Author Archives: Arlene Somerton Smith

Why I live here: Answering the Trevor Noah questions

Nailed it! Traffic mess, great show.

The city of Ottawa received more snow in January than in any other January ever before. And most of that white stuff fell in the days just before Trevor Noah arrived.

The narrow streets that surround the stadium where he performed barely accommodate two cars in sunny summer weather. With snowbanks? One car, and it had better be small.

Unprecedented snow + rush hour traffic + Trevor Noah = Mayhem.

The bus we were taking to the stadium stopped dead in the gridlock. We hopped off and walked on the snowy, icy sidewalks for more than a mile to get there on time. We bustled along with people in the same situation. We acknowledged each other with:

“Trevor Noah?”

“Yep.”

People who didn’t have tickets to the event saw the mess and wondered about it. “What’s going on?” they asked.

“Trevor Noah,” was the answer.

The words Trevor Noah are likely to raise the blood pressure of many Ottawans for the next while.

But a little snow (or a lot) didn’t stop us. We arrived in time for the start of his show. He started with questions a South African who doesn’t like snow and cold would ask.

Why do we live here?

Why do we not move?

I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since, because I love it here. But what exactly do I love, and how, and why?

Trevor Noah wasn’t a fan of our showpiece attraction – the Rideau Canal Skateway. But for us, it is JOY itself to skate for what feels like forever.

And we feel vindicated by the Lonely Planet’s selection of the skateway as one of their top 10 winter destinations.

And, if I don’t want to venture as far as the canal, I love that volunteers from my neighbourhood flood the area around the play structures so people can skate in a circuitous loop.

I love that I can drive for half an hour and go downhill skiing.

I love that the snowbanks serve as sofas when waiting for a bus.

I love that neighbours played a pick-up “Super Bowl” football game, with dogs, in two feet of snow in the park, and it was WAY more entertaining than the real Super Bowl.

I love that it’s just plain beautiful.

And I love that I know that proper clothing makes enjoying the beauty possible. Short coats and jeans? NO. Long coats and windproof pants? YES>

And those are just the winter thoughts . . .

I love that in May our parks fill up with displays of tulips like you will see nowhere else.

I love that the Rideau Canal that we skate on in the winter becomes a canoe/kayak/boat/picnic paradise in the summer.

I love that Ottawa is the capital of a country that is not perfect, but tries really hard to be so.

I love that we acknowledge our failings and work to improve.

And most of all, I love that we can laugh at ourselves, and our stereotypes – the accurate and the not-so-accurate. (A-boot? Huh?)

Sidelined: Released by my word

Many people choose a word for the year. Did you?

Or did a word choose you?

In the early days of 2019, I thought “potential” might be mine. But the minister at my church proposed the idea that, in the same way that wands choose the wizards in the Harry Potter series, a word chooses the person.

At our Epiphany service in early January, we received (distributed at random) a star word. The word Release chose me.

A yellow star with the word Release

Since then I have turned to that word far more often than “potential.” I have found peace in releasing the need to control everything, releasing plans when circumstances changed, and releasing joy too.

The last few days I’ve had to release my need to go to work. I’ve been sidelined by a flu that has left me tired and feverish and achey. I’m not a person who misses work willingly, so I’ve waged a mental battle with myself every time.

“I should go. I have deadlines to meet and not a lot of days to meet them.”

“You’ll just infect everyone there, and they won’t thank you for that!”

“But they’re already missing staff. If I don’t go, they’ll fall really behind.”

“You’re not indispensable, you know. The world keeps spinning without you.

Release . . . release . . . release . . .

My word chose well.

Devotion and transformation

“In every religious tradition there is a practice of devotion and a practice of transformation . . .
Devotion means trusting more in ourselves and in the path we follow. Transformation means to practice the things this path imposes on us.”

Thich Nhat Hanh in Living Buddha, Living Christ
city street with a large tree in the middle
Trusting in the path, and growing through what it brings us to do.

The parent’s responsibility

“. . . it’s not the child’s responsibility to teach the parent who they are. It’s the parent’s responsibility to learn who the child is . . .”

From “R2, Where Are You?” by Tig Notaro in All These Wonders: True Stories About Facing the Unknown edited by Catherine Burns
train-winter
VIA train to university

Right after we returned from dropping our son at the train station for travel to his final university semester, I sat down to indulge in some morning reading time. That’s when I found the quote above.

Our son is about to finish his studies, but he’s not sure what he wants to do after. As parents, we want to pick him up like when he was a child and set him down in what we think is his safe, right place. But we can’t.

We have to watch and learn as he sorts out what works for him.

Our daughter graduated last June and is still searching for more solid ground under her feet too. As parents, we want to pick her up like when she was a child and set her down on what we think is her safe, right path. But we can’t.

We have to watch and learn as she sorts out what works for her.

After reading the quote I sipped my coffee, stared out the window and contemplated how often parents impose—or try to impose—inappropriate behaviours, activities, careers, clothing or partners on a child because they haven’t learned who their child is.

How often that imposition breaks the relationship.

Telling our kids what to do with their lives feels so much like the right thing to do because we have their best interests at heart, after all, and we want to save them the pain of mistakes.

Sharing the wisdom of our experience is a right thing, but it’s not the best right thing.

The better right thing—our responsibility—is learning who they are.

2019 New Year glass: Half empty, half full of potential

Are you a half full or half empty kind of person?

Perhaps an impartial view is best? The glass is neither half full or half empty; it just is.

No matter how you see your glass, it is yours to do with as you wish. You can choose to drink from it and savour the contents, or empty it and fill it with something else, or add something to it to make it more interesting.

Your 2019 New Year glass is here, and there’s one thing it’s full of: potential.

Savour it. Fill it up. Make it interesting.

half-full glass

Christmas tree stars

Haiku Prayers: https://www.facebook.com/HaikuPrayers/
Christmas Tree lights that look like stars.
Christmas tree lights look like stars.

“Each of us is raised with a sense of ‘us and them.’ Initially the ‘us’ is just family, and everyone else is ‘them.’ As we get older and more experienced, more and more people join the ‘us’ but there is usually still a ‘them.’ …

Once in orbit, though, with time to not only work but to gaze at the world over a period of months, I noticed my perception shifting. As I sent pictures to the ground and commented on them, I found myself unthinkingly referring to everyone as ‘us.’ …

I would see a city that I knew well and just 30 minutes later, see that exact same pattern of settlement in a city I had never heard of. It forced me to face the commonality of the human experience, and our shared hopes and desires.”

Chris Hadfield in An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth
%d bloggers like this: