Kindness Tool Kit

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Robin. Wash and a brush-up. Date night?

Earlier this month, an e-mail landed in my inbox with the subject line “Your Kindness Toolkit for the New Year”* and, without even opening the message, the cogs in my wee brain started whirring.

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Osprey

 Then, on Thursday morning, I was outdoors, inadequately dressed for the temperature (Sandy!) so I decided to take a spin through the drive-thru to pick up a hot drink.  When I arrived at the first window I was told that the chap in front of me had paid my bill.  Oh, sweet, a random kindness.  How utterly lovely!  Then, when I pulled up to the second window I was told that my good samaritan had added a cookie to my order.  Squee!  Totally made my day, week, month!  A good deed that, to him might have been a small matter, had a huge impact on me. 

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Cardinal. Richie patiently awaiting his turn at the feeder.

Assemblies of tools are collected by craftspeople, artists, handypeople and tradespeople everywhere.  I have two such kits myself; my needle arts supplies  and my camera gear.  All physical, tactile implements.  All gathered gradually, over many years, as our savings permitted.  All gradually coalescing into practical, useful and handy stockpiles of gadgets, gizmos and devices.  All well-used in my designing, creating, fabricating and repairing processes.  But a kindness tool kit required some thought…

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Piping Plover

“Be kind to one another.”**

The Cambridge Dictionary defines kindness as the quality of being generous, helpful, and caring about other people. A simple enough idea, but one that is sometimes hard to practice.  No, that’s not really true – it is easy to be kind.  The difficult bit (for me, at least) is keeping kindness front of mind. Even with the very best of intentions, in the busyness of our daily lives, where, how and with who to begin are just a few possible stumbling blocks.  Perhaps a kindness tool kit is actually a personal vision statement; a resolution to offer friendship, attentiveness, gentleness, care and grace – the gift of personal connection – whenever, wherever it is needed.

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Common Grackle

Personally I know that I need to focus outwards much more often, to open my eyes to the need, suffering, sadness and desperation of others. Kindness means translating those observations into an active response and, frankly, that’s where I often fail. 

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Mourning Dove

Indeed, noticing where assistance is needed and giving that help without being asked might be our most generous offering of kindness. Helping an elderly neighbour, or over-tired young parents, or a family struggling with a long illness, or a friend recovering from surgery or injury with good deeds  such as:

  • yard work or snow shovelling; and
  • food – providing a hot, nutritious, ready-to-eat meal; and
  • doing laundry (including changing the bedding); and
  • driving to medical appointments; and
  • babysitting; and
  • walking a dog

Each of these tasks go a long way towards easing a heavy burden; I know this first-hand having experienced such generosity on many an occasion.  

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Woodpecker

Empathy is an extraordinarily powerful tool to add to our kit.  Our ability to listen to shared feelings and then nurture and protect those feelings is kindness personified.  We all know that a smile and kind word go a long way to easing someone’s burden, so too does attentiveness.  

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Blue Jay

Kindness is not just for the bad times. Celebrating the successes of those we love is an important kindness tool. Also important is telling the people we love how special they are to us; all too often those sentiments are reserved for funerals which is way, way too late!  Sincere compliments are long-remembered and treasured. These very personal behaviours are all splendid kindness tools.

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Robins. Apollo and Hyacinth withstanding the storm.

So, my kindness tool kit, then…  I thought I’d begin by adding ten tools to my kit and I’m ashamed to report that I struggled.  Mightily. My kit is clearly a work in progress but this is the raw material with which I’m hoping to start my toolbox:

  1. First and foremost, live by the golden rule.
  2. Make eye-contact and smile more.  Always remember Nana’s advice:  Pretty manners never go out of style.
  3. Neither listen to nor repeat gossip.  Have nothing to do with those who do.
  4. Be more courteous; yield right of way more as a driver, hold doors open, generally be more aware of what is happening around me.
  5. Complain less.  Aim for never.  Rather than issuing letters of complaint, send commendations for good service. 
  6. Donate more – money, goods and time. 
  7. Be quicker to forgive.
  8. Be a mentor again.
  9. Reach out to relatives and friends I’ve not seen in ages – perhaps with a phone call or hand-written note.
  10. Whenever the situation arises, be willing to give the other person the benefit of the doubt more often always.  
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Flicker

Though of the cerebral rather than the tactual variety, the ideas, plans, skills, and  intentions in a kindness kit are nonetheless a veritable collection of tools.  What’s in your kindness tool kit? 

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Red Winged Black Bird. Narcissus.

