Sunday, 30 October 2016

Fourth Quarter Thoughts

For weeks, I’ve been thinking that I need to write an answer to the blog I posted in April this year. In that blog, I wrote about dormancy – that I felt as though my life was in a dormant phase, waiting for conditions to be right so I could find answers to a question I’ve been asking myself.

This was the question:  Now that I am in the 4th quarter of this game of life, what am I supposed to be doing? What is good, and worthwhile, and meaningful and my best use of the time remaining?

Over the months of thinking about this, some things have become clearer. It helps to know I’m not the only one who thinks about these things, and that wiser heads than mine can give some advice. This week I came across a blog by Parker Palmer, which I’d like to share because he’s such a wise man and way ahead of me on this road, this adventure, called life.

You can read the blog at the website of On Being, a wonderful exploration of spiritual ideas from a wide variety of sources. Palmer’s weekly blog appears at this  address,

I’ve also reprinted it here, slightly rearranging the words.

A Shrine to Meaning
by Parker Palmer

I love this poem. It needs little commentary from me. Behind it lies a question many of us ask ourselves from time to time:

    by Leonard Nathan

    So you aren’t Tolstoy or St. Francis
    or even a well-known singer
    of popular songs and will never read Greek
    or speak French fluently,
    will never see something no one else
    has seen before through a lens
    or with the naked eye.

    You’ve been given just the one life
    in this world that matters
    and upon which every other life
    somehow depends as long as you live,
    and also given the costly gifts of hunger,
    choice, and pain with which to raise
    a modest shrine to meaning.

Given my small, ordinary, un-famous, and fleeting life, what can I do that’s of true worth and value? Then it offers an answer that I find simple, real, moving, and doable.

I re-read this poem occasionally and ask myself, “Using everything I have — including my own ‘costly gifts of hunger, choice, and pain’ — what can I do today to keep raising the ‘modest shrine to meaning’ I'd like to create with my life?”

Maybe it’s planting a tree, maybe it’s a random act of kindness to a stranger, maybe it’s offering comfort to someone who’s hurting, maybe it’s writing a thank-you letter to a mentor who saw your potential and drew it out...

There’s always something meaningful I can do to honor the gift of life in myself, others, and the world around us. Just do it!


Saturday, 15 October 2016

Safe or Sorry?

“Let’s take the trailer out for one more run before we kiss camping goodbye for another year,” I suggested to the RS.  “Let’s go to Tofino.”

Tofino, on the West Coast of Vancouver Island, is known for many things: fabulous surfing beaches, whale watching tours, funky ambience, good restaurants. Mild temperatures year round. At this time of year, tourists begin arriving for storm-watching season,  but that was not our goal. We wanted a quiet, relaxing time with lots of beach walks and reading

So we packed up and took off on Monday this week. It was a beautifully sunny day. Although the road to Tofino is twisty and narrow with lots of ups and downs, the trip was uneventful. The set-up took hardly any time at all. The campground had all the amenities, including wifi, was well treed and fronted on the beach. We walked there and watched the sun go down and congratulated ourselves on this good idea.

Day Two: another beautiful day. Another beautiful walk, this time around the lighthouse at Ucluelet. The interpretive signs told of storms and shipwrecks galore, but the sea was calm and blue. Ah, yes, this was the life.

Later that evening, we checked our e-mail and facebook. Uhoh. “This doesn’t sound good,” I said to the resident sweetie.

Announcements bordered in red, with lurid neon lines on weather maps, spelled out trouble. The remnants of Typhoon Songda were headed our way, and would be most felt on open West-facing coastlines. That's where we were.

We could expect winds gusting up to 100 km./hr. and 200 mm of rain over the next three days. There would be three storms, each becoming more intense, with the first hitting us on Wednesday evening. Anything not tied down would be prone to flying about, tree limbs might fall, and of course, there would be power outages.

Suddenly, this trip did not sound like such a good idea after all. We went to bed in a somber mood, and my sleep was disturbed with  dreams of downed power lines draped over our trailer ... or worse.  We were ready to pack it up early and get out while the going was good the following day. Actually, we were ready to run away from possible danger.

