Gratitude makes the journey better and so does kindness

Tag: inspiration

The Magic You See When You Close Your Eyes

Originally published as a column on CFJC Today Kamloops and Armchair Mayor News on November 20, 2017. 

Late afternoon Saturday found us at our neighbours’. My husband was to lend a helping hand lifting a potato and onion box our neighbour built for his wife. There was no defined B-line between walking in, moving the said box, sharing stories of old and new, and the time when we were all seated in the living room, our boys and dog included, their dog too, listening to Todd playing his guitar. It just happened.

He played a Johnny Cash song first and then a composition of his own. His fingers picked gently at the chords and his voice waltzed with the guitar sounds at a mesmerizing rhythm. The magic of those shared moments of beauty made my thoughts burrow deep inside where I only seldom get to go; life’s hurried that way. During Todd’s song I closed my eyes, so I could better see the place he was describing, the wind-swept islands of Haida Gwaii.

That sent me straight to my favourite quote by Helen Keller ‘The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched – they have to be felt with the heart.’ This quote stuck to me back in high school because there was something she was alluding to that I was not sure how to describe or get myself close to do so, but I knew it was true and worthwhile. Many life stumbles later including births, deaths, farewells and new beginnings, moments alone and with people that hold my heart in theirs, I started to understand more. You get to see more by closing your eyes. It’s where the soul fairies live and dance.

Todd’s song and his words opened the door towards that state of wonder. In the softly lit living room and with all of us in a spell, I was reminded that I could see better if I closed my eyes. It brought me to tears, for many reasons amalgamated. Todd is blind, you see. And yet, since we met him, I’ve learned that he sees more than many of us do with our intact, or close to, vision.

He sees those he meets in a way that few of us do. He listens in a way few of us do. He lives a fuller life that many of us do, simply because he does not take any given day for granted. I got to learn that since I made his acquaintance.

I met him shortly after we moved in mid-November. I was returning from an afternoon walk with the dog. I said hello and introduced myself. I introduced my family too, in absentia. Might as well, since we live across the back lane. Our dog, an overt people lover, budged in with much curiosity and smelled his hand. Todd stooped down and petted her, remarking on her soft coat and snuggly nature. Then he asked me to describe her.

Ah, I realized he could not see. I described her as accurate as I could. We chatted some more, and I left bewildered. Not because I had met a person who was blind, but because when I greeted him in the back lane and introduced myself, I actually interrupted him from work. His shirt was peppered with wood dust and so were his hands.

Soon after, I met his wife, Maggie. Her smile is just as heartful as his, which is why we never just say hello and get going. There’s always an extra life bit shared. It’s better that way.

Todd is often in his workshop. He builds furniture and makes beautiful things, many of which adorn their home. His hands tell stories of many a happy hour spent in the shop. Yes, you may wonder, like we did ‘But… how can he do that?’ He’d laugh at that and say he does it the same way anyone else does; with care. With love and dedication, I’d add. Lots of it.

The same way he learned to play guitar, which he did after the accident that left him blind, in his mid-twenties. From one day to the next, his world turned black. You need a heap of grace and resilience not only to go through that, but to grow, despite of it. Todd has both, plus a whole lot of determination.

To do his full-time job, and hold the volunteering positions he’s been taking over the years, many of which made him instrumental in designing the blind-friendly features that the streets and public buildings of Kamloops now have. In a world we take for granted, he sees so much more that can be improved on. It’s humbling. And even more humbling is to hear that on more than one occasion people address his wife rather than him directly, assuming that his handicap prevents him from being who he actually is. Indeed, it takes grace to know that.

My husband and I tell Todd that he types faster than both of us combined and he laughs a hearty laugh. He shows the boys how he does it, and then he sends each of them an email. They’ll email him back in a couple of days. He makes a deal with our youngest to exchange jokes, they both seem to have a knack for it.

We say goodbye after we plan another get together. Again, I find myself bewildered. Both Todd and his wife are as warm as can be, gently embracing each other’s presence and building a space for us, their friends, to come as we are. It’s called grace. It’s called gratefulness. When I grow up, I want to be like them.

Of Growing Boys, and Tears, And Stories, and Soft Grey Caterpillars

Striving‘I cannot do it!’ Little boy says it loud and though no tears come into his eyes, I could hear them stomp behind the words. Loudly; tears.

It is about a game. Cute, old-fashioned design, itty bitty characters that look like baby crocodiles… Yes, sigh, the one Nintendo game little boy gets to play is wrapping him up in frustration like a cocoon.

What a long day the day had been. School in the morning, a laughter-all-around Lego building time with a friend who came for a visit, plus a whole lot of playing outside with big brother in and around a melting igloo… And so much more, all that a child’s world brings for him to see, smell, fear, dare through, be silly about, be serious about, be there every minute of a day so long and rich.

‘I cannot do it!’ He says it again. Loud, frustrated, chin trembling.

The mom that I am wants to say ‘You can do it’ but how is that not patronizing when a kid is frustrated to sky and back. Games like that are not easy, I am told. Like many things in life, there are levels. You learn, you persist, you get to the next. But when you only have one hour and fifteen minutes three times a week to make it happen… a battle ensues, I am also told.

Here is the things though: When the world tells so often of things you can get just like that – yes, instant gratification is an occurrence that creates false realities whether we want it or not in our children –  what to make then of the occasional hurdle? Electronic game or not, frustration caused by inability to do what you want to do, what you expected to be able to do so easily, or somehow hoped that invisible arms will make it happen for you… how to then?

‘I cannot do it!’ If you’re a little boy, and tired, you say it again and again. And big brother looks into your big round sad eyes and says ‘I can help you.’

Mom (that’s me) says ‘That is not help, but cheating.’ Two boys, four eyes, big and bright and wondering… But to help, Mama, just this time, I can help him… Big brother melts, understands and insists. To help is to tell him he can do it, I tell him.

“But I cannot!’ Feet stomping, big pouty face. Hug? Yes and no wrestle on his face. ‘I can’t.’

Yes, you can one step at a time… ‘No, I cannot!’ Tears. Sadness. A thought strikes true. I turn to my screen and type ‘inspirational man with no arms and no legs’. Just like that. I had heard about him but never really searched properly; there are only that many hours in a day. Today has more.

The two boys and their four big eyes watched and listened, and I did too, peeking at their faces and wondering about it all. You can search and see. Nick Vujicic is his name and he will inspire you.

He talks about frustration, about failing again and again and not giving up, he talks about taking steps – one at a time, to reach your destination. He talks about falling down and getting up, and how it never ends until it ends… He would know.

Two boys with bright big eyes looked at me and asked ‘how could he do all of that?’ knowing the only answer there is. Because he did not give up; because he chose to see the gifts that he had, rather than cry about the ones he did not have.

Sighs, smiles, crooked and sweet, no more tears.

‘Mom?… I can try again.’ Yes indeed. Thank you. I was grateful for help. All settled and peaceful, the evening rolled along like a big, grey and soft caterpillar, smiling at us… until. Until it all went black again, and a crow of hungry ‘Can I please have help just this time?’ swooped down and scattered the caterpillar’s fluff all over. ‘I cannot’ returned for one last flight through the house.

No, I will not, could not, should not. Allow for that kind of help.

That’d be like falling back twenty steps after you’ve advanced ten I tell them. They stop and listen. ‘But not every time,’ they plead, ‘just this time.’ I trade hugs and stories for half-smiles and listening ears. No is a must.

I am not cruel, but loving this. What a good chance. Sit down then. Boys listen to stories of little kids crying because they could not draw like their older siblings could; getting help when help meant locking them in a box that said ‘I cannot by myself…’ and how love should be fair, and encouraging and never ever indulging in ways that cripple. I tell stories of people lost, people who loved ones help by saying no. It turns serious but they listen.

Faces lit with smiles. Yes, they get it. Yes, they feel loved when a no is lovingly said, and fair and encouraging, and I do too. I thank the man who gave us a push today over the hurdle.

No arms, no legs, no worries, he says. How could one do it like that? By not giving up, by getting up again when falling, by reminding yourself of the brightness of the day when the night threatens with too much darkness… using the light of the day to brighten the night ahead. Belief.

The night caterpillar returns fluffy and grey and sleepy. Grateful. We snuggle on the couch reading stories of mice with big ears and big courageous hearts and then we snuggle some more. Bedtime, hugs, ‘your special kisses, mom, and then I’ll give you mine…’ A nightly ritual that brings sparkles from many days of love and brightness into all the nights that threaten to be too dark. Not now, not yet, not ever?…

Goodnight, sleep tight, wake up bright… Two boys with bright eyes and big smiles learned a lot today, I did too; they’ve grown so much and so have I. More tomorrow, again and again… one step, two steps, can never take two at the same time. Just as long as you know where you’re going… When you forget, I’ll remind you both. Of a day, of tears, of smiles, of a day so bright and a night so soft… Goodnight

The Morning Thing

I used to run every morning. Then I ran whenever I could during the day. Then I skipped running when the day got too crazy because I had to make room for other things. Then I became frustrated.

You could say it’s in some people, the moving fast and all the time. If that’s not it, then I have some quirky genes that nag me do that. Regardless, the need to move has to be paid attention to.

So after almost no deliberation in in complete agreement with myself, I am back to morning running.

This morning I had my heart set on a neighborhood run, but I ended up in Peterson Creek and once there, trail running looked too tempting to miss. One of the wickedly good things about running is that it takes you places you did not plan on visiting simply because the legs keep going when the eyes set the pace.

And the eyes keep seeing things ahead, so there..

My best thinking happens when I run. It’s a form of therapy too. When overwhelmed, go for a run. It’s almost like some sedimentation of thoughts. Heavy ones drop, light ones stick to the surface.

They sort themselves out better than one could hope. Try it if you don’t believe me.

This morning, a rather overcast spring morning, had an added bonus: spring wildflowers were poking their heads out all around. You run the trail and they cheer you on. “Keep going…There’s more of us to look at as you go…” You almost forget you’re running uphill. It’s like following the flowery trail left by a good witch, to keep you going, to tempt you onwards…

So I did. I found trees I will soon go sit by and write – pockets of necessary solitude, if you will – and I also found the simple joy of morning running. Again.

I discovered a dusty trail to follow and I did so all the way home. From the magic land of shy spring flowers almost to my doorstep, the trail runs like the spine of an old sleepy beast, curled here, narrow and tilted there, too lazy to react in any way and tickled by my feet running.

When I run I get inspired. My brain reboots and perspective freshens. Thinking with a twist. Well, not literally…


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