Originally published as a column on CFJC Today Kamloops and Armchair Mayor News on Monday December 24, 2018.
It was 2am when the dog started growling in that way that means one thing: someone is too close to the house. Shortly after the growling, light beams started flickering through the bedroom curtains. We got up to look: someone was running through our backyard with a flashlight. Admittedly, that was strange. We live in a safe neighbourhood without too much rowdiness or crime. When the back alley light shone on the man’s back we realized he was part of the police force.
October 17 is just around the corner. Cannabis will be legal (and the province expects a hit from the first orders, predicted to come as a huge wave as many want to make history by ordering as soon as cannabis becomes legal,) and many others are bracing for what the legalization brings about.
One of the concerns is driving while under the influence.
Fall has a special place in my heart. When I was a kid, until I left my parents’ home to go to university, as soon as the grapes would start to ripen, I’d go around the yard and get myself a bunch of sweetest ones, usually by holding up the bottom of my T-shirt for an impromptu fruit-picking bucket. Then I’d sit in one of my special places under the quince trees and eat them. One by one, green, black and red spheres, all juicy and sweet, their flavour divinely irresistible.
As I am writing this, approximately 8,000 homes in the Fraser Valley, possibly more, are still without power due to extreme winter weather. Kamloops is under a thick blanket of snow too, and it’s not over yet. It’s started snowing again this morning.
No complaints from where I am standing. I love winter and its beauty renewed by a fresh layer of snow every couple of days. I am also aware that if you have power and a decent amount of food in the house, it’s but too easy to call it charming and snuggle with a book and a cup of tea until you feel like poking your nose out. Which you might soon enough because shoveling notwithstanding, the white fresh powder is fascinating and there’s nothing like a walk in the deep snow with red cheeks and eyes swimming in the surrounding white wonderland.
Again, if you have all you need. We do, and that is to be grateful for. But what if power goes out, or you’re stuck on the road somewhere? Not fun. If there’s one thing that became more evident than ever in the year that we leave behind is how comfortable we have become with having our necessities taken care of. Clean (enough) air, running water, hot or cold, power, food available in stores. Shortages due mostly to extreme weather conditions bring out the question though: what if we did not have this, even for a short while?
In one of his essays, George Monbiot, a British writer, and political and environmental activist, mentions a sobering quote he heard during a talk: ‘Every society is four meals away from anarchy’. Food for thought indeed, no pun intended. It goes for more than just food I’d say, and the concept is surely worth a closer look by all of us.
What better time than now?
At the end of the year it’s good to pause and consider whether our levels of gratefulness match the life we live, more so when the daily news provides an insight into the realities of life without the comforts we’re often taking for granted. All of us who are not struggling with poverty, or other harsh realities that hack at one’s peace of mind and overall well-being, are we truly thankful for what we have?
Imagine, for example, if there would be no running water and we had to go back to melting ice or snow, so we can have drinking and cooking water. Forget laundry machines, dishwashers, daily showers or baths, or hot tubs. It sounds preposterous and yet…
Much like the Fraser Valley residents have experienced and some still do, imagine having no electricity in your home at all, even for a couple of days. Is that enough to bring up our gratefulness to the point where we ponder carefully over how we use resources to prevent waste in the year to come?
Same goes for food. We had plenty of headlines and investigative pieces on food waste in Canada and we have had the report on poverty come out with dire numbers. Can we learn from the two and bring the numbers to zero in both cases? It can be done, it should be done.
Looking back at what 2017 brought, there is much to consider in terms of blessings. From the easily forgotten blessings of everyday life, to the dramatically increased needs in situations of crisis (floods, wildfires, power outages), we have it good. Not perfect, as many can attest after dealing with extreme situations, but good.
