Category Archives: Living life to the fullest
“Build castles, don’t dig graves.”
We sabotage our dreams—our castles—before we even allow ourselves to begin to build them. We want a career change, but we tell ourselves we’re too old. We want a new house, but we tell ourselves we could never afford it. We want to go back to school, but we tell ourselves that we’re not smart enough.
We have dreams, but we bury them in graves of self-doubt.
Most of the time the dreams that we deem impossible are actually very much possible—if we dare to begin to build. We can take on a new career in our middle-age and enjoy satisfying work for several decades. We can save just a little more and spend just a little less until the new house becomes a reality. We can take the first brave step to register for a course that really intrigues us and discover that it’s not so difficult after all.
Decide what castle you want to build and place a first brave stone. Then don’t heed the temptation to shovel dirt unto that dream.
Build castles, don’t dig graves.
Crows kept cropping up in my life this week—one of those weird coincidences. The thing is, all the stories or events were negative, but I really admire these stalwart birds.
I wrote about crows for a past freelance assignment. Before that assignment, I gave crows little thought, but my research opened my eyes to their wonders. This Sir David Attenborough video from BBC Worldwide shows crows learning how to use crosswalks. (Better than some humans I know.)
You had better be nice to crows. They remember human faces—for years—and if people treat them ill, the crows harass them, as researchers in Seattle discovered. (This article from The Guardian contains many charming uses of the word “whilst.” Now, does that not make you want to read it? American crows: the ultimate angry birds?)
Crows are intelligent, adaptable, innovative, watchful and really quite beautiful. They have striking black feathers with a sheen of blue or purple. Go back to the early slow-motion scene in the Attenborough video and watch the graceful swoop. No less beautiful than an eagle or a hawk, I think.
In mythology (Greek, Roman, Chinese, Biblical, and First Nations) crows represent creation and magic. Ted Andrews says: “Wherever crows are, there is magic. They are symbols of creation and spiritual strength. They remind us to look for opportunities to create and manifest the magic of life.”
Today is garbage day in my neighbourhood. Crows swoop along my street manifesting breakfast for themselves from our leftovers.
I choose to see it as magical.
Outside the door of my childhood farmhouse stood a set of wooden steps leading to our clothesline platform. My father installed the clothesline high off the ground to keep the clothes from dragging, hence the need for steps and a platform.
When I was a child, I wrapped a towel around my neck like a Superman cape, climbed those steps, stood on the edge of the platform and made a wish to fly like Superman. Every time, I jumped from the top and landed—plop—on the ground.
Gravity was not my friend.
I’m not sure how old I was, but probably younger than 6. I can remember really wishing to fly and really believing that it just might happen; we lose that kind of magical belief around age six.
We humans have some common physical limitations—none of us can fly that I’m aware of—and other individual physical challenges—size, gender and illness all come into play. Sometimes it takes a long time to accept what can’t be ours; all these years later I’m still disappointed that I can’t set my feet and push off into the heavens.
Because we don’t want to accept those limitations, we push boundaries to achieve the most we can with what we’ve got. We learn to balance the cannot-ness of our physical realities with the can-ness of our spirit and mind potentials. When we do, we come up with ingenious adaptations. As a result, lo and behold, now I can fly if I need to, with a little help from the Wright brothers and Air Canada.
I can fly, just not in the way I expected.
It’s an ongoing balancing act: accepting the “what is” of our physical realities with not accepting the “what that means” as a result. Humans can’t fly all on their own, but they can fly another way.
Do you remember the TV show I Dream of Jeannie? How many of us would hold our arms in front of us and blink like Jeannie, hoping that the blink would transport us instantly from one place to another? How about Bewitched? Did you wiggle your nose and wish for the same? And, of course, there’s Star Trek. Can you hear the sound of the transporter in your mind? Don’t you wish teleportation were real? I do.
Teleportation is not a physical reality for us yet, but we humans don’t like accepting limitations. Maybe my grandchildren will have a much easier commute to work thanks to the mind and spirit work of others.
I choose to dream and believe in that magic.
“I cannot feel anger against him who is of my kin, nor hate him. We are born to labor together, like the feet, the hands, the eyes, and the rows of upper and lower teeth. To work against one another is therefore contrary to nature, and to be angry against a man or turn one’s back on him is to work against him.” —Marcus Aurelius
We have lived some excruciating Canada/US Olympic rivalries in recent days: Virtue and Moir vs Davis and White, the women’s hockey teams, and today the men’s hockey semi-final. I cheer loudly for Team Canada, of course, but I feel the pain of the US loss, too. I know all Canadians don’t feel that way; many of us (most?) want to see the Americans crushed. To me, that feels like wishing ill on a brother.
Canadians and Americans labour/labor together like North American feet, hands and eyes. Our opinions differ in many ways, but we agree on the most important points. We’ve fought, and continue to fight, different battles on our way to respecting human rights, but both our countries are kilometres/miles ahead of others in that area. We’re both headed the right direction.
