Gratitude – Post 163 – What’s in a word

I love words. I suppose that goes without saying when one is a writer. I love the power of words and where they can take us. We all know the pen is mightier than the sword, but how we string words together, how we select the ones we need to create the tiny details that mostly go unnoticed but still shape our experience is where my love affair with words begins.

I have never been much of a participant in the making of resolutions for a new year. December 31st has often carried the sense of an ending for me rather than a new beginning. This year the chatter has been of not bothering to make a list of goals but instead choosing a word that will be the ringmaster for the year, bring the word to life for the next twelve months and how we might incorporate its meaning into our daily activities. I’m not sure whom to credit with this idea but I believe it is an old one coming to life again, as so many things do.

I’ve heard and read many word suggestions from those around me. Courage – crediting Eleanor Roosevelt’s advice to “do one thing every day that scares you”. Using the telephone would fit the bill for that word for me, though I have sixty plus years behind me of striving to do just that, without success. Discomfort – moving away from excuses, getting off the sofa, getting up earlier, lacing up our walking shoes, pushing away from old habits. Patience – in the car, in a line-up, walking behind someone moving more slowly than we’d like. I have no doubt that most of us have our patience tested every day and what better reaction is there than a positive one that has been regularly flexed, so much so that it becomes automatic. Meditation – is not easy for many of us but finding ways to mimic meditation such as walking and letting our minds clear of worry and stress, with each step focussing on a positive thought or sensation or idea, like the feeling of my grandson’s arms slipping around me, while I slept soundly in bed on Christmas morning, as he whispered – “Grandma, it’s Christmas”.

There is no end of words I can choose for this year’s mantra. My daughters chose open, completion, simplicity, and thrive; each word speaking to some personal goal for each of them. Many words have an opposite yet equal importance. Those who are shy might reach for bold. Those who are passionate might choose tranquil. Teach vs learn, sparkle vs calm, relationship vs solitude, listen vs speak, open vs boundaries, balance vs spontaneity, become vs are, release vs embrace, yes vs no. We are all in different places yet that makes us more similar than not.

I wrote down words without thought, those that immediately came to the surface – nourishment, gratitude, truth, authentic, celebrate, kindness, smile. It isn’t easy to narrow down the list to one word.

The word breathe keeps coming to me, the pause in the storm, the quiet in the chaos. My Apple Watch continuously tells me to breathe and sometimes it annoys me because surely, I am breathing, but … maybe not, not in the real sense of it.

My brother went skating before Christmas, something he has wanted to do for some time. He had a bad fall and bruised his pelvis severely and is moving slowly while he heals. Some were quick to chastise him for his carelessness, but I applauded him while I was reminded of Mary Oliver’s wise words – “what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life.” Hunter S. Thompson said, though not a person of the ilk of Mary Oliver but wise words just the same, – “Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a well-preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming, “Wow what a ride!”

I fell on the ice hurrying across a busy street the other day, in the deep pre-Christmas Vancouver slush. I fell hard and cars were zooming toward me because everyone is in a hurry it seems. I scrambled to my feet and got to the sidewalk, my knees bruised, my pants and mittens sullied with dirty salty slush. My first thought was laughter at myself for being in such a hurry rather than being cautious. I don’t really want to embrace caution despite the advice of others, reminding me of being at an age when my longevity might be better served by caution. So no, caution is not a word for me. Maybe, like my brother, I can find a word from somewhere in the middle.

What would your word be?

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Gratitude – Post 162 – Nothing At All

I am grateful for those moments in life when time stops. They are few and far between but when they happen, we are recharged, our emptiness filled. Let me explain.

I, along with many others these days, feel the burden of righting this ship we find ourselves on before we are completely blown off course. This time of year, during Advent or wherever our faith lies, we search for hope, we ache for peace, we yearn for joy, and we wait for love. We heap a lot of responsibility on this glorious yet sometimes painful season, missing those who have gone ahead without us, relying on the memory of days when life seemed simpler.

            The news headlines are almost always heavy-laden with catastrophe, with extremes, with chaos. To say “always” sounds like hyperbole, but I have checked and can confirm that moderate gentle language has been abandoned and we have become a collective of ambulance chasers, of conspiracists, willing to believe the worst of everyone, ready to shout rather than listen, our hands on our chest without any idea of solution. The detail of disaster is relentless, and if severe enough those details are played over and over, like pushing on a bruise to make sure it still hurts. And we leave our youth with the burden of our mistakes, without a remedy. With a steady diet of bad news where is it then that hope can find oxygen enough to burn and light our way?

            We know that all discovery is born of the notion of “I don’t know”. Curiosity may kill the cat, but it leads us to contemplate change. “What is that” we wonder as we point to the sky, until we can climb into our spaceship and find the answer. From curiosity comes creativity and from creativity comes solution. Bob Dylan, you know as an American singer-songwriter, is regarded as one of the greatest songwriters of his time. I’m not sure we need to quantify his sixty plus years of creative work or anyone’s creative work in that way. What strikes me of Dylan was his crediting his own vulnerability, his openness to his shame and failures, that gave rise to his greatest potential. Buffy Sainte-Marie spoke of the coffee house era of music in the 1960s, when young people gathered in search for meaning to their lives. It is of the same ilk as the toddler pointing to everything within her range of sight, asking of her mother – whatzat?

