My (now) occasional columns are originally published on the Armchair Mayor News, this one included.
I saw the tiniest hummingbird the other day, while on the morning hike. No bigger than a (small) dandelion flower, it was hovering around a Saskatoon bush. I got home and promptly put up the red hummingbird feeder in the backyard.
On July 26, Jessie Simpson will turn 24. That’s also the day when his mom hopes to have him at home for a few days, so he can enjoy the place he has not been able to see but in memory, fragmented as it is, due to the horrendous attack Jessie suffered in 2016 on the night of his graduation party.
Presently he is in the hospital, fighting his way out of a kidney infection that has him in pain and nauseous. Just a few weeks ago, he had yet another seizure which his mom witnessed.
We’re finally moving into spring. It’s been a tug-of-war as of late, with snowy mornings and frosty windshields yet again, some strong and cold winds too, but the days are getting brilliantly sunny and long enough to be able to fit enough in one with time to spare.
The sun is coaxing out more people, and there seem to be many more cars on the road because there’s much to do around here. The latter calls for some extra reminders for safety.
It’s past 5pm on Saturday and the ambulance that has been parked in front of the Superstore for the entire day collecting food and toy donations has yet to leave. A few more people trickle out and add to the pile.
I am one of them. I thank the paramedics for the vital role they have in our community, and once again, for being there when our family needed them. I don’t get to see how much they’ve collected because once I throw a peek inside, I am reminded of the time when my youngest, 7 at the time, was being taken to the hospital. His little body was struggling to breathe due to a particularly severe asthma attack, and I was sitting next to him, holding his hand and hiding tears behind a smile because that’s what you do for your child even when you are broken inside.
Until two days ago, I thought I had figured out the column. It was to revolve around denial. The news that poured down the media pipe last week following the inauguration ceremony south of the border offered plenty of reasons to delve into the topic.
First came the news of the approval of the Dakota and Keystone XL pipelines. Some celebrated, while others decried the lack of vision for the future at a time when acting on climate change should be necessary. Regardless of which side you’re on, there is something undeniably real about climate change. It’s happening. We’ll still be using fossil fuels for a while, that is a fact, but there is energy to be harnessed that is renewable and can ensure jobs and a future.
Denial is a treacherous path to walk on. It may benefit a few for a limited time, but it will fail all of us eventually. Denying that climate change is real bites us all in the end; some are already suffering from its ill effects, and by suffer I mean just that. There is drought, famine, war, severe weather phenomena and extreme conditions. If you spend enough time on environmental news, it’s darn clear that we’re engaged on a path we might not be able to maintain control of, should we not leave behind our dependency on fossil fuels. It’s but science talking. Facts, that is.
My interest for political news stopped temporarily when I came across a heartbreaking story involving suffering on one side, and denial on the other. Ethan Dizon, a 14-year-old boy living in Edmonton, committed suicide three weeks ago.
The school continued to call the boy’s home to inform his parents that he did not show up for classes. A mistake, you might say. The second call was made on the day of his funeral, but that is not the worst of it. According to his sister and many others who lived through it, Ethan’s suicide was likely caused by the bullying that is allegedly rampant in that school.
If you pause for a second to imagine the pain and hopelessness that can push a 14-year-old child to commit suicide… can you? My son is the same age and I cannot go there. No child can be left in that dark corner by themselves and yet many are. The stats on teenage suicides in Canada speak for themselves.
School officials denied such claims. That’s not a singular case. Many know that bullying and cyberbullying happen in schools, yet claims are underreported and most often ignored. Just read the comments left by many students, former students, and parents, on the online petition that Ethan’s sister started. Yes, denial seems an easier path to follow if you have the luxury to not be directly involved. But losing lives to it makes it all wrong.
Where should we start in rearranging our priorities then? What does it take to get us there? The answer, at least a partial one for me, surfaced in the last few days while observing my boys as they went about their days. One had to do with a day of winter adventures that included ice fishing. My husband and the boys went to Walloper lake, fished, cooked some of it right then and there, and brought some home.