We have heartful people around us, willing to open their homes, wallets, and arms to embrace those in need, we have creative minds that can help a community evolve, and we have, above anything else, freedom to express our opinions. We have a health system that allows for people to be given care without having to sell their homes to pay their medical bills, and we have access to information and knowledge, as well as services of various kinds. Room to improve on all of these you say? For sure, and just as well we have the choice to help influence some of those changes by choosing to change the world around us for the better, from our immediate one (yourself) to your immediate community and the community at large.
The list of blessings is a long one, and our gratefulness should match it. We are better for it when we are thankful. To recognize that is to be humbled, and in doing so, is to be lifted above simply taking everything for granted, and instead responding to the obligation to give back in any way we can. Even by being kinder towards those around us, family, friends, or strangers, and by creating a positive ripple with each of our actions.
Part of the definition of humbled comes from having one’s body part fail in some way. It’s a swift and powerful reminder of how fragile the balance is after all, and how easily forgotten our limitations are. When I say limitations, I do not mean we’re fragile by design and thus doomed, but that the tissues that form our bodies are, after all, no matter how many miles you run, swim or cycle in a day, breakable. Knowing that adds beautiful dimensions to life, doesn’t it, just as much as it adds that inescapable feeling of doom. Do not give into it though, that’s not what this is about.
More humbling yet is that the occasional painful reminder inserts itself mysteriously into your daily routine and there’s not telling where it came from or when it will end. There’s also a silly resemblance to a mouse you’d hold by its tail, if you will, though no tails are needed to paint this picture. You’re the mouse. It’s the nagging discomfort that holds you upside down until you figure out how to reposition yourself upright with grace and dignity; or at least one of them.
I am learning how to be a leftie these days, for two weeks ago a tendon in my right hand decided to travel away from its well-designed groove (or what seemed to be well-designed up to this point anyway) and over the knuckle it went, leaving an empty space behind and lots of questions in my mind as to why the sudden change. Mystery is the salt of life? Perhaps. Less funny when you’re it. Acceptance, they say, is what carries you to where the said grace and dignity reside.
Past the annoyance of pain and inability to carry on with the usual activities using my trusted right hand (I trust them both, but I have obviously favourited my right one so far), there is a side of me that is fascinated with the current limitations. As I walk around protecting my right hand from further injury, I am humbled by the realization that the rest of me works just fine and that that is a level of wonder many of us have come to acknowledge as an ordinary state of affairs as we go about our day. I’d say we ought to declare that a sin of some sort.
Would it be too much to say we take ourselves for granted? Never before has more research poured out our way, laying as thick as can be the knowledge that should keep us working in good order for the rest of our lives: eat healthy instead of pretending to or finding lame excuses to binge such as ‘you only live once’, sleep enough (despite of the lifeless blue-bad-for-you-light gadgets promising the world which by the way, they’ll never deliver but we take our chances anyway), get up and move around so our veins don’t turn stiff too soon; you get the idea.
The thing is, for the most part, we go about our days treating our bodies with a certain degree of recklessness, fully unaware of the wonders they carry within. On the days when a Facebook post reminds us poetically that we are but stardust, we throw a longer gaze at our sun-kissed forearms or spend a few extra minutes looking at our reflection in the mirror, wondering how it is that atoms linked together become vision, taste, or awareness of the sudden flutter of a moth we startled as we walked by and brushed against the curtains.
So here’s to wishing that my days spent as a leftie (that will be a few weeks, I am told) will leave me with an extra helping of gratitude for being able to clench my fists whenever I need to (in the near future), or sew a button on my oldest son’s shirt, or paint, chop onions and carrots, make apple sauce, and throw some dice when the days end with playing a board game, which I am hoping they will. Simplicity. Taking sips from the half-full glass and trusting that it’ll never run empty.
It’s the simple things that carry the biggest reminders; perhaps because as we go through life we realize that there is no big story waiting to happen that will help us unlock gratitude. The secret lies with the small, simple events that we spin into long threads, day after day, which then we make into tapestries, knots showing, because that’s what this story is all about. Some times are knottier than others. Be it so, keeping it real is what we’re here for. To wish for no bigger blessing than to be able to remember all of this I go along, no matter if my hands are available to help me do so, that is what I am hoping the days spent as a leftie will leave behind.