Right now, at this very moment in time, our poor old world desperately needs more kindness, and it’s contagious – spread some around and watch it grow!  

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Egret. Being carefully watched by a Blandings.

’Til next time, y’all…

*Lion’s Roar Magazine

**Ellen DeGeneres

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Robin. Surveying his realm.

Entrance to a Wood

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“…enter this wild wood and view the haunts of Nature.”

[William Cullen Bryant]

Mr. Bryant’s “Inscription for the Entrance to a Wood” extolls the beauty, benefits, comfort and restorative power of nature.  In short, Shinrin-yoku** – some two hundred years before the concept was “pioneered” in Japan. The poem advises its readers that to be happy, they ought to go to the woods to soothe their hearts and minds and receive unconditional love.

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Thou wilt find nothing here of all that pained thee in the haunts of men,*

Are you feeling the post-Yuletide blues?  In many ways, the Christmas season is a divergent interruption to our normal rhythms.  It disrupts our pace, our eating habits, our recreational activities, our leisure and perhaps even our sleep patterns.  When the New Year celebrations have come and gone and routines have resumed – the kiddos are back in class, the adults have returned to work – and the long, cold, dark winter stretches before us, it is quite natural to feel a little depleted.

The solution: A  good long walk in the woods!

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Doctors and clinicians unanimously agree: Time in nature reduces stress and improves our physical, mental and social well-being.  Nature, including woodlands, river/creek banks, marshes, parks and lakes all provide proven benefits to personal and community health.

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Even the trees, Partake the deep contentment*

So, hiking at this time of year, you might ask, dubiously…  Woodlands in wintertime are vastly different, ‘though no less glorious, than in summer.  The leaves have fallen which allows the sunlight to reach the ground – reflecting and sparkling on the snow.  The snow creates a hush that is unlike the quiet of the summer months.  Enjoyment at this time of year is in no way diminished by the cold temperature;  we only need to dress appropriately, enjoy our walk and allow the tranquility and euphoria of nature to embrace us.  And it will!

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the thick roof of, stirring branches is alive and musical with birds,*

A winter hike always reveals myriad creatures, experiences and new scenes:  Cardinals and Blue Jays frolicking in the branches of the bare trees (so much easier to spot them and watch their antics); squirrels frantically dashing about trying to suss out the forgotten hiding spots where they’d previously stashed their acorns; last summer’s bird and wasp nests which, when built were nicely concealed, are now revealed for closer examination and admiration; a fox on the hunt for a nice bird or bunny for his evening meal, cautiously but bravely passing by; deer munching on cedar boughs; moss, still thriving despite the cold and snow; and so, so much more.

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We N’umberlanders are blessed with a plethora of woodland trails – all conveniently located on our doorsteps:  Ferris and Presqu’ile Provincial Parks, Sylvan Glen and Carr’s Marsh conservation areas Alderville Black Oak Savanna and the Brighton Provincial Wildlife Area plus two massive forests – the Ganaraska and the Northumberland 

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The rivulet sends forth glad sounds, and seems, with continuous laughter, to rejoice*

The benefits to winter hiking or Shinrin-yoku** are numerous.  Outdoors, we seem to need very little to be perfectly content; nature seems to automatically teach us that love of rusticism.  In an unspoiled environment, surrounded by diverse ecosystems and animal habitats, our senses become heightened and our experience is unmatched by anything that happens on our screens and televisions or in our schools, offices, homes, or gardens. The tranquility and euphoria we experience are spontaneous and involuntary.

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The calm shade shall bring a kindred calm,*

Merely taking a break from our daily routines is therapeutic. Add to that the beauty and serenity of a forest setting and those benefits are multiplied.  One of the biggest perks of forest bathing is air quality.  This includes the scents, especially the essential oils of plants and trees, and the reduced level of air pollution:  Science tells us that by walking a  mere 200 metres into the woods, the level of vehicle emissions is already four times lower.

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The cool wind, That stirs the stream in play, shall come to thee.
Like one that loves thee nor will let thee pass Ungreeted,*

Personally, I feel how restorative and exhilarating time in nature is for me every time I’m outdoors.  Whether I’m on a photo shoot, cycling, having a picnic, paddling or on a hike – the benefits to me are immediately apparent.  I never fail to feel that child-like exuberance and joy.

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the old and ponderous trunks of prostrate trees, breathe fixed tranquility.*

Don’t be afraid to go off on your own – I did.  My path towards improved health and happiness began with watching and studying nature and all its riches and resources.  It was a practice I undertook by myself and I soon learned that, for me, solitude did not – in any way – equate to loneliness, isolation, seclusion or withdrawal.  Rather, time alone in the woods created a personal, quiet space in which I have always been able to find composure, contentment and serene happiness.

