Safety: My privilege, my trap, and my right

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1. Safety – my privilege

The atmosphere was rather festive as my daughters and I made banners for the women’s march. They’re not new to political activism, having been raised in a home where political dialogue is as common as mashed potatoes, but this was the first time all four of us were going to a march together and the first time we were all making our own banners. One chose a Star Wars reference and another chose Hamilton – their pop culture of choice. They dressed up and I teased them with “this is the resistance – not a fashion parade.” They retorted with “Feminism has evolved, Mom. Our generation believes we can look cute AND resist at the same time.”

On the way downtown, we picked up Saleha, a Muslim friend who’s lived in Canada for 10 years. She was excited and passionate about the march – her first political action of this kind.

The meeting place quickly filled with thousands of marchers – predominantly white women, some wearing pink pussy hats, some holding signs. As people gathered, one of the organizers announced that an Indigenous elder would be smudging whoever was interested. Saleha was eager for the opportunity, so we got in line. I stood by and watched a beautiful moment unfold – Saleha opening her hijab like a tent to let the smoke touch her face and her ears, while the elder offered gentle guidance. When Saleha turned away, the emotion on her face told me how moving it had been.

Leaning on a rail on the second floor of the meeting space, we watched the speakers and drumming group on stage. A mix of intersectional voices – Indigenous, immigrants, transgender, and women of colour – inspired us to consider ALL human rights, not just those that have been too often centred in marches like these (able-bodied, cisgender, heterosexual white women).

Slowly, the crowd made its way onto the street. As soon as we stepped onto the street, I sensed something had changed in Saleha’s demeanour. I turned toward her. “Are you okay?” I asked.

“No,” she said. “Suddenly I don’t feel safe anymore.”

“Would you like me to hold your hand?” I asked.

“Yes, I think I need you to,” she responded.

Holding hands, we followed the crowd. Looking around, I tried to find at least one other woman on the street in a hijab, but I could see none. Nor were there many women of colour or Indigenous women. It was mostly women who looked like me – a crowd of white feminists, probably mostly unaware of who was missing. Did all of those other, more marginalized women, avoid the march because they sensed the same feeling of insecurity that was coming up for Saleha?

More than once I turned to her and said “If it feels unsafe to be here, we can step out and leave the crowd.”

“No,” she said. “I want to do this. I’ll stay in it as long as I can.” We kept walking and the stories began to spill. “It’s illegal to protest like this where I come from,” she said. “I once witnessed a friend yanked off the street by the authorities. We didn’t see him again after that.”

“The day after the Paris attacks, I was waiting for a train in Amsterdam when a man shoved his face just inches from mine and started verbally attacking me. Nobody stepped in to stop him.”

On and on it went – the many times she had felt unsafe, just because she was a woman on the street wearing a hijab. The airport security checks when customs officers discovered her last name was the same as one of the 9-11 terrorists, the times she’s dropped her children off at school and teachers or other moms ignored her until they realized she spoke English like them, the drunk man on the street who told her to go back home in front of her children.

“I don’t know why these are all coming up right now,” she said. “Each time something happened, I stuffed it away and told myself I was okay. It was the only way I could carry on – to convince myself I was safe. But I’m not safe. Since coming to Canada, I’ve done everything I can to blend in and to convince people that I’m not a threat. I worked so hard to learn English. And now I will probably cancel my post-grad studies in the U.S. because I’ll be even less safe there.”

More than once, as we walked, she apologized for saying things that might make me, a white woman, feel badly for what people like me had done or said to her. “I don’t want to be somebody who blames white people.”

“Stop,” I said. “You don’t need to apologize. If I am your friend, I need to be able to hear the ways that you feel unsafe around people like me. Even if it makes me uncomfortable, I need to listen. You are not responsible for looking after me in this situation.”

“But I’m not used to this kind of conversation,” she said. “I am much more used to doing whatever it takes to make white women like you feel safe.”

