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 visit to the library where I work, I am in the room that houses the book drop. I hear through the door the murmur of their voices and the scraping of a step-stool being pulled into position. 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.
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.
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 Cross, as 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.
Have you ever noticed that when a sports team celebrates a spectacular play or a big win they gather in a group and jump up and down in a rhythm that matches that of every other sports team celebrating a spectacular play or big win, no matter where or when it happens in the world?
Baseball players jumping around the walk-off home run hitter, soccer teams jumping around the penalty shot goal kicker, football linebackers jumping around the winning touchdown receiver—they all jump up and down in the same rhythm.
It’s the Big Win Beat.
April is National Poetry Month so my mind turned to rhythms, and thinking about rhythm led me to ponder baseball/soccer/football team jumpers, and sports teams made me ponder the music of the universe.
Rhythmic vibrations, like chirping crickets, cars travelling on a gravel road, cicadas piping in, cardinals calling to each other, car doors slamming, winds howling . . .
Discordant sounds we want to write out of our daily life symphony—a Sea-Doo on a quiet lake, a frantic child’s cry, bombs . . .
Do we all subconsciously live by this rhythm? Do we all adjust our actions to it? Are we picking up music from the atmosphere like the child in August Rush?
Is that what leads us to poetry?
I don’t know the answer, I’m musing so you can muse along with me—rhythmically, not discordantly.
April 27 is Poem in Your Pocket Day. People are encouraged to pick a poem, carry it with them through the day and share it with others.
Find out more here: http://poets.ca/pocketpoem/
My poem will be one written by my much-missed friend Bruce Henderson, who had to learn how important it is to receive gifts from other graciously.
GRACE OF THE GOOD GIVEE
Bring me your gifts,
I will be strong,
strong enough to take them.
Yes, I have room for your gifts,
in my hands, in my home, in my heart,
I welcome you in—to my infinite yin.
There is a time to give
and a time to get,
and every Giver needs a Good Givee.
I am ready to accept,
to receive your loving kindness;
the warm message of your gifts.
In joy we will celebrate
the power of your act.
When you reach out
I will not try to run away.
grant me the grace of the Good Givee.
©Bruce Henderson 2010
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.
We used it to determine who was “It” in games of tag, or blind man’s bluff, or kick the can, or whatever. We all stood in a circle with one “duke” extended. Someone said the rhyme and pounded a different fist in the circle on each word.
My mother and your mother were hanging out the clothes.
My mother punched your mother in the nose.
What colour was the blood?
Whoever owned the duke that coincided with the word “blood” yelled out a colour.
The person then carried on hitting fists in the circle on each letter of the colour word.
Wherever the word ended, that person was It.
I spent some time puzzling over why—heavens why—this rhyme popped into my brain. I hadn’t thought about it in at least four decades. I moved on to analyzing the words. How gruesome! I then pondered who came up with this violent ditty first. What kind of society normalized hand-to-hand combat amongst mothers?
I made me realize the responsibility we have for today’s children.
As children we carved out gun-shaped pieces of wood and played Cowboys and Indians. Guess who always won? Now I cringe about the violence AND racism.
Speaking of racism, another popular It-picking rhyme we used as children started with the words “Eeeny meeny.” Remember that? Would we ever think of using the version we did in the 1960s and 1970s now? You couldn’t pay me to.
But my friends and I played those games, and then went home to mothers who didn’t come to fisticuffs with the neighbours. We recited those rhymes in the playgrounds of schools that taught us about other history and other cultures. Because of the stability and the education, we were able to grow into adults with an expanded world view.
Our responsibility for today’s children is to provide the stability and ensure the education for all, so that violence and racism affect the fewest members of our future generation.