Saturday, 15 June 2019

Kudos for Pater Familias

It's Saturday morning and I have a to-do list. But before I can get out the door, two little feet enter, attached to granddaughter Grace. She’s come to “help” Daddy, who is picking up things at our house.

“Hi Oma,”she says cheerfully. “I brought my Elsa doll along so we can play.” And somehow my to-do list evaporates. I'm a sucker for 4-year olds.

And so for the next half hour we do things together. She draws a picture of Oma, and writes my name all by herself.

It's added to the fridge door, along with the photos of good times.

 We string necklaces together. We pick up some spilled screws with a magnet. We carry things into the car. Truly, it's fun. And we didn’t even play with Elsa.

Then I realize that tomorrow is Father's Day, and if my husband had not become a father, and if our son had not become a father, I wouldn't be having this delightful time. I know that Father’s Day is a commercial construct, and expectations of what a father should be are absurdly unrealistic in the commercial world. Still, I’d like to honour fathers – and all the men who have been like fathers to us. It doesn’t take a lot of shuffling through the memory bank to come up with some visual images of times which may have seemed quite ordinary, but have left a lasting impression. .

The first is not a memory, but a time captured in a photo and passed on as a family story. I am a very active toddler, and we are immigrating. The weather is bad, and my mother is stuck in her bunk, terribly seasick. So it’s dad who chases after me, who changes my diapers. It’s not a role he’s been taught, and his efforts are clumsy enough to make my sick mother laugh, but he does it.

Then, I am about 6 years old, exploring the countryside with dad. He takes my sister and me over to a fence. One by one, he lifts us to his shoulders so we can see over the hedgerow. There’s a lake behind it, and – oh, wow! – in the middle of the lake floats a log with turtles sunbathing on it. It’s the beginning of my love for nature. Later, I am a teenager, growing a small garden as a high school science project. Patiently, he stands beside me, showing me how to plant the beans, hill the potatoes, thin the beets, and now I still hear my dad’s voice when I am working in the garden. Dad was always there ... sometimes he embarrassed us, sometimes he annoyed us, sometimes he frustrated us – fathers do that! –  but he was there. To paraphrase a common meme, 90% of caring is just showing up.

Many years later, the Resident Sweetie is loading the car. He’s taking our sons, aged 7 and 5, one of whom has just conquered bedwetting, camping for the weekend. No moms allowed. They return Sunday evening, grubby and sunburnt, wet sleeping bag in tow, and full of stories. “Dad made the best supper,” exclaims the oldest. And it was...ta da ...Hamburger Helper! (They still like it, I think.)

He participates in the potty-training, coaches their soccer teams, becomes “Mr. Mom” when I am out of town, takes them for hikes, attends the father-child event at school. 

He works hard at a job that’s not always fun, to supply their needs. He hugs and holds and dries tears.

He, and all fathers like him, are the unsung heroes who don’t appear in the commercials, but do appear in their childrens' lives in ordinary ways, steadfast and committed. And are still there for them whenever they need dad, even though they are all grown up.

And now I watch our three sons parent our 7 beautiful grandchildren. Guess what they’re doing? They’re taking them for walks to discover nature. They’re in on the potty training, they’re helping their children pick out gifts for mom on Mother’s Day, changing wet bed sheets, cooking Hamburger Helper dinners, being “Mr. Mom” when their wives are out of town, coaching soccer,

reading them stories

accompanying field trips, showing them how to create something beautiful, working hard to give them a secure childhood, and best of all, bringing their children to visit Oma and Opa on a regular basis so we can play and laugh and visit with them.

Here’s to the men in our lives – not just the dads, but also the grandparents, uncles, friends, mentors, in-laws, spouses, sons and more – who showed up when it counted, who have taught us, not in grandiose gestures, but in everyday actions, by word and example, what it means to be a father.

Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Saturday, 1 June 2019

Delight or Dilemma?

The peonies are blooming, big fat pink globes swaying in the breeze. Just bend down and take a carries you right back to childhood’s scents and sights.

And here are the irises – frilly yellow petals perking up a corner of the yard.

The bleeding hearts are still dancing daintily from their curved stems, and the first red, red rose of summer has appeared on the trellis by the shed. This back yard is a gardener’s delight.

