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.