The week of unbearable sadness…

unbearable sadness

A critical error, one which too many of us make – sometimes over and over again – is believing we have time. More time. Plenty of time. A future filled with hopes, dreams and plans.

Then a week like this one happens and we know. We know the fallacy of this thought. And the knowing changes everything. Walt Whitman knew. “Happiness, not in another place but this place… Not for another hour, but this hour.”

You know, my Mum would have cautioned it never rains but it pours and such has been the story of our week. Four much-loved families, four bleak tales – of anxiety, illness, grief, fear and unbearable sadness.

ONE: The Artist

I hope you all have a friend like mine. The earth-mother; a nurturing, loving, caring, sweet, funny and kind girlfriend that is always up for a comforting cuppa or a glass of wine. A friend that listens with equal interest to tales of woe and success, that cares for you even when she, so desperately, needs care herself. My precious friend has been courageously battling what, initially, was breast cancer for the better part of the past eight years. It has truly been a grizzly skirmish – chemo was not kind, her body badly ravaged by treatments meant to cure. So many times I am reminded of primum non nocere and have thought her doctors perhaps ought to have done the same. This week, though, we learned that the cancer has spread and that they aren’t sure how (if?) to proceed. Luckily her children are both grown and married, but her darling hubby is scared to death and devastated. Yet The Artist remains beatific and determined to make the best of her life, no matter how long that may be. I am in awe of her spirit and her grace. And feel unbearably sad.

TWO: The Golfer

This smart and funny guy is a good friend to Cam. He, like Cam, is a lover of butter tarts but unlike Cam, his wife bakes them regularly (and hers are, by all accounts, world-class). Unlike Cam, he enjoys his time at the casino at Kawartha Downs. So much so, he’d often go there for brekkie and some time with the slots before his golf round. Should the round not pan out as hoped, he’d quit after nine and head back to the slots. This, of course, made him the brunt of much ribbing from Cam. The Golfer’s story is the same and yet so very different from my friend The Artist. He was bothered by some tummy aches towards the end of the summer last year. He finally sought advice from his doctor and the result was a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. His past eight months have been filled with trips to Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto for treatment. Cam organized the lads for a mid-winter lunch in February and The Golfer was there – happy, positive and seemingly doing quite well. All smoke and mirrors for the other men, though. By then The Golfer knew that there was now a tumour on his cerebellum, and metastasized cancer on his liver. This week he was returned to our town and he is now in Palliative Care, not expected to survive this weekend. Cam has popped in and out of the hospital all week and feels enormous admiration for The Golfer’s good spirits and acceptance of his fate. And feels unbearable sadness.

THREE: The Statesman

We have a friend who has selflessly served our community for too many years to count. He is a friend to everyone, works tirelessly to make our small town a better place for us all, is kind, friendly, involved and present. We have the greatest respect and fondness for him. Sadly, this week he lost his wife of more than forty years to complications from diabetes. He is gutted. Of course, we do not know exactly how he feels but I suspect de Lamartine said it best: “Sometimes when one person is missing, the whole world seems depopulated.” Still The Statesman continues his work, his volunteerism, his devotion to family, friends and community. We feel endless esteem for his resolve and determination. And feel unbearable sadness.

FOUR: The Matriarch

As will ultimately happen for us all one day or another, it was time for The Matriarch to leave her home and move into assisted-living accommodation. You see, there have been health issues, both mental and physical – none terribly serious, just enough to preclude living alone. The Matriarch has an indomitable independent streak – it’s one of her most admirable traits but it makes this move much harder for her to embrace, to accept, even. We have talked several times since the move, and although she is putting on a brave, contented face to the world (especially to her kiddos), her sadness and disappointment are palpable, even over the telephone line. Yet she is determined to make the best of this change and to make for herself a new home, one she will eventually come to love as much as the one she just left. This woman has been loving-kindness personified to me. I feel über-proud of her grit and attitude. And feel an unbearable sadness.

“It is in rugged crises, in unbearable endurance…
that the angel is shown.”
[R.W. Emerson]

God, if you’re listening, please let that angel be shown to these four families in this, their week of unbearable sadness.

‘Til next time, y’all…

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Pretentiously Presqu’ile

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Pannes

Presqu’ile was proudly displaying her many attractions today; everything flatteringly beautiful. Ohmigosh! She was a show-off today!

