Monday, 24 August 2020

View from the Crow's Nest: I learn a lesson in living

It was a somber start to the day: rain pouring down from low grey clouds. Somber, too, because we were heading to Vancouver to attend an “inurnment” – placing the ashes of a dear friend Eileen beside the ashes of her husband John, who had died several years earlier. Now they were gone, both of them, our friends for more than 40 years. Eileen had died in April, and because of the pandemic, we weren’t able to go and say good-bye beforehand. Because of the pandemic, as well, this ceremony couldn’t be held until now, 4 months later. The weather matched the sad feelings we had as we made the journey on slick roads to board the ferry. 

Living on the island is wonderful, but ferries make things more difficult, especially in these days of pandemic, when numbers allowed on board are limited. We were fortunate to be able to board within an hour of arriving at the terminal. But passengers were advised to remain in their cars for the duration of the 90 minute trip, and to wear masks if they needed to visit the restrooms. Usually, the atmosphere on a ferry, especially in the summer, is festive – people are often on holidays and love watching the scenery glide by. But not now. The sense of adventure didn’t reach us, either, parked down in the hold.  We doom-scrolled through our cell phones, assaulted by bad news stories. We ate our packed  sandwiches in silence. 

It was still raining when we reached Vancouver and made our way to the hotel in a high-rise area but close to the seawall. A peek out the window grimly revealed the sights and sounds of construction all around us. A Covid-aware poster told us what we couldn’t have here: no coffee maker, no pool, no hot tub, no restaurant, no bar. We unpacked. The ceremony would take place the following morning, so we had 20 hours to fill in a small room in a rain-soaked city. Books, Sudoku, Cribbage, TV... they would have to keep us amused. We lay down for a rest.

And then: the sun came out.

Vancouver in the rain: somber and dreary. But Vancouver in the sunshine invites you out to play. We pulled on our jackets and walking shoes and set out to see what we could see, and to find an interesting outdoor place for dinner. We got rained on periodically, but we persevered. We watched people – parents pushing strollers, cyclists, joggers, a nurse supporting an older gentleman on his daily walk, kids chatting on benches; we watched little water taxis zipping around on the bay, we explored our way around the neighbourhood.



We settled on a Persian restaurant with an outdoor patio and had an excellent meal. 

The ceremony itself, the next day, was also wonderful. All of it was held outdoors, including a high tea around a courtyard fountain. We donned our masks and said good-bye, yes, but we also celebrated, told stories, shared our emotions. 

And then I remembered back to a day when I was staying with Eileen, who was dying. I was her companion/meal-maker and friend for 10 days when she needed a little extra support. She said to me one morning, “Enough about dying. Today I want to live. Let’s go to Granville Island.” And we did, she on her scooter, and I on foot, taking the Sky Train and water taxis, zooming around that funky neighbourhood of shops and restaurants, enjoying ourselves thoroughly.


Perhaps Eileen’s words have a message for us in these days of pandemic, racism, climate change, and political divisiveness. These are indeed somber times, and we do need to take that seriously. But we also have the precious gifts of life, love, friendship, community and more. To honour her grit, her determination, and her courage, I need to remember that today, every day, is for living. Even rainy days.

Each cloudy moment had a touch of silver, reminding us of the adventure that life is.

PS: The return journey on the ferry was one of those silvery moments that will remain etched in my memory. We were the second last car that got on the ferry, and were parked outside at the back of the ship. The sun was shining, the breeze was warm, and the scenery gliding by spectacular. We took the folding lawn chairs out of our trunk and set them up to fully take advantage of the opportunity we’d been given to have a 2 hour “mini-cruise” experience. In the absence of wine, we snacked on potato chips. Now that’s living! 

Sunday, 2 August 2020

View from the Crow's Nest: I watch the second chicken

The other day, I read an interesting story on FB. The story comes from the book The Opposite of Worry by L.J. Cohen.