            Change can only happen when we ask questions, questions that come from an inner discomfort, a longing for something more, precisely when we throw our hands up in despair. Poets, musicians, visual artists, writers, dancers all use their creative muscle to express the questions that confound them.

            But every now and then we need solace, we need rest from the worry, we need to crawl ‘neath the Christmas tree in the dark with only its small twinkling lights to surround us with the warmth of wonder. I recall being in Dawson City, Yukon in 2017, as writer-in-residence at Berton House. I trudged to the school yard late that Christmas night, missing my children, weighed down by loneliness despite this amazing adventure, not a single soul anywhere in sight. The temperature was -45 but the cold was invigorating rather than harsh. I collapsed in the snow and gazed up at the northern lights. The full expanse of the sky was alive with green and violet, the colours moving as though in time to some great masterpiece of music, a symphony so magnificent it could only exist in the imagination. The cold left me, the dark comforted me, and the sky raised me up. I celebrated my wonderful insignificance, my having no power nor responsibility to change a single thing in this crazy wild world and for that moment – my mind was empty of questions. It was like being suspended at the top of the swing, where I was neither rising nor falling. I was purely and absolutely nothing at all.

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Gratitude – Post 161 – Being True to One’s Self

I am grateful for Buffy Sainte-Marie and what she has taught me. Let me explain.

M.C. Escher wrote, in the year of my birth, his words maybe meant for me specifically, or maybe not, but wise words for us all to live by. “A person who is lucidly aware of the miracles that surround him, who has learned to bear up under the loneliness, has made quite a bit of progress on the road to wisdom,” wrote Maurits Cornelis Escher in 1955. I can see why he was known as MC Escher. Escher was a Dutch graphic artist, not a poet of words but certainly his art spoke of a deeper understanding few of us have achieved. I know of someone keenly aware of the miracles that surrounded her despite the hardships of her childhood. She was named Beverly at birth, born perhaps in February of 1941, adopted as an infant from somewhere in Saskatchewan, likely Piapot in the Qu’Appelle Valley, taken to a white family in Massachusetts. The truths of her identity aren’t available to her in documented form despite such being a fundamental right for each of us, the right to know who we are and where we came from. Too many children have had their birth stories erased. Now she is called Buffy and we lay claim to her roots in Canada and herald her as one of our creative souls, but she belongs to herself.

            Buffy Sainte-Marie had an instant attachment to the piano in her childhood. She played by ear, started scoring nursery rhymes in her head as a very young child. She never took a single music lesson but music dwells in every cell in her body. Buffy is eighty-one, her wonderful laugh intact, her curious nature and her creative soul still educating and challenging us to view the past with greater clarity. She has made significant “progress on the road to wisdom” and I am inspired by her. I am reading her authorized biography published in 2018 by Greystone Books, written by Andrea Warner. I am only able to scratch the surface of her life in this space, but I urge you to pick up the book, to come closer to understanding a soul who isn’t interested in celebrity or wealth, who uses her creativity for protest, to educate, in understanding and in the pursuit of truth, and simply for her love of music in all its forms. She has forged her own path, listened to the whisperings inside her to find direction. Her adoptive mother encouraged her to be curious about the world. She listened. She was told in school that “Indians” didn’t exist. She knew better. She turned inward and “found a sense of peace with her music, with nature and her relationship with the Creator, keeping her spirit safe with generosity and warmth,” writes Warner.

            Buffy’s debut album was It’s My Way released in 1964. Warner describes all of Buffy’s music as a “soundtrack to some revelation”. Before the release of this album, Buffy spent time playing in coffee houses – a place for conversations to happen, for awareness to develop, for discussion about what mattered to those drinking coffee. There was no booze or drugs, says Buffy; it was all about connecting and searching for answers. She is grateful for those days and misses them, a time when young people ached for meaning and purpose to their lives.

            Buffy was not at Woodstock though she is often thought of as being there. She laughs about the mistake. Despite having written what Warner calls “one of the most provocative and relevant protest anthems of the 20th century”, Universal Soldier, Buffy was not invited. And despite having never broken the law and never making her activism about violence or harm, she has been blacklisted twice in the United States by the administrations of two presidents. I watched an interview with Buffy where she explains the source of Universal Soldier. She was stranded in the San Francisco airport and saw soldiers entering who had been seriously wounded. Americans were being told there was no war in Viet Nam, but here was the evidence. Who is responsible for war, she thought. Is it the soldiers? They follow the orders of generals. Are the generals responsible? They are instructed by politicians. Are the politicians responsible? We elect the politicians. We are responsible, says Buffy.

