October 14, 2016

Just a dash, yet so much more

At a recent performance by the Kyiv Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in my town, orchestra conductor and artistic director Dr. Wes Janzen spoke these words:

On your grave marker, there will be a birth date and a death date. Then there is a dash. That dash is your life.

Wow. Those words drove home for me how short life really is — as short as the dash that sits between the birth and death dates on a gravestone.

Dr. Janzen’s words made me realize how little of “your life” others will see of you when you’re gone: that dash doesn’t communicate any of your joys, achievements or successes. It ignores the obstacles you overcame. It disregards how your smile lit up a room; how you taught kids to play the piano, baked drool-worthy goodies for friends, or fixed people’s cars for free. That dash doesn’t convey any of the depth of your experience. It doesn’t recognize your contribution to the world, to your family and friends, to your community.

This might all sound a bit depressing, but in another sense, it’s empowering. My life truly is my own to make of it what I want. No one cares about the outcome — the substance of that dash — except for me, and possibly some of the people around me. So the best thing to do is live my life according to my own principles and passions, and to share the results of that process with my friends, family and community.

True, my life might be a mere blip on the radar of the larger world, but it can leave a lasting and meaningful mark on the lives of the people around me. I can be a teacher, an inspiration, a confidante, a buddy to laugh with, a shoulder to lean on, a superstar volunteer, a person who always picks up the phone and says, “yes, that’s great, let’s do it!” The people on the receiving or collaborating ends of all this will share the depths of their experiences with the depth of mine, and maybe that is enough.

September 11, 2016

Where is the space for originality?

Food for thought, courtesy of Carolyn Roberts in A House of Straw, a book that chronicles her experience building her own straw-bale house in Arizona:

Why is it so hard to do something original in our society? . . . We shop in at the same stores, in the same strip malls and shopping plazas, which carry the same products. We all use the same credit cards and run up the same debts, which we pay to the same banks. We watch the same shows on TV, the same movies, drive cars that vary slightly in their colour and interior but are essentially the same. We eat the same food from the same chain restaurants, or bought from the same national line of grocery stores, manufactured by the same huge companies with different labels.

In the carbon-copy society that surrounds most North Americans, what do you do to stick out a bit? Do you embrace difference or judge it? Are you comfortable going out on a limb and walking a path that no one else is walking, a path that other people might find strange, even threatening?

Carolyn Roberts built her own straw-bale house to fit her own lifestyle and financial situation. What are you doing?

July 18, 2016

Five cool (environmentally conscious) things about Vancouver

I recently spent a few days in Vancouver, British Columbia. Each time I visit this wonderful city, I am further struck by its positive and inspiring efforts to make sustainable living and alternative energy options a reality. This time around, I stayed in the Mount Pleasant neighbourhood, where I encountered these five earth-friendly ideas-in-action:

  1. Dedicated streets for cycling. Yup, nestled throughout this busy city, you’ll find a robust network of functional cycling routes designed for bicycle commuters and sightseers alike. Pedal these well-planned routes and you’ll cruise along peaceful, tree-lined, low-traffic streets, complete with bicycle-specific crossing signals at major intersections. Your ears will fill with the gentle whizzing of other bikes coasting nearby as you pedal safely and happily from Point A to Point B — or even 25 kilometres out of town to the Quay Market in New Westminster!
  2. Public petitions to save trees from development projects. While cycling though the Kitsilano and West Point Grey neighbourhoods, I passed several big old trees hung with colourful flags and eye-catching signs. The trees, I learned, stood on properties earmarked for new housing construction. The signs publicized this fact and directed residents to online petitions that they could sign in support of keeping the trees standing. People actively fighting to save trees in their city: the very thought makes my heart happy!
  3. North America’s first waste-water heat recovery system. Walk to the southeast corner of the Cambie Street Bridge and you’ll find five svelte, LED-lit smokestacks rising unobtrusively from below. These mark the Southeast False Creek Neighbourhood Energy Utility (NEU), which is tucked neatly beneath the bridge. The NEU captures heat from neighbourhood sewage and waste water and transforms it into energy to provide space heating and hot water for almost 400,000 square metres of residential, commercial and institutional buildings. How cool (or hot) is that?
  4. Food isn’t garbage: 2015 organics ban. On January 1, 2015, the City of Vancouver banned food waste from its municipal garbage collection program. Residents now separate organic waste from regular garbage and other recyclables, and dispose of it via municipal green bin programs, private haulers or on-site solutions. My bed and breakfast had a strict green bin program in place for food scraps. And I found a few dedicated food-waste disposal bins on the street outside the Cambie Street Whole Foods Market. Way to go, Vancouver!
  5. Community housing in heritage homes. My guided architectural walking tour of Vancouver’s West End culminated at the Mole Hill Community Housing Society, a 170-unit housing initiative spread across 27 restored heritage homes on Thurlow, Pendrell, Bute and Comox Streets. The homes, several of them listed on the Vancouver Heritage Register, were originally built between 1888 and 1908 and together comprise one of the most intact surviving blocks of pre-World War I housing in the city. These beautifully restored houses have been given new life in this thriving housing project, set as they now are among gardens, green space and a very palpable sense of community pride.
July 7, 2016

