Re: Grace

If I had the chance to father a daughter, I would ask that she be called Grace. The name has a quality of mercy about it, so surely the owner of such a name would grow to value kindness, compassion and charity towards her fellow humans. I’ve only known one person named Grace and she was rather aloof, so maybe names can’t set the tone for character, but I still like the idea.

I’ve known several people to whom the value of grace was their guiding principle. One fellow from my church years, who looked perpetually 90 years old, shared a pew with me during choir practise. He carried himself with assurance, not arrogance. He would always put others before himself. He helped create quality time amongst our fellowship, never once demanding it. He wore simple clothes that suggested he wished to blend into a crowd, yet we always knew he was in the room due to his warm laughter. His favourite hymn was ‘Amazing Grace’ which seemed appropriate. Check out this lovely version by Cellist Patrick Dexter.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Iyk2XrKIMcA

Shakespeare’s play, ‘The Merchant of Venice’ is one of my favourites from The Bard’s collection. While not without controversy, the characters do a wonderful job personifying several human values. After reading the play and performing a few lines in a classroom setting, my English teacher took our class to Stratford, Ontario to watch and learn. I remember being breathless throughout most of the scenes. We all felt somehow smarter after the performance, even a bit older. On the return trip, a small knot of us nerds gathered at the back of the bus to debate. We concluded that the opposite of Greed was not Charity, but Grace. (That’s why being greedy is so disgraceful) We didn’t do a High Five back then, but we knew we were cool.

Currently, in our bathroom there is a strip of wise sayings meant to start our day off on the right foot. One square offers a challenge: “Instead of Perfection, Seek Grace.” Sometimes it is easier to offer grace to another when we see they are in need of forgiveness or human comfort. To recognize in ourselves those same needs seems selfish. To attend to our own hurt, feels self serving. Etymologically, Grace comes from the latin word Gratis which suggests a gift freely given. Here is where we can begin: By recognizing that we are all members of a community, deserving of grace that is unreservedly given to all who assemble here.

A family tradition my wife and I followed when my three sons were growing up was saying grace at dinner. It wasn’t really a religious observance so much as an expression of gratitude. We would each offer a story of our day, highlighting who or what we were thankful for. Conversation often flowed gracefully to individual experiences. Our eldest described his frustration over a Lego model that didn’t turn out properly.“It looked different from the instruction picture,” he shrugged. “Just like people!” Amen.

Re: Usual

I’ve often thought it would be cool to have a place in the community where you could walk in and say, “I’ll have my usual.” Someplace where everyone knows your name. A casual place where things usually just flow, where you can expect to drink from the cup of kindness.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7KtAgAMzaeg

Usual is a cousin of Normal. There is a calm we get from familiar situations. My middle son and his lovely wife are building a beautiful life with my grandson. Before they were married, their relationship was stressed by long distance realities. Both had busy lives in two different countries. An ocean separated them! There were Skype calls and flight arrangements to be made. Even a language barrier to overcome. Their love grew despite all the challenges. When talk turned to choosing Canada as their place to live together, I remember asking them what they were looking forward to about their decision. They answered simultaneously, “Just to feel normal!”

A usual existence isn’t necessarily boring. The regular parts of your life can be anticipated with excitement, especially when you get to choose what those parts contain. Some couples thrive on weekly date nights for instance. Any routine that you can look forward to will add spice to your life. Several teachers I worked with in my career in education actually looked forward to September when they could ‘get back to normal’. I didn’t share that perspective but as a planner, I could appreciate the need for a structured lifestyle after the randomness of the summer months.

My sister often lived on the edge of chaos. Her unpredictable nature often made me nervous, but even her active personality needed times of surety. Like her mother before her, my sister counted on holidays to be just perfect. Perfection in this case meant that Christmas, for example, had to be exactly the same as last year. Variation would ruin the expectation and the expectation became the reason for the season. After my sister’s death, her only child made a wonderful decision on the following Christmas. My niece went on a trip to Thailand. From my viewpoint it was a reset: A very unusual and courageous way to declare her independence.

We all need our touch points of normalcy. My mother-in-law, at 94, cannot envision a week ending without her Fish Friday meal. She hasn’t worked for decades, and she is not a devout Catholic yet a dinner without fish as the main course on a Friday would throw her equilibrium out of whack. Likewise, James Bond must have his martini shaken, not stirred.

Thankfully, I don’t need a bar to go to at the end of a hectic day. I’ve enjoyed the regularity of family life despite those times when I would have liked to get away. When my existence gets too ‘same old, same old’ I count on my wife to suggest something that might mix it up a bit. I have found that contentment lies in the natural rhythms of being. Cheers!

