Zen And The Art of Friendship Maintenance: Friday, 30th January 2015

Zen And The Art of Friendship Maintenance

Zen (from Buddhism) meaning enlightenment.

A happy surprise happened to me this week: I was asked to join a girlfriend circle with the objective of becoming a new friend to the woman who extended the invitation. A girlfriend circle… How intriguing! A girlfriend circle that is part of an organized network of girlfriend circles… ‘Curiouser and curiouser.’

The rule for this gathering is that there are to be no fewer than six and no more than eight participants who will gather – preferably at a coffee shop – converse, and subsequently decide which (if any) of the women one wishes to befriend. My invitation bears only the name of the gal who invited me (and I don’t even know her), so I’ve no idea who all will be attending. Fascinating, non? The invitation is accompanied by a delightfully pretty card listing the rules by which each woman must abide both at the initial meeting and throughout the period of friendship development and maintenance.

Not knowing anything about this phenomenon, I immediately went on-line to do some research and what I discovered was amazing indeed. This is an enormous movement, mostly active in big cities throughout North America, organized by a handful of creative entrepreneurs (Of course these are businesses…) to help women make new friends. A type of friendship brokerage, I suppose. By typical standards, Cobourg is far too small to catch the attention of these companies, but because our town is rapidly growing with retirees from the GTA, apparently there is a need to help the female diaspora connect and form new friendship circles close to their new homes.

So! Friendship rules? I imagine we all have them, even if we don’t think of them as such. Do I abide? Am I a compliant friend?

Friendship maintenance? When I think of maintenance I think in terms of physical restoration and repair, not human or relationship maintenance. Do I care for and preserve my friendships?

Time for a little soul-searching, methinks…

Spending most of this afternoon thinking about the entirety of my past year (spent on a dialysis machine), it became obvious to me that I’ve typically been despondent, fractious, bitter, cantankerous and probably worst of all, unresponsive to visitors, phone calls and many e-mail messages. In short, I’ve been very difficult to love. Yet my core group of friends, my girls, my sisters, held steadfast throughout against my railings, my bad temper and my silences and suddenly there it is, my Zen moment:

Having, for so long, done all the needing and taking myself, I am woefully overdrawn at the friendship bank!

I feel quite ashamed, both in the realization of this and in the confiding…

Zen And The Art Of Friendship Maintenance!

Yes, I clearly have good friends, the very best of friends in fact, who shower upon me love and support in unlimited measure. But now, now that recovery is on my doorstep, now that life is about to return to my normal, it is my turn – my time – to invest in them the affection, the care and the attention they all so richly deserve. I can do better. I must do better! I need to become a friendship mechanic

The rest of my afternoon was spent reading, critiquing, laughing at, considering and rewriting the list of rules for friendship maintenance. For me, the entire list (a huge one) can be distilled into three words:

Time     Nourishment     Emulation

 The Art Of Friendship Maintenance – Time

Each friend deserves to have time dedicated to her and her alone when she has your undivided attention; time that is intimate, private if she wishes, time that is impenetrable by anything or anyone. Regardless of how busy life becomes, regardless of how ebullient or melancholic I may be feeling, it is very important to share time with each friend, to ensure they feel absolutely supported and understood by me.

The Art Of Friendship Maintenance – Nourishment

Deep and abiding friendships need nourishment to ensure they are able to develop and mature to their full potential but here is where, for me, the friendship maintenance theory becomes nebulous: The women I have befriended are a diverse lot; each is alike any of the others as chalk and cheese. A formulaic approach is futile yet the concept of nourishment is so clearly an essential element of friendship. I believe ‘nourishment’ boils down to understanding what is needed by my friends at any given time and being ready and willing to fill that need, be it as simple as camaraderie, kindness and loyalty or as complex as counsel, sensitivity and confidence.

The Art Of Friendship Maintenance – Emulation

Specifically: Be the friend you would like to have!

Be a good listener, be empathetic, reach out when you sense you’re needed, limit your expectations, be honest, be loyal, be reasonably forgiving, and allow your friends to be each of those things to you, in turn and in time. Emulate, in other words, the friendship you are given.

