I Sipped Margaritas While the World Burned

IMG_1015 (2)It’s astonishing how quickly the world can change both on individual and collective levels. It’s also surprising how while disasters touch some, others are left relatively (or completely) unscathed.

Me? I’m pretty much unscathed. We booked a last-minute trip to Mazatlán, Sinaloa, MX, just before the world went to pieces. Admittedly, some moments were a little unnerving. One evening, we sat on our king size bed, comfortably scrolling through the headlines and videos regarding the rapid descent of the coronavirus. “Snowbirds and travelers outside of Canada, come home immediately.” The Prime Minister’s message was clear. We returned on our previously-scheduled flight a few days before the airlines shut down completely to tourist traffic.

During our time in paradise we stayed at a beach hotel and every night, we listened to the waters of the Sea of Cortez moving in and moving out over the rocks that lay close to the shoreline. One night as I slept peacefully with the sound of the waves echoing in my dreams, our friends’ house burnt to the ground. That old house’s wiring didn’t care if its inhabitants were in the midst of a global pandemic. It started a fire that burned hotly and swiftly, leaving nothing but ashes and memories where, for a long time, lives had been lived.

Fortunately, our friends were the only ones home on the night of the fire. Their grandchild had gone home with her mom earlier in that evening, and our friends’ adult son who sometimes stayed at home when not on shift was at work. The smoke detectors did their job and our friends found their way through the patio door off their bedroom and out into the frigid night from where they called 911.

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A lamp post in the Historic District of Mazatlan.

I felt terrible about this fire! Of course, I sent a cheerful text when we got home safe and sound. “Had a great trip! Made it back safe. How are you guys doing?” I had no clue what had happened until I received a text in return: “Did you hear we had a house fire?”

After that, I called. I needed to know what kind of house fire. Was it a small grease fire that singed the wall behind the stove or was the house gone? Sadly, it was the latter.

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The rocks at Cerritos Beach.

But that’s how it goes. Rain falls on the rich and poor, and life happens differently to individual people. From some reason (or more likely for no reason), I live in this rural Alberta village and not in a Syrian refugee camp. This is a good fact to remember when I’d like to go for a walk with a friend because Netflix is not living up to my expectations.

Still, it was a stark contrast, my-lime-and-sun-drenched days compared to the destruction of my friends’ home during the world’s general upheaval.

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This has made me feel grateful, a little guilty, and has reminded me that sh*t happens and to not take it too personally. After all, it’s not personal. It’s just life.

Please take care, dear friends, and thanks for making me part of today’s distraction! ~ Lori

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A Change in Routine, A Change in Perspective

Late Afternoon
A pasture in the late afternoon sun along the road I walk.

Here’s a post I wrote a couple of years ago all about how shaking up our routine can open us up to a renewed view of life. Today I’m considering facing a fear and digging into a couple projects I’ve left untouched for too long. And so I find myself thinking about a change in routine and a change in perspective.

I hope you have a great new week in which you can experience a refreshed outlook. We all need that in January! ~ Lori

Listen to me read this post:

I’d felt a cold circling around my head last night as we played a board game with the neighbours. I wasn’t surprised when I woke up with a throbbing headache, irritated throat, and clogged sinuses. No problem, though. I took it easy all day, slept in, and drank tea.

At about 5:00, I felt a bit better and a little restless. Today the weather warmed up. The temperature rose from about -30 degrees Celsius to about -5. No longer a prisoner in my house and thinking that maybe the fresh air would do me good, I went out for a walk.

Lately, I’ve developed a habit of walking in the early afternoon, right after lunch, when the light is full. How different my world looks at 5:00 p.m. with the sun low in the sky and the street lights making the snow crystals sparkle like diamonds.

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Another late-afternoon view from along the road I walk north of town.

Against the washed-denim sky, fading with each passing minute, bare tree branches stretched and tangled together, black and stark. In the ditches along the road, tracks told of rabbits that had been there just before me.

