A few blocks from where I live, this flag flies on a neighbour’s house.
I saw it for the first time a few weeks ago, and I my instinctive reaction to it surprised me. For the first time in my life, the stars and stripes made me feel uneasy.
The United States has been many things to me—fun, powerful, demonstrative, advanced, swaggering, egalitarian, right-seeking, loud, over-the-top, and occasionally a little insensitive—and it has made me smile, scowl, throw my fist in the air, cringe, celebrate or roll my eyes, but it has never made me uneasy.
But the sight of our Canada flag combined with that of United States right now does not sit well. It is definitely not a “great again” feeling.
Especially when another flag that flies right behind that first one would not be welcome in many parts of that country.
America, I’m worried about you, is all. I’m worried because that flag really does represent the truth of our situation. No matter how we feel about it, we are interwoven with you. The fates of our two countries are so tied together that we Canadians really need you and want you to succeed. Your place in the world is such that your actions have global impact, and we need you and want you to keep moving forward, upward, outward.
What’s happening now feels like the opposite: backward, downward, inward, like a balloon that has developed a slow leak.
I guess what I’m saying is, in the words of one of our Canadian icons, Red Green: “Remember, I’m pulling for ya. We’re all in this together!”
On a trail, an ordinary trail . . .
. . .through the National Capital Commission Greenbelt near my home, we encountered an unexpected surprise.
The trail is popular with cross-country skiers in the winter, so I imagine the trees got decorated by someone in the festive spirit last December. Theirs was the gift that keeps on giving, because I enjoyed the happy surprise in July.
After I had soaked up the gift and carried on, I took about two steps before I was brought up short by the next “gift” on my path: a garter snake. I was too busy going into a full-body shudder to take a picture, but if I had, it would have looked something like this.
That’s what a full-body shudder looks like.
I like snakes—far away from me. I know they are good for my garden and nature and all that, and that’s wonderful—far away from me.
While I was shuddering and peering into the undergrowth to make sure the snake was well and truly gone, a jogger happened along. To explain why I was standing still and looking creeped out, I used one word.
The jogger broke into a big smile. “Sometimes you just get lucky like that,” he said, and carried on.
I had to laugh. I hadn’t considered myself lucky to have seen a snake before he changed my perspective. He made me think. I remembered that snakes represent transformation and creative life force. I remembered that they are part of the medical symbol, a symbol of healing. For me personally, they are a symbol of unnecessary fear. That is, fear of something that is NO BIG DEAL, and how I conquer that fear simply by recognizing it.
Come to think of it, those ideas are tied into what Christmas is all about too.
I like these Christmas gifts. They didn’t cost a penny, I didn’t have to wrap them, and there was no baking involved.
If only the real Christmas were a little more like that.
Plastic: useful, convenient, ubiquitous, ugly, persistent . . .
My son reminded me of the daunting presence of plastic when he took this photo of a whale made of plastic found in the ocean.
Beauty crafted out of refuse in Bruges, Belgium.
The art of my friend’s daughter, Jennifer MacLatchy, makes me think about the terrible beauty of plastic. She makes art out of what she gathers from the Atlantic Ocean near her Nova Scotia home.
Nova Scotian artist turns ocean trash into treasure | CBC News https://t.co/Xf3eEhELqx
— Arlene Smith (@somertonsmith) June 25, 2018
It reminded me of the plastic we found on my Habitat for Humanity Global Village trip to Bolivia six years ago. I wrote a post then about an imagined future world where our descendants wallow in our discarded plastic grocery bags. Read it here: Paper, not plastic.
I’ve been really thinking about plastic and the price we pay for its terrible beauty.
How do I use it now? How could I change how I use it and recycle it?
There are other ways. There are better ways.
In my earlier post I wrote about a weekend when time slowed down. I relaxed at a friend’s cottage, and the leisurely dawdle in time allowed me to notice images of wings that came to me.
Immediately after that weekend, time accelerated from dawdle to flash and I rushed from activity to activity: social events, my daughter’s graduation from university, travel to the Canadian Writers’ Summit in Toronto and the launch of an anthology that includes one of my short stories. Whoosh.
I did my best to stay in the moment for all those fun and meaningful moments, but I had little time to luxuriate in noticing. Except once.