Saturday was a cold, wet, and slightly dreary day, though rain was such precious commodity during the summer that I cannot get myself to dislike it, no matter how much I miss the sun. On our way to the farmer’s market, my oldest son and I bumped into Vaughn Warren, who was as enthusiastic as ever about the time capsule that was about to be attached to the new Freemont Block sign he was recently commissioned to restore. Come by the Makerspace between 3 and 5 today, he said, so you can sign a postcard for the time capsule.
Most of the day had already been scheduled for a few activities but we made it there a few minutes before 5. The sign looked beautifully vibrant and the table next to it was full of cards, photos, and other mementos to be sealed in the time capsule. We signed the guest book and then proceeded to write something on the card before writing down our names.
I had to stop a while and think. This was something that someone, a hundred years from now, will read and think about for a few moments. Much like I was taking my time trying to stretch my thoughts to the other side of the hundred years, that person, or people, will be trying to imagine what it was all like here, now.
An exercise in humbleness if you will. A hundred years from now on I will be long gone, and so will my sons, most likely. Sobering indeed. It’s a thought that makes you hear all the noises in the room suddenly, and makes you see everything around in a different light. It makes you shudder, too. there is a finality attached to you and your life, and there’s no two ways about it. It’s part of the deal. A rainy, cold day is the day you’re in, a gift like no other, and not a dreary time slot you can’t wait to be done with.
The day was already inviting to a lot of reflection regarding the thin line between life and death we’re all due to cross at some point. It was my late friend Richard Wagamese’s birthday (he would’ve turned 62,) and it was the day chosen for Christopher Seguin’s funeral service. Their passing, as well as the passing of some many people I’ve known over the years, my parents and other close relatives included, left me with a cloud of questions: What matters after all, what is worth striving for while you’re alive and what will the others remember of you once you’re gone?
From all that I’ve seen so far, it’s not the material things but the heart matters that live on. They do not only linger, but continue to grow and fill that empty space one leaves behind once they’re gone. The things we do because we choose to show and wear our humanity with pride and gratefulness is what matters; it’s what will inspire those who miss us to keep on going, choose to act with courage and joy, and leave a mark on the world by allowing their humanity to shine through as they live their days.
It is the whole range of acts that count, not just the ones that are news-worthy. It’s the mark we leave behind us when no one’s watching. The gestures, big or small, that can restore someone’s smile, restore someone’s trust in humanity and change the way people around us choose their next steps, so that their hearts show through.
When we choose to live heartfully and with compassion, there’s glowing that transcends your immediate presence. It’s the kind of hopeful shiny stuff that guides those left behind you towards decisions better suited for the greater good, less judgment and more compassion towards those who need it.
A few days ago, I read about an incident in Williams Lake. An elderly man was lying on the ground in a parking lot after having suffered a heart attack, and though many people passed by, no one stopped. Eventually, a woman stopped and called an ambulance, informed the man’s family south of the border about his condition, and took care of his vehicle and boat (the man was on his way to an annual fishing trip with friends.)
Whatever accomplishments the woman who saved his life has achieved so far or will from now on, that she showed her humanity at a time when someone needed it the most is something she will be remembered forever by the man she saved and by his family. Perhaps she will inspire many to be compassionate rather than judge.
Visuals can be awfully deceptive at times. Wearing one’s heart to be seen as we walk through life never is. That’s what I hope a hundred years from now people will still value and strive for. Because before w are anything else, we are human. That is the gift that is handed to us when we’re born, the one we’re supposed to make the most of while we’re alive, and the one we’re leaving behind when we go. That’s what I’ve learned so far from those who lived letting their hearts walk alongside. It’s the kind of legacy humans ought to bestow onto humans.