            Buffy wasn’t afraid to stretch the boundaries of her music, to do things differently. She has won many awards – Academy Award, Juno, Gemini, Juno Humanitarian and more. She was a regular on Sesame Street from 1976 to 1981, a time she thoroughly enjoyed. She breastfed her young infant son on the program in 1977, a first for television. She is and always has been unapologetically loyal to her own dreams, her own ideas, and her own heritage. She is one of those precious few who treated the world better than she was treated.

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Gratitude – Post 160 – I Am Not One Story

I am grateful for the awareness, though invisible at times, that I am not one story. This is true for each one of us.

A friend of mine recently connected me with a Ted Talk from 2009 entitled The Danger of the Single Story, given by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a Nigerian writer. Adichie was born in 1977, one of six children, her father a professor and her mother the registrar, both at the University of Nigeria. I’ve since listened to the Ted Talk four times and each time I learn something more.

            Adichie was an early reader, devouring British and American children’s books by the age of four, the only books available to her at that time. The characters in these books were white children with blue eyes and blonde hair, engaging in play in the snow, eating apples, and discussing the weather – a world she had no frame of reference for. She did not find herself on the pages of the books she read. She was also an early writer, crafting stories by the time she was seven years old, and likewise, her characters were white, playing in the snow, and discussing the weather. This development of her interest in storytelling demonstrates how impressionable and vulnerable child readers are. The books they have access to informs how they see the world. She credits these early books with inspiring her reading and writing, opening new worlds to her that she didn’t know existed, but, she says, “the unintentional consequence” was she didn’t know people like her “could exist in literature”.

            When books and media show a people as one thing, “it robs people of dignity”, says Adichie. After studying medicine and pharmacy at the University of Nigeria, she moved to the United States when she was nineteen to attend university in Philadelphia to study communications and political science. Her white roommate was surprised Adichie’s English was so good. Nigeria’s official language is English. Her roommate asked Adichie if she had recordings of her favourite tribal music. Adichie played Mariah Carey. Her roommate had a single story of Africa, one of poverty, and engaged with Adichie with an immediate and automatic sense of pity. Adichie had to explain repeatedly that Africa is a continent, not a country.

            Adichie’s Ted Talk explained that when one story becomes the only story, we “create stereotypes”, emphasizing “how we are different rather than how we are similar”. Stories have the power to break the dignity of a people, but when thoughtfully written can also “repair that broken dignity”. It is up to each of us to reject the single story because there is never a single story about any person, place, or thing. When we grasp this truth while viewing the world, we can “regain a kind of paradise”.

When Adichie found stories by Nigerian writers, when she saw herself on the pages, she was saved from having “a single story of what books are” and … it got me thinking.

Several years ago, I watched an HBO series entitled The Wire, released in 2002 and set in Baltimore. I thought it exceptionally well done though the subject matter was difficult. The story centred around the drug trade and its influence or detriment on the city’s poor. What stuck with me about the series was the legacy of children “existing”, not raised but existing in a culture of drugs and violence and the almost certainty their lives would play out within that same world. These children had only the one story of themselves. They couldn’t imagine they could be anything else but a drug dealer, eventually taking their place on a Baltimore street corner.

Adichie gave a reading and one young man in attendance offered sympathy that all Nigerian men were abusers, based on the character in Adichie’s book. She countered with having just read American Psycho and how sorry she was that all young American men were serial murderers. She made a valid point. She grew up with the knowledge that Americans were many things, not limited to one story. The same couldn’t be said of the young man expressing his opinion as to Nigerians.

David A Robertson, a Cree writer from Winnipeg, dedicates his craft of writing to bring Indigenous children to the page, so young readers can see themselves, can imagine a wider world for themselves, can celebrate the best parts of their culture, and can learn from their struggles. It is impossible to gain the benefit of imagination and its magic to take us anywhere we want to go if the stories we read do not include us.

I am not one story; I am made up of many. I must remember this when I look in the mirror and when I look at others.

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Gratitude – Post 159 – Favourite Things

Conversation for children, when they want to get to know someone, almost always involves questions of what is your favourite. It was important to have a favourite colour, even if it changed over the years, a favourite TV show, a favourite meal, so that you might determine the possibility of the two of you becoming friends over a shared affection for yellow or Mighty Mouse or cinnamon toast. When you are eight, these preferences feel etched on your soul, so much so that to choose a red popsicle over an orange bordered on madness. Life was yes and no, with very little ambiguity. Boiled cabbage – not for me. Giant Sweet Tarts – sensational. As we age, the lines become blurred, the boundaries obscured, and very little of life is cut and dried. We are more interested in warmth than hot or cold, looking in the shadows and the hidden crevices for the truth of our existence.

