Friday, December 23, 2016


All through the last year, during the election campaign in the USA, and especially after November 8, I have struggled, as readers will know,  to understand how anyone could support a misanthropic, narcissistic candidate so obviously unqualified to lead a country.  How could people be duped into thinking Trump would have the back of working class America, even of working class white America?  How could people have so little astuteness or humanity?

Well, in the last few weeks, I've watched Oliver Stone's Untold History of the United States (2012),  a series available on Netflix.  Now, I understand.  Maybe Trump's election was inevitable, the logical outgrowth of mindsets and illusions moulded over the decades since FDR.  That possibility saddens me to my core.  I will stop there; viewers need to make up their own mind, without the distraction of someone else's opinion.

So, if you are interested in an additional perspective on American history since World War II, and you have some time, I would highly recommend this series.  Honestly, I couldn't tear myself away.  Now, this is not a feel-good viewing, and binge-watching is probably not possible, never mind a good idea.  Still, the series connected many dots for me.

I also realize this is a strange pre-Christmas post.  But it's where I am this year.

Saturday, December 3, 2016


Our new grandson will be the ninth child baptized in the ensemble my mother prepared for her children more than sixty years ago.  My sister and I were baptized in it, as well as our six combined children.  Yesterday, I took it out to freshen up before taking it to our daughter for the first wearing of the third generation.

With reverence, I open the box and separate the tissue paper.  The knitted bonnet rests on top.  The ribbons, yellowed with age and crinkled from years of compression, need a wash and a warm iron.  I make a mental note.   The gown itself, with its fine lace and delicate bows, is a marvel of craftsmanship.  Each time I finger one of my mother’s creations, I marvel at her expertise.  Truly, her skill with a needle and thread is matched only by the magic she created with knitting needles.  The shawl, its fine wool and intricate patterns soft under my fingers,  does need a wash in readiness for the celebration.   As I caress the robe that my mother added to the ensemble in her seventies for our son, her first grandchild, I remember the baptisms of our own children, and my mother’s delight that her creations continued to play a central role in the milestones of the next generation.

Suddenly, I am immersed in the past.  As I swish the water slowly through the shawl, I think of my mother,  alone in the old house nestled in the coulee below the hills, two miles from the nearest neighbour.  I picture her, belly teeming with new life, filled with dreams for this new person as the needles click and the lines of wool snake from her bag through her fingers.  I see her updating my father on her progress, and I visualize his admiration, his pride, and his excitement.  This project would consume her days.

Still a spirit sitting next to my mother on the gray sofa of the old living room, I roll the wet shawl in the towel to squeeze out the excess water.   I realize I have stopped, mid-roll.    The fog of several decades lifts, and I see the events of a lifetime ago in spectacular light.  My mother used this ensemble for the first time for me.  But she knitted it for her first child, a son, my brother, who died at birth the year before I was born.  Why had I never considered that before?  In the abject grief of losing a child she carried for nine months, a grief I have never known, how much would packing away the baptismal ensemble into which she had invested so much love have added to her devastation? Already thirty-five years old, she might have asked herself if she would ever have another child.   I wonder, too, if, at each of the eight baptisms for which that ensemble was used, she would have thought of her lost son.  What images filled her mind when she looked at her work? 

She never said a word.  She never shared any details about her experience in creating that masterpiece.  For us, anyway, she focused on the living.  Imagine the strength that must have taken.

Yesterday’s experience haunts me still.  How could I not have connected the dots before?    What a comfort, at least,  that, in my sixties,   I continue to awaken to perspectives I had never considered and directions I had never thought necessary or possible.   Memories take on new meaning, new challenges loom, and life can still glow with the kaleidoscope of dawn.