As we walked, I glanced ahead to where my daughters walked, and was suddenly hit with these two realizations:

  1. I and my daughters never once considered that we might be unsafe on the street. My safety to march is just one of the many privileges I take for granted. So is my safety to go grocery shopping, to drop my kids off at school, and to ride the bus without being verbally attacked. Although there are some places I wouldn’t feel safe, especially at night, I have access to enough privilege (ie. my own vehicle, a house in a relatively safe part of town, etc.) that I rarely have to place myself in situations where I am at risk.
  2. Although I consider myself to be as non-threatening as a person could be, my white skin and my place within the dominant culture make me unsafe for some people. In order to stay safe themselves, others often need to contort themselves in order to make me feel safe. White women like me might present a particular risk because we’re the ones that the police would probably respond to most quickly if we were feeling threatened.

2. Safety – my cage

My friend Desiree is fierce and bold. She says things on her Facebook stream that I don’t have the courage to say and she doesn’t apologize if people take offence to them. Rather than coddling people, she expects them to take responsibility for their own emotional response.

We are quite different in our communication styles and I’ve often wondered about the many factors that contribute to that difference. I chalk up my more conciliatory, sometimes timid communication style to my pacifist, Mennonite, Canadian roots, but lately I’ve considered that it may be more than that. We may have been intentionally conditioned differently by the patriarchy.

For nearly seven years now, Desiree and I have been having periodic conversations about the ways in which we’ve learned to respond to the world differently. As a Black woman living in the southern U.S., her lived experience is quite different from mine. We’re passionate about many of the same things, but we came to these issues from different directions.

After the women’s march, Desiree and I talked about what the march represented, what happened during the march, whose voices were heard, etc. One of our most profound conversations was about the images on social media that portrayed police officers wearing pink pussy hats at the marches.

“When white women show up to protest,” Desiree said, “police wear pink pussy hats. But when people of colour show up to protest, they wear riot gear.”

We went back and forth about what that meant. Did the police just assume that, because the Women’s March was predominantly white women, there would be no danger involved? Was it a purely race-related difference?

And then, something new emerged in our conversation – the possibility that the police were serving as agents of the patriarchy, keeping white women in line by appeasing them and convincing them they were there to protect THEM from outside forces rather than protecting OTHERS from them. When they show up with riot gear, they’re protecting the community from the protestors. When they put on pussy hats, they’re signalling that they’re protecting the protestors.

And that, we theorized, is one of the reasons that there is fragility among white women (and why someone like me might adopt a more timid, conciliatory communication style) – because we have been conditioned by the hierarchy to believe that our fragility keeps us safe. As long as we are fragile, the patriarchy protects us. When we are no longer fragile, the patriarchy withdraws its protection and we are at risk.

The patriarchy benefits from the fragility of white women.

Women of colour, on the other hand, don’t have the luxury of being fragile. They are taught to survive at whatever cost, usually by their own means and without the help of those in authority. They don’t grow up assuming that the police will protect them if they are fragile. They grow up with images of the police protecting the community from them, not the other way around.

This is how the patriarchy keeps us both in line – by keeping us separate and at odds. It’s the same way that apartheid worked in South Africa. The white establishment created fractions between the local tribes, giving some more access to education, jobs, etc. When they were fighting amongst themselves, they did not present a threat to those in power. If you look around at the places where women are gathering to develop political actions such as the Women’s March, you’ll see the same kind of dissension. Groups with differing access to privilege, power, and protection have a hard time hearing each other’s concerns.

(I would add that those police officers in pussy hats and riot gear are also being controlled and wounded by the patriarchy, though they probably don’t recognize it. It’s a flawed system that is doing damage to us all.)

Two more realizations:

  1. Fragility in white women is real AND it’s tool of the patriarchy in order to keep us silent and weak. If I don’t challenge it in myself, I stay trapped and nothing changes.
  2. If I place too high a value on my own safety, I won’t risk stepping into conversations that make me uncomfortable and I won’t be able to build better relationships with women of colour and other groups that have been oppressed by the patriarchy.

