Wednesday, April 10, 2013


The question left me stymied.

Before asking, she told us about her fascination with bears, about a man named Charlie Russell who wrote a book called Grizzly Heart.  Then, we read the prologue, in which the author describes being approached by a grizzly while sitting on a log in the rain forest of British Columbia.  The bear "finally sat down beside me," he says.  "After a time, she moved her paw along the log towards my hand, and touched it very gently."  That experience, Russell says, changed his life.  "I also knew in that moment that I could not back away.  What was happening was something my life had been moving towards for decades, and from which I must not serve.  I had to follow where it led."

That's when it got uncomfortable for me.  That's when she asked the question:  Can you pinpoimt a moment in your life when you knew you would never be the same again, that the direction of your life would be completely changed?

No.  I had to answer no.  The highs and lows of my life scrolled before me like my iphoto collection.  But I couldn't click on any specific one.

All I could think of was a young woman I know who, when she was four, saw a cellist on TV, and said, I want to do that.  Now, she is a professional cellist.

 I had to ask myself:  Is it possible to live your life and NOT have an experience like that?  Allow me one caveat before moving on:  I am consciously not including marriage and the birth of each of my children, fully expecting those experiences to change me forever, even before they happened.  Which, of course, they did.

Having been asked a question, and asking one myself, I had to follow the thought.  Can you move from one event or episode of your life to another, experiencing incremental moments which, in their totality, change your life?

That's when the image came to me:  My life is like a mosaic, composed of a kaleidoscope of irregular ceramic pieces.  Okay. . . Could I identify some of those pieces?  How about watching Dr. Robert Cosby, leaning against the blackboard in a class on the American novel, legs crossed, styrofoam coffee cup in one hand and the novel of the week in the other, asking us undergrads how each character in that novel developed one aspect of the theme.  Then, our efforts not producing the desired results, his leading us there through a questioning pattern worthy of Socrates.  Thinking--I want to be able to do that.

Then, decades later, observing Dr. Carol Rolheiser of OISE facilitate an interactive session for six hundred participants, I thought,  I want to be able to do that.  What else?   Witnessing the transformation of a young girl as her classmates offer her the latest in hip shirts and jewellery for Christmas, out of the goodness of their hearts, and thinking, I want to do that. Using words and questions to reformulate ideas, provoke thought, refocus discussion and achieve consensus, and thinking, Hey, I can do that!

Now, though, the reflection gets riskier.  What about a mosaic made out of misshapen pieces of old, broken pottery?  I once saw a videoclip about an artist who did precisely that. What would my broken pieces of pottery look like?  Well, there would be the students along the way whose needs I didn't meet, the failed lessons, the botched piano performances, the careless comments, the missed opportunities for kindness and generosity.

Together, the glass and ceramic pieces and the segments of broken pottery accumulated bit by bit over the years intermingle and complement each other to create the mosaic I have become.  Though I can't single out any one chunk that would parallel Russell's grizzly experience, I am grateful for the interplay of colour and texture that makes me, me.  Grateful, too, for the question that inspired the reflection.

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