Category Archives: Photography

Human angels

new-horizonsI was an angel for about half an hour yesterday.

The sun and warmth called to me at the end of the afternoon yesterday, so I ventured out for a big walk in my neighbourhood. I usually follow the same five kilometre route, but yesterday I took a different path. As I turned one corner, I saw a woman about five houses ahead of me make a hasty trip across the street. She went to the aid of an elderly man and his wife who had also heeded the call of the sun and the warmth, but who had walked a little too far. The man had run out of energy at the end of his driveway and couldn’t take another step—or stand for that matter.

My adrenaline kicked in, and I prepared to make a fast move to their aid. Just then, a car pulled over, and two young women hopped out. I couldn’t hear what they said, but I assume they offered help. The wife shook her head, so the girls hesitantly climbed into the car and drove away. I relaxed, thinking that maybe things were going to be okay. By the time I reached the house though, I knew the situation had deteriorated. The two woman could not support the man enough to help him to the house.

“Are you sure I can’t help?” I said.

The wife reluctantly agreed. “If you hold him, I’ll get his walker,” she said.

I stayed long enough to see him safely into his home. As we left, his wife said, “You both are angels. I don’t know what I would have done without you.”

I had the remainder of my walk to ponder her comment and to remember other situations in my life when people materialized at just the right time in just the right place: a cab driver who drove me all the way home late at night even when I told him I didn’t have enough money to pay the full fare, the woman who provided the phone so I could call my parents after a car accident, and the grocery store cashier who shared some life wisdom and turned my dark mood into a bright one.

I thought about how strange it was that I had taken a different route that day, almost like I needed to rearrange things to be there at that time. I wondered what kind of forces in the universe work together to create these kind of scenarios.

I mused about how the woman had declined the first offer of help. She had more help than she needed really, but she didn’t want to accept it. I wondered how many human angels I have refused to accept.

I contemplated her gratitude and her sense of relief in response to something that had cost me very little. The situation for her was dire, but for me it was nothing more than a temporary detour from my path. I wondered if all the human angels who have appeared to me felt the depth of my gratitude, and I hoped that their aid was as light a burden for them.

Have you ever been an angel? Has a human angel ever come to you?

Four-leaf clover: What are the odds?

Yesterday my daughter and a friend took her dog for a walk. They strolled along a path beside the Ottawa River, and my daughter spotted a large patch of clover. Being a fun-loving and spontaneous type, she declared, “I’m going to look for a four-leaf clover!”

Her friend had doubts. She said, “Do you even know what the chances of that are?”

Undaunted, my daughter walked over, bent down and, without even having to search, held up a four-leaf clover. “I found one!” she said.

four-leaf-clover

Life’s like that, right?

Sometimes we try, and struggle, and work to find something or to achieve a goal, but we don’t manage it. (Almost always someone nearby tells us not to waste our time because the odds stack high against us.)  And then sometimes good fortune shows up right in front of our noses when we haven’t even put forth any effort at all.

There’s no explaining it. All we can do is keep the faith that odds-defying fortune can find us, and be ready to celebrate when it does.

The moving finger writes and having writ, moves on: Don’t get stuck

moving-finger

The moving finger writes,
and having writ
Moves on. Nor all your piety
    or wit
Can lure it back to cancel
    half a line,
Nor all your tears wash
    out a word of it.
—Omar Khayyam

I kept this framed poem in my room at university. The words helped me to let go of things that needed letting go—bad grades, big mistakes, over-indulgences.

Now I’m an older suburban mom, and my moving finger has written a lot. Most lines I wouldn’t choose to cancel. I want to cling to memories of the fresh way my children smelled when they came in from playing in the rain, the sound of my son’s toddler laugh, and the way the sun lit up my daughter’s blond hair when she ran across the park behind our house. I want to stop time and cling to all those joyful things. But I have to let go. The moving finger insists upon it.

Letting go is an acquired, and necessary, skill. I foster it in my son during his baseball games. He’s a pitcher, and if a batter hits a grand slam off one of his pitches, he has to let it go. If not, the rest of the game (and any hope of a pleasant atmosphere in the car on the ride home) is ruined. He has to learn from the experience—which pitches to throw, or not throw, to which batters—and let go.

Everyone who knows me well knows that I idolize Roger Federer, professional tennis player. In my opinion, he is the greatest tennis player in history, and he owes his success to his outstanding skill AND his ability to let go. Never count Federer out of a match. If he misses a shot, he doesn’t dwell on the mistake. He learns from it, lets it go and moves on to success.

