I woke up last Friday morning to the news that Anita Stewart, a community champion and someone I considered a friend, had passed away.

Shock and sadness were soon superseded by fond memories of interviewing her in her kitchen for various stories and projects over the years that revolved around agriculture, Food Day Canada and ways to promote local farmers and food producers.

Anita and I shared a birthday month, an unabashed love for our families and a deep passion for Canadian culture – hers through food and mine through arts. We valued a culture that was rich with stories. I couldn’t help but feel losing her, in an already challenging year, added to the uncertainty I felt about my personal connection to the community she and I shared.

Our last conversation, just months ago, was a brief online chat about this very topic, after witnessing some ugliness on social media. As always, her wisdom was honest and succinct: community isn’t always easy, but it’s where we belong.

That conversation swirled around my head on Saturday like the leaves I was raking on the front lawn. I had no idea how satisfying it would be to rake leaves. Not only did it count as exercise, but it turns out the act was shifting my perspective on community as some of my neighbours came outside to do the same work.

From a safe distance, conversations were struck and we caught up with one another, something we did more frequently pre-COVID. It’s amazing how quickly fences become borders subconsciously, even when you have awesome neighbours.

Across the street live three adorable children and as it was Halloween, there was a lot of excitement, not only for trick-or-treating that night, but also for the new leaf composter their dad had built. Their joy was contagious, so my neighbours and I started bagging our leaves to ensure these kids would have an enormous leaf pile for jumping in, but also for their garden next year.

Later that night, my family and I walked downtown to check out the festivities. It was heartwarming to see the way neighbours put creative effort to ensuring children got to experience Halloween safely, without losing the fun. The notes on verandas. Pre-packed bags of treats. Strings with clothes pegs dangling candy. That’s how we show hope. Keeping traditions alive because we know every kid deserves a childhood. It takes a village. There was something hopeful in the light of that full moon.

Now I realize, raking the damp leaves for the compost was very healing. I gathered up what no longer served me and set it to compost, to let nature do its thing and transform it into something rich and useful.

I let the seasons of myself shed another layer with forgiveness for situations that tainted my view and acceptance for what I can’t change, but enjoyed the process of a fresh start blowing in on the cold fall air. In there is the choice to be grateful for where I live and the good that surrounds me.

There is so much good, like being welcomed into Anita Stewart’s kitchen for a great chat and a cup of tea. What an honour.

WriteOut of Her Mind