3. Safety – my right

A few days ago, I was part of a text conversation of another kind. My friend Jo shared that she had been verbally abused in a conversation on social media. She’d been invited into a conversation about whether or not patriarchy is real, and though she intuitively felt unsafe as the only women surrounded by opinionated men, trying to explain something that they had all benefited from, she took the risk because she cared about the person who invited her. She stated her discomfort, but that discomfort was used as a weapon against her to make her feel shame for wanting a “safe space”.

Jo’s story reminded me of the times when I too have felt unsafe, trying to explain sexism or discrimination to those who had more power than me. Several years ago, I wrote a letter addressing some sexist behaviour on the board of an organization I was part of and I sent it to the three men I thought needed to be aware of it. My letter was ignored by one, dismissed by another, and responded to only with a back-handed comment by the third. I was left feeling small and ashamed for “over-reacting” and unsafe to raise any such concerns again in the future.

I know, from listening to my friends who are Indigenous and people of colour, that they feel similarly when white people ask them to explain racism, or when they need to challenge racism in their workplace. It is unfair to expect the people who’ve been oppressed to explain to those who’ve benefited from the oppression. It puts them in a dangerous position where they are often targeted with more abuse for “over-reacting”, “being too sensitive”, etc. Some people even lose their jobs for daring to challenge the system.

Though I have to recognize safety as my privilege and my trap, I also believe that it is a human right. Those who dismiss my safety as irrelevant or who tell me I’m over-reacting and need to calm down are attempting to gaslight me – making me think that I’m crazy or weak for needing safety. That’s how oppressors win.

As I mentioned in my last post, trauma further complicates this issue. Unhealed trauma convinces us that we are unsafe even when we aren’t. And much of that trauma is hard to pinpoint because we may have inherited it or it may have been caused before we were old enough to know what was going on. The fear that comes up when a trauma memory is triggered is as real as the fear we felt when the trauma happened.

Two more realizations:

  1. Next to air, water, and food, safety is our most basic need. We will do almost anything to find safety, including contorting ourselves in the presence of those who make us feel unsafe. Those who’ve been oppressed are usually masterful at contortion, and if they’re not, they are at greater risk.
  2. When we have experienced trauma, our need for safety is easily triggered and our bodies respond with fight, flight, or freeze. Often we don’t recognize that we are being triggered and then it’s easy to feel shame for over-reacting. Those with more power usually don’t recognize (or choose to ignore) that they are triggering our fear and our shame because their lived experience is very different.

Note: All three of the friends mentioned in this post gave permission for their stories to be shared.

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Moving beyond “us and them”

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A few weeks ago, I wrote about the importance of finding your tribe – people who love you just the way you are and who cheer you on as you do courageous things.

Tribe-building is important and valuable, but it only takes you part way down the path to an openhearted life.

This week, I’ve been contemplating what we should do with the people outside of our tribes.

It’s cozy and warm inside a tribe, and the people are supportive and non-threatening, so it’s tempting to simply hide there and close off from the rest of the world. When you’re hurting, that might be the right thing to do for awhile – to protect yourself until you have healed enough to step outside of the circle.

But the problem with staying there too long is that it creates a world of “us and them”. When you stay too close to your own tribe, it becomes easier and easier to justify your own choices and opinions and more and more difficult to understand people who think differently from you. Before long, you’ve become suspicious of everyone outside of your tribe, and when their actions threaten your way of life, you do whatever it takes to protect yourself. Fear breeds in a closed-off life.

Last week, I knew it was time to challenge myself to step outside my tribe. I’d been playing it safe too much lately, so when I saw a Facebook posting for an open house at the local mosque, I decided that was a good place to start. I shared the information with friends, but chose not to bring anyone with me. Bringing friends with me into unfamiliar territory makes me less open to conversations with people who are different from me and I didn’t want that – I wanted to go in with an open, unguarded heart. That’s one of the reasons I’ve learned to love solo traveling – it’s scary at first, but it opens me to a whole world of new opportunities and friendships that don’t happen as naturally when I’m hiding behind the safety of a group.

I have traveled in predominately Muslim parts of the world and have always been warmly received, so I knew that the open house would be a pleasant experience. It turned out to be even more pleasant than I’d expected.