And also, unfortunately, a gardener’s dilemma, overshadowed by a big question mark. The question is this: is our garden helping or harming the earth?

You see, my eyes have been opened to a problem. My enlightenment has come about bit by bit. It started when a friend posted a blog about native plants and their importance to wildlife habitat; almost in her footsteps, one of my blog-subscribers suggested I might consider some native plants for our pretty garden that I’d been bragging about. Then came the books, such as Bringing Nature Home by Douglas Tallamy.

Then, two weeks ago, the latest prod: a workshop with the inviting title “Attracting Birds, Bugs, Butterflies and Bees to our gardens.” The teacher looked like a sweet woman, but she was fierce about her cause.  “The insects are disappearing,” she said, mincing no words. “It’s not just nice to attract wildlife to our gardens. It’s imperative.” And our lovely ornamental gardens are not doing a good job at that.

There are numerous studies to prove that insects species are declining at an alarming rate, and you can't really argue with the numbers. You can read all about this at This is distressing reading, but it is important. This is our world, and there is no Planet B. Reading the information available to us is like studying the instruction manuals for Preserving Planet A. We've been pretty arrogant in the past, thinking we know it all. But we don't.

Insects aren't sexy or cute, like the panda, so they don't get a lot of attention. But, say the scientists, they are “essential” for the proper functioning of all ecosystems; they pollinate plants, are food for other animals, aerate our soil, shred plant and animal debris, control other insect pests, and even, in some nations, provide a protein-rich food source to humans. But they are disappearing at the rate of 2.5% per year. That doesn’t sound like much till you do the math and add it to what has already been lost. Within 100 years, this planet may well be barren.

The main reason for this decline is the way we do agriculture, removing thickets and trees from the edges of fields, draining wet areas, using herbicides and insecticides that kill off the grubs that continue to renew the soil. Climate change is also a contributing factor, but so are the ways we take care of our urban spaces. And that's where our gardens come in.

The reasoning goes something like this: most pollinator insects have evolved alongside certain host plants. They are on the lookout for those plants, and no matter how colourful and attractive our gardens are, filled with exotics from Japan and hybrids bred for gorgeous colours, these insects will not come visit your flowers for the simple reason that they don’t recognize them. We take pride in our neat and tidy gardens, but insects are looking for messy places to hide and nest. I ask myself if my lovely peonies are just taking up space, while starving butterflies and insects are desperately looking for sustenance.

I am not so naive as to think that if I fix up my garden, the problem will be solved. “However,” says Tallamy, “because nearly 85% of the U.S. is privately owned, our private properties are an opportunity for long-term conservation if we design them to meet the needs of the life around us.” (My guess is Canadian statistics are similar.) “We need to redesign residential landscapes to support diverse pollinator populations and complex food webs, store carbon, and manage our watersheds.”

"So," I ask my workshop leader, "does this mean I have to tear out my peonies, irises, and other beauties and replace them with goldenrod and willows? Are you saying I can't plant geraniums and petunias in our patio pots anymore?"

Well, at least there's one "goodie" in here. I planted a trailing mint, which attracts lots of insects.
She smiles. “We call this ‘editing’ the garden,” she says gently.

So that’s what I’m doing: I’m editing our garden. I am thankful there are many good things going on in our yard – the pond attracts numerous birds and insects, the shady back corner is mostly native, the herb bed is abuzz with insects all summer long, and the garden has been pesticide-free since the beginning. We have native shrubs like huckleberry and oregon grape providing berries in winter. But I can see some places where change could happen.

Right now it is just an exercise on paper. The RS is not so sure about this, and the workshop leader tells me that she does offer marriage mediation services. We may need it!

Saturday, 25 May 2019

What a Wonderful World

Our Small Worx group at the quilt guild issues a challenge about 4-5 times a year. We are given a theme on which to create a small art piece. This month’s theme was, “What does Climate Change mean to you?”

“Oh look,” says one woman, holding up an imaginary piece of art work. “I’ve already done mine. I don’t believe in climate change – we’re just going through a normal cyclical change. So here’s my piece: nothing.” Okay then!

