Friday, December 26, 2014

Priorities

This is not the post I expected to be publishing next.  In fact, I’ve had an article stowed in a folder for more than a week.  It was patient at first, confident, it seemed, in the message it had to communicate.  Lately, however, over the last few days, that draft post has become more vocal, calling me while I am packaging gifts, preparing food, practicing the harp, organzing the music for the Christmas Eve mass, cleaning the bathroom, doing laundry.  I haven’t ignored its insistent reminders.  Like the patient and regular pulse of the bright yellow flashing lights  around a construction zone, I know it’s there.  Life, however, has intervened. In the ultimate irony, that intervention, more than the unremitting jobs, has ensured that the holding pattern around that post will remain, at least for a day or two.

During that entire time, I was about to write when . . .
the husband of Elmer’s cousin passed away.  Of course, we would attend the prayers and the funeral, to celebrate a life and support the family.

I was about to write when . . .
a friend reminded me of a two-year old Christmas tradition.  On the day our son arrives from California, we meet her and her husband for supper, and then head to the airport.  Did we have plans to meet again this year?  The fight was landing in the afternoon; maybe lunch?  Of course, the tradition had to continue.

I was about to write when . . .
friends came for supper, a no fuss  homemade pizza with salad and leftover dessert.  Of course, we would get together to nurture a  long–standing friendship.

I was about to write when . . .
the daughter of a fellow superannuate phoned to invite us to an impromptu December 23 birthday celebration for her mother.  Would we come?  There was cake and lots of wine, she expostulated.  Those inducements, however attractive, were hardly necessary.  Of course, we would attend.

I was about to write when . . .
friends asked us for supper.  Could we come?  Of course, we would be delighted.

So writing, a priority in my world, took a back seat this Christmas.  Not to gifts that must be purchased, or a house begging for decoration, or traditional and desired foods to be whipped up, or music crying for attention.  Writing took a back seat to people, of course.

After all, Christmas is all about people, and, in my experience, only about people.  Gifts, decorations, good food, and exquisite music mean nothing unless they enhance people.  Thoughtful gifts  communicate to their recipients that others care for them, and know them well; a beautiful tree creates a festive and reflective atmosphere  that enhances celebration; delectable dishes enable people to reconnect with nostalgic experiences; music layers joy throughout a  liturgy.   Refusing an invitation in order to pack an extra gift or prepare another treat or make things a little shinier, those are misplaced priorities.  Christmas, and the feelings and mood we associate with it, come only from people.

Without you, generous readers, this blog is a tree falling in a forest.  Thank you for reading.  A merry Christmas season to all of you.




Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Paradise

The flames that flicker in the wood stove in the living room of our son’s home warm the entire space.  Outside, oblique lines of snow coat everything they touch with the inevitability and intensity of a  glaze raining on the raised doughnuts at Tim Hortons.  Vehicles, patio tables, porch rails, and sidewalks all show off several inches of white padding as delicate and firm as the tulle on the skirt of a bride’s dress.  Cocooned inside, I sink back into the couch cushions and bask in the tranquility of the moment.

The house is silent.  My husband snoozes curled up beside me.  Our son is at work, and his wife catches up on some sleep.  Their ten-week-old son has fallen asleep in my arms, his fingers curled around my pinkie, his long body stretched out on my lap.  I allow myself to caress the soft round of his cheek, and memorize the details of his face—the dimpled mouth, the long eyelashes, the perfect nose and small, flat ears.  I want his mother to be able to rest as long as possible, so I place him in his swing chair, and cover him with a blanket.  He has surrendered to sleep.  His breathing deepens, a soft but noticeable baby snore that even piques the dog’s curiosity.  Always on guard for the family, Sammie must investigate.  He jumps down from his cushion in front of the window, and sniffs at the baby’s feet to make sure he’s okay.  Worried lest the baby awaken, I whisper Sammie’s name, and he resumes his watch.  This moment is my window into Paradise.

I use the quiet time to relive the joys of the past few days with our son and his family.  I feel the baby’s weight in my arms, hear the coos and squeals of his conversation, the play during the diaper changes, and the comfort of feeding time.  Overwhelmed with gratitude to them for responding to my grandmother’s need for time with the baby, I savour the calm and peace that penetrate every cell of my being.

