Gratitude makes the journey better and so does kindness

Tag: simplicity

Are We Grateful Enough For What We Have?

Originally published as a column on CFJC Today Kamloops and Armchair Mayor News on January 1, 2018.

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.

Happy New Year to all!

The Reason We Are Not Oblivious To Magic

Initially published as a column in the AM News on Friday, November 28, 2014.

Beauty to live byToday’s early morning sky had a streak of blue I had never seen before. It was a blue that you pat yourself on the back when you get it by mixing watercolours; it was that beautiful and unique.

Except that someone else mixed the colours this morning. Not only that, it made sure to sift some sunlight on the north shore hills, a patch of brightness splattered here and there, as if some celestial egg was broken over those spots for a reason.

The only reason I could think of was to see. Not the whole landscape, which habitual browsing takes care of but often gets thrown at the back of the mind, but the small patches that stop you short, making you curious and grateful at the same time.

Curious to see more of the hills many times before, because today the sun is shining just so, making you wonder if you’ve ever realized just how pretty that particular slope is… Gratefulness is an automatic response your mind comes up with when you look long enough. I did.

Two hours later I took a walk with my oldest. He remarked on the murky waters of the Thompson River and the white shores hemmed with sand. By then, the cloud curtain had been pulled aside and a whole hill shone white and pretty. Snowy paths snaked their way behind unknown knolls and I wished to be there. I wished for the sunlight to keep on doing its thing many hundreds of years and beyond.

You could say it was one of those moments, which I am grateful to not be oblivious to.

There was something simple yet remarkable about it all: a growing boy, us walking and seeing the world around, a train going clickety-clack pulling its load through town, the light that kept on shifting revealing hill after hill and the realization that the world is changing, every day, and every hour of the day, and unless we make an effort to see it, we won’t. Unless we make an effort to keep it, we won’t…

Everything evolves, the slogan goes. Progress pushes some items out of sight to make room for new ones, and the phenomenon that promotes them. Yet the sun shone on the north shore hills way before progress was accounted for in the way we think of now, and the river kept shifting from murky to blue-green and clear since before this place had the name we know of.

I want my sons to grow up thinking of that as they go about their day. There are no ordinary moments in a day as far as nature is concerned, no matter how menial the daily activities become as we grow accustomed by them.

Like the walk to and from school every day with my youngest. One morning we woke up to snow and we walked through a blizzard that spat snowflakes into our eyes, on our cheeks and down our backs if the scarf got loose. You laugh yourself silly, because what else can you do…

Another morning we witnessed a most spectacular sunrise: a ribbon of sunlight, fresh and bright, rolling down from thick clouds to the bottom of the hill. Everything was shrouded in thick grey fog, save for the patch that looked like golden cotton candy. We were both mesmerized.

I wondered how many people got to see it that day and how many before us, and if they did, did they step out the next morning knowing that there will be something else to see, equally spectacular or more…

WorthyOne of the biggest accomplishment as a parent and guide to life as it happens for my sons, is to have them point out the ordinary bits of everyday life that steal their eyes and hearts. Leaves that are too beautiful to leave behind even as they lay shriveled up by incoming cold weather, grey mornings that have a mysterious feel to them, the ever so perfectly shaped rock that sits among many on the shores of a lake yet somehow it stands out, the occasional mirror-like surface of the river and the miracle of snowflakes. They point them out, and I know what touches their hearts the most. They know of mine.

And then, there is the magic of reminders that are as poignant as they are unique. One night, past midnight and way too close to the witching hour, we heard noises in our sloped back yard. Boys sound asleep cozily nestled in warm beds, we stepped outside.

The next moment I was staring at a beautiful doe. She stared back. Everything was quiet. She walked towards the neighbour’s yard and before swiftly jumping over the low fence, she looked one more time.

We walked up a couple of steps and under the sleepy apricot tree was a buck; not moving a muscle, he looked at us, and he looked towards where the doe went. For a few short seconds we stood, species boundaries notwithstanding, united by the simple magic of being there when no one else was. I could see his breath and I felt privileged.  Never so close… never so magical.

I felt like an intruder, but witnessing their graceful presence reminded me of the big world we should strive to keep alive. It’s a gift like no other.