Enlightenment is one thing. Creating a strategy and then working that plan is another thing altogether!  I truly hope I am able to do just that in the weeks, months and years ahead. Only time will tell…

Next week I will be attending my first girlfriend circle meeting, mindful of the rules I’ve been given. Although I am honoured to have been included, I know I’ll be full of trepidation – it feels like a bit of an audition and I suspect I will hate that. The explicit act of making a friend is new to me. Everything I know about making friends I learned in the schoolyard, every friend I’ve gathered came to me naturally.  How will my audition be received?  Perhaps my next post will be all about this new experience…

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#jesuischarlie: Sunday, 11th January 2015

I am a peacenik. I love that Canada’s military employment in recent years has been of the peacekeeping/refugee camp management/aid-providing nature and not combative. I have been very outspoken on the topic which has caused me a lot of trouble; I have lost friends over the issue, which gutted me, and yet stood firm in my conviction on this topic. I am a peacenik, and a rabid one, apparently. And then…

October Crisis

October has not gone down in the history books as a good month for Canada…

‘October Crisis’ is the name of one of the darkest terrorist events in Canadian History; the 1970 kidnapping of government officials by members of the Front de libération du Québec (FLQ), culminating in the only peacetime use of the War Measures Act in Canada’s history. For 44 years, ‘October Crisis’ has been synonymous with ‘FLQ’.

Last year, and for a new generation of Canadians however, the words ‘October Crisis’ took on a whole new meaning as October 2014 brought two more evil and disturbing acts of terrorism into the lives of Canadians:
❉ Monday, 20th October, 2014: Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu Ramming Attack; and
❉ Wednesday, 22nd October, 2014: Shootings at Parliament Hill, Ottawa.

These two attacks caused the deaths of two Canadian forces officers: Warrant officer Patrice Vincent, rammed by a terrorist’s vehicle in a shopping centre parking lot, succumbed to his injuries in hospital and two days later, at the Canadian National War Memorial, Corporal Nathan Cirillo was shot to death. Although his shooter was deemed mentally unstable, the press have shown distinct connections to jihadists in the Middle East and as such, his shooting is considered by many Canadians to have been the second terrorist attack of the week. I am a peacenik, and yet, these two events have sorely challenged my belief…

Just two weeks prior, speaking in Parliament on Friday, 3rd October 2014, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced that The Royal Canadian Airforce and six CF-18 fighter planes would be deployed for bombing sorties in Iraq as part of a six-month Canadian Armed Forces’ “counter-terrorism” mission. Of course my hackles rose, of course I spoke out, of course I got into a lot of hot water because I am – in my heart, in my soul – most definitely, a peacenik. And yet…

A New Year Brings Optimism

This is a new year, and with the October crisis behind us, I was hoping for a peaceful 2015. A year with less conflict and violence, in which we could all do a much better job of getting along. I wanted a year where I personally might be less judgmental, less critical and instead be more tolerant, more understanding and more empathetic. I am, after all, a peacenik. And then…

#jesuischarlie

Paris! Paris happened. Terrorists attacked the Paris headquarters of the magazine ‘Charlie Hebdo’ killing twelve. TWELVE! Journalists, one and all. A direct attack on one of the freedoms we westerners hold most dear – freedom of speech. Like so many, I changed my profile and cover photos to read #jesuischarlie – the hashtag that went viral in a matter of minutes. Was I ever an admirer of the political satire or the cartoons or the polemics of Charlie Hebdo? No, not at all. For me, satire/polemics too often dip into the arena of insult, humiliation and hurt. I cannot support hurting anyone even in the pursuit of political illumination. Charlie Hebdo is not, was never, my cup of tea. But I am frightfully aware that those twelve journalists did not deserve to die. On Wednesday morning, they all awoke, perhaps showered, perhaps shared coffee with a partner or loved one, perhaps read a newspaper, perhaps met a colleague for breakfast, perhaps walked the dog, perhaps took a turn at the school run – all ordinary, everyday activities. They reported for work, sat down to a meeting – and I’ll bet eleven of the twelve hated meetings – only to be gunned down. Defenceless, and gunned down. Was not and am not a fan of Charlie Hebdo. But were they wrong to be publishing the cartoons that made them such a target? No. Never that! Media is, after all, a buffet. We all choose which to listen to, watch or read. The more choices that exist, the better the buffet. No doubt! Je suis Charlie Hedbo, je suis une peacenik, and yet…

Question: Does the goodness that makes up so many people in this world surpass the evil that is personified in the terrorists?

One thing I do know: I am not Charlie Hebdo – despite the hashtag. But who am I, really? What defines Pamela Perrault? Do I have a purpose? Do I contribute? Is my contribution worthy? How can I do better? Do I make the most of my freedom of speech? Is my speech divisive or inclusive? Am I too judgmental? Do I recognize and celebrate the good in others?