I don’t know how many more moments like this I may have.  That is one of the realities of aging.  I do have this one, though, and for that, I am blessed and thankful.



Sunday, December 7, 2014

Lessons from 2048

I smeared some almond butter on a piece of apple,  and munched, alone in early morning quiet of my kitchen,  looking at my progress in the game 2048 on my phone screen.  As I studied the tiles, I realized that I might be in a position to get to 2048.  I could win!   Then, I could tell my colleague, with whom I had shared the game and who, of course, had already reached 2048.  Three times. 

I read about the game 2048 in Educational Leadership (“Uncovering the Math Curriculum” by Marilyn Burns, in “Instruction That Works”, October, 2014), the last place I ever thought I would find remarks about an addictive phone app.  Curious, I downloaded it. 

The article insert was right—the game captured my fancy from the outset.  Even better, I could always rationalize that this mathematical contest was good for my computational skills, and my mind!  The object of the game is  to double tiles, some with the number two on them, some with the number four, to arrive at 2048.  You play on a grid of four by four tiles.  Tiles numbered 2 and 4 appear as you play, randomly,  like Tetris, but co-ordinated to your moves.   Nothing is timed.  Gradually, you accumulate doubled tiles—4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, 256, 512, 1024, and finally, 2048.  At the same time, your score increases.  The article used the game 2048 to underline the pleasure of learning to do something on your own—to develop the strategy yourself, as you play.  It’s more fun, and more engaging, the author maintains, than if someone shows you how to play.

At breakfast that day, I did have the satisfaction of seeing the 2048 tile pop up.   I took a few minutes to savour the moment.  During that time, I realized that the game 2048 holds some life lessons.

1.        Have patience.  Yes, my pride took a hit when my colleague reached the goal before me.  In my defense, he’s a math whiz and I have never been intuitive in math.  Still, what difference does the speed with which each of us arrived at the goal have to do with anything?  Both of us succeeded. 

2.         Slow down.  There’s no rush.  I remember my dictum:  To speed up, you have to slow down.  I found that I was sliding the tiles quickly, not pausing to reflect on my move for more than a nanosecond.  What might be the consequences?  What impact might that move have on the next few?  Which of the possible moves might be the best one?  I forced myself to slow down, to take my time.  In music, slow practice is the key to good playing.  You have to be thoughtful as you learn a piece, and you can’t be thoughtful at high speed.

3.          Establish a solid base.  I realized I had to keep the large tile on the bottom, easily accessible.  For that, I needed a solid base.  I decided to keep the bottom row filled with tiles, so that it would never move.  Then, I would have some flexibility with the other three rows.  As Scott Adams, Dilbert cartoonist, mentioned in the book I referenced in my last post, a good diet, exercise, and a system provide a solid base for success.  One could add relationships, the ability to communicate, a positive outlook, among others.  Once I had a solid base, my success was assured.

4.           To establish a solid base, install a placeholder.  In 2048, one move to double tiles will double all the adjacent numbers in all rows in the same direction.  Sometimes, then, I might have a space or two open up in the bottom row. To keep that row from moving, I have to be conscious of moving a new tile into those spaces to anchor the row.  Those tiles serve as placeholders.  Any new tile will do.  Its value will reveal itself as the game progresses.  In my own life, especially when I have a lot on my plate, it’s easy to neglect the components of my solid base.   My success depends on paying attention to those details that keep my base strong, no matter the time constraints.

5.           Success comes from compounding elements.   I need to use all of the competencies I have as a set to reach my destination.

6.           The score is irrelevant until I reach 2048.  At first, I derived some satisfaction from reaching a new high score, a personal best.  The score, though, distracted me from my goal—reaching 2048.  In fact, the increasing score lulled me into a complacency, as if attaining 2048 wasn’t possible, so why keep trying?  I could just focus on the score.  To counter that, I stopped looking at the score. Now that I have reached 2048, the score matters, because I can drive it up.  I have already won the game, after all.


7.            Help is even more valuable when you’ve explored yourself first.  When my own strategy wasn’t having the desired results, I decided to Google some advice.  Because I had played a lot already, and had some strategy in place, I could use the tricks I found online more effectively.  I already had some constructs in place that allowed me to process the information.  The filing cabinet of my brain already had drawers into which I could place the information.

The 2048 experience, that originated in a professional magazine and culminated on a dark winter morning, has grown into a metaphor for life. 