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the sweet breeze, shall waft a balm to thy sick heart.*

If post-Christmas doldrums have invaded – yourself or your home – gather up some woolies, a snack, your canteen, binoculars, and a camera and, either alone or with your family and friends, head out for a woodland hike.  Perhaps even visit our beautiful trails here in Northumberland County (links above).  Take a healthy dose of expectation and hope, allow the trees, birds, animals and scenery to tug on your heartstrings and in no time at all, you’ll experience an all-natural panacea.  Promise!

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Thou wilt find nothing here of all that pained thee in the haunts of men,*

‘Til next time, y’all…

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*William Cullen Bryant, from his “Inscription for the Entrance to a Wood”. Mr. Bryant (1794-1878) is a well-known Romantic poet.   His work – as an author, journalist, editor and poet was strongly influenced by the bible and his tendencies towards romanticism rather than realism. A recurring theme in his writing is nature and its restorative powers.

**Shinrin-yoku, a Japanese concept for improving one’s health.  Translation:  “Forest bathing”.

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‘Though the poet was obviously writing about summertime, his poem speaks to the numinous qualities of woods and forests.  To me, his words are both timeless and relevant at any time of year. (Um… All the words except, maybe, “marge”.)

Here is the full poem:

Inscription for the Entrance to a Wood

Stranger, if thou hast learned a truth which needs
No school of long experience, that the world
Is full of guilt and misery, and hast seen
Enough of all its sorrows, crimes, and cares,
To tire thee of it, enter this wild wood
And view the haunts of Nature. The calm shade
Shall bring a kindred calm, and the sweet breeze
That makes the green leaves dance, shall waft a balm
To thy sick heart. Thou wilt find nothing here
Of all that pained thee in the haunts of men,
And made thee loathe thy life. The primal curse
Fell, it is true, upon the unsinning earth,
But not in vengeance. God hath yoked to guilt
Her pale tormentor, misery. Hence, these shades
Are still the abodes of gladness; the thick roof
Of green and stirring branches is alive
And musical with birds, that sing and sport
In wantonness of spirit; while below
The squirrel, with raised paws and form erect,
Chirps merrily. Throngs of insects in the shade
Try their thin wings and dance in the warm beam
That waked them into life. Even the green trees
Partake the deep contentment; as they bend
To the soft winds, the sun from the blue sky
Looks in and sheds a blessing on the scene.
Scarce less the cleft-born wild-flower seems to enjoy
Existence, than the wingèd plunderer
That sucks its sweets. The mossy rocks themselves,
And the old and ponderous trunks of prostrate trees
That lead from knoll to knoll a causey rude
Or bridge the sunken brook, and their dark roots,
With all their earth upon them, twisting high,
Breathe fixed tranquillity. The rivulet
Sends forth glad sounds, and tripping o’er its bed
Of pebbly sands, or leaping down the rocks,
Seems, with continuous laughter, to rejoice
In its own being. Softly tread the marge,
Lest from her midway perch thou scare the wren
That dips her bill in water. The cool wind,
That stirs the stream in play, shall come to thee.
Like one that loves thee nor will let thee pass
Ungreeted, and shall give its light embrace.

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I am resolute…

What good.001

The new year is fast-approaching and as many of you already know, I’m more of a non-resolution maker. Resolutions require willpower and tenacity and I have neither. 

To my Dad – a Scot and a man of deep faith – New Year’s traditions were very important.  At this time of year he always wanted us to pause and reflect on how we could make our world a better place, also on what we’d done well and what we could have done better during the past year.  We’d then talk about goals or intentions for how, individually and as a family, we could build on our efforts of the previous year.

And so I continue this ritual to honour my dad and because I loved him very dearly.

Hogmanay, with its unique customs, is largely considered by Scots to be at least as important a celebration as Christmas, if not more-so.  After all, dinnae ever forget that the sacred hymn was written by Rabbie himself!  