            Children are more than happy to declare those items on the list of favourites, their answers immediate and certain and … it got me thinking. I have been trying to lift my spirits out of the despair caused by the myriad of bad news in our country and around the world. In a discussion over dinner with friends the other night the conversation inevitably swung around to the state of society. One of the individuals at the table said that humanity as a whole “sucks” and all we can do is exist while the world grows closer to implosion. My Pollyanna heart struggles with that bleak outlook but maybe I am the one who is wrong. A wise person once told me that before I start challenging others’ opinions, I first need to challenge my own. I wasn’t even sure I had opinions at that time, but the advice has stayed with me.

            I decided this morning to tap into the child in me, who hasn’t gone far it turns out, and to pen my list of favourite things. I thought singing along with Julie Andrews might be fun, or should I say Maria Von Trapp. There was thunder last night so it seems fitting, to set the mood to capture the essence of The Sound of Music. The list wouldn’t be complex and certainly should include only those things within my grasp, already within reach of my gratitude. But then I stumbled on an old article in Psychology Today written in 2013 about a man in Japan interviewed at the age of 114. It turns out he had no favourite things, no likes or dislikes, but rather a perspective of curiosity for anything and everything. The interviewer wanted desperately to uncover his secret for long life, as if she might link his longevity to a favourite food or favourite pass-time or …. On the contrary, this man was open to all things and that was the likely link to his significant age. He passed away at 116.

            In honour of this man’s approach to life, I modified my list to include those things for which I am grateful. I am grateful for the colour the sun creates as it shines through the water near the beach on the lake near my home, creating an amber colour that I have not seen duplicated anywhere else. The colour soothes me, and I’d like to fill a jar to capture the colour to bring home with me. I admire the engineering feats of the spiders whose work is clearly visible after a cool night with heavy dew, the morning’s sunlight illuminating the intricate patterns of these masterpieces. I admire the courage of cliff divers like Molly Carlson who stands seventy feet above the water and leaps with the faith that her body knows how to twist and turn and deliver her safely, her feet slicing through the water. If I turn too quickly in my kitchen, I feel I am lost. I am grateful for the symphony of colours in the forest as summer has gone, the reds and yellows and oranges, orange my favourite, and the willingness of the trees to let go. Though I detest the mess the squirrels have made in my shed, I can’t help admiring their precision of nut-stashing, the filling of containers with only one variety before moving on to the next. I have confounded their autumn plans by covering their entrances with hardware cloth. I could apologize for being a spoilsport, but I won’t. I am grateful for pie pumpkins and their dense flesh, naturally sweet and dark and delicious. I am grateful for the private humour my daughters and me share, that rises up in gales of laughter, borrowing movie lines and claiming them as our own. I am grateful for the quiet within which I live, the wind and rain often the only visitors. I am grateful for Brussels sprouts for reminding me our taste buds do change over time. I am grateful for the smell of coffee that always takes me back to Annie’s knee. I am grateful for my granddaughter’s arms around my neck, her cheek pressed against mine, and her unshakeable trust in me that she is loved. My list is long, and I close it with gratitude for you, for joining me on this page, for taking time to consider my words.

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Gratitude – Post 158 – Sound

I am grateful for sound.

I was lying in my hammock under the hemlocks and pines in my yard, trying to stretch the time between eruptions of coughing that disturbs my peace, the residue of Covid. I don’t often lie in my hammock despite it being a pleasant pass-time. I struggle with stillness, though I am getting better at it. I closed my eyes and listened to the sounds overhead – the squirrel who seemed annoyed that I was taking up space beneath his trees, as if my presence violated his rights, doing his impression of a jackhammer, chattering noisily in complaint; the sound of a chainsaw slicing through a tree, a sound that makes me wince, another tree downed because of inconvenience, not for use; a couple of birds of unknown name having an animated discussion about what they are going to have for lunch. I heard a child’s laugh from somewhere, bouncing off the rocks and trees to find me. Sounds make up a large part of our memory or at least that is true for me. My mother’s sister was deaf, born without an auditory nerve. My aunt was an extraordinary person, and her vision was beyond sharp, making up for a loss of one of her senses. She never knew sound and I had a hard time imagining that when I was a child and … it got me thinking.

            I have an inventory of sounds in my memory that I can call on at any moment, can close my eyes and relive the scene, transported back in time. A newborn calf with her muffled sounds of struggle, her mouth full of fluid, the remnants of the amniotic sac clinging to her face, followed by her loud voice when she clears her throat, an announcement – I am born. The baler pulling the dried hay from the ground, the hydraulic arm providing the percussion, a timed beat, the plunger hammering the hay into the bale chamber, a steady rhythm that had my head nodding in time, the day’s heat making me sleepy. The sound of spring run-off, the rushing water tripping over itself in a hurry to get where it was going, accompanied by the squish-squish-squash from my boots, the water having breached my boots’ limit, filling them with icy water, my toes wiggling to keep warm so as not to interrupt my play. The swish of my ski pants on the tin roof of the barn, sliding down toward that moment of suspension in air, when for but a brief fraction of a second time pauses, the exhilaration of the weightless moment before the soft thud into the snow. The screen door of the Reef Point cabin bouncing back into place with a thud, the wood damp, softening the sound, followed by the patter of childhood feet thudding against the packed mud, running for the water, to see who would win. The wind wiggling the poplar leaves, creating an applause for my imagined game of being Ivanhoe or Robin Hood as I sneak through the forest, a weapon of a lilac branch firmly in my grip, the freedom of summer feeding my fantasy. The fishing line cast out, zinging its freedom from the reel, a fresh chance to catch the big one, announced by the plunk of the lure into the dark mysterious water of Rainy Lake, the possibilities limitless. My father absent-mindedly stirring his morning coffee, his spoon creating its own melody as it strikes the insides of the white mug, while he was lost in his thoughts and I watched him, wondering when he would come back to me. The giggles of little girls, playing below my hall window where I sit with knees pulled up, my head against the wall, eyes closed, listening to the sound of innocent joy, of life in its moment of perfection, the sound assuring me everything is as it should be, lacking nothing. The beat of hooves against the ancient pasture ground, galloping aboard my precious Nassau, my best friend for twenty-five years, his long mane licking my face, his ears moving back and forth waiting for my whispered urging, my bare legs pressing into his sides, the heat from his back soothing me, his gait steady but powerful, as if he might raise his feet and gallop to the clouds, taking me with him, away from everything and anything that hurt. Sound is the healer of wounds, gathering us up in memory and giving us rest.

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Gratitude – Post 157 – IKEA

I am grateful for IKEA. Let me explain.

I spent hours as a young person trying to figure out what I would be upon the completion of childhood. I agonized, begged those in “the know” for advice. But I think I have it figured out. I have finally decided what I want to be when I grow up. After much deliberation, and trial and error that led me down some wrong paths, I am convinced I have found my way.  I get excited just imagining this perfect career. I’m all a-twitter inside, a huge silly grin on my face as if I’ve just been chosen for the All-Star Dodge Ball team.

This career will erase all my bad employee experiences, even softens the wounds of having been self-employed for most of adulthood. I’m not sure what the pay will be, but it certainly can’t be any less than my income as a writer. I’m pretty sure the guy picking up beer bottles and cans off the side of the road is financially more fluid than I.

Though I had considered astronaut, veterinarian and super-hero at one point in my life as good options, this new idea comes out on top. I’ve just exhaled dramatically, like I’ve finally arrived.

Okay, brace yourself. Are you sitting down? I shall be a living breathing mannequin for a very specific store. IKEA. I’ll say it again, IKEA.  I can feel your excitement. “Why didn’t I think of that?” I can almost hear you. Some ideas are snapped up. I could have thought of Velcro. Many a time I got caught with burdocks in my hair; that is Velcro in its purest state. I snoozed on that idea, but not this time.

There is a relatively new IKEA in Nova Scotia.  Dartmouth was home to the first Ikea in North America, but it closed in 1988 because of sluggish sales. Dartmouth must be the only metropolis on earth that actually had an IKEA store close due to lack of profits. I was sure the facts had been muddled when I was told this startling bit of news. Madness really. There are two IKEAs in Montreal. Greedy. But finally clear thinking prevailed and IKEA was restored to the province of Nova Scotia in 2017 and I’m now ready to proceed. I think I’ll draft a proposal to the Swedish geniuses, or is it genii. I’m never convinced which is the more accurate, though both are in common use, as common as more than one genius tends to be.

This proposal will begin in standard form. 

Dear Anna Crona, IKEA Marketing Director.

She sounds almost literary, like Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. Perhaps they are distant relatives, names shifted for ease of pronunciation, as was the tendency in Tolstoy’s day for hiding ethnic backgrounds. Not that I am of Tolstoy’s ilk or position, but this could really be considered a sign, like a bolt of lightning to say I’m on the right track. I am very excited. 

Back to my draft proposal.

I would highlight my great love and almost eccentric passion for all things IKEA. I especially love their baskets and glasses. Even I can’t break an IKEA glass and that is saying something. Frames. Boxes. There is no end of my IKEA likes.

Here is what I propose. I would just move around the store from one department to another. For example, I could be found putting magazines away in interesting places in the livingroom ensemble. I could lie in a different bed each evening and as the customers stroll around they would be amazed by my obvious comfort. I could sleep-in so the morning crowd could see me in action. I see a lot of hands on chests in superfluous envy. I would sit at a desk with just the right amount of light, penning the next great Canadian novel. I would be in the kitchen putting my knives away on the magnetic bar, opening drawers with ease and putting to use all the handy gizmos. Luckily there is no real bathroom section so I wouldn’t be caught in awkward circumstances.

Oh, it’s going to be wonderful. What an end to my illustrious career that started out at the Fort Frances Clinic alphabetically sorting the NCR printouts when medical claims first went to computer-generated forms. The hours I put around a ping-pong table in the back room. All for fifty cents an hour. My dad was generous to a fault. But it fine-tuned my skills and I don’t even have to sing the ABC song now to get the alphabet right.

And the best part: I can show up for work with no assembly required. Not one single Allen key is needed in my design. Now you’ll have to excuse me while I think of an appropriate uniform for work.

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Gratitude – Post 156 – Jose Andres

I am grateful for Jose Andres. Let me explain.

Have you heard of the World Central Kitchen (WCK)organization? Neither had I until I listened to Matt Galloway on CBC Radio’s The Current and he told me all about it. The not-profit WCK organization was founded by Jose Andres, a well-known chef with restaurants in Spain and in the United States. Andres took off running with the WCK in 2010 after a catastrophic earthquake devastated Haiti. And the rest is, as they say, history.

Andres told CBC Radio that the work his organization does to feed people is all about empowering those they are helping. “It is about bringing food to the hungry and bringing water to the thirsty. That’s it,” Andres said. The WCK landed in Poland twelve hours after the war in the Ukraine erupted and they immediately started to feed the many refugees. The people of Poland joined in, helping wherever possible. “It was people taking care of people,” Andres said, in the 440+ restaurants feeding the hungry and channeling money through the economy.

What struck me about Andres’ speaking of what they had accomplished and were accomplishing was the tone of his voice – it was filled with emotional fire, a sense of purpose and commitment, of urgency and focus. “When the worst of humanity seems to be happening,” Andres told Matt Galloway. “The best humans show up to take care of fellow citizens.” Andres’ voice cracked. When Galloway asked Andres about the risk inherent in working in such extreme conditions, Andres had an immediate answer. “We’re not going to be ending the big problems that we face on this earth without taking some risks.”

Jose Andres is Spanish-born and is fifty-two years old. He moved to the United States when he was twenty-one. I visited WCK’s website and read about their projects and how they view people in crisis and how they can help, and it is nothing short of inspirational. Andres is of the thinking that food isn’t just to solve hunger. “It is a plate of hope. It tells you in your darkest hour that someone somewhere cares about you.” The organization first reaches out locally to source the food products and to hire staff needed. “Food is the fastest way to rebuild our sense of community,” says Andres. He has created a new model used to respond to providing relief to communities devastated by war or environmental disasters, to create “resilient food systems”. The organization provides relief training that gives professionals in the food industry and culinary students the safe and effective tools and protocols to provide meals in communities in peril.

Andres received the National Humanities Medal in 2015 from President Obama and in 2018 he was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for his humanitarian work. The WCK organization financially supports food banks that provide free food throughout the world. The charity has a score of 100.00 earning them a four-star rating by charitynavigator.org. The non-profit score for accountability and transparency is 100%.

We Feed People is a National Geographic Documentary Film about the work of the Word Central Kitchen, released in March 2022 and directed by Ron Howard. The film has been given a score of 100% by Rotten Tomatoes. Andres was reluctant to have a film made because he didn’t want it to be about him. The work is done by volunteers within the organization and that is the story that he agreed to and what Ron Howard brought to the screen. The film follows what started as a “scrappy group of grassroots volunteers to becoming one of the most highly regarded humanitarian aid organizations in the disaster relief sector”. The film documents the WCK organization’s work in Haiti and Puerto Rico and beyond. Andres says in his restaurants he “feeds the few in good times” and with his organization he “feeds the many in bad times”. WCK has eighty people in its organization. In Puerto Rico, they partnered with 150+ farms to help them recover, to provide loans and grants, and a means of offering hope to its residents to stay and rebuild.

When the World Central Kitchen arrives in communities beaten down by disaster, he assures the people he encounters. “We’re here next to you,” Andres says, and WCK stays until the community has been righted. Andres’ philosophy is “longer tables is what builds a better tomorrow.”

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Gratitude – Post 155 – The Poetics of Space

In Spring, I find myself missing home more than maybe I do the rest of the year. Maybe. It isn’t so much about my childhood home, the physical configuration of my bedroom, the uncovered wooden stairs leading up, the mostly unfinished decor, bare drywall, windows untrimmed. It is the farm I miss – the river, spring calves, dandelions, the smells, the freedom of pulling off my jacket and abandoning my mittens, of letting the wind blow through my hair, of blossoms taking shape that would magically become fruit in the summer. Spring is magic of the highest order.

In April, play was all about water, about melting snow, about the spring run-off racing to the river as if time was of the essence, about challenging the depths of this melting snow and fast-moving water, and if my rubber boots would be enough to keep me dry and so often were not. I marked a stick with red paint and named it Sticky I and marked a second stick with blue paint, christening it Sticky II. At the top of the hill above the river, at the edge of the ravine through which the water boiled, I released my sticks, Sticky I and Sticky II, whose mission was no less important than the rovers still touring the surface of Mars, and then I raced them to the river. Hours and hours were spent challenging my sticks to see who might be the faster and I’m not sure it mattered who won and during that entire time I was … daydreaming.

I listened in on CBC Radio’s Ideas in the Afternoon while they discussed The Poetics of Space, a book written about architecture by Gaston Bachelard, first published in French in 1958, and later translated into English. The book discussed the idea of the space that feeds our ability and gives us freedom to daydream. The guests on the program discussed Bachelard’s work as an “embodiment of dreams”, a “talisman book”, and “densely lyrical”.

Bachelard was born to a family of shoemakers, and the idea of that sounds wonderful to me, the vision of tap-tap-tapping a piece of leather into a shoe seeming almost magical. His first job was as a postal clerk, delivering letters. He then studied physics and chemistry before turning to philosophy, the latter of which he is most remembered for. I read the scientific explanation of his thoughts, but I’m not sure I grasped the academics of it. What struck me was the importance Bachelard placed on daydreaming and how essential it is for our well-being. Primary to this concept is the idea of where one can do her or his daydreaming and architecture’s significant role in the process.

Bachelard explained in his book the sense of home a spirit needs. Home gives us the ability to go out and interact with the world and then go back again to where it is we daydream. I am familiar with that sense of coming in from outside, the wind and rain/snow pounding at me, and then as I open the door and step inside, into my own space, safety and gratitude find me, and a sigh invariably escapes me.

Nothing is proven in Bachelard’s book in terms of science and research, yet it has spoken for decades to those from every walk of life, who are searching to understand how we put our memories, both past and present, into our childhood home and carry it along with us.

Many of us will live out our final days in care of some kind, of managed health as we lose our mobility and cognitive abilities, and the book reminds those designing such spaces to remember to consider the spirit of those who are obligated into such confinement. The bed should be a cradle, not a work bench for health care professionals. In most hospital spaces there is no sense of refuge, but instead there is the glare of bright lights and hollow sounds and clanging metal. When we are faced with physical crisis, of loss of home due to war or climate, it is the home that resides within us that helps to keep us alive. And sometimes the “nest” we create for ourselves in adulthood takes us back to a childhood we should have had.

The Poetics of Space has endured because we are all searching for that sense of home and “even in hospice we need to create a sense of home”. The book itself, said the panel, is “a refuge”. In times of world migration, of homelessness, people will want to arrange some few things they have in a specific configuration that helps them recall and helps them to find space, no matter how small and insignificant, to daydream even in the worst of times. “It is the joy of dwelling,” was how Gaston Bachelard described his book.

I go back to one place when I am needing comfort and when I want to daydream, not to my bed tucked into the corner of my bedroom, but to the land – the sounds of it, the smells, its constancy in my memories, the river ever present. Even now, forty-eight years after his passing, I place my hand inside my father’s hand, and I am immediately transported home.

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Gratitude – Post 154 – Tom Longboat

I am grateful for Tom Longboat.

The 2022 World Women’s Curling Championships kicked off on March 19th in Prince George. Canada’s Kerri Einarson and team made us proud with their precision and skill and commitment to being the best they can be. I know I am not alone, nor do I exaggerate, when I say curling is the lifeblood of winter. What better time to reflect on Kerri receiving the 2021 Tom Longboat Award from the Aboriginal Sport Circle (ASC) that recognizes First Nations, Inuit, and Metis athletes in their contributions to sport in Canada. The Tom Longboat awards were established in 1951 and Kerri is proud to be a recipient. Do you know the legacy of Tom Longboat? Let me tell you about him.

Longboat was born on Six Nations Reserve near Caledonia, Ontario in 1887. His Indigenous name was Cogwagee, translating to “everything”. He escaped residential school by running away. He was a long-distance runner, an extraordinary runner. Longboat began racing in 1901 when he was fourteen years old. He won the Boston Marathon in 1907, in a time that was four minutes and fifty-nine seconds faster than the ten previous winners. He collapsed in the 1907 Olympics marathon along with several others and a re-match was organized which Longboat won.

The reporting by the media of Longboat’s skill and ease of running and his training methods was thick with racism, but he was beloved by running fans. Kathrine Switzer was the first woman to run in the Boston Marathon in 1967. The race director attacked her and tried to drag her from the race while she was running because even in 1967 women were not allowed. I’m sure you can imagine how the media referenced Tom’s skill and endurance sixty years earlier.

Longboat served in the Canadian Expeditionary Force as a dispatch runner, running messages and orders between military units in France during World War 1. He was one of 630,000 Canadians of which 234,000 were killed or wounded. He saw the horrors of war at Vimy Ridge and Passchendaele, and served in two world wars, standing for a country that had yet to give him the right to vote.

Indigenous spiritual belief gave those who committed to its practice the ability to control their bodies to do extraordinary things. These belief systems dwelled in the very core of Indigenous peoples, allowing them to survive and thrive in harsh conditions. Olympic runner Bruce Kidd wrote the story of Tom Longboat, first published in 1980, telling the truth of the racial slant the media had used in their writings of Tom. “He was the greatest runner Canada has ever known,” Kidd wrote, “who struggled against the vicious racism of his age.” Kidd retold the life of Longboat through a lens of truth and admiration. “Tom Longboat was determined to control his own life, even if it meant standing up to and then breaking away from the white sports promoters who tried to manage his career.” Toronto mayor Emerson Coatsworth promised Longboat, after his 1907 Boston Marathon win, $500 for his education. The promise was not paid until 1985, thirty six years after his death, when Kidd exposed the truth and had the city honour the $500 promise, now at $10,000 in present value, and award the sum to Longboat’s heirs.