IMG_3089First there was Mariam, a young university student who served as tour guide to me and a small group of strangers. Mariam’s easy smile and warm personality made us all feel instantly comfortable. She lead us through the gym to the prayer room and told us why she’s happy that the women pray in a separate area from the men. “I want to be close to God when I pray, not distracted by who might be looking at me or bumping into me.” Before the tour was over, Mariam hugged me twice and I felt like I’d made a new friend.

Then there was the grinning young man at the table by the sign that read “your name in Arabic”. His name now escapes me, but I can tell you he never stopped smiling through our whole conversation and was one of the friendliest young men I’ve met in a long time. He told me, while he wrote my name, that he’d learned some of his Arabic from cartoons. Growing up in Ontario, he’d preferred Arabic cartoons to Barney or Sesame Street.

At the “free henna” table, I met Saadia, who moved here from Pakistan three years ago because she and her husband wanted to give their children a better chance at a good education. Her husband is a doctor who’s still trying to cross all of the hurdles that will allow him to practice in Canada. Before our conversation was over, Saadia had given me her phone number in case I ever want to invite her to my home to give me and my friends hennas.

What struck me, as I left the mosque, was how much grace and courage it takes, when your people have become the object of racism, fear, and oppression, to open your hearts, homes, and gathering places to strangers. Instead of hiding within the safety of their own tribe and justifying their need for protection and safety from others, the local Muslim community threw their doors and hearts open wide and said “let’s be friends. We are not afraid of you – please don’t be afraid of us.”

I experienced the same grace and courage among the Indigenous people of our community last Spring after we were named the “most racist city in Canada”. Instead of retreating into the safety of their tribes, they welcomed many of us into openhearted healing circles. Instead of being angry, they taught us that reconciliation starts with forgiveness and the courage to risk friendships across tribal lines.

I will be forever grateful to Rosanna, who invited me to co-host a series of meaningful conversations with her, to Leonard who handed me a drum and welcomed me to play in honour of Mother Earth’s heartbeat, to Gramma Shingoose who gave me a stone shaped like a heart and shared the story of her healing journey after a childhood in residential school, to Brian who welcomed me into the sweat lodge, and to many others who opened their hearts and reached across the artificial divide between Indigenous and settler.

The more I’ve had the privilege of building friendships with openhearted people whose world looks different from mine, the bigger, more beautiful, and less fearful my life has become.

This week, I’ve read Gloria Steinem’s memoir, My Life on The Road and there is so much in it that resonates with the way I choose to live my life. It’s a beautiful reflection of how her life has been changed by the people she has encountered while on the road. “Taking to the road – by which I mean letting the road take you – changed who I thought I was. The road is messy in the way that real life is messy. It leads us out of denial and into reality, out of theory and into practice, out of caution and into action, out of statistics and into stories – in short, out of our heads and into our hearts. It’s right up there with life-threatening emergencies and truly mutual sex as a way of being fully alive in the present.”

Another quote speaks to how much broader her thinking has become because of her encounters on the road. “What we’ve been told about this country is way too limited by generalities, sound bites, and even the supposedly enlightened idea that there are two sides to every question. In fact, many questions have three or seven or a dozen sides. Sometimes I think the only real division into two is between people who divide everything into two and those who don’t.

We don’t have to spend as much time traveling as Gloria Steinem does in order to live this way – we simply have to open our hearts to the people and experiences in our own communities that have the potential to stretch and change us and lead us past a life with only two sides. Sometimes a conversation with the next door neighbour is enough to help us see the world through more open eyes.

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Turning pain into music: More reflections on our 100 km. walk

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just a few steps away from the finish line

“Are you sure you don’t want a ride to the camp? You can just skip the rest of the kilometres for the day, rest up, stay off your blisters for awhile, and start fresh tomorrow.”

We heard that often along the 100 km. walk. Well-meaning organizers, volunteers, and medics wanted to help us avoid some of the pain we were experiencing. They wanted to give us short-cuts, assuring us there was no shame in missing a few kilometres.

Every offer only set our resolve deeper, though. It even made us reluctant to visit the medics when the blisters got particularly ugly. We weren’t there to do 87 km – we were there to do 100.

