In Search of Better Stories

The Warrior Queen of Tignish

It had been a weird week. One where I couldn’t seem to find my people, my role, or even my faith. I was feeling lost and crying way too much. My husband suggested I cancel my plans for the day and just get out of the city. Earlier that morning I had written in my journal: “Go Outside!”. I knew I needed nature smells and sights, but now it was like I was somehow granted the freedom to go – alone – on a Sunday Morning! I texted the folks who may be expecting me and ‘headed for the hills’ with my journal in a bag over my shoulder.

Trout Lake was where I stopped – not quite out of the city, but naturesque for sure. As I walked, I was captivated by the weeping willows and the variously sized bodies of water. I still couldn’t stop my own weeping so was feeling an affinity to both the trees and water. I started to wonder how much I would cry: a puddle full, a pond full, a lake full … and how would I get through that much water? This feeling of displacement without knowing quite where one belongs or how to get there is profoundly unsettling.

As I circled the lake and wept my way past so many willows, I noticed a little path off to the left and two benches facing overgrown bushes and trees where there should have been a view to the lake. I ambled down the path and couldn’t help feeling like this place was forgotten by time and in self-pity, I related. I settled onto the bench to enjoy the fall sunshine and isolated smells of nature. As I bent, I noticed a plaque – this bench was dedicated to Irma McInnis 1955-2004 “The Warrior Queen of Tignish”. Intriguing. Irma was only 49 when she died, but why was she given this title? What made her the ‘Warrior Queen’ and what does Tignish mean? A quick google search revealed that it means “to paddle”. How can that be an accident given my previous mental meanderings about water? How do I navigate all these tears making lakes? I am to paddle. Don’t quit.

Pulling out my journal, I noticed someone else had written here too and there was a piece of paper stuck to a stump nearby. Time had indeed done it’s business on this page, but many words were still recognizable. It was a dedication to this Warrior Queen of Tignish. The plaque had been placed here on purpose “where the trees weep and shine”. Around me was an intricate web of shrubs and verdant growth brought about by the wetness. All things change. This is a transition time, but it can still be beautiful. There is hope. There is new and different beauty. There must also be acceptance of new ways to shine, maybe even brought about by weeping.

Stuck in my reverie, I failed to notice a middle-aged woman approaching until she kindly asked me to lean forward. As odd as that was in this desolate place, I obliged, and she gently placed her hand on the plaque I had been leaning on. “I just have to visit my friend when I pass,” she said.

“Oh, the warrior queen was your friend? Please, tell me about her!” And so she did; and so I wept as she spoke. First came the facts: Irma was one of 10 children from the town of Tignish on Prince Edward Island. She ran a local business and was a very kind employer. Then came the heart: She was funny and joyful and a generous friend. She had many struggles through her life, but the fight that got her the title of Warrior Queen was the one she lost – to pancreatic cancer at just 49 years of age. She was a “one-off”, a very special human who could never be forgotten.

What a gift it was to learn of this woman, to grieve her short life and yet recognize that the observant few will always remember. I was inspired to keep paddling, to honour others with such fondness, to live life to the full as we do not know how many days we get. I choose to live as a Warrior Queen who paddles through the waters of life with generosity and joy – the deep kind of joy that rises up in spite of … or maybe because of the weeping.

Thank you Warrior Queen of Tignish. Your life continues to inspire.

A rare treat for you Mistin takes to the pen!

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