Corny but Kind

My weekly column for your viewing pleasure (hopefully):

“The ideals which have lighted my way, and time after time have given
me new courage to face life cheerfully have been kindness, truth and
beauty.” ~ Albert Einstein

Ah, truth and beauty — arguably two of the elements of a good life lived are subjects for another day. Kindness once again is raising its lofty head in recognition of its role in creating a life worth living—but does it really make a difference?

Author George Saunders thinks so. In his convocation speech in 2013 to graduates at Syracuse University he told the grads that what he regrets most in life are his “failures of kindness”. These failures were not in the guise of unkindness but he says were “moments when another human being was there, in front of me suffering and I responded….sensibly. Reservedly. Mildly.” In other words, while he did not ignore the suffering, neither did he go that extra mile to alleviate it.

He admits that his advice is corny, but he delivers it anyway. He suggests that there is no greater goal in life than to “try to be kinder.” Saunders tries to answer the question as to why we are not kinder and in doing so he cites these three reasons, which intellectually make no sense but we seem to believe them “viscerally” or instinctively. The first is that we are central to the universe and that the only interesting story is our personal one. The second is in direct contrast to the first: we’re separate from the universe (there is us, and then out there is all that other junk). Number three is the real kicker, and most of us live our lives in this state of denial: we are permanent, and while we recognize that death is real, it is for other people.

So these three belief systems tend to make us put our needs before those of other people, even though Saunders claims what we really want is to be “less selfish, more aware of what’s actually happening in the present moment, and more loving” (which translates into kindness). He says that we know we “want to be these things because from time to time we have been these things—and liked it.”

He also asks this important question: “Who, in your life, do you remember most fondly, with the most undeniable feelings of warmth?” And since he was giving the speech, he also provided the answer, which in its simplicity is complex: “Those who were kindest to you.”

So what does kindness mean? Many things it turns out. It includes compassion—an understanding of the human condition. And sympathy, thoughtfulness, helpfulness, gentleness, and benevolence, or more simply good will towards your fellow earth walkers. But a good will that you extend. Kindness is an act—it must be an action to be of any use.

Saunders believes that kindness “it turns out, is hard”. He says that as we get older, it is easier to be kinder, and if you have kids, that will be a “huge moment in your process of self-diminishment. You really won’t care what happens to you, as long as they benefit.” His advice to the graduates is to go ahead and accomplish things, succeed in your endeavours, but at the same time hurry up the gradual process of becoming kinder and more loving. He says “Speed it along. Start right now.” Don’t wait to become kinder and gentler. Act on it now and “seek out the most efficacious anti-selfishness medicines. Energetically, for the rest of your life.”

The other day on Facebook, someone put out the challenge to participate in a “Pay it Forward” initiative. The first five people who commented with an “I’m in” would be the recipients of a surprise from her at some point this year—and the surprise would take the form of “anything from a book, a ticket, something home-grown, a postcard, or absolutely any surprise.” She said that there would be no warning and “it will happen when the mood comes over me”. The catch, if you can call it a catch is to make the same offer to five more people, and form a “web connection of kindness.” Well, I sent her my “I’m in” and in the spirit of kindness will be posting the same initiative on my Facebook page.

Oh, and the reason for the initiative? The post said that it is being done “without any reason other than to make each other smile and to show that we think of each other.” Now that is kindness in action.

Published in: on July 22, 2014 at 12:38 pm  Comments (16)  
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Hope is…

Like this……….perfect for a Sunday or any day…………

Chalkboard Quotes


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Published in: on July 20, 2014 at 12:04 pm  Comments (5)  

The Story of Our Life

Have not been writing for this blog much lately- but here is my weekly column just in case you have missed me…………

I have found the answer. My journey is complete. My soul is restored. No more spiritual cravings. Over the years I have made some of these declarations before, but this time it is “the real thing” and I am not referring to my favourite soft drink. Or soda. Or pop. Or however you may refer to your favourite carbonated beverage.

