What if…

I wrote this a few years ago and posted it on Facebook, but it bears repeating every now and then and I think it has a place here on my blog.

 

What if every religious leader, every minister, every rabbi, every imam, every priest, said, “We can’t stop hate and intolerance everywhere, but we can stop them here. There’s no place for hate and intolerance in our congregation?”

What if every teacher, every professor, every principal, said, “There’s no place for hate and intolerance in our school?”

What if every employer, every supervisor, said, “There’s no place for hate and intolerance in our workplace?”

What if every coach said, “There’s no place for hate and intolerance on our team?”

What if every parent, every grandparent, every aunt, every uncle, said, “There’s no place for hate and intolerance in our family?”

What if every one of us said, “There’s no place for hate and intolerance in my life, in my heart?”

Would our elected representatives and leaders, all around the world, hear us crying in the wilderness of hate and intolerance? Would they listen? Would they say, “There’s no place for hate and intolerance in our world?”

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A little message of Thanksgiving.

Today is Thanksgiving Day in the United States.

In Canada Thanksgiving falls on the second Monday in October, and we celebrate in much the same way as our neighbors to the south of us, with good food, family gatherings, and thankfulness for the blessings in our lives.

I have a lovely little American grandson who lives with his Canadian parents in the beautiful state of Georgia. No doubt he will be giving thanks today for the people he loves and all the good things in his life. As his Nana I feel I can share his Thanksgiving Day with him.

So I will address this part of my message to my American grandson.

Sweet boy, even though I don’t see you nearly often enough, I love you with all my heart and I think about you every day.

I’m thankful for you, and for your Mom and Dad. I’m so glad that you are in my life and in my heart.

I’m also thankful for your six Canadian cousins, your Aunties and your Uncle. I’m thankful for your Grandad and for everyone else in our family.

And now, for anyone else who may read my message today, I will say that I’m thankful for life.

Life is precious and wonderful and worth celebrating every day. Not just when things are going well, but when things are difficult, when you don’t feel well, when you’re achy and tired, when the weather is dreadful, when you’re grumpy and fed up.

Perhaps we need to celebrate life even more when things aren’t going our way, not to minimize what may be serious problems, but to allow ourselves to prevail in spite of them.

Every day should be Thanksgiving Day.

Wishes for Hazel

Today my seventh grandchild, my fourth granddaughter, my daughter’s sixth child, arrived. Her name is Hazel, and she’s a big, bonny baby.
Because she’s such a big girl, and because her mother had gestational diabetes and one or two other complications, the obstetrician felt that inducing labor a little early would be the best thing, and the plan was that Mom and Dad, with Nana (me), Auntie Amy (my other daughter), and my 16-year-old granddaughter Emily as labor coaches, would present themselves at the hospital to get things started this evening and Baby Hazel would arrive either late tonight or some time tomorrow.
This schedule was all very well and good, but Hazel had other plans. The usual route into the world was not for her.
She wanted to arrive on her own schedule, not that of the doctor or anyone else. So she announced her impending arrival just after four o’clock this morning, Nana and Grandad got a call to be ready for pickup – Nana as birthing coach, Grandad as babysitter for the rest of the brood. And off we went.
None of this suited Hazel, however. Not only did she want to do this on her own time, she wanted to do it in her own way.
She decided to come feet first. That meant a Caesarean delivery, which didn’t impress her mother much, but not having any choice in the matter, my daughter allowed herself to be wheeled away with her husband to get the job done. Things had to be delayed, however, as there was an emergency delivery that had to happen first – a 25-week baby boy who, as a result of Hazel having to wait, could breathe on his own, and whose two grandmothers could breathe again.
So Emily and I waited, and waited, and waited, until my son-in-law came to tell us that Hazel, all nine pounds thirteen ounces of her, had arrived. Then we waited some more till we could go and meet this lovely little lady.
I’ve fallen hopelessly in love a time or several, I can tell you. When I was all of eighteen a little boy came into my life, and when I held my baby son in my arms I realized my heart would never be my own again. His sisters arrived and I fell again, and again. With each grandchild my heart overflowed, but there was always room for more.
I took one look at Miss Hazel and I was done for, again. I was swept away with love, and, as with each of my other grandchildren, I was overpowered by an intense protective instinct.
Hazel is the child of a strong, passionate, intelligent woman, and she will, no doubt, inherit her mother’s brains and strength, if her siblings are anything to go on. She is also the child of a gentle, hardworking, good man who loves his wife and children more than anything and who would do anything for them. No doubt Hazel will also inherit his values. Her Uncle Robbie, far away in distance, but as close as a heartbeat in love, will give her a love of music and fun. From her Auntie Amy, who also decided to come into the world in her own time, and in her own way, feet first, she will no doubt learn to walk her own path. From her big sisters and brothers, and her grandfather, she’ll get, I would imagine, anything she wants.
And what can I, her adoring Nana, give this beautiful little girl? I will give her wishes.
First, sweet Hazel, I wish you love. May you give it and receive it, unselfishly and without limitation. I also wish you joy, hope, fun, music, knowledge, adventure, curiosity, friendship, generosity beyond measure.
And I wish to tell you, on every anniversary of your birth for as long as I live, the story of how you came into the world in your own way, and how delaying that coming may have saved a little boy’s life. Though you may never meet that boy, you and he are forever connected.
For the rest of it, the everyday things you need to live – food, money, shelter, material things – I wish you enough. For enough is plenty, for yourself and to share with those who have less than you have.
Welcome to the world, Baby Hazel.

