Sunday, 28 June 2020

View from the Crow's Nest: I wait in line.

The line-ups! Covid-19 has opened our eyes to the reality of queues, as the British would call them. The word comes from the Latin, “cauda” meaning tail. And when you see a long line-up outside at opening time, you can appreciate the etymology of the word: it does look like a giant tail stretching around the building. We avoid those kinds of waits, and drive away if there’s a long queue. It’s not good for the soul to put yourself in situations that you know will wind you up and leave you impatient and short-tempered.

But suppose the line is short, and you get in. The other day, I was in Costco for a quick “gather the necessities” trip. Yes, I was wearing my mask. I did my best to keep my 6 foot distance. But once I was finished my shopping, the check-out line-up was massive – from the front to the back of the store, and then half-way down a side aisle, all the carts spaced at 6 foot distance. I could have walked away, but the line moved quickly, and my soul wasn’t in danger of overheating. I was about two-thirds through, and I was still breathing normally.

Until...out of a side-aisle came an older couple, their buggy laden with those “conspicuous consumption” items that entice impulse shoppers to spend a wad.

The man’s head swivelled as he surveyed the situation, and then he did it: he nodded to the little woman, and then he pushed his cart and his wife into the line right in front of me. No mask, no 6 foot distancing, just someone with an attitude: “I’m a loyal shopper here, I’m entitled to a quick get-away, and the rest of you can just go fly a kite.” At least, that’s how I interpreted it – a jaded view, I admit. And that is not good for the observer’s soul.

I wonder what you would have done.

Perhaps you’re one of these “live and let-live” people who give folks the benefit of the doubt. Oh, I envy you! You’re thinking, “Well, maybe they have to be somewhere in 15 minutes, and so I’ll let them cut in.” Or, you say, “Oh, it’s only one person, not worth getting hot and bothered.” Or, “Karma will catch up with them in the end. I’ll let the universe take care of retribution.” or even, “What Would Jesus Do?” Jesus would be plenty busy at Costco. (If you want a chuckle, check out the link here...

I’d like to be like that, but I haven’t evolved spiritually to that level yet.

Maybe  you are the silent sufferer, the person who doesn’t like confrontations. Your appearance doesn’t change, but your insides do. You are muttering to yourself, “Okay,*@&#, be that way. I hope you get to the checkout and find out that you forgot your wallet. I hope every item in that cart needs to be returned because it is dysfunctional. I hope the shoes you’re buying give you a blister. And may the fleas of a thousand camels infest your armpits.” I’ve been known to do this. Basically you are not wishing your neighbour well. This is not good for the soul.

Or, perhaps you are a little braver, and you let your displeasure show. You begin talking to the guy in line behind you, loud enough so Mr. And Mrs. Entitled can hear you: “Did you see that guy? He butted in line right in front of me. I guess he thinks he’s better than everyone else.” This is called passive-aggressive behaviour and I have been known to engage in it. Not good for the soul, either. Mr. And Mrs. Entitled will pretend they didn’t hear you, but at least you can tell yourself that you got it off your chest. Except you didn’t. You are still burning hours later when you recount the experience to a friend. Also not good for the soul.

So here’s what I did: “Excuse me, sir, the end of the line is back there,” I said, loud enough so he couldn’t help but hear me. If I’d stopped at that, my soul would have been safe. The ball is in his court. Now it’s up to him to do the right thing, and if he doesn’t, well, that’s his problem.

But this man moved into another mode, from Mr. Entitled to Mr. Schmoozer. “Oh, really?” he said innocently.  And the ball is in my court again. “Yes,” I said. If I’d stopped there, again I would have been safe. But, no, I had to be Ms. School Marm, telling off the naughty child: “...and I think you knew that too.” Busted, buddy. Ha. My soul’s warning lights were flashing, but did I pay attention? NO.

He smiles sheepishly. He doesn’t deny it. “Well,” he says, “will you let us in, anyway?” Nice play on my kindness and sympathy...which is not, unfortunately for him, in large supply now.

“Oh, I think not,” I say. “It’s not just me, it wouldn’t be fair to all the people who have been waiting behind me. Anyway, the line moves quickly.” I smiled encouragingly. In one fell swoop, I have taken away his escape net, showed my true colours, and sent him off with his tail between his legs. He has been suitably punished. I felt pretty proud of myself ... until I began thinking about it later. Waiting in line may not be good for the soul, but self-examination definitely is.

So I ask myself now, not, WWJD? But WWJSay? Jesus might have asked his audience, “Who sinned the greater here, the line jumper or the lady with the mouth on her?”

I had three chances to do the right thing, and I blew them all. And did I mention, my soul has a bit of growing to do? Sigh. Why does it take so long to learn?

I gotta say, shopping at Costco is not good for the soul. At least not mine. Next time, I’ll send the resident sweetie.

Saturday, 20 June 2020

View from the Nest: I receive a blessing

This morning I received an email that inspires me to write another blog. We’ve had too much sad, anxious, and depressing news these days. Time to turn our thoughts to blessings.