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Pannes

Gosh, did I ever have a lovely day today! I walked the entire circuit enjoying the fabulous weather – 0℃ but with sparkling warm sunshine and only the lightest of breezes.

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I couldn’t help remember March breaks past with my mum and dad. We were never able to go away, but we had day trips – every day – and every bit as much fun as my friends who went to Florida and Myrtle Beach. Before the break even arrived we had spent hours in planning and anticipation. On the Saturday morning, Dad would put a turkey in the oven so we could enjoy turkey sandwiches (our favourites) on our picnics all week long. The holiday began with a fragrant home and a delicious first night dinner. Each day saw us in a different park. We all had our favourites; mine was Thompson Park because of its amazing tobogganing, Mum’s was Wilket Creek because the walking was easy and Dad’s was Bruce’s Mill because the hiking was way more interesting. There would also be trips to Sunnybrook, Highland Creek, Presqu’ile and – if the weather co-operated – The Gut (another of Dad’s favourites) parks. Regardless, our week was spent outdoors, enjoying everything the parks had to offer, and enjoying winter picnics in our snowsuits, warmly wrapped in blankets. It was never too cold, too snowy, too damp, too windy, too anything, for us to go out and enjoy March break together and making some of my favourite memories. All of which made today a little sad for me…

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You see, there were only a handful of visitors today and all, like me, retired – not a kiddo to be seen, and boy were they missing out!

The lake was shimmering in the bright sunshine:

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There were animals:

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Birds:

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Going, going…

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Gone!

Trails and paths to explore (most still with untrodden snow),

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And beauty at every turn:pp 6

So, if you’re wondering how best to enjoy the last few days of this lovely March break, I suggest taking a short drive east from Toronto to Brighton and the pretty Presqu’ile Provincial Park. Have a hike, check out the wildlife, have a picnic (don’t forget a blanket) and make some happy memories your kiddos too will cherish for years to come.

‘Til next time, y’all…

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Strive…

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.*1

Simply put, in this world where self-gratification, racism, xenophobia, bigotry and misogyny are omnipresent, we must strive to do better. We must strive for the spirit of brotherhood by first, doing no harm.

primum non nocere

First do no harm

first, do no harm

Through the strangest happenstance, coincidence or fluke, the same phrase which describes a very specific philosophy, appeared in three very different books I was reading during the same week. Three times, three books, one week; it did not feel like a coincidence. In fact, I experienced an elemental reaction to the words primum non nocere – first, do no harm. The conceptual synthesis of medicine, philosophy and religion became the catalyst for this blog post and, I hope, a much longer piece I am currently drafting. Inspiration! Inspiration is always exciting, especially when it feels pure, predestined and that, my friends, is exactly what I experienced.

Three men: A Prince, a Physician and a Pastor.

Two of the men, born roughly one hundred years apart, could not possibly have been aware of each other’s teachings born, as they were, on two different continents a very long time before postal or telephone services existed. Both men were scholars, sages and educators. Both men embraced and taught the same philosophy: primum non nocere or first, do no harm. Two men – the prince (a man born of royal blood who became the Buddha) and the physician (Hippocrates of Kos). More than two millennia later a third man – the pastor (Anglican cleric John Wesley) used the same do no harm philosophy as one of the three cornerstones of his Methodist movement.

One of the three books I was reading was my Grandad James’ notebook. He was a Methodist minister in Scotland, as was his father, Lawrence, before him. In the book are notes Lawrence wrote about John Wesley’s first rule: “Do no harm”. Best of all, there is a series of three hand-written sermons composed and preached by James, clearly based upon his dad’s writings.

These gentlemen lived in rural Scotland, the former during the Victorian era and the latter during the Edwardian era. Life then was very different. Simpler, some may argue, than life today. The harm we perceive may have changed since then yet the advice – do no harm – and the lessons in those sermons more than stand up to the test of time. The Wesleyan rule of doing no harm is trifold – do no harm to yourself, to others and to God – each of which was the basis for one of the three sermons.

First, do no harm to yourself.