Actually, although none of us are perfect, I recognize that I especially have lots of room for improvement. Only this week I was called out on my negativity by one of my high school friends. I am flawed, but I know I can do better – all of us can! #jesuischarlie has ignited within me the desire for improvement and, I hope, the power to change – to show kindness, to share love, to be mindful of how my actions, my words and my expressions affect the people around me, to be more reflective and less reactionary, and to be more compassionate and tolerant of the people around me.

Of course I am flawed. Of course I will fail from time to time. But the test of my resolve will be wether or not I am able to regain my journey to peace. I am, after all, a peacenik…

Kindness MT 5.28.50 PM

Kindness, Actually: Friday, 9th January 2015

♪♪Today I’m all about the face, ‘bout the face ‘bout facebook. ♪♪

Facebook is one part of social media. Social. It is not a news feed. Is there then, a limit, either by volume or severity, to the serious, complaining, gloomy and alarming stories we can or should tolerate and assimilate on our facebook feeds? My knee-jerk response was a resounding NO! I am, after all, a self-professed news junkie. I can never have too much! I suppose a lot more of my posts are negative than positive. Truthfully though, before today, it never occurred to me that my “hot off the press” items might be offensive or overwhelming to my fellow FB friends (yes, yes, admittedly I’m a completely selfish old cow!!!).

Yesterday, a friend of mine posted a particularly interesting and thought-provoking image and comment, to the effect that he is participating in a challenge to bring more positive/humourous content to Facebook as a change and relief from all the severe negativity. It immediately triggered two thoughts for me – first being that I am likely the guiltiest of the guilty, having just that day posted a multitude of items about the terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo in Paris. Second thought, why do we never post stories of the random acts of kindness we witness? Why don’t I post those stories?

I quickly rattled off a comment to this effect and he immediately challenged me to start the ball rolling.

Michael – the gauntlet has been picked up and is firmly grasped in my hand!

My reply to you is two-fold. Firstly, I have today refrained from posting anything from my news outlets, no matter how tempting; and secondly, I promised, upon my return from dialysis, to make the first kindness post to see if it will catch on with our friends. Ergo, whilst my machine is humming away, this blog post is taking shape – I’ve thought of little else all day.

Kindness is, actually, all around us, every day. My scope for witnessing it in action is limited to my hospital because I have been/will be nowhere else today. But that is in no way limiting because nowhere, I suspect, are there more people kindly helping out other people, expecting no recognition for their actions, than at a hospital. This very hospital, in fact.

 The Green Army

green army

As soon as you walk in the front door of my hospital, you see green-vested volunteers scurrying about. They are everywhere. They are wayfinders, porters, fundraisers, gift shop attendants, mail carriers, clinic aides, receptionists and oh-so-many more vitally important officers. They are a veritable green army.

These volunteers man their positions from early every morning until late every evening, and Saturdays, and Sundays. The earlier shifts are usually staffed by retirees and the later shifts are more likely covered by students. Each and every one of these volunteers provides an essential service and is diligent about completing their assignments accurately as instructed, with a friendly countenance and – always – putting a helpful, kind face on the hospital.   To say they go out of their way to compassionately help the patients and guests would be a gross understatement.

In specific terms, today I witnessed two such acts of compassion, one on my way in, and one just now whilst sitting in my bed. I cannot cite specific names due to privacy laws, but truly, names are the least interesting parts of these events.

A young mum with two tykes and her nana…

A light blue mini-van driven by a young woman pulled into the circle ready to drop off an elderly lady who I have assumed is her granny. It is a long walk to the door from the traffic circle (well, long for those that are ill, infirm, injured, handicapped, etc.). Today it was bitterly cold and windy. It snowed, and although the hospital staff had cleared it away, the elderly lady was clearly nervous. She walked very slowly, cautiously and with the assistance of her granddaughter on one hand and her walking stick in the other. They had barely reached the revolving doors when out of the van tumbled tyke number one, clearly having released himself from his car seat. As young lads are wont to do, this wee guy, full of pent-up energy, immediately raced into the hospital in pursuit of his mum and then, fascinated by all the options inside, took off like The Flash away down the corridor towards the cafeteria. The young mum was clearly conflicted – to hang on to Granny who was shaky and in an obvious state of confusion, or to attempt to corral her wayward son – doing both was out of the question. Add to this concern is that tyke number two (as yet unseen by us) was still in the van, and the van needed to be moved – pronto – or the gestapo-like commissionaire, hovering in wait vulture-styles, would be writing out a loitering ticket with a $100 fine.