As I walked by, the horses that looked like painted plywood cutouts propped up in the pasture raised their curious noses to watch me. When I inhaled, the clean winter air filled my lungs and as I exhaled, I felt all the cold germs leave my body.

Through the very last light of day I headed back into town grateful that a minor head cold gave me a change in routine and a change in perspective.

Thanks for dropping by! Don’t be a stranger. ~ Lori

 

You Were Gone?

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Student desk and dictionary at the Hines Creek Museum.

Hi there everyone! I hope you’re having a good start to a fresh, new week. I’m re-posting this post today because as another school year approaches, I’m missing my identity as a teacher again! When will this let up? I’ve got a ton of other interests and a lot of things to keep me occupied, and yet I cling and cling to this image of myself.

I examine my teaching years through a realistic lens, I remember the stress that led to the soul-sucking insomnia. I remember the fear of criticism from self and others. I see clearly the hours of pointless meetings and the children that I didn’t know how to reach.

Teaching was hard, but letting go of a long-held identity has its challenges, too.

If you haven’t done so already, please consider following my blog right here on WordPress or signing up to have my posts show up directly in your email’s inbox. Either way, I’d love to have your support! Take care and have a great Tuesday. ~ Lori

Recently I contacted someone I’d worked with for years to let him know that I’m available as a substitute teacher. My ego was deflated when he said, “I wasn’t aware that you weren’t teaching full time.”

Really? Wasn’t aware? To me, it seemed that this guy and I were at every meeting and at every conference together. I saw him often.

I’ve been out of the local school system for over a year now and this former colleague never even noticed. I would’ve been happier if his response had been, “I wondered where you were!”

Listen to me read this post:

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The one-room schoolhouse in the community of Green Island.

But he didn’t wonder. My presence or absence didn’t affect him much. Most of the time, we don’t notice what our passing acquaintances are doing. We’re happy to see them or to hear from them when we do, but beyond those moments, we don’t give others much thought.

It can be a bit of a letdown, realizing how infrequently others notice us. On the other hand, this realization can be very freeing. Over the course of my life I’ve spent way too much time worrying about what others might think of me and my actions. In a way it’s nice to discover that they barely think of me at all.

When I decided to resign from my teaching position in December of 2016 to attend university for a year, I was concerned about how people might react. In the end, people simply congratulated me or thanked me or said nothing, and then very quickly, we all moved on. It’s what we do. We keep on going.

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Another desk at the museum in Hines Creek north of Fairview, Alberta where I grew up.

A skilled young teacher stepped into my former position to start her own career, and I began studying writing and editing. Surprise, surprise. I’d made a change and the world didn’t stop turning. In fact, my decision to change benefited two lives, mine and the new teacher’s.

Change is scary because we don’t like uncertainty. It’s not comfortable. That’s why we plan and try to control the things yet to happen. But no matter how much we schedule or plot or analyze, it’s impossible to accurately predict the outcome of anything we do. We can chart and graph until our eyes dry up and fall out of our heads. All our planning won’t stop the rain from raining or the snow from falling.

Life is uncertain. That’s its nature, and we’re forced to work with this uncertainty in which we exist. That’s reality.

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I had a desk like this in Grade One! I remember that heavy drawer.

Now that I’ve just returned to the classroom as a sub, I realize that my big career change was no big deal. I can tell this by the reactions that span, “Oh, you were gone?” to “Welcome back!” Neither of these reactions indicates an earth-shattering event.

This career change and its consequences have shifted the way I view making larger life changes. Big decisions aren’t as daunting now. I worry less about what others will think because I’ve got proof that they won’t think much about what I decide either way.

And if they do consider my actions, their considerations will be brief, like the shadow of a flying bird passing over the ground. “That’s dumb” or “That’s smart” or “Maybe I should try that.”

Others’ reactions to our actions don’t last long and they sure don’t matter much. What does matter is our acceptance of uncertainty and our willingness to change, to take a risk. We can’t know where any path will lead us. All I know for sure is that the view from the bottom of my deep rut was way less open than the wider view I got when I climbed out.