There are people on one side of the fence, and there are people on the other. NASA reports that 97% of climate scientists agree that climate-warming trends over the past century are extremely likely due to human activities. I’m on their side. (See  But facts, figures and arguments will not change the minds of someone who has their mind made up. This is not an argument I want to get into. Instead, I’d rather build bridges.

This quilter also admitted that the earth is suffering and we need to reduce our carbon footprint. Here we stand on common ground and I’m thinking that 100% of the world’s population would agree. Polluted oceans, smoggy air, pesticides in our food, increasingly devastating storms, flooding and drought, extinction of species ... and that’s just the tip of the rapidly melting icebergs. A few quilters did lovely pieces focused on species at risk. Anne's piece contrasted Louis Armstrong's evocative classic "What a wonderful world!" alongside Pete Seeger's ballad "Where have all the flowers gone?"

So what does climate change mean to me? Mostly, I feel sad about the state of the earth, our home. And sadness can lead to fatalism, a feeling of despair because there seems so little I can do. Is it too late to fix the earth? And is that the message I want to portray? How can I cultivate hope – not airy-fairy hope, pie-in-the-sky hope, but hope that energizes me?

I pulled out a few unfinished pieces I worked on last year. I did them as I was reading Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re in Without Going Crazy, by Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone. I was trying to portray in pictures what I was learning about our journey from despair to hope.

The first piece is our starting place. My alter-ego, the crow, rests in beauty.

The created world is beautiful and it is holy ground. In the Biblical narrative, God ends each period of creation with the words, “It is good.” Skies and seas, mountains and plains, towering giraffes and tiny ants, sun and moon, trees, fish birds: amazing! And we are too, all of us, living together in a web of life, dependent on each other, whirling about in an ever-expanding universe. There is so much to be grateful for, so much to appreciate. It’s important to get in touch with this beautiful world, to nurture our feelings of connection.

But reality tells us that we’ve messed up the beautiful world. And that’s the message of the second piece. The crow is in distress as she beholds a broken world being consumed by flames.

We must face the grief we feel for the suffering, broken earth and all its creatures. We must get real and understand that in an industrialized society such as ours, we have lost our sense of the sacred, of our connection to the earth and its Creator, and to each other.

Fortunately, we are not alone. That’s the message of the third piece. There is no large crow in this piece; it is one bird amongst many.

Look around, and change your perspective. All is not hopeless. There are millions of people  and hundreds of thousands of organizations working to restore what’s been broken. We can do little on our own, but in community with others, we find hope.

The last step in this process is to find our own work that reconnects us to the world and to others, so that we can be an agent of healing. Some are called to pick up litter on their daily walks. Some may get involved in politics, or write letters, or do research. There are streamkeepers and peacemakers, wilderness guides and storytellers, all of whom remind us that the earth and all that dwells thereon is a sacred trust, to be treated with the utmost care and love. We need to join in this great work, and do what we are called to do to restore it to its original beauty.

As I was finishing this piece, the doorbell rang. There stood two little girls. Earnestly they told me that their school has been paired with one in Uganda and they are raising money for it. Last year, they bought windows. Now they want to buy solar panels. They were excited about the possibilities, and so was I. This school, and these girls, are engaging in work that fosters connections, and that gives me hope for the future. Perhaps that’s naive...but I choose to join them.

My latest works feature nature themes, and I tried to make them as beautiful as I could. More and more, I am drawn to the work of reminding others that this earth is a sacred place; I do this through my art and writing, in my church work with children, and in everyday conversations with neighbours and friends. In so doing, I feel as though I am facing the mess we’re in without going crazy. It gives me hope.

And that's how I answered the question, "How do you feel about climate change?"

I call this piece "New Growth from Old". It tells the story of how old decaying wood creates a wonderful home for new saplings. It all works together to continue the cycle of life.

Saturday, 27 April 2019

The Old but Not Dead Club

When our dad was in his 80s, he once said to me, “I had no idea that old age would involve so many infirmities.” He’d had a heart attack, several TIAs, and his eyesight was slowly diminishing because of macular degeneration. He had left his family behind when we immigrated, and so he had not experienced the day-to-day life and challenges of his own parents as they aged. Now he was realizing that the things he loved to do might not be possible anymore, no matter how strong his will, or how healthy his lifestyle.
Dad as a young man...

and here he is at age 80, before the disabilities struck in earnest. . He loved swimming!