Celebrate being single!

To all you single people out there, check out these inspiring words from actress Drew Barrymore in her book Wildflower:

It’s ironic that we rush through being “single” as if it’s some disease or malady to get rid of or overcome. The truth is, most likely, one day you will meet someone and it will be gone. And once it’s gone, it’s really gone! Why does no one tell us how important it is to enjoy being single and being by yourself? That time is defining and amazing and nothing to “cure.” It is being alone that will actually set you up the best for being with someone else.

Ms. Barrymore is right: we need to celebrate and treasure our single days. Being single is a life experience that, in most cases, is a time-limited opportunity. It’s a time to learn more about who you really are as your own person — about what makes you happy and content, what drives you, what your goals and priorities are — all on your own terms.

Flying solo is an exciting, rewarding, nurturing and adventurous time in your life. So is coupledom, to be sure, but in a very different way.

So be proud of your solo status, and never hang your head or make excuses about it. Own it, and enjoy every moment of it. Being single is a special gift that you get to treasure for only so long!

July 4, 2016

Be a frequent cliff jumper

Thought of the moment, courtesy of science-fiction author Ray Bradbury:

If we listened to our intellect, we’d never have a love affair, we’d never have a friendship . . . . You’ve got to jump off cliffs all the time and build your wings on the way down.

 

July 3, 2016

All roads lead to . . .

Thought of the moment, courtesy of 17th-century French fable-writer Jean de La Fontaine:

A person often meets his destiny on the road he took to avoid it.

Hmmm, so much for procrastination!

Or, perhaps each of us really does have a specific purpose in this life, and whichever road we take will ultimately lead us to it, whether directly or via a more circuitous route.

June 24, 2016

Follow your bliss, witness magic

Thought of the moment, courtesy of American writer and mythologist Joseph Campbell:

Follow your bliss, and doors will open where there are no doors.

Magic does exist, if you listen to your heart and follow where it leads. . . .

June 18, 2016

What matters in life, in three quotations

Sometimes we need a reminder of what really matters in life (and what doesn’t). Here are three quotations that drive the message home on three different levels:

From Dee Williams in The Big Tiny:

Whose idea was it that we should all get jobs, work faster, work better, race from place to place with our brains stewing on tweets, blogs and sound bites, on must-see movies, must-do experiences, must-have gadgets, when in the end, all any of us will have is our simple beating heart, reaching up for the connection to whoever might be in the room or leaning into our mattress as we draw our last breath.

From Peter Matthiessen in Indian Country:

[Our society’s] lunatic insistence on “progress,” on “growth,” on gross national product . . . is destroying the land and air and water, the wild animals and plants . . .  not to speak of quality and craftsmanship, birdsong, silence, night, and the very soul of man.

And from Henry Miller in The World of Sex:

Why are we so full of restraint? Why do we not give in all directions? Is it fear of losing ourselves? Until we do lose ourselves there is no hope of finding ourselves.

❤

 

May 6, 2016

A journey of my own . . .

Thought of the day, courtesy of American author Henry Van Dyke:

Those who would see wonderful things must often be ready to travel alone.

Here’s to solo excursions, and the special physical places and mental spaces they can take you.

May 1, 2016

Spring cleaning for the soul

Thought of the day, courtesy of 19th-century English novelist and poet Dinah M. Craik:

Keep what is worth keeping and with the breath of kindness blow the rest away.

You can create so much more energy and space in your life — to both give and receive — if you gently let go of those pieces that no longer serve you, be they activities, commitments, relationships, perspectives or beliefs.

Life is meant to ebb and flow, to empty and fill, not to grasp and cling, dig in and hold on.

Fill your lungs full. Then let go, with love. ❤