We have a lawn at our cottage, but it’s not a flawless stretch of green grass. The rural property at this time of year is dotted with daisies, which we resolutely mow around.
The tradition began with my mother-in-law. She wanted to keep the lawn looking nice and well cared for, but she couldn’t bring herself to mow down a beautiful flower in a natural setting. We honour her when we leave those daisies swaying in the summer breezes.
I’m not sure what our neighbours think of the patchy mowing job. Perhaps they mutter: “I wish those people would do something about that lawn.”
My wish would be that they choose instead to enjoy the beautiful flowers and take a moment to feel grateful for the gift from nature.
I don’t know about you, but during this pandemic I have read more books electronically than ever. Without book stores or libraries, I have turned to e-books for my fix.
I prefer a paper book, but needs-must. The one thing I do like better about an e-book is the built-in dictionary. If I don’t know a word, I touch my finger and, voilà, there is the definition.
Here are some words I have learned in the past few months, used in a sentence:
glabellar: The smooth part of the forehead above and between the eyebrows. (Now that I’m older, my glabellar is not as smooth as this definition implies.)
synesthesia: A neurological condition in which information meant to stimulate one of your senses stimulates several of your senses. (Some people with synesthesia always see the letter A in the colour red, and when I see I word I don’t know in a book, I see red.)
faffing: [UK informal] To spend time doing a lot of things that are not important instead of the one thing you should be doing. (At a cottage it is easy to spend time faffing around instead of writing blog posts.)
hierophant: A person, especially a priest in ancient Greece, who interprets sacred mysteries or esoteric principles. (I need a hierophant to help me understand some things in the books I’m reading.)
tricoteuse: A woman who sits and knits, a reference to women who did this at public executions during the French Revolution. (I would be willing to become a tricoteuse during the trial of a writer who uses the word tricoteuse.)
prelapsarian: Characteristic of the time before the fall of man [Editor’s note: they mean people], that is, innocent and unspoiled. (In the prelapsarian Eden, people used non-gender specific language.)
hoaching: Full of or swarming with people. (During this time of pandemic avoid hoaching places.)
How are you reading these days? What have you learned from that experience?
The crowd crammed into pews until there was no elbow room. And then the crowd crammed in some more. When every inch of every pew was full, ushers scurried to bring extra chairs to the aisles, front to back.
An overflowing multi-faith, multi-generational, multi-cultural assembly gathered to celebrate the life of Alex McKeague, a man who lived 80-plus years to the fullest. “I’ve got to learn to live like Alex,” I thought.
If I dare.
It is not an easy road to extra chairs at your funeral.
To live like Alex, I would need to take action and not say, “I’m sure someone else will do it.”
To live like Alex, I would need to speak up for what is right, even when it is not the popular option.
To be truly alive like Alex, I would need to be the voice in the wilderness crying out for changes to make the world more compassionate, equitable, peaceful.
Alex founded the Carlington Chaplaincyin Ottawa to help feed and nurture residents of a challenged neighbourhood. He gave them more than food; he gave them potential.
Alex collected skates, tennis racquets, or hockey equipment for children in need. He gave them more than sports equipment; he gave them inclusion.
Alex rode his bike when he could, even during draining chemotherapy treatments. He gave us more than clean air; he gave us inspiration.
Alex tapped into some mysterious energy-force we would all love to find. Alex couldn’t coexist peacefully with injustices. He couldn’t overlook a need. He did more good work in a week than many people do in a year, or even a lifetime.
Sounds good. Sounds like what we all should be doing.
But most of us don’t. I don’t.
Most of us set up a wall of defensive excuses. I do.
I don’t have time today. There are programs in place for that. I’m afraid. That person is getting what he deserves.
Alex took action to change things when sticking to the status quo would have been easier—the tempting, deliciously attractive, effortless, risk-free status quo. He bravely stepped in where others feared to tread.
And he had another gift. He could lay out the difficult truths to resistant audiences and achieve the miracle of illumination. When Alex spoke in his quiet way, his soft handling of the hard truths encouraged us to join his vision for a better, more just world.
His quiet words held loud power.
Alex showed that deep, long-lasting happiness is a paradox. We think that to find happiness we need to focus on ourselves, and our emotional comforts, and material bonuses. We think happiness comes wrapped as a big screen TV. But the opposite is true.
Happiness doesn’t live in the mirror.
He turned his back on self-reflection and looked outward to fulfill the needs of others. He obtained a doctorate, but there was no “Call me Dr. McKeague” from him. He instructed his children not to make him “look like a big shot” at the funeral. He wanted the rewards of his actions to fall on those who needed the help, not on himself. It was okay with him that we all looked toward his causes, helping them, supporting them, only glancing back after he was gone to realize that he had been the foundation, the catalyst for so much good work.
Alex lived naturally to a standard that most of the rest of us find unnaturally difficult to achieve. It’s hard to get past fear and societal pressures.
What will people think? Obey the rules. Don’t rock the boat.
I’ll try. Because at Alex’s funeral I learned I want to live like Alex, so that when I die they will need lots of extra chairs.
This is a re-post from 2010. All these years later, I’m still trying . . .
If you were to walk up to a group of women in their forties and fifties and say “Roots” out of context, the first thought of many, if not all, would be hair.
They wouldn’t think about tree roots snaking out through soil in search of nourishment, and they wouldn’t start pondering family ancestry. They’d wonder if they left it too long between dye jobs.
For the past year I have been transitioning from dyed hair to natural, and it has been an en-lightening (pun intended) process. For women, there is little middle ground on this topic. Most fall at one of two extreme opposite ends of a spectrum.
Abject Horror: “What? You’re going natural? (They step back as if it’s contagious.) Don’t do that! It will age you horribly. I am never going grey.”
Militant Support: “Good for you! (They thrust a victorious arm in the air.) I don’t understand why women ever colour their hair. Natural hair colour is an act of resistance against societal beauty norms for women. You will never regret this.”
Considering there are such extreme opinions on this, I myself was quite ambivalent. In the end though, I made my final decision instantaneously as a result of one story told to me by a friend.
She told me about a woman she knew who, on her deathbed, reached out to family to implore that they make sure she had no roots showing when she was laid out in her coffin.
I thought, “God, when I’m on my deathbed, the very last thing I want to be thinking about is my roots.”
And, we never really know when that deathbed might arrive, right? It might come sooner than I expect. And, even if it doesn’t, I’m 57, so statistically I’ve got 25 or 30 more years left. How much of that time do I want to spend thinking about my roots? Surely, there are more important and interesting things for me to think about than that.
“Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.”
Don’t get me wrong. I grieve for my former dark hair. I have thick, wavy hair, and when it was my natural, lustrous dark brown, I loved it. I was vain about it, in fact. I have never wanted to be blonde, ever.
BUT, grief is no reason to avoid action. I decided to follow the advice of Desiderataand take kindly the counsel of the years and surrender gracefully the things of youth.
On my recent hiking trip I met many silver-haired women who were striding confidently on steep hiking paths, enjoying the spectacular views, and not spending one second of their time thinking about roots.
In the time I have left, however long that might be, I want to stride confidently on the steeps, enjoy the views, and let my mind whir and spin with how to make the world a better place.