Category Archives: How do you define success?
I am writing this post early in the morning on Monday, October 19. It’s federal election day here in Canada, but I don’t know yet what’s going to happen. The polls haven’t even opened in my region. When I finish writing, I will pre-schedule this post to run tomorrow morning when the results are in and people will either be mourning or celebrating. I don’t yet know what’s going to happen, but I do know this.
“The arc of the universe is long but it bends toward justice.” —Martin Luther King Jr.
All shall be well.
No matter what happens, all shall be well.
If you invested your whole being in the Conservative party, and they will not form the next government, it’s okay. All shall be well.
If you believe that Justin Trudeau is the sure and certain leader for our country, but the Liberals did not win enough seats, it’s okay. All shall be well.
If you live and breathe the politics of the New Democratic Party, but Thomas Mulcair’s NDP candidates did not show well, it’s okay. All shall be well.
If you believe that Stephen Harper is a megalomaniac who holds too tightly the reins of his ministers and the public service and does not respect human rights, but the people of Canada voted his party back into power, it’s okay. All shall be well.
If you believe that Justin Trudeau is just not ready, but the votes carried him into the footsteps of his father as prime minister of this country, it’s okay. All shall be well.
If you believe that Elizabeth May is a fine candidate and her Green party has the potential to re-shape our country in a positive way, but the Greens still didn’t manage to gain any political headway, it’s okay. All shall be well.
I have close friends in all of those camps. Close friends of mine live and breathe the politics of vastly different parties. I love all those people. Not a one of them is evil incarnate.
That’s how I know that all shall be well.
Since confederation, this country has been led by either Liberal or Conservative prime ministers. Collectively they shaped this country into, what I believe is, the finest democracy in the world. Each one of them changed us for the better in some way. Each one of them made mistakes.
In between elections, the parties not in power raged about the travesties of the governing party. They ranted about what they would change. After all the bluster though, when changes in government happened, the new governing party kept what worked—even if they had raged against it—and changed what didn’t.
My diverse friends, although they approach it from different directions, are all driven by the same ideal: the building and maintenance of a great democracy.
I believe that Martin Luther King Jr. was right. Events which, at first blush, appear horrific or unjust, often lead to a greater good.
“The arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” All shall be well.
Lesson One: The last shall be first.
For the past two decades my husband and I have spent our time and money on family, so renovations to our house didn’t make it on to our to-do list. Now that our children have fledged and left the nest, we have begun to have conversations about renovations. We have talked about our master bathroom and the kitchen. Of all the possible renovations, the bathroom in our basement would have been last on the list.
Not any more. The toilet down there sprang a leak and we enjoyed the fun of cleaning up after a significant flood. It’s almost like our toilet down there said, “Oh yeah? You think you can forget about me? I’ll show you.” So the last renovation we would have considered has now become our first. Jokes on us.
Lesson Two: 60 is the new 25
My husband celebrated his 60th birthday on the weekend. The news of this event caused many of our friends to fall into stunned silence. 60? They could not believe that a person as active and as fit as my husband could be 60. But it was true.
He puts many 25-year-olds to shame. We look around at friends of the same age and it is the same story. 60 is not the new 50, or the new 40, or even the new 30. 60 is the new 25.
Lesson Three: You never know what’s going to happen, so make room for random events. (All you non-sports fans out there, bear with me.)
My goodness, but that was a barn-burner of baseball game between the Toronto Blue Jays and the Texas Rangers on Wednesday night. So many flukes! Russell Martin—a professional baseball player for more than a decade who has played in four all-star games, and won a gold glove and a silver slugger award—made a Little League mistake at a turning point in the game. The odds against a player of his calibre making a careless throw that ricochets off the bat of the player in the box are astronomical. In baseball and in life, you just never know what’s going to happen.
Lesson Four: Respect is earned.
Such strong emotions between the Toronto Blue Jays and the Texas Rangers on Wednesday. Intense. After the debacle of Russell Martin’s errant throw, José Bautista hit a home run to give the Blue Jays a comfortable lead. (He has a reputation for doing that, so it shouldn’t have surprised anyone.) After he hit the ball really, really far—a certain home run—he admired his work and flipped his bat. The pitcher for Texas, Sam Dyson, didn’t like this, because according to unwritten baseball “code,” batters are supposed to respect the pitcher. They aren’t supposed to watch a home run or, worse, flip their bat.
I think we’d be hard pressed to find any baseball player anywhere who would not have shown emotion in that particular circumstance. Could the Texas Rangers admit that if one of their players had hit a home run, there might have been some celebration?
And José Bautista earned his celebration. I remember when he first joined the Toronto Blue Jays. He was a question mark. No one gave him any credit. People didn’t see his potential. But he worked and worked and worked. No matter what people might think about him personally, they have to respect his hard work and his talent. He earned it.
