Fences

Autumn. I feel such peace as I look out of the big picture window in my apartment at the blanket of colour that greets me. I can actually hear the branches of the trees, laden with brilliant yellow and red leaves, as they move back and forth in the high winds. I watch the bits of yellow and red, as they float towards the ground. Okay, to be more accurate, are pushed in their downward direction. No floating here, not with these winds. I love this time of year. It’s colder out there now, a precursor of the winter to come. As I gaze out the window, my mind goes back to another day. A day of brisker winds still. To April 2, 2019, to be precise:

Last evening Bruce and I went to see the play “Fences” at the Grand Theatre. As we sat waiting for the play to start, I perused the audience. Noticing not just a few expensively dressed individuals, I thought: How fortunate we are to be able to afford the luxury of attending plays such as this. I grew up well educated, and not just with the regular classes at school either, but thanks to parents who considered it important, and who could afford it, was exposed to plays and concerts. My mum would give up her ticket to a play so that I could attend in her place with my dad.

I shared my thoughts with Bruce. He was on the same page as me. Later, as I gazed up at the stage, I noticed some people seating themselves in chairs at the sides of the stage. I mentioned it to Bruce. I commented that I wouldn’t want to sit there. Sometimes during performances objects like balls may be thrown, or staged fights may happen where actors go flying through the air. I knew that I’d be afraid of getting accidentally knocked or bonked or something. I mean, life happens, and not always as expected.

He was more open to the idea. It went through my mind that these people maybe had to sit up there because all of the other seats were taken. Poor them. I wondered what their experience would be like. I commented as much to Bruce. He said that those seats were $20.

Oh. I grew quiet. Okay. Never considered that one. Once again, it came into my awareness of how fortunate I was. I have a choice. Others do not. How wonderful if maybe some of the people seated at the side of the stage might otherwise be unable to enjoy plays due to their financial situation. Bruce nodded in agreement.

We watched the play. It included everything that we would have expected and more: thought provoking, emotional, well acted, and powerful. Afterwards I turned to him, said that I was going to boot it to the downstairs’ washroom, that I’d meet him down there. I usually leave my seat quickly after the performance before other people start to leave their seats; once that happens it takes forever to get out of the theatre and I needed to get to the washroom sooner rather than later. He acknowledged what I said. Just before I took off I noticed that he seemed upset. I wondered about that. I thought of his mom and dad, both of whom have passed away. His mom not so long ago. I could see the play triggering memories. The play was hugely about family and ended on a bittersweet note. I also wondered if it was the aftereffects of just the play itself. There had been some pretty intense moments at times. I know that I felt upset.

A bit later, when we were still downstairs, Bruce shared with me that he had needed to get away from the crowd upstairs. He said he didn’t understand why, but the play had affected him deeply. I told him that I felt the same way. I felt like I didn’t want to be upstairs either, what with all of the people milling about. Both of us prefer to have some quiet when emotions run high. I guess time to assimilate what we feel and think is better served, for us anyway, when we are not in the midst of hundreds of people.

We crossed through the exit doors from the theatre into the brisk evening air. I shivered.  We turned right and headed towards the bus stop about half a block away. I hope that we don’t have to wait too long for a bus, I thought. I hunched up my shoulders in a vain attempt to ward off the cold. Just steps from the entrance, tucked a bit in from the sidewalk that ran along the road, something caught my eye. A human being? No. Sleeping? On the bare sidewalk? Oh my God! As I took in his tattered clothes and hunched up body I felt my heart break. Even as I write this the sadness threatens to overtake me again. Stunned by what we had just witnessed, we walked by him continuing on our way to the bus stop. I think we were both kind of in shock. Sort of like this can’t be real. We stood at the bus stop for maybe two seconds. I turned to Bruce. Our eyes met. I verbalized what we both knew. He could freeze to death. We can’t leave him there. We need to go back.