Yes, it was painful. Yes, there were toes on our feet that were hardly recognizable as toes anymore. Yes, there were moments when there didn’t seem to be a single muscle in our body that was exempt from the overwhelming ache.

But we were there to complete the journey. We were there to test the limits of our endurance. We were there to be present in every painful step.

We live in a culture that likes shortcuts, especially when it comes to pain. We try to rush through grief, thinking that we’ll be better off if we can just put a bandaid on it and get back to real life. We over-medicate, thinking a dulling of the pain will help us feel “normal”. We short-circuit the birthing process (both literal and figurative), with unnecessary c-sections and inductions. We over-consume, thinking that shopping therapy will dull the ache of loneliness or heartbreak. We clamour over quick fixes and fill our lives with cheap throw-away solutions to our problems.

We prefer ten easy steps to one thousand painful ones.

But it’s the thousand painful steps that will change us. It takes those thousand painful steps for us to grow into what we’re meant to be at the end of the journey.

In ten easy steps, we can build little more than a house of cards, not the rich, beautiful temple we are meant to become. A strong wind blows away the house of cards, but the temple withstands the storm.

A fascinating thing happened at the end of our three day journey. We three women, walking together every step of the way, always within about 100 steps of each other, all began to menstruate before the end of the day. In just three days, our cycles aligned (though I wasn’t expecting mine for another week and a half and I’m not sure about the others). Interestingly enough, the next day was the full moon.

I’ve lived with enough roommates, daughters, and sisters to know that it is not unusual for women living in community to end up with cycles that are in sync. I’ve never seen it happen in such a short time, though. Three days of sharing an intense, painful experience, and our bodies were in tune with each other.

Extrapolate that story forward, and you have three women, living in community, whose bodies are preparing to go through the pain and glory of childbirth together. It’s a beautiful, poignant story. Expose three women’s bodies to shared pain and they find a way to support each other that goes much deeper than words.

Women, we are amazing vessels. We birth children and carry each other’s pain. Every month, we shed blood – our little painful sacrifice for the beauty we bear within us.

As an added element to this story, it was pain and childbirth that brought these three women together in the first place. Cath’s loss of Juggernaut led her to a place where walking helped her live through the pain. Christina’s deep compassion for her story and sharing of her pain made her want to support Cath on the journey. My own story of the loss of Matthew bonded me to Cath and made me want to be with her for the journey as well. It was pain that bonded us, pain that we journeyed through together, and pain that caused our bodies to align themselves with each other so that we could most fully support each other.

Our bodies carry wisdom that our minds know nothing about.

Our bodies understand the value of pain.

Without the pain, we don’t have the beauty. Without the blood, we don’t have the birth. Without the sacrifice, we don’t have the growth. Without the sharing of agony, we don’t have community.

We can’t shortcut through the pain. It’s not serving any of us. Shortcutting through our own pain makes us careless of other people’s pain. It makes us careless of the pain we cause Mother Earth.

Mark Nepo talks about pain as the tool that carves the holes in our bodies to make us the instruments through which breath blows and beautiful music is made. When we are present in the pain – when we don’t try to take shortcuts through it – our holes are seasoned and polished and the music comes out sweet and rich.

Imagine an orchestra playing on half-finished instruments, with holes that had never been polished and strings that had never been pulled tight. The music would be dull, lifeless, and out of tune.

Pain begets beauty. 

Pain shines the edges of the holes through which God breathes.

The next step may be painful, but it must be taken nonetheless.

I only hope that your next painful step will be taken in community and that you will be supported in your pain.

And when the pain subsides and you can stand up straight again, let God breath through you and make your music beautiful.

“In stories and in life, pain is our friend. It’s an unwelcome friend, but a friend nonetheless. The good news is if we make friends with our pain, it won’t stay long and it will leave us with a gift. But if we avoid pain, it will chase us down until we finally accept the gift it has to offer.” – Donald Miller

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Note: Full disclosure – I did take a few painkillers along the way, so I don’t want to paint myself as some kind of martyr. AND I do not want to stand in judgement of anyone who accepted a ride – we each must choose our own thresholds for pain and our own values and reasons for completing a particular journey. There is no shame in being supported through the roughest parts of your journey.