Do I have your curiosity piqued? Probably not, but I shall endeavour to bring you the answer I have sought for so long and finally found, despite your doubts. I know the meaning of life and it is all thanks to one of my favourite but quirky, or quirky but favourite columnists and CBC radio host, Jonathan Goldstein. In his Saturday column this week in the National Post, called “A few Tips on How to Exist” he asked God why he was bound for a life he did not ask for. He did not want to be born. He said that his argument, which consisted of making the following plea: “Don’t make me be. To the universe I will always be the clumsy boy on his first day of school, never fitting in, smelling so funny. Even to myself…” must not have been compelling enough.

And God’s response? He is purported to have told Jonathan that the smell attached to him is as “old as time” and he needed “a person to go along with it.” God then told Jon “to go out there and start existing.” But that is not the end of the story. God had a plan for him that he seemingly has for everyone. According to Jonathan, in answer to his question, “What is the use….I’ll only end up right back here….why bother?” God said this: “So that you can come back and tell me good stories.” Apparently God loves a good story. He told Jonathan (in Jonathan’s hypothetical conversation) that coming back with a good story “is the best and perhaps only gift you can give me.”

I understand. If we do not go out into the world to gather stories, then what really is the point? Stories chronicle our journey; they make following a path worthwhile because at the end of the path is our story. Just this morning I told my husband that the only reason I let him out into the world without me is to bring back stories. I told him if he did not bring stories from his adventures then he would not be allowed out anymore (you do know this is tongue-in-cheek don’t you?). He likes to dive; I cannot swim. He likes the blues; I don’t particularly care for that type of music. But I still expect him to come back with stories—what did you see; what did you do; who did you talk to; what did you eat—you know the drill.

Stories help us live several lives. First the lives that we lead and the stories we can tell; and then, the lives other live that we can occupy, if only in our imagination. I love to live vicariously. It expands my horizons, if not experientially—at least second-hand. Recycled events open us to things we cannot, or are not willing to experience ourselves, but that we can still benefit from. Jonathan says it somewhat more lyrically in these words: “Stories create memories and maybe the memories we make are the novels God reads.”

Jonathan also finds that many of his stories are “accidents turned into anecdotes”. The key element in his stories is humour and embracing his embarrassments, which include spilling relish on himself on a regular basis. I too suffer from regularly spilling food on myself, and find wearing white pants an adventure. From coffee to mustard, chili to French onion soup, the story of my life can be told by the stains on my clothes. I also suffer from TMJ, which means I cannot open my mouth very wide, making me somewhat of a spectacle on the lunch circuit. I really must remember to take smaller bites—oh, the stories I could tell!

I am being a bit facetious here (if you have to tell people you are being facetious you have failed at some level in your storytelling—something like if you have to ask the price…..) but I think you are getting the gist.

We were not put on this earth to do anything other than to find our story. And our story is derived from all those things that have happened to us—from the day we were slapped on the butt to the day our soul survives us, we are our story.

Note: Jonathan refers to God as he; I do not necessarily think God is a he. Do You?














Published in: on July 15, 2014 at 10:19 am  Comments (23)  

Memento Mori

must get a new camera and freeze some of those moments so they will not melt…………

Live & Learn


“All photographs are memento mori. To take a photograph is to participate in another person’s (or thing’s) mortality, vulnerability, mutability. Precisely by slicing out this moment and freezing it, all photographs testify to time’s relentless melt.”

— Susan Sontag


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Published in: on July 15, 2014 at 10:13 am  Comments (2)  



My weekly column for your reading pleasure. Some of you will recognize it as a longer version of a blog I did a few days ago:

“I do not understand how a poem can be better than a peppermint plant.” ~ thich nhat hanh

Perspective is that illusive entity that helps us make sense out of the events of our lives, or, at the very least, gives us a proportion by which to measure those things. thich nhat hanh puts life so in perspective for me. Sometimes I do not appreciate the beauty in everyday things and tasks—okay, most of the time, I do not appreciate the beauty in the everyday—but his thoughts in this poem, found in a short chapter in his book “moments of mindfulness” help me to see tasks as more than necessary evils, and value the things in life I take so for granted:

Planting a seed
washing a dish,
and cutting the grass
are as eternal,
as beautiful,
as writing a poem.
I do not understand
how a poem can be better
than a peppermint plant.

