Sunday, July 31, 2016

Citius, Altius, Fortius

William Blake- "Jerusalem"

We never had a television at home when I was growing up and I have no memories of the Olympics until the 1976 summer games in Montreal, Quebec. Two of my friends volunteered at the event and shared their first hand stories. After that, I looked forward to watching the games on TV every 4 years and then every 2 years starting in 1994. I prefer the Winter Olympics which have more cohesive coverage because they are smaller. Besides, who can resist at least one really excellent hockey tournament. Olympic hockey is so much better than NHL hockey in my opinion.

In recent years, the Olympic image has become increasingly tarnished by scandal, money and power. Judging of artistic merit in sports such as figure skating and gymnastics is flawed and political. The Olympic movement is controlled by corporate money with endorsements and sponsorships required for athletic training. Performance drug use has been rampant for years and we are learning the creative ways athletes, trainers and even countries have acted to prevent detection. There is no longer any distinction between amateur and professional athletes.

My all time favourite Olympic story is told in the 1981 movie, Chariots of Fire. Athletic games were a vehicle for developing character, leadership, loyalty, honesty, mutual responsibility and national spirit. Eric Liddell, played superbly by Ian Charleson, was the epitome of an Olympic athlete. In his struggle between two callings, Eric Liddell wrote,

“I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast! And when I run I feel his pleasure.” 

He trained hard but did not compromise his personal convictions. He was gracious and encouraging to his competitors. He wrote, 

“In the dust of defeat as well as the laurels of victory there is a glory to be found if one has done his best.” 

In the movie, the Olympic Committee tries to get Eric Liddell to change his mind about running on the Sabbath. One member comments, 

"The lad, as you call him, is a true man of principle and a true athlete. His speed is mere extension of his life and his force. We sought to sever his running from himself. 

Eric Liddell went on to win the 400 m race at the Paris Olympics in 1924 and set a world record which stood for 12 years. He then left Scotland and fulfilled his calling as a missionary to China. He died in a Japanese prison camp in 1945. 

The Olympic motto is Citius, Altius, Fortius, Latin for "Faster, Higher, Stronger". We may have reached the limits of human performance without artificial enhancement. But the Olympic Creed is timeless. 

"The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, 
just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. 
The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well."

Photo: Manitoulin Island sunset July 2016

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

How My Best Teacher Gave Me My First Job

My school years involved many moves and I attended more schools than grade levels. My husband can name every grade school and home room teacher he had but I remember only a couple of names. No single teacher left a great impression on me personally. I believe a great teacher teaches more than a lesson plan. They instil a passion for learning and make themselves vulnerable by sharing learning experiences from their own life.

The head of the physiotherapy school I attended was a real "battle-axe". She acted like a drill sergeant and never cracked a smile. Half of our class dropped out before the last year, usually leaving in tears. She made a cake for us on the last day, just before we graduated. I distinctly remember her talking about using unsalted butter in the icing. It was such an uncharacteristic comment. We were in shock as she smiled and started to tell us about her life in England during the war. She spoke of a love lost and how she was returning to Britain to care for her ageing mother. My education was excellent but I wonder how much more I would have learned, without fear, if she had shown us her personal side earlier.

My best teacher and the person who recognized I was ready for my first "job" was my mother.

Mom went to university and teachers' college before she was married. She taught kindergarten in a poor Toronto neighbourhood for a couple of years after she was married and then she and Dad went to South Africa. Mom was a gifted teacher and even though she did not work at a paying job again, she taught at church and at home. She taught me to read before I went to school and encouraged academic excellence in all of us. She was confident and instilled confidence in each of us.

I was 5-1/2 years old when my second brother, Philip was born. My first brother, Nathan is 18 months younger than me and I don't remember life without him. He was my main playmate and confidante. I remember the excitement of having a baby in the house and I loved to look after him. I changed his diapers which were bulky flannel things with big pins. I carried him around on my hip before he could walk. (After he learned to walk, he refused to be carried and that is an analogy of his entire life)

Mom brought Mark home when I was 8 and Stephen arrived when I was 9. I was happy to look after them. When Stephen was 3 months old, our family was in a serious car accident and Mom was in and out of hospital for a few years. Dad was also badly injured. That is when I truly became the keeper of my little brothers and learned how to manage household chores.