We like to cling to things, don’t we? We cling to cherished possessions. That’s fine, unless our house begins to look like an episode of Hoarders. We cling to our children. That’s fine, unless we smother them and prevent them from learning to manage their own lives. We cling to our mistakes. That’s fine, unless we get mired in believing that a mistake defines us and forget to learn the lesson and move on.

Letting go leads to success. We can follow the example of Nelson Mandela who let go of resentments about his years in prison. Without bitterness to stumble over, he moved forward to inspire us to seek justice and peace.

“The best pitchers have a short-term memory and a bulletproof confidence.Greg Maddux

ben-learning

My son – learning

Everything I ever really needed to know I learned at Wilderness Tours

A much younger me paddling hard

A much younger me paddling hard

For three summers during my university years I worked at Wilderness Tours Whitewater Rafting. Looking back on it now I realize the truth of all those metaphors about “life as a river.”

Everything I ever really needed to know I learned from the plumes of whitewater of the Ottawa River.

1. Sometimes golden opportunities lie right in front of us, and we don’t even see them. My mother grew up walking distance from those Ottawa River rapids. Her parents warned her and her siblings to “stay away!” For local residents of the time, the rapids represented a fear-inducing hazard to transportation and nothing more. Later, at the age of 16 I drove along the back roads in that area, and I saw a small, hand-painted sign pointing to Wilderness Tours. I had never heard of the fledgling business, and I scoffed at the idea. What kind of wilderness could they tour through here? I wondered. Joe Kowalski saw the opportunity in those rapids, and he created Wilderness tours.

2. We’re all in the same boat, but some people do more work than others. Those rapids are powerful. For the guide to steer the raft properly, and for the boat to navigate the rapid safely, everybody needs to paddle. It’s hard work. Every boat has some keeners who paddle hard and enthusiastically, some who do their part but don’t push themselves too hard, and others who slack off out of laziness or fear. It’s just the way it is. No point in grumbling about it, folks. If you’re one of the paddlers, don’t waste time complaining. Just get to it.

3. Those who paddle the hardest get the most out of the experience. The paddlers sit high in the raft looking downstream. They have the best view of the cascading water and the pines against the skyline. They hear the roar of the water exploding against the rocks. They derive satisfaction from knowing they did their part. They hoot and holler and have a blast. The ones slinking to the bottom of the raft or clinging to the side miss some of the beautiful view and don’t get the same reward out of the experience.

4. Just because some people don’t paddle doesn’t mean we can throw them out of the boat. We take care of each other. That’s just what we do.

5. Life jackets recommended. There are many different kinds of life jackets, and no one agrees on which one is best. Some people might not want to wear one. “Life jackets are for the weak,” they might say. On calm water, life jackets seem cumbersome and unnecessary. But the river is a power greater than ourselves. Even strong swimmers need a little help.

6. Point your feet downstream and enjoy the ride. Sometimes we fall out of the boat. It happens, so we have to deal with adversity. If that happens, point your feet downstream and enjoy the ride. Don’t fight the current. That just makes things worse. Align with the flow.

7. It helps to be in good physical condition. Fitness makes it easier to paddle and easier to recover. Fitness doesn’t make the ride any longer, but it helps you to enjoy it trip fully as long as it lasts.

8. Every trip involves some long stretches of calm water and some rapids. The water is not still for long; rapids await around the bend. The whitewater does not churn for long; tranquil waters await around the bend. Don’t be fooled into thinking either will last. Instead, consider how to respond to each situation. What do you do when the water is calm? Sing, maybe? Tell jokes? Lean back and relax? And how do you face the whitewater? With determination? Hard work? Watching it bravely as it washes over you?

9. It’s not all fun and glamour. You might be fooled into believing that life is just a fun ride for those fit, sun-blessed river guides. But those same river guides who smile on your day, make you laugh and give you an exhilarating ride are in the kitchen early in the morning chopping onions and peeling carrots. At the end of the day they patrol the grounds picking up cigarette butts and litter. Below the surface of all good things lies preparation and some unpleasant grunt work.

10. Even with the cigarette butts and crying onion eyes, life is fun. On the river, dangling your fingers in the water, feeling the sun warm on your face, watching an osprey circles overhead, looking forward with anticipation to the next wild ride, the grunt work is a distant memory.

11. Eventually all things come to an end. The rafts dock on a beach. The teams cheer for a day lived fully. People talk about the memories and the highlights, and then the sun sets and everyone gets ready for the next trip.

 

A tale of three blankets, or accepting spiritual differences

I’m going to show you three blankets.

When my children were born—first my daughter, then my son—I made them each a blanket. Here is my daughter’s blanket now:

well-loved-blankie

Do you think she used this blanket a lot? Do you think it’s been washed a few times? Yep.