We are realizing, as we get older, that we are more aware of danger all around us. Just driving out to the Coast, pulling a trailer over narrow winding roads, is dangerous. Taking a walk on the beach or along an interpretive trail can be dangerous too.

The danger has always been there, but perhaps as we age we are becoming more aware of our vulnerability. Our instinct is to retreat, to run for safety. Don’t take a walk on that trail: a bear was sighted there a month ago.

Don’t climb on the rocks, you may twist your ankle. Don’t camp in the forest, a tree may fall and hit you. These are all very real possibilities – small chances, but real possibilities -- and as the saying goes, “Discretion is the better part of valour.”

Yes, but ... Unfortunately, each time we run away, our world becomes a little smaller. We won’t take the trip, we won’t sign up for the new activity, we won’t reach out to people we don’t know, or who are different from us, because, after all, we could get hurt.These experiences could spell danger.

In the morning, before packing up, we took one last walk on the beach -- the beautiful beach blessed by a rainbow.

We looked at each other. Hmm. Almost at the same time, we said, “Let’s tough it out.” We want to live in a world that holds challenges and surprises. There may come a time when our camping and traveling days will be over, when we won’t have the energy and resources to deal with challenges and surprises. But, hopefully, not for a while yet. Right now, we will tough it out, and enjoy!

Which is what we did. We weighed our choices, and opted for the challenge. We accepted the risk and hoped for the best.

The storm Wednesday night was much less severe than predicted, and on Thursday we had a great time walking on the beaches, outrunning the waves that smashed up on the shore, climbing rocks, and dodging the sporadic rainshowers. We watched surfers throw themselves into the waters, reveling in the excitement of trying to stand up on a board. We were happy campers.

Thursday night, the second storm hit, and it hit hard. It knocked down trees, one of which fell on top of  a camper’s car, knocked out power, turned tent poles into a pile of spaghetti.

The possibilities had become real. (But, we slept through most of it and emerged unscathed!)

Friday, we went home.

Did we make the right choice when we decided to tough it out? We think we did, but others would think differently.  What would you have done?

Saturday, 8 October 2016

Far from Perfect

The winter storms have come early. Late in the afternoon yesterday, we were battered by high winds and huge bursts of rain that rattled our windows and lasted all night long. It was a good evening to stay inside.

It was not a good night for the plants, however.  This morning, when we drew back the curtains, we saw the devastation. The dahlias and sunflowers that were still brightening our fall garden were bent and broken.

The sunflower was a goner, laying flat against the ground. This was very sad. It had had a hard life. We planted it in the wrong place to begin with, up against the house wall. It struggled to find enough water to thrive, and during the early summer, we pretty well wrote it off. It was hiding behind some climbing beans, and we forgot it was there. But lo and behold, when the heat of August arrived, it grew ... and grew... and grew. Early in September, we roped it to the downspout. When we left for a two week trip, it had reached the roof. When we came back, it had stretched its bonds and was leaning out over the grass, its many floral heads held on curved stems, stretching out and reaching  for the sun up above. Both the RS and I became the sunflower’s cheerleaders. We jerry-rigged a support structure to prop it upright, and found stronger, unstretchable ropes to hold it there. Its stem was now thicker than my arm, and its top was covered with dozens of buds and flowers.

In the secret language of flowers, sunflowers stand for happiness. That’s how we felt every time we saw it. You go, girl, I said.

But now, the storm had knocked out the supports, and the stem had toppled, pulling out the roots.
What to do?

This is what I did:

The bouquet of bruised flowers joins the last of our produce: imperfect apples and tomatoes not quite ripe. And all quite lovely.
 Sure, the flowers were battered and bruised, with torn petals and twisty stems. But together in that vase, if you didn’t look too closely at the details,  they created a bouquet that will brighten our Thanksgiving table. A perfect rose standing alone in a silver bud vase can’t compete with this gathering together of colour and vibrancy.

