Sunday, May 31, 2015


I had been on the refund desk at my part-time job for about four hours when he arrived. A fairly regular customer, we enjoyed a somewhat genial rapport. He wanted to exchange a couple of carriage bolts for shorter ones. No problem. The transaction begins when he notices the latter are more expensive by thirty-five cents.

It makes no sense, he says.
I try to explain: we are in the middle of changing suppliers, they may come from different wholesalers. 
But it doesn’t make sense, he says again.
Well, it may also be old and new stock, or the more expensive one may be more popular.
It doesn’t make sense, he adamantly repeats.
Getting a little frustrated myself I say: well, retail doesn’t always make sense.
He glares at me. I just wanted some empathy! and storms out.


I laugh to myself after he leaves. Seriously, I think, you want me to give empathy over a bolt? Really? I save my empathy for more important things, thank you very much.

I hold on to my self-righteousness for a few days until I tell the story to a friend. She says: good for him. He expressed his needs. I look at her with some chagrin. It was just a funny story, I say, and you’re not getting it. Besides that, I think to myself, I was in the right; he doesn’t need your support.

Then I sat with it. It took a day or so but finally my holier-than-though attitude changed. She was right. I am not saying that carriage bolts are important in the large scheme of things nor am I saying that I should have stopped everything and given him a hug. But maybe, just maybe there was something behind the thirty-five cent outrage. Perhaps he had just finished visiting a loved-one in hospital, had gotten laid off or had received divorce papers. Who knows? What I do know is that he grew increasingly frustrated with me trying to “fix” his supposed confusion. He didn’t want a logical explanation. He didn’t want to be fixed.  All he wanted was for someone to say, yeah, you are right, it doesn’t make sense.

It wouldn’t have solved his problems but maybe he would have felt heard. And, in being heard, just maybe, the bigger wounds, the ones I had no inkling of, may have felt a bit of comfort.

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Sunday, May 24, 2015

Sticks and Stones, Rocks and Feathers

I woke up the other day with the alarm. Not too unusual except it was a fire alarm. I made myself believe it was from across the street and burrowed further under my pillow. Then the knock came at my door. Irritation spread through me. What now? I dragged myself out of bed and peered out the door…Shee-ite! Smoke was everywhere.

It’s amazing how fast you think when seconds count. Its also amazing what gets prioritized: I stopped to pee. Then I grabbed my pack sac and my precious hiking sandals and ran down the stairs.

Luckily for me and all my neighbours there was no fire, only a poorly chosen microwave meal. No one was hurt, no damage caused; just an embarrassed cook. I got back in after the firemen left and was overcome in gratitude.

Later that morning I went for my usual hike. The senses, however, were not so usual. Everything had a poignancy about it. Textures, colours, sounds, it was all so clear and magnified. I marveled at it all and then came to a truth. I realized I couldn’t procrastinate anymore, life was too precious. I went home and dusted. 


It was like the adrenalin from the almost fire concentrated into my single, usually well hidden cleaning neuron, sparked its ignition and jumped the synapse. I had a sudden desire to see my home shine.

I haven’t dusted since before Christmas and while I don’t consider it a weekly affair, or even a monthly task, the dust was beginning to stratify. It was like the old commercials of Lemon Pledge except mine was housing civilizations built by generations of dust mites. And while you might think dusting is an innocuous affair, you must know that I have dozens of rock, myriads of feathers and handfuls of shells and dried leaves carefully placed in select groupings ... everywhere. Do you know how tedious it can be to de-arrange, clean and re-arrange a stone menagerie? Very! Unless, of course, I am in the right mood and have Ray Charles on CD. That is another story.

In the right mood, or after a near fire, I pick up each stone or shell and remember its origin: where it came from and by what hand. It’s a way to give honour to those friends who have travelled over the world bringing me back a bit of their journey. I have stones from Laos and Senegal, Morocco and France; coral from Central America and the Philippines and shells from Mexico. I even have a heart-shaped rock from Bragg Creek, Alberta. Each piece has a story, a memory; a feeling. And while, like I said, I honour my friends, I also pay respect to the earth and all its treasures.

This near fire, this brush with fear, shone a light on my priorities, what I consider important; what I need to have in my life. It also reminded me that each object of nature, of what we call stone and shell, rock and bone, comes to us as a gift. They are easy to overlook but their stories are as vital as those of our own... we’ve only to dust them off ever so often and listen.

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Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Morning Prayer

may the sun arise
within my shadows
and tap the rhythm
I was born to dance

Sunday, May 17, 2015


A middle aged man, red in face and loose in jowls, talks aggressively into his cell phone on a busy sidewalk: I am not worried about that. I am concerned with giving investors a good return…

Curious what he is not concerned with … Government regs? Environmental protection? Child labour?

* * *

A neighbour appears at my door, flustered and irritated. Are they using chemicals outside? She was referring to the workers pressure washing the driveway of our apartment block. The spray is going everywhere and I have an expensive car.

Curious why she wasn’t worried about her own health (if, indeed, there were chemicals), that of the passer-bys or the myriad of shrubs and trees that share our space.

* * *

I politely ask a customer at my part-time job if he really needs a plastic bag. He is young and has only three, easy-to-carry items. I say: we have too much plastic in this world. He complains; the company sides with him.

Two more strikes and I am out. Oh well.

* * *

I‘ve been getting kind of depressed thinking about how blind we can be as humans; how deep we can sink into our own little worlds and we fail to see the big picture, let alone our neighbours. But then I listened to Ideas with Paul Kennedy on CBC Radio One. My mood lightened up considerably.

Although the show was about alternative currencies the theme coincided with the idea of “co-responsibility” and how to transform societal problems into solutions. The broadcast began with an interview with Jaime Lerner, the former mayor of Curitiba. Mr. Lerner is the inventor of “garbage currency”.

You can listen to the interview here but, in short, about thirty years ago Curitiba, and more specifically its slums, was literally swimming in garbage. Not only did it float by in streams and rivers but children played in the dumps, rats and wild dogs ravaged the debris, and pedestrians walked through it knee-deep just to get home from work. Even the garbage trucks couldn't get through as  the roads were impassable. Today, however, this city in a southern province of Brazil is known as the eco-capital of the world with lots of urban parks, miles of bike paths, and an excellent transit system.

In 1989, Mr. Lerner knew something had to be done ... so he did something radical, he bought the garbage. For each bag of garbage delivered to the land fill by a local resident, he paid the seller bus tokens. Within three months the slums were clean. Then, when he found the landfills overflowing he started a segregation program. It was first taught in the schools but very soon households were separating out organics and recyclables. People caught on very quickly, considered it their "civic duty", especially when they saw the visible effects of newly created parks without the dread of disease and rabid dogs.

Mr. Lerner then took on the bay on which his city bordered. It was filled with trash. He paid fishers for any garbage caught. As the bays cleaned up more fish returned. And, with the money made by selling  recyclables snagged out of the bay, the mayor paid the fishers.

The mayor did not have money for a new transit system. So he worked out a deal with the private sector to buy a new fleet of busses. Investors got paid per kilometer travelled while the city took care of labour and scheduling. The system paid for itself and is now known as one of the best in the world.

The solutions to big problems like pollution, climate change and poverty are within us. We don’t need big money to save us, just a little bit of co-responsibility and thinking outside the box. It can be as simple as just saying no to plastic and walking to the store instead of driving. Every things counts. 

We are the solution.

For another excellent (and humorous) example of transforming problems into solutions check out this one minute video.

Note: Curitiba does have its detractors and some say it has slipped from its eco-capital status. Read here for more info

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