Category Archives: metaphor
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.
Two men stood on opposite sides of a field. An Overseer said, “Dig.”
The 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.
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.
Indulge me in a little Life Boat fantasy.
Today—I’m not sure why—my mind travels to a mighty river. In the mind voyage I am a passenger in a large boat carried along on the current. I don’t choose the speed of the current. It is. But I can choose to paddle to the side and slow down if I want.
Jagged rocks jut out of the water on either side of me. I steer clear of them, but occasionally I snag on unseen portions of rock that hide below the surface. I must reach down and push off.
A seagull soars overhead and curves toward me in a graceful arc. I enjoy the beautiful freedom of its flight. The seagull swoops low and deposits a large splash of poop on the edge of my bow. I blink at the unexpected unpleasant intrusion into the beauty.
I realize I’m not alone in my boat. Passengers ride with me! I think Where did they come from? Why are they here? And I think Those are good questions to ponder.
I look around and notice how I feel when I recognize each face. I expect grand and sweeping emotions, like love or hate, but that would be too simple. People are complicated. My reactions arise from the amount and quality of light emanating from each person, because each person has a distinct collection of firefly flickers of light around them. Golden lights pop like fireworks around people who laugh a lot and live joyfully. Blue lights flutter around those who practice gratitude. Violet lights surround the ones who think deeply. Bright white lights shine around those who help others. One person flickers with brilliant—almost supernatural—lights of many colours. I’m surprised by his presence, and I am even more surprised by how many golden lights pop around him.
“Huh,” I say to him. “So, you are here after all.”
“Always,” he says. His white lights glow.
“You’re very joyful,” I say. “People always take you so seriously.”
Some people have only a few dim lights that flicker into life briefly and then die away. I find I don’t hate or resent these people. I’m pulling for them. I want them to learn. One of these dimmer characters shades her eyes from the bright—almost supernatural—presence.
“There’s a storm coming,” she says. “You’ll never make it.”
“I see the storm clouds,” I say. “But I’m strong.”
The woman starts to pace and I realize she doesn’t want to stay in my boat. I direct myself toward shore, and she leaps over the side before I can even maneuver the boat to solid ground. In her haste to flee anything positive, and with her zombie hunger for negativity, her feet land in sodden muck. She stands in the muck like the Grinch with his feet ice cold in the snow. Other people I hadn’t noticed before clamber out after her.
When I set off again, my Life Boat is lighter and moves quickly in the current.
The storm clouds arrive and rain pelts down, but the people in my Life Boat with me smile, paddle hard and bail water until we pass through the storm and greet a rainbow on the horizon.
After all that hard work, we choose to dawdle for a while. We relax against the sides of the boat and talk and sing. We’re loud, and we don’t care if we’re in tune. “Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da” by the Beatles. “Witch Doctor” by David Seville. Ooo, eee, ooo ah ah ting tang / Walla walla, bing bang / Ooo, eee, ooo ah ah ting tang /Walla walla, bing bang.
Other boats float around me. Some have crews that paddle intently and relentlessly. They leave me behind, but I notice that no one in those boats is singing. When I pass near another craft stuck on the rocks, my friends and I row over and nudge it back into movement.
The sun is setting in the distance, and my Life Boat moves toward the crimson magenta of the dying sun. I contemplate what the sun means, and I think about pre-destination and free will. My Life Boat involves a little of both.
While on my Life Boat, I can’t choose the speed of the current. I can’t choose where the rocks are, when the thunderstorms come, or when birds poop on me.
But I can choose where to steer my boat. I can choose how to interact with the people who appear in my boat. I can choose when to paddle quickly and when to dawdle. I can choose to sing. I can choose to help people.
In my Life Boat fantasy.
Since 2008, photographer Tim Van Horn has been travelling across Canada to photograph Canadians, and he will continue to do so into 2017. Each one of his photographs will become a pixel in a giant Canadian flag mosaic portrait to be completed in celebration of Canada’s 150th birthday in 2017. The portrait will tell the story of “the collective history and energy of 40,000 of Canadians from across the land . . . weaving together a colourful, diverse, true life look at the Canadian cultural tapestry.”
Van Horn’s Canadian Mosaic Project takes the faces of Canadians and creates a picture. The picture in turn tells a bigger story of a culturally diverse country.
Life is in the details, and life is in the big picture.
To really appreciate his masterpiece, we need to know about and consider the 40,000 unique citizens at the heart of it—the people pixels. But if we were to spend all our time microscopically dissecting the pixels without stepping away to appreciate they way they blend together, we would miss the big picture. We don’t want to make the mistake of thinking that the pixels are the only thing. Sure, we need to study the details, but we also need to enjoy the big picture and, more importantly, ponder what greater story they work together to tell.
Faith is like that.
We can study the bible. We can closely examine the many intricate details therein. But we don’t want to make the mistake of thinking that those details are what faith is all about. We need to step back and look at the bigger picture. And, more importantly, we need to ponder the greater story they work together to tell.