And Sam Dyson? He responded to the circumstances poorly. He gave up a home run, and that happens to pitchers. They have to learn to wear it no matter the circumstances, and no matter what the players on the other team are doing. He didn’t. He left his mound. He taunted the batters. He accused Bautista of doing what kids would do. Instead of accepting the loss with grace, he groused about the other team, just like kids would do. He didn’t earn my respect. In baseball and in life, no matter what the “code,” respect is not automatically granted; it is earned.
The managers of baseball teams in the post-season probably don’t want players on the field to be quite as relaxed as Snoopy, but they do want players who stay calm and focused no matter what mayhem surrounds them. May the mayhem be minimal and the focus maximal.
“If you get a piece of cake and eat the whole thing, you will feel empty. If you get a piece of cake and share half of it, you will feel both full and fulfilled.” —Haitian saying, as told by Lynne Twist in The Soul of Money.
When Lynne Twist referred to the Haitian wisdom above, she did so in a book about money. She used it as her way of saying that a person who hoards surplus wealth—money that, like cake, is not necessary for survival—will never feel like he has enough, and his days will echo with lonely dissatisfaction. But a person who enjoys the benefits of surplus wealth and shares some with others who might not have any “cake,” will remember that she has more than enough, and her days will ring with shared joy.
I believe that to be true, but today I’m talking about actual cake. I don’t eat sweets often. I don’t care for them, really. Instead of dessert, give me another piece of pizza or an extra helping of steak and I’m a happy girl.
Of all the sweets there are in the world, the kind I can most easily pass up without a blink of regret is cake. In fact, I usually eat it reluctantly (people are often insulted if you don’t eat their celebratory cake) and I don’t find it satisfying. In my opinion, cake is wasted calories. What is so darned appealing about a rather tasteless foundation topped with sugary goo? I don’t get it.
But it’s my birthday this weekend. Like it or not, there is extreme societal pressure to have cake at a birthday, even if the person celebrating the occasion doesn’t care for it much.
So, cake I will have. I will eat it, I will happily share it. (Please, take as much as you want!) I will feel both full and fulfilled because I know that cake makes the people I love happy, and that’s the best birthday present I could have.
When people preoccupy themselves with minutia instead of thinking “big picture,” the popular saying goes: “They can’t see the forest for the trees.” Upon hearing it, worried people step back, let go of insignificant concerns and observe situations from a broader perspective. That’s a good thing.
Sometimes, we need to flip that saying on its head: “They don’t see the tree for the forest.”
Last weekend I walked in Gilles Grove near Arnprior, ON, and I came upon a bright spot in the forest. The sight of one mighty ancient white pine all by itself in the middle of tiny saplings struck me. There were no other trees even close to its age and size nearby. The picture cannot give you perspective on just how mighty and ancient this tree was. When I attempted to wrap my arms around it (yes, I hugged the tree) they would not even reach half way.
This tree is hundreds of years old.
I imagined our First Nations people brushing up against it as a they moved through the forest centuries ago. I thanked the powers that be for sparing it from the blades of the lumber barons who logged the area beside the Ottawa River, felling the much-favoured white pines by the hundreds.
I spent some time appreciating this one tree, and I thought, “How often do people really notice, think about and appreciate one tree when they walk in a forest?” Usually we stride by them. They pass in a blur.
Sometimes we don’t see the tree for the forest.
It’s a reminder to take time to stop in the forest of our lives and really examine closely one extraordinary thing around us that we might otherwise stride by mindlessly.
It’s an enriching way to spend some time, even if your arms don’t reach.
Most parents don’t have to stretch far to reach a particular kind of memory. Certain memories spring easily,or rather, uneasily to mind.
I’m talking about the kind of memories that begin with a momentary—oh so brief—lapse in attention. During the time sucked up by distraction, a child vanishes from sight. Initial annoyance (Where did she run off to now?) grows from mild alarm (He was just here. Where could he be?) to gut-gripping anxiety (frantic calling of the child’s name) to full-blown panic and the early stages of the denial that lives at the border of grief. (No. No. No. No. No.)
In most cases, the child reappears laughing from a happy lark and parents respond with relief so profound it manifests as anger. (Don’t you EVER do that again!) But sometimes the happy lark has a tragic ending, and when that happens, a lapse in attention becomes a visceral before-and-after that defines the lives of the parents. The moment is the main feature in the highlight reel of their life story. The event gloms onto the parents like an extra unwanted shadow.
Leo Brent Robillard writes about such a moment in his new book, The Road to Atlantis: The main characters, David and Anne, lose their daughter, Nat, to drowning.
“Nat had been gone more than a year and her death was still the event that defined him. He suddenly knew it would always be like this. He, and everyone around him, would delineate his history as before and after Nat.”
Robillard’s book got me thinking about moments the define lives, and the way that people respond to them. Sometimes those moments arrive smack out of nowhere, and sometimes people’s bad choices lead to Atlantis-like sinking results: think Christopher Reeve, Tiger Woods and Richard Nixon. Their names trigger automatic associations with life-turned-upside-down incidents. We know the main feature in their highlight reels.
I can think of people in my community who have similar highlight-reel events as part their life story. I’m sure you can come up with some of your own too. And if I were to meet those people on the street—the parents who lost a toddler to cancer or the wife who shot her husband while he lay in bed—their tragic life events would loom like living things between us.
Robillard’s book relates how David and Anne navigate the “shoal of mud,” as Plato called it, that arises out of such a sinking loss, and how they manage to resurface. When life-altering events occur, a muddy quagmire of guilt, blame, denial, obsession, addiction or depression inevitably oozes in and rises around the feet. Those left behind must learn how to suck their feet out of that mud and keep walking.
Sometimes people do more than that. When 11-year-old Sandrine Craig was killed in an automobile accident, her donated organs helped other people, and her parents started the Sandrine’s Gift campaign to encourage life-saving organ donations. Two years ago, Rowan Stringer died after suffering a concussion during a rugby game. “Rowan’s Law” is now in the works in hopes of preventing other such tragic avoidable deaths. Since Terry Fox’s death, more than $700 million has been raised for cancer research, and the funds have led to otherwise unattainable advancements in cancer treatment.
Christopher Reeve showed us that moving legs aren’t required for valuable life, and his foundation is advancing research into paralysis and spinal cord injuries. Tiger Woods has never been the same since the upheaval in his life. Perhaps he’s still working his way through the quagmire. And Richard Nixon? He’s there to remind us that you never really make it out of the shoal of mud if you don’t own your actions.
All of these people show us that it is possible to craft a second even more important highlight for your life reel. The follow-up highlight is one of perseverance, open communication, family pulling together even when it’s hard, and work for the benefit of others.
Each of us has smaller versions of these Atlantis-like disruptions in our lives: getting fired, surviving cancer, losing a friend because we do something stupid. These aren’t newsworthy events—journalists don’t come calling—but they sink us for a while, nonetheless. The good news is, with perseverance, open communication, family pulling together even when it’s hard, and work for the benefit of others, you’ll end up with a really inspirational life highlight reel.
If you would like to meet Leo Brent Robillard and talk to him about the fine highlight reel he’s crafting for himself, you can find him and his books at:
The Kingston Writers’ Festival, September 26 from 9:00 to 11:oo p.m.
Word on the Street in Toronto on September 27
The Brockville Museum, October 8 from 3:00 to 5:00 p.m.
Octopus Books in Ottawa, October 14 at 7:00 p.m.
Chapters Kingston, October 17 at 1:00 p.m.
At the library this week, I glimpsed a book title: “I Just Want to Pee Alone”—a book associated with the I Just Want to Pee Alone blog.
I remember the “inescapable” feeling that came with that phase of parenting. Peace was not to be found. Chubby toddlers nudged bathroom doors wide open (regardless of who might be around to catch glimpses of Yours Truly with pants down, literally). They staked claim to a mother they knew to be indisputably, relentlessly available.
Yeah, that wasn’t so much fun all the time back then, and I don’t want to live through the whole lo-o-o-ong phase again, but I’d like to time-travel there—ever so briefly—to smile at the guileless face of my children as they stand in the bathroom door wondering why I would ever want to close it to them anyway?
The title of the book caught my attention because I am at the other end of the parenting spectrum. I was an indispensable presence to my toddler children, but now I have a disquieting feeling of being declared surplus. My son left home to go to university this week, and I am now a resident of a quiet empty nest. “I’m all grown up,” my son said to me this week—once or twice, or ten times.
It is a strange feeling to arrive at this point in the journey. After all, I’ve known all along this would be the desired destination. When my husband and I stepped on board the parenting train all those years ago, we didn’t say “Let’s have kids and they will stay with us FOREVER.” We said, “Let’s have kids and do our best not to mess up, so they will prosper and go out and lead productive lives and make the world a better place.” Or something like that.
Done. Check that box. Mistakes made along the way, for sure, but none so catastrophic as to derail the train.
I’m so happy for him, because he’s happy. He’s playing baseball at his new university, and he’s made friends on the team already. He’s busy, settled in and having fun. I celebrate this new beginning for him, and I celebrate that we had such a fun journey getting this far. I don’t want to stop the train or reverse it on the track.
But time travel would be handy for me about now, because the truth is I want the best of both worlds. I want his train to keep on chugging forward into whatever his future holds, but I wouldn’t mind—ever so briefly—popping back to a time when my chubby little boy crawled up on my lap and nestled his head under my chin.