gender determine our thoughts and interactions. It takes time to undo those assumptions and a slowing down to take in the undoing. Most labels, I find, are tight-fitting, snug, irritating, like an ill-fitting neckline that constantly needs tugging. Can I learn to cultivate a label-less grace? Can I see the image of Love patterned into each face regardless of apparel or appearance? Can I offer my own self, free of self-inflicted constraining labels, as a safe and restful place? Can I take the stance of a learner rather than a judger in the face of “not like me”? Can differences be respected and celebrated rather than stigmatize and separate?
And so, as we give shape and voice to the creativity that is the mark of the Artist in each of us, as we celebrate and laugh in our joys, as we grieve and weep in our losses, let us come to the table with our own offerings, but let us also be sure to be pulling out the chair for the other. We do not have “a corner on the market” at this table. Let’s expand our preferences and dismantle our exclusions. And let us be mindful of those sacred ordinary spaces where shared story can dissolve assumptions and preserve a deep listening.