The Latest Must-have

I’ve mentioned before how troubled I am by our acquisitive culture and our society’s love of shopping, buying and spending.

Look at any newspaper, any magazine, most television programs and a lot of Internet sites and it won’t be long before you’re told, indirectly or not, to buy something. You’re advised that you need the latest shoes, handbag, smartphone, paint color, kitchen gadget, flavored vodka, the list goes on.

It’s suggested that without these latest “must haves” your life is somehow incomplete, that somehow you don’t measure up. What’s so sad is that so many of us fall for this, and so the cash registers ring.

Think about it for a minute, though. Do we really need all this stuff?

These are the things that all human beings must have: clean water, food, shelter, protection from the elements, access to medicines and health care. Add to those the right of children to grow and learn and play in safety, and the right of all people to be treated with respect, not to be enslaved or persecuted, not to be abused or exploited, not to be imprisoned without just cause.

It is our great shame that too many people in our world live without these most basic “must haves”.

What if we, or even just a few of us, told the manufacturers, importers and sellers of the latest “must haves” that we won’t be buying anything more than our basic needs until something is done to help those who don’t have them?

What if we said to those manufacturers, importers and sellers, “Prove to me that you are doing something with your profits to equalize this awful imbalance between those who have so much and those who have so little? If you can do that I’ll buy some of your products; if you can’t, well, then I won’t.”

I realize that in order for a country’s economy–at least a First World country’s economy–to flourish people have to buy things, and that a capitalist economy isn’t considered healthy unless it’s growing. I don’t happen to like this approach; I’d rather see an economy based on sustainability than on so-called growth. But I know almost nothing about economics, so I’m not really able to offer any alternatives to the way things operate now, no matter how much I don’t like them.

But do we really have to buy so much?

What if each of us decided to buy just one less thing each week–one less cup of coffee, one less pair of shoes, one less latest décor accessory? What if we decided not to replace that smartphone with the latest model just yet, because the one we have still works fine? What if those cash registers rang a little less often?

Would the manufacturers, importers and sellers of the latest “must haves” get the message? Would those further up the food chain–the economists and political movers and shakers–get the message?

Counting my blessings

So here I am on the brink of my 60s, thinking about my life, as one does at times like this.

I’m not successful according to many people’s definition of the word. I work part-time in retail; I don’t have much money; I never learned to drive.

I could go on and on, but I won’t.

For I am blessed in so many ways.

I have three grown children I love more than anything, who love me, respect me and value my good opinion of them, and who have always talked to me and listened to me. They delighted me as children; they amaze me as adults. They are the source of my joy.

I have two sisters and a brother I adore. They’re among my best friends. Get-togethers with them are always fun, filled with music, good food, wine, and laughter. Quiet visits with one or more of them are times to be treasured. All of those “Remember when” moments shine and glow in my memory. And they’ve given me nieces and nephews to love.

I have six beautiful grandchildren. I think I’ll say that again: I have six beautiful grandchildren.