Without being asked or prompted, the volunteer on duty selling lottery tickets, an elderly woman herself, quickly locked her drawer and rushed to help out. She found a wheelchair, got Granny settled, and with a quick wink at the mum, the two old women set of to rescue young “Indiana Jones” from sure mischief. The mum’s relief was palpable. When mum and tyke two arrived back five or more minutes later – it’s a long walk from the public parking to the front door, especially with a small person in tow – our green-vested fairy godmother was again back at her till selling tickets and beside her, comfortable and calm was Granny and quietly sitting on granny’s knee was a seemingly angelic ‘Indy’. You see, our volunteers know what an unsettling and stressful experience a visit to the hospital can be – especially for the uninitiated. They recognize situations where kindness and patience are badly needed and without thinking, they smooth troubled waters.

A wife, worried to death about her post-operative husband…

My second tale, one of the very sweetest kindness, happened at the bed beside me. Without getting into boring details, I have been dialyzing in the recovery suite, so all around me were post-operative patients. In the bed beside me was an elderly gent who had clearly just undergone knee surgery – it was well-bandaged and had a cage around it to protect it from being knocked or aggravated by the bedclothes. Sitting beside the bed was his wife, quite tearful and clearly most anxious.

The doors whooshed open and the volunteer (a young man) tasked with inter-hospital mail delivery rushed in. He quickly grabbed an armful of envelopes and did an obviously familiar round dropping off and picking up. As he returned to his cart with the outgoing load, he noticed the lady beside me. Abandoning his work, he knelt down beside her, took her hand in his and whispered a few words of comfort. He then went away and returned with a cup of tea for her and left a box of tissues to hand. He was only there a few short minutes, but the comfort and kindness he showed that lady was enough to bring tears to my eyes. He had also clearly spoken with a nurse because as he was leaving, one came to see this lady, and by the sound of their conversation, reassured her that everything was going along quite as it was meant to and that it was not unusual for a patient to be asleep this long. Our green-vested oh-so-observant angel did not think twice about interrupting his routine when he saw a need and his kindness will never be forgotten; neither by the elderly lady nor, I’m quite sure, by me.

Two volunteers performed what, to them, were very ordinary tasks, but which, to the beneficiaries, were actually extraordinary acts of kindness. You see, my friends, if you look for it, I’ve got a sneaky feeling you’ll find that kindness actually is all around. *

My challenge to my friends is that if when my facebook feed becomes too dark and serious – please give me the necessary wake-up call (even if it means a two-by-four upside my head) and when you witness a seemingly random act of kindness, please post it on your facebook page.  Thank you.

*Paraphrasing Prime Minister from the movie “Love Actually”.

Twelfth Night: Tuesday, 6th January 2015

Queen Elizabeth: “And Master Shakespeare, something more cheerful next time. For Twelfth Night.”

Dame Judi's Queen Elizabeth

This is one of my favourite Dame Judi Dench movie scenes, also one of my favourite quotes from one of my favourite movies – “Shakespeare In Love”.  Dench’ queen cuts Mr. Shakespeare a magnificent stink-eye, follows it with an almost indiscernible smirk and this obviously affectionate comment, combining for a sublime movie moment. It was, in fact, this exact moment that secured the Oscar nomination (and eventual win) for Dame Dench.

Shakespeare in mind, and by a mystical coincidence, a copy of the Stratford brochure arrived in my mailbox today, accompanied by an appeal to renew “my romance with the Festival”. I imagine this specific appeal is being made to the number of us who have allowed our Stratford memberships and ticket purchases to lapse. The romance of the festival…

Stratford is the ultimate romantic locale for my husband and me because it is where we enjoyed our first twenty-five wedding anniversary celebrations. It is where we faithfully found our bliss by enjoying some alone time, some quiet meandering exploration time and some soul-stirring theatre time – all of which are and have always been essential to our happy union. In the spring of 1985, as our first anniversary approached, we knew one thing to be certain; that our gift to each other would be theatre tickets and thus our tradition began.

