This past weekend the streets of downtown Ottawa, Canada overflowed with hundreds of thousands of people thronging to see La Machine.
The “travelling urban theatre” made its North America debut in my hometown as part of our ongoing Canada 150 celebrations. A gigantic mechanical dragon and spider wandered through the streets and public parks for a show entitled “The Spirit of the Dragon-Horse, With Stolen Wings.” The creatures lived, breathed (sort of) snorted and farted (really), and walked among the people of Ottawa 24 hours a day for four days as they pursued their quests. My social media feeds and the Ottawa news channels were full of pictures and videos of these feats of engineering at play in our city. The dragon and the spider were a huge hit.
As cool as that all sounded, as unique and interesting as it seemed, I could not summon the interest in going to see it for myself.
Cottages called to me. I spent the weekend in peaceful surroundings. Sun, water, relaxation. I couldn’t bear the thought of those crowds.
Last week, before the dragon and the spider descended on my city and before the hundreds of thousands of people flocked to see them, I went for a walk downtown. At the heart of Ottawa, a few hundred feet from Parliament Hill, I encountered these baby bunnies. They were small enough to fit in the palm of my hand. By myself I spent some quiet moments with the bunnies.
For me, quiet moments with those bunnies beat noisy dragon time.
Most work days I go for a lunch-hour walk around one of Canada’s iconic sites—Parliament Hill.
I arrive at the east slope of the hill and descend to where the Ottawa River and the Rideau Canal meet. The view of the water and of Nepean Point where Samuel de Champlain holds his astrolabe aloft is motivation enough to descend, even though I know eventually I will have to ascend.
I discovered something interesting during this daily walk. Like me, many people choose to go down and up this hill every day, but unlike me, they choose to do it over and over again.
Down, up, down, up, down, up.
Some of them do it as part of a torturous “boot camp,” so they carry a medicine ball, or drag a sled with a heavy weight behind them, or tote a heavy pole over their shoulders. Down, up, down, up, down, up, with extra weight to make it more difficult.
The decision to make life more difficult when we have the option of coasting seems counter-intuitive. Don’t we all long for the easy ride? Life is challenging enough, one would think. Do we really need to make it harder?
We do, actually, because choosing the easy road early in life leads to a hard road later in life. If we want to run and jump and bend and stretch in our later years, we have to run and jump and bend and stretch in our youth. Life requires hard stuff early on, so we can enjoy good stuff later.
Life is full of ups and downs—some chosen, some thrust upon us. Training for the uphill grind is a good idea.
When you meet someone new, do you try to find something in common with that person? There is one thing we share with everyone: laughter.
I usually work from home, but in February I started a two-month contract at an office in downtown Ottawa. On my lunch hour every day, I go for a walk around the streets of Canada’s capital. As I walk, I entertain myself by guessing what language the groups of people I meet will be speaking. English and French reflect the bilingual nature of Canada. I hear them both often. But on Parliament Hill, anything goes. Spanish, Arabic, Mandarin, Italian . . .. Tourists come from around the world to visit our beautiful city.
One afternoon I approached a group of people in animated conversation. I ventured a guess—French? Just when I got close enough to hear, the group burst into loud laughter. They laughed heartily until I was well past. I never did hear what language they were speaking.
I smiled as I walked on, because I realized it didn’t matter. They were speaking a universal language.