Re: Gratitude

There are many ways to show gratitude in our culture. My preference is to be direct, make eye contact and say, “Thank You!” To me, showing gratitude orally returns the favour immediately. Someone has provided me with something and I wish to return, in kind, by offering the gift of gratitude. I’ve found most people like being thanked while others are quick to fluff it off by saying things like “Not a Problem!” or “No Biggie!” I used to live in a francophone community and my “Merçi!” would often be greeted by “De Rien!” Somehow that has made my gratitude feel less meaningful. That dismissal of my thankfulness used to hurt until I heard their response as, “I like being able to help you.”

I don’t enjoy tipping, with money at least. Many countries consider it insulting to tip. I feel it is unfortunate that financing your gratitude has become so expected in our culture. That leaves a lot of people with less money, like me, with fewer acceptable options to show appreciation when dining out. If tipping is viewed broadly as a form of gratitude (like the old fashioned tipping of one’s hat) then I prefer to write a stellar Trip Advisor review of the restaurant or hotel. Smile if you will, but before the internet opened the door to online appreciation, I used to write letters of thanks to places or people who had provided me with service above and beyond the expected.

Linking Gratitude and Grace can be a topic you might hear when you visit a church. When I am in a state of grace, I can give and receive gratitude more easily. Grace is what I hear when someone says Shalom or Namaste. The film Avatar had its alien characters saying, “I see you.” When I can see another person for the things that make them unique, then I see them for their gifts rather than be fearful of how they might be different from me. When I can be truly grateful for their presence, not just for what they might provide me, then gratitude can inform my response to others. I can be grateful for everything, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant. There is a wholeness in giving and receiving, a deep understanding of each other’s importance in the universe. Grace makes us more grateful.

When the big world seems in a state of turmoil (and I feel I am spinning out of control as a result) I find it important to be grateful for things I too easily take for granted: fresh water (from my tap no less), electricity, well stocked food stores, reliable sources of information, restful sleep, clean air, companionship, help when needed.

My young sons used to laugh when I did a happy dance, saying, “Dad must be grateful.” I recall it was something I did first in imitation after watching the cartoon character Snoopy lightly skip about with ears flopping and nose reaching toward the sky.

I’m going to practise my happy dance more often.

Re: Parent

This word can be used in various places in a sentence and in public. Everyone has an opinion, whether they are a parent or not, about what constitutes good parenting. I have seen a lot of changes in people’s views of parenting during my lifetime. The proverbial pendulum has swung from letting your kids go free range to hovering and now there is a return to a more loosely guided parental approach based on reasoning that includes plenty of dialogue between the elder and the growing child.

Most people my age can tell tales of being out in the world at an early age. I lived my formative years in Scarborough, Ontario. From grade three onward I was what some have called a latch-key kid: Apartment door key tied to a shoelace around my neck, I left before eight in the morning to walk the two miles to school, making it safely back home in time for dinner. No, the journey wasn’t uphill both ways. On weekends I would play outside all day at a nearby urban creek until my dad would come calling for me. When I was nine I was allowed to go to the annual end of summer Toronto Exhibition for the first time on my own. Mom checked my wallet for bus tickets, free entry pass and a two dollar bill and some coins. She gave me a pat on the bum and told me the usual, “Be back before dark.”

In today’s culture, I wonder if my parents would be put on charges. I can say I felt they were both good parents. I can’t say my mom was a stellar role model (especially for my sister) but both she and my dad gave me the essentials. My mom had a ‘Do as I say, not as I do’ style of parenting and I generally obeyed whereas my sister used my mom’s contradictions and absences to full benefit. Both my parents worked (my dad had three jobs for a stretch) so I was often expected to be the guardian older brother to my only sibling. That role gave me parental insight, but mostly I felt saddled by unwanted responsibility at too young an age.

It’s commonly said there is no such thing as a ‘parental handbook’ and there is no sure way to predict if your particular parental approach is going to deliver the perfectly well adjusted child. Yet everyone seems to be watching and providing a critique on how you are doing.

I used to lead a series of parenting workshops with my late wife. First we were asked by other folk in our church congregation to play host to circle discussions on child rearing. Word spread of our apparent success as facilitators and soon we got a gig with the city to run a series of night classes. Our qualifications? Parenting three sons and having a willingness to learn with others.

Two of my sons now have babies. Time for me to watch and learn some more.

Re: Science

I was a science geek in high school. I loved the natural sciences in particular so I chose that stream of study that eventually gave me the prerequisites to attend university where I initially enrolled in a Marine Biology program. Jacques Cousteau was my idol during my teenaged years and I could think of no better goal in life than to sail the seven seas with him as my mentor.

I ended up being an elementary school teacher, but that is a story for another page. My early study and appreciation of Science, however, persists to this day. Science is my discipline, a way of seeing the world, a methodology and a category under which I can sort problems. It fits me.

The scientific method can be summarized as testing an idea, observing the results, drawing a conclusion based on those results and then allowing others to check those findings. Faith is not required, neither is hope, nor is belief. The experiment will either answer questions or not. This method doesn’t have to be applied in a lab setting, although it’s often easier to control the variables in that enclosed environment. I can relate to the character Data on Star Trek; The Next Generation when I am using Science to solve a problem in my life. I know I can come across as cold, even android, when I am being so Captain Obvious.

To some people Science is more like a religion. They might reference our current Global Warming crisis by saying, “Science will save us!” Scientists would reject this association, as the work of science is empirical; it must be tested and tested again. It is not something that you can believe in. Science is measurable and it can be frustrating when the data doesn’t make sense. There will always be inexplicable things in our world but I believe there is pleasure to be found in the search for truth. For example, we know that gravity is a fact: Isn’t that why we are careful, or thrilled, when we walk near a precipice?

Our chemical makeup is also obvious. Changes in our bodies are often the result of atoms and molecules behaving in response to certain external or internal forces. What we eat or drink affects us, how we move about, what we breathe and even how we sleep, affects our chemistry. We can take medicine to alleviate symptoms or do drugs to bring on a self imposed perceptual shift. Our chemistry doesn’t define us yet it certainly affects who we have become.

In a social setting, if you come across like Star Trek’s Spock you may not make many friends. Other imaginary humans like Sherlock Holmes become more relatable when you discover that they too can appreciate beauty and form bonds with other humans. In real life we are not scripted. The truth is, it’s not always easy to find balance before making a decision.

However, the artist and the scientist dwelling within us all, can create a beautiful dance. Maybe finding the right music is the problem!

Re: Massage

I like to massage my mind with quiet moments spent reading or writing. While the left side of my brain is digesting the vocabulary, the right side is creating wonderful pictures. These images in turn cross my midline and activate a basketful of homonyms, synonyms and antonyms. Crossword puzzles tease my cerebral cortex with clues that reveal facts and help me recall information that I thought was long gone.

A body massage can work in a similar way. When I get a massage I feel my cells communicate with each other. I think of the body as a whole world unto itself with transportation systems, electrical systems, support systems, security systems, waste management systems and communication systems. Your body, like the world, needs these systems to function effectively. The instant my massage therapist lays hands on me my cells become aware of each other and start processing shared knowledge. My toes are appreciated by my pelvic muscles and my ears are aware of vibrations in my intestinal tract. I see humour in this admission but the sense of oneness I feel is nonetheless profound.

I like the spelling of the word massage: It’s one letter away from message. Whether my brain or body is getting massaged, I am experiencing a state of inner communication. I am sending and receiving messages. Advertisers know this connection well and use it to sell products and/or ideas. “The medium is the message” is a phrase coined by Marshall McLuhan. I say the medium can also be a massage. We become vulnerable to suggestion and manipulation. We can be massaged into believing we need a product. We are sometimes manipulated to see a candidate in a certain way, to feel soothed by voting for someone based less on fact and more on promises.

Massage is often made fun of in the way that North Americans tend to be uncomfortable with any notion of touching. Massage is often associated with sexual experience rather than therapeutic practice. We live in a time when touch arouses suspicion. Boundaries are being declared. Consent is being redefined. Privacy issues are becoming more important as we acknowledge that almost everything in our life is being recorded. We are being massaged into believing that everything is going to be all right. Yet we have doubts. We wonder if we can trust others when we are not quiet sure if we can trust ourselves.

We need to be touched. Baby massage has been promoted for some time now as a way to help the infant relax and to strengthen the bond between parent and child. I remember how my dying mother responded to someone who massaged her head while cutting her hair. Humans respond instinctively to the warm message that a touch can provide. When I am being massaged by my trusted practitioner I can relax for a spell. In quiet contemplation I can focus on a few singular things and not run headlong into a future that is uncertain. My mind and body can feel in harmony.