I have a husband I love very much, a hardworking, responsible, profoundly good man with a blazing intelligence and a wicked sense of humor. It took me three tries to get the marriage thing right, and this marriage is right. My children and I came as a package, so when we married he jumped energetically into parenting two young adults and a little girl. A few years later he jumped equally energetically into grandparenting.

I have cousins, uncles and aunts in lands far away whom I seldom see but who live in my heart. I know that they are my family – they belong to me and I belong to them

I have steadfast friends –treasures indeed. They’re not many, but they’re precious to me.

I recently reconnected with a friend from whom I had been separated by an ocean and forty-four years. As we spoke, as I hugged her over and over again, the years fell away.

I have another long-term friend. We can talk about everything from cooking to philosophy, we can go round and round for hours with an outrageous pun and pick it up again weeks later, yet we can also sit in silence and not feel as though we need to say anything.

I also know an intelligent, polite, interesting young man of fourteen years old. I’m honored that he thinks of me as a friend.

All of these are my riches.

So I have a physically demanding job that doesn’t pay very much. But in a time of financial stress for many people, I have a job. I have a boss I like, co-workers I respect, even a few perks. I may have to do and say the same things numerous times each shift, but everyone I do them for and say them to is unique.

I have a home; I have good food and clean water; I have clothing; I have access to health care and medication; I have shelter from the cold and protection from the heat. In a world where so many people still don’t have these basic needs I can happily say I have enough. I’m one of the privileged.

I have the things that in our modern world have become necessities as well – a television, a telephone, a computer, and books, so many wonderful books.

I’m lucky to have intelligence, creativity, imagination and curiosity. I have the time and energy to pursue and nurture these gifts and I have people to share them with. I’ve even had the privilege on a few occasions of touching another person’s life in a way that made a real difference.

I seem to have developed the ability to see a bigger picture than I used to as a young woman. I often wondered how this could be, but recently I read that as we age we use both of our brain hemispheres in tandem more often than we did in our younger days, resulting in a more cohesive image of our world. That is a certainly a bonus that I didn’t expect.

Naturally I have some of the health issues related to aging – notably a pair of nasty arthritic knees – but on the whole my health is good, both physical and mental. I have most of my original parts. And I’m vain enough to be glad that I still like what I see in the mirror.

Of course, none of these are successes, in the sense that we normally use the word. How could they be? Success is earned, and I didn’t earn my children, my family, my friends or any of these other treasures.

All I had to do was receive them with a grateful heart, then do my best to nurture and appreciate them.

And my heart is grateful for everything – everyone – I’ve counted here that has blessed my life in one way or another for most of my sixty years.

I have to say that with everything I have in it, my life is good. Sixty is good, and the coming decades will continue to be good.

I am indeed truly blessed.

Enough can often be plenty

For a while lately I’ve been wondering why we’re such a spendthrift society, why we feel the need to buy so much stuff, why we respond to “this season’s must-have…”, why we have embraced the concept of “retail therapy”. I’m not sure I can come up with any answers, but I can certainly talk about it and ask my readers to question and think and talk about it as well.

Of course, talk is cheap. I don’t spend a lot of money, but I have very little money to spend. So I suppose this could all just be a sort of apologetic for my enforced thrift or, even worse, simply sour grapes.

I hope I don’t come across that way. Truthfully, not having any money doesn’t make it any easier not to want the latest “must-have” gadget or garment.

It’s taken me a long time to learn to want what I have, rather than what I don’t have. If you focus on what you have, rather than on what you don’t have, it can be easier not to want the latest piece of stuff.

Sure, there are lots of things, from fancy phones to pretty shoes to stylish furniture to lovely houses that I’d really like to have, but I don’t need them. I have a phone, I have shoes, I have furniture, and I have a place to live, all of which serve me well.

I lapse occasionally, though. A couple of years ago I earned a bit of extra money editing a friend’s book, and I decided to buy a new flat screen television to replace the hulking thing that had been our pride and joy Christmas present to each other about ten years before. We shopped around for the best deal and eventually bought a lovely high-def 32-inch Toshiba LCD TV, all pretty with a shiny black frame. I was very proud of it and of myself for earning the money to buy it.