The faith story for me is:
- All people are of equal value. Each unique face forms a vital part of the whole. All are one.
- The collective history and energy of billions of people of different faiths weave together to form a colourful, diverse, true life tapestry.
Find out more about The Canadian Mosaic Project on Facebook.
“Day two, or whatever that middle space is for your own process, is when you’re ‘in the dark’—the door has closed behind you. You’re too far in to turn around and not close enough to the end to see the light.” —Brené Brown in Rising Strong
Brené Brown, author of Rising Strong, leads and participates in three-day workshops that encourage people to dare greatly and accept vulnerability. On Day One, people arrive bright with curiosity and anticipation. Day One is easy. But not Day Two. Day Two is hard. That is when participants really need to delve into the “unavoidable uncertainty, vulnerability, and discomfort of the creative process.”
No matter where people come from, or how much money they make, or what level of experience they have, everyone finds Day Two of the workshops challenging. Everyone experiences the doubt and discomfort that make up the middle space. Sometimes people want to give up and flee. They want to skip all the difficulties but yet, somehow, miraculously arrive at a happy ending.
But you can’t skip Day Two.
“The middle is messy, but it’s also where the magic happens.”
Day Two takes many metaphorical forms. It’s the time of not knowing in between times of knowing. It can be the journey between the bright curiosity and anticipation at the outset of a project and the satisfaction of its completion, as in Brown’s workshops. It can also be the painful struggle between tragedy and triumph.
Day Two lives in the space after death or divorce and before life re-created in a new way. We find Day Two in the scorching pain of labour, after the first twing of contraction and before the birth of a child. Writers know Day Two well. Our Day Two is the long, doubt-filled period between Idea and Book.
There is a big Day Two coming up this weekend for those who celebrate Easter. Those who don’t celebrate Easter can look to it as an example too.
The Saturday that follows Good Friday, might look like an empty day, but it’s an important day to contemplate, because it’s the part of the story that we most often need to bring to mind. It represents all the difficult times we face when we don’t yet know about the joy to come. In Jesus’ time, on the Saturday following his death people only knew grief. They thought he’d be lost to history forever. They couldn’t have imagined that thousands of years later we’d still be talking about the guy.
During our times in between when we can’t see the happy ending—whether those times come after a divorce, or while working on a school project, or while waiting to hear if we got a job—Day Two reminds us that wonderful things beyond our wildest imaginings could be around the corner.
The time in between is a messy time of grief, or doubt, or confusion, or anger. On Day Two we do all the work without knowing where it’s going. It’s not fun, but you can’t skip it either. It’s where the magic happens.
Day Two sustains us and reminds us to keep a flicker of hope alive.
Groundhog Day is one of my favourite movies. Clever writing and perfectly timed edits build a humorous, poignant, and challenging story that unrolls three of my favourite themes:
1. Long-lasting happiness doesn’t come through material things or self-indulgence; it comes from making a valuable contribution to society.
2. Life-long learning enriches the self and society.
3. People have to true to themselves, and they can’t control other people’s actions or emotions.
At the beginning of the movie, Phil Connors (Bill Murray) is a self-centered, cynical jerk. Through an unexplained circumstance he finds himself reliving February 2—Groundhog Day—over and over and over. Every day after his clock radio clicks over to 6:00 a.m. and he hears the same Sonny and Cher song, he meets the same people and re-lives the same events, trying to figure out what he has to do to escape the repetitive loop. Goofing off on the job doesn’t do it. Eating every creamy dessert in sight doesn’t help. Suicide attempts don’t work. When he falls in love with Rita (Andie MacDowell) he tries to make her fall in love with him. He pretends to be something he isn’t. He plays tricks, and he pushes too fast, too soon.
1. Eventually he begins to notice people he can help: women in a car with a flat tire on Main Street, a choking victim in the restaurant or a homeless man in the alley.
2. Eventually he decides to learn new things: he becomes an excellent piano player, a master ice sculptor and learns to speak French.
3. Eventually, he evolves into a compassionate, interested person who allows others to be who they are.
That is, of course, when the cycle breaks.
If I were to mention the three themes above in casual conversation, most people would nod in agreement. True, long-lasting happiness doesn’t come from a store. True, learning new things just makes life so darned interesting. True, we can’t control or other people’s actions or emotions.
But those commonly accepted rules aren’t so easy to live.
1. No matter how much we know that material things or self-indulgence won’t bring us long-term happiness, we still pine for a new car, Häagen-Dazs Dark Chocolate ice cream, a designer bag, a 52-inch flat screen, the latest electronic gadget . . .
2. We come up with excuses to avoid new challenges. We’re too tired, too old, too young, or we have no time, no money, no proper equipment . . .
3. We pretend to be something we’re not just to try to impress others. We try to shape other people according to our expectations. We push them to quit smoking, get fit, wear different clothes, change their hair, get higher grades, quit drinking . . .
If you never watched Groundhog Day, or if you dismissed it as a mindless lark, I invite you to visit it, or revisit it, over and over and over.
It seems the themes need repeating.