Kindness

The older I get, the more I recognize kindness as the chief virtue in the world. I have thought it was power, then strength, then resilience.

I have been wrong each time. Virtue lays in an ability to think of others. To take the extra step, do a bit of extra work. To focus on others when you could focus on yourself.

There are a lot of things I have been surprised by in leaving my job this week. The most pleasant of which is the astonishing kindness my now former colleagues have shown in sending the kindest of notes, telling me how much they liked working with me.

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In the Back of Academy Pizza

When Travis and Taryn came to the U of A the first time, when I took them around campus to the places I loved.

The pizza was $4.50 when I went to school there. It’s $5.50 now. You could smoke in the back room when I went to school and you can’t now. Otherwise? It’s the same. Same owners, same tables, same pictures, same pizza’s. Academy Pizza laughs at the changes of decades. They just keep making pizza.

3 and a half years ago I was having lunch Taryn and Travis, waiting on an offer letter from my current company. I read the offer letter in the back of Academy Pizza. It felt right to get that letter in that place. A pleasing sort of symmetry – the place that watched my undergrad years also watched me take a huge leap forward.

I was back in Academy Pizza on Tuesday with Taryn. I helped her schlep all of her stuff into her dorm room. She’s in her last semester. I watched her hair fall across her face, I watched her talk with her hands, so confident and self assured. I looked at her and thought about how she has grown. How we all have.

She bought lunch this time.

And I surfed my phone, waiting for an offer letter from a new employer.

I officially resigned. She started her last semester.

In the midst of change there is much comfort in knowing some places of our youth remain. Their walls watch us, even still.

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See All Memories from August 24

This morning Facebook showed me photo’s of my old dog. There was her face, with a big doggy grin. Two years ago today we were at the vet’s in that photo and she was probably getting a dose of the arthritis medication that gave us an extra year with her. I can be sad that she is gone, but mostly now as I think back, I remember what a special dog she really was and how much we loved each other.

Three years ago I lost my car at the airport and then came home and realized there was no food in my fridge. I don’t know what I ate for dinner that night, but I bet it was either popcorn or I went to the Local and I cannot tell you how much comfort there is in knowing I have had these problems for this long and I keep solving them in the same way.

Four years ago today I can see I was complaining about the the tile order from home depot (which was a nightmare) and I walked upon that tile this morning as I got ready for work. It’s still in my bathroom and the mistake I made over by the bathroom closet is still there and it’s still ok. It’s my morning opportunity to be zen.

Five years ago today I went to Calgary to teach an ARIS class to some users. It was my first big training class. I joke – now – looking back that I went to Calgary for a week and came home almost a year later. That was the start of the big leap in my career. It was the work I did that got me my present job. It was the first time I learned that when you throw a wall in front of me, I will get over it.

On August 24th, 2009 I got a furminator, which apparently changed my life. It is good to know that I have been given to hyperbole for six years (although I am still using that brush on the dog and cats and it does still work well)

On August 24, 2007 I announced I was pregnant. I didn’t remember it was today. I remember that I couldn’t fit into regular pants any more so I had to tell people earlier than planned. Reading this update,  my breath held in that space between my heart and lungs for a moment. Echoing where I hold my son even still.

August 24th is the dying days of summer. The very last moments where we snatch sunshine and warmth, storing it up. There is a zip in the air. Wood smoke reminds us less of camp fires and more of winter nights gathered around the fireplace.

Memories, they come back to us. They don’t hurt – rather like the last days of summer  – they tug at us a little bit.  Ephemeral and sweet – we turn our faces to the sun, to joy we once knew, for just a few moments, knowing that this will not, cannot stay.

It’s not so bad, these last days of summer.

 

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Spreadsheets

Time and growing up, you may say, are incremental. They cannot be so easily measured.

Save these moments – when the universe adds a summation line to the spreadsheet of a life and calls for a total.

That sum is always bigger than you expect.

The first time you see it, it is a trick of the light. A way of holding a head, a momentary posture that makes you think adult and not child. Freckles erase, limbs lengthen and voices deepen when the light shows you the line. You had no idea there were so many small increments to make such a large sum.

Next what becomes hidden is the figures that came before the sum. In the shadow, the child slips away, leaving this remarkable creature that suddenly unfolds into an adult. The summation lines come too quickly and leave you wondering where that child really went. You know that there were figures before the sum, but try as you do to count the increments, you still only see the sums.

Today is my youngest nieces’s birthday. She answered the phone, wished me good morning and told me that it was her birthday. She’s 3. In an instant I heard a little girl’s voice and not a toddler’s.