When we lose to one another at the Olympics, it might be as irritating as a zit on prom day, but I cannot feel anger.
It’s far too important for us to keep working together.
This week Americans Meryl Davis and Charlie White won Olympic Gold in the Ice Dance competition. Now, I’m Canadian, so I would have loved to see Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir win, but I didn’t feel quite so bad about our Canadian Silver to their U.S. Gold because of an exchange Charlie White had with the coach as he left the ice after the short program. The coach said, “Was that fun?” Charlie White said, “Yes. That was fun.”
Imagine. Olympic athletes having fun.
When I thought about it, in other sports, the athletes who performed best in their Olympic events were those who allowed themselves to have fun. I’m not discounting their competitive spirit, or the hours, and hours, and hours of practice and training and work that went into just getting them to the Olympics, but once that groundwork was in place, once they were in the spotlight and had to perform, they leveraged all that practice, training and work and relaxed into living a fun moment.
I watched again the performances of some athletes who, according to expectations, fell short of the mark. Sure enough, they didn’t seem to be having any fun. Their tense bodies failed under pressure. Their limbs couldn’t respond because of nerves. They weren’t submersed in the fun moment, they were distracted into the fear moment.
Two words I say to my son before every sporting event: Have fun.
Four words I say to my son after every sporting event, win or lose: Did you have fun?
I say this to him for house league hockey games, for skating on the outdoor rink with friends, for school volleyball games, for ski races, and, yes, even for his competitive baseball games.
There’s a long list of other things I could say, and that I hear other parents say. Things like, “You went offside twice. Watch the offside.” Or “Spike that volleyball down their throats.” Or “What were you thinking on that last play. Step it up next time.” I don’t think any of those things are helpful, and I think he’s got coaches to tell him that. All I care about is that he has fun doing something he loves.
The Canadian in me wishes Virtue and Moir had prevailed to take the Gold, but when I watched the final Ice Dance event—the free program—it looked like all four skaters were having fun.
There’s that, at least.
To paraphrase the Grinch:
“What if Valentine’s Day, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Valentine’s Day…perhaps…means a little bit more!”
I wrote the post below a year ago. I liked it so much, I thought I’d share it again.
“Oh, yes,” I said without hesitation. “He gives me flowers for no reason, and when our family is together for dinner, we eat with music and candlelight every night.”
Surprised by the reaction, I looked more closely at the faces of the other women with me. I saw disbelief, and envy.
“Every night?” another finally said. (It’s true. Except for Stanley Cup finals, Grey Cup, Superbowl and occasional nacho feasts in front of a Sens game.)
This conversation took place over dinner during my recent Habitat for Humanity build in Bolivia—a land of Latin American passionate love, of serenades and amorous wooing—the romantic ideal. The problem is that the romantic notion of love sometimes comes with a dark side: sexual exploitation and a sense of proprietary ownership.
Nothing romantic about that.
We think we want the idealized romantic kind of love that people try to cram all into one day on Valentine’s Day, but the kind of romance we really want doesn’t fall all on one day in a chocolate box. It brushes up against us in moments of quiet surprise. It startles us into spontaneous laughter and abandon. It embraces us in a tight, supportive hug when we sob from life scraped raw. It doesn’t lead to expectations, disappointments or loneliness.
When I thought about it, I regretted the reflex to say that my husband was romantic because of flowers, music and candles. I appreciate those things. I really do. (My husband loves to create occasions for celebration. “Let’s have champagne. It’s Tuesday!”) But I only appreciate those things because they are part of a healthy balance. The real romance in my life comes when my soul glows in response to action selflessly taken.
Like when my husband:
- Spent evenings carrying our baby daughter in a Snugglie so I could attend night classes at university.
- Took the snake out of the cottage bathroom at 3:00 a.m. without any remarks about my snake phobia.
- Bought sanitary napkins when I was too sick to get to the store.
- Squeezed the hand of a dying friend.
- Taught Little League players proper batting stance.
- Broke the news to his mother that she couldn’t live in her own home anymore and then held her when she collapsed and sobbed.
- Earned a Master degree in his fifties while working full-time, looking after his mother, coaching baseball, coaching hockey, etc., etc.
- Lead me into adventures by saying “Let’s take this road and see where it goes” when we travelled through Europe.
- Perched on tiny kindergarten chairs during parent-teacher interviews.
- Changed diapers. (That one’s important.)
- Bragged about me to friends and coworkers.
- Made me laugh when I was feeling down.
- Took on all the family responsibilities so I could travel—to conferences, on my Habitat trip, and to other fun places.
Nothing contrived or confined. Effortless romance.
Whether it’s telling the same story over and over (and over) again to keep family history alive, or doing the middle-of-the-night run to the emergency room with a feverish child, my husband’s real romance doesn’t come from the idealized romantic love of Valentine’s Day, but from courageously doing the hard stuff that just needs to be done, and from allowing me to be the person I am.