Sunday, November 27, 2016


I started watching X-Company on February 18, 2015.  The World War II CBC drama "follows the stories of five highly skilled young recruits – Canadian, American and British – torn from their ordinary lives to train as agents in Camp X [,] an ultra-secret training facility on the shores of Lake Ontario.”  The historical basis of Camp X, a little known fact from Canadian history, intrigued me from the get-go.   It’s clear from the opening scenes that these young people would rather not be involved in espionnage.  War and killing are abhorrent to them.  They try to circumvent the ugliness.  For example, Tom,  an advertising professional,  will try to talk himself out of a situation rather than follow orders to shoot.  Each team member feels compelled to help to stop the Nazi machine.  Alfred is terrified of noise and danger, but he too is determined to overcome his challenges to help the war effort.  The characters  simply cannot sit by and watch.

The episodes haunted me.  As I watched, I wondered what I would have done had I lived in post-1933 Europe or in post-1939 Canada. Would I have had the courage to speak out?  Would I have been prepared to give my own life to aid Jews being humiliated in the streets of Europe or sent to ghettos and  camps?  Would I have volunteered to take an active part in the war effort at home or abroad to help thwart a world threat to freedom?

I couldn’t answer the question.  Actually, that’s not really true.  I  have to say out loud that I would not have had the courage to put my life on the line.  In the depths of my cowardly heart, I was grateful that life, thanks to some fortunate star, had so far spared me those hard decisions.   Instead, it had shown me a panoply of issues I thought I could keep at arm’s length: racism toward First Nations peoples, famine in developing countries,  atrocities in El Salvador, Argentina, and Chile, genocide in Rwanda.  I was able to pay lip service to acknowledging those causes—learning about Treaties and dismembering myths, giving money for famine relief, reading about upheaval in Central America and Africa.  I was too busy with my life, my career and my family, however, to do more.   Someone else could do it.  Others were doing it.

Well, no longer.   The Canadian election campaign of the summer and fall of 2015 jolted me.  During those months, proposals of a barbaric cultural practices tip line, hate memes directed at Muslims and stories of physical and verbal abuse of minorities in Canada made me wonder what had happened to the Canada I thought I knew.   Canadians rallied, though, and rejected the party of division and the past.  The hatred and resentment went underground again, to fester.

We were only picking at the scab on the sore then, it seems. The campaign of Donald Trump ripped the scab right off, exposing the rawness underneath.  His election to the presidency of the United States has made things even worse.  It has given angry people in Canada as well as the US permission to scrawl hate messages on synagogues and mosques, and to insult people on public transportation, and to attack individuals.   

My day of reckoning has arrived.  My hour has come.  I can no longer rationalize mere lip service.  I have to act, whatever the cost.  Inspired by columnists Nicholas Kristof and Charles Blow of the New York Times, who have both vowed to continue to speak out, I must call out hate in whatever form I see it, and share articles on the subject as well.   The same goes for the falsehood and misinformation that unscrupulous people use to advance their ideas, discredit their naysayers, and make themselves look good (see Trump and the Kentucky Fordfactory).  Third, in my own sphere, thinking globally and acting locally, I will continue to support refugees, defend First Nations and stand in solidarity with them, and work for social justice in my community.  

I intend to use this blog as well.  My life after "retirement" has taken an unexpected direction—activism.  Those of you who follow this blog know that I like to tell stories, to reflect on the human condition, and to find meaning in even so-called insignificant moments of the day.  Those posts will continue.  You may, however, find more posts with a political slant going forward.  I hope that my thoughts on the effect of events on my retired life will not dissuade you from reading. 

Sometimes, even the innocuous exploration of a new TV series can bring about a stark moment of life-changing clarity.   X-Company’s prescient context and themes mixed with unfolding political events to create a chemical reaction:  a bright light around mission at this stage in my life.  And, by the way, the final season of X-Company begins on CBC on January 11, 2017.  Season 2 is available online, and Season 1 on DVD.

Sunday, November 20, 2016


"It's over.  He won. Deal with it,"  a Facebook responder replied to a comment about the message the cast of Hamilton delivered to Vice-President-elect Pence on Friday night.   Trump won the election.  So, the implication is, I guess, that neither he nor Pence ever need to deal with any protest.  Case closed.  Following that logic, the cast of Hamilton was out of line when they gathered on stage to remind the vice-president-elect, an audience member, that many Americans are worried about their rights and to be sure to govern for all.  Trump thought so.  "Apologize!" he tweeted.   In seizing the occasion to send a frank and professional message, however, spokesperson Brandon Victor Dixon and the cast were doing exactly what the comment author  recommended: deal with the election.  After all, deal-with-it is an equal opportunity obligation.

Yes, Trump won the Electoral College.  He will be president.  His administration will presumably try to enact some form of the measures he proclaimed during the campaign.  Those who voted against Trump do have to deal-with-it.  One part of that is reconciliation to the reality.  There will be no major do-over for four years; in two years, at the mid-term elections, there’s a chance to mitigate the pervasive power Trump was given.  The other part of deal-with-it, however, is action people will take in the face of Trump administration legislation and executive action.   Citizens have a repsonsibility to make the opposing voice heard.  People must remind their fellow citizens of their shared values.  They must proclaim their inalienable rights under the Consitution, and they must speak out against any actions that mean to impose limits on those rights.  Deal-with-it strategies need to be lawful, peaceful, articulate, and respectful. Deal-with-it in the community of voters who did not support Trump involves vigilance and action as much as it does acceptance.

Trump and his administration have several realities to accept as well.  First, they did not win the popular vote.  They have to deal-with that.  More Americans voted against Trump than for him.  So, the administration starts with a lot of discontent and fear.   It can expect challenge and opposition.  Democracy depends on the dissenting opinion.  Second, Trump has to deal with the fallout from the vicious campaign he orchestrated.  He chose to insult and degrade Mexicans, Muslims, women, fellow Republicans, and, really, anyone who disagreed with him on any given day.   His intentions to deport millionsof undocumented migrants, and to prevent Muslims from entering the UnitedStates are recorded in his own words.  Now, having given people permission to be hateful and having modelled vulgarity and degradation, Trump and his surrogates have to live with the consequences.  (This is an immutable truth, my mother would say:  Quand tu craches en l'air, ça te retombe sur le nez, literally translated as, When you spit in the air, it falls back on your nose.)  His administration will have to deal with the violence that arises from hate.  Trump also has to expect that the communities he disparaged are watching and vocal.  In addition, Trump also fabricated « truth » throughout the campaign.  That trend has continued post-election.    Trump can expect that people will deal with that trend by calling out those lies.  To deal with his election, people will let Trump know what they think of his words and actions.

Deal-with-it, then, is not a maxim that applies only to the losers.  The Trump administration-in-waiting must deal with the effects of the hate sown during the campaign, as well as challenges, criticism, or protest.  It can also expect publicized fact-checks of its statements.  The powerful message that the cast of Hamilton delivered to Vice-President-elect Pence is only one such manifestation of deal-with-it.

Thursday, November 3, 2016


In last week’s post, I asked the question, Can I dance when I don’t like the music?  My reply was that, with resolve and strength of will, dancing to music I don’t like is not only possible, but necessary for a joyful life.  That thought does sum up my own experience, and it is valid, but only to a point.  My post failed to address a key issue.  I’m surprised, actually, that no one has pointed out that missing piece.

It’s all well and good to talk about dancing when there’s music, whether one loves the music or not.  The only reason I have music to dance to is that I won the birth lottery.  I was born to parents who wanted me, who loved me, and  who sacrificed so that I would be safe, thrive on good food,  and have access to competent medical care.  Their selflessness meant that I had an encyclopedia at home before my school purchased one, that I taught myself to type when I was twelve, and then did the same typing exercises all over again when I was fourteen at school in Grade 9.  I learned to play the piano thanks to their vision, read books that never would have shelved in the school library,  and benefited from a great home environment and a chance know my extended family.   So I always had music.  Was it always my favorite?  Of course not.  But the option to dance was always there.   The birth lottery paid dividends my whole life—I had a university education and a satisfying career, the chance to raise a family, contribute to my community, and travel.

