Saturday, June 4, 2011

Be a Rainbow

Last week my sister and I went to hear Maya Angelou speak at Roy Thompson Hall.  The evening began with a few songs from a singer (unknown to me since we didn't get a program!).  Maya was then introduced by Barbara Turnbull who was incredible on her own - I'd pay to hear her speak on her own - before being escorted onto the stage.  A table, lamp, glass of water, a few books and a microphone were assembled beside the chair into which she was assisted.  A frail woman.  Slight compared to my previous sightings of her on TV or magazines.  She is, after all, 83 years old.

And then she began to talk - and occasionally to sing or read, and often to laugh - for about 45 minutes.  It was a great evening.  

Her main message - along with telling each of us to go to the library to obtain writings by African-American writers including Mari Evans and Nikki Giovanni - was to be a rainbow in someones cloud. 

She said that a smile to a stranger might make all the difference to their day.  Because, Maya reminded us, we don't know what other people are going through.  What struggles or pain or misery they are experiencing.  And it takes nothing to smile, to say something kind or friendly, does it? But it might make all the difference to the person who received your smile or kind words.  Think about your own experience with someone who has been a rainbow to you when you most needed it.  I'm sure you've had it happen.  We all have - just not enough.

So, listen to Maya and be a rainbow.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Jerk Hat

The other day I was listening to Matt Galloway on CBC Radio’s Metro Morning (Metro Morning). Matt and Jill Dempsey were talking about what they were going to do in the hot weather that day.  Matt said he was going to do some gardening while wearing his ‘jerk hat’.  He went on to explain that one day while walking down the street wearing a hat he had purchased for $1 while on vacation somewhere, a guy drove by and yelled out his car window at Matt,  “nice hat, jerk”.  From that day onwards Matt referred to it as his ‘jerk hat’ and proudly continues to wear it because he likes it. 

I loved the sense of self confidence apparent in that reaction.  How many of us would have been personally offended?   How many of us would have been angry at the stranger feeling the need to comment on our attire?  How many of us would have never worn that hat again?  Many, I’d venture to say.  But Matt simply laughed and turned the story around to his advantage.  A great personal anecdote.

I was at my grand-daughters' birthday party recently and one of the girls tried on a new dress she’d received. She loved it and she looked nice in it but one of the little boys at the party told her it was ugly.  Tarnished her view of that dress; I wonder if she’ll ever look at it the same again.   And it’s certainly not just kids who are affected by the comments of other.  Several years ago my husband bought himself a pair of slacks with a multi-coloured plaid type pattern.  They looked really good on him but after his best friend said “hey, nice clown pants” they never got worn again.  As we age some of us gather more confidence and are less concerned about other people’s open.  Sometimes a bit too much !  My dad, at age 95, would occasionally put his track pants on inside out.  I’d go to visit and there he’d be with the pockets of his pants flapping around looking like little wings.  ‘Dad’, I’d say, ‘you’ve got your pants on inside out’.  He’d look down and then look at me and say ‘it isn’t the first time doll and it likely won’t be the last’ and then we’d both laugh.  I work with a woman who has a suit that is really quite dated.  Once when she wore it someone told her it was an ugly suit and she looked like Hillary Clinton (from Bill's first term!).  She laughed and continues to wear it to this day.  She likes it and that’s all that matters. 

Recently someone was showing me the new sandals she’d purchased.  Nice I told her.  Yes, she agreed and went on to say that she’d bought two pairs because she liked them so much.  She bought one pair in the colour she had on – red.  And another pair that was white.  They had them in black as well she told me but “who on earth wears black sandals in summer?”.  Of course as we were looking down at her new shoes my feet, shod in their black sandals, were right beside her!  I just laughed. 

So Matt has his ”jerk hat” and I’ve got my “who on earth sandals”.   I hope that my grand-daughter has her “ugly dress”. 

Monday, January 17, 2011

Martin Luther King Jr.

Today, January 17th, is celebrated in the United States as Martin Luther King Jr. Day. 

Often it's what has been come to be known as the "I have a dream" speech which he delivered from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963 in Washington, D.C., that people first think of when they reflect on King.  

But for me its his letter from a Birmingham Jail. 

It's long.  In fact, in the letter he apologies for the length of the document .... "Never before have I written so long a letter. I'm afraid it is much too long to take your precious time." but he continues to explain why the letter is so long .... "it would have been much shorter" he wrote "if I had been writing from a comfortable desk, but what else can one do when he is alone in a narrow jail cell, other than write long letters, think long thoughts and pray long prayers?"
 
King had been criticized for, according to the other local clergymen, "unwise and untimely" behaviour.  And he decided to respond to the criticism.  Unusual for him but, he wrote, "since I feel that you are men of genuine good will and that your criticisms are sincerely set forth, I want to try to answer your statement in what I hope will be patient and reasonable terms."

