Category Archives: Gratitude

In #MyOttawa, Peace Towers above all

“The arc of the universe is long but it bends toward justice.” —Martin Luther King Jr.

The gunman who shot Nathan Cirillo this week here in Ottawa was not thinking clearly. The irony of the place of his death was lost on him, I am sure. He died creating chaos in the shadow of the Peace Tower. His angry rampage and his death show us one thing:

Peace Towers above all.

I read the quote at the top of this post in the book Made for Goodness And Why This Makes All the Difference by Desmond Tutu and Mpho Tutu. Martin Luther King Jr. gifted me with the most faith-sustaining quote I have found thus far, and my wish for my city, and for the people of Montreal who also saw one of their own die this week, is that we turn to it now.

It will help us if we remember that every evil act unleashes a search for the good. It will help us if we remember that every act of evil advances us further along the arc of the universe toward justice. It will help us to remember that the arc is long.

Here’s a fact about our city: almost every resident knows someone who works in downtown Ottawa. The federal government employs a large percentage of our population, and most of them work near where the shooting took place. When anything occurs in downtown Ottawa, almost every resident immediately thinks of how it is affecting someone they know—a spouse, a child, a neighbour or someone from their bridge club.

You have to know that a shooting in the downtown core on a workday in Ottawa paralyzed this city in a way it would not in most other places. The news rippled out for miles in every direction, and within that radius, virtually every person had a spouse, a child, a neighbour or a member of their bridge club—someone they knew and loved dearly—in mind.

We are more than a city; we are an interconnected community.

We have not had a high profile on the world stage. Here is a version of a conversation I have had often when travelling in other countries:

PERSON FROM THE OTHER COUNTRY (PFTOC): Where are you from?

ME: Ottawa

(awkward pause while the person tries to politely figure out how to tell me he has no idea where that is)

ME: . . .  Canada

PFTOC: Ah, yes. Canada.

(visions of polar bears and RCMP officers dance in his head)

ME: It’s the capital city, you know.

PFTOC: Really? I thought Toronto was the capital.

ME: Oh, sigh.

Often I wonder, why do people not know about the capital city of Canada? Perhaps more do now; this week international media have their cameras and their news feeds focused on us. The writings cover many different angles of the story: the words of love whispered to Nathan Cirillo as he lay dying [if you read nothing else, read this], the Canadian national anthem played at the Pittsburgh Penguins/Philadelphia Flyers game [thanks for that], the rivals in the House of Commons embracing [rivalries are vapours, really] , the long, hard day of devastated Muslims in our city [please read that one too], and the inevitable security concerns.

The events this week in Montreal and Ottawa started international conversations, and when we discuss acts of terror or evil, what we’re really doing is asking: How can we create good from this? Desmond Tutu suggests that we are made for goodness, and I believe these conversations, unleashed by an act of terror, help us search for the good. They show us that any action taken out of hatred, revenge or anger fails in the long run.

Because Peace Towers above all.

By canoe, with a two-year-old

shaws-pondOn the weekend of our Canadian Thanksgiving, my mother, my family and I went for a hike at the Shaw Woods Outdoor Education Centre. Before we left I downloaded their excellent information sheets about the trail we planned to take. (Ever the dutiful mother, I wanted our walk to be educational as well as healthful and fun.)

We had to drive for an hour and a bit from our home in Ottawa to get there, and my daughter fell asleep in the car. When we arrived, she was in a groggy, just-woke-up place. “Hiking,” she grumbled. “Why do we have to go hiking?”

We set out on our path, and I began to read aloud about John Shaw, a miller from Inverness, Scotland. “John arrived here in 1847 by canoe from Bytown [now Ottawa] with his wife Barbara Thompson . . .”

I stopped reading. “They came here from Ottawa by canoe,” I said. I pictured the two of them paddling through rain into strong winds. I imagined them straining under the burden of heavy loads as they portaged all their worldly goods around rapids.

What a hardship.

I read on. “. . . and their two-year-old son, John.” “They did all that and they had a two-year-old with them.” I said.

Toddlers in warm, safe homes are challenging enough. Imagine travelling by canoe for weeks with one. Were there even life jackets in 1847?

I turned to my daughter, “That sure makes our little hike in the woods seem pretty easy by comparison, doesn’t it?”

Forages into the past that dig up reminders of the hardships our ancestors faced help to put all our petty little problems into perspective. Whatever comes at me today, at least I’m not in a canoe in the rain with all my worldly goods and a two-year-old. 

tree-house-small

My daughter later in the hike, smiling.

Re-growth after pruning: A matter of faith

prunedWhen my husband and I strolled through St. James’ Park during our recent vacation to London, England, we passed this tree. Its harshly pruned branches made a sorry silhouette against the dusky skies of London.

We slowed our steps and looked up at the denuded tree. “Maybe it will come back,” my husband said, sardonically.

Then we looked more closely. One determined twig of new growth sprouted from the side of an upper branch. This tree, that to our eyes appeared cruelly pruned past the point of rejuvenation, prevailed.

new-growth

We continued our walk feeling a little lighter.

Even when life prunes us down to bare essentials, new growth and rebirth is possible. It’s a matter of faith.

 

25 years of marriage: Just getting to the good stuff

Sept-30-1989A quarter century ago on this date, I got married. 

As a child, when I heard that a couple had been married 20 or 25 years, it seemed a lifetime. 

Now that I’m there myself, it seems more like a first chapter. Now that I’m there myself, it feels like we’re just getting to the good stuff.

I pre-scheduled this post to run while my husband and I are away on an anniversary trip to London, England. That’s some of the good stuff: Freedom to travel.

When we planned our trip, we found it easy to choose destinations, knowing that some would be enjoyable to both of us, and others would be more fun for one of us than the other, and that would be okay. That’s some of the good stuff: Learning that, when we accommodate each other’s needs, there’s joy in that for both of us.

While we’re away, our teenagers are taking care of the house and living their independent lives. That’s some of the good stuff: Appreciating the fruits of our parental labour.

When I was in my teens and early twenties, I wasn’t too sure about this whole marriage thing. I assumed that someday someone would wear me down. They’d propose and I’d resist until finally one day, reluctantly, I would say, “Oh, all right. I’ll marry you.” It didn’t quite work that way.

When I got engaged, some people asked me why I decided to get married. My answer was, “Because it’s as natural as breathing.” 

(I still recommend that as a marriage foundation. If you’re thinking of getting married, and it feels like it’s as natural as breathing, it bodes well for the long-term potential of the relationship. If you’re thinking of getting married, and it feels like choking, you might want to reconsider.)

Over 25 years there have been plenty of times when we have irritated each other. Over 25 years there have been stressful times. But over 25 years, even during those irritating times and stressful times, I have always known, at the root of it all, that the best choice I ever made was marrying my husband.

Boy, am I lucky. Or smart. I’m not sure which, but I’ll take it. 

 

 

 

 

 

From rosebud to rose hip: aging gracefully

“Perimenopausal women can be likened to the full-blown rose of the summer and fall, as it begins to transform itself into a bright, juicy rose hip—the part of the rose that contains the seeds from which hundreds of other potential roses can grow.” —Christiane Northrup from The Wisdom of Menopause

Photo by Raye Smith

Photo by Raye Smith

Today is my birthday, and the number attached to this birthday fits with the quote above. The rosebud stage of my life is long past; I am the full-blown rose of late summer.

Because our culture in the west tends to worship the “rosebud” stage of development—the lithe and agile, and the wrinkle-free—some people don’t like to celebrate birthdays at this stage of life. Out of fear, they deny the passing of the years.

Not I.

I shout to the mountain tops. I jump up and down. I smile and celebrate with joy the many gifts that my fifty-plus years have presented to me. I look to the future with curiosity. What other fun things are going to happen to me?

“. . .  any attempt to remain in the rosebud stage tends to look desperate and ridiculous. It’s like trying to reglue the autumn leaves back onto the tree and them paint them green to simulate the spring. It simply doesn’t work. Instead, our task is to come to appreciate the beauty and power of the season we are in, instead of longing for what can no longer be.” —Christiane Northrup from The Wisdom of Menopause

When we worship only the beauty of youth, we miss the beauty found in later years. As Christiane Northrup points out, attempts to “reglue the autumn leaves back onto the tree” doesn’t work, and usually looks sad and ridiculous.

It is our task—my task—to own the beauty of the full-blown late summer rose and to nurture seeds of potential for others.

 

A fleeting world

In the coming week I will be celebrating (and blogging about) two events—a birthday and an anniversary.

These two events mark the passage of time and the coming and going of milestones. It puts me in mind of a quote I keep posted on my office bulletin board:

Regard this fleeting world like this:

Like stars fading and vanishing at dawn,

like bubbles on a fast-moving stream,

like morning dewdrops evaporating on blades of grass,

like a candle flickering in a strong wind,

echoes, mirages, and phantoms, hallucinations,

and like a dream.

—Buddha

Do you find that quote depressing? Some people do.

I find it inspiring. It makes me sit up and pay attention. It makes me appreciate whatever is fleeting by me.

I will celebrate my milestones knowing they are mirages I can’t hold on to, so all the more to be enjoyed in the moment.

Dance like nobody is watching.

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