The back story is this: for my birthday, my uncle in Holland sent me a photo of my mom and dad that I had never seen before. They are waving goodbye to my aunt and uncle after a visit to Canada.

I sent a file of this photo to my sisters. That wave was so familiar to us, because mom and dad often had occasion to say goodbye as their three daughters made their way in the world. Fran said the wave was like a blessing to us. Then she went on to write this:

“The word "blessing" has been an important one for me this year. I am thinking a lot about blessing as an active word and something that we need to practice more as human beings. Each act of building connection and signaling to some one else "You are not alone" is a blessing. Especially in this time of COVID-19, I think that we are being given a chance to rediscover how to bless each other in this world and to recognize that, in blessing, the connection also blesses us.”
Such wise words for a woman who’s just turned 60!

“Each act of building connection and signaling to someone else ‘You are not alone’ is a blessing... and in blessing, the connection also blesses us.” Yes! So here’s the blog I needed to write today (the crow told me so!)

Two of our grandgirls belong to the Pacific Mennonite Children’s choir in Abbotsford. We have enjoyed their performances tremendously. They’ve won awards.

the choir receiving their second place trophy at an international choir festival in 2018.

Their choir director, Betty-Ann Braun, is passionate and skilled.  They sang at her wedding several years ago and they love her.

That's Betty-Ann in the centre of the photo.

Last year, Betty and her husband had a little boy, Felix Hamish. The baby had many medical challenges, but seemed to be doing well in spite of his limitations. In the meantime, the choir had made plans for a big trip to Scotland to participate in the Stirling Bridge International Arts Festival, Scotland's music festival for choirs, orchestras and bands in July. They were even going to sing at Abbotsford House, the home of Sir Walter Scott, on July 1.Felix's 1st birthday. The kids were super-excited. What an adventure they would have!

And then came March, and Covid happened.  The kids prepared themselves emotionally for the cancellation of the trip that was sure to come. But a second blow was harder to accept. Little Felix Hamish died suddenly and unexpectedly in April.

We often think of childhood as a carefree, happy time, but that’s not always true, is it? We cannot shelter our children from reality. Anxiety, depression and sadness are a part of their lives too. It takes the wisdom of Solomon to help them navigate through these dark waters, especially when we ourselves are reeling from our own anxieties in the pandemic.

And this is where the blessing comes in. A young woman in the choir, a high school student and a gifted pianist, wanted to do something to help comfort their director and husband in this enormous loss. The choir had learned a song earlier called “Wynken, Blynken, and Nod,” a lullaby that had been arranged by director Betty-Ann. Recording engineer Phil Janz volunteered to help her. Then she reached out to all the children in the choir asking if they would come in and record this lullaby as a gift for their director and her husband. They came into a church 4 at a time, well separated, and were recorded singing their parts. It took a long, long, evening to get it all done, and many more hours of mixing the recording to showcase these wonderful voices singing words of comfort. But the recording was ready and was played when a few family members gathered at the church for a memorial service.

“Each act of building connection and signaling to someone else ‘You are not alone’ is a blessing,” wrote my sister this morning. In blessing others, we ourselves are also blessed.

It seems to me that these children and young people did something beautiful that said, “You are not alone!” We can’t all sing or make a recording, but we can reach out in our own way to bring a shower of blessings to this world.

We can say, in our own way, “You are not alone.”

Recently, Betty-Ann sent out a note with links to the song and a video of the baby. She wrote:

1. Kevin Schut put together a video for the PMCC youtube channel highlighting the singers of PMCC:
2. I made a video with pictures of Felix:
Feel free to share either with friends and family.
Thank-you again to PMCC for making such a beautiful recording.

 Betty-Ann Braun
Pacific Mennonite Children's Choir
Artistic Director

Monday, 15 June 2020

View from the Nest: The Crow starts her day.

I had a restless night, so slept a little later than normal. Stumbled out of bed and made my way to the kitchen to start the coffee. Kissed the RS good morning, then picked up my cell phone and checked out a) the ongoing lexulous game with a friend in Ontario b) email c) FaceBook. There, on the Contemplative Monk site was this post:

Well, now, who would turn down help to start the day right? So I’m eager to follow this advice. Let’s see, how am I doing?

1. Stay off social media for at least 30 minutes. Oops. Oh, no, I’ve failed already.

2. Drink a glass of water. Oops again. I’m sipping coffee instead. Fail times two.

3. Have a moment of gratitude. Oh, what a relief – my first thought when I awaken is almost always “Thank you!” Thanks for another night. Thanks for another day. So I passed that one.

One out of three habits to start my day off right: this doesn’t bode well.

Fourth habit: Meditate and /or exercise. I am going to amend the list – that will be #4b. I insert #4a: Wake Up.

I have to get my brain slowly up to speed. I jot down in a journal what happened the day before, in point form. No reflections needed because the brain is not ready yet. Then, a Sudoku. Ah, yes, now the wheels are beginning to turn. NOW I can begin to think about #4b and the rest of the list.

