Category Archives: Living life to the fullest

Lopsided and discombobulated

I made the decision. I took the first step. An unforeseen event blindsided me.

Now I’m feeling lopsided and discombobulated.

The decision: Lens exchange eye surgery to improve my vision.

The first step: The operation on my right eye. (They do the left eye next week.)

The unforeseen event: The sudden death of the woman who was the child and youth minister at our church. Sarah was 34 years old, the mother of two young boys.

I am typing this with one eye closed as I deal with the day-to-day of lopsided vision. I’m typing this with eulogies from Sarah’s heartbroken father and husband running in a discombobulated jumble through my mind. I’m typing this feeling like I can’t see clearly and I can’t pin down the best words.

But then, I remember a theme that ran through the reflections on Sarah’s life:

Everyone does what they can.

Maybe writing about feeling lopsided and discombobulated will help someone. I hope so, because for today it’s what I can do.

A post that a friend of Sarah's shared with her on her Facebook page.

A post that a friend of Sarah’s shared with her on her Facebook page.

 

 

 

 

 

Friendly darkness: Faith, dreams and focused clarity

A theme ran through my conversations this weekend: darkness.

We skied at Mont Tremblant, QC on Friday, swooshing in and around magical tree sculptures created when large wet snow flakes followed quickly after freezing rain.

mont-tremblant-2017

The mountaintops for miles around glistened with the fairy-like creations. The unusual accumulation on the wires also made the ziplines of the Mont Tremblant Zipline and Tree Course stand out against the clear blue sky. Our skiing friends told us how they had navigated those ziplines on a summer trip. They went on to talk about a different ziplining adventure at the Louisville Mega Cavern where the ziplines run underground. At Mega Cavern brave souls stand on platforms and contemplate leaps into darkness. They must decide on faith to leap, or not, when they cannot see where they’re going.

Darkness is full of uncertainties, but taking the plunge into the mysterious unknown strengthens our faith. 

On Sunday morning our minister spoke in her Epiphany reflection about overcoming fear of darkness. She spoke about dualities where one extreme as perceived as being more favourable than another—reason/emotion, adult/child, light/dark—and how we can re-think those perceptions. She referred to the opening paragraphs of Barbara Brown Taylor’s book, Learning to Walk in the Dark, where the author writes about children being summoned back to the family home before dark, the fearful gathering in of loved ones to protect them from that which lurks in the dark. Our minister also talked about how, in the new children’s book The Darkest Dark, Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield faced his childhood fear of the dark.

Darkness is scary, but when Hadfield learned to embrace darkness as the place of dreams and possibilities, his dreams came true.   

“For the first time, Chris could see the power and mystery and velvety black beauty of the dark. And, he realized, you’re never really alone there. Your dreams are always with you, just waiting. Big dreams, about the kind of person you want to be.”     —From The Darkest Dark by Chris Hadfield

Later Sunday afternoon, I went to the movie theatre with friends to see Hidden Figures. I don’t remember what led our conversation in the direction of darkness, but somehow the theme reappeared. “I’m not good in the dark,” one friend observed. “I would not be comfortable with that.” A few minutes after that brief conversation, the theatre lights dimmed and we all sat—quite comfortably—in the dark. The darkness made the enjoyment of the movie possible. Without light, the picture was clear, not washed out. Any light—from a cell phone, for example—would have been an unwelcome distraction. At a movie theatre, dark is good, light in the wrong place is bad. At a movie theatre, like a person wielding a flashlight in the dark, the light shines only on what is most important.

Darkness makes us uncomfortable, but it narrows our focus to a sparkling clarity of what’s important in any given moment and let’s us choose where to shine the beam.  

At this time of year where I live in Ottawa, Canada we wake up in the morning and prepare for work in darkness. We leave our offices at the end of the day in darkness. We have to work to appreciate the gifts this season of growing light brings to us.

We have to choose gratitude for the faith, for the dreams, and for the focused, sparkling clarity. 

I appreciate the darkness that allows me to enjoy Christmas tree lights.

I appreciate the darkness that allows me to enjoy Christmas tree lights.

Come to my house, no need for a hostess gift

I hearken back to the simple times of my youth as part of a large extended family in a rural community. Those were the days. Back then, at that time, when we visited our friends or relatives there was no such thing as a hostess gift. How I miss those simple visits with no obligation to bring a “little something.” Pot luck sure, there were plenty of those. But hostess gifts, no. Thank God.

I love that we went to visit people knowing that they wanted to see us and to share what they had with us with open hearts. We were enough.

When people came to our house we shared all that we had with open hearts. Their company was all we wanted. They were enough.

When I read this piece “5 Rules for Hosting a Crappy Dinner Party (and Seeing Your Friends More Often)”  on thekitchn.com I thought, “Yes! That’s what I’m talking about!”

Here are the rules to follow for a pre-arranged Crappy Dinner Party

  1. No housework is to be done prior to a guest’s arrival.
  2. The menu must be simple and not involve a special grocery shop.
  3. You must wear whatever you happen to have on.
  4. No hostess gifts allowed.
  5. You must act like you’re surprised when your friend and her family just happen to show up at your door (optional).

