Sunday, October 29, 2006

Ghosts I

Wednesday, October 18, 2006 ~ Montreal, Quebec

My first night in Montreal... another journey back in time.

As I walk the rainy two miles to my hotel from dinner, my mind wanders past the familiar landmarks of my hometown to my first night back in Toronto, a few days and many lifetimes ago...

I'm eating dinner with a friend at a Chinese restaurant around the corner from my old Toronto apartment.

From my table by the window, I'm aware of an earlier me sitting across the restaurant at another table, with another friend from another time. Then I glance out the window and see multiple other incarnations of myself walking along Yonge Street.

Ghosts. My first hours in Toronto were filled with them.

This first night in Montreal has even more. And they're older. Ghosts of nearly three decades of my life prowl these streets. More await me tomorrow when I see my sister...when I step inside the house we grew up in...when I travel the paths of my childhood.

I've done all this before. After I moved to Toronto in 1983 -- most particularly after my mother passed eight months later -- every trip back to Montreal has been like this, steeped in memories. New ones each time, even as I visit the same old places.

Yet this time is different. This time I'm surrounded by ghosts.

They say ghosts are spirits who are stuck between planes, not free to move to the next world because they have not completed something in this one.

Is that what this time travel is about for me? Not exorcising my ghosts but bringing them to the kind of completion that will release them, and me, to move forward?

I feel that most palpably in this neighborhood where I spent the first eight years of my adult life.

I'm walking with detached curiosity, checking things out, when panic suddenly grips me in a vise so tight I can barely breathe. In this moment, all I want to do is get out of Montreal, as quickly as possible.

It's a ghost. One I never knew was there. And it terrifies me.

I steady my breathing and keep walking. In the dark. In the rain.

I long for escape but know there is none. I know this is the ghost that brought me back here today.

It's the same ghost that pushed me out of Montreal, always made it uncomfortable for me to visit and was one of the foundation stones of my resistance to this trip back.

It's name is Not Enough and it has haunted me in various guises all my life.

When I least expect it, that ghost triggers the feeling that what I'm doing can never measure up, that what I am can never be enough.

That ghost was born here, in Montreal, and even as it travels with me, this city is its home.

If you're not Canadian, you may not know that French is the dominant language in Montreal and all of Quebec. My French is far from perfect.

This means that every time I speak French here, I feel inadequate. Not enough.

My language skills aren't the cause of these feelings. Rather, they're a constant reminder of their presence.

It's uncomfortable. Painfully so.

I see now why I had to move away. I see now why I'm back.

This ghost is ready to complete its transition. We're both ready to move on.

Only I can free it. Only by freeing it can I free myself.

Part of that liberation is the realization. Part of it are these words.

In the opening of my novel, The MoonQuest, the main character is an old man, reluctant to write his story. Yet he knows that only by doing so will he be freed to "move on to other realms, set off on other journeys."

Acknowledging my ghosts and letting them go frees me to do the same, makes it possible for me to cross a bridge more significant still than the Blue Water Bridge into Canada I wrote about last week. It's a bridge that spans my entire time in this country.

It's a bridge that opens me to the new life and new adventures that await me on the other side.

Art by Mark David Gerson: Ville Marie, Montreal (#107). To view my art/energy portraits of Toronto (#106), click here.

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