 

Difficult, Not Impossible

Seems ImpossibleI’m done refinishing the ceiling in the main part of our house. I can’t believe it. There were so many times during this project that I thought it was an impossible job.

“Why did I start? The house will be a mess forever! I’ll only ever get this job half done and then I’ll die while scraping plaster.” These thoughts often passed through my mind. I let them go, picked up my trowel, and kept on going.

Listen to me read this post:

I remembered all the things that people told me I couldn’t possibly do:

  • Teach school.
  • Write a book.
  • Fix a badly-broken house.

These things weren’t impossible. They were difficult. There’s an ocean of difference. The rough waters between doubt and doing are what we cross in taking on a challenge.

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The living room ceiling partially cleared of stipple.

While working, I also recalled the words of a friend of mine, advice from his father to him. “When you’ve got a big job to do, don’t look at what you still have left to do. Focus instead on what you’ve accomplished already.”

In this case, the father’s advice to his son was to look back and look back often. This runs counter to the idea that we shouldn’t look back. It just goes to show, like everything else, good advice depends on context.

Whenever I got tired I would do what my friend’s dad told him, and I would look at all the stipple and plaster I had removed. This same friend gave me a little advice of his own. “Just work on doing one small bit of a project at a time. Don’t think about the rest of the work to be done.” This strategy worked for him. He wasn’t just talking the talk. My friend had walked the walk.

 

Years ago, my friend had restored an old stone house on his rural property. The floors were covered in decades’ worth of accumulated pigeon poop, deep and dense. My friend grabbed a mask and a shovel, and he started in one area. Bit by bit, shovel by shovel, he cleaned out enough uric acid to fill a one ton truck box. His triumph over pigeon poop encouraged me.

Hard Way

When plaster dust got in my eyes, up my nose, and in my hair, I thought, “Well, at least it’s not pigeon poop.” It’s funny how circumstance dictates what counts as reassurance.

Now when I sit in my recliner (I missed it so much!) and look up at the ceiling in our house, I see that it’s not perfect. It’s a little scarred and marred, but it’s also clean and bright.

Isn’t that just like life? We work, we try. Sometimes we succeed in our mission and ceilings become bare and flat. Other times we give it everything we’ve got only to discover that everything isn’t enough.

The thing is, there’s no guarantee that if we put in the time and the effort that there will be any results, anything to show for our work in the end. So the point has to be in doing the task and doing it well. If there’s no satisfaction in the work, the work probably isn’t worth doing.

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Tools of the trade. It didn’t take long to despense with the metal pan and to just let the plaster fall like rain.

I’m in no hurry to refinish any more ceilings, but I am satisfied with the imperfect results of the time I spent. I’m grateful for the words of my friend and of my friend’s father. Looking back, scraping a little area at a time, and imagining pigeon poop piled high spurred me on through the fog of plaster dust. Refinishing the ceiling was definitely difficult, but it sure wasn’t impossible.

 

In the Light of Kindness

Plato Quote

Every once in a long while, a random act of love touches us.

A long time ago, I was substitute teaching in a rural area of Alberta and had the unique opportunity to often sub in for teachers who served Hutterite colony schools. These school buildings were also the church, the hall, and the place where children attended German school.

Listen to me read this post:

I enjoyed working on these colonies. Never sequestered to the little schoolhouse, I was asked to join the women for wonderfully nap-inducing lunches in the dining hall. Or if I chose to work through lunch (an age-old teacher tradition), an obliging student brought lunch to me from the kitchen. At more than one colony, students and parents invited me to come see chickens, gardens, and baby lambs. I felt very welcomed.

Henry James Quote

The children on Hutterite colonies are refreshingly curious. I think because I was so young then and looked near the same age as some of the older girls, I was asked about my mother. My mom had died three years before this. My grief was something I’d been ignoring. It would cry out for attention, and I would smother it with a pillow or lock it in a closet or drown it in a well. But like the cat that came back, my grief consistently found its way home.

