I’ve Been Marked

I’ve been marked.  Literally.

By fate, by God, you decide.   But the truth is there is a large, splotchy brown birthmark covering most of the left side of my neck.  The type I have is called a cafe-au-lait birthmark, because it looks like spilled coffee.  Needless to say, it’s quite visible to the rest of the world, unless I’ve chosen to wear a turtleneck that day.  A babysitter once scraped my neck raw with a washcloth thinking it was dirt and she could wash it off.  I don’t know whether it occurred to me to tell her it was permanent and she was wasting her time.

As a teenager growing up in rural Nova Scotia, this aberration irritated me to no end.  I realized that people were struggling with much greater problems in the world than an innocent birthmark but to me, it felt like a big deal.  I looked different from everyone else and when you’re a teenager, being different is not good.  Your adolescent years are all about fitting in and sameness.

And I wanted to fit in.

I wanted to be the same.

I got teased about it some (kids called me dirty) but my worst bully was myself.  I hadn’t asked for this stain and I didn’t want it.  No one on TV or in magazines had a big birthmark on their neck.  I thought of it as separate from me, something that I had been burdened with enduring for all time.  Naturally, I started asking my parents if I could either cover it up or get rid of it.  My mother could see that it bothered me so she indulged me a little bit.  We tried a couple different types of makeup but nothing really did a very good job of hiding it.  And removal seemed out of the question.

One day my uncle Chappy was visiting during one of my tirades.  I don’t remember if I was asking for a new kind of makeup or some procedure I’d heard about that could laser off birthmarks but I was definitely making my distaste for my ‘mark’ known.

My uncle just looked at me and said, “Why would you want to cover it up?  It’s part of you”.

I was stunned into silence.

From that moment on, I stopped asking for makeup or laser treatments.  I realized Chappy was right and the birthmark was part of me, whether I had asked for it or not.  I’m not going to say I got over it completely right away.  I was still self-conscious about it sometimes but I never tried to cover it again.  After a while, I kind of forgot it was even there.

And the strange thing is that once it stopped being a big deal to me, it stopped being a big deal to everyone else too.  Occasionally I still got asked about it but that was rare and usually a new acquaintance.  One thing I’ve found is that people pick up on our insecurities about our so-called faults much more than our actual faults themselves.  And in kind, people are often much more willing to overlook our ‘faults’ than we are ourselves.

My uncle probably doesn’t even remember our conversation that day but I will be forever grateful to him.  He said exactly what I needed to hear in that moment.  It was not THE birthmark, it was MY birthmark.

A part of me.

Not something to be looked at as a burden but as a single puzzle piece in a much larger picture.  And now, with the benefit of 36 years of self-reflection, I’ve come to think of my birthmark not as a blemish but as a symbol of what’s unique about me.  I’m not like everyone else.  And that’s a good thing.

Just as we celebrate what is unique about the Maritimes here, we must also celebrate what is unique about each other.  Our differences define us.  They don’t make us better or worse, just individual.  Sometimes we need someone to tell us when we can’t see it – like I did.  In case you are struggling with a similar issue and don’t have your own Uncle Chappy to tell you, please allow me to pay it forward: some of the things that you might dislike most about yourself now is what makes you, you.  It’s part of you.  Embrace it, celebrate it, learn to love it.  You’ll be happier for it, I promise.

It’s true, I’ve been marked.

By fate, by God, I’ll let you be the judge.

But I’ve been marked.  And I like it.


Perfect June Days

When you have nice weather in the Maritimes, you have to take advantage of it. Because you are never entirely sure when you will see another sunny, warm day like this one.  It could be awhile.  This is especially true in and around Saint John, NB.  Thanks to that good ‘ole cooling Bay of Fundy fog, we usually have a few less beach days than the rest.

When these kind of days come along, it means you absolutely must leave behind all those inside chores.  The dishes aren’t getting done today.  The vacuuming will have to wait for a rainy day. You’ve got one more clean pair of underwear, no need to do laundry.

It’s time to get outside.

And if you don’t get outside, you’re going to feel a little bit guilty.  I know I do when I spend a beautiful day on the couch binge-watching Netflix and shoving Doritos in my mouth.  For example.

Days like we’re having this weekend are where the beauty of the Maritimes shines most brightly.  Those sapphire ocean blues get reflected in the azure blue of the sky, the forest greens are brighter and more vivid.  The soft evening light shines through the trees in that magical way.  The breeze is warm but just enough to keep the sweltering heat at bay.  Spring blooms are at their peak.  The scent of lilac drifts on the air.

You are experiencing a perfect June day.

Wherever you are in the Maritimes this weekend, take time to look around you and notice how the fair weather of June showcases the natural beauty of the Maritimes in the very best way.


My Heart Beckons Me Back to Halifax

Or a wedding does, more specifically (congrats, Christy and Kris!).  But it was a glorious excuse to visit one of my favourite cities in the Maritimes, Halifax.  Halifax was my home for 7 years when I was a student studying my undergrad at Dalhousie University and then at the School of Health Sciences.  When driving over the bridge (either of them) into Halifax, it feels simultaneously like coming home and a new adventure.  I always want to know: what has changed since I’ve been gone?  What’s new?

Halifax has a youthful spirit and energy unlike any other city in the Maritimes.  This is no doubt thanks to the large population of college students that flood the city every year between September to April to attend one of three universities and numerous colleges in the HRM area.  It also might have something to do with its reputation as a party town.  It’s been said many times but Halifax really does have one of the highest bars per capita ratios in Canada.

Not much time for that on this visit though.  We were on a tight schedule of visiting and sightseeing.  After a lovely evening’s drive from Saint John to Halifax, we stopped for a quick drink at one of our favourite watering holes near our friend’s place in Dartmouth, Finbar’s Irish Pub.

The next day, after a quick breakfast with more friends at Nena’s Breakfast House, Joel and I set off to make Joel’s first trek to Peggy’s Cove.  It was foggy and misty when we arrived but that didn’t at all damper the charm of this iconic Maritime landmark.  Somehow, the essence and spirit of the Maritimes is captured in this one spot, where land and sea meet with steadfast ferocity. I could have stayed and taken pictures for hours.


Our next stop along “the loop” was my friend Michelle’s hammock shop in Seabright, called The Bay Hammock Company.  I had been anxious to visit the shop and see how she’d been doing.  I was enchanted by the charm of the shop and all the colourful handmade hammocks.  It is so wonderful to see an old friend using her considerable artistic talents in such a creative and productive way.  The rope for the hammocks is made onsite using century-old machinery and that rope is weaved by hand into a variety of wonderfully shaped and sized hammocks.  Please visit their website if you would like to learn more (www.bayhammocks.ca).  The shop also features the work of local artists and has plenty of nautical themed gifts to bring home.  Plus they’ve made the largest hammock in Canada, which sits in their yard and makes you feel really small when you climb up on it.

Our last stop of the weekend was the Best Western Plus at Chocolate Lake where we celebrated with the happy couple in a beautiful spot overlooking the lake.  Congrats again, guys!

I’ll leave you with a song that we used to sing in school and that never fails to remind me of the rocky shores around Halifax.  Farewell, Nova Scotia, my love.  Until we meet again!