Perhaps magic is, after all, not only what lies out there but the fact that we choose to see it and that we are, sometimes, given the amazing gift of seeing it. It is not without purpose that that happens. It’s the only way we can find reason to keep it alive; sunlit snowy paths, nighttime deer and all…

Simplicity — From Choice To Necessity To ‘Only Way Out’

Originally published as a column in The Armchair Mayor News on Friday, March 21, 2014. 

AliveI start my days with browsing over news, mostly science and environmental. Some morph into feature articles, some crowd into the ‘later’ folder to be mulled over, and all of them point repeatedly to the same recurring question: is simplicity the answer?

It took having children to have it sink in fully: it’s about today and it’s about tomorrow as well. And it’s in how we live both.

The world evolves at a mind-numbing speed. Gadgets keep on sprouting. Some may rise to the ‘necessary’ status while some will stay in ‘whim’ forever. To some we add justification and thus make them ‘necessary.’ Then there are the consequences of having more.

Every gadget, appliance, new technology, and that includes the green ones, comes with an environmental price to pay. By us all, today and tomorrow.

Reports point to resources being mined to exhaustion, or being mined where they should not be because they throw things out of balance or sicken people. They point to the exploding economy as the major cause of increased global warming.

We risk tomorrow with many of today’s forays into limited resources.

At a time when news of smog-enveloped cities strengthen the request for clean air, deforestation and harming the ocean lower our planet’s ability to gulp our carbon dioxide and give us oxygen.

Self-destructive?

The impact of today’s modern lifestyle is undeniable. Just two days ago, a prestigious science society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, released a report about the risks of climate change stating three things: firstly, that climate change is caused by human action and it is past the point of debatable.

Secondly, that changes are slow to happen at the moment, visible as they are, but there is a tipping point (more melting of ice sheets, more droughts, heat waves and floods, food shortages and an increase in species extinction) from where things will roll downhill at a speed that’s hard to comprehend right now. Or easy to ignore, whichever comes easier.

Thirdly, that there is still time to act. Another recent report, UN-generated, concurred.

Simplicity in living today, is that the answer?

There is letting go in simplicity. Not to say that whoever opts for simplicity can claim that it has stumbled across the truth of life, but it comes pretty darn close to that.

We need less than we have and even less than we want. Wants are immature, mostly motivated by impulse rather than rationale. Wants often come with a sense of entitlement that prevents clairvoyance at a time when it is badly needed.

It’s uncomfortable to think that some of what I have today will not be available for my sons when they grow up. Clean enough air, clean enough oceans and enough blue sky to allow joy. Not applying the doom scenario because of a case of sudden environmental drama, but because I do not know for sure which human-inflicted changes are reversible and which are not.

Our lives are dominated by fear nowadays. We buy life, home, car insurance and the word premium brings sighs with relief. The juxtaposition with the absence of the biggest fear that should be – fear of destroying our world – is striking.

Most of us know that we can do with less. It’s our choice to do with more.

The recent sublimation of snow in Kamloops – a phenomenon I deeply enjoy as it spares us the end-of-winter slush less dry areas go through every early spring – invited to gardening.

This year we will extend the garden to grow more food, with humble dreams of homesteading one day.

Growing food makes simplicity real. So does realizing that letting go of many things you don’t need makes room for what matters – time spent right. It allows for a deeper connection to the place we’re in. From the patch of land we live on, to the community, town or city and beyond.

I came to realize that ‘seeing’ the world has nothing to do with traveling, but rather with acknowledging the uniqueness and utmost beauty of a place that has been a fountain of life for millions of years, harmonious in all its details and awe-inspiring in its seamless functionality.

To think that we are interfering with it all, creating long, deep trenches of wrongs that our children might not be able to deal with is troubling.

Life’s biggest question ‘Why are we here?’ awaits an answer still. The more I think of it though, the more I am inclined to say that the answer is right in front of us, every day, if only we let ourselves see it.

Life is about living today with the awareness that we are leaving something behind, but we ought to do it with the elegance and depth of a species aware of the honour of being guardian to an entire planet and all the life that it holds.

So that plants and animals can still exist and people can still breathe. Simple. Perhaps that’s the answer after all…

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