Universal help

I think we have all been moved by the heart-breaking scenes of the war in Ukraine, particularly of the legions of refugees fleeing their homes and sheltering in makeshift accommodation, their futures uncertain.

The outpouring of support from the world has been immediate and all widespread, with many different initiatives and ways of providing aid. It is truly admirable how we, as human beings, respond to crises with heartfelt love and support. I am always impressed by how locals drop everything and rally to help those in need – providing accommodation, transport and essential supplies.

 It is truly at the grassroots level that we can make a difference, which is why, in the midst of our attention concentrated on Ukraine, I would urge people to continue looking closer to home. There is suffering all around us – poverty in our communities, isolation amongst our neighbours. There are so many vulnerable people – homeless, or hungry or lonely or in need of a listening ear or particular types of assistance. Can we refocus our desire to help to hone in on those among us? There are so many ways we can give – with our time and skills through volunteering or by donating money to organizations that really do improve the lives of those around us.

I feel encouraged that we feel and connect with the suffering of others throughout the world and respond when their basic human needs are threatened or taken away. I think there are valid and valuable ways to help in these situations, but the world in our backyard needs us too. We are all prone to be vulnerable and thrown into a crisis in these very difficult times. Let’s be there for each other and looking out for one another, not just through heightened events, but in our everyday lives.

Homing in

Finding an apartment to rent is notoriously stressful and exhausting, especially with a deadline of moving out a previous place. Mercifully, there seem to be a lot of short-term furnished rentals on offer at the moment, but the properties vary wildly in appearance, condition and price. Then there’s all the schlepping to viewings, alongside the wearying ping-pong matches, pairing up the suitability of the place with your eligibility as a tenant.

Every time I rent a place – which is often, given my current transient lifestyle, I learn new things. As I’ve gotten especially good at making lists, here are the three main takeaways I’ve learned from my most recent rental venture:

First off, decide on two or three things that are non-negotiable and stick to them. No accommodation is ever likely to be perfect or tick every box, so choose what is essential – be it parking, or location or natural light, and make sure the apartment has them all. Worry about the other stuff later. Many structural or cosmetic issues can, within reason, be improved upon or personalized once the place is yours.

With your priorities in mind, be up front and transparent about your needs and expectations. I nearly didn’t take the place I’m in now until the issue of bike storage got sorted out. Matters can often be negotiated and agreed upon, especially if the landlord wants to take you on as a tenant.

Which leads me to my third point – be honest, mindful and pledge to look after the place to the best of your ability. After all, it’s going to be your home, for however, long. Honesty and sincerity will go a long way towards helping you to find and secure a place that’s right for you.

And while renting an apartment is, for all intents and purposes, a business transaction, it still involves a relationship between people, engendering trust. Let’s not commodify it on either side to ‘what can be got out of the deal’, but instead, let’s humanize the process through open and empathetic discussion and interactions. Shelter is a basic human need and we should all strive to help one another to acquire it with dignity, respect and understanding. Now, I’d best go unearth some more treasured belongings from my boxes. Good thing my computer was near the top of one. 😊

Cycling onwards

When I first began working on this post, I could barely see out of one eye, as it was puffed up and bruised from a recent bike accident, when my tire skidded on the groove of a streetcar track and threw me off the bike. I whacked my face – right near my eye. In spite of the shock and blood pouring down my head, I managed to cycle home and eventually get to hospital.

It’s been a long week of recovery, with lots of swelling and headaches, but it could have been a lot worse. With all the resting and reduced screen time (something many of us could benefit from), I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on what lessons I could glean from this terrible incident.

For one thing, it’s made me appreciate how fragile we are as physical beings and to not take your health for granted. Recovering from an accident or illness strips you down to a very basic place where all the things you were fussing about fall away in importance. Suddenly, all you need are rest, food, and peace and quiet. And what a relief it is when the body starts to heal again and your energy returns.

I’ve also tried to be less judgmental of other people. Who knows why someone is wearing dark sunglasses (as I was) or carrying themselves in a certain way? We could all do with being more compassionate with others, as we would hope people would be compassionate with us in our own times of weakness.

On top of this I would add the importance of caring for one another – let’s do it more. I was fortunate that my neighbour kindly patched me up and drove me to hospital, but in some ways, the worst part about this experience has been dealing with it mostly alone. Even everyday tasks like cooking and washing dishes became gargantuan.

A traumatic incident takes time to process, and it’s therapeutic to have people to talk to. Maybe there is someone you could reach out to today, to help them when things go wrong. Let’s delve deep into our inner empathy and show one another the true essence of our humanity that binds us together.

The Wordle is out

I’m not someone who generally follows trends, but as a self-declared wordsmith, I’m delighted that the popularity of Wordle has gone viral. In this game, you have six chances to guess the daily five-letter word, while the computer prompts you if a letter you’ve guessed is in the word or not and whether it’s in the correct position.

