Category Archives: outreach

Community in mud and flood

footprints in a mud puddle

A walk in the mud.

A few weeks ago I began a blog post entitled “Veering toward the mud.” It was a whimsical piece about a mother with two toddler children I passed on my walk home from the bus stop. All three played with joyful abandon in a deep puddle. Her refreshing lack of concern about how dirty and wet the children became with each passing moment struck me as so rare in these times of overprotective, germ-fearing parenting. I imagined her returning home after to wring out wet socks and turn up their rubber boots to let the water run out. I thought about how, as adults, we veer away from puddles but every child veers toward the mud. At what point, I wondered, do we lose that childlike enjoyment of getting wet and dirty?

I didn’t finish the piece because busy life intervened. I thought, “I’ll get back to it. I hope I manage to do that before our spring mud clears up.”

I needn’t have worried, because then came the flood.

All nature’s forces combined to create flood conditions in the Ottawa River valley and surrounding area that haven’t been seen in the living memories of inhabitants. People didn’t need to veer toward mud and water in the Ottawa-Gatineau area; it veered right into their living rooms.

I took the picture below on Saturday at a local park. This area is usually grass and park benches. The bird in the distance that looks like it’s sitting on a log? That bird is perched on the back of a park bench.

This is a picture of the same area on Sunday. The park bench where the bird sat is now submerged.

park submerged in water

How could I write about playing in water when people a few kilometres from me had to wade through waist-deep water to get to their homes, if they could get to them at all?

There is no joy in that. There is no joy in this mud-ville.

The only solace to be found comes in the goodwill of people. Neighbours who might have only nodded in passing before are now bonding as they work together to fight back the tide. Countless volunteers are spending hours hoisting sandbags for people they don’t even know. The Red Crossas always, first on the scene to give comfort, compassion and the bare necessities for survival—a ledge for people to cling to by their fingernails in their time of crisis.

The only solace comes from community, in mud and flood.

 

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Canada Day: Making room for each other

As Canada Day approached, I wondered what I would write this year. I’ve written a few posts about it, and I started to think I’d covered everything. Then the principal of my son’s high school gave me the inspiration I needed during his speech to the 2015 graduating class.

maple-leafThe first phrase that caught my ear:

“As a Principal, I am often asked about what it is like in schools these days.  It is a wonderful privilege to be able to share your truth.  You are stronger, smarter and more socially conscious than generations before you, including mine.  You are notably more inclusive and the magical way you make room for each other is a beautiful thing to witness.”

When he spoke those words to the auditorium, heads nodded in agreement. One gentleman in the back called out, “Hear! Hear!”

The graduating class that sat together with ease and acceptance—representatives of all those different races, ethnic backgrounds, religions, genders and sexual orientations—is a microcosm of Canada at its best.

People magically making room for each other. It’s a beautiful thing to witness.

The second phrase that caught my ear:

“In the school context you have made great efforts to grow each other. But, you have also reached far beyond the school. You have gathered and delivered aid to refugees half a world away. In countless ways you have toiled to benefit others in need, raising money and awareness. In many cases the benefits have gone to people you will never meet. I have long been interested in the very notion of a public good, the idea that our base instincts could be moderated by a compelling commitment to each other and to a time we will not see.”

The graduating class that worked together to grow each other and the world—organizers of all those fundraisers, educational events and benefits—is a microcosm of Canada at its best.

People moderating base instincts to make a compelling commitment to people we will never meet and a time we will not see.

Oh, Canada is not perfect, but we are magically, compellingly working toward a worldwide public good.

Bloom where and how you are planted: The solution to “problem paralysis”

All around us: hungry mouths, people without affordable housing, victims of physical or sexual abuse, ill people suffering from diseases we could help cure, war casualties, crimes against humanity, child soldiers, gender bias, and the list goes on . . .

In the past, news of events in far-flung lands took days, weeks or months to filter its way around the world. By the time information travelled half a globe, the need for action had passed. And why do something for people so far away anyway?

These days, high-tech global communications systems convey news to us instantly. High-definition videos show us the creases of pain in human faces. Twitter feeds us first-person accounts of injustices. We see things, we know things, and we learn about them in time to do something.

A pointing finger jabs us in the chest. Do something. Do something. Do something. How can YOU live with this injustice?

Why aren’t YOU fixing this RIGHT NOW?

Guilt, guilt, guilt.

Hold on. Back up. Even if we split ourselves into a million pieces we could never fix all the problems. It’s overwhelming. In the face of it, we suffer “problem paralysis.” We think, “I can’t fix it all, so why even bother doing anything?

“Bloom where you are planted,” the floral metaphor suggests. I would add: “Bloom how you are planted.”

Grow fully where you are, and don’t try to be a lily if you’re really chicory.