Friday, November 28, 2014

Conversation

She  “always create[s] intelligent conversation,”  commented a friend of mine, in conversation about someone she knows.  What does it take, I started to wonder, to create conversation, first of all, and intelligent conversation, after that.

1.  Remember that conversation is about the person I am talking to, not about me.  My goal in conversation has to be to draw the other person out, to
a.  find out what is going on in that individual’s life;
b.  communicate sincere interest in those events and their related feelings;
c.  give him or her the opportunity to share. 

2.  Ask questions to invite the individual to delve into details.   People feel affirmed when others are interested in their experiences and perspectives.  Follow-up questions, indicate a sincere desire to know more.  A single question, on the other hand, seems perfunctory, a question posed out of duty.   If that question is followed up with a personal experience, especially one that changes the subject, the conversation has been hijacked.  It’s become a personal forum.  Compare these illustrations of a parallel conversation, the first an other-centered conversation (top), and the second, what that conversation might look like hi-jacked into self-promotion (bottom).



1  Hi, Linda, how are you?
2  I’m fine, thank you.  And you?
1  Well, thank you for asking.  When  did you get back from your trip?
2  Last week.  On Tuesday.
1  You look so tanned and refreshed. I’ll bet you had a great time.  What’s one highlight for you?
2  Well, let’s see.  The entire trip was fantastic, so it’s hard to pinpoint one thing.
1  Still, something must stand out.
2  You know, I did go ziplining for the first time.  It was exhilarating.  I’m proud of myself that I overcame my fears. . .


1  Hi, Linda, how are you?
2  I’m fine, thank you.  And you?
1  Well, thank you for asking.  When did you get back from your trip?
2  Last week.  On Tuesday.
1  We just returned ourselves from a cruise last month.  We had such a wonderful time.  The weather co-operated, and the food was amazing.  We met so many interesting people.
2   How long were you gone?
1    Ten days this time.
2    How did that work for you?
1    It was just right.  We felt we had short-circuited winter just a bit.
2    Good for you! . . .



I’ve been on the receiving end of both of those types of conversations.  Life-giving in the first instance, draining in the second.  Mea culpa, mea culpa, I have also been the perpetrator of more than a few hijacked conversations (bottom), where I have been more focused on myself than the person to whom I am speaking.  To be fair, I do congratulate myself when I do manage to do it right, to fan a conversation from its embers into a flickering, radiant warmth. 

3.  Use active listening.   I am most successful in conversation when I focus on the other person’s feelings.  Did the individual experience satisfaction? joy? excitement? apprehension? sorrow?  These feelings are a lead into follow-up quesions or statements.  If I can paraphrase those feelings, my partner is likely to add rich detail and some reflection to what he or she has already said.

3.  Ask permission to share stories, experiences, or knowledge.  During a course in Cognitive Coaching I took last year, I learned that asking permission to share experience or knowledge, especially in professional circles,  shows respect for my conversation mate’s own abilities and management skills.  Of course.  Why had that never occurred to me before?  If, in personal conversation, asking permission could seem awkward,  I can at least wait for an opportune moment to interject, once I’ve maintained the focus on my mate for a good long time, and even then, just open the door a smidgen with a general statement first.  

4.  Maintain receptive body language.  Eye contact, leaning forward, nodding in agreement or anticipation, smiling, all these tried and true techniques encourage people to continue talking.

5.  Steer away from discussion of other people.  The conversation can’t be “intelligent” when it’s centered on analysis of people’s habits or foibles.

6.  Learn to tell stories concisely and effectively.  Scott Adams, author of How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big (2013), includes the art of conversation in the list of skills everyone needs a working knowledge of (along with pubic speaking, psychology, business writing, accounting, basic design, overcoming shyness, a second language, golf, proper grammar, persuasion, hobby level technology and proper voice technique, just in case you’re curious).  He recommends dusting off the structure of a story you learned in school, and applying it to experiences you want to relate.  If you can make them funny, so much the better.

When conversation works, it’s magical.  You are caught in the moment, oblivious to anything else going on around you.  You don’t want to look away, or move a muscle lest you disturb the mood and send an inadvertent message that the conversation needs to end.  “Intelligent” conversation is even more powerful—other-centered, inclusive, generous, peppered with memorable snippets and noted for its sweet, lasting aftertaste.







Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Resemblance

“I look like my mother in this coat,“ I said to my husband, on the way out the other day.  The quick glance in the entrance mirror as I opened the door confirmed my statement.  In my mother’s long beige wool coat, a bright, sky blue scarf wound around my neck, I couldn’t ignore the resemblance.

On the way to work, still wrapped in my mother’s warmth, I had to admit that the likeness was not only physical.    As I age, I resemble her more and more . . . or maybe I’m just more aware of the similarities. 

Like my mother,

·  I love a well-set table, and I take great pains to make everything just right.  I use the china often, set off with her wedding silver, knife blades turned inward, as she taught me.

·  I have my own distinctive fashion style, preferring quality signature garments that last for decades to trendy fads.

·  I am always cold.  I need a hood and gloves when others are still in fleece tops and sandals.    Scarves and shawls now occupy one whole dresser drawer, and I have taken to wearing my boots all day to keep my feet warm.

·  I lose earrings; they catch in the scarves.

·  I monitored my children’s language as they grew, as she monitored mine in both French and English, and, although my children poke fun at my zeal from time to time, all three are articulate and well-spoken.

·  I love to cook.

·  I turn on the light over the sink, as she always did.

·  I make a big deal of birthdays and special days in the lives of those I love.

·  My grandson will call me “Mémère.”

·  I’m an introvert camouflaged in an extrovert’s persona, impatient for quiet after an entire day of listening, asking questions, smiling, making eye contact, drawing people out.  Let’s be clear, I enjoy people, and my inquiries are sincere.  My source  needs frequent replenishment, however, for sustainability.

·  I am prone to malaproprisms, especially with names.

·  I am tenacious, a nice way of saying “stubborn,” and self-reliant.

·   I need to be useful, to contribute, especially to my family.  Sometimes, though, I forget to ask what form that help might take, and my efforts can be gauche as a result. 

·  I flatter myself that I have even a smidgen of her strength, though I haven’t (yet) been tested as she was.

I am proud to be her daughter, and comforted that I resemble her in any way.   On this, the fifth anniversary of her death, her determination shored me up, and I finished the day a little ahead of where I thought I’d be.  I will need that strength in the time to come.  I look to her example to sustain me.






Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Remembrance

During  Round 1 of the bicycle sit-ups, number twenty–six or so, to the accompaniment of CBC News,  I hear Brian Stewart and Peter Mansbridge reminisce about their fears around the eventual fate of the Remembrance Day Service at the National War Memorial.    I stop, sit up for real, and pay attention.  “No one will bother to show up at these events,”  Stewart recalls saying in the seventies.    Back then, Stewart continues,  organizers would “be lucky to get 1 000 people.”  Last year,  30 000 attended, more than 50 000 this year.  That was then; this is now. 

The world is a different place than it was in the seventies when the conversations Stewart and Mansbridge alluded to occurred.  World War I had ended sixty years before; one generation  had lived since the end of World War II .   Despite the Cold War, the War in Vietnam, and trouble spots in Central America and the Middle East, we indulged in the illusion that the world was a more peaceful place.  Besides, those conflicts did not touch us, Canadians.  They occurred in distant lands, and didn’t involve our own fathers, husbands, sons, and brothers.   Our military served in emergency relief or peace-keeping missions with the United Nations, with only an occasional casualty.   International conflicts did not involve us, a peace-loving and peace-keeping nation.

It is true, as Stewart and Mansbridge state, that the efforts of schools, volunteer organizations, and veterans’ groups have had a  “remarkable effect” on raising awareness of the significance of Remembrance Day.    More critical than those efforts, though, in my view, has been the rise of terrorism metamorphosed into unmitigated evil reminiscent of Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot, and the Rwandan genocide.   We learn of rampant, large scale murder, public beheadings, kidnappings, and, just yesterday, the senseless killing of 48 Nigerian students by a suicide bomber pretending to be a student in that school.   The murder of innocents.

No longer is the violence restricted to other lands, either.  The irrationality infiltrated through the tributaries of the Internet has polluted vulnerable consumers and resulted in the killing of Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent in a parking lot and Corporal  Nathan Cirillo at the War Memorial,  as well as the invasion of Parliament.  In the assassinations of a few weeks ago, the chilling reality of the flag-draped caskets of Canadian soldiers killed in Afghanistan on the tarmack  and along the Highway of Heroes has become even more immediate.

My uncle, Lucien Guay
In the past, Remembrance Day was a remote connection.  For me, it meant thinking about two uncles whom I never knew who died during World War II.  My mother, consumed with grief still each Remembrance Day over the loss of her younger brothers, could not bring herself to watch the service on television.   For my own children, though, remembering was even more distant—photographs, stories, documentaries, about important people and important issues, yes, but devoid of direct connection.  Gratitude for the enormity of the sacrifice always the overarching theme, still our memories were once, and twice, removed.


Now, remembering is different.   It’s not longer remote.  As a nation, we hold in our hearts fresh memories of lost mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, husbands and wives, sisters and brothers, nephews, nieces, cousins.   The violence touches us now:  our families, a small city, a symbol of our national identity.   In my view, that’s why Canadians attended Remembrance Day services in such large numbers today, “numbers not seen in our time,” in Stewart’s words.  Now, with a clarity that was not before possible for the post-war generation, we understand what the sacrifice means.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Implacability

 I know when I get up in the morning that I may be facing icy roads on the way to work.  The forecast the night before predicted temperatures of -2 C° and snow.  That means ice, and maybe slush.  Yuck.  Forty-five kilometers of slush and sleet on a two-lane highway with other people on the way to work and freight trains camouflaged as trucks on a mission of their own.  Everyone is in a hurry.

My goal for this morning is simple, really.  I want to stay on the road until I get to the office.  So, I gear into my winter driving mindset. 

First, I stay philosophical.  Calm is better than tension. I will get to work when I get there.  Five or ten minutes won’t make a difference. 

Second, I shift into ice-driving strategy.  As I turn the corner and merge onto the highway, I aim for about 60 km / hr while I test the road.  I avoid any slush on the road as long as I stay in the tracks, but I am concerned about black ice that’s impossible to detect at the best of times, never mind in the glare of headlights at dawn.   Gradually, I run it up to 90 km / hr.  The speed limit is 100 km / hr.  I don’t feel comfortable going any faster right now.  I keep my wipers on, and I turn them up to high speed when I see a truck barreling toward me in the oncoming lane.

Third, I let other drivers suffer the road rage.  Vehicles pull up behind me, and pass.  Some are careful as they go by, and settle in just ahead of me.  One heavy black half-ton races ahead, spitting up snow, to make a point, I guess.

I am the driver people swear at when they arrive at work on a snowy morning.

“People like that shouldn’t be allowed on the roads.  They don’t know how to drive,” they complain.

When I hear those complaints, I readily raise my hand and admit to their face my membership in the club of people others designate as bad winter drivers.  “That was probably me,” I add, smiling, looking  for the downcast eyes and the fleeting blush that will betray a wisp of embarrassment.   However transitory, the disconcertion compensates a little for their smug confidence that their SUV will get them where they want to go at top speed no matter what the road conditions. Maybe they are the ones who don’t know how to drive. 

I am a good driver, winter or summer.  I am careful.  I am conscious of the effect my speed has on the traffic flow.  I don’t text.  I rarely use the car’s bluetooth capability.  I listen to the radio.  I like speed as much as anyone, but not at the expense of traveling faster than the traffic or the weather conditions  of  the day, or my comfort level with both, can bear.  It’s not so much my own safety I’m preoccupied with; how could I live with my carelessness hurting someone else?


Fourth, I laugh.  I remain unapologetic.  If my driving habits help others feel good about their own driving skills, well, then I’ve done them a random act of kindness.  On the next intemperate morning, as I diagnose the road to  find my comfortable speed, maybe the drivers that line up behind me can pay that RAK forward, and reserve judgment as they pass.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Destiny

It was love at first sight for the harp and me, in a 14th century inn just outside of Cardiff, Wales, last July.  On my birthday, even.  We’ve been an item for two months, now, with no sign of the passion abating.  While we are locked in our embrace, my harp and I,  time evaporates and stops at the same time.   I am lost in the challenge of marrying what I already know about the piano to the particular demands of the harp.

My background in piano eases the learning curve.  Eye-hand co-ordination, suppleness in the hands, the ability to read notes and rhythm, and a well-developed practice and performance ethic, all developed over years of playing the piano,  allow me to short-circuit the process somewhat.  From a fast-tracked relationship after a casual meeting during holidays to a short engagement, it seems that my harp and I share a destiny.