A surprised jolt shot through me at the question. Still, I answered simply, “My mother died.”

A little boy with big glasses and a serious face asked me, “How old was she?”

“She was 43. It happens that way sometimes.”

The boy shook his head slowly. “That is very young.”

“Yes, it is. But lots of people die younger than that.” At my feeble explanation of tragedy, he just looked at me sadly. I wonder now if my sorrow was more visible than I’d believed. Perhaps it was like I was wearing one of those tiny plastic Lone Ranger masks, trying to hide my feelings behind it while, directly behind me, lumbered a towering, weeping monster.

Tutu Quote

The school day went on and finally ended. The students left and I marked some of their assignments, and then packed up my teacher bag. I was retrieving my coat from the entrance and looked up when I heard the exterior door open. There stood my wise young friend with the big glasses. He held out a pie.

“My mother baked this for you because your mother died.”

Driving home from work the other day, I remembered this story and how that woman’s kindness touched me and how it’s stayed with me. That pie came from either the colony kitchen or from that mother’s own oven. I suspect that the dessert was not originally intended for me. I imagine that upon hearing my story brought home by that little old soul in black suspenders, a mother felt compassion for me and sent me their family’s sweet evening treat.

I’m deeply moved by this event, more now that I’m a lot older and a teeny bit wiser. The kind action of that student’s mother was sweet and sympathetic, and for the first time I felt like it was okay to grieve. I remember this as the moment that I removed the pillow, unlocked the closet, and fished my grief out from the depths of the well.

Lao Tzu Quote

In the light of this stranger’s kindness, I finally felt that it was acceptable to grieve.

Did you like what you read here? Consider following my blog either right here on WordPress or through email. See the right sidebar to follow me. It’s easy and it’s free. This way, you won’t miss any of my posts. Thanks for reading! ~ Lori

What’s Wrong with Linoleum?

 

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My garden last August.

 

The other day as I washed the pine boards of the kitchen floor, I yearned for the smooth resiliency of linoleum. It’s durable, easy to clean, and it’s completely out of style.

During renovation and house-hunting shows on TV, linoleum gets the same disgusted reaction as dog poo: “What’s that doing on the kitchen floor?” Yet lots of good people I know live surprisingly happy and full lives with linoleum floors in their homes. Vinyl floor covering has not deterred them at all.

Listen to me read this classic post:

When I bought this bungalow, my grandparents’ former home, twelve years ago, I installed wood flooring throughout the main floor. It’s nice and much cleaner than the old carpet that was in here originally. But now I would appreciate linoleum in the kitchen.

And what’s wrong with laminate countertops?

 

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My laminate countertop and a big zucchini from last September. The cookie jar on the counter belonged to my grandma and lived in this house before I did.

 

Stone countertops are gorgeous! Who can argue with that? What can be argued is the necessity of stone countertops. Who needs them? Some of the best meals I’ve ever eaten (my mom’s, grandma’s and auntie’s cooking) were prepared on laminate countertops.

Isn’t food preparation the main purpose of a countertop? Flat is really important. Smooth and clean are also good things in a countertop. That’s about it.

On renovation shows, a laminate countertop is treated like severe acne: “We’ve got to get rid of this as soon as possible.” I often hear prospective homebuyers say that a house isn’t ready to live in until the countertops (and the linoleum) have been replaced.

This is news to all the folks I know who live in unlivable homes, cooking their meals, raising their kids, hosting friends and family, and all in unlivable conditions. It’s an outrage really. Such joy in life should not be experienced in subpar houses. Such contentment is not deserved where granite is not present.

The lavender bathtub

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The lavendar bathtub.

 

Okay. It’s not beautiful and it doesn’t match any of the other bathroom fixtures, but it works. One nice thing about the lavender bathtub is that it’s quite small and fairly shallow. We have a big jetted tub downstairs and it’s great. But it takes forever to fill. I mean, you have to book a bath in advance and pencil it in on your calendar to make sure there are no scheduling conflicts.