What about people who don’t have music?  What about people who must live in noise?  Because the opposite of music is not silence.  The opposite of music is noise.  Many people lose the birth lottery.  Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times  writes eloquently on the subject in "3 TV’s and No Food: Growing Up Poor in America" (and other countries like Canada by extension).   These people might have to climb out of abject and cyclical poverty.  They might live in neighborhoods or families that face addiction issues.  They might not have money for good food or books, and they might be starved for support and a leg up.  Some people do manage to dance in those environments despite the noise.  They make their own music, or they blot out the noise.  They have more strength of character than I could ever muster.    Many, though, are swallowed up in the din.

As a winner of the birth lottery, my life moves to music.   That good fortune carries obligation.   At some point, in ways large or small, I must  act to silence the noise for people who need music in their lives.  As my mother preached to us, "From those to whom much has been given, much will be expected" (Luke 12:48).  Or, as Hillary Rodham Clinton’s mother preached to her, “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.” (Methodist tenet).  My intention to quell the noise for even a few people continues to be a work in progress.

I do, however, own that opportunity is a function of the accident of birth.  Birth luck is the foundation of accomplishment; it determines whether noise or music accompanies life.  If I have the choice to dance or not, then I need to pay that forward and provide some music for others.

Friday, October 28, 2016


I pull over in front of the school.  In my impatience, I even forget to signal.  The driver behind me, gracious despite my erratic move, doesn’t honk.  I glance at the School Bus Zone sign.  No yellow curb,  and, it’s two o’oclock in the afternoon.  So I’m safe for the two minutes I need to jot down the aphorism I spied on the school sign a few metres back.  We can dance when we find music that we love.   Okay, I think.  Self-evident, really.  How can you disagree with that?  The larger question is, though, Do I want to dance only when it’s my kind of music?

Of course,  it’s easy to dance when there’s music we love.   When a favorite song comes on, my feet begin to tap, my torso sways in time, and my fingers drum on the table.  I don’t jive so well, but when Len Gadica plays the first chords of "Come Go With Me" (The Beach Boys), I am already up and moving, singing "Dom dom dom dom dom /  dom be dooby / dom whoa whoa whoa whoa."  Maybe I even look like I know what I'm doing.  At least, I am one with the music and my partner for those glorious minutes.

Life can work like that, too.  Some people call it being in the zone.  We find ourselves in a context where the planets align—our abilities, our training, the people who surround us, the workplace mood, and a sense of accomplishment, all come together.  Magic happens.   David Whyte, in Crossing the Unknown Sea: Work as a Pilgrimmage of Identity, cites an analogy to the swan from an Austrian monk.  On land, the bird has an ungainly waddle.  He doesn’t "cure his awkwardness by beating himself on the back, by moving faster, or by trying to organize himself better.  He does it by moving toward the elemental water, where he belongs.  It is the simple contact with the water that gives him grace and presence."   To be transformed,  then, "You only have to touch the elemental waters in your own life."  In other words, you only need to find music that you love.  

I have experienced periods of that kind of synergy (see Antidote blog post).  The thing is, I want to dance all the time, or at least most of the time, not just when I have music I love.  Not just when I am in my elemental waters, or when all the planets align.  It can take a long time to find the music you love, or you might hear it only intermittently.  What about the rest of the time?   Life is too short to dance only once in a while. 

So, a few decades ago,  I decided to dance no matter what the music.  That was the first step, the decision itself.  I wouldn’t let my environment or circumstances determine my outlook.  I would paste on a smile if I had to; I would will myself onto the dance floor even if I didn’t like the music.  In the end, those efforts have paid off.  I have preserved my joy.  I don’t care what day of the week it is—Monday, Friday, Sunday, no matter.  Each day brings delights. 

Another pivotal attitude reset was the realization that I am the critical factor.  The dancer, not the kind of music, makes the dance.  As a friend of a friend said to her daughter who wanted to change schools, "Remember, wherever you go, you are there, too."  I can dance if I want to.  Maybe if I dance, others will dance, too.  I don’t need an invitation.  I’ve come a long way from the high school wallflower days.

It’s been helpful, too, to insulate myself with a Star-Trekkian magnetic field that repels negativity.  Most of the time, the field protects me.  It can thin a little in vulnerable spots, though.  At those times, I catch myself going beyond healthy personal reflection for growth to hyper self-criticism.  I have to remain vigilant.  Breaks in the music feed make dancing very difficult. 

Music we love does heighten the pleasure we get from dance. It might even help us attain heights we never thought possible.  Conversely, music we don’t like doesn’t have to limit us.  We can decide to rock out no matter the conditions.

Friday, October 21, 2016


I lounge on the deck in the cushioned Adirondack chair,
coffee on one arm,
Jeannette Walls' The Glass Castle on the other,
in summer’s end
as much as in the story.

Through my transparent sanctuary,
I notice my husband 
wandering around the patio,
poking in the shed,
peering around the swing,
circling the table, 
eyes toward the ground.

"What are you up to?" I ask.

"I bought a can of white paint.  Can’t remember where I put it."

"Studies show that  breakfast with your wife on the deck enhances memory," I offer.

He stops, looks up.  
A warm slow smile softens his face 
and lights his eyes.

"Well, let’s test that theory out."
He brings coffee and a muffin,
and settles into the empty chair beside me.
We chat:  
about the new fence
and his outdoor projects,
my coaching contract,
our refugee family,
our children.

The paintcan bell of the real world tolls for us both,
even on this glorious morning.
He gives in to its summons.
I succumb to temptation
(the only way to deal with it)
and steal a few more minutes.   
Has The Glass Castle shattered?

As I read, he saunters by, grinning now,
paint can in hand, this time.

"Where was it?" I ask.

"In the shed, on the small table."

"Conversation reset your brain," I suggest.
He laughs,
one more coat of connection layered on
our own glass castle.

Sunday, October 16, 2016


This blog has called my name for two months already, and for two months, I’ve resisted its summons. Sometimes, the preoccupations of the day suffocated the cry.   Other times, I couldn't string together coherent thoughts.  Thank you to those who visited anyway during my absence.  I’m so grateful.    Now, it’s time to give voice to the ideas I scribbled in my notebook in stolen moments during that time.

So, what’s been so important during July and August that I couldn’t make the time to write?  Why couldn’t I muster enough energy to machete through the undergrowth of my reflections and arrive at a clearing worthy of expression?  My only explanation is that my focus over the past two months has been outward.  The denominator common to all fronts—instructional coaching in the professional domain, refugee support in the social justice area of community work, volunteer recognition and music preparation in parish ministry sector, and helping hands for the family as our daughter and son-in-law welcomed their first child—was helpfulness.  

Helpfulness, I have been reminded throughout the past two months, is a dance.   Not a solo  act, though, that relies on inner forces like focus, for example, or response to music; memorization, maybe, and physical strength and flexibility.  Not even, either, a line dance, where you dance alone with others.  Rather, helpfulness is a waltz. You move in time to music and in response to the cues and steps of a partner, so that the entire experience is memorable and enjoyable for both people.  In that context, over the last few months, I learned some things about helpfulness.

·      Communication is vital. 
It’s important to chat with your partner throughout the dance.  Be clear about your purpose and your state of mind.    I thought I should own up to our daughter and her husband that my joy in being there for a few days was not only altruistic.  I had to acknowledge my selfish motives, too—the time with a grandson that I will see only every six weeks or so, and my desire to establish a close relationship with him.  I thought they needed to know, as well, that whatever perspectives and experience I might share, I thought of them as information, not advice.  All of us have valid and considered reasons for our actions.

·      The music drives the experience. 
The context of proferred help is key.  In my professional duty, my role is to respond to the needs of the teacher. The teacher identifies the desired outcome, and my job is to help that person get there, through probing questions, specific feedback, modeling, and the identification of potential resources.  Helpfulness is never about me.

·      Less turns out to be more. 
Before our refugee family arrived, I heard a follow-up interview with refugees who had been in Canada about six months.  One of their challenges, they admitted, was fashioning a relationship with their sponsors that led to their independence.  What a key revelation for me, and for our committee, as we try to support and facilitate our family,  not hover over them.  The right combination of support and pressure, a coach friend of mine always says, is the core principle of her work with teachers.  That’s a mantra that applies to refugee sponsorship as well as education.  Helpfulness must respect the wishes and the autonomy of the people to whom I am lending a hand.

·      Let go and enjoy. 
I’ve never considered myself a great dancer.  I can dance with my husband because he’s very patient, I dance with him more often than anyone else, of course, and he’s a free spirit who is never limited by what tradition or habit have dictated the dance steps ought to be.  Whereas I might point out my missteps or my awkwardness, he just loses himself in moving to the music.  Though being conscious of one’s own actions and words does enable helpfulness, the profound satisfaction and joy, I am learning, come from zeroing in on the relationships and the larger purpose.

·      Know when to stop. 
Before your feet hurt, before you’re counting the steps to the end of the dance, before the exaltation of moving with another person to a beat that won’t be denied fades, call it a night.  Helpfulness, too, has its tipping point, after which our services can come across as obstruction, interference, or worse, imposition.   As educator and researcher Gary Phillips (I think he's the one who uttered the phrase I heard decades ago at a teachers’ conference) has said,  When your horse has died, it’s a good idea to get off.   The trick is to be aware when your help is no longer needed.

Now, as the waltz ends and the band’s introduction promises new rhythms,  the needs in my sectors of involvement resume and mutate, informed, I hope, by the insights I have gained.   Ready to embrace the next steps, I feel refreshed and grateful for what I have taken away while I thought I was giving.

Saturday, July 30, 2016


The moment is surreal.  After seven months of organization, a few members of our parish refugee sponsorship committee and I huddle in the arrivals area of  the airport.  When I spy our family at the top of the escalator, I want to shout out, Welcome!  Instead, I smile and wave, and my heart swells with the gift of a vision realized. I also think of the contrast between all the goodwill and effort that have made this event happen, and the darkness of the Trump acceptance speech the night before.   

On January 31, 2016, our committee informed  our congregation that the refugee project was a go.  We expressed to them that we needed money and that, should they care to help, we had placed envelopes in the vestibule of the church.  Three months later, our congregation had given almost twenty thousand dollars.  In April, two hundred people, many from the larger community, attended a steak night that added almost three thousand dollars more.  Imagine.  We asked for donations, and we were overwhelmed.

At the same time, we requested help with household furniture and items.  Once again, the parishioners responded.  Items poured in—a sectional, linens, a desk, stereo systems, TVs and stands, area rugs, whatever we needed.  Our purchases were limited to incidentals and pillows.  One day, I found a bag of new towels destined for our refugee family by our front door.  Our furnishings coordinator was inundated with phone calls.  Could you use a vanity?  What about a sofa bed?  A committee member moving away donated many of her furnishings.  One Sunday, we informed the congregation that the home we had rented for our family was completely furnished.  Although it wasn’t necessary, we added, we could use a lawn mower, a small deep freeze, and two youth bicycles.  Within twenty-four hours, we had all those items.  People just kept giving!

At the end of May, we received news that our family was on its way.  Time to rent a home.  The landlord, a member of our parish, cut the committee a deal on the rent.  When he heard that one of the members was a young adult, he decided to dry-wall the basement and build an extra bedroom.  He installed a new water heater, replaced the eaves troughs, changed two basement windows, painted the main floor and the basement,  recaulked the bathtub, and changed the faucet and shower pull.  What a transformation!

Calls to the committee for cleaning and installation went out.  A cleaning crew was already in full swing when I arrived at the appointed time on day one.  Some cleaned windows, others freshened up kitchen cabinets, revived the wood floors, and dug into the heating grates with toothbrushes.   A week later, for day 2, more than fifteen people with three trucks among them transformed the house into a home.  Some loaded and unloaded furniture.  Others configured the rooms, installed curtains, organized the kitchen and the laundry room, made beds, and supplied the linen closet.  When we were finished, there was a recycle bin by the fridge, a small white board and bulletin board on the fridge door, with pins and magnets, and a fruit bowl on the table waiting for news of the official arrival.

Still, though, people weren’t satisfied.  They added more area rugs to the downstairs bedroom, and a clothes rod and shelving to a downstairs closet, and simply made things pretty.  The house looked like someone was already living there.  Indeed, a family was living there—they just had not arrived yet.

On Friday, they did.  After twenty-five years in a refugee camp, our family can really begin to live.  They are grateful.  They will help us build our city, our province, our country.  They enrich us; they don’t threaten us.  Our parishioners represent the antithesis of the dark message Trump and his cronies inflicted on the world on Thursday evening a week or so ago.  Rather than just talk about family values and Christianity, our parishioners live it out in their actions.  They look outward, not inward.  They are generous.  They show the world what’s possible when a group galvanizes to make a difference.  They affirm what is best in the human spirit.  As our family walked toward us, I thought how Donald Trump and his supporters cannot be more wrong. 

Monday, July 4, 2016


A dragonfly swoops into the patio,
alights on the side of my knee. 
Its feet anchor on the folds of my pants.  
Its wings flutter and spread for balance,
like a fragile trill on the tip of a musical note. 

We maintain this odd equilibrium,
the dragonfly and I,
in a bizarre companionship.

From me, it asks nothing more
than safety and a stable perch. 
No conversation,
no ideas,
no creativity,
no answers,
no vigilance of language or gesture,
no energy.  
Just being.
Just being me.

We commune,
the dragonfly and I,
for more than ten minutes,
content in the momentary symbiosis,
my time an insignificant thank you
for the innumerable mosquitoes it has consumed.

I must coax it away, in deference to my day’s agenda. 
Finally, as my fingers disturb the folds,
the dragonfly zigzags off,
leaving me quieted and serene.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016


True confession--I am ashamed to post the meme on the right on anything that can be read by others.  It represents intolerance and an entrenched world view that contradicts everything I know about Canada.  I’ve seen this meme many times on various social media, and it's past time to speak out.  

Most often, the words are slightly different.   “America” is politically incorrect, it reads, and “God bless America.”  If I look at the meme closely, I can see that the words Canada and everyone are in different fonts (Who says, "God bless everyone" anyway?  Even Dickens' Tiny Tim says, "God bless Us, Every One"!); my conclusion is that a disgruntled Canadian agreed with the American version and altered the meme to express some angst. 

The Canada I know is better than this meme.  The Canada I love is a society that is a model for the world.

The Canada I know is neither politically correct nor politically incorrect.  My Canada shows respect for all people.  In the Canada I know, language honors peoples and cultures; it doesn’t degrade them.  As a nation, we recognize that long-standing phrases that served some groups well for generations are no longer appropriate in a society that is conscious of the power of implicit messages to empower and uplift.  We change our language willingly as a result of growing understanding of the hurt certain words have caused and a desire to move forward.  As I have said in another post, political correctness masks negativity, while respect is genuine.

In the Canada I know, the people who want to say “Merry Christmas“ say it.  That phrase expresses their reality, and they are comfortable with it.  They accept, as well,  that many Canadians observe Christmas  as a secular feast, not a religious one.    They understand that, among those for whom Christmas is a holiday in December,  newcomers to Canada make up only a small number, and that most  have lived here for generations, even centuries, no matter whether their origins are European, Asian, African, or Middle Eastern.  It’s just that society is  making an effort to be inclusive.   Why?  Because it’s 2016.

Christianity has never been the defining worldview in our land for all people.  For millenia, Christmas was unknown to First Nations, whose Creator manifested its presence through the land.   For a time, as European newcomers came to dominate that land, their religious practices became the norm in Canada.   Non-Christian newcomers and long-standing non-Christian or atheistic citizens lived with  the way things were.   The Canada I know evolves.     My Canada can live with using “Happy Holidays” in broad, official contexts so that everyone can feel at home. 

