Category Archives: Inspiration

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.

Liverpool haunts: An ale and crisps birthday

Since my return from our London vacation, I have mined the experience for blog post material. Until today I hadn’t touched on the number one highlight of our trip: Liverpool.

We took an early train and arrived in Liverpool mid-morning. We promptly hired a Fab Four cab and spent two hours with a personal guide who took us to Beatles’ haunts: the house where Ringo was born, Penny Lane, the barber shop, Strawberry Field, and the church hall where John and Paul first met at a church fête. (The British pronounce this word like “fate,” for some strange reason.)

penny-lane

This all served as a fun warm-up for our afternoon activity: the National Trust tours of the childhood homes of Paul McCartney and John Lennon. The National Trust maintains these properties with love and respect and allows wary access to others prepared to give the homes the same love and respect.

In front of Paul's house

In front of Paul’s house

The custodians share heartfelt personal stories of John and Paul, and they walk guests through the rooms where some of the most famous music in the world was born. We sang “Hey Jude” in Paul McCartney’s living room. We stood at his bedroom window and looked at what his view would have been like. We sang “Please, Please Me” in the front porch of John Lennon’s house, the same place he and John went for good acoustics. The doorknobs and light switches were original, so I think every person on our tour reached out to touch the doorknob and light switch of John Lennon’s bedroom. (Wouldn’t you?)

Beside the front porch where we sang.

Beside the front porch where we sang.

The evening found us at the Cavern Club, the music venue where the Beatles (and many others) got their start. We sang and danced under the ancient arches of the historic club—until we had to tear ourselves away to catch our London train.

cavern-sign

 

We happened to be in Liverpool on my birthday, so I can proudly say that for my birthday dinner, I enjoyed pints of ale at the Cavern Club and crisps on the train. (That’s potato chips in North America.)

Do I know how to celebrate 52, or what?

I was born in 1962, so I was too young to be a Beatles fan when their popularity first skyrocketed in the early 1960s. My interest in them came later. But my husband is a few years older than I am, and he had an older brother who was a teenager when the Beatles were prime time, so he is an avid fan and a trivia master of all things Beatles. Even though my passion for them should not even be measured on the same scale as his, I still visited these sacred sites with a sense of awe. I still reached out and touched the doorknobs and light switches. I slipped off my sandals and walked barefoot on the floors that Beatles’ feet touched.

They were simple human beings—not famous people—when they lived there, and tragic things happened. Both Paul and John were just teenagers when they lost their mothers when they were living in those homes. Paul’s stories had a before-and-after, “after Mom died,” theme. Paul’s father did his best, but “after Mom died” the meals weren’t as good, the cleaning not as thorough, and the furniture got a little shabby. Meanwhile, John’s mother was struck by a car—sent flying through they air—and killed instantly on the street where he lived.

Standing in the places where they lived when the world considered them ordinary and where they lived through those tragedies, I felt a “vibe,” a sense of the little pieces of them that still linger there. I felt it in the homes, I felt it when I danced and drank ale at the Cavern Club, I carried it with me to the train, and I remember it now.

Liverpool haunts.

strawberry-field

The gates of Strawberry Field

 

Appearances: Hiding our shabby underwear

back-wallOn our walking tour of Bath, England, our tour guide took us first to the back alleys of the ancient city.

He pointed out the squat walls, the irregular bricks, and the ordinary doorway the servants would have used to come and go. We noted the patchwork stonework and the unremarkable nature of the architecture.

Then we walked around to the spectacular front of “The Circus.”

Here three curved terraces surround a circular centre park. Here the architecture is not irregular, ordinary or patchwork. The ornate façades have carefully ordered and beautifully maintained design.

bath-circus

It was all about appearances, you know.

The people of the Georgian period cared little about the comfort or welfare of their servants, but they cared very much about appearances and protocol. If their homes, their clothing and their activities met societal expectations of the time, they spared little thought for what happened in the back alleys.

We know now that their habit of hiding misery behind ornate façades is as productive as plastering over a mildewed bathroom wall and as unsatisfactory as wearing your favourite outfit over uncomfortable underwear. Why do you think our parents always told us to wear clean underwear in case we end up in hospital? We never know when at turn of events might reveal our hidden secrets.  

But who am I to point fingers? When I work in my gardens, I take care of the ones in front of my house first—the ones that people see. My back gardens have been sadly neglected for years. “Who sees them?” I ask myself.

I do. And it has always bothered me that those poor backyard gardens get short shrift. “Oh, what lovely gardens you have,” people say when they pass my house. They don’t see the shabbier, neglected ones out back, but, like a pair of uncomfortable underwear, their presence niggles at me.

The high society 18th Century residents of The Circus, Bath probably never dreamed that several hundred years later a group of tourists would tramp through their back alleys and judge their shabby “underwear.”

You never know when a turn of events might reveal your hidden secrets, do you? 

It’s a sunny day. Maybe I’ll head out and work in my back garden . . .

 

 

 

 

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. 

 

 

 

 

 

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