Breakfast With God…

1927894_20821410128_1102_nAs I sat in Sarah’s yard yesterday, sort of “holding court” in the weird way the universe brings me sometimes, wave after wave of “intervention”, one “coincidence” after another, on the heels of two massive personal losses; my brother three weeks ago and one of my oldest and my beloved friend Rita on Friday.A Zen master and a Sufi master – – all end up in this little yard. The most random group of people and we talk about death and reality and attachment and existence – and somehow we all feel better.

I see the orchestration of something that is taking care of me when I feel broken.

And I am just broken enough to accept it.

It began when earlier I was at work, on the bench on the street, my broken toe aching in the sun trying to play guitar so something would feel normal, but frankly everything felt crappy.  I tried and sing a happy song, but the little kid going by in the stroller frowned at me – she knew I was full of shit so I stopped.

Kid wisdom.

I was thinking about Rita my friend of 30 years, who lived not so far away from my work and would often come by for a hug or a bench chat. She had died the morning before. I kept having weird ideas like…

Wow this is the first Saturday without Rita on the planet. That’s really strange. who am I gonna have breakfast with god with?

A woman stops – she knows me from some music thing in the past – I have helped her, she said. And without knowing what has happened to me, she introduces me to her beautiful smiling eyed red haired friend, who immediately looks at me and makes an assessment.

“Oh – you have something…” she says smiling at me.

“We all have something hun…” I said quietly.

In a few minutes she is sitting beside me and talking rapidly – a man, standing to my side. She describes him – smoking, laughing, very funny. Standing right there.

I see no one, but I can see she is feeling something, and I can hope my brother is the subject of her connection.

She tells me two women, one a sister-mother-sister-mother-sister?

She is confused and asks me if I understand this.

I giggle. If you know my story you’ll know that right about now is when I really began to pay attention.

She tell me me the smaller woman says “all the recipes ” are with my aunt.

Wow…I was looking for my grandmothers special “soft vanilla cookies” recipe for a while not but she never wrote down because she didn’t read or write. Incredible.  Only my husband knew that.

“Yes the women are saying the recipe is written down…”

and I’m thinking…no it cant be. She was unable to read or write.

But then about three seconds later and out of “the blue”, my cousin suddenly appears at the bench to surprise me.

My aunts daughter.

I am completely stunned. No expecting to see her, in fact she didn’t even know I was working.

With no polite introductions to the other women on the bench I b

“OMG – this is HER!”

I had just mentioned her to the women doing my reading – the second before she walked up.

Followed indelicately with

“Louise! Do you have Gramma’s cookie recipe?!” To my wide eyed cousin.

“Yes of course. I have all her recipes written down. I did them myself.”

I had no idea.

Now we are four women, seconds ago most of us strangers hugging on the street, promising to exchange the magical cookie recipe.

Gramma came back to remind em that small things in love are important.

Those cookies were important.

And breakfast really is the most important meal of the day.

For years now, since her cancer got really bad, Rita and I have been having this thing called “Breakfast with God”, where we would meet at the same restaurant in Ste Anne’s where she lived, eat whatever the hell we wanted (pancakes with chocolate chips AND syrup we a perfectly acceptable meal choice) and talk for a few hours about the Big Questions: life, death, relationships, politics, religion – nothing was out of bounds. We talked about things we disagreed on, things we agreed on – and ultimately we talked about God – and what we are , where we come from, where we go to. is there  a place to go to? Did we have past lives? Are we here for a reason?

Rita’s cat Willie

You know – breakfast fodder.

Rita would start…

“Soooo, Josie Brawlt, (she always said my name funny and sang it like a happy little song…), what do you thiiink…?” or something equally direct.

“Think?” I would reply coyly


“oh no no Rita – we have to learn NOT to think – or WATCH our thinking or something. But – apparently not actually spend much time with it – thinking is…pfft – overrated.”

“Well….i don’t agree…” and it would begin. Off to the races.

I love talking philosophy with Rita and these sidetracked convoluted conversations were the fruit of our meal.

I was always honest and so was she. I would watch her face as I spoke as it seemed like she was in a continuous contortion of trying to figure out how to contradict me, even before I had finished. This may have seemed temporarily annoying, but it had the effect of making me watch my words and be very clear in what i was saying. We created a safe “no bullshit zone”.

That’s the great part about a real friend – they can annoy you, and you still wanna come back out and play later. Nothing lingers because it dissolves in love.

I loved the safe feeling of that kind of unconditional love with my friend. I think sometimes we would disagree with each other just to remind each other that we had a vestige of safety when the world fell apart.

In thirty years of friendship, we spent some very long periods not seeing each other at all – and others where we were doing stuff all the time. It was just like that, like the waves of people that cross my path as I sit on the bench at work,remind me that everything happens when it supposed to.

Even if I don’t like it.

I realize that some people have a destiny to be there at exactly when you need them or when they need you. It is a universal law.

