June 23, 2013

Finding Love in the Ordinary. ~ Gem Salsberg

Feather of Regular Moments: Part 2.

(In Part 1, Gem, 23-years-old, has discovered she has pancreatic cancer. She is now in the hospital after her operation.)

A nurse

She tumbled; the teal room alive under her chaos of gold-simmered hair, long Labrador limbs and cheeks the shape of butter. She rag-dolled to my feet, paused and squinted some breathy curious smile. Then asked me a most unexpected question,

“Are you Dharma?”

I felt wrapped in burgundy. Saffron flooded my neck, ravens erupted from my knees and I thought, How does she know what I don’t even know?

She resembled the hue of pigeons and doves in her uniform under the diminishing dusk.

Many nurses and doctors came and went, checking and treating me. They each resonated a thriving core of care and intense devotion. One doctor was different. He was gruff and hard. I offered my hand, my name, hello. I was crying. I had just received the news that my first biopsy showed all the edge cells were healthy. I was crying for bright relief, crying for some strange mix of joy and sorrow, crying because I didn’t even know what an edge cell was. I held up my palm on an unknown instinct. He wouldn’t shake my hand or soften. He moved swiftly past to the chart of statistics at my feet and said, “Feeling a little emotional?” then left just as briskly.


He was so scared, so scared to love his patients. I wasn’t insulted by him; I was revealed.

My hand returned holding a space. I had known this space existed, but never had I fully embodied the bloom. Love. I simply felt such peace toward him. The ache I felt after he left the room was different from surgical pain. I felt sorrow for this man who was afraid to love.

I felt how healing is an action of tenderness. The numbered patient is an echo waiting for response. My hand returned full, holding a teaching. All I need to do is place kindness out there, raise it up on the palm and offer this as a simple truth. Not everyone accepts the gift. I am alright with this. Sometimes the real healing is deeper than the body, than all its limbed and porous crevices. Healing smooths out the fissures of the damaged sandstone soul.

Liberation is not a holy, blessed, brilliant lightning bolt; explosive, divine angel choir; glowing virginal palms; nor is it a pierced levitating, suffering illusionary; or a perfect, pristine, glorious, bright, pearly toothed god-human. Liberation is the janitor. Yes, that Filipina woman in stretched-too-tight gloves with a bottle of cleaning chemicals and a cart of plastic hygiene. The woman who stopped in a room at 3 a.m., where this woman called “me” was leaking silent tears and fluids.

See how precious this brief life is, every single breath is precious

I saw how I bring nothing tangible into this world. Nothing that flesh will retain, nor wood nor pebble, green creature or lidded. Paint crumbles away over aged paper deserts and slowly my body becomes driftwood, leaning in on silver skin.

Surgery carved out a tumor but something else was left inside. Fresh space, potential space. Space for rent. Somehow all life became so ordinary. The kind of ordinary that is parsnip beautiful, the kind of ordinary that wrenches all wants and grudges and castanet dreams and flips them inside out like grandmother’s pink-petaled pillowcases. Surgery sliced the extraneous searching and cut me to the essential question. Why am I here? What is the purpose I was born for?

Here I am, under my skin. It has been over a year and a half. There’s a very large and beautiful pink-ridged scar on my belly in the shape of an L.

Listen, listen here

I hear an undercurrent, a hum. I have heard the healing mantra in bus wheels and diesel fumes, in rose hedges and door hinges, in the voice of a woman outside the grocery store asking for spare change. Lost in the common sacred day, the moons rise on each of my toes. I am a planet in this quick galaxy. I am so vast. I am so small. This is revealed to me by daily saints and common people living basic real lives. Practicing compassion in their unassuming way and showing how essential it is to breathe and be grateful, love and be grateful, try and be grateful. The teachings of each day are modest and mostly silent.

There are rust-orange butterflies above me when gazing gently. Every person and each cold-brimmed house becomes a home, a neighbor, a possibility for me to learn to love. To love as a moth seeking light in every acrid flickering body. Love as a brilliant instinct, an insect surging toward the need, the porch-light beacon. Love as the ability to not take personally injured action as an affront but to see with seven thousand fractalled eyes, each harmed action as a cry out, a vivid yearning for a mother’s patience.


I taught my first Hatha Yoga class this morning, was nervous and wondering, What do I have to offer? Heard a tap tap tapping at the window. Everyone paused their poses. I turned and saw her looking through the glass. A little acorn-shaped bird. Charcoal storm cotton, she was a puff of smoke feathers. Checking in on me, through one eye and then the other.

Cupped hand, offering. I love you; look how much i love you.ॐ


Gem Salsberg is a freelance photographer and artist. She has an InterMedia Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Emily Carr University of Art and Design. Salsberg lived 2008-09 in New York, NY working within editorial at the internationally renowned Aperture photography magazine and book publishers. Her work has been published and shown in such venues as The Vancouver Sun, ascent Magazine, Dandelion Magazine, Timeless Books, The Hive and Dawson City International Short Film Festival. Gem currently resides in Vancouver BC. Explore more of Gem’s projects by visiting her website, cargocollective.com/gemsalsberg.






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Ed: Brianna Bemel

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