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.

Better together

I had abuse hurled at me a few times this week. Ah, Christmas must be upon us, where emotions get ramped up – of all kinds. Road rage torrents against cyclists are year-round, but being shouted at while I grapple through snow – I mean, really?

An even more unnerving encounter was when I was delivering a food package and had trouble contacting the recipient or gaining access to his building. Another resident saw me and started railing off quite vehemently how I shouldn’t be providing such a service to this particular person. But within minutes of Mr. Grumpy’s departure, several nice people appeared and helped me gain access to the building and to deliver the food parcel. So I always think there are more people willing to help and be kind than those who are surly.

It’s in this way that we can always achieve more with the help of others. It’s like when I’m out with birds, I often feel dismayed when I see other people gathered about in one of ‘my’ spots. But when I get chatting to them, I hear all kinds of interesting bird stories and gain useful tips before these enthusiasts soon depart.

I often feel I need to achieve things on my own. But I’ve learned that we can achieve so much more if we work together, positively helping and reinforcing one another with dignity and respect. Our world needs us working together, not apart or in opposition. Over the holiday season, it’s more important than ever to make the effort to be helpful and kind, as we’re all feeling additional stress during our uncertain, fragile times.

The presents of presence

As the holiday season is upon us, so with it comes the stress and scramble to buy the perfect gifts for everyone close to us. Saying that, the more time I spend with my mother, who has Alzheimer’s, the more I realize that the greatest gift you can give is yourself – your time, your listening ear and your positive, patient presence.

I occasionally buy my mom gifts, like cookies or colouring books, but not very often, since she doesn’t understand what many things are for. Most of the time she doesn’t know exactly who I am either. In a way, it doesn’t matter. She’s always happy to see me because what she does understand is my smile, my laughter, my caring eyes and compassionate reassurance when I talk or play a game with her or just sit together. She picks up on my warmth, and in turn, she smiles and even chuckles sometimes, even if she doesn’t know why. But my presence makes her feel calm and secure and this is the best of what I can offer her.

I’ve repeated this act of sitting quietly with other friends and family members, and have seen the difference that it can make. We’re often so quick to rush in and want to fix things for a person and it can be very hard to stop ourselves from trying. Usually the person just wants to express themselves – to be heard, to be listened to and for their problems and concerns to be acknowledged and validated as real.

I’m not saying to never give a gift to someone – of course, as long as it is thoughtful and appropriate and given with your heart. But never underestimate the value of your presence to another person. The one thing that we can never get back is time, especially time with the person when they are gone. The pandemic has taught us the pain of being apart from those we love. When you can, give the gift of your presence to someone who is in need of your company. This may include all of us at some time in our lives and is something that we can always cherish, no matter what the occasion or time of year.

Keeping commitments

It snowed one day this week. The kind of wet, rain-like snow accompanied by wind that seems to blow in your face, no matter what direction you’re facing – at least on a bicycle. I found myself in this predicament because I had committed that day to deliver some charitable gift bags on my bike.

It was a long cycle to the pick-up point, which took me 40 minutes, as I had to cycle extra slowly through the snow, with visibility being very limited, as the snow careened into my face. Then two hours doing deliveries and back again. By the time I got home, face dripping, I was thoroughly exhausted physically and mentally.

Part of me wanted to write this off as a ‘bad experience’ but then, I have this blog to write! Actually, while reflecting on what I was going to say, I ended up repeating the above scenario another day, this time in winds which developed suddenly up to 50km/hour – very scary! But I’m still keeping to my original thoughts, that while both experiences were a struggle, I don’t think this kind of adversity is necessarily a bad thing. Rising to such challenges can show you what you’re truly made of, and the achievement can strengthen and give you a boost of energy which you can then hold in reserve.

But on top of that, I also think it’s extremely important to try and keep whatever commitments that you have made. First off, to consider very carefully what you commit to before doing so, and then to treat these endeavors seriously and with respect. We live in an age now where we click and unclick onto items and experiences, and where there is a tendency to drop out of things that don’t suit our mood at the time they come round. Of course, there are instances that arise where you have to change your plans or withdraw from commitments, but I don’t think it’s something we should approach lightly.  

If anything, I feel that keeping our commitments is a muscle we all need to exercise more because not only do the people around us need this level of care and commitment, but so does the world, if we have any hope of fixing any of the problems that need addressed. We should all strive to be part of the solution, in whatever way we can, starting with providing the help that we say we will. In the meantime, I’m very much hoping for some mild days of sunshine…

Snowflake cardigan

Much as I think this would make a great name for a band, this story is actually about a sweater. I was in the market for a new cardigan to replace one I have that’s falling apart, and I wanted a light material with a zipper, surprisingly hard to find. However, while the aisles of a voluminous thrift shop, I found one – not black, like I’d wanted, but purple with pink and white snowflakes. It was so pretty that I couldn’t resist, but when I tried it on, it looked completely different and just not right. I went to put it back and then was transfixed by how nice it was and so tried it on again – off, on, fuss – repeat, until I had finally decided that it just wasn’t going to work.