King compares himself to St. Paul.  "Just as the prophets of the eighth century B.C. left their villages and carried their "thus saith the Lord" far beyond the boundaries of their home towns, and just as the Apostle Paul left his village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to the far corners of the Greco Roman world, so am I compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my own home town. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid."

He talks about the difference between 'legal' and 'illegal' acts.  "We should never forget" he reminds the clergymen, "that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was "legal" and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was "illegal." It was "illegal" to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler's Germany."


He writes about his sadness with the actions - or lack thereof - of the "white moderate".  He writes about "the laxity of the church".

So much has changed.  And yet so little.
 
So on this Martin Luther King Jr. day, on what would have been his 82nd birthday, take a moment to read his letter from a Birmingham Jail, reflect on his message then and what we can do now to make a difference.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

All this for a tree

I read a great story not long ago about a tree.  I seem to have developed an affinity for trees.  When my mother died my sister and I had to select a memorial tree for her in the arboretum near my sister's home.  The understanding was that we were going to distribute Mom's ashes around the tree and then, eventually, Dad's as well. 

Unfortunately Dad had broken his back a month after Mom died and was in no shape to make the selection so my sister and I wandered around the arboretum looking at the various trees.  Eventually selected a Thomas Black Walnut partly because of it's location and primarily because of its description.  It was described as being a 'majestic shade tree' which seemed appropriate for Mom.  Mom loved trees as well.  My sister remembers Mom carrying my nephew around the cottage extolling him to 'look at Nana's trees' when he was a very little boy.  Perhaps I've gained my love of trees from my Mom.

I have a Linden tree in my front yard.  The biggest tree on the block. I seldom cut back any of its hanging branches because I love the privacy they provide and the way they caress the ground offering secret hiding places for my grand kids and the other local children. 

I joke with my husband that we can't ever sell our house because I couldn't bear to leave the tree! 

So when I saw a headline that read 'A tree moves to Markham' I simply had to read the accompanying article.  It appears that a 75 year old Japanese maple was moved from a nursery in Oakville to a home in Markham.  The new owner, who elected to remain anonymous, said that when he first saw the tree at the nursery "it evoked a feeling from inside" and that he simply "felt I had to have it."  Of course the fact that he could manage the $70,000 price tag to have it moved was fortunate.  I certainly won't be moving the Linden tree anytime soon.

Another interesting part of the story was that this is the second move for this particular tree.  The tree had originally grown on the front lawn of a house near Burlington but when the family built a new addition the tree had to go.  Instead of simply cutting it down though the family contacted the nursery to see if it could be removed and replanted.  It could and they did.  And so it was from it's second home that it was seen and bought and moved to what is hopefully it's final forever home. 

I realize that there are different opinions on trees.  Different opinions on moving them to be sure.  Different opinions on spending that kind of money on a tree.  One of those different opinions was expressed by a man who stopped to check out the activity when the tree was being transplanted in Markham.  "All this for a tree?" was the comment. 

Y'up. All this for a tree.


"Here a Linden-tree stood bright'ning
All adown its silver rind;
For, as some trees draw the lightning,
So this tree, unto my mind,
Drew to earth the blessed sunshine,
From the sky where it was shrined."
     ~  Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Saturday, November 27, 2010

'Friends'

 
I posted a status on my Facebook page the other day about people who go from daily contact as a 'friend' to almost no contact.  It stirred a flurry of comments - quite funny actually.  

And it got me thinking about friends.  I don't have very many.  Never have been one who is surrounded by friends.  Often was surrounded by people but not friends.  Plus I'm a total introvert so being surrounded by people (friends or not) exhausts me completely.  However, I digress.  

I used to walk Bailey every day in the neighbourhood because he couldn't bear going anywhere in the car.  So our neighbourhood became our stomping grounds.  I still walk Dillon in the neighbourhood, although not quite as much since he loves the car and we can travel further afield to investigate & explore.  But tonight was a neighbourhood walk.  As we walked I looked at the familiar houses and felt a kind of 'friendship' to the people living in some of them.  Which is odd since I don't know them at all.  Then again many of my Facebook friends are quite unknown to me too so perhaps it isn't as odd in this day & age. 

Take the house with the wonderful floor to ceiling bookshelves.  They seldom draw their blinds and so as I walk by I look at the books and wonder what they like to read.  I also wonder why I never see anyone in that room.  There's the house that has a wonderfully manicured front lawn.  I watched the progress as the young couple bought it and began their remodeling.  They removed most of the grass and replaced it with interlocking stone, some flower beds, lights which shine up at the big maple tree and a flag that changes with the seasons.  There's a new owner there now.  One who drives a Corvette.  I wonder what changes I'll see in the house over the next few months.  

