When home is a vacation

Not so long ago on the day when spring arrived in our city on cat feet, we convened on our front porch to savour the warming breezes. After a suitably reflective time spent surveying our awakening gardens and our peaceful neighbourhood, my husband said, “If we won a lottery and had millions of dollars, this is still exactly where I would want to be.”

What an immeasurable fortune—a life crafted such that no amount of money could make the foundations of it any finer.

This weekend—a long Victoria Day holiday weekend here in Ontario, Canada—my friend Stephen posted this picture on Facebook with the caption “Weekend getaway spot.” When I saw the caption I wondered, “Where is Stephen off to now?” (He travels quite a lot.) I smiled when I recognized the photo as the view of his own background with parkland and a gently murmuring creek beyond.

weekend-getaway

Weekend getaway spot

What an immeasurable fortune he has created for himself and his family. If he had all the money in the world, he would still be happiest right where he is, with the ones he cherishes around him.

My friend Jean spent the long weekend savouring the beauties of her garden in British Columbia, Canada. She posted the photos of her exploding blossoms on her blog page at Poetry to Inspire.

What an immeasurable fortune of natural beauty. If she had all the money in the world, it could not buy her more pleasure than she derives from nature bursting forth.

Speaking of nature bursting forth, we spent some time this long weekend enjoying the Canadian Tulip Festival in my home (vacation) city of Ottawa, Canada.

I am totally in love with the Canada 150 tulip.

I am totally in love with the Canada 150 tulip.

tulip-festival-ottawa

Beds of tulips beside Dow’s Lake

There is something grounding, centering and reassuring about a festival that celebrates a flower for simply being what it is. The tulips bloom because they cannot help to do so, and we stand back in awe. The tulips don’t have to try, or dress themselves up, or pretend. (The Kardashians could learn from this.)

You know you have done some things right, made quality choices and gravitated toward the positive in life when your home is a favoured vacation spot, and when you know you are exactly where you’re supposed to be. 

____________

apple-blossom2

Beautiful, because they can’t be anything else

Send a postcard to yourself, and enjoy Willow Marie’s poetic meditation on being present.  Postcard: a meditation

apple-blossoms

It’s also a pink and purple apple blossom world in Ottawa, Canada now.

 

Like magic, our stories turn something into nothing and nothing into something

There’s a piece of paper on my desk. It measures 2 inches x 3 inches.

Is it valuable, do you think?

Let me tell you more. It has a bar code below the words “Cineplex Cinemas: Admit One. Present this ticket to a cashier to exchange for one admission ticket.”

What do you think now? Is it valuable?

But wait. There is more. “Expiration: April 30, 2016”

So, not so valuable after all.

For a moment, you and I could both believe that a mere piece of paper had power. I could take it in my hand and go places where others could not so easily go. Then, in a magical kind of way, the same piece of paper instantly became worthless recycling.

Nothing physical about the item changed, but the power it held dissipated into the ether. The science remained the same, but the story changed. Like magic.

When my kids were little, they became quite upset when they got “jinxed” by friends; they bought into the “jinx” story. I said to them, “You can only be jinxed if you choose to be jinxed.” They didn’t believe that though, because the stories of friends hold more power for children than a mother’s thoughts on the matter.

The power doesn’t exist in the object or the words, it comes from us. We choose to give it to them.

Everyone has objects to which they transfer their power: sports memorabilia, Beatles artifacts, paintings. The sticky point is: not everyone buys into the same stories. A World Series home run baseball is only valuable to people who don’t say, “Baseball? Who cares?” Beatles memorabilia only counts to those who don’t dismiss them as overrated. How about a painting like “Voice of Fire.” Is it worth 1.8 million dollars to you?

For Roman Catholics the consecrated hosts and wine of communion are much more than bread and wine. Scientific-minded sorts scoff at this. They don’t buy into the commonly accepted story. Those same scientists use money every day, so apparently they readily accept some forms of magic, but not others.

Money is big magic. If I want to go to see a movie—now that we’ve all agreed that my coupon piece of paper is not magical—I have an alternative. I can pull other magical pieces of paper out of my wallet, hand over an agreed number to the theatre and happily enjoy the film.

Of course, it depends which city I’m in at the time. If I were to pull out colourful Canadian pieces of paper at a movie theatre in an American city, they would be viewed with derision. Our paper is not so magical in the US.

The paper itself doesn’t change, but as soon as our car drives across an imaginary, magical line the story does. (Or in the case of our wonderful Canadian money, the polymer doesn’t change, but the story does. We really do have some of the finest money in the world.)

Commonly accepted stories help our society to function. If we all accept the story that red means stop and green means go at a traffic light, we prevent accidents. If we buy into the story of concert tickets, we avoid stampedes at Paul MCartney concert hall doors. (The Beatles are definitely NOT overrated.)