My daughter loved her blankie. It went with her everywhere. She slept holding it and dragged it around when she walked. When she started to kindergarten, she tucked into the bottom of her backpack everyday. When she got older and started going on Brownie and Girl Guide camping trips, she didn’t want the other girls to make fun of her for wanting a blankie, so she tucked it into the bottom of her sleeping bag. She felt it as she slept, but her friends didn’t know it was there.

Eventually she stopped sleeping with it. It didn’t go to school anymore. It stayed at home during camping trips.

One day years later when I was leading children’s time at my church I decided to tell this story to the kids. I wanted to take my daughter’s blanket with me to show everyone. When I asked her where it was, she didn’t have to think for a second. “It’s right beside my bed,” she said. She didn’t use it every day anymore, but she knew exactly where it was.

Now I’m going to show you my son’s blanket:

boy-baby-blanket

Do you think he used his blanket much? Nope.

My son barely glanced at his blanket. He never slept with it. He rarely picked it up. It never went to school or on any camping trips.

I had made this blanket for my son, and I was a little hurt that he had no interest in it. I wanted him to love it. Why didn’t he need a blanket in the same way his sister did? Sometimes I even tried to push him to use it. When he couldn’t sleep, I’d tuck it in beside him, sure that it would help. He tossed it on the floor. If he fell and scraped a knee, I wrapped him up in it. He shrugged it off. Eventually I was the one who had to adapt. I had to accept that he was going to have his own kind of relationship with his blanket.

But you know what’s really interesting? When I asked him where it was, he didn’t have to think for a second. “It’s right beside my bed,”  he said. He never needed it, but it was a gift of love from me, so he kept it close.

Now, let me show you a third blanket:

baby-blanket

This one I made for my daughter when she was about 7 years old when it became clear that the original one was disintegrating. It’s a new and improved version of the first. I thought she would love it.

She would have nothing to do with it. She wanted the comfort of the original, thank you very much, even if it was battered and torn and no longer serve a real function.

I shared this story with the kids at church because I think my kids’ blankets give us an insight into how we need to accept different approaches to faith.

  • Some people need to hold their faith close, sleep with it and touch it daily.
  • Some people’s needs change over time. When they are younger, they need a strong faith relationship, but when they get older they let it go. Or, some people don’t want faith in their youth, but when they get older or suffer a crisis, they seek it more.
  • Some people know right where it’s kept but don’t need it very often.
  • If we make fun of other people’s needs, they’ll tuck them away, but it won’t change anything.
  • We can’t make people let go of something until they are ready.
  • Just because something is new, doesn’t mean it’s better.
  • Just because something is old, doesn’t make it right for everyone.
  • If something is given with love, people will value it even if they don’t need it every day
  • We give our children a gift if they never have to think for a second to know where to find their faith.
  • One thing is for sure, we can’t force other people to have the kind of relationship with faith that we want them to have. It’s very personal. Even if we hand-make it for them or hand it down generation to generation, people have to forge their own relationships with faith.

Dandelions, snails and milkweed are wonder-full

snailI just came in from digging dandelions out of my front lawn. You might think this would be a curse-word inducing experience, but not so. I dug those dandelions out of my front lawn reverently.

Some kids helped to give me a new perspective on these determined plants.

One morning last year I took my Sunday school class outside for a “Wonder Walk.” As we explored our grassy areas and the NCC property nearby, I encouraged the children to consider the two sides of wonder. I asked them to celebrate the things in the world that they thought were wonder-full, and I encouraged them to wonder about things they didn’t know.

The children found wonder in some big, easily noticeable things like motorcycles, our Ottawa city bike paths, and trees. But their search for wonder also prompted them to stop and examine their surroundings closely. They celebrated many things that would normally have passed unnoticed, like a bee in the wildflower garden and a snail still in the shell. We peeled open a milkweed pod and touch the silky white seeds. We invited the monarch butterflies to find the milkweed cluster.

milkweed

The children also wondered about many things we take for granted. The hydro tower, for example. How exactly does hydro work? I celebrate the light that comes on in my house when I flick a switch, but I can only describe in broad terms how the power gets there. Water is involved, I know that much.

Dandelions peppered the grass beneath our feet that day. We bent close and marvelled at the intricate yellow flowers. We respected the dandelions ability to persist. We appreciated dandelions as food.

Yes, the kids and I agreed, dandelions are wonder-full.

They don’t bother me, and I dig them out of my lawn out of respect for my neighbours, who don’t enjoy them quite as much. But my new perspective makes the job a little easier. Each one I dig up gets a little nod of respect, because I know I’ll never win the battle. No matter how thorough I might be, there will always be one dandelion more.

And that is pretty darned wonder-full.

dandelion