The game has divided people into devotees who avidly play it every day and those who hate it and recoil from an attempt. People have become so invested, that protests have been mounted over issues, such as the use of American spelling and the validity of certain words. In response to grievances over the recently used word, ‘caulk’, The New York Times, who run the site, removed all potentially obscure words from the system.

I love Wordle, of course, as it’s fun and immensely satisfying when I finally snag the solution – usually on the fourth or fifth try, but occasionally on the very last go, sighing with relief at rising once again to surmount the linguistic challenge.

And in fact, we make decisions in the manner of Wordle on a daily basis. We often know when things aren’t working, but not always the particulars of how or what to change. We feel sure we’re right and get frustrated when a situation continues to elude us, whereas, we may, in fact, be very close to a solution, which might be achieved by moving around one or two things, or plumping for an option we hadn’t previously considered. Some scenarios can be clearly worked out, some are just luck and some matters take a bit longer to settle.

However we arrive at a solution, we have to continue to try. If nothing else, the satisfaction and peace of mind at solving a problem strengthens our resilience in our ability to do so in future. And perhaps it can even bring us the one word that we’re all striving for – joy, or maybe even b-l-i-s-s.

The heart of the matter

We were due for even more snow last week, on top of the piles had already been dumped and were still messily sprawled all over the city. I decided on the day before its arrival that I should get my errands and grocery shopping done. After a morning of virtual meetings, I set out later than planned, hoiking my bike into the slushy alleyway. It was a beautiful sunny day, and all of a sudden, I had a terrible urge to go to the Humber River, a journey which entailed a lengthy transit ride and was in the opposite direction to the errands.

I was literally stuck standing still in the alley having a raging head/heart debate about how impractical and unfeasible this would be in my timeframe versus how wonderful it would be by the river. I opted to prevaricate by going in the direction of the sensible errands and decide when I got to the main street. I put it to the universe – if a streetcar in the direction of the river appeared when I got to the street, I would hop on. Well, there it was…

So, yes, I went to the Humber – my head grumbling the whole way – but the river was magnificent – the water gushing and breaking through the ice. I saw many beautiful creatures and my heart felt full. It didn’t matter that I later on I ended up scrambling around to get everything done – only grabbing one wrong item in my ‘supermarket sweep.’

But for me, the biggest wrong is not living in your heart. It’s something we all struggle to do, especially in our head-centred world. Of course, your head can help you to make decisions, but it can also make you feel like you’re drifting away from what is really important to you. it’s your heart pounding against your body that always knows, that connects you to your passion and the pulse of what it truly means to be alive. It transcends the everyday tik-tock existence and connects you to eternity. And for me, that can never be the wrong place to be.

Taking a stand

This week’s story isn’t so much about stepping up for a cause but about a stand – for a digital keyboard. Of course, there are always ways to extend the story into something wider, or I’d have to change the theme of my blog, wouldn’t I? 🙂

Every day for the past two months, I’ve been playing my beloved rental digital piano. I was enjoying it, but frustrated by how the keyboard kept wobbling on the cross stand when I played. I tried various measures to stop the shaking and nothing worked, so I just put up with it. Eventually, my annoyance overcame my inertia and I went back to the shop and asked what I could do about it. The staff suggested I swap it for a sturdier stand – at no extra charge. I contemplated this some more – as the stands were bulky to transport, even more so in the snow. But finally, this week, I lugged in the old stand via public transit and swapped it for the new. Problem solved – no more shaking – and I could finally be free to enjoy playing and letting my thoughts drift onto other things.

Sometimes the biggest issue in our problems is cogitating over them and dwelling in indecision and uncertainty, while what we just need most is more information. Or, when we get the information we need, not following up on it. In this way, just pursuing answers to a problem gets you halfway towards solving it, if not arriving at a complete solution itself.

The importance of solving small problems can’t be underestimated because you’re exercising a muscle that will help you to tackle the larger ones. Taking action over lesser issues shows that you have the skills, will and determination to address and resolve whatever is bothering you, which can give you the confidence and encouragement to address the bigger concerns in your life. You’re also clearing space in your brain from annoying problems to broach the larger and more penetrating questions and issues we all face in our lives. Which, by the way, I do much better, playing music. 🙂

Snow blind

This week we had an epic snowstorm – the biggest one since 1999. The snow began overnight and kept going all through the next day – wispy flakes blown horizontally by the wind, falling steadily for hours. By the time it stopped, there was about 50 cm ( a foot and a half) of tight, compacted snow on the ground.

Throughout the day, lots of crazy stories emerged of people struggling to get to work – cars piled up in ditches or jackknifed across highways, buses stranded, transit cancelled and pedestrians being blown about, trudging through unplowed pavements, walking for miles.

I waited until the afternoon to attempt the trek back home from my mom’s. My journey wasn’t as bad as it could have been. I managed to find transit that was still running and only fell over once crossing a snow drift. I also helped to push a car which was stuck in the alley behind my house. I saw many other signs of this – people helping to push or dig out cars, or out all day shovelling snow in the neighbourhood. Even the driver of the bus I was on waived the fares.