I stopped to briefly gaze at the poor fellow, then opened the doors to the small group of people standing just inside the theatre’s entrance doors. I spoke of my concerns. They were concerned too. One of them had spoken to someone inside who was involved with the theatre; she said that that person had called the police foot patrol, and that they were on their way. I told that person that she was a good person and that I was grateful for what she had done. We left again. Standing at the bus stop we waited perhaps a couple of minutes when I again looked at Bruce and said that I need to go back to make sure that he ended up okay and that the police did indeed come. He was thinking the same thing. As we walked back I said to him that I couldn’t care less if we missed our bus or what time we got home. I just had to make sure that the man was okay. When we arrived back at the entrance the people who had been inside the doors who I had spoken to previously were gone. Not so the sleeping man.

And so we waited. And waited. And waited. I looked at my watch, then at the huddled up shape of the sleeping man.  I thought about Bruce’s and my conversation earlier about how lucky we were. I definitely hadn’t seen this coming. A huge heads up. I focused on his chest. I wanted to make sure that he was still breathing.

I know that this was meant to be or it wouldn’t be happening, but that didn’t make it any easier. Or, as far as I was concerned, right. I wondered what his story was. How did he get to be where he was? What what was wrong with our society that this even existed?

We continued to wait. Shivering again, I adjusted my scarf more securely around my neck. I thought of the beggar I encountered many years ago in Toronto. The two of us used to chat. Eventually he told me his story. About how he had ended up a street person. His wife had left him many years before. She took their children. No warning. Just disappeared. He fell apart. Lost his high level job. He simply couldn’t cope with never seeing his children again. And so there he was on the street begging.

We continued to wait. Nada. A young woman walking down the street, immersed in her cell phone, walked towards us. When she was near I spoke to her. I told her the situation.

“Could you phone the police?,” I asked.

“Are you new to London?”

“No.”

“Oh. There are lots of people like that man. He’ll be okay. He won’t freeze to death. This is warm compared to others I’ve seen in colder weather. He’ll be okay. It’s common.”

She made no move to phone the police. I was stunned. How had she gotten to the point in her life that she could be so callous? I felt, more than thought, how can you not care? I decided to ignore her attitude. I persisted. While she was there I noticed that the actors from the play were standing inside the theatre chatting. I said to her, just a minute. I’ll bang on the door to get the attention of the actors. It didn’t work. I tried numerous times. There was no sign of the foot patrol. I looked up to see a police cruiser going by. I waved both hands to get its occupants’ attention. They didn’t see me and continued on their way. What to do? The woman was still standing there. I knocked again, louder this time. Nothing. They were too far away to hear. We waited. No foot patrol.

Finally the actors headed towards the exit doors. Thank God. When they opened them to leave the theatre I engaged with them. I told them the situation, that I had been told that someone had phoned the police ages ago and no one had shown up. I looked at the lead actor; our eyes met. He said he’d go inside and see about it. He was only gone briefly, reappearing to tell me that he had told the theatre manager and they had phoned for the police to come. I thanked him. I thanked all of them for caring. Again, I said you are good people. I included the young woman who we had initially engaged to help and who had done nothing. I don’t know her conditions and I don’t judge.

We all continued on our way. With one last look at the man sleeping on the sidewalk we left. As we were walking to our bus stop Bruce commented about the woman’s behaviour. I said to him we don’t really know her conditions. I also said that I deliberately included her in my thank yous and calling her, along with the actors, a good person. You never know. Who knows the effect my including her might have? And of us all acting upon that caring?

I will be forever grateful for this experience. Yes, it is sad. It is a sign of the times that this sort of thing can exist. Yes, we need to, as a society, do more. To care, and to act on that caring.

I suppose that I could look at this whole thing in a negative way. I could highlight that woman with the cell phone in this story as evidence of what’s the point? Everybody is like her. I could say that she is the embodiment of our society, and of our times. Yes, I could take that tack. But no. I truly believe that most people care. Are kind. Yes. It is sad that this kind of thing with this poor man happens way too much. But you know what? I refuse to get caught in the negative. To believe that we are all callous.

I only have to look at the group of twelve or so people who were standing just inside the doors of the theatre. They all certainly cared. They cared enough to try and do something to help. They acted. Bruce and I acted. The performers in the play became involved. I truly believe that all of these people are indicative of the fact that there are indeed lots of caring people out there. People who would act. Who would help.

I then wondered if maybe there are people out there who want to help, but don’t. People  who care. They, for whatever reason, just don’t know how. Maybe they don’t realize when they say: “It’s too much. What can I possibly do? I am only one person.” Maybe they only have to have come into their awareness that yes, I am, they as individuals are, only one person. But one person, acting to add a little good in the world, one person at a time, could add up to countless people. Okay, I acted. And what happened? I discovered that I wasn’t alone that cold early spring evening. Others had cared enough to act. To care about that sleeping man.

A friend of mine runs a group of people who sign petitions to various people in power to help prisoners of conscience. He told me once that he has discovered that most people want to help. For whatever reasons, be it they are too busy, they don’t know how, or they feel that their single action won’t even put a dent in the overall picture, they don’t act. Well, what my friend has done is to make it easy for them to act. One or two times a month he chooses three letters taken from Amnesty International’s pleas to help prisoners of conscience, copies them, and then sends them out to over four hundred people with a self addressed, stamped envelope. Upon receiving  the now signed letters back he bundles them all up and sends them to various people in power to try and get these prisoners of conscience released. Over the years many of these people have been freed, in part, thanks to his efforts. Here is one person who acts, and through so doing, gives many others the chance to act to do some good in our world.

And so yes, each and every one of us can make a difference.

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NEW WORLD BECKONING

This brought back a memory for me. A memory of a man who I would frequently see begging on the streets of Toronto. I often stopped to say hello and chat a bit. One day as we were chatting he told me his story. At one time he held a job, had a wife, and children. His wife left with their children. She did not tell him where she had gone. He never saw them again. It completely broke him. My heart broke that day. Even as I write this I feel the sadness overtaking me again. We really do not know everyone’s stories. Their conditions. I don’t believe in judging people. What I do believe is in kindness for every living being. I am just so aware that we all want to be happy. None of us wants to suffer. We all deserve love and kindness. Thank you Lorraine  https://blindwilderness.wordpress.com/ for bringing this into our awareness in such a beautiful way.

Stable
You gave shelter
When there was no one there
Who would make room for a woman
With child
Today
There is still no room at the inn
For those untidy lives
That do not hit
The mark

Make room
For untidy
Ones who beg for mercy
For in truth they may be angels
Lighting
Your path
Angels do not always have wings
But tangled hair, no shoes,
Appearances
Deceive

Judge not
Those whom you see
Who do not look the same
As you, who walk the streets begging
One day
You too
May find yourself in that dark place
May there be a stable
To shelter you
Give warmth

The world
Is untidy
Littered with lives gone wrong
Upside down people challenging
The right
Way up
Ones who really are upside down
A new world of mercy
Beckons us all
Greet it

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A Simple Act of Kindness

“It is helpful to remember that sometimes the most powerful medicine we can offer for suffering of any kind is simply kindness. It says: ‘You’re not alone. I see you. I hear you. I am with you.’ Even if it’s only for a moment or a day, that sense of genuine connection can change the trajectory of a life.”

Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche

The above quote resonated with me. I remember, many years ago, that I celebrated one Christmas by inviting people who would otherwise be alone for that day over to my place for a pot luck Christmas dinner.

Christmas Eve I got on a bus on my way home from some last minute shopping. As I stepped up onto the bus I bumped into Richard, an acquaintance who I didn’t know very well. I did know, however, that he had no family in town, so I asked him if he wanted to join us for Christmas dinner the next day. He said yes. Christmas day was wonderful with all of us together sharing good food, lively conversation, and much laughter. A number of the people were musicians so it wasn’t long before we had a jam session happening. One of the guests brought out a guitar and Richard joined in with his mandolin as we all sang into the night.

Much later I again bumped into Richard. He wanted to tell me something. He said that I had no idea how much it had meant to him that I had invited him to Christmas dinner that evening so many months ago. He then proceeded to tell me that he had been very sick when I had invited him to our Christmas celebration. He had just found out that his kidneys were failing and he had been horribly depressed. My invitation had meant the world to him. Richard has since died, but this special memory of him, and of that night, will live on in my heart forever.

One never knows what the effect of a simple act of kindness will be on another.

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How To Regain Your Balance When Life Knocks You Down *NEW POST* — Dr. Eric Perry, PhD

Written by Dr. Perry, PhD Image Credit: Pixabay “If we don’t change, we don’t grow. If we don’t grow, we aren’t really living.” ~Gail Sheehy We have all heard the expression that life can change in the blink of an eye. One moment you are skipping down the yellow brick road towards your happily ever […]

via How To Regain Your Balance When Life Knocks You Down *NEW POST* — Dr. Eric Perry, PhD

Posted in Psychology

The fallout from impaired driving

I thought that this blog post titled “The fallout from impaired driving” that was posted by a friend was well worth sharing:

chopkins2x3

In honor of our younger brother, Chris, who was killed when an impaired driver crashed into the van Chris was driving. Today is Chris’s birthday. It has been nearly three years since he was stolen from us. He died on the 19th of November, 2016 and we have all been dealing with that tragic event to the best of our abilities since then.

Unlike death caused by natural causes, when a loved one is snatched in this way there is so much more anger and grief. Initially we were all in shock and as we gathered for his funeral the one question that could not be answered continued to reverberate, whether spoken aloud or not: Why? Why Chris? He was such a good person, quick to offer help to everyone, not only his family. The funeral itself revealed how wide spread his kindnesses ranged. People he had worked with…

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Blogger Recognition Award

Okay, I so did not see this coming. It kind of blew me away actually. It gets better. Is that even possible?

It means the world to me that the person who nominated me for the award is someone I admire greatly: as a person of integrity who speaks her truth in such a way that I feel humbled and honoured to be included in her sharing, as an individual with a huge heart, so much so that I feel as though my own heart is opening wide even as I write these words, and as a writer whose words always touch me with their beauty. Oh, and did I mention that she is a poet too? Not infrequently I feel as though a tiny piece of heaven has just opened up as I bear witness to her poetic self unfolding on the page. Wow!

So, Carol Hopkins, thank you for your kindness in nominating me for this award. I am honoured to share the following link to your blog: https://chopkins2x3.wordpress.com/

AWARD RULES:

  • Thank the nominator, and publish a post on your blog about receiving the Blogger Recognition Award. Make sure to provide a link to the nominator’s blog in your post.
  • Give a brief story of how your blog started.
  • Give two pieces of advice to new bloggers.
  • Nominate 10-15 other bloggers for this award, and inform them of their nomination.

To blog or not to blog??

I knew, long before I actually did it, that I wanted to write a blog. Outside of that I didn’t have a clue. Not having a clue was actually kind of driving me crazy. Why couldn’t I just figure this out? What was my problem?

I am a meditator. One day when I was meditating, out of seemingly nowhere, the title and subject of this blog came into being. Poof! Just like that. I’m following my breathing and poof? So there it was. Is. The reason for this blog is simple really. I care. I care about others, all others, about our planet with all of its creatures, from the tiniest bug to the largest whale, about plant life everywhere in all its wonderful diversity, and that I have clean air to breathe. I, like all of us, want to be happy and peaceful, and to live a full life.

As you no doubt have figured out from the fact I am a meditator, I also care about the spiritual side of life. When I meditate or connect with nature on the long walks I often take, I find I sometimes have more clarity around the truth of how things really are. Of how we and this planet in all of its diversity are interconnected. 

Everything I do and say and think affects our world. How so? How can what I think possibly affect others and what’s around me, let alone the world? A simple example: Actually, this blog is a perfect example. I often find myself thinking about the goings on in my life, in the lives of others, and in our broader world. I think, I feel, I’m inspired to act. To write. To share through stories what little clarity I have touched as I make my way through the ups and downs on the roller coaster ride we call life.