Beyond that, we have to recognize the stories for what they are and choose to delegate our power carefully. I’ll keep this Steve Rogers baseball on display because I love it, but you can bet that I won’t be bidding on “Voice of Fire” any time soon.

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A faith-full Frisbee

frisbeeToday, my eye falls upon a Frisbee—upside-down, silent, waiting—on my family room floor.

I contemplate the restful disc and imagine it cutting through the air—on the air—in a free, arching flight that captures natural forces, submits to them.

It’s beauty. It’s science. Beautiful science. 

The Frisbee needs a hand to set it in motion, otherwise the object at rest would stay at rest. It must have help. It cannot do it alone. When a hand hurls it, the aerodynamic forces of lift and drag, high pressure, low pressure, and spin come into play. The Frisbee soars, graceful in its fulfillment of purpose. The flight doesn’t last forever though. Gravity insists it must land, so the Frisbee touches down to a place of rest once again.

My Frisbee is purpose-built to fly, but that same Frisbee has also served as a doggie water bowl on car trips.  Another Frisbee that hangs on my office wall is a messenger; its happy face brings me a message of joy every day. Frisbees might be built to fly, but they can do other things too.

happy-face-frisbee

And they come in all different sizes, shapes and colours. Some are ring-shaped. Others are even flat and collapsible for ease of travel.

collapsible frisbee

What can we learn from my upside-down Frisbee? 

Maybe we can learn to submit to our beautiful science, the science that says we need a hand to set us in motion. Maybe we can learn to expect and accept that helping hand. Maybe we can learn to capture the forces that surround us and submit to them so we soar gracefully in our fulfillment of purpose. Maybe we can learn to enjoy the flight while it’s happening, and be present in it. Maybe we can learn that we, too, must land. We can’t fly ALL the time. Maybe we can learn that landing isn’t just acceptable; it’s desirable. Maybe we can learn that landing doesn’t make the flight any less meaningful. The landing and the lying around waiting for the hand to set us in motion once again is as natural and acceptable and beautiful and scientific as a soaring flight. Maybe we can learn to enjoy that landing and be present in it.

Maybe we can learn that we are purpose-built, crafted to fulfill a certain function, but that we can do other things too. Maybe we can be messengers to brighten someone’s day.

Maybe we can learn to appreciate all the different sizes, shapes and colours of each other.

Today, my Frisbee didn’t soar through the air on an arching path, but it did travel through the air in a different way—through me, to you, to give us all something to think about.

Now that’s one faith-full purpose I’ll bet the Frisbee didn’t foresee. Maybe we can learn from that beautiful science?

____________

Read about the science of Frisbee flight at Scientific American“Soaring Science: The Aerodynamics of Flying a Frisbee”

 

 

Accepting our children as is: The true task of motherhood

A memory from the years when my children were in their early teens: I went grocery shopping one morning, without my children, of course. We all know that teenagers would rather insert burning hot needles into their corneas than be caught in public with a parent.

I stopped by the breakfast cereal and debated whether to stick to high fibre, healthy stuff or submit to my son’s plea for Reese’s Puffs. As I stood contemplating these options, a young mother with a baby about ten months old in her cart turned the corner. I watched her approach. She wasn’t looking around at anything in the aisle. (No Reese’s Puffs for her!) Instead she bent forward over her baby and crooned to her with unadulterated, innocent, devoted mother love. I could tell that, in her eyes, her child was perfection itself, incapable of any wrongdoing.

I thought “She has yet to learn that her child is a human being.”

Well, actually, if I were a perfect person, I would have thought that, but I’m a complex, independent, imperfect human being, so what I actually thought was, “She still hasn’t learned that her child can be a little rotter.” 

Don’t get me wrong. My children are fabulous, and they make me proud every day. But they’re human, so they are complex, independent and imperfect. They are learning, and they do that by making mistakes.

I still remember the exact moment I learned that my daughter wasn’t perfect, that she wasn’t going to instinctively sense all I wanted her to be and fulfill those expectations. She was three, and her baby brother had just learned to crawl. She didn’t bother much about him before he could move under his own steam, but the minute he crawled across our family room floor and picked up one of her toys, well now, that was a different story She sensed the threat to her domain. My daughter jumped up and began hiding toys out of the reach of her brother.

I watched, aghast. My perfect child was not perfect! She wasn’t instinctively and selflessly going to share everything? What? 

My son also had issues with sharing, but his revolved around food. My daughter wasn’t big on sharing toys, but she did share food willingly and joyfully. With a big smile on her face, she offered up french fries or spoonfuls of ice cream without being asked. But my son? No, no, you never could take food away from him. If he sensed an invader, he wrapped his arm around his plate to protect it and shoveled food in before anyone else might get to it.