Unfortunately, as the week went on – and the snow remained – I saw less and less of this kind of help and if anything, more signs of people being mean and impatient with one another.

I think in times of a shared crisis, we are very good at helping one another, the immediacy of the extreme situation rallying us to unite in our efforts to help one another. What if we could be like this every day? To treat every day’s circumstances as precarious and see that any of us can be vulnerable at any time.

I think the snowstorm also made it clear to me how lucky many of us are to have a home to shelter and work in and take refuge from the storm. Why not share our good fortune with others whenever we get the chance – every day and not just snow days.

Working on it

This week I attended an online workshop for job seekers – another one, I should add, as I’m still having trouble finding a job after several months of applying to various positions. What I learned most of all from the workshop is how hard you have to work just to apply for a job, with each post’s dizzying array of requirements and the fierce and endless competition.

I did the workshop because I felt I ought to learn how to become more savvy in applying for jobs I thought I ought to be applying for. But is this really the right approach to finding work? It’s certainly making me feel more stressed and unhappy.

What if instead I just took out the word ‘ought?’ There are many of us are engaged in pursuits that take up so much of our time and energy and that we feel we ‘ought’ to be doing, for whatever reason. And sure, financial, familial, societal and other pressures put us in situations that can be difficult to manage. For me, I’m fortunate that I don’t have financial constraints at the moment and can try a different approach to work, instead investing my time and energy in finding something that is truly right for me.

And in the meantime, writing. I never feel that I ‘ought’ to be writing. It’s my passion and comes from my heart, with my mind conjuring up words that I hope will resonate with other people. It’s why I began to write this blog regularly, as well as it being an example of something I heard recently – ‘Dream big and start small.’ We can all do little things, take small but definitive actions that help us reach what we’re really after and a fulfillment of who we truly are.

What will it be for you? I invite you to and ask and in answering this question, see what initial steps you can take towards going after your dreams. Everything starts with a beginning, and it’s the movement towards a particular direction that will eventually get you there. Possibilities may be endless, but what is not in infinite supply is time, so perhaps the real work is in taking concrete, committed actions towards reaching a better outcome for tomorrow.

Suited to a tea

Now that we’re back in semi-lockdown again, things like indoor dining are banned. The night before these rules were reinstated, myself and my dear friend visiting from England were discussing how we ought to frequent the local café we kept talking about and walking past, as this would be the last possible opportunity for at least three weeks and during the time that he was here. So, although it was now dark and cold outside, we stirred ourselves from the cozy nest of my home and walked the several blocks to the cafe, only to find that it had been closed that day due to unforeseen circumstances.

Disappointed, but undeterred now that we were out, we decided to take a walk round the ‘hood, including a visit to the local library, where my friend managed to find an excellent book on his current topic of study. Then we walked down a side street and had an encounter with an adorable and friendly 4-month old Siamese kitten, who was being taken for a walk by his owner. Then we popped into the local mall to see the Christmas gingerbread installation, along with passing various other twinkly lights in the ‘hood. So, we ended up having a really nice little jaunt, though far from our original plan of action.

This is only a little story, but it illustrates something I’ve encountered many times in my life – that it’s always good to start off with an idea that that touches your heart in some way and then be open and see where it takes you. It may be off in an entirely different direction, but if you are open to discovery, you are then able to enter the realm of magic, joy and infinite possibilities.

Learning to ask questions

Happy New Year everyone. This past year has been very challenging and still more uncertainty looms. This past week held additional challenges for me, as my dear friend from England was due for a visit. There was already mounds of stress in getting him here amidst all the Covid regulations which severely restricted his movements initially. So tensions were high by the time we decided to rent a car and take a few day trips throughout the province. Trying to rush around to places in the limited daylight, combined with paper-map navigation and poor signage led to the subsequent inevitability of getting lost and we ended up immersed in conflict which I felt was directed at me. At one point, it was so bad, I wondered if our 20-year friendship was in danger of ending for good.

When we got home that night, I decided instead to take a massive step back and distance myself from all of my cascading feelings of anger, disappointment and upset and to take a different approach. I actually wanted to understand how we had got to that point and decided to ask questions. Not pointed, accusatory questions, but open, enquiring ones, to genuinely understand where this person was coming from.

The results were incredible. From just asking questions, I found out things about my friend that I never knew, even though we’ve been close for such a long time. It helped me to understand things much better and to empathize with some of his struggles. And the healing was profound and we were able to move forward and beyond. Knowing what I know now will help me to stave off any potential future problems before they escalate.

As we begin a new year, where many tensions are rife and uncertainty bounds, perhaps we can make things better just by learning to ask questions. We can’t heal or resolve things until we have more information and can better understand what someone is trying to tell us. Undoubtedly, there would be a lot less conflict in the world if we just made the effort to understand each other better and I always say there are more sides to any story than most people are willing to acknowledge. Perhaps we can make this the year that we move out of being immersed in our own stories and learn to make room for the stories of others.