The gist of the story is this: a scientist is investigating the cycle of fear and recovery and does an experiment involving chicks. He takes the chick out its box and gives it a “hawk-eye”, imitating a hungry predator. When he places the chick back in its box, the chick huddles motionless for about a minute, then cautiously pops up and begins moving about because she believes the danger is over.

Then he repeats the experiment, but this time he gives two chicks the hawk eye at the same time.  Then he placed them together in a box. This time both chicks remained immobilized for about five minutes. Presumably the chicks are taking their cues for impending danger from each other, and it takes much longer for them to feel safe. You might say they were “egging each other on” in the cycle of fear.

In the last round, the experimenter lets one chick wander around the box while immobilizing the other with a hawk-eye. This time when the first chick is returned to the box, the fear-recovery cycle was short - the chick popped back up after mere seconds.  The frightened chicken looked to the second chicken to see that all was safe.  Since the second chicken was walking around happily, the first chicken felt that all was well.

So. It’s time for some truth telling. This month I have been the first chick, the Chicken Little who cries that the sky is falling. I’ve been given the hawk-eye by society, and I am almost paralyzed.

The pandemic, the horrible political situation in the US, and a growing realization that I cannot stay in my safe little bubble in the studio forever, has finally caught up with me. I’m guessing that many of you, too, have hit this wall at some time in the last months. Maybe you are there now.

As I’ve recorded in this blog, I walked tall through March, April, May and June. But July has been an epic fail. No unfinished projects got finished. I haven’t been walking or writing hardly at all. And it feels as though there are few daily delights to make my heart sing. What has happened to my resolve to dwell peacefully in these troubled times? Why do I feel so flat? I woke up this morning telling myself, “Enough of this! I need to recalibrate.”

The story about the chickens pointed out what I might do: instead of huddling helplessly waiting for the sky to fall, I needed to look around for a Second Chicken, the one that is sending out a message of hopefulness. Maybe I can take my cue from her, rather than from the noise and tumult that is swirling around me.

Are there such voices? Oh, yes there are! Thank God for that. Just scrolling through my FB today I came across several wonderful and inspiring posts that I want to share with you.

First, I read the Op-ed written only a few days before he died by civil rights marcher and US Representative John Lewis. I can only imagine how easy it would have been for Lewis to throw up his hands in despair: he’d been beaten, jailed, and persecuted back in the 50s and 60s for his civil activism, but has yet to see the dream of equality become a reality. And yet, he begins his essay with these words: “I want you to know that in the last days and hours of my life you inspired me. You filled me with hope ... when you used your power to make a difference in our society... Though I may not be here with you, I urge you to answer the highest calling of your heart and stand up for what you truly believe. In my life I have done all I can to demonstrate that the way of peace, the way of love and nonviolence is the more excellent way. Now it is your turn to let freedom ring...So I say to you, walk with the wind, brothers and sisters, and let the spirit of peace and the power of everlasting love be your guide.” There are more inspiring words here, and if you haven’t already, I urge you to read it. John Lewis was my first Second Chicken, speaking encouragement, challenge, and hope into my turmoil. 

And then I saw a video entitled Ibi’s Fireflies. It is a beautiful combination of art, music, dance, storytelling, and even science.

Watching it lifted my heart. Ibiyinka Alao, the Nigerian artist who put it together, says, “The heart is like a jar containing fireflies, and one’s capacity to love makes these fireflies into stars...In the middle of disasters, we look to beauty for hope.” Ibi is another Second Chicken, reminding us that there is so much beauty and love in the world, so much to be grateful for. Here’s a link to the video. It’s 17 minutes long, so settle in and enjoy.

And then, I took a walk in the woods. As usual, I emerged half an hour later with a different perspective. If I keep looking up to see if the sky is falling, I will never see the beauty, grace, love, all the good things happening around me, even lying at my feet.

It’s okay to cower for a while in my box, acknowledging that there is danger, but then, it is time to join all the Second Chickens of this world in spreading a message that encourages and inspires. This is how we abide in these trying times.

I first read the story of the chickens on this web page:
The author, Mike Hoogeterp, urges the church to be the Second Chicken, and gives ideas about how it can do this.