In honour of my aunt’s 80th birthday, I’m re-posting a piece from a few years ago. Blessings to her again!
My Aunt Erma celebrates a birthday today. She is a strong woman in a family of strong women. I’m proud to say that when the women in our family have an idea or a purpose, stand back.
From her I learned:
How to be authentic – You might not agree with my Aunt Erma’s opinions on any given matter, but you can be certain to know what they are. She never puts on airs or hides her true feelings behind a façade of false politeness. I admire her forthright approach to life and the authentic soul I see because of it.
How to tell a tale – My aunt has had many stories published in the local paper, and her writing group—The Henscratchers—published a book. I appreciate her ability to capture life in a story or a poem.
How to weather a storm – She has had more than her share of uncommon heartbreaking events in her life—the kind that knock you off your feet for more than a few days. I respect her strength and resilience in bouncing back, picking herself up and carrying on.
How to entertain a whole room – Give my Aunt Erma a guitar and some elbow room, and she’ll happily provide the songs for the night. She and her sisters (including my mother) have sung together at community events. I envy her enthusiastic ability to sing out without inhibition.
How to teach with calm assurance – My aunt was the kind of teacher who kept order in the classroom and expected the best from her students. She’s petite, so her authority came from her manner, not her stature.
There’s a whole lot of power packed into a diminutive woman in my Aunt Erma. I would say that she’s like her mother in that regard (my grandmother), but I’m not sure she’d like that. .
Like all strong women, she might have ruffled some feathers over the years. More than one person might have shaken their head and said, “Oh, that Erma . . .”
If I can live authentically, inspire with calm assurance, weather life’s storms with strength, live to tell the tale and entertain a whole room with songs, then I will be happy to ruffle a few feathers along my own way.
There are days when I wish more people could say, “It’s not about me.”There are days when I wonder why people think life should only be about what they like.
I am guilty of it too. But I try to think: “It’s not about me, but there’s something for me here.”
I use it at the grocery store when I’m in a hurry and the person ahead of me is paying cash, counting out every nickel. Patience.
I use it in tense meetings. Conflict resolution lessons.
I use it at church every week.
I’m a member of a progressive, affirming congregation. The foundation of our group is that love and grace are available to all people, but beyond that we don’t dictate what anyone should believe. On any given week an atheist could be sitting down the row from a person who believes in the virgin birth. It’s fantastic!
Our conversations are authentic, and deep, and heartwarming,
And challenging. How to balance the content of a church service for people on such different places on a journey?
A service about an Old Testament story:
“Why do we even use the bible (small b) anymore? It’s thousands of years old, written by men in a patriarchal time. What does it have to do with me? “
“Thank goodness we’re finally talking about the Bible (capital B). It has timeless lessons, and it’s the foundation of our faith.”
“It’s a sacred ritual for me. A reminder that I’m not alone and that I have purpose.”
“It’s meaningless to me. A little creepy if you want to know the truth.”
“It’s barbaric. I would never wear one because it brands me as something I don’t want to be associated with.”
“It’s a symbol of connection with something greater than myself, the reaching and the grounding.”
“The music resonating through the pipes moves me to the depths of my soul.”
“How can people endure that horrible screeching?”
A short sermon:
“It’s about time. No need to go on and on about things. Just get to the point. “
“The minister needs to delve more deeply into the topic.”
Children in church:
“Oh, the noise, noise noise!”
“It’s good to see so many children. They bring the place to life.”
“We need to sing more of the old, familiar hymns.”
“Enough of the blood and the sin songs. Let’s sing something new.”
“Oh my God, the prayers are long. My mind drifts off.”
I need prayers. They are my time of centering. It’s when I connect with God, and when we connect with each other and the world.”
Every Sunday something happens that I would not choose to include if I were a member of a church of one. (And what fun would that be?) Every Sunday I have to remind myself that the thing I dislike is exactly the thing that someone there—maybe right beside me—is needing. Every Sunday I say to myself: “It’s not about me, but there’s something for me here.”
There always is. Something authentic, deep and heartwarming.
“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.”
Her Wonder Day would not be for work, worry, doing or wanting. It would be for walking, dancing, holding hands, contemplating and enjoying the sweetness of life.
This week I’m wonder walking in London, England. As I walk and bump up against history on every block, I wonder and learn. As I meet new people, fall into the magic of West End theatre productions and expand my knowledge of British ales, I appreciate how “wonder” full the city is.
If a full Wonder Day is out of reach, even a Wonder Moment pivots a day from ordinary to holy.
What in your environment right now makes you wonder about it?
What in your environment right now make you think, How wonder-full?
On Tuesdays when I work in downtown Ottawa, Canada, I get out of my office at noon and go for a walk.
Ottawa is a beautiful city for a walk. I pass the tremendous Parliament Buildings that never fail to awe me with the power of their structures and the peace and freedom they represent.
Centre Block, Parliament Hill, Ottawa, Canada
I stroll down by the Rideau Canal locks and along the Ottawa River.
The locks on the Rideau Canal.
I walk by green parks and look up at rugged rock cliffs.
The cliffs behind Parliament Hill
No matter what’s happening in life, the sights of my noon-hour walk lighten my spirits, re-place events into proper perspective and bring me joy.
Everything in life might not be perfect, but I can smile regardless.
The bicycle path where I walk along the Ottawa River flooded last year in the mighty spring flood. The concrete developed potholes that repair crews later patched. Someone who enjoys a touch of whimsy added a smiley face to one of those potholes.
Even though we occasionally get flooded, even though we need to get patched up from time to time, we can smile and know that all shall be well for moving forward again.
We feel the influence of the United States of America here in Canada. When “sleeping with an elephant,” as former prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau put it, we cannot help but feel the effects. Sometimes the association challenges us—the past year has been eyebrow-raising to say the least—but most often we celebrate the gifts of the mighty nation. Like this week, for example. Even though our Canadian Thanksgiving is long past, this week we sense the American time of gratitude. Knowing that our friends to the south are taking time to be thankful reminds us to seek it out ourselves.
We practised a “heart of the matter” form of gratitude in our house during the period within our kitchen renovation when the sink had no running water. Inconvenient, right? You betcha. But when we walked the ten feet to one of the FOUR bathrooms in our house to turn on a tap to access CLEAN, ACCESSIBLE water effortlessly, we said to ourselves, “We didn’t have to walk for miles with a bucket to fetch water that might or might not be potable.” Gratitude for the ease with which we accessed a substance so vital to survival made the inconvenience of doing dishes in a small sink something to celebrate, not resent.
Gratitude brings joy, for sure, but the real gift of gratitude is its bridge to perseverance, its ability to help you go far in celebration instead of resentment. It places you in a Now that allows you to make it to the next Now, and the next, and the next . . .
Now, America, fair and softly, thank you. Now, now, now . . .