There were many questions that crossed their minds regarding life and death. Providing food should involve knowing where it comes from. When a life ends so that we can put food on the table, there is a plethora of thoughts that abound and should, ideally, create compassion and gratefulness, though to some of us that sounds counterintuitive. When we make decisions about our individual lives, we ought to know what they mean for those around us. Everyone’s actions ultimately affect everyone else’s life.
Another evening we were all huddled around the kitchen table; the boys and my husband slicing apples to dry, and me catching up on correspondence. There was laughter and chatting, some topics as sobering as others were light and silly. We talked about racism; why thinking a human life to be less important due to skin colour, religion, gender is plain wrong and history has plenty of examples of that. Suffering we can learn from and stop by repeating, but how?
By bringing up children in a way that teaches them compassion and kindness we may avoid the dark splashes that get us all muddled eventually. There is no right and wrong that is absolute, but I think deep down we each understand what is kind and what is not. Our children learn that as they grow up. By tackling subjects that are tragic, sad or worrying, be it climate change, death, mental health, drugs or racism, you name it, we can hope for a better outcome down the road.
The one caveat which is in fact a gift: we ought to spend enough time to make the conversations flow and have children share their thoughts. When they revolve around uncomfortable topics, it takes courage. For them to open up, and for us adults to receive their question with an open mind and show by example what compassion and kindness mean.
Denial in the slightest amount can lead to pain. Denial at higher levels can claim lives and more. The only thing that can stand in the way is an open mind that feeds on compassion and relies on facts in order to fix the wrongs of today for a better tomorrow.
Every now and then I come across a quote that resides in my thoughts for days. Such was the case of the words I later discovered to belong to David Orr, professor of environmental studies and politics (quite the combination), writer, and activist.
It goes like this: “The plain fact is that the planet does not need more successful people. But it does desperately need more peacemakers, healers, storytellers, and lovers of every kind. It needs people who live well in their places. It needs people of moral courage willing to join the fight to make the world habitable and humane. And these qualities have little to do with success as we have defined it.”
Truly riveting, isn’t it?
It could sound rather counterproductive and somewhat the opposite of what we’re telling children about life nowadays. That these very words are part of a book called ‘Educational Literacy: Educating Our Children for A Sustainable Future’ makes all the sense and more.
When my oldest son was in grade 1, he asked what being rich meant. I said that though it may seem otherwise, true richness has nothing to do with things but with what we carry inside. It has to do with how much of the stuff that we cannot measure we have. Though he is inching his way towards becoming an adult, should he asked the same question now, I’d tell him the same, though some might think I am depriving him of the much-needed impetus for building a successful career.
A day or two after discovering the above-mentioned quote, I came across two news stories that fueled the debate with myself. One had to do with the salaries of some of the most successful CEOs in Canada; the numbers peppered throughout the report were in the millions, and lots of them. Really, if too many zeroes are used to describe one’s monetary compensation, numbers kind of lose their significance. Unless some of that sum is used to add goodness to the world.
The second story had to do with a Montreal-based small restaurant owner who offers free meals to those in need, no questions asked. That averages to four or five meals a day (and less wasted food.) The ripple effects of the free meals reached further than expected: People who eat there started leaving small sums of money to help cover the cost of the free meals.
If you were ever in a desperate financial situation, even once in your life, you know what a godsend a free meal can be. Compassion invites gratefulness, which in turn invites more compassion. Deep down we all know that. It’s easy to forget to look back, and at times it may seem easy to shrug and hope someone else will take care of the ungracious side of the world.
If success was measured in how much better we can each make the world around us by exercising compassion (and not judging), we’d definitely need as many successful people as we can get.
For the world to carry itself forward with unselfish grace, it is us who need to supply it by raising children who think outside of their own personal boundaries. Moreover, we need to raise children that follow passions, dreams and become fulfilled in ways that go beyond financial success while preserving the kind ways of the heart.
No one ever lost anything in lending a hand. Still, many of us are afraid to commit to it because the amount of wrongness to be fixed seems insurmountable and ever-growing. Many of us are perhaps of the opinion that paying it forward works best in the movies. Every now and then, stories that prove good deeds invite to more of the same surface, and with that, one can hope, the conviction that letting our humanity show is but the right thing to do.
