Chapter 2:

Conversations with Aubree

Conversations With Aubree  Acrylic on muslin 2016

Conversations With Aubree
Acrylic on muslin

"How are you? How can I make life more wonderful for you?"

-  Marshall B. Rosenberg, Nonviolent Communications

I moved to Canada on Christmas of 1987 shortly after my parents parted ways. Since then, I haven't seen my dad. I was perhaps too young to remember the words to feel everything, but I heard that people can’t really forget. All we can do is go back and process.

A few weeks ago I worked on a painting of a young girl. I thought she would be a fun addition after The Red House. Things were as usual. Painting and sketching.

On the third night her face showed up on the canvas. I took a step back and stared back at her.

"Who are you?"

And right away I knew who she was because I’m staring at myself on Christmas day of 1987.

Feeling spaced out and breathless all the numb feelings surfaced. I float back to the day I came to Canada. I saw a two story house with an unlit fireplace, lots of snow and silhouettes of people. 

Then out of nowhere, I closed my eyes and felt grief stricken.

In a panic I bent over, grabbed onto the sides of the canvas and examined her. She looked frozen in a movie I’ve seen so many times.

I heard myself whisper,

“Please, please stop the movie...”

I imagined myself wrapping my arms around her and telling her that everything is about to change. That she’s in a new country. That she won’t get that second date with her dad again for a long time or even forever. That in a few days she’ll go to school and be in grade one and that she won’t want to let go of her mom’s hand and that people would look.

That I’m sorry that nobody told her these things but, is that okay? Because I’m here now tell her all about it.

I touched her little face because I felt her imminent fear and shivered for her. I told her that I’m scared too; and that now we can be scared together.

I suddenly felt love for her. Is this real?

As I told her this as she patiently listened, smiling. And feeling her patience made me feel worse knowing she was here all along.

I told her that one day out of nowhere… She’ll discover a secret that’ll rob her ability to trust people. It’ll feel like tripping and falling off a cliff. That she’ll try to climb back up but it wouldn’t work. That it’ll be lonely and she’ll scream until she cried.

And gradually at one point the screaming would exhaust her and she'll fall into a deep sleep.

In her dreams she'll hear a voice

"My love... How are you, how can I make life more wonderful for you? 

Are you feeling more at ease? Let's slow things down a little bit. I am feeling worried for you. Of course you had to protect yourself and build a shell around your heart, because disappointment has left you feeling so much pain. I know that every moment you were protecting yourself in the best way that you knew how. I love you no matter what and I will never leave you.

Now tell me, how can I make life more wonderful for you?"

When she'd wake up she'll feel an opening in her heart as it eases gently into self-compassion and unconditional self-love.

I stood up gently and asked,

“Are you ready for this Aubree? To start the movie again?”

I touched her acrylic face and I think I heard her say


These days I notice myself devoting my attention to art making and self-exploration. Surprises like these inspire me to continue to cultivate what's inside through the arts.

Love and grace,


Sarah Van Gelder Marshall B. Rosenberg Posted Jun 30, 1998. "The Language of Nonviolence." YES! Magazine. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 Dec. 2016.

Further Reading on Self-Compassion

  • Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life, 3rd Edition: Life-Changing Tools for Healthy Relationships (Nonviolent Communication Guides) 3rd Edition
    by Marshall B. Rosenberg PhD (Author), Deepak Chopra (Foreword)
  • On Living
    by Kerry Egan  (Author)

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