That day in the cereal aisle the jaded mother of teenagers who had witnessed her children succeed and fail in different ways wondered what that mother’s moment of revelation would be. What would that beautiful, perfect, imperfect baby girl do someday that would open her mother’s eyes to complexities and to the human capacity for meanness or selfishness? What would happen to make that woman realize how different her child was from herself?

Because that’s what the real challenge of motherhood is: Opening our eyes to the complexities and imperfections of our children and accepting them and loving them exactly as is.

Beautiful, perfect imperfect children

My beautiful, perfect imperfect children, before I became the jaded mother of teenagers.

The parable of the shovels

Two men stood on opposite sides of a field. An Overseer said, “Dig.”

shovelThe first man said “Okay! I can handle that. I’ve been preparing all my life to dig.” He selected his best shovel from five shovels leaning against a large storage shed, and he set to work. He had no trouble digging; his parents had paid for digging lessons when he was a child, and he had a college degree in shoveling. He was so good at digging that sometimes this man wished he had more shovels. The families of some of his friends had so many shovels they needed more than one storage shed. They had more than they could ever use, and this man knew his life would be better too, if he amassed a larger supply.

The second man across the field heard the “Dig” instruction and set to work. He had no shovel, so he dug using his bare hands. He had never had a shovel, so he wouldn’t have known what to do with one if he had it. He believed that shovels were something only other people had, and they were a dream he would never attain. He was a little afraid of shovels, truth be told. And the people who had shovels didn’t treat him nicely at all, so he didn’t want to become like them. Because he didn’t have a shovel, he had to dig longer and work harder than the other man, and he still didn’t get as much done. But he kept working. One day he fell ill, but he dug anyway. There are no such things a sick days for people with no shovels.

The first man didn’t pay much attention to what was happening on the far away side of the field, but one day he decided to take a well-deserved afternoon off and go for a walk. When he came to the side of the field where the second man was working through his lunch hour, he saw how little progress the man had made.

“Look at that,” he said. “He’s hardly done anything. He’s waiting for me to pick up the slack.”

He shook his head and walked away. “He’s just lazy and riding on my coattails.” He didn’t notice that the man had no tools to work with. It didn’t occur to him to share any of the shovels he wasn’t using.

The Overseer came back to check on progress. He visited the man digging with his bare hands, and he complimented him on his progress. “You have done well,” he said. The digger knew he had worked hard. He felt proud of the results of his hard work, even though he knew it wouldn’t look like much to others.

hand-tool

The Overseer went to visit the man with many shovels. That digger said, “Look at what I’ve done.” He waved an arm to show off the large area of ground he had worked. “I’ve done so much more than that guy over there.” He pointed to the small patch the other digger had worked on the opposite corner of the field.

“You have done well,” the Overseer said, “But do you think you might have a shovel to spare?”

Startled, the first digger replied, “Why, sure, I guess.” He’d never thought of that before. He looked down at the shovel in his hand. It had a sturdy handle, and it was just the right length. He really loved it. He didn’t want to give that one away, so he kept his favourite shovel. He gave the Overseer one he’d forgotten he even had out of the back of the shed.

The Overseer returned to the far side of the field and placed the shovel into the dirty and calloused hands of the second digger. The man held it out from his body, overwhelmed at first. He had never handled shovels, so it felt awkward. He didn’t think he deserved such a thing.

“Use it. It will help you,” the Overseer said.

Eventually the second digger gained confidence and became quite comfortable with the new tool. It worked so well for him, he even enjoyed some time off every once in a while.

  • There will always be people with more or fewer tools.
  • Don’t judge people who don’t have tools.
  • Don’t be afraid of tools; master them and they will help.
  • Everyone is worthy of tools.
  • Consider the needs of others and get them some tools, if you can.
  • Sometimes we don’t even realize that we have more tools than we really need.
  • It’s okay to keep your favourite tool.

Facing fear: Cost or benefit?

Last week I wrote about a meeting with a group of people who have to make a difficult decision. The facilitator asked everyone to consider the costs and benefits of saying “YES” and the costs and benefits of saying “NO.”

The group considered financial repercussions, the effect on personal relationships and the overall societal implications—the usual stuff. When listing the benefits of saying “NO” one group spoke up with: “If we say no, we won’t have to face our fears.”

People nodded. True. So true. The status quo—the comfort zone—is very appealing. The people in the room agreed that saying “NO” would, in many ways, make life a little easier.

But it only took a second or two before there was a reflective pause and a murmur. “Wait a minute,” the murmur said. “Not facing fears would also be a cost.”

We realized that not facing fears is an ingredient in recipes for stagnation, disappointment, dissatisfaction, guilt, depression, anger and lots of other unpleasant aspects of life.

It’s not the easy choice. It’s not the comfortable choice. But sometimes it’s a whole lot of fun, and it’s better than getting stuck between the cracks of life.

Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson, April 16, 1991

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