Gratitude makes the journey better. Kindness, too.

Tag: values

The Many Kinds Of Magic

Originally published as a column on CFJC Today on December 26, 2016. 

Merry Christmas!It was after 11pm on Christmas Eve that my husband and I took the dog out for a walk. It was quiet. Magic of a different kind. Snow crunched under our feet as we walked, the dog sniffed this way and that, and Christmas lights shone beautifully on so many houses along the way.

The path took us to the Christmas house on Pine and 6th.

The wealth of garlands is enough to make you go wide-eyed every time. Say what you will about excess and wasted electricity, the thing is the lights make people smile. Inside and outside smiles too. That the lights have been a way for the owner, Louise Edwards, to relieve some of the weight her counselling job brought into her life, is not to be ignored either. Stories of pain and grief, stories of hope and recovery, humanity surfacing through each blinking or steady light around her yard. As sobering as it is jolly.

That time of night you could hear a trickle of carols from some garlands wrapped around sleepy, snow covered bushes.

We stopped a while to listen. Fragments of life surfaced. Christmas does that to a person. Not having my parents around anymore adds a layer of sadness that will never go away. Hanging on to memories, dusting them off as I tell the boys stories about my Christmases past, feeling a bit more that emptiness left by my parents’ passing, feeling the richness of having learned so much from them while they were still around and afterwards too.

Quiet tears added to the sparkles laid all over trees, bushes, and house. The unseen side of Christmas, the roots that go deeper each year and gain more significance, the simple truth of what matters in the end: the time we get to be with those we love, the time we find to understand that each of us carries the story of laughter and tears, grief and happiness. All transient, all worth every second of their ephemeral nature.

An invisible owl hooted from a tree as we left, adding eeriness to our quiet night walk. Another piece of magic added.

Today, Christmas midday found us on a frozen lake, lost in an ocean of white. Dog and kids and grownups stepping on each other tracks, swapping laughter, memories, stories and steaming cups of coffee. It will all be shelved for later Christmases, it will all be remembered and treasured. It’s the simple things, the time put into just that… simplicity.

On our way home we pass by the hospital. Another slice of life with a flavour so different than what most of us associate Christmas with. I think of all who sit by someone’s bedside, of all those who are hanging onto life or are about to say their goodbyes; I think of dear friends who carry their suffering with so much grace and how much I have learned from that, mostly to never forget to say a prayer. Thoughts like that always find their way to those you think them for…

I think of babies being born, of the joy trailing behind them, of all the hope they bring and all the precious lessons they bring along, as every human does. If only we’d pause long enough to pay attention…

I think of those who work on the day when most of us have our loved ones around, whatever their work may be. Just being present and willing when most of us take a break. Time offered as a gift, a different kind of offering.

It redefines gratefulness, our dependence of each other, our ability to give if we choose to, and our need to swap the roles of giving and receiving every now and then so we can reach the wonderful understanding of what it takes to be human.

Wherever this holiday finds you, allow for joy, sadness, and allow for thoughtfulness towards fellow humans. It is what matters in the end. No story is written by each of us alone, but by all of us stepping into each other tracks, swapping stories, sharing laughs, offering hugs, meals and wiping tears when needed. Another kind of magic…

Living In Fear Is Not An Option, But Something Needs To Change

(Originally published as a column in the AM News on October 24, 2014)

fallenOn the morning of October 22 a storm of bad news pounded through all media outlets starting from the east, and by the time western Canada opened their eyes to the world, tweets bearing the hashtag #Ottawashooting kept coming faster that you could read them. The attack on the Parliament building and the cowardly shooting of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, the reservist who was standing guard at the National War Memorial, made it clear that nothing should be taken for granted.

The raw footage from inside the Parliament building where you hear shots being fired, many of them, voices overlapping and you see people running for cover, and the photos that kept coming all day long together with news, suppositions that perhaps more shooters are on the loose, made it all look like the country was under siege. Senseless attacks like this create the kind of smoke that is the hardest to get out of: fear.