I am blessed to live in a neighbourhood with many large beautiful trees. But sadly there seems to be a bit of a pattern because a few weeks ago I noticed that a tree had simply 'disappeared' within a few days.  Honestly, if you hadn't known that the huge oak tree had been in the backyard of the corner lot you'd never have know it was now gone.  And tonight I walked by two homes where large trees have been cut down in recent days.  Should be a law against that.  Actually, I think there is.  

then, there's the house where the 'dog lady' lives.  I call her that because her van has a company name on it - some kind of doggy day care apparently.  tonight the dog lady's house was ablaze with Christmas lights.  It appears that she's in competition with the Griswold's.  It's a really small house that's been decorated within an inch of its space ---- lights, Santa, reindeer, candy canes - you name it, she's got it.  Merry Christmas to all.  Hate to see her electricity bill!

I don't know any of these people but, walking by and looking at their homes I glimpse briefly into their lives and feel a warm sense of camaraderie with my neighbours. 

That was before, of course, that damn little dog tried to rip Dillon's throat out!! Yikes, watch out for terriers.

In everyone's life, at some time, our inner fire goes out.  It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being.  We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit.  ~Albert Schweitzer

Friday, November 12, 2010

AN ACTIVE PARTICIPANT IN MY OWN SALVATION

Edison Pena, perhaps the most famous of the rescued Chilean miners, travelled to New York to appear on the David Letterman show and to participate in the New York marathon.  He was also treated to a visit to Graceland after it became known that he was a big Elvis fan.  In order to remain healthy while trapped underground he ran 3 - 6 miles every day listening to Elvis on his ipod.

According to the early interviews he found the first days following the mine collapse to be a ‘living hell’ but then he picked himself up and decided to run at least 3 miles every day.

In an interview I heard with him – through his translator, the only English he can speak are the words to Elvis songs! – he said something that I found to be extremely profound.  Something I have thought much about since I heard it.

"I was running to show that I wasn't just waiting around," he said. "I was running to be an active participant in my own salvation. I was running because I was also contributing to the struggle for our rescue.  I also wanted God to see that I really wanted to live."

“….. an active participant in my own salvation.”

A philosophy that would, in my opinion, benefit each of us.  Certainly one that I intend to embrace.  Become an active participant in my own salvation.


Sunday, October 24, 2010

God will not be distracted

I reconnected recently with a friend. It's been about 8 years since we spoke and now she lives in one city and I in an other. It happened 'accidentally' when she selected my name on Facebook instead of someone with a very similar name.

We started trading emails back and forth, reminiscing of days past and people we knew; some who've died, others we've both lost touch with,others who one or the other of us has kept in touch with. We've been updating each other, filling in blanks, sharing memories and news.

As we talked we also shared our favorite poems and quotes and one I mentioned was from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, titled 'Separation from Those we Love'.

I realized, when I searched for it to share with my friend, that I had only ever known part of the writing - the part he called 'first' - but there are three more parts to it of which I wasn't aware. Three parts which contain a powerful message, particularly valuable to me at this point in my life. I'd always thought of this writing as being about death and, in fact, had used it when my dad died. But when you read all four parts it becomes apparent that it can also be about the loss of friendship and that is what I dealt with this past summer.

My friend wrote in one communication "I believe in no accidents in life" and I think perhaps she's right. Perhaps it was not an accident that we reconnected, that I searched for and discovered something that is reassuring and comforting, that I have a rekindled friendship just as one has faded away.

I believe that there are no coincidences - that a coincidence is, in actuality, God's way of trying to get our attention. I think that's what this all is. 

Here's the treatise in its entirety

Separation from Those we Love

First: nothing can make up for the absence of someone whom we love, and it would be wrong to try to find a substitute; we must simply hold out and see it through. That sounds very hard at first, but at the same time it is a great consolation, for the gap, as long as it remains unfilled, preserves the bonds between us. It is nonsense to say that God fills the gap; he doesn’t fill it, but on the contrary, he keeps it empty and so helps us to keep alive our former communion with each other, even at the cost of pain.

Secondly: the dearer and richer our memories, the more difficult the separation. But gratitude changes the pangs of memory into a tranquil joy. The beauties of the past are borne, not as a thorn in the flesh, but as a precious gift in themselves. We must take care not to wallow in our memories or hand ourselves over to them, just as we do not gaze all the time at a valuable present, but only at special times, and apart from these keep it simply as a hidden treasure that is ours for certain. In this way the past gives us lasting joy and strength.

Thirdly: times of separation are not a total loss or unprofitable for our companionship, or at any rate they need not be so. In spite of all the difficulties that they bring, they can be the means of strengthening fellowship quite remarkably.

Fourthly: I’ve learnt here especially that the facts can always be mastered, and that difficulties are magnified out of all proportion simply by fear and anxiety. From the moment we wake until we fall asleep we must commend other people wholly and unreservedly to God and leave them in his hands, and transform our anxiety for them into prayers on their behalf:

With sorrow and with grief…

God will not be distracted.

~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer