fun · Original Thought · Uncertainty

Left Behind

My grandmother left me a world that was better for her having lived her life on it. I suspect that her grandmother had given her the same inheritance. What am I leaving my grandchildren? What will you leave future generations?

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( a stock photo courtesy of Canva.com)

I was taught to model my behavior and relationships through her courage, curiosity, and certainty. Grandma had dozens of grandchildren, and at her funeral in 1977, I was a pallbearer. I was also convinced that I was her favorite until I discovered that all my cousins thought the same thing. Realizing that I shared the position with so many didn’t dampen my enthusiasm but rather encouraged me to try to live my life as if the person in front of me was important. I have failed greatly and succeeded meagrely, but her practice still resonates and rings true regardless of my measure.

Gertrude Edith Lavender Holmlund was born in Gillman, Iowa in 1895. She moved to rural Saskatchewan to homestead with her husband Ezra and raised nine children on the small farm. Grandma was a reader and a reciter who performed long poems, stories, and sagas from stages across the prairies. The love of words passed through the stubble and sunshine through my mom down to me. Between my grandmother’s knee to reading to my grandchildren today, there are 50,000 books that changed me and how I see my world. In the 1970’s, she was still reading to learn and was memorizing new pieces to dazzle and entertain an audience. Recently, my mom who is 90, began reciting Kipling’s “If ” around a campfire. The words and verses poured out of her, and she couldn’t recall when she had first learned it. (likely almost 80 years ago).

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

To the end of her life, grandma was certain about many things. She held and lived a life of Christian faith in the Lutheran Church. She held left-leaning political views about government and cooperation. Family, with all its warts, was the most important treasure she had. She saw her world change from breaking land with oxen and pioneering a province and a cooperative movement to international communications and travel. Over the years, she held to tradition where it was relevant and meaningful. She could be stubborn about somethings like God and social action while open to think and adapt to things like music, poetry, and love.

I don’t have nor desire her certainty. I am comfortable living with more ambiguity than should be comfortable. I lean away from tradition even when it might still make sense. I struggle with being compassionate when faced with people and ideas that I abhor. I get to be a provocateur and contrarian because of the life my grandma lived and the world that she left me.

Make Today Remarkable, by leaving today better than it would have been without you,

Bob

Original Thought · Uncertainty

I was Invisible

When I was in the woods today
I had a bit of a start
She walked past
without seeing me

I didn’t blend in or camouflage
she just didn’t seem aware of me
Her big brown eyes were shining
here ears were flagging for noise
The nose twitched and searched
and still I wasn’t there

How many times, in a week, do I make others invisible? Do they know that I don’t see them? Do they care? I was taken aback by the doe’s reminder of my insignificance. She said ” your presence here means nothing to me” “you are of no value and offer no threat so for my purposes, you don’t exist.”

When I pass someone sleeping on a bench, without feeling anything, am I saying the same thing? If a woman is crying and I ignore her, am I signalling that her problems aren’t mine? When someone in front of me litters and I don’t say or do anything, have I also ignored his and my responsibilities?

Being observant is the first step to empathy. If I am able to erase human tragedy, suffering, or delete behaviour that is offside, I can’t possibly begin to understand enough to care or care enough to understand. After observation comes acknowledgement, ” I see you and I see your burden.” ” I feel your pain.” ” I need to say something or do something.”
Step three is deciding. So at this point, you are still off the hook. You haven’t made a commitment to action. I make decisions easily; too easily many would say. So I don’t know what process you go through to choose. You might do a pros/cons list or a cost-benefit analysis or need to do more research (which is really just an excuse). You may find reasons to intervene or evidence to rush away. If you choose to ignore what you have observed and acknowledged, you are likely already dozens of meters past the situation and like the deer in the forest have said ” you are of no consequence to me.”

On the other hand, if you choose to say or do something act quickly and with respect and compassion. Be open-handed, open-hearted, and open-minded. “He who hesitates is lost”. Do or say what comes to your mind. Trust that you don’t need a PhD in Caring or Respect before you know how to be human. You have been training for this all your life even if you have ignored the lessons or avoided using them, you’ve got this. You’ve got this because it doesn’t need to be perfect. ” Are you okay?”, a smile, sit in silence beside someone, be a fellow human, can change the moment. You are saying without uttering ” I see you, I care, Can I help?” or ” We are rotating on this sphere together and we both need to do our part to make it better” or ” today you are down, tomorrow it could be me”

I can’t predict what you will, could or should do because I am not you, in your shoes, in whatever situation you are finding yourself. I can guarantee that ignoring what is in front of you is complicit with the issue that troubled you enough to get to deciding. Caution and neutrality are always complicit with the antagonism or aggression in the circumstances. If I don’t care enough to intervene, I don’t care at all. If I don’t care enough to say something, I become part of the problem.

I hope you choose to see those people and behaviours in your world, today, tomorrow and tomorrow again and that you find the compassion and courage to stand with someone you know or someone you will never know.