My first story, “Imprints We Make”, came from me thinking about a young boy and his granddad, and from me thinking about encouraging that little boy to grow in compassion. I acted based on that thinking. I gave him five dollars. He then would have thought about what I’d said and done to help him and his teacher to raise money for a good cause. So he thought about it and acted. He sold his favourite toys. Okay, I’m still in awe of that one. So I thought and he thought. I acted and he acted. And somewhere in our world, there are some people whose lives are a little bit better because I thought and he thought. So yes. What I think does have an effect. We inter-are. We all make imprints on our world, and it on us.

I am grateful that, as a human being, I have the capacity and the ability to make choices as to what kind of imprint I make as I walk through my life. Our actions, thoughts, and  words have an effect on ourselves and on others. To speak, think, and act by stepping gently and wisely coming from a place of compassion, a place that we all hold within us, both for ourselves and for others, goes in the direction of spreading harmony and peace in our world.

I humbly suggest two points of advice for new bloggers:

  1. Be true to yourself. Come from a place that is truly you, whatever that is for you. After all, this blog is your blog. Nobody else’s. Only you really know yourself. Others may think they know, but they are not inside your head or your heart. You are wonderfully unique.
  2. Write frequently, daily if you can. Try keeping a journal. Either handwritten or on a computer. I have done both. For me they each have a different feel to them. When journaling don’t concern yourself with what to write. Just write. No filters. That means don’t edit what shows up on the page. Don’t worry about spelling, grammar, or mistakes. Not important. Whatever comes into your head goes down on the page. What I have discovered is that when I don’t filter what I journal and just write, even if what is going on the page seems silly, or pointless, or boring, or any number of things, is that all of a sudden some hidden part of me, call it the muse if you like, surfaces. When that occurs I almost can’t write fast enough to get down on the page what is surfacing. It is like when I finally get my thinking head out of the way the muse is freed. The thinking head wants to filter what goes down on the page. Just ignore it. Some of my best writing has come from writing this way. Not infrequently the ideas coming from the muse are the very ones that show up in a post on my blog. They are the seed. I have also noticed that some of the turns of phrase that show up from the muse in my journal have me in awe. It’s like: Where did that come from? It’s perfect! Of course they inevitably end up being incorporated into a blog post.

I am nominating the following bloggers whose posts I enjoy reading; so many ideas; so many ways of expressing them:

Vessels of Vision  https://vessels-of-vision.com/

Cavewoman A Creative Journey by Bernie Delaney  https://bernie.ie/blog/

NFOCUS4YO  https://nfocus4youblog.com

Akarsh Jain  https://akarshjain.wordpress.com/

In So Many Words by Dorothy Chiotti  https://dorothychiotti.com/

Meditatio Ephimera by Cate Terwilliger  https://zenofhen.wordpress.com

Sascha.Hjort A Spiritual Journey  https://www.saschahjort.com/

Scale it Simple by Steph  https://scaleitsimple.com/

The Renegade Press by Chris Nicholas   https://therenegadepress.com/

Jake Jacobik  https://jjacobik.wordpress.com/2019/06/15/chances-were/

SHLLYN  https://shllyn.com/2019/06/20/oh-to-grow-parallel-to-a-forest-of-trees/

 

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Community

One morning I was at the Library bookstore donating a couple of books. I noticed that the three people helping out at the store were all volunteers. I asked them about volunteering there. They were of course very helpful giving me information, a volunteer application form, and telling me when exactly the person who interviews potential volunteers comes in. During the conversation, I mentioned that I have been volunteering at London Hospice for two years and have very much enjoyed it. I said that I wanted to volunteer in more places. I said that I love books and have worked in bookstores and for the library in the past. As I left I wished them a good day.

Later, after lunch, I decided to meditate for a bit. During my sit the aforementioned conversation at the bookstore popped up, as did my words about Hospice. I started to think about community. Hospice community. Something that has always  been in my awareness from the very first time I walked into the hospice to speak with my friend and fellow meditation leader was the incredible warmth and positive atmosphere. I felt humbled and honored when she asked me to be one of the leaders of a drop-in meditation group.