Still, despite everything the harp and I have in common, a new relationship does take some adjustment.  Whereas, with the piano, each hand had limited access to the range of the other hand, on the harp, both hands have equal access to the instrument’s entire range.  I have already learned that key difference while arranging Christmas carols for the harp from my beginner piano books.  What’s designated as left hand and right hand for piano doesn’t necessarily apply to the harp.

Another difference is placement.  With the piano, I learned as an adult to prepare my hands over the keys to play chords.  That means, to form my hands in the correct position on top of the keys, and then to play all the notes in the chord simultaneously (often, four notes in each hand, at once).  That training helps with the harp, but placement is even more exacting for this instrument.  Not only do I have to place my hand on the string before playing one string, I have to know what’s coming, along with the correct fingering, so I can place the next series of notes as well, in each hand. 

Given the critical importance of placement to playing the harp, I have to look at my hands much more than I ever do on the piano.  In fact, I have spent fifty-five years of my life honing the skill of seldom looking at my hands when I play, and looking at the music!!  With the harp, I must instead watch my hands constantly to be sure that I am placing correctly, and to check my technique.  As a result, playing from memory is a necessity for the harp, I think, whereas memory is a convention and a tool for the piano.  I have to work at memory; it doesn’t come as naturally to me as it might if I had a better ear.  I know that these challenges will enhance my piano playing too.  After all, that’s what happens in a great relationship—your partner helps you grow.

It occurred to me one day that my experience with the harp is a wonderful analogy for handling personal and professional shifts in life.  No matter how new the experience with which we are confronted, whether we have chosen the experience or whether it is thrust upon us, we have a prior set of transferable skills we can use.  The idea is to identify the new skills required, and then figure out how our prior knowledge can help us to master them.  We do that one step at a time, one measure at a time, one practice session at a time.

Two months since our fateful first meeting, I spend as much time with my harp as I can.   The experience has convinced me that I have a skill set that enables me to learn new things—not despite my age, but because of it.





Saturday, October 25, 2014

Knighthood

Which Canadian would you like to see receive a knighthood? asks a CBC poll:  Chris Hadfield?  Anne Murray?  Wayne Gretzky?  Other?  My qualified vote would go to Other.

Qualified, because I applaud the Canadians who, in 1919, asked the reigning monarch not to bestow titles or knighthoods on Canadians any more.   The NickleResolution, as it is known, declared “that the Canadian government would not approve an order or decoration that carries with it a title of honour or any implication of precedence or privilege. ”   The resolution was affirmed twice, by the governments of Lester Pearson in 1968, and Brian Mulroney in  1988.    When Conrad Black was knighted in 2001, he renounced his Canadian citizenship to accept the honour.

In my view, Knighthood (ladies become “Dames“ like Dame Maggie Smith of Downton Abbey) hearkens to a stratified and hierarchical medieval society marked by privilege and affluence on the one hand, and struggle and poverty on the other.   Generations of Canadians have toiled to erase the gap between rich and poor, to assure all Canadians enjoy a high quality of life.   We are a people who imagined  universal health care, credit unions,  and a Charter of Rights and Freedoms, a nation of diverse races living in peace in a vast land, a nation where citizens get together to repair the damage to a vandalized mosque, as they did in ColdLake this week.  We don’t need foreign titles disconnected from our own history to accelerate a slide into economic disparity.

Even more intriguing than the idea itself, however, is the list of candidates the CBC poll proposes.  Hadfield, Murray, and Gretzky are worthy candidates; they have distinguished themselves in their respective fields.  They represent people who have reached the pinnacle of their professions in a very public way—astronauts, musicians, athletes, actors, politicians, in the main.  In recognition of their gifts and accomplishments, society already remunerates its stars with celebrity and money.   And celebrity and money beget more celebrity and more money.  Witness the gift bag valued at $80 000 that Oscar nominees took home in 2014.   Titles are superfluous, it seems to me,  for people on whom society has already showered so much.