Hogmanay traditions never to be missed:

  1. First, a physical and symbolic act of  finishing the old year well.  Before any celebration may begin, the house must be thoroughly scrubbed from top to bottom on New Year’s Eve; and
  2. Making sure all outstanding debts are paid in full before the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve; and
  3. Making and sharing a list of New Year’s resolutions; and
  4. Bakers (Dad included) always made a special cake called Black Bun, just for Hogmanay celebrations – a fruit cake, well-steeped in Scotch, and baked in a sweet shortcrust pastry (don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it!!!); and
  5. The singing of “Auld Lang Syne”.  Family, friends and neighbours  gather in a circle and link arms to sing.  As the last verse begins, everyone draws closer to the centre of the circle so that, without breaking the chain, everyone’s arms can be crossed over their own chests; and
  6. “Out with the old, in with the new.”  The gentleman of the house would dash out the back door (with seconds to spare before midnight) known as bidding farewell to the old year.  He’d then rush around to the front door and, when he heard the last notes of “Auld Lang Syne” bang furiously on the door to be welcomed in as the “New Year”; and
  7. First footing.  The first guest of the new year, ideally a tall, dark, and handsome man, would cross the threshold with small gifts signifying food (fruitcake or shortbread), drink (a tea bag and/or some Scotch),  wealth (a coin), warmth (a piece of coal) and love (perhaps a lace hankie in which the others would be wrapped).  In turn, the first footer is always welcomed with a wee dram (even in the mornings).

At this point in my life I have my own traditions, and ‘though resolutions are definitely not for me, I do pause during this last week of December for some soul-searching and planning – for Dad, yes, but also because I believe it enriches and brings greater meaning to my life.  And God knows my chaotic and messy life can use all of that!

From my reading and my reflections this week, one word and three pieces of advice keep whirring about in my brain:

  • Resolute: Adjective – admirably purposeful, determined, unwavering.
  • The holiday messages of our Queen, Governor General, Prime Minister, Premier and Mayor.
  • The Grands’ journals; the words of John Wesley (quoted frequently in their sermon notes) and a key question from a war-time sermon.
  • Benjamin Franklin’s credo.

This year in their respective messages, each of our leaders urged us to be resolute in our service to others, to give back to our communities and country, to help one another, to lend a hand in your own personal way to those who have less and those who are in need.* I’ve listened to and read each of these beautiful messages several times and know, with absolute certainty, I can do more and better.  I am resolute in my intention to do so.

“What good shall I do this day?”
[Benjamin Franklin]

Mr. Franklin wrote this call to action in his personal journals.  Historians and curators believe this statement reflects his resolute desire to be of service and to always keep his tenet front of mind.

One of Mr. Wesley’s most well-known quotes is:  

“Do all the good you can,
By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,
As long as ever you can.”**

In the journals, Dad’s great uncle – The Very Reverend Gilleasbuig Storrie – penned a sermon to be delivered to his greatly diminished congregation during The Great War.  He cited Mr. Wesley’s advice, relating each line to the men and women – leaders, warriors and medicos alike – and their immense sacrifices.  The homily finished with a question:  What about you?  What are you going to do? 

Really, there’s nothing more to be gained from further introspection.  I have only one 2020 New Year’s resolution intention, beautifully phrased by Mr. Franklin:

What good shall

I’ve lettered this personal reminder and will be pinning it to the inside of our bathroom cabinet so that with every morning and evening’s ablutions, I will be reminded of my resolute aspiration to lend a hand in your my own personal way to those who have less and those who are in need.*

Peace to you.  Wishing you good health, safety and contentment throughout the coming year and decade.  Happy New Year 2020!

’Til next time, y’all…

*Julie Payette

**The Reverend John Wesley spearheaded the Methodist movement in the Anglican Church (Church of England).

Auld Lang Syne***
[Royal Scots Dragoon Guards]

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And auld lang syne!

Chorus:
For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne.
We’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.

And surely ye’ll be your pint stowp!
And surely I’ll be mine!
And we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.

Chorus

We twa hae run about the braes,
And pou’d the gowans fine;
But we’ve wander’d mony a weary fit,
Sin’ auld lang syne.

Chorus

We twa hae paidl’d in the burn,
Frae morning sun till dine;
But seas between us braid hae roar’d
Sin’ auld lang syne.

Chorus

And there’s a hand, my trusty fere!
And gie’s a hand o’ thine!
And we’ll tak a right gude-willie waught,
For auld lang syne.

Chorus 

***Robert Burns (1759-1796)

“Auld Lang Syne” – the quintessential New Year’s ballad – was originally a poem, written by (or collated by, depending upon whom you choose to believe) by Rabbie, in his native language, eventually and perpetually sung to the tune of a favourite Scots folk song. 