Feelings of disbelief and anger were amplified by a previous senseless attack. On Monday, two Canadian soldiers got ran over in a parking lot in Quebec by an individual whose actions were linked to terrorism and whose activity had been monitored by the RCMP since knowledge of radical thinking was brought to their attention. Sadly, the abominable attack could not be prevented. Only one soldier survived.

We know for a fact, a disappointingly sad one that is, that the two alleged killers in these two latest attacks are Canadian. I find that hard to accept and understand. It is a sacrilege to turn against your own people and wrong to attack anyone simply because they wear a uniform. If their alleged connection to terrorist groups proves to be true, the question remains: What makes an extremist group and their ideology so appealing to people who live in a country where different values are emphasized?

Standing together against whatever evils might come from any violent groups outside of Canada makes sense, but sense goes missing when the attacks come from within. Is fear the answer though? Not at all.

Fear can make us watch our backs in ways that breed paranoia rather than prevent violence. Maintaining a neutral position on most political matters or simply keeping to yourself is not an option either. Having opinions, discussing and sharing thoughts makes us visible in the social context, and that helps address issues that might otherwise be milled inside our heads ad nauseam with no results.

Every time a senseless attack such as the one that took down three RCMP officer in Moncton, NB, or the one in Quebec, and lastly, the one on Ottawa, I cannot help but ask about the social circumstances that send the alleged criminals into a killing frenzy and whether we could do more to stop them.

It makes me wonder if we address mental and social issues the right way in order to prevent violence of any kind, from domestic to armed attacks on governmental institutions and their employees. It also makes me wonder if we have enough collective social responsibility to recognize when one of us is on the wrong path and once we do, to address it somehow, with help from the very authorities that may be under attack if we don’t.

We are a friendly country and the joke goes that you know you’re Canadian when you apologize when someone steps on your foot. Being at peace collectively is a good attitude, yet there is a fine line between not being bothered and not getting involved no matter what.

A wake up call such as the one that ensued from two innocent people dying needlessly points to an acute need to do better. Not out of fear but in order to tighten the social fabric that helps us stay strong and ready to defend our country’s values and beliefs.

We are but a few weeks away from Remembrance Day and this year, though we are not at war with another country, nor do we have any inside war-causing political turmoil, we will have a few more fallen soldiers and RCMP officers to honour, all killed senselessly while performing their duty or simply wearing their uniform.

Living in fear is not an option; fear creates havoc and breeds anger and violence. Yet the latest attacks tell us that something needs to be done. Watching our backs constantly and thinking the worst of everyone around is not the answer, but emphasizing the values we stand for as a nation and defining social responsibility can be a good start.

The Magic Of Rain And Leaves

(Originally published as a column in the AM News on April 11, 2014 under the same title.)

Tale tellers...My dad knew how to tell whether the day would be a rainy one or not. He would choose when to sow seeds in the garden in early spring that way.

Thin clouds piling in all shades of orange over the hills as the sun was setting told more than the story of a day ending; they talked about the day to come.

Swallows flying close to the ground were also a sign of impending rain, I was told from early on. And just like that, I knew that if I found freshly-woven spider webs during my stroll through the garden in early morning, there will be no rain; a good thing during the much-loved summer vacation days.

In the woods or around the yard, I knew which berries were good to eat and which were not. I knew that the leaves of raspberry bushes were good for tea and that when baby chickens come out of the egg their puffy coat is all wet.

On April 7 the boys’ school (and the whole School District 73) hosted ‘Day of Sucwentwecw – to acknowledge one another,’ a first ever celebration of this kind. Students got to listen to an elder talking about the traditional people around Kamloops.

The boys brought home a newspaper, The Secwepemc News. There were stories of people who worked or work to preserve the culture and to revive it. There were stories about traditions and how life was lived according to seasons, and how knowing about nature kept people alive and thriving. Nature-inspired stories passed on from elders to youth and children were never just entertainment but lessons.