We debated what to eat for dinner last night, Taryn and I. We discussed whose car to take. I watched the sun play off her hair last night as we ate our curry. We talked about law school applications and graduate degrees and third wave feminism. and I thought of the little girl I once knew – the one that was Emma’s age – who is now this perfect adult.

If I look at the spreadsheet, see the summation lines for each of them, I wonder if I have done enough work in the hidden figures before the sum?

Not to form them or shape them. No. Not that. That’s my job.

Have I done enough in the figures so that a goodly portion of each summation line is filled with love. Goodness. Belief. Courage for the days to come.

It’s the little things that matter. The moments that are so small that you don’t see them. You don’t see them coming, you don’t mind then when they happen and you aren’t aware after they are gone.

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Balls in the Air

There’s a lot to juggle these days, but I am thankful for the juggling all the same.

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Foxhole

Half of the terrible thing happened on Tuesday afternoon. It’s not my story to tell so I shall say no more.

I am spectacularly blessed – in this terrible thing – a thing that happened to someone else and I am at best  collateral damage – so many have checked in on me. Understood that this was a hard thing for me too.

I am very much not alone in my foxhole.

I am so terribly thankful that I cannot quite express it.

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Country Roads and Manual Cars

I have an affection for old farm trucks. In particular a 1982 chevy, painted the colour of cheddar cheese  – with an 8 track and ripped vinyl seats and more rust than body panel looms large in my memory. It’s the first vehicle I routinely drove, the first (and last) truck I got stuck in a ditch, the conveyance for my first accident (a very slow speed collision with the side of a building). It’s the truck of my grade 12 year, bombing down a range road with the finest of 1982 speakers blaring a song called tubthumping.

Old trucks are pigs to drive. Cheddar would require an almost inhuman display of force to shift from reverse into drive. I am so good at reversing because there were times you could not get the truck in drive and reversing 2 km’s back to the residence was simply easier than fighting it. Cheddar occupies a place of fond memory, in the way that the worst of experiences is smoothed out by almost two decades of time.

I was out in the country last Tuesday, having dinner with some very old friends. Staying with them is the eldest son of my old headmaster. He’s 15 now, learning to drive and struggling to manage  gear changes on an old farm truck.  I winced in sympathy.  The clutch is a nightmare, the gear box sticks, the truck bucks and stalls. He’s beginning to think he just can’t drive a standard.

I suppose that’s why I was letting a 15 year old drive my M3. You know, the one I told you about yesterday, the one that I have never let anyone else drive. And it wasn’t so much that I was letting him drive it as I was letting him stall it while he tried to drive it.

I told him there was no rush. We had all the time in the world.

It is a lie. His father taught me that most critical of lessons through the fall, winter and spring of my grade 12 year. Nothing lasts forever. Not the bad and the hard, but also not the good either. Things come and go and you must let them. You can’t hold on to things for more than an instant. Life is like a manual car – you must shift at the right times.

Eventually he gets it exactly right. He shifted through the gears and he felt the car surge underneath him.  I watched wonder ripple across his face. We slow down for the turn and pull into the driveway again, he learned that you can’t hold on to things too long. You have to shift to a higher gear when the rev’s get too high, you must adjust your driving to the road. Summer does not last forever.

His father taught me something profound 18 years ago. I got to teach the son a tiny bit of that lesson last week.

That was sentiment. In my grade 12 year his father gave me the greatest of gifts through the simplest of lessons. I taught a boy to drive a standard, trying to repay the gifts given to me. Which is why I let him drive my car.

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Sharing is Caring

I grew up in a home where you put your car keys in a basket at the front door – it was busy and you weren’t going to be able to find people to jockey vehicles to get to yours. If you needed a vehicle, you grabbed the keys for the vehicle at the end of the driveway. The upshot of it is that at the age of 18 I routinely drove my step father’s cadillac, my god mother’s lexus and my cousin’s fully loaded and optioned pick up truck.  I drove vehicles that were worth more than my entire university education and thought nothing of it.

I am actually quite flexible about cars. Need to borrow a car? I’ll dig the keys out of my purse – for the Rogue. You can borrow it to go to Costco, you can use it to run out and grab something at lunch time. Mr. Spit and I taught the minion to drive in the Rogue. Generally speaking, I’m going to tell you that cars are just cars. They are insured. If you loan a car to someone and they wreck it, you have insurance*. Sure it’s inconvenient, but it’s a car. They make new ones every day. As long as you aren’t hurt, we can replace the car.