Imagine, please, that right now we each commit to doing ourselves no harm – a promise to take the very best care of our mental, our physical and our spiritual health. Simple, non? Our commitments might include:
Not consuming anything that is unhealthy; and
Not allowing ourselves to be bullied, dishonoured, belittled or objectified in any way; and
Not allowing ourselves to be in any relationships – personal or professional – that are harmful in any way.
By simply enacting your promise to allow no further harm to be done to yourself, imagine how your life might change, and how far the ripples of that change might spread – through your family and your community.

Second, do no harm to others.

Imagine, please, that right now we each commit to doing no harm to others. No physical trauma, obviously, but this promise might also include commitments to:
Refraining from unkind and malicious conversation; and
Refraining from abusing trust given; and
Refraining from involvement in any scheme or activity – personal, professional or recreational – that causes torment, sadness or pain; and
Refraining from taking advantage of the vulnerable; and
Refraining from seeking retribution for harm done.

So many acts of violence, cruelty and malice are committed in the name of revenge – an eye for an eye. Yet the Apostle Paul wrote “Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought of what is noble in the sight of all.”*2

Does that remind you of anyone? “When they go low, we go high.”*3

In choosing to do no harm to others, how different would your life choices be? Think, for instance, of the career you would choose and the employer(s) you would be willing (or not willing) to work for. Think, perhaps, of your clothing choices; garments sewn by children in sweat shops vs union shops here in North America, for instance. Doing no harm really is the golden rule – choosing not to do anything – even indirectly – to others that you would not want them doing to you, your family and your friends. By simply enacting your promise to doing no further harm to others, imagine how your life might change, and how far the ripples of that change might spread – through your family and your community.

Third, do no harm to God.

John Wesley believed that the human race does things that harm God, specifically God’s creation, our planet. Methodists believe that God is the creator of and loves justice, inclusion, and beauty; therefore, doing harm to those concepts is, by extension, also doing harm to God. Doing no harm to God is probably the most difficult rule to live by, since harm to our planet can come in too many forms to specify. In fact, I’m not altogether sure that it is possible to live in North America at this time and to do no harm to the environment. The best case scenario, I believe, is to learn as much as we can about the harm we are doing, and then strive to do less. This is, perhaps, the toughest ask of the three: Imagine, please, that right now we each commit to doing less harm to our planet – to our six ecosystems: Forest (temperate, taiga and tropical), Desert, Grassland (prairies and savanna), Mountain, Marine and Freshwater. This would mean striving for more knowledge about how our day-to-day choices affect the environment, not just in our own home towns, but across the globe.  Questions raised, choices made might include:
How do we negatively impact the regions that grow the food we eat; and
Do the manufacturing processes for the products with which we furnish our homes negatively impact our planet; and
Are there gentler, sustainable options we’ve overlooked in the past; and
Do our vacation destinations and activities harm the planet; and
Do our vehicles (transportation and recreation) harm our environment?  Do we need such big engines? Can we manage with self-propelled vehicles for our leisure?  Of course, all vehicles that are not self-propelled harm the earth (yes, even the electric ones, because we know that the production of most electricity harms the environment).

And on, and on, and on, so… The realistic goal is to strive for less. By simply enacting your promise to do less harm to the earth, imagine how your life might change, and how far the ripples of that change might spread – through your family and your community.

Yes, our world seems to be suffering from a surfeit of self-gratification, racism, bigotry, misogyny and xenophobia so this is the time. Time to strive for a more just, accepting and inclusive society leading, always, by example. To strive for the spirit of brotherhood promised by the UN. To strive for a healthier planet.  Time for each of us to do our own part to first, do no harm.

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‘Til next time, y’all…

Strive… Sacrificing and making great efforts to achieve something beneficial or rewarding, especially for a long time, regardless of the difficulties and challenges encountered.

*1 Article 1, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, United Nations
*2 Romans 12:17
*3 Michelle Obama, Democratic National Convention, July 2016

 

A Day For The Soul

“Blue skies smiling at me,
Nothing but blue skies do I see.”

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Yesterday was all blue skies and smiles. It was a gift – a beautiful, sunny, warm, happy and interesting day. There was a road trip, a lumber mill, a river and a picnic lunch. One day, one of us will look back on the memory of this day and wonder with regret, why we didn’t have more just like it.