As I’m aging myself, this seam of thinking is a rich vein to mine. “You’re only as old as you feel,” they say. “Mind over matter,” they tell us. “Stay active to keep the grey matter functioning,” advise the experts. Keep doing your exercises every day, and you won’t lose your mobility. It sounds so good and hopeful. We all hope we can remain independent, walk upright with our faculties intact, enjoy life to the utmost, until one night we fall asleep forever in our own comfy bed and awake in heaven – a sweet and seamless transition.

I’m thinking about this today because I’ve been reading a delightful book, "On the Bright Side – the New Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 85 years old.” Several years ago, I’d read his first secret diary which he wrote at age 83 1/4. Hendrik lives alone in an assisted living centre in downtown Amsterdam. He decides to write a diary entry every day to keep the grey matter active. He doesn’t want to go stir crazy, so he instigates the Old But Not Dead Club to plan activities and outings for himself and his merry band of friends – visits to various restaurants, classes in chocolate making, etc. Every day he takes a walk as far as his legs will carry him, then sits on a bench and rests before heading home again. Often he and his friend Geert take long scooter rides through the countryside. But all is not perfect. There are infirmities.

Hendrik faces his infirmities head on. Once upon a time, he reflects, I would have died rather than wear an adult diaper. But now that I need one, the line of the unthinkable has shifted. It is what it is. His daily walks get shorter and shorter. A member of the club sinks into dementia. His dear sweetheart Eefje suffers a stroke and dies; his best friend receives a diagnosis of colon cancer, far advanced. Some of the residents of the home are very difficult to get along with, and so is the bossy director. But the care and relationships he shares with his friends is what makes his life so precious. 

I’m not so sure that all the advice that “they” give us is so spot on. Disabilities begin appearing as we age. For most of us, that is not a matter of “if” – it’s a matter of when. No matter how hard we exercise, how healthy we eat, how many Sudokus and Scrabble games we do for the grey matter, or yoga or tai chi classes we attend, sooner or later, the wheels begin to squeak, then rust and seize up. I’m needing my hearing aids more and more, and I would be blind without my glasses. The “old hockey injury” (I fell and damaged my knee while playing hockey with my 6 year-old son many years ago) has become arthritic. The carpal tunnel condition in my wrists, though improved, limits the use of my hands. I don’t like all these reminders of my human frailty, but life is precious.

And I’m thinking about this today also because we’ve just had a house-full over the Easter weekend. Oma and Opa are not quite as spry as they once were, and it is not as easy to keep up with everything that happens around us when 16 folks ranging in age from 9 months to 73 fill up the house. The den and studio become bedrooms, and the hallways are storage space for shoes and jackets. Extra tables are set up here and there. The dishwasher runs 4 times a day, a ten pound bag of potatoes and a 5 kilo ham disappear, and plans are afoot for ... well, with my hearing being what it is, I’m not quite sure what’s happening, but I’m along for the ride. Or maybe not...maybe we’ll take a quick nap while you’re out, kids. Have fun!

In Hendrik’s diary, he observes that when Opa and Oma take their children and grandchildren to a restaurant to celebrate someone’s birthday or an anniversary, they tend to sit there looking a bit lost, waiting for one of the children or grandkids to make an attempt to draw them into the conversation – a conversation they have trouble following because of the ambient noise. And patrons of the restaurant where the Old But Not Dead Club gather may observe some of the same.  But then I think, appearances can be deceiving. It may look like the old fogies are not getting with the program, but the program is not what it’s all about. What it’s all about is an essential, invisible ingredient that makes the whole hullabaloo so significant for Hendrik and for the RS and me, and that ingredient is love.

In Hendrik’s case, the love appears in the many ways he and his friends support and care for each other, sharing laughter, drinks, adventures, depressions and joys. In our case, over the weekend, the love appears in little things: a grandchild’s face lights up when he realizes there are meatballs and mashed potatoes for supper – his favourite! “Oh, Oma, thanks!” Uncles and aunts pass the baby around, and he gurgles with joy.