Another note: Cath has created a beautiful offering to help you walk through your pain, called Remembering for Good. She is letting her pain be turned into music.

Joy Journal #1 – It’s all about the PEOPLE!

Because my word for the year is joy, I’m keeping a joy journal, and I’ll be sharing some of that joy on this blog. Here’s hoping joy is contagious and you catch a little piece of it.

The painting above brought me joy today. It’s not about the finished product (I’m not even sure I like it that much, though it’s growing on me), but rather about the process. I started it last night at my painting class, and then spent this afternoon happily lost in a world of colours and patterns. Joy, joy, JOY!

But to be honest, when I think about joy this week, it’s all about the people. My “joy people”.

A few months ago, when I was moaning about how I didn’t like networking and I wasn’t sure how I’d build a clientele for my business, my straight-shooting friend Desiree, who’s way smarter about some things than I am, said “Girl, you’ve gotta stop thinking about it as NETWORKING. Instead you’ve gotta think about how you’re going to attract your JOY PEOPLE – the people you want to be connected with. The people whose business you want because you love what they stand for.”

She was right, of course. It’s about my joy people. And let me tell you, this past week I seem to have attracted a lot of them! Not that I have a bunch more clients, but I DO have lots of good people who want to help me or work with me in some way or another, or just hang out and be my friend. Plus a few who want to hire me! It’s been pretty darn amazing.

Here’s a little taste of my joy:

– My friend Jo-Anne who sat with me over chai lattes and listened to me talk about my book, and loved it like she would if it were a real live baby, and then helped me see some wisdom that I’d been missing.

– My friend Michele who came to speak to my class last week about the amazing work she’s doing and reminded me of why I’m so fond of her.

– My friend Desiree who gives me the straight goods in such a loving and humorous way and helps me see my path. Last week she said “You don’t really want to be a consultant, you want to write a book. So write the damn book already!” Okay, I’ve been told.

– My friend Susan who has been such a great support in the last few years as we both went a little deeper in our leadership journeys, and who believes in my crazy dreams.

– A few Twitter and Facebook friends who just happened to be in the right place at the right time to encourage me and share wisdom with me.

– My talented designer friend Segun who offered to do some work for me AND accepted a last minute invitation to be a guest speaker in my class. (Which he ROCKED, by the way!)

– A client who hired me to be her story coach and then was so excited about my feedback that it made me want to help more cool people with their writing projects.

– A few online friends who’ve become in-person friends who sent me lovely affirming/connecting emails.

– The powerful women in my circle of practice who made last week’s conference call such a warm, amazing experience.

– The people in my journal club who challenge me to ask deep questions and think deep thoughts.

– A favourite author who is just so kind and gracious and responsive to emails.

– My students who challenge me and affirm me and let me know that they appreciate my teaching efforts. AND the administration who trusts me enough to hire me for a few more teaching opportunities!

– My art teacher at Forum Art Studio who has such a genuine spirit and wonderful humanity about him, I can’t help but feel a lovely sense of trust in his guidance.

– All of the people who have commented, emailed, tweeted, etc. to say “You really MUST write that book! We WANT it and it needs to be out in the world!” You’re all amazing. Yes YOU.

– A bunch of people (too many to name) who are contributing to an exciting little project that I will be revealing in a few weeks.

That’s a lot of people! I can hardly tell you how blessed I’m feeling.

How about you? Who are your joy people?

And if you’re wondering “HOW do I attract my joy people?”, it’s pretty simple – just be yourself. Be authentic and the people who value what you stand for will be drawn to you.

Oh… and there’s one other thing… start saying your dreams out loud. Let people know what you want to do and how you want to serve the world. It’s been amazing how people have been responding when I’m honest enough to admit what’s in my heart of hearts.

To paraphrase a certain movie, “if you speak it, they will come.”

It’s pretty simple – just be kind.

“Be kind,” my dad used to say, almost every time we left the house.