It’s that time of year…

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It’s that time of year when the world falls in love
Ev’ry song you hear seems to say “Merry Christmas”,
“May your New Year dreams come true”.*

When I was a child, Christmas was the zenith of my year.  It was the day we all (Mum, Dad, me, aunties, uncles and cousins) gathered at Nana’s home.  In true English form the candles on the tree would be lit Christmas Day (scary, non?), an enormous yule log would be flickering and crackling in the grate behind the prettiest Victorian screen you’d ever imagine (oh, that one of us still had that beautiful piece of art) and, spinning on the record player, Frank Sinatra –  more often than not singing The Christmas Waltz (one of Nana’s favourites).  Her home would be filled with sweet, fruity, spicy and savoury aromas – of a roasting turkey, freshly baked mince pies, a super-rich, well “steeped” trifle and – simmering on the stove – an enormous home-made plum pudding. Lavish crackers for pulling dominated the tablescape. My memories of those happy, rollicking and hectic celebrations at 191 Gledhill are synonymous with feelings of familial devotion, Christmas love and the warm comfort of favourite traditions. ‘Though everything has changed, I’m grateful that Frank’s voice, the smell of Christmas baking and the people who make me feel loved and cherished revive those treasured memories year after year.

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Made by Wendy.

Those Muir family traditions were perfect…  Until they weren’t.  In the years since then, Cam and I have come to appreciate that the end of one practice is merely and happily the dawn of the next.

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Made by Sarah.

Whilst Cam and I are both very fond of the feelings Christmas evokes, we aren’t fans of either presents piled high or showy pageantry so, after much soul-searching, we pared down our traditions and simplified the way we celebrate.  

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Made by Jane.

Our Christmas dance is now much slower; rather than Quickstepping into Advent, we Waltz – in three-quarter time – savouring every moment.  Christmas Day is now very quiet, just Cam and I; not rollicking, not hectic, but true joy that is never madding, never feels too busy, and is always filled with peace and love – exactly like that first Christmas Day.

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Made by Nancy.

In our home, Christmas music plays all day, sometimes even Ol’ Blue Eyes.  Our fire still flickers but it’s gas now, not a Yule log.  We still feast on turkey but a breast, not a whole bird.  ‘Though there are always mince pies and shortbread, our afters is no longer plum pud, but Cam’s favourite cheese cake.  It feels exactly right – perfect for us – and I’m deeply thankful for that.

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Made by Julie.

The very act of establishing a new, personal, tempo – in three-quarter time – around the holidays served to bind us to our celebration in a more meaningful way.  We realized there is no pressure to adopt those time-honoured traditions of our parents and grandparents.  Nor do we have to follow any observances currently in vogue.

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Made by Jean.

In our hearts we embraced a small handful of intimate rituals; our festive Christmas traditions, chosen to honour Yuletide wonder – no excesses, no stress.  Intentional.  Sustainable.  Enjoyable.  We are small in numbers, but large on fun and love and that’s what Christmas really is – love.  That, I know for sure.

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Made by Sue.

My wish for you, dear readers, is that Christmas brings to your home the love, warmth and comfort of your favourite people and your favourite traditions – a celebration that is uniquely perfect for you.

Merry Christmas!

xxxx

‘Til next time, y’all…

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Made by Carolyn.

*“The Christmas Waltz” was written for Frank Sinatra by Sammy Cain and June Styne and was recorded in 1954.

The Christmas Waltz

Frosted window panes, candles gleaming inside
Painted candy canes on the tree.
Santa’s on his way, he’s filled his sleigh with things
Things for you and for me.

It’s that time of year when the world falls in love
Ev’ry song you hear seems to say “Merry Christmas”,
“May your New Year dreams come true”
And this song of mine in three-quarter time
Wishes you and yours the same thing, too.

[instrumental-first verse]

It’s that time of year when the world falls in love
Ev’ry song you hear seems to say, “Merry Christmas”,
“May your New Year dreams come true”
And this song of mine in three-quarter time
Wishes you and yours the same thing, too.

If you’d like to listen:  “The Christmas Waltz”

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Made by Laurie.

Racing Against Myself

She had passed her whole life as does everyone,
rushing and dreaming in blind, deaf refusal of the miracle of each moment.”*

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It’s dreich today and I’m incarcerated again, so…  Writing.

Recently I completed a blogging course #MyBlogSchool http://myblogschool.ca which was a delight, start to finish.  If you want to start a blog of your own, or if you’re floundering with your writing, I highly recommend this class!!!  The instructor is pure gold!

There are eight modules and I mentally assigned myself one each week for eight weeks but I fell behind.  I hastily dashed off a note to the instructor, explaining/justifying my tardiness and received the mother of all wake-up calls: You can’t fall behind! And, The only person in the race is YOU!