As I picked each twisted stem and put it into the vase, I admired its tenacity and thought about how much these happy flowers  can teach us about life. We are all of us a bit battered and bruised and torn up. We’ve had to struggle against adversity, and had the opportunity to grow and become stronger for it. Some of us even now are trying to stay upright as we fight the good fight. And yet, each one of us, with our scars and imperfections, is beautiful. Together we can bring joy to the world and to each other.

And for this, and for so much more, on this weekend when we celebrate Thanksgiving day here in Canada, I give thanks. For all of you, beautiful flowers in my garden, for all the crooked people trying to stand upright, for all the far-from-perfect people who surround us in our communities, who are willing to come together to be more than we are individually, I give thanks. Thanks a lot!

Here's Raffi's simple and yet beautiful song of celebration for all things:

Saturday, 1 October 2016

Crossing the River

We live in a home across the street from the Puntledge River, a river that flows out of glacier-fed Comox Lake and down to the Salish Sea. It’s an important, salmon-bearing stream; we can hear it roaring when the windows are open,  and we walk beside it almost every day. We love that dear old river.

Opa and Solay like to fish at the river. This photo was taken several years ago. They still like to fish there.
In our wills, we have  opted for cremation and let our kids know about our wishes. “It would be nice, however,” we told them, “if you used some of your inheritance money to buy a bench or plant a tree beside the Puntledge River in our memory.” They agreed. All in the future, which, we hope, is still long, long away. But one never knows. We all have to cross that river sometime.  What if the future arrives sooner than we think?

Our kids are wiser than we are. This summer, in celebration of our 45th anniversary, most of them came home for a hangout with Mom and Dad. They planned  the day and the meals for us – it was lovely. On the schedule was a walk at Nymph Falls Regional Park, a lovely rambling forested space criss-crossed with walking, biking, and horse trails, and fronting on the Puntledge River. A walk by our favourite  river, what could be better?

The little ones ran on ahead, followed closely by their parents, and the RS and I strolled behind, counting our blessings. We rounded a corner, and saw a strange sight: the grandies and a couple of their parents had created a human bench for us to sit on. A little presentation had been planned.

“We’ve been thinking about your bench by the river, the one you want after you’re gone,  and we thought you might want to choose the wording for a plaque now, before we pick it out for you,” said the oldest son. Knowing my family’s sense of humour, this was not a bad idea.  “Sit down and we’ll show you some possible wordings.”

He held out possible signs:

Wet Paint. 
Not exactly inviting.

Come unto me, all you who are weary, and I will give you rest.
True, but  sacreligious.. This bench is not Jesus.

(a rude Dutch expression, which cannot be reprinted. Absolutely not.

From here, you can watch the river’s downfall. 
Thumbs down: This bench is not meant to be a tourist guide.

For instructions on sitting, please see Comox Valley Manual 3.674
Yeah, right. I don’t think so.

In loving memory of  Al and Jessie Schut.
Aww, sweet! But perhaps a trifle boring?

And finally:

Feels so good to have a snuggle with a person that you love.
Ah, that’s more like it. This is a line in a song I have sung to my grandkids since they were very small. I told my kids I wanted it sung at my funeral, but maybe a plaque on a bench would do just as well.

I believe in snuggling. It’s a very healthy thing to do. The resident sweetie and I, in fact, both love it. Google tells me there is a saying by Virginia Satir, a respected family therapist, “We need four hugs a day for survival. We need eight hugs a day for maintenance. We need twelve hugs a day for growth.” We aim to surpass maintenance.

We agreed they could put this wording on our “memorial bench” by the river when the time came. Then they sprung another surprise on us: they’d all pitched in, got additional contributions from Al and my siblings, and our bench would be built NOW. The future had arrived sooner than we expected. Delightful!

The other day, the RS and my sister Sue with her husband Bob, went down for a walk to visit “our” newly installed bench. We sat and had a snuggle. We are thrilled.

It’s waiting for a visit from you, dear readers, too. Come sit and have a snuggle while you still  can. The future is now.