The grandparents hide Easter eggs up and down the alley, and after the goodies have been gathered, there’s a grand sharing exercise to make sure everyone has an equal part of the spoils. The actor in our midst reads a child’s storybook aloud and all the children gather round to listen and laugh. Photos of gatherings in years past are shared and memories of other good times are savoured. One of the grandchildren declares that we will have a birthday party for all those who had a birthday since the last get-together (hers included, of course!), so we bake and decorate cupcakes, light the candles, sing and make wishes.

The heart stores the images of love in action, to be taken out later for further enjoyment and pondering.

Hearing and eyesight may fade, knees may need replacement, the digestive system ain’t what it used to be, but one thing, the greatest, abides: love.

Saturday, 6 April 2019

The Postman of Creation

The RS and I have turned over a new least, we’re trying. We have resumed our walking practice, which over the last few years has grown increasingly sporadic. We have a trip planned to Newfoundland this summer, and we do not want to look like those lazy tourists who only stop by the side of the road to take photos, but never get off the beaten path. It’s time to pull up our socks and strengthen those leg muscles. That’s the plan.

Now we try to get out there 5 days a week, sometimes alone, and sometimes together. If we can just get out there, it’s not hard to keep walking. It’s that first step out the door that’s difficult...

...especially when it's raining.
So Monday morning, out I went. It was a glorious day, and I had a brisk walk in mind. But first, a little detour down to the woods to see if the trilliums were blooming. They were. They stopped me in my tracks. Sometimes, stopping is as good an exercise as a brisk walk.

Do you have a magic place you visit where time stands still, at least for a little while? Where you feel as though there is nothing between you and the universe and the Creator of it all? Your heart slows, your senses are heightened, and the world is new all over again. This was my spot, and this where my detour became the main thing. “Brisk walk” was no longer part of today's plan. This, my soul told me, is a time to sit or stand still, or drift along slowly, feeling suffused with wonder. This is a time to absorb, to observe with new eyes, to be open to what messages may be waiting for you in amongst the trees, mosses, birdsong, and trilliums pushing up out of the ground. This was where I was right now, and I stopped.

The thing is, I’ve been working on an art piece featuring a pileated woodpecker, a resident of this woods, and it just hasn’t come together.

The harder I tried to impose my vision on this art piece, the tougher it became. I’d read all the literature about the bird, I’d studied dozens of photos, but I’d forgotten to stop trying so hard and instead start listening. As a visual artist, I resonate deeply with this quote I read recently by Kenneth Clark, an art historian: “Creation is a response; it is not something you have to make. You only deliver colors and shapes that the great postman of creation entrusts you to carry.” But those are just words until you put them into practice.

We’ve visited this woods hundreds, probably thousands of times. Often, as we visit it, we chat with each other, or explore nooks and crannies with the grandchildren, or use it as a path to the next thing as we take a brisk walk. But today, because I was open, I saw things I’d never seen before. Perhaps it takes a time like this, when everything comes together, including my willingness to listen and see and wonder.

I wonder how many other times I missed seeing the deep holes and torn strips of bark that showed signs of animal excavations in trees and stumps.

I wonder why I didn’t notice the old dead tree, still standing, riddled with a filigree of holes through which the sky shone.

Why had I not noticed before the many trees that had been “topped” by parks department arborists because they posed a danger to walkers; these topless trees were now 30-40 foot tall tree stumps that still contributed to the life of the forest.

Now, I was seeing this woods through a woodpecker’s eyes, a wonderful habitat and home that featured dozens of dining rooms

and a grand choice of bedrooms.

 Into this woods every spring would come a new generation of woodpeckers, needing a nest and food. In the grand plan of things, the woodpecker was tearing apart the old trees bit by bit, and as they disintegrated, they became nurseries for insects which in turn became food for other animals, and eventually warm nurturing places for new trees to begin the next cycle. The tiny saplings would grow up to be homes for more animals, insects and birds.

And I was privileged, for that short half hour, to be witness to the grand connections of all things living, myself included. It was a message to me: “Look! Listen! Know that you are a tiny piece in this great big beautiful puzzle, connected to a greater whole.” You are guardian, protector, benefactor and recipient of all that these wild and natural places have to offer.