Yikesabee!  So, so true of me.

That a dear, on-line friend, a woman I’ve met only once, knows so much about me and seems to have such an accurate and deep insight into my psyche was a bit astonishing. 

First, allow me to introduce this adroit diviner:  Our instructor, Kerry.  Many years ago, a friend who has blogged since blogs were first invented (much like Kerry, herself), suggested that I would thoroughly enjoy reading (subscribing to) “Pickle Me This” (Kerry’s blog):  http://picklemethis.com If you love books and good writing, this is the blog for you!  I visited Kerry’s site, fell in love, subscribed and thus began my fan-girling of Kerry.

About a year later, I noticed that Kerry would be a featured speaker at the Lakefield Literary Festival.  It seemed  obvious (an omen, right?) that I was meant to attend her workshop.  I did, and it was an equally informative, inspiring and enjoyable morning.  I left feeling enthused about my sad wee blog, about writing in general, and about my own niche in the blogosphere.

Since then, we’ve begun following each other on social media and Kerry has provided some funny, quirky, helpful, supportive and – always – encouraging and kind feedback. She has one of the strongest moral compasses of anyone I know and never fails to check me if and when I wander astray. Obviously still fan-girling here which, perhaps, is why the #MyBlogSchool response was not only rousing but, if I’m completely honest, upsetting as well.  Does Kerry really believe I’m in blind, deaf refusal of the miracle of each moment?  She is, I’m afraid, correct.

How did this race mentality begin?  Best I can figure is that one year I received my mesothelioma diagnosis, the next year I turned sixty, and suddenly everything was vastly different.  My awareness of the impermanence of life mushroomed – I realized I’d already lived more of my life than I had remaining!  Yet there was is so very much more I want to see, learn, accomplish, try…

On your mark, get set, go: The race was on!

By “more”, I don’t mean setting and striving for goals, which are measurable but experiences, which aren’t.  Life is both finite and unquantifiable so how best do I squeeze in as much as possible without that refusal of the miracle of each moment?  

Slowing down, being patient and observant – all whilst the camera is in my hands – is never a problem.  My issue is with all the other moments; it seems that I need to learn to do the same when my cameras are at rest. Long ago, before digital GPS and satellites, sailors used the North Star to chart their courses and navigate.  I need a mental North Star of my own, a gauge of that awareness.

Writing is a privilege.  I know that I am one of the luckiest ones because I have as much time as I want for my writing.  Beyond a privilege, though, writing is a great pleasure, and being able to write and post as frequently or infrequently as my whim dictates is a real gift.  I hate to think I’m rushing this amazing and comforting experience rather than luxuriating in its joy. 

I most definitely do not want to live in refusal of the miracle of each moment so learning to slow down, to stop racing against myself, control the agenda, amend the plan all became my new imperatives.

For me, a soul who loves permanence, changing the habits of a lifetime is a personal pilgrimage of Herculean proportions. It takes willingness to change, and time.  Lots of time.  This practice of self-assessment and adjustment is both challenging and uncomfortable!

That was over a month ago.  Since then I’ve been trying to use the  visualization technique – imagining that within each moment there is a space, a pause which allows room for the seeds of new ideas, fresh thoughts, updated opinions all to germinate and grow.  Space for me to feel and think in a completely different way.

Recently, now and – hopefully – going forward, I am trying to check myself – not just when I’m writing, but also at other times throughout my day – to ensure I’m still on track.  Still making the most of every moment.

Life does move very fast and the older I get, the faster it seems to fly by.  Wanting to make the most of every minute of every day, however, does not mean there has to be a mad dash to the finish line.  I get that.  I wrote it and I understood the concept as I was typing, yet delivery on that promise to myself is much, much trickier.

“The only person in the race is YOU!”  Kerry’s comment was bang-on and I am so very grateful to her for the gut-check, for slowing me down, for teaching me that I needed my North Star.  For prompting me to remember that my life, my family, my friends, my photography, my writing – the whole lot – is a gift to be very deliberately savoured and cherished.

Kerry reminded me to stop rushing and dreaming in blind, deaf refusal of the miracle of each moment.

Thank you, KC!  xxxx

‘Til next time, y’all…

*Umberto Bartolomeo

Humanitas

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Alone is a feeling as well as an adjective.

“Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”*

When I was a small child, Christmas was everything loving and tasty and exciting. It was walking to church on Christmas Eve, hand-in-hand with Mum and Dad, in the gently falling snowflakes. It was caroling outdoors on the steps of Zion before the Reverend Frid ushered us all indoors for the family service. It was waking up Christmas morning to excitedly open my musical boot (no stocking for me), it was unwrapping beautifully beribboned parcels, and feasting on Dad’s mince pies, shortbread, fruit cake and plum pudding. I was blessed with an abundance that I failed to recognize until much, much later in life. ‘Though unrealistic, such is the Christmas I wish everyone could enjoy, every year.

In quiet conversations, and if we are humbly observant, by a word or a facial expression or a sigh it becomes apparent that many people – amongst our families, friends, co-workers and communities – are dreading Christmas with its inherent sadness, anxiety and apprehension.

In the draft stages, I was reluctant to finish, much less post this essay. The subject matter is dark and raw, a stark contrast to what most folk want to read during this merry and bright season. But the cold, hard truth is that, for too many people, this is not the most wonderful time of the year.**

For them, this is a stressful, depressing and tragic season. The hopelessness they feel is overwhelming. There are, of course, many who are homeless, in shelters, in prisons and in hospitals, and we should not forget those poor souls. But many of those about whom I am writing are leading seemingly successful, happy lives, complete with familial and friendly relationships so their plight goes largely unnoticed by most of us.

It is a situation that many try to conceal from the world around them but, if we are mindful and attendant, we see the pain and desperation leaking or maybe even gushing forth. It is an anguish that saturates nearly every moment of their lives. It is powerful enough to swallow some folks whole.  Enough to induce thoughts of suicide.  Attempts, even.

Which is why it is especially important that we clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience in the days and weeks leading up to Christmas, and even beyond. Why we need to pay attention to what is going on in the lives of those within our orbits; it might be a neighbour, friend, or relative; it might be a playmate of our children or grand children; it might be clergy or a fellow parishioner; or it might be a business associate or teammate who is in pain, who believes there is no happy ending in sight.

With a seemingly nonchalant shrug, they may say to you, ”Who cares?” or “I don’t care.” and instantly you know that they do care. Deeply.

Please don’t ever think that you can’t make a difference in the life of someone who is suffering. You absolutely can! You simply need to find a way to connect – by a kind word or an embrace or by sharing your time. We are all too often worried about saying or doing the wrong thing, and thus say or do nothing at all. Let’s not be those people this Christmas.

With visions of sugarplums dancing in our heads*** it is all too easy to forget how devastating the holidays are for some people – in my world and in yours. Our community and social services are overloaded at best, broken at worst.  Shame, embarrassment and hopelessness make it difficult for some to reach out, to ask for help.  Please, please do not be so busy you are unable to notice, unable to lend a hand or offer a kind word. To offer hope.  

Hope might be as simple as offering comfort and connection.

Hope might be knowing the phone will be picked up.

Hope might be having a safe door to bang on in the middle of the night, knowing it will be opened.

Hope might be hearing that you’re worth loving.

Hope might be a place at your Christmas table.

Hope might be a million and one different things, but please, please help hope arrive in the lives of the invisible tortured souls around you, in ways big or small.  Please share your warmth.

‘Til next time, y’all…

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Hope

Humanitas (kindness)

*Paul’s letter to the Colossians.

**Carol written by Edward Pola and George Wyle, first sung/recorded by Andy Williams.

***From “A Visit from St. Nicholas”. [C.C. Moore]

Freedom of Expression

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“You want free speech? Let’s see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who’s standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs
that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours.”*

How does a democracy – Canada – simultaneously guard it’s citizens against hate speech and protect their right to freedom of expression, particularly when one person’s hate speech is another’s legitimate expression of opinion?

Last Saturday evening Mr. Donald S. Cherry effectively brought this issue to the forefront of Canadian colloquy.

In my circle of friends, this conversation began at the time of the English Language Debate prior to the Federal Election, sparked by the horrific comments made by and opinions held by Mr. Maxime Bernier.  The debate never really got off the ground at the time, though, because we were all so focussed on the battle between Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Scheer.  

Both Mr. Cherry and Mr. Bernier have had their fifteen minutes of fame and I’ve no wish to extend it for them.  I am, however, intrigued by and worried about this very abstruse issue.  

Last week I wrote about the emboldened and about the two political leaders whose incendiary rhetoric brought about this galvanization.  Hate has become a mainstream message and weapon.  Hateful discourse – sometimes cleverly disguised, sometimes overt – is now a recognized and well-utilized weapon in political arsenals, never mind that it terrifies, objectifies, shames, embarrasses and stigmatizes visible minorities, members of some religions, indigenous peoples, the diaspora and women.  Indeed all those the emboldened call “others”.