It was the drawing of rose hips that sent me back to growing up and to everything life meant back then. I remembered the tangy deep orange tea my mom made from rose hips and how it was one of the best drinks in winter because rose hips are very rich in vitamin C.

The thought of today’s children sprouted without warning.

Equipped with smartphones and getting used to opening a package to find food, how connected to life can they be and how much of a feeling of belonging to the place we call Earth can they develop as they grow?

20140412_121358Will they know that certain herbal teas can take care of headaches or stomach aches and how to read signs of spring in the world around them? Will they know how to forage for food if they had do?

It is a refrain we hear often enough: eat what’s in season. Yet how many adults know what’s in season where they live? A couple of generations ago people’s connection to nature meant avoiding starvation.

Do today’s children have a chance to learn about that connection?

Ushered from school to classes to stores and then tucked into bed at night, how much time is there to understand how nature does its thing? If a bee is but a bug that flies from flower to flower and looks very much like a wasp – can you tell the difference? – but the vital connection between bees and crops and food on the table is never made, will children grow to understand the consequences of bee colonies collapsing?

If children never understand that medicine once meant knowing which leaves to pick to make tea out of and that picking ripe fruit and veggies is the result of sowing, weeding and knowing how to keep the earth healthy by feeding it not chemicals, but compost or manure, and thus completing a circle that was never meant to be broken if we are to stay healthy, they are robbed of what should’ve been a birth right.

If we gave an older person whose connection with nature has been strengthened by passed-down knowledge and experience a smartphone or a high-tech device that many of today’s children can handle with their eyes closed, they’d look awkward in their lack of understanding of how these devices work.

Yet they have the knowledge of putting food on the table and of how to survive based on signs that nature gives freely to all, which most of today’s children lack.

Now imagine combining the two types of knowledge. They should not be mutually exclusive of each other. Their co-existence means that children can have a true measure of life and they can be raised in gratitude of it.

Stories of oldThe slow pace of acquiring life and nature knowledge, the trials and errors that have guided people from the beginning of times in their quest to stay alive, is what we cannot afford to leave behind.

They give us and our children a chance to reconsider our choices, shape them to match the past knowledge and accommodate the future.

The knowledge of the past and the facts of today is what we have to build our future with.

Resourcefulness dictates that we make use of both if we are to provide our children with a sense of where they come from and where they are headed.

Political Correctness vs. Principles. Where Do You Stand?

Rivers of ink and pixels have been flooding newspapers, news websites and social media outlets about Rob Ford, the current Mayor of Toronto, for a few days now. The threat of it all lurked in the shadows for a few months, since the drug antics of Rob Ford have been hinted at by the media. We now have a fully developed case of social and political black eye (one of them at least) for all to see and shake their heads at .

Most people who kept informed willingly or were assaulted by the news over the last few days, know that Rob Ford has admitted to using illegal drugs (while in a drunken stupor, as if that softens the blow,) he avoided admitting to drug use when asked by the media a few months ago, and he has also been photographed with alleged drug dealers, hardly the place to be for a mayor, unless it’s some wicked undercover work to expose the bad guys.

You can access details in most papers, and online as well, so I will not go further. The situation is disgraceful and it shouldn’t have made it this far. A person in a position of influence should display respectable conduct. There are no two ways about it. Even more so when the situation is recurrent. That points to absent remorse and that is a scary reality.

But my thoughts revolve around the conflicting messages about this situation. That such a situation has been created is a sign of the times. It is, on the bright side, an opportunity to reassess our value system and make the appropriate adjustments, if you will.

Some people defend Rob Ford with the unoriginal, though true, “everyone makes mistakes,” and while that each of us want that applied to us at least once in a lifetime, I believe this to be a case of “n/a” (not applicable). It should be. Barring unforeseen political and social circumstances, when one is in the public eye, and in an influential position in which elected by a community, one should avoid any situation that might become a black eye.