As I sat there on the cushion, my heart opened wide as the drop-in meditation group came to mind. And then I knew. I had to write a post here about community and what it means to me. With this realization I felt peace. Well-being. I found myself visualizing the people in the group and the quiet, welcoming space where we meditate, the ever-present warm atmosphere, and the sense of safety there. By safety I mean the fact that everyone feels free to share what is real to them, their innermost feelings, their life experiences, and the effect that being part of this group has on them.

So what do we do in this group? It’s simple really. We usually begin with a guided meditation, then take a break to grab a coffee and/or snack from the kitchen area and return to the meditation room for some social time together, usually followed by a bit more meditating or a reading. If we feel so inclined, we share what has arisen for us during the meditation.

Some of these people have been attending for years. This group, as I mentioned, is drop-in: volunteers, staff, those who are dying, their caretakers, and people who are grieving. There is trust here. Complete trust and great caring for each other and for ourselves. To each and every one of us: We matter. And the atmosphere? Positive. Life affirming.

There is only one other time that I have experienced all of this with a group; it was with my Buddhist teacher Yeshe Wangpo’s students many years ago. That is the group that I wrote about in my post: The Retreat. We cared. We trusted. We shared. We went on picnics together, enjoyed pot-luck’s, supported each other through the rough times, and experienced retreats as a group.

During this meditation it was more of a feeling thing. I continued  meditating for a little bit and then chose to end the sit. I walked over to my computer, sat down, and began to write:

What is community to me? This drop-in group at Hospice exemplifies what it is all about: caring, trust, honesty, open-heartedness, safety, sharing what is important, and complete acceptance. Our differences only seem to enhance our experience together; there is way more that is the same. If I step on a stone it hurts. Sometimes I feel anger. I need food to live. I want to be happy. So do we all. I guess it’s kind of like the “Ten Thousand Things” spoken of in the ancient, fourth century Chinese text, the Chuang Tzu. We are all our individual selves, but we are also part of the whole. The whole can’t exist without its individual parts and the parts necessarily need to be part of the whole. I guess that another way of putting it is that the parts enhance the whole just as the whole enhances the parts.

Perhaps there is a bit of a message here? What a world we would have if everyone on the planet could be like all of us as we are with each other. A community. The best of what we as human beings can be: Loving. Caring. Sharing. Helping. Compassionate.

Community is about friendly. My neighbourhood feels like that. Where I live it is the norm for people to say good morning as they pass each other. Very special. In other neighbourhoods in the city where I live, the norm is to avert ones eyes, look down, askance, anything but to make eye contact. And to say hello? Umm…lots of strange reactions to that one. Some people can’t get away fast enough when that happens. Some people act as if you’re not there, as if you didn’t say “Good Morning.” Some people speed up the second you have passed. Let me get this straight. I’m definitely not scary looking, unless you’re a mouse or some such thing.  And then, go ahead, skitter away. I would too.

I feel blessed to have so many wonderful neighbours. A couple of them I have become very close to over the last few years. I take care of their house and garden when they are away on holidays. I don’t drive. They do things like drive me to the train station when I’m heading out of town for a day of fun, or give me a ride to somewhere I need to go. I don’t do it because I have to. They don’t do it because they have to. We just do it. It’s what neighbours do. Community. Very, very special.

One of our neighbours invites everyone in the community to their house for a giant picnic on Canada Day. How cool is that! It has become quite an event on our street. They drop invitations in mailboxes and post invites throughout the neighbourhood. More than once I have found myself smiling as I walk down our street to catch a bus and notice one of the invitations posted on a pole.

I bumped into Martha awhile ago as she was walking a dog. She doesn’t have a dog; she was helping out another neighbour who was away.

Someone else who lives nearby stopped me one day. She needed to unload. She needed an ear. She had just supported a friend who was going through a very rough time. It hurt her to see her friend in such emotional pain. I could see that she was upset. She shared. The two of us are not close friends. Does that matter? I felt honored and touched by her trust in me.

We currently live in a world where there is much strife. Much anger. Much about being caught up in “me”. Caught up in “me” versus “you”. Duality. There really is no duality. We create it. When we live in community the “me” versus “you” disappears. We become one.

Community.

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