For the same reasons, the people in the Canada I know who want to trust in God will do that.  Those who want to be blessed by their God will invoke that deity, and those who want others to be blessed will pray to their deity for that blessing.  All of us can live with that.  Those who do not believe in any deity won’t.  Official activities that take occur in places that welcome everyone, like legislatures, government buildings and offices, public schools, and public hospitals, as well as the official symbols therein, must be secular.  Religious blessings and prayer cannot be imposed on the general public.  They are a matter of personal choice.  (I accept the presence of personal religious symbols worn by people working in those establishments or frequenting them, like the Sikh turban, the Christian cross or rosary, or the niqab, for example). 

Canadians have always honored their military.  We have always been grateful for the sacrifice our troops have made to safeguard the freedoms we enjoy today.  The Canada I know continues that tradition.  My Canada has laws in place to protect those freedoms, so I know that people can make their home here and maintain those traditions of their homeland that are congruent with Canadian law.

The Canada I know is a welcoming place.  It has welcomed more than 25,000 refugees since the fall.  Individual Canadians have donated millions of dollars, hundreds of thousands of items of clothing and household goods, and thousands of volunteer hours to help newcomers adjust to their new home.  They also understand that a good number of these newcomers would rather be in their own land; strife and persecution in that country threaten their very lives, and that’s why they’ve come here.

The Canada I know undertands that a few people living in the past don’t define a country or a religion.  My Canada knows that our country is built on the people that have always been here and those who have come from all corners of the world to create the society they could not construct in their own land.  Canada is a grand experiment that works.  All of us, no matter what our origins, live together in relative peace.  Do we squabble once in a while?  For sure.  Still, though, we show the world that different races and cultures can do more than coexist in peace; they can thrive. 

The Canada I know takes the high road.  This sign defames everything we stand for.

Thursday, May 26, 2016


I’ve always known I’m an introvert.   Maybe that’s why what Susan Cain has to say in the first hundred or so pages of her book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (2012, New York: Broadway Paperbacks) resonates with me.  So many of the things I love to do are solitary or quiet:  play the piano and the harp, write, read, hike, take long walks.    Still, I am a bit of a paradox: I like to work alone but I find group synergy enervating; I do need protracted periods of quiet to concentrate and be most productive, but I love to chat; I enjoy being at home and I love to travel.  So I find myself in this book (or, at least, the part I have read so far!)

Over the years, I’ve honed skills in facilitation, presentation, performance, and conversation, and even dipped my toe into drama.  On purpose.  Little by little, with intentional jaunts out of my comfort zone.  

Still, well aware of my default nature, I thought I would share some of Cain’s research and wisdom.

A Manifesto for Introverts (Susan Cain)

1.              There’s a word for ”people who are in their heads too much”: thinkers.
2.              Solitude is a catalyst for innovation.
3.              The next generation of quiet kids can and must be raised to know their own strengths.
4.              Sometimes it helps to be a pretend extrovert.  There will always be time to be quiet later.
5.              But in the long run, staying true to your temperament is key to finding work you love and work that matters.
6.              One genuine new relationship is worth a fistful of business cards.
7.              It’s OK to cross the street to avoid making small talk.
8.              ”Quiet leadership” is not an oxymoron.
9.              Love is essential; gregariousness is optional.
10.          “In a gentle way, you can shake the world.” (Mahatma Gandhi)

For me and my educator colleagues, Cain has tips to help educators honor introversion in our students:

1.              Don’t think of introversion as something that needs to be cured.
2.              Re-examine classroom “group-work.”
3.              Don’t seat shy or introverted kids in “high-interaction” areas of the classroom.
4.              Balance teaching methods to serve all the kids in your class.
5.              Try “pair-sharing” techniques.
6.              Wait five seconds after asking questions in class.  (In my experience, have students write a few ideas down individually in answer to a question before initiating a group discussion evens the playing field for introverted students.)
7.              Use online teaching techniques.
Details for each point are on pp. 348-349.

These snippets don’t do justice to Cain’s engaging and honest style and thorough research.  Pick up a copy of the book, and see what you think.  It’s already made a difference for me.