Sometimes, lilies think everyone should bloom with the same regal beauty they do; they expect all “flowers” to share their same passions. What a boring and out-of-balance field of wildflowers that would be, without the nodding blue heads of chicory, the innocent white daisies, or the blushing pink wild roses.

One of the gifts of age is the gift of self-knowledge. I have come to accept my strengths and weakness. I have learned about my own passions, and I have learned what work I need to leave to others because their passion serves those purposes better.

I’m not here to do it all. I’m not supposed to do it all; I only have to do my part of it. I might not grow with the height or the potent fragrance of a Tiger Lily, but maybe I add something like the healing blue presence of nodding chicory.

The cure for problem paralysis is clear discernment of passions. Figure out what fires you up, and do that. Figure out which things make you say, “Meh” and leave that work to others.  Don’t feel guilty about not sharing someone else’s passion and don’t pressure anyone to share yours.

Act on your own passions and support others in theirs and between us all, what a beautiful field of wildflowers we will be.

lynns-flower-garden1

Being “sticky”

Who are your sticky people? Who are the people who glue your life together when it might otherwise blow apart?

For many of us, our first “sticky” people are parents: mothers or fathers, or both. A father who hugs away hurts, a mother who coaches a team, or parents who hold together a brokenhearted teen after that first shattering break-up.

Sticky people also act in community organizations. Volunteers are hard to come by in this “I’m so crazy busy I can’t breathe” world, so a very few carry the load that many used to. They stick with it so that festivals run, mouths get fed, or refugees get settled into safe situations.

Sticky people don’t bail when times get hard; they work even harder. They take on extra duties when those with less adhesive peel away. Sticky people have fortitude in times of adversity and loyalty when disloyalty might be easier.

They don’t say, “It’s just too hard.” They say, “It’s hard, but good will come of it if I stick it out.”

Sticky people are happy. They blossom. They know that if they were to avoid suffering or difficult challenges, they would take away their growth opportunities. They are proud of themselves because of the hardships they overcome. They grow. They evolve.

They glow because they haven’t left anyone hanging. They haven’t been the ones to disappoint.

We find joy in unexpected places, and sometimes, paradoxically, we find a healthy dose of it awakening in our steps along the hard road. Sticky people know this well.

Habitat-for-Humanity

The difference between happy and glowing: Giving

This past week I had the privilege of writing an article about a woman from my church. Jean volunteers for a long list of organizations, giving to others in different ways. As she bakes, delivers meals to seniors, quilts, and tackles her many other labours of love, she glows with energy and good spirit. When I asked her why she does all she does, she said, “It makes me feel good. I get back so much more than I give.”

Another friend of mine volunteers for Canadian Red Cross. He supports people in need in his own community, and he travels to countries in crisis around the globe. When he speaks of this work, he glows. “I get back so much more than I give,” he says.

I have heard that refrain over and over in my life, from people aglow with the joy of hands-on giving.

After my conversation with Jean, I thought about other people I know who have stable jobs and who probably give to charity, but who don’t give of themselves in a close contact way. They golf every Saturday, or they enjoy fine dining, or they spend most weekends at their cottage.

I would never say these people aren’t happy. If I were to ask them if they are happy, they would say yes. What is the difference then?

The difference is the glow: The merely happy people pass through life content; the others glow with a giving contact high.

The question then: Do I want to be merely happy, or do I want to glow?

Mud-splattered and glowing in Bolivia

Arlene – Mud-splattered and glowing on a Habitat for Humanity build in Bolivia

 

 

No “can’t’; No “won’t”; Only “how”: Spencer West

I’ll be volunteering at National We Day here in Ottawa, Canada tomorrow. We Day, an event affiliated with Free The Children and Me to We, is a music and inspiration-filled concert that energizes kids and inspires them to shift their view of the world from “me” to “‘we.” Craig and Marc Kielburger, founders of Free the Children, want to free children locally and internationally from poverty and oppression, and they want to free children from the belief that they are powerless to effect change.

I attended a training session last night along with hundreds of other volunteers. If we held any lingering doubts about our abilities to handle our assigned tasks, out guest speaker put those doubts to rest.

Spencer West climbed the stairs to speak to us. That one simple act inspired us, for Spencer West has no legs. But no matter. He has done outreach work in Africa, he has climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, and he travels the world speaking and encouraging people to effect change. One of speaking topics is: No Can’t, No Won’t, Only How: Overcoming Obstacles to Make a Difference.

It’s easy to imagine that Spencer West heard the words “can’t” or “won’t” many times in his life. His ability to climb over those words to get to the word “how” inspires the rest of us to climb over our own surmountable obstacles.

The kids attending the concert tomorrow couldn’t buy a ticket to attend; they had to earn it. Schools and groups commit to taking one local and one global action to earn their way.

Perhaps we can take a cue from them: one local and one global action. If “can’t” or “won’t” pop into your head, brush those words aside and look for “how.” It’s easy. Certainly easier than climbing Mount Kilimanjaro without legs.

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