Category Archives: Living life to the fullest
Monday evening is the regular “library time” for a father and a small boy, and those two are the highlight of my week.
At the time of their weekly visit, I work in the room that houses the book drop bin. I hear through the door the murmur of their voices and the scraping of a step-stool being pulled into position to allow him to reach the slot. The child’s feet climb up one step on the stool and then another as he prepares for his book return ritual.
“Thank you, book. Good-bye,” he says to the first book. He pushes it through the slot. “Bam!” he shouts.
He performs this small ceremony for every book. He returns 10 to 15 books, on average, so his process takes some time. If there are people waiting behind him, he doesn’t adjust his pace; he savours his moment.
I stop whatever I’m doing and savour his moment too. I smile widely.
This child shows me:
- He respects and cherishes books.
- He expresses gratitude.
- He knows how to “be here now.”
- He celebrates each moment with a Bam!
Some lessons for all of us, from a child.
My son applied for a job. He participated in a comprehensive testing and interviewing process and waited for the response. “Successful applicants will hear by Friday,” the organizers told him.
He came home that Friday to join us for a family event. The day came and went with no word. I would say “crickets,” but we’re in Ottawa, Canada, so no crickets in this cold. Let’s say that Friday passed with no sound but the lone call of a blue jay in the hinterland. He didn’t get the job.
“Oh well,” I said to him when all four of us gathered together for dinner. “Failure has its own lessons.”
Stunned silence followed my words. My husband, my daughter and my son stared at me as if I had declared my son—personally and overall—a failure. (No, no, no.)
After a couple of beats, my son said, “I might have put it a different way . . .”
I tried again. “You gave it your best shot and it didn’t work out. You learned from the experience and you’ll be better prepared for the next opportunity,” I said.
Mollified, all three nodded their heads. That was better. I didn’t use the word.
“Fail,” like “dead,” has become a word we’re not supposed to say. People don’t fail anymore; things don’t work out, or weren’t meant to be, or circumstances weren’t right. People don’t die anymore; they pass away, cross over, or go to a better place.
In this time of participation ribbons, and sports played without scorekeeping, and “leaving” ceremonies instead of graduations, perhaps there’s some value in reclaiming failure. Instead of protecting people from ever having a hurt feeling, we teach them how to deal with the hurt, how to build from it and not hide from it.
Maybe we can celebrate each failure as a worthy attempt. “You stood in there, faced your fear, tried something and failed! Good for you!”
“Failure made me look forward to the next game. If I had a bad game, I couldn’t wait for the next day, when I could brush off the failure and try to do better.” —Gary Carter in Still a Kid at Heart: My Life in Baseball and Beyond
My son plays baseball, so overall I’m not worried about his ability to deal with failure. An exceptional baseball hitter fails two-thirds of the time at the plate, and pitchers fail over and over when their fastballs end up on the home run side of the outfield fence. Playing the sport he loves, my son has learned how to brush himself off and carry on with the game after one type of failure or another.
But he still doesn’t like the word.
Here’s J.K. Rowling on The Fringe Benefits of Failure.
Skaters arrived in my city and hurled themselves down a steep, curving ice track at speeds of more than 50 km/h.
The ice cross downhill athletes performed the feat on a track constructed in a breathtaking setting beside the historic Chateau Laurier and inside the Rideau Canal lock system. Who knows if anything like it will ever happen again in Ottawa?
Red Bull® Crashed Ice was an event not to be missed.
Off we went on Friday night. The sky lit up for miles around with the flashing light show. The bridge on which we stood over the Rideau Canal vibrated with the thumpa-thumpa of the non-stop pumping music. We craned our necks to see over the huge crowds and tried to figure out what was going on. We needed to deduce the action for ourselves because the young announcers for the event failed to live up to the basic requirements of their job description; that is, letting the spectators know what is happening. Information arrived to us in spotty patches. Skaters flew out of the starting gate with no warning. We didn’t know who most of the skaters were, where they were from or even what event they were skating in. I’d guess that five of eight skaters had backflipped down the track before the announcer informed us it was the semi-finals of the freestyle event. The commentary consisted mainly of “Whoa! Wow man.”
In the end, I didn’t marvel as long as one might expect over the daring of skaters who, by choice, (no one shoved them from behind off the starting block or anything) leaped off a precipitous ledge into a steep, icy hairpin turn. I didn’t gape at their breakneck (literally) speed.
Instead I mused about how we as a human race seem to be losing depth of moment.
No need to know or remember the names, the inconsistent commentary seemed to suggest: You can Google everything later. Were you looking down at your Twitter feed when a skater whizzed by? No worries. It’ll probably be on YouTube.
Before the Internet, before search engines and social media, the announcers of such an event would have felt the weight of their responsibilities. They would have known that they were the sole, fleeting source of information about the happenings unfolding in the moment. They would have felt some urgency to get the 5 Ws and the How to the spectators at the time. Our younger don’t feel the same pressures.
We are drifting away from “living in the moment” toward “living in the moment we look up later.”
I know they’re millennials and I’m old, but I like to live fully in the now with all the information I need for that moment.
I won’t need to look anything up later. I’ll be too busy enjoying the next fantastic deep moment.
A child about 7 or 8 years old enters with a parent.
“Daddy, do they have books about (dinosaurs . . . Lego . . . dolphins . . .),” the child says.
“You’ll have to ask.”
The child slinks behind the parent’s leg. “You ask.”
“No, you go ahead.,” the parent urges. “It’s okay. They won’t bite.”
The child peers out from behind the parent and tentatively makes the request.
We are library staff, so we love both kids and books. We happily lead the child in the right direction.
Last week a scenario exactly like that unfolded right beside me. As I worked I heard a young boy ask his father about a book, and I heard his father tell him to ask me. When the young boy worked up his nerve, he said:
“Do you have The Mysterious Benedict Society?
“Yes!” I said. “Right over here.” We walked together to pick up the book he wanted.
“See?” his father said. “Asking is better than wishing.”
The boy and his father left with the book and I went back to work thinking, What excellent life advice: Asking is better than wishing.
The rest of the afternoon I pondered, Have I been wishing for things without doing the asking? Could receiving those things be as simple as voicing the request?
Something to think about: Asking is better than wishing.
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 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.
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.