Now that my brain is awake, though, I am becoming suspicious. Did the Contemplative Monk really write this list? All these things must happen in the 30 minutes before you finally get to check your social media, including meditation/exercise? And it all happens before breakfast, in thirty minutes??? This doesn’t sound very contemplative to me. I’m going out on a limb here and calling the contemplative monk out: I think he’s actually a time-management consultant, a goal-oriented get-her-done kind of person, who maximizes every hour of the day. You, Mr. Contemplative Monk, are FAKE News.

I mix up the list to suit myself from here on.

4. Get yourself ready and start your day. I get dressed, put on my walking shoes, grab my camera and rain poncho and I’m off. (Depending on the time I get up, either before or after breakfast.)

5. Meditate and/or exercise. These two for me go hand-in-hand. I have found out, the hard way, that I need to do my walk first thing in the morning; it gets increasingly harder to push myself out the door as the day goes on. Exercise is not something that comes naturally or easily to me; I envy all those who just love putting on their hiking boots or cycling helmet and giving their bodies a workout, but I’d rather be creating or writing or almost anything else. So before I go out, I give myself a pep talk. I tell myself that he first step out the door is always the hardest. I tell myself it’ll be a short walk through the neighbourhood, it doesn't have to be long. But, surprise, surprise, I often don't come home till an hour or more later after rambling the trails along the river and through the woods. It’s been 15 days, now, that I’ve kept to my June intention and taken my daily walk, and I’ve experienced a lot, which I will share in another blog. (In the interest of full disclosure, one of those walks was three times around the new garden path, slowly and meditatively. You may call that cheating, but I don’t!)

6. Set and affirm your goals for the day. Hmm. This sounds so sensible. Unless you set out an intention, you often won’t achieve a whole lot. This has been true for me in the three months of projects to mark off the days of April, May, and now June. But...if I set and affirm my goals for the day before I take my walk, I wouldn’t give myself permission to take those leisurely rambles, which give so much direction in my life and often determine how I will spend my day. Unless we are careful, the goals can become gods, which must be obeyed and worshiped at all costs. In our hope to get things done and mark off the items on our lists, we may miss out on equally wonderful things that might be calling out to us. 

So I think I’ll add another item to this list:

7. Remain totally open the promptings of the spirit, the call of the universe, your own personal mission to which you have been called. If unexpected opportunities present themselves to practice loving acts, bring joy to others, heal a hurt, speak out about injustice and/or a dozen other things that the world badly needs these days, chuck the goals and projects and DO IT!

And that will make for a very good day.

Tuesday, 2 June 2020

View from the Crow's Nest: I take a walk

May is over, and my decision to keep a log book every day that month was a good one for me. But now it's June. Now how do I mark off the days?

I awoke this morning haunted by the after-effects of a bad dream, full of violence and conflict. I opened the curtains and saw the rain. This was not going to be a good day. Then I turned on the computer and read about the devastation south of the border, the anger, the turmoil, the violence – all a backdrop which provided a photo-op for the President’s appearance, holding a Bible up in his hands in front of a cathedral. Jesus made his way into Jerusalem riding on a donkey, while the crowds threw down their cloaks to make a royal carpet, but this man cleared a path with riot shields and tear gas. This was a horrible, no good, very bad day in the making.

Horrible things are happening, and I feel helpless. A sense of dread and doom looms like a black cloud over me – is this the beginning of Armageddon, where the last battle between good and evil will be fought? For a while, I wallow in the anguish and outrage I feel. There is hatred in my heart.

What to do in such a situation?

Martin Luther King’s words are as true now as when he said them years ago. But I'm not feeling very loving.

I decide to take a walk. This is my intention for June, my way to mark off the days: I will take a walk on a Valley trail every day. It was raining, so today I would walk in the rain. It matched my mood. But my intention for today's walk was to open my ears, my eyes and my soul, and to dismiss angry thoughts if they arose. Maybe if I was quiet enough, I would hear the Creator of the Universe whisper some words that would help me deal with the cauldron of emotions in my heart.

I took along my camera since it helps me focus on the small things around me – the tiny flowers, fungi on bark, honeysuckle blossoms, mosses and lichens. There's such beauty existing side by side with humanity's ugliness.

I heard birdsong and beebuzz, the rushing water of the river, the raindrops splashing on the leaves. I started to breathe a little easier. Each time the “little angry devil thoughts” poked their way up, I shooed them away. There is a time to be angry, and there is a time to be silent.

Long story short: there were no blinding insights, not even whispered words of wisdom. But somehow, about halfway through the walk, my breathing lightened up, a few tears flowed, and some thoughts came floating to the surface.

The first thought: “my mission in life is to align myself with God’s creative energy.” I wrote those words down several years ago in my journal when I was trying to figure things out. When the Postman of the Universe comes to deliver a message, I want to be home to receive it. I want my life to flow in the direction of Love, which is my ultimate concept of God.

The second thought: as you walk the trails of life, you will often find that you have to make choices between this trail or that one. Which one will you take? Will you take the one that ends up on the side of love and light, or the one that ends up in darkness, anger and hate?

I'm still not feeling the love...but I'm pointing in the right direction again. I think these morning walks will be good for the soul.