“We all have within us,” writes Philip Simmons, “this...ability to break the bonds of ordinary awareness and sense that though our lives are fleeting and transitory, we are part of something larger, eternal and unchanging.” Unfortunately, because we’re busy with so many important things, we miss the opportunity to break those bonds of ordinary awareness.

And so I wonder: what other messages has the great postman of creation tried to deliver to me, and I, with eyes and ears closed, just wasn’t at home to receive them?

Philip Simmons, Learning to Fall: The Blessings of an Imperfect Life (Bantam Books: 2000, 2003), 152.

Saturday, 23 March 2019

Tending the Roots

The resident sweetie has caught a bug. He’s in its grip, and he hasn’t been able to shake it. You might even say it’s been taking over his life.

The bug? Genealogy!

A month or two ago, we went to a church breakfast at which a guest speaker talked about his passion for genealogy. He warned us about the dangers of getting involved, that once we dipped our toes into that water, we just might become addicted. I didn’t need another addiction...fabric and writing are enough to keep me on a high. So I wasn’t tempted.  But Al didn’t listen.

When we got home, he pulled our family history books off the shelf and revisited them. We are blessed to have 3 bound books covering three of our four branches of ancestry. The fourth branch is written up in a list of begats, stretching back to the 14th  century, assembled by a cousin. We also have a book written by my dad, a memoir of his life written when he was in his 70s. When we acquired these books and lists years ago, we thought they were pretty interesting. But being younger then, we didn’t dig much deeper.

And then we had breakfast with the genealogist. Before you can say “Bob’s your uncle” (or “Bouke’s your Grandfather” if you’re Dutch), Al was registered with, a genealogy research engine on the internet. The internet has changed everything in this field. With click of a mouse and the flash of a credit card – ching-ching! – you can find all kinds of information without poking through thousands of dusty church record books.

This record of one of Al's forefathers is now digitized on line. 

Using the books as reference, he began filling in little boxes online with info he’d gleaned. 

Those little boxes led to everything else, including the fever that grips him now, the kind that has him muttering, “Just one more ancestor before bedtime” or wondering how he’s going to solve the mystery of someone on the tree who was born in 1749 and appears, according to the records, to have been baptized twice, five years apart.

I’m glad Al is doing this, but filling in the blanks is not my cup of tea. I’m much more interested in the stories behind the information. The stories tell me not so much about who I’ve come from, but rather about who I am right now. These stories reveal my ancestors’ passions, beliefs, characters, struggles and joys – the characteristics that formed the roots of my family. Roots are vital to a tree, and so are they to a family. Roots nourish, support, and anchor both a tree, and a family. The older I get, the more I understand and appreciate this.

Images of trees are important to me. This is one of many I've created.
When I was younger, I couldn’t understand my dad’s rigid loyalty to a conservative brand of Reformed religion. But when I read in my dad’s story that a great-great grandfather joined other tenant farmers in a court case against the rich landlord who thought he had the right to choose a a more liberal minister for the parish church, I begin to understand. Those were the roots he grew out of. (And, by the way, the farmers won their case.) When I read in a great-grandfather’s life story that his dad, a merchant of dry goods, was still peddling his wares door-to-door at the age of 80, and refused to retire, I begin to understand the pride of calling and the Calvinist work-ethic that is ingrained in our family.

My Great-great grandfather Lammert Lammerts Hofstra who died in 1900.
 “We do not choose to have roots,” writes Gilles Cusson. “We accept those we grew out of.” Ah, yes, acceptance! First we accept so we can appreciate, and then we can thrive and grow.

Four years ago, our family visited the grave of my grandmother, who died when my own mom was less than a year old.

I told my children and grandchildren a little bit about her story, a story I’d learned from my grandfather, and also my great-grandfather, both of whom wrote it down. She was dying of the Spanish flu, leaving behind a loving husband and a beloved child, yet on her deathbed, she told my grandfather, “Now darling, no crying today. It’s a day of celebration, put on your best clothes!” As I told the story, the grandchildren got to work, picking away at the moss that was covering the gravestone’s writing, then decorating it with little wildflowers they found in the grass around it. They were both listening and honouring, and absorbing the story into the fibres of their being.