Rita’s 50th Birthday

That we always get what we need if we stay open to receiving it, which when we are in pain, can be the hardest time.

Everyone is in pain somehow – sharing it with another person makes it both useful and less poignant.

Those years with Rita may have been fruitful but they were in no way easy.

I felt like I was watching a million lives spin around me at the time. Talk about powerlessness. At the same time as we were doing breakfast with God, I was going through my (biological) mother’s cancer.  I had friends and family going through cancer. Other friends, on the ironic side of “things that suck in life” were committing suicide. It was a painfully transformative time in my life.

As I write this I realize that there is a nasty finality to these epitaphs, and i have had to write far too many, wrapping up the frayed edges of my grief to see what package I can carry with me of the person that once help space and presence in my life. people that had the potential to create new memories with – are now standing still in time in my mind – unable to move forward, but now can only smile at me with encouragement.

keep going Jo!  Enjoy it all! It’s so beautiful – and short.

I hear them calling me. reminding me that I have a privilege in being here and having the choices that humans have to live life.

yes I am grateful. But I miss them.

I am painfully aware that i will never have anything new to write about Rita, or my mother, or my brother or the many many people that have left this life. But here’s the deal – if you have allot of people you love, there is a big big chance you will experience the loss of those or many of them.

There must be a way to manage this, for every person.

The gravity of the loss is linear and proportional to the love and presence you felt.

The suffering = the love?

One is here to teach about the other.

Surely that can be the only answer.

Meanwhile, I have other people offering to have “breakfast with God’ with me – which is cool but I’m afraid one of us needs to be dying – because that gave a clarity and a level of wisdom to our conversation that never would have occurred otherwise.

She reminded me all the time of certain simple things we shouldn’t forget- and I will leave you with what Rita would always tell me:

“Appreciate the little moments – the world is SO beautiful”

“Be nice to people but don’t hang around with assholes”

“Always tell a person when you’re grateful – don’t make them guess”.

“Call your mom every day”

12795074_10154151467636869_2529295747043198467_oShe loved her friends and family very much.

I will very very much miss the love and clarity she brought to my life.

See you on the flip side my sweet friend.

Love you Reeetah Paul.

Little Shop Ramblings – July 13

moon-treeIt was a very hot day today at the store. Ninety degrees in the shade kept all but the most discriminating shoppers away.

We have hats on special lately – it pulls people into the store and is a critically necessary item for some (I have noticed there are allot more bald people than normal lately…is it just me?)

It’s nice to watch people try on hats, grateful for the air conditioning.  Unlike with clothing, if a hat looks funny, generally it makes people laugh and not grumble with disdain at themselves.

Not every day is sweet. Today certainly wasn’t at all roses. It was a conflict day.  Every once in a while the little store sends me a wave of this weird energy for a day. It has never lasted very long – but it is as though one after another obnoxious, raring for a fight client comes into the store.

I realize I am the common denominator however.

First of all – I am NOT a shopper, so I make a pretty lousy store clerk at times.

First of all –  I don’t have patience and my kids will attest to this.  In fact I have something like negative patience or rapid-fire-anti-patience – with people who are disrespectful  or just plain ignorant of other cultures.

For example…

When someone comes into our sweet little store with a decided attitude that they are going to “get a deal” and hard line negotiate me, on a dress which is dripping with beautifully beads applied by tiny determined hands all the way across the world, I am short on patience and it seems I suffer from an affliction whereby the filter between my brain and mouth simply dissolves.  You can give me all the advice you want on this, but I am old and ornery is not going to get any better.

The fact that i really don’t care about a dress – but was willing to have an argument about it – tells me I went in boxing.

So, when I found myself face to face with a raggedly dressed 20 something  “hipster” toting mommy’s credit card (oooh my favourite) – who then thrust the delicately beaded  dress in my direction and asked sweetly at first:

“How much is this?”

“It’s a hundred and twenty five”, I said smiling, seriously half expecting her to say something like “wow that’s crazy” in a “really good deal” way. But nope, instead she said

“Can you give me a deal?”

“Um…it’s hand beaded, probably by small children in India.  This is a very good price for such a labour intensive piece”.

Then it began.

“Look at this thing – it’s made by “Shiva”- some rag from India, it’s not even worth fifty bucks!”

Please keep in mind that I had not yet consumed a second coffee and I am on day two of not smoking again.

I heard my mouth say:

“Hey, I have an idea. How about you go downtown, find me a hand beaded dress for less than $600.00 bucks and come back here – I’ll buy this one for you myself”.

Oh my, someone is grouchy.

Her eyes turned smokey dark and angry like my cat when he realize he was going to the vet to be castrated.

“That’s not a very good sales technique”, she said to me flatly as I ushered her with my body language, accustomed to moving large equines with a single thought all over the places, I led her none-too-delicately towards the door.

“If someone were teaching sales, they would say you sucked at this”, she exclaimed with dramatic bravado. I agreed silently with her.

Her lanky beet red boyfriend headed up the rear of the angry parade, and smiling at me gleefully unaware headed out the door.

And that was how my day BEGAN.

I go to the cash, and there are two french downtown women, who are badgering my boss for a rebate. My boss demurely tilts her head downwards when she wants to avoid conflict. She just goes silent. Selective hearing that works to disarm passionate negotiators.

The women looks down at the two blouses she is buying, and says to Aman in aggressive and rapid french, clearly knowing that Aman’s french is not good enough to understand.

“We aren’t tourists here you know”, She said glowering at Aman, waving the blouses in her face. Is this how people talk to you if you are Indian cause seriously, no one has ever talked to me like that.

HordesI try a little social experiment and snap lightly at the woman clear that the price was already very good.

“Neither are we”, I said quickly and shortly.


I had been in work for less than five minutes and I was already exhausted.

And please let me be clear that I didn’t really care about “the dress” that began this whole discussion. I don’t care about “things”.  Seriously, they hold absolutely no meaning for me. And  I (none-too-secretly) think shopping is in general, is insane and a massive waste of time and resources.  In fact it is clear that in the West especially, we have materialized ourselves out of our connection to ourselves and each other.  We are in a frenzy of false fulfillment, when we buy yet another blouse, another pair of shoes, another – whatever.

RealWorldSignBut the little store is giving me hope that many people are waking up from this false delusion and realizing their connection to each other and the importance of taking better care of our basics. Meditation and yoga are daily favourite topics.

Our little store seems to call people – when they need it, when they are ready. Sometimes  when they have something to share and I need to learn.   And although small hippie store in a tourist town may not exactly have any real power in the world,  like the united nations, I bet it does more to bring people together and facilitate the exchange of ideas and solutions in a more  usable and community oriented fashion than the united nations or any other government.



Anyways, i’d do it just for the stories…

And old lady came into the store and bought a hat. Clearly she had seen some stuff in her lifetime with a strong eastern European accent, she thanked me with twinkly gentle eyes.  When I asked her if she would like the second one which would only cost her another five dollars with the two for one special on hats, she smiled and said:

“Oh, no thank you dear. I only have one head”, and she winked and hobbled off.


Right behind her, a young beautifully dressed Iranian woman comes in with six hats in her hands. I say:

“Oh, are you bringing home gifts?”

“No. They are for me”, she replied unsmiling. When I was silent she continued:

“You never know what I will need tomorrow”, she said finally noticing my inability to reply to her.

“Yes of course”, she could tell I was thinking about this.

Yes that is true. We really don’t know what is coming tomorrow.

But six hats – a million hats – won’t give you the security you are looking for.

Nothing can give you that.

In the store I meet all sorts of people with amazing stories. The three Korean ladies who introduced me to polite Korean greetings and their  amazing Korean instrument that makes beautiful music. They were quick to remind me that “Ganham Style” is Korean. A source of national pride.

imagesED0G4VTXI saw the tattooed Arab guy who teaches zen so naturally through his own falteringly human stories that every time he comes in for a bracelet or a stone, I feel like I have been filled with some new understanding or good focus for the day.

In the store I get a cross section of so many cultures, it seems that the continuous vibrant and interesting  exchange regarding global instability and the ecology it always evolving . Everyone has a different take but the conclusion is usually the same. That we are in trouble and change at an individual level is very important.

serenityI find out what people REALLY feel about things going on in places far away. For example – I found out that the British people ARE NOT happy about the new prime minister, although our new papers have not covered that, apparently its all the news back in the UK.

I found out that people from South Korea think that little Kim Jung whatever-his-name-is , is as funny as I do.  They talk about south Korea and its beauty, food, people and music.  We sat in the store for about an hour talking, playing Tibetan bowls and learning new words in Korean.

I have met many women from Arab countries, who appreciate the clothing we have that reflects what they were accustomed to in their home lands.

SO many people who have moved here from around the world, I hear allot of grateful an appreciative stories of homelands many fear they will not see again.  I meet allot of homesick people.

I meet allot of people who are experiencing stress and grief. Grief is a big one – and talking about it seems to make everyone feel better.

One of my favourite new friends from the magical little store is  a survivor of the Rwandan genocide.  Hearing his stories keeps things in dire perspective for me,

The most interesting of these daily conversations are those I have with young people who have new ideas about some of my old ways of thinking. I am hearing a very big interest in meditation and learning about consciousness and self-studies.  These Bright lights are drawn to the kinds of things we have at the store because it supports their growth and understanding.

Now – that’s the kind of shopping I’m talking about.  We get more of these than the determined “dress-nazi” – many many more people with kind hearts who are looking for connection and fellowship, which they find easily once they step through the front door of our strange little shop.  And even on crappy-ish days, I feel tremendously privledged to have the opportunity to be subjected to all of this beauty and diversity every day.