William Brown wrote a thesis for his Masters at Concordia University in 2009 – Remembering Tom Longboat (www.spectrum.library.concordia.ca/id/eprint/976303/1/MR63314.pdf) In his writing, Brown references Shannon Loutitt, a Metis runner from Saskatchewan who ran the Boston marathon in 2007 as a “way of thanking Tom Longboat for the doors he opened for us as human beings. He gave us a different reference point for achievement,” she said of Tom. “Best in the world.” In his thesis, Brown exposed how Longboat was regularly ridiculed and falsely represented in news reports.

At age twenty-three, Longboat had “defeated every great runner in the world at least once,” (www.canadahistory.ca) When Tom was finished running professionally, he took up a job as a street cleaner in the City of Toronto, a job that allowed him to work outside and use his body, sweeping leaves and debris, working with horses, a job that made him happy. “A rubbish man,” the media called him. I think of those individuals we hold up as celebrities, as role-models, a list that includes names whose only pursuit is wealth and social recognition, who do little or nothing to better this world.

I am certain Tom Longboat’s spirit guided Einarson as she tried for the world title, but more importantly, I am hopeful Indigenous youth watching her were inspired to believe they too can strive for excellence in whatever passion burns within them. That is the legacy of Tom Longboat.

But … there is more to the story.

I was remiss in my research regarding The Tom Longboat Award. Allow me to explain. The Award, as I mentioned, was established in 1951, a joint project by the then Department of Indian Affairs and the Amateur Athletic Union of Canada. Since 1998, the award has been administered by the Aboriginal Sport Circle which represents Aboriginal Sport and Recreation in Canada.

Tom Longboat was honoured in many ways – a CBC-TV film with Bruce Kidd as script consultant, technical advisor, and actor, released in 1982 – Wildfire: The Tom Longboat Story and a 1993 documentary film entitled Longboat. Mr. Longboat was inducted into the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame in 1955, into the Canadian Olympic Hall of Fame in 1960, into the Canadian Indian Hall of Fame in 1967, into the Canadian Road Running Hall of Fame in 1991, in 1999 Maclean’s magazine named him the top “star” of the twentieth century, and a Tom Longboat commemorative stamp for 2000 millennium collection was released. Not many people, athlete or other, earn this level of recognition and honour.

The selection process for the Tom Longboat Award was and is quite involved. Tom Longboat left a clear trail to follow, and the award was meant to honour the best. The top male and female athletes were selected for each of the thirteen geographic regions in Canada, and from this group the top male and female athlete were selected for the prestigious national award. What I didn’t know was that two, among the recipients, were local to Couchiching First Nation and Fort Frances. The athletic prowess of two locals was honoured and recognized by the Tom Longboat Award.

Roy Vernon Mainville, known as Vernon, born at Couchiching First Nation in 1940, was a regional winner in 1956 of the then relatively new Tom Longboat Award. Vernon was just sixteen years old at the time, and he had already demonstrated his superior athletic ability. He was recognized for his skill at baseball and was a hockey superstar, a talent that led him to try out for the Detroit Red Wings. Vernon had personal struggles, as so many of us do, and after he righted his ship, he used those struggles to leave his own legacy of counselling and helping those who needed him, while inspiring others with this athletic skill. “He was a naturally talented athlete,” says son Greg of Kenora. Vernon shared many hockey stories with Greg in the last years of his life and I could hear the joy in Greg’s voice when we spoke as he revisited those memories. Vernon passed away in Fort Frances in June of 2002 and was laid to rest with his medal tucked into his pocket.

In 1961, the National male athlete Tom Longboat award was awarded to Bruce Lloyd Bruyere, born in1930 in Fort Frances. Bruce attended St. Marguerite’s Residential School at Couchiching First Nation where he was an avid sports fan who loved baseball and hockey. He was first baseman for the Couchiching First Nation baseball team as well as a back-up pitcher. He later played fast-pitch. Bruce played for the Mando hockey team. He later coached the young men’s baseball team, sharing his talent and passion for sport wherever he could. When he won the award, Bruce was a father of two, with four more yet to come, rounding out his perfectly balanced family with three girls followed by three boys. Bruce then turned his attention to supporting his children and encouraging their participation in sport, while he supported the teams they played on. “He got up early on Saturday mornings to bring us to hockey,” son Blake shared, proud of his father’s achievements and commitment to sport, a father who supported his children’s activities long past childhood, until his death in 2006.

These men made a difference in their communities through their love of sport and sharing their passion with others as they walked among us, earning the recognition of the legacy of Tom Longboat. Mr. Longboat would be glad of these two kindred spirits, and I believe he would have said, “well done”.

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