And then again, there is the very opposite of the coin that prompts doubt, anger even. In our community, the recent hit-and-run that took a life and left so much sadness behind shoots down all hope that people carry warmth in their heart no matter what.
There are heinous acts in every part of our world. There are people who act senselessly; they steal, hurt, kill, do irreparable and atrocious damage, and truth is, no one will ever be able to stop that from happening. But the aftermath is where we can lend a helping, healing, loving hand. We live, you could say, in a perpetual aftermath where every day is a good day to start.
Part of doing that is raising compassionate children by making helping those less fortunate common place, and by helping them understand that life and death are but brackets and the in between is where we can make a difference in how we live.
We are all born with smiles sketched across our minds and hearts, yet many peel off as we go. We learn that success involves climbing ladders that often claim the softest parts of our hearts. What we can teach our children is that being successful does not mean leaving compassion behind.
Indeed, in the age of a growing and often ailing population, due to hardship related to climate change, wars and everyday societal wrongness, it may be necessary to forgo the urge to push our children towards one-sided success and help them instead carry on with heartful, giving steps. We’d all be richer for it and smile more.
Today, on the first day of the year, I had the sweet chance to hold an 11-day-old baby for a few minutes. It’s a form of therapy you could say. Blissfully unaware of the hubbub around her, the baby slept, and her tiny face with occasional newborn grimaces was mesmerizing.
There I was, having just stepped into the new year hours ago, yet the ‘new’ was no longer attached to the year we have just transitioned into but to this new life that reminded me of my sons, of all the new beginnings we crossed together since, of all the lives mine intersected with since I can remember. ‘New’ is an inebriating concept. The desire to do better, to do more, to do, is a powerful one.
My thoughts curled around the many promises I made at the beginning of each year. Lullabies I promised to sing to my boys but sometimes forgot, too caught up in daily must-do activities to remember, too tired to sing out loud.
Promises to keep grace on my side no matter what, to be a better parent, a better friend (to myself included) and a better spouse, to be all of that with room for more… Life got in the way enough times to bring me to my knees. Some promises you keep and some you break, and that brings the humbleness in, the understanding that it is not the performance that matters in the end but the presence.
That some lullabies were never sang is a fact. The snuggles that became deep slumber at the end of the day are lessons I understood later on. Funny thing, that’s what I remember the most. It is about the presence, rather than about the performance. Doing your best under the given circumstances.
It’s what prevents me nowadays from making new year resolutions of any other kind but the ones that bring me closer and truer to those I love. Presence. When well connected to those we care about, we become better, whether we’re aware of it or not. Presence and unconditional acceptance of each other put the wind in our sails. No date stamped on any promises, all that counts is remembering that we are the ones giving meaning to days rather than the other way around.
We saw the end of a year that packed tragedies of many kinds. Every one of them, whether it was war, drug or accident-caused, brought forth the same: people’s lives were ended. People were lost from the loved ones. There is no antidote for absence.
Every one of the stories I read made me cringe in different ways, yet the thought rising every time was the same: presence is what matters in the end. While we still are, while the ones we care about still are, being present keeps us willing, inspired and discerning of the beauty of the journey rather than the promise of a set-in-stone destination.
This year’s promises have to do with holding someone’s hand when they need it the most and reminding people of the smiles they locked inside and can set free. It’s not the beginning of the new year that gives meaning to the rest of the days but our presence in every one of them that moulds them into meaningful bits of life to cherish.
The stories that I’ve learned about throughout the year that passed reminded me of the one simple truth we’re all too often guilty of forgetting: everyone is fighting a battle or more, everyone is carrying a story within. Many have but shreds of happiness in them, yet presence makes everything hurt less.
We are born craving presence, that’s what holding the new baby reminded me. It’s not a feature that requires upgrades or special talents. It requires us to slow down to be someone’s parent, someone’s child or spouse or friend. May this year be the one when we do it a bit more than last year or the years before.