Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Balloon

It was Christmas Eve. The store was mildly busy, winding down from a hectic two weeks. A man approached my till.

Do you have cellophane? he asked, voice terse with seemingly desperate need. My mind slipped sideways and not a little in reverse. It crashed back in the 60s and out popped Saran Wrap.

No, I said, we don’t sell food wrap.

No! he all but shouted, cellophane ... for wrapping stuff.

My mind went around another corner. Oh, you mean shrink wrap, yes, yes, of course, its ....

His eyes bugged out, my obstinate stupidity threatening to unhinge him. Never mind, he snarled while stabbing his debit card into the machine. It was then I got it: he wanted the clear crispy wrap for gift baskets. Go to Michaels,I said, they sell it there.

But the words were lost. The interact machine had taken the limelight—it was too slow. His fists clenched, his forearms strained; the machine teased. Life could not have been worse at that moment.

I glanced over his bent head at the woman behind. We exchanged smiles. Nice balloons, she said, looking at the green and red globes above my till.

I nodded in perfect understanding.

Bringing my attention back to the man I asked: would you like a balloon?

His shoulders relaxed and his face softened; he smiled and almost laughed. Yes, he said, I would. And with balloon in hand went out the door into the night. 

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Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Our Shared Humanity

On Christmas Eve, one hundred years ago, a miracle took place. We now know it as the Christmas Truce but back then it was hushed away, known only by the men who experienced it and those they chose to tell. It was the winter of 1914 and the Great War, just five months old, had already descended from the lofty and quick pursuit of God’s will to a cold and wet nightmare of trench warfare. There was to be no early end to this war.

The Truce, we are told by Thomas Vinciguerra of the NY Times, was unplanned but it is estimated that up to 100,000 men took part. There was no internet back then and radio communications were rudimentary at best but the truce spread along the Western Front like a simultaneous spark.

He quotes Private Albert Moren of the Second Queens Regiment:

It was a beautiful moonlit night, frost on the ground, white almost everywhere; and about 7 or 8 in the evening there was a lot of commotion in the German trenches and there were these lights -I don't know what they were. And then they sang "Silent Night" - "Stille Nacht." I shall never forget it, it was one of the highlights of my life. I thought, what a beautiful tune.

The Brits sang back with their own carols. The Germans sang with them.

Vinciguerra tells of how Captain Josef Sewal of the 17th Bavarian Regiment shouted out a wish for a truce. With courage men from each side arose. They crossed no-man’s land, where only bullets had flown, and shook hands. Soon gifts were exchanged, laughter was heard and, in that desolate field of mud and vermin, there was, in what I could only imagine, hope.

The next day there were impromptu games of soccer. Later the dead were buried in joint ceremonies. There was brotherhood.

But it didn’t last. In some places, it is said, the truce made it until New Years Day but in others, it was over by nightfall. British commanders threatened court martials if it ever happened again; some Germans were sent to the Eastern front.

I think of those men—boys, really—who started the singing or who first arose from the trenches. How scary it must have been to trust, to put your faith in another; to believe that life could be different.

May 2015 be one where we all act with similar courage. Where we face our fears with open hearts; live our truth in the face of judgment and cherish that fierce flame that burns within us: our shared humanity; our glowing spirit.
If you want to read more on the Christmas Truce, link to these three sites: New York Times , History 1900s and Wikipedia

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Saturday, November 22, 2014

Complicit by Oil

Christmas is coming. Freighters dot English Bay with increasing numbers, store windows light up and traffic is a nightmare. Our consumeristic blood bubbles over with sudden urges to buy as TV, the internet, radio and print urges us to spend, spend and spend some more. And while this alone is troublesome what compounds it is that our desires tend to be made of oil by-products or come to us by means of petroleum-fueled planes, ships and trains. 

I look in the mirror. Even though I have long opted out of buying gifts for others at Christmas I know I am still part of this seemingly endless oil-based cycle: I use a computer; drive my father’s car; wear polypro and listen to CDs. I use copiers, a cell phone and ride the bus; use Q-tips, sleeping bags and band-aids. I have two pair of glasses, put my garbage in plastic and may one day need hearing aids and antihistamines. I wear mascara, sunscreen and my apartment is carpeted. The list goes on. For a longer (but not complete list) click here.

I am against the Kinder Morgan expansion through Burnaby Mountain and the Enbridge pipeline across my beloved BC. I don’t want oil tankers navigating their way through our most vulnerable coast and I abhor the thought of trains derailing and spilling toxic chemicals. I’m an unapologetic tree hugger yet I know I am complicit.

Please look at this list and consider ways to decrease your oil consumption especially during this time of the year when excess can seem the norm. We are the ones who are ultimately responsible. Industry only gives us what we demand.

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Saturday, November 1, 2014

Fervent Needs and Soulful Wants

I’ve spent the last week contemplating the fine line between want and need; true desire and addiction. It started after a friend challenged me to sit in meditation rather than hike. And, while meditation is not foreign to me—it is an important part of who I am—I’ve tended to meditate in the woods … only after hiking. The act of movement a requisite to the want of stillness.

I am no stranger to this information. I’ve known for many years my need to be active; my disquiet with stillness. I’ve worked hard at tempering it down from an active addiction to a manageable desire. In recovery I find peace and tranquility within this quiet place. But the need to move always lingers in the background. I can sit in quiet meditation as long movement precedes it or is soon to follow. Hence the physical activity of hiking and the solace I find in the trees seem to complete me: a mergence of yin and yang; a dance of spirit and soul.

So when I took up the challenge it was not in want of giving up movement. It is not only health-giving but an aspect of life that I love. The issue was something else: could I find peace if movement is denied?

I chose the seaside to be my place of sitting. In the time I would have spent hiking and then, even in writing, I sat and watched the ocean as she touched the rocky shore—sometimes gently; other times with assertion—but always with a rhythm that pulled me in to her watery depths.

It is not always easy to sit. The need to move, the need to do anything, is powerful but then again, so is my want—my true desire—of the calm acceptance found only in the state of being.

Today is day eleven. Circumstances made it difficult to sit the last two days and I missed it. Over the last week I sat in rain and wind, bundled tight in Helly Hanson; in the warmth of the sun and the cool of the dark. I am only beginning to learn all I need to learn in that watery expanse but two things stand out.

The need to move is an age-old grasping to be strong, thin and safe. It has nothing to do with the enjoyment I find in the play of my muscles, a love of the forest and the strong spiritual connection I find when I am there.

The need “to do” carries forth in my writing. But, as above, my determination to publish a blog each week has little to do with my love of writing and the act of a disciplined art but more in the fear of failure, of not being enough; and of not being recognized.

Today I hiked and then I wrote. I also sat in stillness by the water. I enjoyed all three except that I really didn’t feel complete until I sat. I realize I won’t feel this way every day and, to be honest, it would not be great for my physical health but I know the completeness would have been there with just the sitting. I don’t need to write and I don’t need to move. I need just to be me.

It’s about inner discernment: of the fervent needs that try to fulfill a vacant past and the soulful wants that help me live a full and conscious life.

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