Category Archives: spirit
“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?
(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.
— Michael O’Neill (@mikeyo19) October 23, 2014
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.
This past week I had the privilege of writing an article about a woman from my church. Jean volunteers for a long list of organizations, giving to others in different ways. As she bakes, delivers meals to seniors, quilts, and tackles her many other labours of love, she glows with energy and good spirit. When I asked her why she does all she does, she said, “It makes me feel good. I get back so much more than I give.”
Another friend of mine volunteers for Canadian Red Cross. He supports people in need in his own community, and he travels to countries in crisis around the globe. When he speaks of this work, he glows. “I get back so much more than I give,” he says.
I have heard that refrain over and over in my life, from people aglow with the joy of hands-on giving.
After my conversation with Jean, I thought about other people I know who have stable jobs and who probably give to charity, but who don’t give of themselves in a close contact way. They golf every Saturday, or they enjoy fine dining, or they spend most weekends at their cottage.
I would never say these people aren’t happy. If I were to ask them if they are happy, they would say yes. What is the difference then?
The difference is the glow: The merely happy people pass through life content; the others glow with a giving contact high.
The question then: Do I want to be merely happy, or do I want to glow?
About a year ago I read a book called E-Squared: Nine Do-It-Yourself Energy Experiments That Prove Your Thoughts Create Your Reality by Pam Grout. The book appeals to my “I create my own happiness” philosophy.
Her book is a teaching manual of sorts, with simple “thought experiments” you can choose (or not) to try to see how the way you think affects what happens around you. The second experiment is called “The Volkswagen Jetta Principle.” It suggests that when we really look for something, we notice things we might overlook on your average day. For example, if you tell yourself that you’re having a bad day and look for bad things to happen, that is all you will see. Or, if you tell yourself how lucky you are, all you can see are all the fantastic things in your life.
Pam Grout suggest that, for a period of 24 hours, you look for a particular colour of vehicle. For an entire day, hold the intention of looking for, noticing and keeping track of the number of vehicles of that colour you find. In her book she suggests sunset beige cars.
When I read this book the first time, I followed her example, and I looked for sunset beige cars. Sometimes I had to debate if a particular colour fit the “sunset beige” criteria, but overall it was pretty easy. In 24 hours I counted 76 sunset beige cars.
This time around I thought “Sunset beige was too easy. I want something harder. How about purple?”
To increase my odds of finding purple vehicles, I decided it would be a good idea to leave my house. (I work from home, so this is not always required.) I ran errands around town, and in so doing, I drove by six car dealerships—none of which had a purple car or truck. Not even a bicycle.
I realized this was going to be more difficult than I thought.
I went for a walk in my neighbourhood. After strolling down a busy road and past the parking lots of three shopping areas, I still had not seen a purple vehicle of any description.
I began to negotiate the colours. Was that deep red close enough? It was almost purple. Some of the blue cars were pretty close too. I was tempted to include them, but when I was honest with myself, I had to admit, they weren’t purple.
As the 24-hour period drew to a close, I began to doubt. Maybe I would never see a purple car? I started to scold myself. Why did I pick such a difficult colour? I could have picked something much easier.
But I was determined. I really wanted to make this happen. I went to my basement where there is a box of toy cars my kids used to play with. The first vehicle I saw was a Jolly Rancher truck, undoubtedly purple. The words on the side read “Long Lasting INTENSE Fruit Flavor.”
From all of this, I learned:
- We have the opportunity to choose our level of challenge. We can choose easy, difficult or almost impossible.
- We can’t just look for something and expect it to walk up to our door and knock. We have to take action, look for it, work hard for it and never give up.
- As we face difficult challenges, we will have moments of doubt about the outcome.
- As we work hard to fulfill the goal, sometimes we will try to negotiate the completion of the task, and we will be tempted to settle for “close enough.”
- The harder the challenge, the more intense and long-lasting the flavour of the reward.
- Sometimes we set out on a quest and, after a long journey, we find the answer was right at home from the beginning.
Just for fun, give it a try. Pick a colour and look for all those vehicles and see how many you find.
I wouldn’t recommend purple though.
On Sunday, my friend, Ellie, made me think about something in a different way.
During her church reflection entitled “When Forgiving Takes Three,” she spoke about how we sometimes need assistance from a third party to help us through conflict situations. What really made me think, though, was the idea of listening as a gift to others. Usually we think of listening as receiving. We sit back, someone tells us their thoughts or feelings, and we receive that from them. But the act of listening—really listening—is more about giving than receiving.
How many times have you felt tuned-out by someone when you are speaking with them? Frustrating, isn’t it? How many times have you shared thoughts or ideas with another but felt your concerns weren’t received in the way you intended?
We have the power to dissipate conflict early on simply by allowing another person to vent their frustrations and by giving that person the gift of really hearing them and working hard to understand.
I’ve got my ears on. Ready to listen.
Rev. Ellie Barrington: “When Forgiving Takes Three” http://www.trinityunitedottawa.ca/reflections/when-forgiving-takes-three/