“Just think, Oma,” said my oldest granddaughter, 11 at the time. “If she had not lived, we would not be here.”

Genealogy: the RS takes care of the logistics, and I will take care of the stories, so that our roots remain strong and well-tended. I like where this team work is taking us.

Saturday, 23 February 2019

I Choose to Weave

The Crow holed up last week, conserving energy until Snowmageddon was over.

It’s over! The sun is shining, the snow is melting fast, the days are getting longer, and I think it’s safe to pop my head out of the hole and get on with life. Or is it?

What do you see when you look out at the world? There’s the good, the bad, and the ugly – but mostly, it seems, we tend to be bombarded by the bad and the ugly in our news feeds. Maybe I should just turn right around and turtle back into my hole. It’s just too much.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this because of an op-ed article in the New York Times, written by moderate conservative David Brooks. (See link, below.) Brooks says he hears stories of pain every week, stories about bullying, racism, hateful words and angry acts directed at anyone who is “not my tribe.”

“These different kinds of pain share a common thread,” he writes. “Our lack of healthy connection to each other ... results in a culture of fear, distrust, tribalism, shaming and strife.”

The social fabric – the glue which holds a society together, the bonds which people share – is tearing apart, leaving big holes for us to fall through.

Over many centuries we’ve carefully woven this fabric out of tradition, spiritual values, and civility, trying to form a culturally rich and socially cohesive community.
Over the last six decades, however, Individualism has gone front and center as a social construct.  We place high value on freedom, self-expression and personal fulfilment, all good things. But the pendulum has swung too far: we have forgotten to balance that with community, working together, civic duty, and the common good. And that’s dangerous. It’s not the way it’s supposed to be.

“We are born into relationships, and the measure of our life is in the quality of our relationships. “We” precedes “me”,” says Brooks.

But not so much anymore. Stereotyping, verbal assaults, abuse of the powerless, angry vindictive rants – it’s everywhere you look, sometimes even glorified. Freedom of self-expression can look pretty ugly. This is perhaps when we want to hide our head in the sand, crawl back into our holes.

But Brooks decided to escape from his hole and check out what else is out there. He looked beyond the forces that rip apart the social fabric, and found what he names Weavers, people and organizations that are not motivated by power, money, status, and a me-first mentality. They want to live in right relation with others and to serve the community. With their deeds, they are mending the social fabric.

Their stories abound. Look around you, which is what I did, and this is what I saw, just in our small community:

A fundraiser for 17 families who had lost their possessions and their rented homes in a flood was successful beyond anyone’s wildest dreams. Rotary clubs in our Valley have raised the money to build miles and miles of trails enjoyed by all. People return dropped wallets containing vital documents and lots of money. The local Grannies are tireless in holding fundraisers to support grandmothers in Africa. Compassionate volunteers staff the Cancer Agency that one of my friends has needed lately. A neighbour uses his snowblower to clear the driveways on our street. An organization here in town pays expenses for families whose children need medical treatment in larger urban hospitals. The Coldest Night movement sends out teams of people who walk the streets in solidarity with those who live there, while raising money for our local shelter society. An anonymous thank-you note arrives in the mailbox of a committee I work on. A downtown church is open 7 days a week, hosting AA groups, a soup kitchen, food bank, clothing depot, toy lending library and more. If you look around, I’m sure it will take no time at all to make a list of ten people or organizations that are Weavers in your community. Try it! There, doesn’t that feel better?

“Being around these people has been one of the most uplifting experiences of my life,” says Brooks. “... it’s made me want to be more neighborly, to be more active and intentional in how I extend care.”

It’s very easy to be a ripper of the social fabric. I know, because too often I find myself tearing down rather than building up. It’s very easy to chime in with the loud voices that cry outrage, derision, shame, and fear. We don’t have to follow, but it’s the easy road to take.

But if being a ripper is a choice, then so is being a weaver. When we accept that we are all in this together, then it makes sense that we come together and work together, that we talk together and walk together.

And the more we spread the good news that Weavers are working in our communities, the less room there is for Rippers to do their work. So what am I waiting for? Time to crawl out of the hole.

You can read more about this at  and hear him talk about Project Weave at

PS: If you want some eye candy to go with this post, check out the art of Lillian Blades at