During a writers’ summit poetry session held in a marquis tent at Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre, one of the leaders asked us to notice something in our immediate surroundings: one unusual or interesting aspect of the setting. I looked up, around and then down. On the paving stones beneath my feet I noticed something that would have escaped me otherwise: bright platters of colourful paint. The stones beneath my feet were the setting for poetry at that moment, but in the not-too-distant past children had played and created with paint there. I imagined their laughter and playful shouts.
The workshop leader gave me the gift of time to notice.
I’ll pay it forward. Take some time to notice. What gift is there for you that you might not have appreciated otherwise?
The Blood Is Thicker anthology, published by Iguana Books, includes my short story, “Beating the Odds.” Available here: Blood Is Thicker
I spent the weekend at a friend’s cottage. On Saturday morning as I read my book in the sun, an object helicoptered out of the sky and landed on my page.
I took time to examine it closely. The maple key looked like a feathered wing.
After lunch I sat with our friends to enjoy a drink. A dark dragonfly landed on my arm and stood out in contrast to the white shirt I was wearing. I appreciated its presence and examined the wings closely until it flew away. I didn’t expect the visit, so I didn’t have a camera handy, but this photograph by Kirsten Pauli will give you the idea.
The sky on Sunday morning looked like this.
I took some time to appreciate three simple gifts of wings from nature. I felt rich.
The glass that had held my drink on Saturday afternoon read, “To be rich is no longer a sin; it’s a miracle.” I dislike the word sin and I don’t really believe in it, but I might be convinced to believe in the miracle of the gift of wings.
It was Mother’s Day on Sunday in North America, and on my walk yesterday I ruminated over the dark side of the day that I kept bumping up against over the weekend.
- The father of young children whose mother died too soon. Her young boys braced for a Mother’s Day where the empty space where her unconditional love used to be loomed large.
- A mother estranged from her teenagers due to a difficult family break-up.
- A note from an acquaintance on social media to “everyone, but especially to those who never got the mother they deserved. Today can be a rough day, but I’m here with you. I see you.”
As I walked ideas bounced around my brain, but when I arrived at those two very different side-by-side lawns, it led my thoughts to perfectionism and unconditional love (freely given, withheld or ripped away).
The lawn at the bottom of the picture is Perfect Mother as we all want to be: an unblemished Plato Ideal.
But the lawn at the top is the mother we really are: messy, rutted, and weed-filled.
I imagine that the carefree state of the lawn at the top drives the owner of the dark green manicured lawn crazy, its imperfections judged and remarked upon. Every mother knows what it is to be judged. Too lenient, too strict, too involved, too arm’s length, too busy working, too much at home, too preoccupied with appearance, too slovenly . . . too, too, too . . .
We are human beings that make mistakes. We lose our tempers. We’re tired. We can never live up to the many variations of Ideal Perfect Mother, and our children are the first to home in on our failings and foibles.
If we’re lucky, our children grow to understand and accept our imperfections and love us unconditionally, but that’s not always the case.
The lawn at the bottom is Perfect Child: the unblemished Plato Ideal.
But the lawn at the top is children as they really are: messy, rutted, and weed-filled.
Parents usually come to the task of parenting with the misguided belief that their children will grow into miniature versions of themselves who will follow the paths laid out for them. Surprise! Children are singular and self-directed and not at all what we expect.
They are human beings that make mistakes. They’re figuring out who they are and trying to find a way to love whatever that is. They can never live up to the many variations of Perfect Child, and parents are the first to home in on their failings and foibles.
The most important thing parents can do is love their children unconditionally as imperfect as they are, but that doesn’t always happen. Sometimes it happens, but the parent is taken away too soon.
A rough day
Messages all around us on Mother’s Day portray the Perfect Mother and Child ideal. One could easily be mislead into believing that every family situation is unblemished and shiny like that manicured lawn, instead of complicated, sometimes painful, and ever-evolving.
On my walk, the first lawn struck me as falsely green, drugged into submission and more concerned with appearances than authenticity. I preferred the messy lawn. No pretense, no trying too hard, and no plastering over imperfections.
I enjoyed a wonderful Mother’s Day weekend, I hope you did too. But if you had a rough day, it’s okay and ever-evolving.