There’s this curious phenomenon that happens to many of our family’s out-of-town guests when they come for a visit: they fall in love with Kamloops. Sure, for most of the year, hills are dry, though the wild west appeal is certainly present and charming. The summer of 2017 was painfully smoky for long enough to scare away visitors and make us all feel shortchanged when the leaves started turning.
There’s the occasional pulp mill smell, which can be a rude pungent awakening on an otherwise pleasant morning, or evening, for that matter, and yet despite of that, Kamloops inspires to many a homey feeling, for lack of a better way to define that special something.
You stroll through the downtown and it’s pleasant. Not perfect, but that is not the point. Life isn’t either. There are many an eye-pleasing places you can stop by, whether to eat, shop, or grab a cup of coffee and watch people walk by. Even if you’re new in town, the chances of bumping into a familiar face are high; a good thing. Blame it on the many events that Kamloops is hosting throughout the year, or the lively farmers’ market that seems to have grown in popularity this year, especially on Saturdays (a very welcoming sight indeed!)
There is beautiful nature surrounding Kamloops and breathtaking sunsets. Some might say that it all sounds nice and sweet, too much so, if only I could get my blinders off and realize that the many issues that plague our downtown and city are a terribly sad and frustrating reality. They are, without a doubt.
There is the downtown parking (though I still think the former KDN building could have been used for a better purpose,) the presence of many transient people, who can occasionally be aggressive (a friend’s teenage son was recently aggressed near the library), or the ones begging for change, which many people find annoying and intrusive.
City-wise, we have a heartbreaking yet-to-be-solved drug overdose problem, we have careless, distracted, or impaired drivers whose actions make the news too often, and a frustrating lack of family doctors. There are many homeless people still, and we have a recycling issue that leaves much to be desired. There is rush hour traffic, and we have a long way to improving public transportation in some areas and becoming greener. Then, there are the issues that divide the city, such as mines and pipelines, and have been doing so for a long time.
There are a lot of things that can be said about Kamloops, some better than others. But here’s an extra good thing that the recent byelections revealed. That there are many who care enough about all that Kamloops is and isn’t, to put their name out there, share their beliefs, and hope for a seat in the council or to become mayor.
It’s no small thing. It takes courage to do that. The campaign time was short, which allowed for too little knowledge of the candidates, and not enough dialogue with the voters; the percentage of voters was dismal, many are saying, at a humble 21 percent.
We now have a new mayor and a somewhat refreshed council. They will be facing much heat when it comes to the divisive issues, and they will be measured against their predecessors. There will be personal attacks and social media will be raging at times. Which makes me say, once more, that I am amazed at how many Kamloops citizens got ready do it, nonetheless.
Low voter percentage can be blamed on apathy, lack of time to find out who’s who, or a plain old ‘who cares?’ attitude. Hopefully, by the next elections we will double or triple that percentage. If some of us care enough to put themselves out there as candidates, we should all care enough to take time and find out what they stand for and ultimately vote, so here’s to a better next time. Meanwhile, there is much to be proud of. First, that many candidates put time and courage in signing up for the race. It’s the age of people taking jabs at people on social media simply for being out there. Hats off to those who signed up for the task anyway.
As for the ones who got elected, let’s hope we can find good ways to cheer them on, encourage them, criticize constructively rather than attack them, and thus help in seeing some of the many issues Kamloops is facing, solved, or at least improved. Dialogue is everything.
As with everything else in life, you take the good with the bad as they say. Kamloops issues are no different. There’s a lot of good things that are immediately apparent and then there are the stagnant many things that chip at that good image. Those we elected can change some of that during the next year, and chances are they can do a better job if we supply feedback, involvement, and insist on having a dialogue. If voting was a few days only, dialogue can be an ongoing thing until the next round of elections.
Meanwhile, Kamloops is still a great place to be. Here’s to seeing good and better things happen under the new leadership!