Category Archives: metaphor
“Wind extinguishes a candle and energizes fire. Likewise with randomness, uncertainty, chaos: you want to use them, not hide from them. You want to be the fire and wish for the wind.” —Nassim Nicholas Taleb in Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder
My husband and I had to roll with randomness twice recently.
The first time was two weekends ago when we planned a trip to London, ON to see my son at university. It was my birthday, so we were fulfilling my wish to get a birthday hug from both my children before the weekend was out. Our plan was to get up on Saturday morning, relax, do some reading, maybe some gardening and then meander down to stay with some friends in Kingston, ON on Saturday night. From there we would rise early on Sunday morning and drive to London to watch my son pitch from the bullpen in baseball game and have a quick visit.
Then . . . at 9:45 on Saturday morning my son sent a text: “I’m in Toronto with the team, and I just found out I’m starting the 2:00 game.” We live a 4-hour drive away from Toronto. I hadn’t showered or packed or prepared in any way, but we ran with it. We threw a few things in an overnight back, contacted our friends in Kingston to adjust the timing, and drove like stink to Toronto.
This unexpected series of events worked out better than our original plan. We got to watch our son be the starting pitcher in a game instead of coming in out of the bullpen, I got to see him on my actual birthday instead of the day after, and when we arrived at our friend’s house in Kingston later, we had nowhere to rush off to, so we enjoyed a leisurely visit and a walk in the conservation area behind their house.
The second gift of randomness arrived on our wedding anniversary. Our plan was to attend a presentation that a friend of ours was giving at the Chateau Laurier for the Canadian Public Relations Society and then go out to dinner. We started our anniversary evening at the Chateau Laurier and enjoyed the event and the opportunity to see our friend.
But when we walked him to the front door where he planned to catch a taxi to the airport, we discovered there was not a taxi in sight. We tried the hotel down the street, where a line-up of taxis always lingers. No luck. There is unrest in the taxi industry in Ottawa at the moment. Our friend was starting to panic about missing his flight, so we said, “We’ll drive you.”
After we dropped him off, my husband and I said, “What now?” We hadn’t anticipated being in the airport part of the city. We decided to head back to our neighbourhood and go to a restaurant that used to be one of our haunts when we were newly married and childless.
Again the surprising series of events worked out better than our original plan. We would never have thought of that restaurant otherwise, so we would have ended up somewhere less meaningful. Now that we are long-married and into empty nest childlessness, we felt like we had come full circle, and the restaurant felt exactly right.
“If you are not a washing machine or a cuckoo clock—in other words, if you are alive—something deep in your soul likes a certain measure of randomness and disorder.” —Nassim Nicholas Taleb
While all this was happening, I was reading Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s book Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder. He suggests that systems—and people, marriages and families are systems—need some stress and agitation. Instead of resisting uncertainty, chaos, chance, volatility or disorder, or being extinguished by them like a candle, we should feed off them.
Not just survive, but thrive. Be the fire and wish for the wind. Sometimes it works out better than the original plan.
“. . . events that happen in the moment belong to the moment. They don’t belong to you. They have nothing to do with you. You must stop defining yourself in relationship to them, and just let them come and go.”
—Michael A. Singer in The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself
There’s always something, isn’t there? Just when you get all your ducks in a row, a fox bounds into the pond and scatters them all hither and thither. As you chase around after flapping ducks, you say: “Really? Are you kidding me? Is this some kind of a test?”
Life as a test is a popular notion with some. Rick Warren states it as a fact in his book The Purpose-Driven Life: What on Earth Am I Here For? “Life on earth is a Test,” he writes. “God continually tests people’s character, faith, obedience, love, integrity and loyalty . . . God constantly watches your response to people, problems, success, conflict, illness, disappointment, and even the weather!”
Ugh. I find the image of a being—completely separate from me and the world—up there poking and prodding me to see how I react abhorrent.
A test implies that people either pass of fail. But what constitutes a pass? Who gets hurt when someone fails? And how does the word “test” make you feel? Intimidated? Scared? Paralyzed? Threatened? Overwhelmed? Under-prepared? Notice that none of those words have a positive vibe.
When contemplating why events happen the way they do and what I’m supposed to do about them, I prefer an idea that the singer Johnny Reid refers to in “A Place Called Love.” When he wrote the song, his grandmother had just died and his child had just been born. He asked himself, “Where did my grandmother go? Where did my daughter come from?”
His answer: a place called love. Sounds like as good an answer as any, and it is certainly much more reassuring than “A Place Called the Examination Centre.”
Scientific laws of the universe dictate that events we consider unpleasant or catastrophic must happen: cancers, tsunamis, wild fires. We have to accept the science, but we can choose to write our own story.
When that crafty fox leaps into our perfectly arranged row of ducks, don’t ask, “How do I pass this test?” Ask, “Who returns to love because of this?” Or “How do I help myself and others return to love?”
I like the image of real ducks all in a yellow fluffy row, so that how I wrote about them here. Another theory suggests that “ducks in a row” came from bowling. Early bowling pins were nicknamed “ducks,” and organizing them in their proper places before the next ball was thrown meant they were all “in a row.”
“Everyone must leave something behind when he dies . . . A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you’re there.
It doesn’t matter what you do . . . so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hands away. The difference between the man who just cuts lawns and a real gardener is in the touching. . . . The lawn-cutter might just as well not been there at all; the gardener will be there a lifetime.”
—From Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
In this season of gardening, it is worthwhile to contemplate: What flowers am I growing?
What am I changing with my touch, so it transforms into something more beautiful and a little like me when I take my hands away?