Re: Power

When I think of the word Power I hope the word Responsibility is closely following. Power is linked to energy in my thoughts; energy needs to be channeled to be an effective source of power. Uncontrolled power is dangerous; think of yourself trapped in a vehicle with a hydro line dancing on the surfaces around you. Unregulated power is a threat to life and limb. Unchecked power can evaporate entire cultures.

Some thirst for power. I used to ask people at gatherings what they most desired. The words Fame and Fortune often came up. I remember one such discussion in a university seminar when a student concluded that any 3 wishes granted by a Genie would ultimately reveal a quest for Power. If this fellow was right, that life is always about acquiring power, I wonder if it matters more what we do with the power we have collected. Our energy and influence is required if we are to flourish. Planet Earth has suffered from our search for power through extracting energy from decayed matter. This has been a conquest with end-of-days consequences. Our choices regarding power can rectify and renew.

Everyone must have authority over their personhood. This is at the core of ideas of Freedom. Yet I am also a person through other people, so I must have responsibility towards them as I do for myself. I can’t say I have ever wished for authority over another. Power over others actually frightens me. I once had a meeting with a school principal concerning what he saw in me, a beginning teacher, about my leadership qualities. I was appalled when he suggested that he first learned to exercise power over others by controlling his wife, then he felt he could extend this to his dealings with other teachers, and so eventually became a head of a school. He delivered a power point that didn’t sell me.

One unique individual can inspire. We’ve read of religious prophets, noble knights, lone western gunslingers, and inspiring artists. We don’t need to sift through history to find examples of extraordinarily gifted individuals. They are in your neighbourhood, living right now, practising their skills. All members of a community have a responsibility to share their power. Sometimes we enable others to expand their influence. We may elect them to represent us on a larger stage. We must take care who we anoint with political power, then it is up to us to remind them of their vow of service. Abuse of trust often comes when a person in authority convinces themselves and us that the end will justify the means. Tragedy, of the individual and societal sort, often follows.

It’s never easy judging when to step aside, when to chime in, when to take charge or when to turn your back. My greatest rewards have been from empowering others to achieve their goals. Working with shared agency is an energizing experience. Being involved means hooking up to a people power grid. Tears of joy will come from proclaiming, “I/We did it!”.

Re: Important

At the beginning of every decision making process I ask myself a question: What’s important? Those who wish to defund the police have likely asked that question. If they have, I hope their answer is less about police and more about the wider desire for more appropriate care for the members of the community. I believe policing is important in a community yet so is adequate mental health services, affordable housing and well funded schools. When it comes to a healthy world many things are important.

Everyone believes in causes. We feel it is socially important to give to something. Sometimes we don’t think of ourselves as a good cause. Deciding what’s important is really personal; requiring observation, a solid evaluation and then judgement. We can agree that human lives are important. But which lives? Here is the question for our age and every other through history. BLM highlights not just the importance of one race of people, just as Feminism is not only about the importance of one gender. During COVD19 times some politicians have actually decided that the economy is more important than the lives of a ‘few’ elderly folks. We all are important, to the economy, to our community, to our families, to ourselves.

I’m cursed with these thoughts that everything is important, when sometimes nothing really matters. Aristotle once commented; “Poetry is something more philosophic and of graver import than history.” In my philosophy I’m a forest person so every tree matters. A range of people; Ani DiFranco, Oscar Wilde, artists mostly, have a history of promoting equality in their work. A view that all people and things have import to the world at large is gaining strength, particularly as societies navigate a climate crisis. There is some truth to the poetic notion that a butterfly’s behaviour has consequences far beyond a flight to find nectar. More importantly, human’s must be earnest about their impact on the environment. The question of what’s important doesn’t have to be an either/or listing. Individually and collectively we can create priorities, then set a timeline for action that can have a graded outcome. 

The heading for a series of columns I once wrote for a daily newspaper was called ‘Just Because’. The title came to me when I was walking for no real reason on a circular nature trail.  William James, sometimes referred to as the Father of American Psychology, once said,”We never fully grasp the import of any true statement until we have a clear notion of what the opposite untrue statement would be.” At the time of my short hike, stuck in the mire of self importance, I surprisingly needed to find out what wasn’t important, before I could see what was. I could write, for ‘no real reason’ because sometimes it feels important to write without any expectation of outcome. Sometimes the importance of things can only be determined after the event. 

Like in the film Groundhog Day, perhaps history must repeat before we discover what’s  important. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GncQtURdcE4