A bath in the jetted tub takes time. It’s a serious commitment. The lavender tub takes moments to fill and seconds to drain.

Another nice thing about the lavender tub is that it’s metal. It’s very easy to clean a metal tub. I can get that bathtub gleaming in no time. After nearly 50 years, there’s not a dent or a chip in its purple finish.

To home critics, the old lavender tub would be viewed as a wart on the house: “This looks terrible! It must be removed at once!” But then we’d have to buy a new tub. I’d rather spend the money on travel. Love of travel is probably why we still have the lavender tub.

We don’t need to be fancy to be happy.

 Updated, renovated, and brand new homes don’t matter that much unless they do to you. If a nice home is something you want and something you can afford, then by all means, go out and get it. Enjoy it, but don’t expect a beautiful house to make you happy forever. It won’t. It can’t.

The renovations and house hunting TV shows I enjoy try to convince me that a new or updated house will make me happy.  They’re fun to watch and fun stories to be part of, but their premise is not true.

Fancy houses don’t make us happy. Satisfaction with what we have makes us happy.

My family wanted to be crammed in here!

 

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The tent we’d set up in the basement for guests.

 During our recent 50th birthday party, I thought that my family – my dad, my brothers, their kids – would want to stay where there’s more room. I thought they’d prefer the luxury of beds, for example, to what they’d get here.

 

I thought they might want to stay in a hotel or stay with the relatives. Nope. They all wanted to stay at Grandma’s old house, stacked up in here like cordwood and tucked into every available corner.

We set up a tent in the basement for my nieces to sleep in. My brother brought along a single air mattress on which my nephew slept. My dad crashed here on the office floor about where I sit writing this piece. One brother slept on the couch, the other brother and his wife slept in the spare room, and our old family friends slept in our bed. We walked across the street and bunked in our neighbour’s fifth wheel trailer. Thanks, neighbours!

It was really fun, us all being here together like that. As a family, we don’t get together very often. Being under one roof meant a lot to us all.

It’s not the house that makes the home.

Stone countertops and hardwood floors are beautiful, and someday I might have them. But for now, this humble house suits me just fine. It’s a place where I’ve spent happy times with friends and family. Equally important to me is the quiet solitude this little house has provided.

This house is a gathering place and an alone place. It has laminate countertops, a lavender tub, and a ton of sweet memories. What more do I really need?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You Were Gone?

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Student desk and dictionary at the Hines Creek Museum.

Hi there everyone! I hope you’re having a good start to a fresh, new week. I’m re-posting this post today because as another school year approaches, I’m missing my identity as a teacher again! When will this let up? I’ve got a ton of other interests and a lot of things to keep me occupied, and yet I cling and cling to this image of myself.

I examine my teaching years through a realistic lens, I remember the stress that led to the soul-sucking insomnia. I remember the fear of criticism from self and others. I see clearly the hours of pointless meetings and the children that I didn’t know how to reach.

Teaching was hard, but letting go of a long-held identity has its challenges, too.

If you haven’t done so already, please consider following my blog right here on WordPress or signing up to have my posts show up directly in your email’s inbox. Either way, I’d love to have your support! Take care and have a great Tuesday. ~ Lori

Recently I contacted someone I’d worked with for years to let him know that I’m available as a substitute teacher. My ego was deflated when he said, “I wasn’t aware that you weren’t teaching full time.”

Really? Wasn’t aware? To me, it seemed that this guy and I were at every meeting and at every conference together. I saw him often.

I’ve been out of the local school system for over a year now and this former colleague never even noticed. I would’ve been happier if his response had been, “I wondered where you were!”

Listen to me read this post:

IMG_5287
The one-room schoolhouse in the community of Green Island.

But he didn’t wonder. My presence or absence didn’t affect him much. Most of the time, we don’t notice what our passing acquaintances are doing. We’re happy to see them or to hear from them when we do, but beyond those moments, we don’t give others much thought.

It can be a bit of a letdown, realizing how infrequently others notice us. On the other hand, this realization can be very freeing. Over the course of my life I’ve spent way too much time worrying about what others might think of me and my actions. In a way it’s nice to discover that they barely think of me at all.

When I decided to resign from my teaching position in December of 2016 to attend university for a year, I was concerned about how people might react. In the end, people simply congratulated me or thanked me or said nothing, and then very quickly, we all moved on. It’s what we do. We keep on going.

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Another desk at the museum in Hines Creek north of Fairview, Alberta where I grew up.

A skilled young teacher stepped into my former position to start her own career, and I began studying writing and editing. Surprise, surprise. I’d made a change and the world didn’t stop turning. In fact, my decision to change benefited two lives, mine and the new teacher’s.

Change is scary because we don’t like uncertainty. It’s not comfortable. That’s why we plan and try to control the things yet to happen. But no matter how much we schedule or plot or analyze, it’s impossible to accurately predict the outcome of anything we do. We can chart and graph until our eyes dry up and fall out of our heads. All our planning won’t stop the rain from raining or the snow from falling.

Life is uncertain. That’s its nature, and we’re forced to work with this uncertainty in which we exist. That’s reality.

DIGITAL CAMERA
I had a desk like this in Grade One! I remember that heavy drawer.

Now that I’ve just returned to the classroom as a sub, I realize that my big career change was no big deal. I can tell this by the reactions that span, “Oh, you were gone?” to “Welcome back!” Neither of these reactions indicates an earth-shattering event.

This career change and its consequences have shifted the way I view making larger life changes. Big decisions aren’t as daunting now. I worry less about what others will think because I’ve got proof that they won’t think much about what I decide either way.

And if they do consider my actions, their considerations will be brief, like the shadow of a flying bird passing over the ground. “That’s dumb” or “That’s smart” or “Maybe I should try that.”

Others’ reactions to our actions don’t last long and they sure don’t matter much. What does matter is our acceptance of uncertainty and our willingness to change, to take a risk. We can’t know where any path will lead us. All I know for sure is that the view from the bottom of my deep rut was way less open than the wider view I got when I climbed out.

 

Ownership

A robin on my lawn.
A robin in my yard.

Last summer, I heard a loud persistent peeping under the open living room window. There in the grass was a fledgling robin on the cusp of being old enough to fly. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if he’s able to fly today. The fledgling’s feathers were still a bit fluffy, its red breast was dotted with white and the young bird was nearly the same size as its mother who was plucking earthworms from the lawn and feeding them to her nearly-adult offspring.

Listen to me read this post:

Having a life of my own, I went off to live it, but I noticed after a while some louder, more frantic chirping outside the window. I peeked out and the baby robin was still there, but its mother was nowhere to be seen. The mostly adult bird hopped around and finally flew up the short distance to sit between the two big red flowers in the front step planter. The more the fledgling peeped, the more I wanted to interfere, to shelter it, to bring it inside where I knew the little bird would be safe from danger.

Flicker on my lawn.
A flicker looking for worms in the grass.

That’s when I remembered something important: the young robin is not mine. It’s not up to me to manage its survival or its destiny. It’s not my job to teach it to hunt its own food and to fly a bit further than the height of my front step. Outside of actively trying to harm it or its habitat, it’s not even my job to protect it. In nature, living things often eat living things.  The robin may survive and it may not, and my interference could really mess up its chances instead of improving them despite my best intentions.

Later in the day I received an unexpected phone call from someone I love. It was a courtesy call to let me know of a big decision that he’d made on the spot, one that would affect my loved one and his loved ones for the rest of their lives. I wanted so badly to interfere, to question judgment, to counsel against haste, and warn of regret.

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A springtime robin on my lawn.