Come to our house. We’ll share all we have with open hearts. No need for a hostess gift.


http://www.thekitchn.com/5-rules-for-hosting-a-crappy-dinner-party-235815?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=tracking&utm_campaign=article-share

 

Attention! Beating ploughshares into swords: Remembrance Day

poppies-in-franceOn Remembrance Day last year, I journeyed to my hometown in the Ottawa Valley to honour our veterans at the ceremony there. In her tribute that day, the minister, Rev. Patricia Van Gelder, spoke about the old testament passage from Micah about “beating swords into ploughshares.” The passage assures us that someday—that elusive someday—peace will reign so unequivocally that weapons will be redundant and the metal from them can be turned into tools used to provide us with food.

But, she said, when she attended a presentation by the local historical society, she noticed something. The presentation was about a shift in farm machinery that took place in the early 1900s from horsepower to tractor power. Tractors allowed farmers to work faster, cover more ground, and they didn’t need to worry about horses breaking legs in groundhog holes or other similar tragedies. Farmers adopted the technology and soon there were tractors on almost every farm. Early versions had flaws so there were rapid changes and turnovers. Tractors, tractors everywhere.

So why then, asked a person in the audience at that presentation, were there so few old tractors of that vintage still around?

The answer? The war.

The metal from implements that farmers used to grow food for us was donated to the war effort to turn into weapons. Rev. Van Gelder realized that what happened was the opposite of what the passage in Micah talked about. “The stuff of life turned into the stuff of death. Isn’t that a grim thought?” she said. 

So, how do we hold onto faith when faced with that grim truth?

Rev. Van Gelder suggested that the passage reminds us that war, hunger, fear have no place in this world. We need to pay attention when we make choices that contradict that. If we wake up to the incongruity of what we’re doing, maybe we can change our course.

We need to re-think choices that take us toward death and away from life. If make the better choice, if we feed each not kill each other, perhaps that elusive someday might actually arrive.

 

Some thoughts on life and death for El día de los muertos

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I recently read Smoke Gets in Your Eyes & Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty. The woman behind The Order of the Good Death gives readers an interesting perspective on the life/death experience (if you don’t mind some occasional gory passages).

In her book Doughty references a 1961 paper in the Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology that outlines seven reasons why humans fear dying. The paper suggests that fear of death arises from concerns about

  1. Grief caused to relatives and friends
  2. Plans and projects that coming to an end
  3. The process of dying being painful
  4. The end of  being able to enjoy life experiences
  5. No longer being able to care for dependants
  6. What will happen if there is life after death
  7. What will happen to the body after death

To that list I would add my own personal concern: my house needs a thorough cleaning and things are a little disorganized. I don’t want to leave a mess behind for others to clean up. I know I’m not alone in that: an acquaintance told me she never leaves her house without making sure the kitchen is clean and the beds are made, in case something happens to her when she’s out.

In Europe and North America we don’t like to talk about death. We are “death phobic,” as The Order of the Good Death describes it, which makes it all the more difficult for us when the inevitable happens. Regardless of which of those seven fears resonates most clearly with any one person—and I suspect it’s different for everyone—death comes to us all one way or another.

People in Latin America have a more open approach. Beginning on November 1, El día de los muertos (The Day of the Dead) is a two-day celebration that recognizes death as a natural and necessary process and part of the human experience. During El día de los muertos, the dead share in the celebrations, eating, drinking and being merry with their loved ones.

“. . . let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we shall die.” —Isaiah 22:13

Today I will eat, drink and be merry with some departed loved ones—after I clean the bathrooms.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gratitude for that which endures, on Thanksgiving

buddha-board

The Buddha Board my daughter gave me for my birthday reminds me of what endures, and what doesn’t.

A few weeks ago one of my favourite bloggers, Tuesdays with Laurie, celebrated a birthday by posting a list of 59 things for which she is grateful.

I thought of Laurie’s list on Canadian Thanksgiving Sunday when the minister at my church spoke to us about gratitude. In her reflection, our minister encouraged us to ponder mindfully where we focus our gratitude. Are we thankful more often for material things that perish at day’s end—life’s manna, if you will—and do we remember to express gratitude for those aspects of our life that endure?

Laurie’s gratitude list impressed me because so many of the items on her list are those intangible qualities that a person cannot hold in a hand, and yet they somehow endure: connection, creativity, healing, safety, peace, kindness, spontaneity, imagination, comfort with being alone, dreaming, curiosity, enjoyment of learning something new . . .. Other items on her list require some physical element to achieve them but still lead to something that endures: photography, mental acuity, travel, music and singing, laughter, glasses with which to see clearly . . ..

In the comment section of her post I wrote that I’m grateful to work in a place where I see children. Their uninhibited approach to life and their infinite creativity inspires me; they are physical beings who give me a gift that endures.

Uninhibited creativity

I love the uninhibited creativity of children.

I’m grateful for inspirational books that enlighten me and brighten my days.

three-questions

I’m grateful for the Famous Five who made my life as a woman so, so much easier and more fulfilling.

Famous Five monument, Parliament Hill, Ottawa, Canada

Famous Five monument, Parliament Hill, Ottawa, Canada

I’m grateful that my friend, Jennifer, gave me my two-word poem: Laughing Thinker.

postcard poem Arlene

And at this time of year, I’m grateful for baseball. The players, the teams, the stadiums may change, but the character development that comes from participation in sport endure.

Peanuts-Charlie-Brown-baseball-sun-600x127

Our Thanksgiving turkey leftovers and pumpkin pie are almost gone already. In a few weeks the baseball season will be in the past. When that happens, this Laughing Thinker, a woman who enjoys full benefits in our society, will be pondering wisdom she gleaned from inspirational books and learning life lessons from those fabulous children she sees at work every day.

Those are wonderful gifts that endure on Thanksgiving and all year round.

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