I do agree with him wholeheartedly about the “planting a seed” thing, and even the “cutting the grass” thing, but I will need more convincing on the “washing a dish thing”. I have to admit that I do not embrace the beauty of everyday tasks, and need a little “mindfulness” to convince me. I find the term “mindfulness” somewhat annoying in that it has become somewhat of a clichéd watchword, but if you define it as awareness or thoughtful consciousness then it becomes a clearer destination, rather than a muddy journey.

Everyday tasks are an inevitable part of the human condition. Taking a page out of thich nhat hanh’s book and giving those tasks the same weight as the things we deign as more “important” is one way of gaining a new perspective or way of looking at things.
Hanh evaluates the seemingly unimportant as significant, and heightens trivial chores to a loftier plane. So the washing of dishes becomes just as important, just as beautiful in its own way as something considered more creative.

We label things, and put them in columns or charts and graphs—quantifying them, thereby taking away their essence. I have always found labels wanting, never quite a good fit, just as hanh finds it difficult to see why writing a poem is better than a peppermint plant. I guess it all comes down to the fact that you cannot compare apples and oranges—each is distinct and unique in colour and flavour, in shape and size. Even comparing apples to apples is a dangerous thing—there are so many different kinds, shapes, sizes and colours that grouping them as one entity misidentifies their individuality. We do this with people too—we group them together by colour, language, economics, and heritage, without looking below the surface and seeing each person’s singularity. I am not my white skin, my English language, my age, my job, or IQ score. I am a bundle of all these things—a supersized combo (with pickles) if you will.

Zen Master, teacher, advocate of peace, human rights and justice, nhan sums us up accurately in the last tiny chapter in his book by writing:

We are the children of the Earth
and not separate from the soil,
the forests,
the rivers,
and the sky,
we share the same destiny.

And that, dear readers, puts it all in perspective for me. Even when we are relegated to cutting the lawn, doing the dishes, or writing a poem.

Slow Learner

Why did it take me
So so long to realize:
Friendship is precious ?


Published in: on July 6, 2014 at 9:49 am  Comments (15)  
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In Canada–the Hadfields but no McCoys

Still feeling very Canadian today and when Heidi sent this link to me I just had to share it —

Published in: on July 2, 2014 at 8:36 pm  Comments (12)  

Perspective is everything….


writers experience everything twice

thich nhat hanh puts life so in perspective for me. Sometimes I do not appreciate the beauty in everyday tasks—okay, most of the time, I do not appreciate the beauty in everyday tasks—but his thoughts in this poem, found in the book “moments of mindfulness” help me to see these tasks as more than necessary evils.

I do agree with him wholeheartedly about the planting a seed thing, and even the cutting the grass thing, but I will need more convincing on the “washing a dish” thing. Here are his words of wisdom for you to consider:

Planting a seed
washing a dish,
and cutting the grass
are as eternal,
as beautiful,
as writing a poem.
I do not understand
how a poem can be better
than a peppermint plant.

Can you embrace the beauty of everyday tasks, or do you need a little “mindfulness” convincing? My only argument with…

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Published in: on July 2, 2014 at 2:09 pm  Comments (6)  


who the heck are the other third?

Live & Learn

Canada celebrates its 147th Birthday today. In a new poll, two-thirds of Canadians say they love their country and what it stands for. I’m among the fervently passionate 2/3rds. Happy Birthday Canada.

Photograph: Al Tuttle

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Published in: on July 1, 2014 at 9:34 am  Comments (21)