That’s when I remembered something important: he is loved by me, but he is not mine. It’s not up to me to manage his life or decide his destiny. It’s not my job to choose his work or his spouse or to raise his children. Outside of actively trying to harm him or his family, it’s not even my job to protect him. I would, of course, if I could. In life, there are challenges to overcome and joys to experience. My loved one may have a happy life or he may not, and my interference could really mess up his chances at happiness instead of improving them despite my best intentions.

It can be awfully easy to confuse love with ownership, to believe that because we love someone they should do what we think is best for them. We may be right about what’s best and we may be wrong. Either way, it’s beside the point. The people we love will do what they’re going to do. If we disapprove, they’ll do it out of our sight. If we disagree, they won’t broach the subject again. In short, we can’t control anyone’s actions or emotions but our own.

I don’t know about you, but when I focus in on me, this one flawed, miraculous human being, I find enough to keep me very busy. When I look closely at myself, suddenly I’m less interested in judging others or in trying to change their behaviour and choices. I have my own life to live. I am granted the ability to decide, to work, to think critically, to create, to feel what I feel, and to experience this gift of being alive for this short time in this sprawling cosmos.

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Same bird, different view.

It’s not my responsibility to control anyone else because I don’t own anyone else. The great freeing news that comes along with this realization is that no one owns me, either. They can disapprove of my actions and I’ll act elsewhere. They can disagree with my ideas and I’ll stop sharing them, but they won’t change my mind. In short, I can’t control anyone’s actions or feelings but my own. It’s no less of a burden, running my own life instead of trying to run others’. Unlike trying to change the direction of the wind, though, ruling myself can actually lead to positive change in me and maybe, just maybe, that’s how we change the world.

 

Quiet, Please

 

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Cattle grazing north of town.

Wow, we live in a noisy world! Even where I live, in the relative peace and quiet of a rural village, there’s enough noise to fill the silence. During the warmer months, there are lawnmowers, weed whackers, and lawn tractors buzzing away as everyone tries to keep up with the growing grass. The sounds of hammers hammering and circular saws cutting, coyotes yipping, and cattle lowing are other summer sounds.

Listen to me read this post:

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Fall colours in my backyard.

Then the snow falls and the sounds change a little. They get nearer. Where I live, there are always train whistles blowing accompanied by the steady thrum of wheels on rails. During the winter, suddenly it seems as if that train is now running up and down the sidewalk in front of my house. The train’s horn blast carries more easily through the crisp, clear winter air. The sound of trucks out on the highway becomes closer, as well, and I can almost feel those freighters moving across the foot of my bed in the dawn shadows.

Twenty years ago, I wouldn’t have noticed these sounds. Twenty years ago, I craved a little background sound, some white noise, something to assuage the threat of silence. I used to fall asleep with the radio on. Now I would shoot a radio at close range for playing while I’m trying to sleep. Now that I’m older, instead of warding off quiet, I find myself craving it and seeking it out.

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Horses by the road where I walk.

There’s just something so sweet about silence. It’s as if when I’m quiet, when the world’s quiet, I can see everything a little clearer. I can see the solutions to problems or, even better, I can see that there weren’t any problems after all. In the silence, my mind slows and my racing thoughts take a break from their running. The silence refreshes me like nothing else.

Unfortunately, my thoughts don’t always crave the quiet I yearn for. Sometimes when I find a corner of silence and settle down into it, those thoughts start talking louder and faster. It’s a habit, I know, from all those years spent in trying to fill up silence with sound, with activity and with thoughts.

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Autumn reflections in a water trough.

I need to sit in the stillness and reassure my thoughts, “Thank you for trying to help me rid myself of quiet. I appreciated your support in years past. Only now, I’ve changed. I actually want the quiet. You can help me out now, just in a different way. You be quiet, too.”

So let the mowers mow and the coyotes yip and the train whistles blow. I love where I live and I enjoy the sounds that make the place what it is. But give me times of silence as well, spaces in which I don’t have to think or decide or judge. Give me times of quiet rest to focus and to consider what really matters and what is just bogging me down. Then, when I return to sound, to the busyness, I will be refreshed and ready to take in all of this rich, noisy life.