By Toni O’KEEFFE
There is a bench
It is rustic and beautifully scarred from the many seasons it has stood exposed to the west-coast rains, coastal wind, snow, hail and the heat of the sun beating down upon it.
Hundreds, maybe thousands, of passersby have sat, leaned, met, wondered, cried, hoped, dreamed or fell in love on the Bench.
The faded brown bench is well worn and bares grey lines where the stain has faded and the wood is beginning to crack. It’s original rusty nails now replaced with stronger bolts, but, they too are starting to decay.
The original wooden planks on the seat and back of the Bench remain in place and although they are splitting, still provide comforting support and a place to rest, think and exhale.
I am inspired when I come to sit on the Bench. It is positioned perfectly at the edge of the Englishman River estuary where the river meets the waters of the Pacific Ocean in the Straight of Georgia.
The estuary is a peaceful, soothing place that allows me to pause and let the aches of the world wash away.
Surrounded by lush forest land, tall wild grass and tidal mud flats, the estuary is the perfect home to sandpipers, geese, ducks, blue herons and other interesting land and marine life.
This is a simple yet extraordinary sanctuary when one takes the time to stop, sit, listen and observe.
The first time I came here the connection was instant. The view of the river, the ocean, the forest, the mountains, the wildlife and the quiet, drew me in and draws me back.
There is always something blooming or nesting beside the Bench. Depending on the season, tall white daisies, crimson rose hip, petite yellow butter cups, dandelions, tiny wild strawberries and in the summer BlackBerrys briars ready to explode with fruit, create a stunning frame around the Bench.
High sea grass caress all sides of the Bench, protecting tiny birds, baby rabbits or other small creatures that seek refuge under the cover of her wooden planks, reminding me that beautiful things are always being born in me, in the estuary and in the world.
I have watched eagles lock talons and dance in the sky over the Bench, sat in awe as the snow gently kissed the ocean in winter. Each spring I smile at the baby geese waddling into the world, shuffling through the mud trying to keep up with their parents.
There is a path that leads from the Bench along the river, guiding any curious explorer deeper into the sanctum of the estuary. The Bench itself is a path that leads my mind away from whatever ails me and takes me towards a peaceful stillness.
For over a decade I have come to this familiar spot. I came here to think after my father died. I came to this place seeking inner guidance both before and after my son Ryans death.
Time spent at the Bench helps me navigate my life, calms my mind, body and spirit and has helped me understand “me”.
I know the day will come when I arrive and the Bench will be gone replaced by something new and modern. Today I’m grateful for this perfect, safe, front row seat looking out into the world, that moves me to look deeper inward.
The river that flows into the estuary, sometimes appears to flow in the wrong direction. This happens when the ocean tides roll in and push the river upstream. This movement of water is a part of the beautiful ecosystem in the estuary. Life too can feel as if we’re being pushed in the wrong direction, swimming against the current. If we fight the current we become exhausted. If we surrender, relax and believe that the push of the current is part of a bigger system at work, life will also relax.
Today, I closed my eyes let the wind tussle my hair and the rain drizzle down my face. I was fully present. As I sat, I became aware of the support provided to my body as it relaxed fully into the Bench. My mind drifted off and reflected on the many times I’ve come here to heal. In this moment, the Bench and I were part of the surrounding landscape, my breath perfectly synchronized to the rhythm of the estuary. Any doubts I’ve ever had that all things are connected were blown away with the wind.
Everything, all of us, every animal, big and small, every tree, plant, blade of grass, the elements are one interdependent system of life coexisting.
As I left the Bench, I ran my hand across the weather beaten seat and gave thanks for the view, the support and the tranquility. Like the bench, I have weathered a few storms, I see the signs of grey in my hair and small cracks in my skin. But my path always seems clear and the view to my future brighter each time I have come to ponder, think and heal, on this beautiful, peaceful Bench.