Qui Ta et consentire videtur, ubi loqui debuit ac potuit.

One who is silent, when one ought to have spoken and was able to, is taken to agree. [Latin proverb.]

Regardless of the laws on our books, Canadians must adopt a zero-tolerance approach to expressions of hate by speaking out against such avarice.  If we do not, our silence will be seen as indifference at best or tacit approval at worst.  That’s how the marginalized and vulnerable become victims.

This week, hearing the hatred for “others” expressed so freely on national television, I realized that we have arrived at yet another fork in the road. Even though Mr. Cherry’s comments may not have met the legal standard for prosecution as hate speech, they did clearly show contempt for a specific demographic.  Any public expression that ridicules, or evokes intolerance or xenophobia must be denounced (in this case by the network – and it was) but in a much broader sense, condemned by everyone – particularly those fortunate enough to have a voice or a platform that is widely viewed and shared.  

“A person may cause evil to others not only by his actions but by his inaction,
and in either case he is justly accountable to them for the injury.”**

In a subsequent CTV News interview, I heard the word intend quite often, but is that even relevant?  Not in my opinion.  We all, but most especially those in the public eye – celebrities, politicians, reporters, athletes, commentators, analysts et al – absolutely need to be smarter, more aware, more considerate, more thoughtful – kinder – than that.  No more excuses.  We all know and understand the power of words to be hurtful, divisive, spiteful and disrespectful.  No more excuses.  We do know how our words will be heard and understood by others.  No. More. Excuses.

Of the utmost importance:  Tackling hate speech does not, must never infringe or limit in any way our freedom of speech.  Balance and counterbalance.  Freedom of expression is the lynchpin for nearly every other form of freedom.  Despite its relevance and value, our right to freedom of expression is constantly tested and, despite its Charter protections (2B), needs our unwavering vigilance.

Freedom of expression is fundamental to the gathering of sufficient knowledge to form opinion, and to the search for truth. J. S. Mill contended that informed, considered judgment is possible only when all facts and ideas, from any/every source, have been scrutinized and that one’s own theories must then be adjudicated against opposing views.  More elegantly expressed in his own words:

“He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that. His reasons may be good, and no one may have been able to refute them. But if he is equally unable to refute the reasons on the opposite side, if he does not so much as know what they are, he has no ground for preferring either opinion… Nor is it enough that he should hear the opinions of adversaries from his own teachers, presented as they state them, and accompanied by what they offer as refutations. He must be able to hear them from persons who actually believe them…he must know them in their most plausible and persuasive form.”**

The takeaway is that all points of view must be heard, considered and represented in the global forum.  Simply because something is distasteful or insulting does not necessarily make it untrue or invalid.  

One of the greatest privileges and obligations of our freedom of expression is being able to offer truth to power.  The mainstream media, the fifth estate, indeed every Canadian has the authority and responsibility to scrutinize all levels of government, to be a watchdog of sorts.  An integral component of any democracy is participation – overseeing and calling into question the legal, moral, financial, and effectual function of our elected officials.  To constantly evaluate our government’s competence. To do so there must be an unfettered and well-informed exchange of information, opinion and ideas.  Freedom of expression.

On a personal level, freedom of speech is the bedrock of human development, interaction and satisfaction.  The right to form one’s opinion, to share those opinions freely and to subsequently enjoy the evaluation, confirmation or rebuttal of others is how we grow and mature in thought and belief.  It accords value and dignity to each and every Canadian.  It is how we strive for and attain our full potential and for that reason alone our freedom of expression merits our most robust defence.

Another Gordian Knot.  Freedom of speech versus hate speech.  Where do we draw the line?  What is the ultimate or defining test?  If only agreeable, safe, non-controversial ideas needed protecting, The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms would be obsolete.

This week Mr. Cherry has sparked a vigorous discussion on the topic of free speech, which is a a good thing in my book.

‘Til next time, y’all…

*Aaron Sorkin, from “The American President” – a line spoken by President Andrew Shepherd, played by Michael Douglas.

I freely admit to being something of an Aaron Sorkin geek.  “The West Wing” is in my top five favourite television shows and “The American President” is in my top five favourite movies.  A lot of my friends love to hate on me for this unabashed love for  shows about the American presidency.  Still…  It’s the writing.  Mr. Sorkin is a beautiful wordsmith.

**John Stuart Mill 

Mr Mill was a British political economist and philosopher.  Both quotes are from his tome On Liberty which I struggled with (terribly) whilst at uni.