It’s not that I don’t love my cars.  I do.  I love driving, love the feel of acceleration and windy roads. I get a rush from driving – I buy cars that require good drivers. (Except the Rogue. Another story for another day). Perhaps it is that – cars were made to be driven. They are amazing pieces of machinery- a veritable symphony of aluminium and steel and wiring and sound and soul. There’s something about a car and a human and our ability to have an incredible experience. It’s really almost profound. Cars were made to be driven, to be used. They are of no earthly good to anyone sitting in a driveway.

All of that is the set up to show you how peculiar it is that I won’t let anyone drive the M3.

It is odd that I am so protective of Holly. I agree that she is just a car, however much I love her. In some ways, she’s not even my favourite car. A 1991 dodge spirit with a persnickety radiator and questionable brakes that was my first car. Mr. Spit’s Rav 4, with a first gear that was so short you could not actually make it through the light without shifting to second.

My old cars had eccentricities. Things about them that you had to watch for. Holly has nothing so gentle as an eccentricity. Turn off traction control and set her to sport and she is actively trying to kill you. Shift down when your rev’s are too high and she’ll lurch so that everyone around you knows you are an idiot. Shift incorrectly when she’s cold and she stalls. She doesn’t play about.

It’s not that Holly is expensive. It’s not that I love her. If I’m honest, at least in some cases, it is that she is so powerful. Anyone can get into trouble in any car. You can get into a lot more trouble a lot more quickly in a 400 hp car.

More than that, she’s mine. In a way that none of my other cars were. She is the most expensive car I can ever imagine myself owning. She is pure joy to drive. A long and awful day, trying circumstances, she’s the top down, the stereo playing U2 and suddenly it’s all better. She’s something I bought for myself because she does nothing but make me happy.

I’d like to think that I’m the sort of person who shares that. I’d like to think that I’m the sort of person who likes making other people happy.

It turns out not.

Which is going to make my post tomorrow even more bewildering.

*It’s worth noting here in Alberta, if you loan your car to someone with a valid driver’s license, you are insured if they wreck it. That’s not the case everywhere. You should check your insurance.

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Foxholes

Reportedly, there are no atheists in foxholes. (The proverb is silent on agnostics.)

I’ve been thinking about this, mostly because I am under a mountain of stress. It’s the worst sort – It’s going to hurt me and someone I care about. I can’t move it, manage it, shift it or alleviate it, I can’t do anything other than endure. A terrible thing is going to happen , on a timeline that is utterly unclear to me, and I can’t stop it. I’m stuck in this foxhole.

All of this explains why I had no control over my thoughts for an hour on Sunday night, could not budge them from the hellish soundtrack they were stuck on. I was paralyzed with fear and dread.

Earlier times, I would have prayed. Not because I thought that prayers would fix it, but because when you are at the bottom of a foxhole, you are in the middle of a war, and what is prayer to the divine but an attempt to have someone more powerful get you out of this foxhole?

When you are an agnostic in a foxhole, you know that there is only you and what you have made. All you have are your resources, your wits and your skills. If there’s anyone to help you, it’s because you have built that relationship on your own. There’s no divine intervention in an agnostic’s foxhole.

I meditated, I practiced deep breathing, used every mindfulness skill I have acquired in the last six months. Pulled out the PTSD coping skills they taught me after Gabe. Finally I went and took a sleeping pill, deciding if I was stuck in the foxhole, at least I might as well get some sleep.

Today, if I am honest, has not been much better. It’s probably been worse. Tension in my shoulders, a weight in my chest. It hurts to breathe deeply, I cannot focus. A feeling of uncontrollable dread stalks me. It’s wretched.

In the days after Gabe, when this used to happen a lot more, I had a discipline that I called “a million points of light”. I would deliberately look for wonder and beauty in the world, positing this was proof that God loved me and I was not alone.

I got into my car after taking the train home from work tonight. The song we sang at Whytelash’s wedding was playing. I remembered love and friends and joy and victory.

I am still small in this world. Not all that powerful, not all that wise. I can’t fix what I know is going to go terribly wrong. I can’t even protect someone I love from this. A terrible thing will happen.

I am not alone in this foxhole. It’s actually quite crowded in here. I don’t have to be strong or wise. I have enough friends that are.  For now at least, this foxhole is home. And like the words we sang

“Home, let me come home
Home is wherever I’m with you
Home, let me come home
Home is wherever I’m with you.”

Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zero’s – Home.

Turns out if you are an agnostic, you can actually have a bit of a party in a foxhole.

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Monday Miscellany

  • First Monday back to work after vacation
  • Ugh.
  • I actually didn’t sleep in that much while on vacation, but still, it sucked this morning
  • It feels like I just got into the spirit of vacation on Friday.
  • And I had to be back at work today.
  • Ugh. I’ve mentioned ugh, right?
Posted in Salmagundi: A collection of various things | Leave a comment