At the moment when I was putting it back on its hanger, a saleslady came by and remarked on how lovely it was. I explained my dilemma of the on vs off scenario, and when I tried it on, she immediately proclaimed, ‘Oh, you look frumpy in that. Don’t buy it!’ I was surprised at her candidness but was actually relieved that she confirmed what I’d been thinking too.

Later, I got to thinking about how something can seem so right and then when we ‘try it on’ it doesn’t suit us at all. This isn’t that unusual, but maybe what’s more surprising is how often we still want the item regardless, perhaps because we feel we ought to. Or maybe the object or experience genuinely looks appealing from the outside and so we feel that we should want it – maybe because societal pressures make us believe that we need it in order to be happy.

I think if you try something and it doesn’t work for you, no matter how objectively desirable it seems, it’s perfectly okay to reject it. We are all the architects of our own lives and must construct the details of our own dwelling according to what feels right to us. And just like snowflakes, this will be unique and different for everyone, so we must tailor our experiences to what better fits our own sensibilities or beliefs. This last metaphor would work better if I could actually sew a button, which I can’t. Thank goodness for zippers, or in desperate times – safety pins – until the right fit truly comes along.

Go to the flow

Like many people over the course of the pandemic, I’ve become very socially isolated. While I’m grateful for the myriad of online opportunities and meetups, for me personally, they don’t replace in-person contact or leave me with the same depth of connection or degree of fulfilment.

I was glad, therefore, that on a recent weekend, a meetup group I’d been a member of for a while but hadn’t met with for a long time, opted for a session on the patio of a restaurant. It was a chilly day, and though the heat lamps provided were valiant in their efforts, they didn’t succeed in providing much warmth. However, a dozen of us huddled at the tables in our jackets, scarves and hats.

In the conversations that followed, I didn’t feel that I was really connecting with anyone in terms of them ‘getting where I was at.’ However, there was one woman I felt drawn towards for some reason. When we finally spoke, I discovered that, like me, she has a parent suffering from Alzheimer’s, but was earlier on in the journey of care. After listening for a while to her story, I found that I could provide her with some suggestions and advice, based on my own experience.

This act of helping immediately boosted my energy and made me feel less alone. Though I had wanted someone to listen to my problems, by listening to those of another and offering what I had to give, I suddenly felt completely full. It’s a strange paradox, to receive by giving, but one that always seems to ring true.

For me, the way it works is that the universe has an infinite source of love readily available when we open ourselves up to it. When we offer our help to another with kindness, courage and compassion – the wellspring of our humanity – we become an embodiment of this pure love, and so it fills us up.

This is why I feel grateful whenever opportunities arise where I can give, both in pre-arranged volunteering, but also in spontaneous encounters, because I know that these opportunities will nourish and fulfil me, connecting me in a way that I am indivisible from my whole environment.

Karmic currency

Last week the main zipper on my backpack broke. The bag was still functional but not as much as it was before. It seems hard in these days of our disposable culture, discarding and replacing damaged items, to get things repaired at a reasonable price. Personally, I prefer to use things as long as I can, and I was really fond of this backpack, especially since as I age, I need to put everything in the same places or I will never find anything or remember to take things with me. Sound familiar, anyone?

Having called up a few places that were asking for crazy prices to replace the zipper, I gave up and went for a walk. I’m new to the area where I’m currently living, and I decided to walk up a different side street. Lo and behold, in front of one of the houses was a sandwich board advertising clothing alterations and repairs. When I called the number, the very friendly woman said yes, it was no problem to fix the zipper and she charged me a fraction of the price I was quoted elsewhere. Result!

Other than the added benefit of supporting local initiatives – something so vital in our post-pandemic age, for me, this episode the system of putting out to the universe what you need and trusting that it will come to you – though not usually in the way that you expect.

I’ve had several incidents of this happen lately, the most wonderful one being the rental of a digital piano, me currently being a pianist without a piano. The main shop that rents keyboards told me they had nothing in stock and no idea if and when any would be available. I left it for a few days and went back to look at a keyboard I was willing – in desperation – to buy, though it was pricey and not quite what I was looking for. I mentioned to a (different) salesman how I would prefer to rent and he told me that a digital piano had been returned that very day – a beautiful Roland which I snapped up with immense joy.

Though of course, I’m not suggesting this is the only way to obtain things, I think the beauty of what I call ‘karmic currency’ is that things are infinitely available, if and when we’re willing to give up our impatience and control in acquiring them and just trust that the universe will provide what we need.

The flip side is, of course, that we also need to ‘pay out’ when opportunities arise. So not knowing if we’re in ‘karmic credit or debt’, you end up with an ever-flowing dance of reciprocity, reinforcing not only our bond of community with one another, but also a communion with greater powers beyond our reach. So in addition to populating our world with unexpected surprises, this web of interconnectedness will hopefully make us feel less alone and uncertain, as we wend our way through our own particular challenges.