Make Today Remarkable, or at least bearable, for someone else,

B

Self Improvement · Teamwork

Is a B+ Good Enough?

b

A writer once said, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” If this is true, which five people would you like to spend your time with? This was the WordPress writing prompt one day this week. I have been thinking about the question in the light of my Remarkable People philosophy; remarkable people use their strengths to strengthen themselves and others. Who do I spend time with? Is the 100 hours a week with my beloved a significant impact in how I think, how I feel and how I behave? No doubt that her kindness rubs off on me and her commitment to family makes me a better father, a better grandfather and maybe a better brother.
Does seeing my youngest grandson for a day a week make me appreciate small things and big things and all things like books, toys, smiles,? He helps me notice trucks and machinery and squirrels and birdhouses. I am more attentive to my surroundings after a few hours in his presence.

Am I better when I am on vacation with friends who show consideration and courtesy to everyone they encounter? Does their willingness to be of service in tragedies, be of good cheer in adversities and be generous in the face of inequities make be more willing?

What does it mean to be average? Are you smarter than 2 people but less smart than 2? Do you have less compassion than some but more than others? Money? Health? Relationships? Can the average be raised? Lowered?

If you use your strengths to strengthen others and others do the same, can the bar be raised? I believe it can. If true, then it does matter which five people you spend time with? It matters more how they share their gifts, skills and strengths with those around them. It matters how we choose to influence and be influenced. I know that when I spend time with angry, cynical people, I am insensitive and self-righteous. If I listen to rhetoric and join in vitriol, we all become intolerant and joyless.

I was reading a review of “A Paradise Built in Hell” by Rebecca Solnit that reinforced my belief that we are all remarkable when we build on the gifts we bring to the table and community. The reviewer asks “If we think about our own personal experiences, no doubt we have each gone through something “disastrous” in a communal setting. In those situations, there is always something that compels us to rise to the occasion and to do things we wouldn’t otherwise do. We begin to feel our common humanity a little bit more.” Have you risen to the occasion in 2017? Have I risen to a challenge? Will I rise tomorrow and then again and again?
Have we used our strengths to strengthen ourself and others? How have you been remarkable? Fourty-five days into this year, I realize that I haven’t been remarkable on very many of them. That is sad enough for me but if my actions, my words, and my attitudes are having a significant imapct on the folks I hang out with, then shame on me.

Miss Vivienne, an 8 year old girl is rising to the occasion in San Francisco with Making A Stand to eliminate slavery. She is selling lemonade on her street and encouraging others to join her around the world to raise awareness and resources to stomp out bondage and abuse.
Closer to home Emma is using her heart and art to strengthen homeless families in Calgary. She creates one of a kond mini masterpieces and auctions them on a Facebook page.
WestJet staff and volunteers lift the spirits of weary travelers by reducing their anxiety. THey respond with kindness to meaningful and meaningless questions and requests without missing a beat.
A friend is preparing meals and providing support to her extended family, from outside the city, as they go through medical treatments.

The possibilities to be remarkable are abundant and maybe ever present when we open our eyes and ears to the world that surrounds us.

Think about 5 people (or 10, 20, 30) that you would like to surround yourself with and rise to the occasion together by celebrating, supporting and sharing each other’s lives. Are those the folks you spend time with? Are you the kind of person that they should be investing their relationship energy to be with? Are you raising the bar this week or are you pulling the average down? We all have bad days, bad weeks, and trying times but if we know that as they fester, they infect others would we have fewer of them?

My challenge and now yours is to be someone who chooses to set the average very high and then set about to be someone who raises the curve.

B

Uncategorized

The Art of Aging

I am reading Sherwin B Nuland’s “The Art of Aging” and in chapter 2 he writes about the weakening of the immune system over the age of 60 and what we can do, peripherally, to reduce the weakening and possibly strengthen it.

Regular readers know that I often latch onto an idea and twist it 72 degrees to see what happens and what I observe. In this case, I started wondering about a compassion immune system – how we react to the tragedies and calamities of others.

immunity

A strong compassion immune system allows me to fight off the feelings of sadness, benevolence and other forms of caring. It may reduce the ability and willingness to act in support of others. I may even feel superior in my non-tragic and non-calamitous circumstances. Some symptoms of a strong compassion immune system are a blind eye, a cold heart, and a twitching thumb over the channel changer of a remote control. Maintenance of this strong system is easy. You just need to continue not caring, not noticing and not acting. The inertia of the system adds thickness to the skin and further reduces the temperature of the heart. Left alone the compassion immune system will isolate, blame, chastise, and lead to solitude and silence.

Weakening the compassion immune system takes work and time. Caring no longer seems to come easily. We need to restructure our environment so that we come into more direct contact with others. We must evaluate our own weaknesses and seek assistance from others. We should seek opportunities to walk alongside or in the shoes of others. But as with strengthening, the more we weaken the more opportunities to weaken further arise.

The symptoms are harder for you to discern but others may begin advising you that you have a bleeding heart, rose colored glasses and a cloak of martyrdom. Ignore their diagnosis for they are trying to strengthen your immunity to the world around you.

Be weak today and get weaker tomorrow,

B