The Lumber Mill

We are in the process of renovating our basement. The last stage of this project is the refurbishment of the recreation room. We treated ourselves to a gas fireplace but needed supplies to finish it and create a mantle. Our preference – shiplap cladding with an interesting piece of wood for the mantle. After some research, we decided we’d like to visit Chisholm’s Lumber Mill in Roslin, Ontario – not far north of Belleville and, as we discovered to our surprised delight, occupying about one hundred acres on the bank of the Moira River.

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After a happy and stress-free drive, we were greeted by the friendliest gentleman who dropped everything to take the very best care of us with seemingly endless patience and kindness. We found, chose and purchased our shiplap which was promptly loaded into our car. Then came the mantle search…

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We had so much to choose from – reclaimed timbers, rough-hewn timbers, smooth new timbers, planks of all sorts, illusion shelves, and the list goes on. Mindful of scale (our home is very small), we chose a plank rather than a timber. Also, rather than a well-planed plank, we chose a slab of “live-cut” pine. The choice was easy for us – we both loved the look as soon as we saw it. Until the fireplace surround is built, we have no idea exactly what size/colour/shape the mantle will be, but we do know that we will save the bark on the outer edge. Beautiful, non?

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The entire Chisholm’s experience was pure delight and I know it will not be our last trip to Roslin.

Moira River

The mill is on the bank of the Moira which presented some beautiful views – geese, waterfalls, ice, etc., on this idyllic day. I strolled around, absorbed the beauty and tranquility of the site, and left knowing I’d be back in the summer to do more exploring – maybe even with Rocky. (If you’re new to my blog, Rocky is my kayak.)

Presqu’ile Picnic

We took a picnic with us, intending to stop in at the park on our way home. Although it was still sunny, it was oh-so-windy so the picnic was in the car again – at the lagoon, of course – where Tristan und Isolde entertained us the entire time. Then it was home to unload our spoils and get back to normal routines…

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Still, we returned knowing we’d “stolen” a sweet interlude in time and made a lasting memory. Noticing the days hurrying by, when you’re in love, my how they fly! We were safe from inner and outer harm, we were filled with loving-kindness and we enjoyed peace and harmony. Perfect in every way. And we are grateful beyond measure.

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“Never saw the sun shining so bright
Never saw things going so right
Noticing the days hurrying by
When you’re in love, my how they fly
Oh, blue skies smiling at me
Nothing but blue skies do I see!”
[Irving Berlin]

‘Til next time, y’all…

1st March 2017

At a pleasant 14+℃, March definitely came in like a lamb!

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This year, 1st March is the first day of Lent. Did you have pancakes yesterday? Did you hold a piece of silver and make a wish as you flipped yours? It is a tradition I love because it reminds me so poignantly of Mum and Dad.

Today begins the forty-day Christian ritual of voluntary self-denial. Do you participate? From being a very young child, I can remember the United Church of Canada’s Lenten Folder on the kitchen window sill. I can remember when it was a nickel a day, then a dime and finally a quarter a day. Dad would leave the coin on the window sill before he left for work and when I got up I’d pop it in the day’s slot. We also gave up two things – a much-loved food item and an act or habit that perhaps wasn’t very Christian (gossiping, complaining, etc.).

Self denial is born of two virtues – the elimination of that which is not good (richness/excesses) from one’s diet, and the quest for goodness. This act of practicing self-control is the ultimate personal victory of commitment over temptation. As with many who make New Year’s resolutions, many who give up food or action for lent often give up before the end of the forty day period, particularly in our current world where consumerism and self-indulgence are coveted, encouraged and praised.

At Zion Wexford, we had a lovely Minister, Mr. Burn, who advocated doing something positive, kind or helpful each day of Lent, a practice he deemed more valuable than self-denial. I love this idea. A lot!

The much-publicized minimalist “40 Days 40 Bags” plan for decluttering one’s life is a great idea, and certainly donating forty bags to your local donation centre is a worthy endeavour, but… We’ve already done that.

Instead, our goal for the next forty days is to make a donation to the food bank each day. As much as we are able to donate. And yes, I am giving up two things to test my own self-control.

Thank you for reading and please add a comment below if you, too, are practising self-denial or positive action for Lent. As our Canadian treasure Farley Mowat would say:

“Bless you in your good works!”

’Til next time, y’all