Our history is that my husband came into our marriage with two children who lived with us on-and-off until after completing their schooling. During the first year of our marriage, after a frightfully traumatic experience, my mum came to live with us as well, creating a noisy, busy and happy “instant family” with – sometimes – excruciating growing pains. Time alone was at a premium and proved to be a rare and oh-so-special treat.

In those early days it was nigh on impossible to afford theatre tickets, but two exceptions were made year after year. One exception was that funds were always found, at Christmastime, for five tickets to the Panto; originally a Mirvish production at the Royal Alexander Theatre starring Ross Petty and subsequently at the Elgin Theatre, produced by and still starring Ross Petty. Although one of the more humble theatrical experiences by academic standards, we five thoroughly enjoyed those productions and avidly looked forward to them and planned for them every year as soon as the leaves began to fall. Exception number two was the two tickets for our anniversary celebration, which brings me back to the spring of 1985.

By dint of careful management of the household expenses, we eked out enough to afford show tickets for our anniversary and after much deliberation and conning of the plays, we opted for “Measure for Measure” – of this I am certain as I have both the programme and ticket stubs in my treasure box. That first trip was for a matinée performance with a quick stop for lunch along the way. We had the loveliest time imaginable, strolling through the theatre gardens, walking the length of the lake, imagining ourselves living in Stratford and, of course, savoring the wonderful show itself. It was bliss, a word I use a lot when thinking or writing of Stratford. Upon reaching home that evening, everyone gathered around the kitchen table keen for any and all details, the set, the costumes, the props, the cast, the fanfare – any and all details were discussed ad nauseam. Mum and I, remembering all the holidays we had in Stratford, all the shows we’d seen, all the restaurants we’d dined in with my beloved dad before his death in 1982 and Cam remembering all his school trips to Stratford. The real reminiscences, though, took place that night and many subsequent nights in our bedroom, in the dark, snuggled up together thinking ever so fondly of and thankfully of that idyllic afternoon in July.

As the years passed and promotions came our way, our trips were embellished. No longer did we attend matinees – evening shows were for us. No longer did we go for one performance only, but for two or three at a time, several times each year. No longer did we con the playbill for “the” show, but instead we took in all or very nearly all on offer. We ate at every posh establishment within miles, but some not-so-posh quickly became our favourites – Madelyn’s diner in Stratford (Best. Ever. Banana. Cream. Pies.) and Anna Mae’s Bakery and Restaurant in Millbank (Best. Ever. Potato. Soup.). We even became festival members, wanting to support our beloved Stratford as much as we were able. Despite this change in circumstance, the purpose of our visits to Stratford never did – change, that is. We continued to find our bliss, to recharge our romantic life force and enjoy a calm and lovely oasis in our hectic and driven lives. I often wonder whether our marriage would have lasted without those respites and am thankful we did not have to put that to the test.

Then, as so often happens, our bliss bubble burst. I had to give up my job for health reasons and with my resignation came many changes to our lives, especially our Stratford sorties. Once again we were limited to one trip each year, but at least we were able to take in a comedy, a drama and a musical whilst there. Our time, thus limited, became ever so much more special and cherished. We still felt like two of the most fortunate people on this planet because our lives were enriched by our annual sojourns to the festival. Our every minute in Stratford was choreographed to ensure we missed nothing of importance, that we were able to luxuriate in every locale that had meaning to us. Our anniversary celebrations remained sacrosanct.

Sadly, anniversaries twenty-six, seven, eight, nine and thirty have been celebrated far from our adored Stratford. My health is now so erratic that planning for trips and purchasing (in advance) tickets for theatrical productions has become an exercise so fraught with unpredictability, the results so spectacularly unsuccessful as to make it, for us, a financial impossibility.

We still snuggle together in bed in the dark and remember a magnitude of details of our Stratford escapes from years gone by. It is remarkable what our minds recall; the sequins on a particular costume, an amazing wig, a chair on wheels (“The Miser”), men in drag (“The Importance of Being Ernest”), show-stopping musical performances, swans, gardens, concerts, the fanfares (and where we stood when they were sounded) and central to all of those, the celebration of our love for each other.

My precious Cameron and I realize that although our trips to Stratford have ended, we still have a wealth of the loveliest anniversary celebration memories, all documented in photographs and a steamer trunk full of programmes and ticket stubs.

Memories of the delights of Stratford are, for us, a virtual scrapbook of our first twenty-five wedding anniversaries. What could possibly be more romantic than that? Thank you Stratford Festival of Canada, for the reminder.