No, the Other category would get my vote in this poll, pretending for a moment that peerage would be a good idea.  The honour should go to the hundreds of thousands of extraordinary and accomplished Canadians who make a difference every day in the lives of the people around them,  without any recognition.  So, among many deserving individuals in the “other“ category:

·  Corporal Nathan Cirillo,  standing guard at the cenotaph in Ottawa on Wednesday, and Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent, wearing his soldier's uniform in the parking lot of St-Jean-de-Richelieu on Monday; all who served in Afghanistan, and all military who put their lives on the line daily in combat abroad or search-and-rescue missions at home;
·  Kevin Vickers, the Sergeant at Arms of the Canadian Parliament;
·  police officers;
·  the individuals who suited up in protective gear and waded into the natural gas fire in Prudhomme  behind heat shields and a wall of water;
·  the health care workers fighting ebola;
·  the surgeon who reset and pinned my colleague’s jaw after an errant puck smashed it during a game he was officiating;
·  teachers who share themselves and their knowledge with young people every day, stay after school for hours to supervise athletics or the arts, and then accompany the same students on weekend road trips for games or tours;
·  caregivers of elderly or physically or mentally challenged family members at home;
·  the mayor of my city, who attends almost all the functions  leaving encouragement and grace in his wake;
·  anyone who serves in elected office;
·  people preparing fall suppers in small communities all over the province and the country;
·  private music teachers who open a new world to children, along with their family rooms and their basements;
·  the ladies at the Co-op store distributing shoeboxes on behalf of Samaritan’s Purse to be delivered to children at Christmas;
·  the engineers who keep the power flowing when the temperature falls to forty below zero;
·  those who prepare Meals on Wheels, and deliver them;
·  individuals who enshrine participatory democracy in the phone calls they make to their elected officials, and the letters they send them.

Instead of showering more honours on people who have already been recognized, I vote to single out “ordinary“ Canadians who mortar together accomplishments into an awe-inspiring body of work likely to be recognized only by the fortunate group whose lives they impact daily.


Monday, October 13, 2014

Thanksgiving

If the only prayer you ever say in your life is ‘Thank you,’  Meister Eckhart wrote, that will suffice.  However delinquent I may be in many areas,  I have managed to remain grateful every day.  Every single day.  This being Thanksgiving Day, however, it’s important to formalize my gratitude, to carve it into the puzzle box of treasured pieces that comprise my life.

How is it possible that one person can enjoy so many blessings? One might even argue, a disproportionate number of blessings.

·    a steadfast husband whose preoccupation is the welfare of the family, who devotes the better part of his days to monitoring our financial status, dreaming up and executing projects for yard and house, who, like RFK, asks, ‘Why not?’

·    children who care about each other and the world, with the courage to make themselves vulnerable to see what they might accomplish, as well as the equanimity to handle the challenges life brings;

·     our children’s partners who love our children unconditionally and  embrace our family’s idiosyncracies;

·    our almost three-week old grandson, whole and alert, blue-grey eyes fixed on mine as I play 
    « bébite » with him as my father did with his grandchildren,  and tell him he’s perfect, will always be perfect;

·    solid roots having grown into an extended family (sister, sisters-in-law and brothers-in-law, nephews, nieces) who connect me to my beginnings and my core;

·    enlightened parents who, convinced already in that era that children absorb all stimuli from day one, exemplified adult literacy:  conversation, books,  word puzzles and word games, and added to that the opportunity for a third language, music;

·     a career as an educator that has spanned more than thirty years, whose demands and challenges have moulded me and have allowed me to stretch, to explore facets of my self I didn’t know existed;

·     caring and competent colleagues whose dedication to children inspires daily;

·    a home;

·    a home in a corner of the world that most people can’t drive through fast enough, obvlious to the treasures it camouflages and reserves for the discriminating eye—good, salt of the earth people, security, clean air and water, space, quiet, peace;

·    neighbors who have shared a life, watched our children grow, rejoiced in their accomplishments, mourned our losses, supported us in our times of stress, and continue their integral role in our lives;

·    food, so that I have never known hunger;

·    music to challenge my mind, my soul, and my resilience, in which I have found comfort and satisfaction unimaginable in my youth;

·    time to live to see my child’s child;

·    opportunity to study, read, travel, fulfill different roles in different institutions, all the while appropriating for myself the best of the people with whom I have been fortunate to interact in those contexts;

·    my harp, my most recent self-imposed challenge, providing new learning, a shift in paradigm, satisfaction, and, most important, something that belongs only to me to be woven into my identity.



You bet, I’m grateful.  Every day.  Not just at Thanksgiving.