Then someone I know bought a huge 50-inch television and Jimmy helped to set it up. I felt a combination of envy and a sense that my beautiful TV was somehow less than it once was. I was fortunately able to give myself a mental shake before I started wallowing. And I’m still proud of my pretty television. It’s big enough, pretty enough, fancy enough, modern enough.

It’s all a matter of perspective, really. Enough can be the bare minimum, rock bottom, or it can be just what you need to live happily and with dignity.

Enough is really all anyone needs. If you want to remind yourself of this, take a look at those parts of the world where famine and war and greed have left people with far less than enough clean water to drink, with less than enough to eat, with less than adequate living conditions, without access to even the most rudimentary health care, with wages so pitifully low that even the smallest children have to work.

Most of us are profoundly fortunate. We can feed and clothe and house ourselves and our families, we can provide ourselves with entertainment and knowledge and fun. (Of course we have poverty in our our own cities and neighborhoods, and that is our great shame. But that’s a topic for another post.) We have enough.

But when we’re bombarded with the message to buy this, spend money on that, rush out and get the latest “must-have”, when the concept of “retail therapy” isn’t seen as a sad commentary but as an acceptable way of making ourselves feel better, it can be hard to figure out just how much is actually enough. Modern advertising tells us it’s normal to feel empty, that we’re somehow less than our peers when we don’t have the latest piece of stuff, and the only way to fill ourselves up is to go shopping.

(Don’t get me wrong. Advertising is necessary, and there’s some very good advertising out there. When I was growing up my father put food on the table by the sweat of his advertising brow. But the ad copy he wrote was ethical, informative and non-exploitive. Perhaps that’s why I’m not all that convinced by the “must-have” mentality. But again, that’s another story for another post.)

And if we see ourselves as having enough, we can perhaps go on to seeing ourselves as having plenty. If we start to look at the non-commercial aspects of our lives – our families and our friends, our connectedness to others, laughter and music, the things we give rather than get – and at the things we already have – books, a phone that works, a comfortable bed, even a pretty TV – perhaps we can start to feel that we don’t actually have to have the latest “must-have” after all.

Roots and branches

In my last post I wrote about how my reconnection with my roots has nurtured my soul and made me feel complete.

But I also have branches – my children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews and friends – that also fill my soul and complete me.

We all have roots – where we came from, where we grew up, our memories and our history. We use the word roots in our speech all the time: for example, “I’d love to take that job in (insert city here), but it’ll be hard to uproot my family. But I hope we’ll put down roots in our new home soon enough.”

However, I believe that, rather than putting down roots in a new place, we grow branches – the ties we forge as we start living in our new home. We make friends; we connect with co-workers and neighbors; we fall in love and marry; we grow the best and strongest branches of all – our children and our children’s children.

I came to my new home in Canada forty-two years ago with my parents and siblings, so some of my roots came with me, along with our collective memories and stories. And the branches that my sisters and brother grew – their partners and children – have joined with mine to create a forest of connectedness.

Many people have their roots and branches in the same place, or in almost the same place. In a world where we can move from city to city, from country to country, at an ever-increasing speed, it may seem to those who stay in one place that their lives have little to be excited about. Perhaps this is so, but excitement isn’t always good for the soul.

But there are families where the children hardly know their aunts, uncles and cousins, even though they live in the same town or only an hour or so away. They only see them at weddings and funerals, if at all.

There are families for whom get-togethers are stressful, if not altogether unbearable. Uncle John gets drunk and argumentative, Aunt Mary and Aunt Susan haven’t spoken in twenty years, Grandma is critical of her daughters-in-law and makes her opinions known throughout the afternoon.

My heart breaks for them – the families who are to all intents and purposes estranged and those who can’t stand to be in the same room as one another.

I’m blessed with siblings, children, nieces and nephews who for the most part behave towards one another with respect. (We’re human, after all, and we have differences, but we usually only express those in smaller groups or to other people.) When we’re together one-on-one we can sit in companionable semi-silence or talk about important things. Our parties are fun, filled with good food, wine and the music of our roots. They often go on late into the evening and it’s truly hard to pull myself away, even when I’m completely exhausted.

We need to value, nurture and protect our branches. They will become the history of future generations, and will, along with our roots – our history and memories – continue to spread and grow in our own forests of soul-filling connections.