This week, the biggest stars of Major League Baseball gather in Cincinnati for the All-Star Game; the best of the best of baseball showcasing their skills.
Fantastic baseball players all, but as I followed the events leading up to this event—the stacking of votes by Kansas City Royals fans, and the rally cries from Don Cherry and Stephen Amell (The Arrow) to drum up votes for Josh Donaldson—I wondered: What about life all-stars?
Which people are the best of the best at life?
Pitchers: Who are the people you know who stand alone in the glare of public scrutiny and risk getting things started? Sometimes they win, sometimes they lose, but they’re brave enough to take first steps.
Catchers: Who has the whole “field of play” in view and guides you in calling your “game.” Who always works in your best interest? Who knows the opposition you face and devises strategies to deal with it?
Batters: They aren’t the ones who throw the pitches, but they know how to handle them. Who doesn’t flinch from the fastballs life throws at them? Who chooses to ignore “bad” pitches but makes solid contact with the good ones right down the middle? Who can track those tricky curve balls and make the most of them?
Infielders: Who has your back? Who responds with lightning-quick reflexes to handle the hits that hurtle past you? They can’t handle everything, but they stretch themselves to the limit trying.
Outfielders: Who provides long-range help when you need it? Who covers lots of ground with big strides to keep the longer, slower hits from causing damage?
Who are your all-stars? Do some of those people play more than one position?
“Gardens, like lives, require choices. What will we let grow? What will we encourage? What needs cutting back because it’s growing too wildly and out of control? What’s crowding out what you really want in life?” —Rev. Sharon Moon
I listened to a reflection by Rev. Sharon Moon about spiritual wisdom gained in a garden.
It’s true, isn’t it? When we putter in our flower beds and dig in our dirt, we “plug in,” as she calls it, to a different energy level—a spirit channel, if you will.
At least some of us do. I enjoy my time in a garden and I do “plug in” to an infinite place, but I have many friends who regard gardening as a chore. But no matter whether a person loves or loathes a horticultural pursuit, the activities, complexities, the growth, the pruning and the death in gardens so closely mirrors our human existence that we can learn from them.
We learn to be ready for surprises: the flower you didn’t plant that suddenly appears or the tender sprouts you admire one day gone the next thanks to a hungry rabbit.
We learn that sometimes a plant needs to be moved to an area better suited to its needs.
We learn that when a long, cold winter buries treasures under snow, it is easy to forget the bounty we have.
We learn that weeds are inevitable, and that a garden left untended quickly becomes overgrown and filled up with “things that come in and just steal the energy from the life that you want to encourage.”
As Sharon Moon points out, a garden teaches us that pruning is a good thing—cutting out the dead wood that no longer serves a purpose. A garden teaches us to give of ourselves—generous perennial dividing and sharing for the good of both the plant and the recipient. A garden teaches us that “a material that has been allowed to die transforms into new growth.”
What is happening in your garden these days? Are you bursting with new growth? Do you have weeds that need careful pulling? Have you had a shock or trauma that requires you to take some fallow time? Do you need some support and attention from “the Gardener”?
How does your garden grow?
Listen to her reflection here:
I ponder the parable of the seed scattered on good or poor ground. (See below.)
Like any respectable parable, it can be interpreted a number of ways. Perhaps we are the “farmer.” If so, we need to choose carefully where we spread our “seed”—our ideas, our time, our friendships. Don’t share ideas with an audience that won’t appreciate them, don’t waste time on pointless endeavours, and don’t choose friends who choke out your potential. Or perhaps God (the universe, nature, Yahweh, Allah, whatever) is the “farmer” and we are the “seed.” If so, some of us have a tougher time of it—through no fault of our own—just because of the environment where we are born. Others—lucky sods—happen to land on roomy, fertile ground.
But I wonder. Why do we always put the onus on the ground?
The poor ground is just being what it was created to be. The footpath doesn’t sprout seed, but it makes the going easy for the feet that tread upon it.
The rocks of Georgian Bay near my cottage don’t welcome scattered seed—carrots would not sprout there, nor would lush lettuce leaves. But it has perfect nooks for evergreens and moss, and its granite craters pool water for birds to drink. It is not bad; it is beautiful and rugged, mineral-rich and solid. Best of all, it is not trying to be something it’s not, gripped with angst about why it can’t grow tomato plants like its cousin, the rich farmland.
And what about that loamy earth of a tilled field? How would moss manage there? The bright sunshine and the working of the soil would kill it. As judged by the moss, the rich, loamy soil of a southern Ontario tomato field would be “bad.”
Plants or soil aren’t really good or bad. They just have to match, that’s all—the right soil for the right plant.
People are like that too. Women of action sitting behind desks, or scholarly men digging ditches are like seeds scattered on the wrong ground.
They start to believe there’s something wrong with them. Their bosses air frustrations about their inadequacies. They believe they are deficient in some way. They tell themselves they need to change. All they need is the right ground.
Moss clings to the shady sides of rock, corn sprouts from the arable land: A plant for every kind of ground, and a ground for every kind of plant. All are beautiful in their own way.
They just have to match, that’s all.
3 He [Jesus] told many stories in the form of parables, such as this one: “Listen! A farmer went out to plant some seeds. 4 As he scattered them across his field, some seeds fell on a footpath, and the birds came and ate them. 5 Other seeds fell on shallow soil with underlying rock. The seeds sprouted quickly because the soil was shallow. 6 But the plants soon wilted under the hot sun, and since they didn’t have deep roots, they died. 7 Other seeds fell among thorns that grew up and choked out the tender plants. 8 Still other seeds fell on fertile soil, and they produced a crop that was thirty, sixty, and even a hundred times as much as had been planted!