Others are saying “Many of us have been there at least once or have loved ones who have…” meaning not drugs necessarily but alcohol and questionable behavior. I’d stamp another “n/a” on this too. This is not an appeal for help and compassion issued by a man seeking help. A man of high political stature is plunging into one pool of social wrongness after another and he is getting away with it, while almost everyone’s hands are wringing over something that should have not been. Shedding some PR-required crocodile tears while saying “sincerely” three times and throwing a “God bless the people of Toronto” at the end should not make anyone say “have some understanding, he’s going through a tough time.”

The threshold of what we consider socially acceptable is getting lower and lower. I am troubled by it. Extremes are never good. Taut lines stretched across concepts and ideas and life in general annoy people and make them react, but being permissive and lacking principles is not the answer either. With common sense and critical thinking as bearings we can find the way, I am sure.

Finally, there are some people who are saying “enough is enough; how much time are we going to spend on this issue when there’s many more pressing ones that need attention?”

True to some extent. I think the Rob Ford incident is one of the iceberg tips that might help us – if we are so inclined – understand and assess the times, review our collective principles, reformulate terms on engagement for those who are or will ever be in positions of influence and ultimately understand the huge responsibility we bear as today’s adults. Our collective children are learning values, principles, political and social correctness (they should not differ much) from us. Parents, educators, politicians, and every person who has the capacity to become a role model has to know that the responsibilities associated with such a job are as high as the job itself.

What do you think?

The Need To Rethink Our Children’s Heroes (And Our Own)

In the days before the Terry Fox Run the boys did with their school, our walk-from-school time was filled with questions and discussions about Fox.

How did he know he had cancer? How did he come to set on a monumental task like the one he did? How did he manage to run with all the pain and heaviness caused by the disease and medication? The topic is far from over in our house.

Terry Fox is alive in more than our hearts. He is with us many times when there are tough tasks to accomplish, or determination, as a life skill, to understand and learn.

But it goes far beyond that.

It’s about understanding the greater good and why it matters to think of more than yourself along the way.

Terry Fox touched people’s lives. He saved people. No cape, no mask or impenetrable costume; no machines and, unfortunately, no well-designed pause in the scenario at a time when his life was in danger so he could be saved in time.

But he saved people.

Many have gotten stronger in their fight against cancer because of him.

What he did was making people — like my sons and me — realize that superheroes are the most human-like creatures. Vulnerable and strong at the same time. Awe-inspiring.

He is not the only one.

A couple of weeks ago, we stood in a long lineup at TRU for a chance to see and listen to Commander Chris Hadfield.

It was spellbinding. He talked about being nine and dreaming of being an astronaut. He talked about following a dream and making it a reality.

If you have encountered many people like that as a kid, and learned from them, good for you; you are fortunate.

Not to imply for a second that dreaming as a child and accomplishing as an adult forms a beeline, punctuated solely by accomplishments and joy. There are trials, there are many failures along the way, but if the dream stands and becomes reality, chances are there were some more factors involved, such as determination and motivation.

Hadfield and Fox are two of the people who have made many of our dinners and walks alive with questions.

There are many more.

We have our own heroes and role models. We have reasons why for choosing them.

Talking about people who accomplish things we admire is something necessary. Children learn about values because we acknowledge real values and our words have weight.

Children also need to know that regular people do outstanding things.

In a world dominated by superheroes who make accomplishments look so easy and quick, children need to be reminded that achieving anything worthwhile takes time, determination and ability to give ourselves to a dream or cause. It is never an overnight thing.

In a world abounding with “awesomeness” and everything is “awesome” from shoes to movies, to just about everything that our children encounter on a daily basis, we need to redefine the word awesome for them. To rediscover it ourselves.

Awesome is, according to the dictionary, “inspiring an overwhelming feeling of reverence, admiration or fear; causing or inducing awe.”

If we are truly inspired, amazed, or awe-struck by what we see in remarkable people around us, in people we hear, read about or meet, we should see it as it is: awesome.

If we keep at it, there’s a chance our children will be learning the true meaning of awesome and applying it to their lives.

(Originally published as a column under the same title in the Kamloops Daily News on Saturday October 18, 2013)

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