In high school, I mostly ignored his words. It’s what high schoolers do. When I left home and the parting was more significant, I paid a bit more attention, but still barely noticed what words he chose to use in parting.

It was always the same, though. “Be kind.” Not “be spectacular”, “be successful”, or “be brilliant”. Just “be kind”.

Last week, as I was preparing notes for the last class of the first session of the course I’m teaching, I invited my Facebook friends to inspire me with stories of inspirational teachers. In the comments I learned of a teacher who’d helped students study for a test in a different subject than he was teaching; a high school teacher who went the extra mile and invited students to visit a university class; a teacher who made a point of knowing every student by name and greeting them in the hallway accordingly; a teacher who told the students with honesty and warmth that they would learn more outside his classroom than in it; a teacher who would lead students through a guided imagery meditation to help them relax before tests; and a teacher who sent an amazing email as a send off to the students just before Christmas.

What struck me as I read these comments and prepared for my class was this: every one of these teachers was remembered for one simple thing – kindness. It wasn’t their brilliance, their creativity, or their talent. It was their simple effort to extend humanity and kindness.

Yesterday, after our last class was completed and we’d wished each other a happy Christmas break, several of the students came to thank me for what they said was “one of the best classes they’d taken”. I heard words like “it was a pleasure being in your class every Wednesday – you made it a fun, relaxed environment”, “thank you for helping us build community in our classroom”, “I feel like you’ve become a friend and not just a teacher”, and “thank you for giving so much of yourself to us.”

I think I was floating when I left the class. Even without their words I knew that this teaching thing is part of what I’ve been called to do. And I could walk away from my first attempt knowing I had done well.

On the bus ride home, my dad’s words came back to me. “Be kind.”

I don’t know if I was an exceptional teacher, or if I’ll be the one these students will remember ten years from now when they’re asked to name an inspirational teacher, but I do know that I did my best to live up to my dad’s parting words. And the kindness I gave to my students was given back to me.

When my dad died a sudden accidental death seven years ago, many, many people stopped at the farmyard to share stories with our family. We heard stories of when he’d gone the extra mile to help a neighbour during tough times, when he’d stopped to fix a stranger’s tire, and when he’d helped families work through conflict. None of these were remarkable stories that would go down in the history books labeling my dad as a great success. But I do know one thing – he was remembered for kindness. Those parting words he always left us with weren’t simply a catch phrase, they were a lifestyle.

When I die, Dad, I too want to be remembered for kindness. Thank you for serving as a model.

It’s simple. Just be kind.

Wisdom bits

I have been busy living a full and beautiful life these past days, hosting a delightful house guest from the coast, showing him how beautiful the prairies can be in winter, paying a brief visit to my brother and sister-in-law, teaching my weekly writing class, marking papers for that class, drinking a good deal of wine with previously mentioned house guest, and attending a board dinner to say a proper good-bye to the board members of the organization I left a couple of months ago. So much goodness in just a few short days.

Here are some of the random wisdom bits I’ve been reminded of these past days:

1. Feminine wisdom is not the exclusive property of women. My friend Randy has it in spades.

2. Drinking wine in the evening with a dear friend can be a good, good thing.

3. Having a husband who doesn’t get jealous when you spend two days in the company of a beloved male friend can also be a good, good thing.

4. The flattest, baldest, snow-covered prairie landscape can hold a lot of beauty when your eyes are open to it.

5. Even a short visit with special family members can remind you just how much they mean to you.

6. Someone suffering through the ravages of her second round of chemotherapy can still offer amazing gifts of hospitality and joy.

7. Shared laughter may very well be one of the greatest riches a person can find.

8. Hearing board members say, with genuine respect, that you had a significant impact and you are missed can feel very affirming.

9. When you go for a run after missing a few days, the ache, adrenalin, and meditative mind space can feel like the return of dear departed friends.

10. Visiting tourists attractions in your city when the elements have chased everyone else away can transform them with eery, peaceful beauty.

11. Sometimes the goodness of life can be defined by very simple things: a good friend or two, lots of opportunity for laughter, a healthy body, beauty in simple things, kindness, and an occasional glass of wine (or two).

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