In spite of Mom's injuries and surgeries, she cooked, canned, prepared food for the freezer, sewed our clothes, made curtains, and was active in the church, even when she was on crutches. When I was 11, she bought material and a pattern and I made my first dress. I learned to cook and do laundry around the same time. I was always encouraged, not criticized for my efforts which I am sure were substandard at times. My maternal grandmother rounded out my education, taking me on trips, introducing me to many good books and going places with her interesting friends. She was a retired doctor but volunteered at the local nursing home on Saturdays. I worked in the tuck shop with her, serving ice cream and learning to count change. 

This morning I watched the owner of this fishing camp and his teenaged daughter doing repair work in one of the cabins. She was using a drill and worked under his casual direction fixing some latches. After that job was done, she drove him in a golf cart, as a work partner, to their next project. As well as spending time with her dad, she is gaining confidence and learning valuable skills. 

Some of my friends and coworkers spend a lot of time driving their children to camps and various activities. They don't have time to cook proper meals and home is just a place to sleep. Children are eager to help and no task is too mundane, especially if it involves the time and attention of a parent or grandparent. We took music and sports instruction too, but our most important life lessons were learned in unstructured time with the family. 

Ginger wrote a poignant post about giving and the need throughout life to contribute to your group. We all need community, purpose, and a job whether we are 5-1/2 or 85 years. The lessons my mother taught me can be applied through a lifetime.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

A Cup of Peace

Tea is my favourite beverage. Period.
Why drink water when you can drink tea?
Black tea, white tea, green tea, chai, kombucha, tisanes. 
Made properly from quality leaves, not sweet, milk in my hot black tea please.
Several times a day, every day.

I started experimenting with coffee recently, grinding freshly roasted, bird-friendly beans and steeping them like tea in a French press. A little sugar and cream please...delicious!

Our daily indulgences, including tea, coffee, chocolate and sugar, can come at a great cost. Low wages, slavery, child labour, limited access to education, poor working and housing conditions, use of dangerous chemicals and ecological disruption are some major production issues. Pesticide traces in some teas exceed recommended limits which matters more for people like me who consume it frequently.

Fortunately, we can take small steps to improve the lives of people in countries that produce these products and also decrease our exposure to harmful chemicals. Awareness is the first step.

The Ethical Tea Partnership website states that they are creating a fairer, better, more sustainable tea industry -for tea workers, farmers, and the environment. Their current partners are listed here and include many of the popular tea brands. 

I have purchased Dilmah tea recently because of their commitment to ethical production practices. It is available in specialty shops in our city and online. I also order organic loose tea from Tealyra. It is hard to go back to teabags once you use full-bodied tea leaves. I truly do not understand why tea and coffee pods are so popular. Besides the expense and waste, the tea and coffee is low quality and heated plastic disrupts our hormonal balance. 

Join me at the dock, early in the morning for my next pot of really good tea.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Light Parables

We are on summer vacation, a vacation I was reluctant to take. Life has been busy and I felt too tired to organize meals and household necessities needed for a week-long stay in a "rustic" cabin at a fishing camp. The world seems like such a dark place right now. Bad news stories overwhelm the media and social civility is at a low level. I decided to forego news and social media for a week and to spend time rejuvenating my soul and spirit in nature. My outlook has brightened significantly already!

Solar lights are situated at the edges of the deck of our cabin. The lake breezes keep mosquitoes away even after sunset making it comfortable to sit outside. Darkness is intense away from a city and the light from the small solar cell is surprisingly bright. I think Jesus would have told a parable about a solar light rather than an oil lamp if he was giving sermons on earth today. Energy from the source of light is stored and then reflected in rays that represent all facets of life. Light is always stronger than darkness. In that little solar light I see an image of what I need to be;- a light in the darkness caused by illness, grief, fear, pessimism and hopelessness. 

The full moon was a week ago and the moon rises later each night making it visible in the daytime. I like to see moonlight on the water but that will not happen while we are here this year. The moon also gets its light from the sun and reflects it to the earth. 

 We sat in a cemetery outside the city on September 27, 2015 and watched the full eclipse of the moon. The earth moved between the sun and the moon causing the moon to darken completely. It is not surprising that ancient people feared such an event when they did not have the scientific knowledge to understand what was happening. If negative circumstances and cares of life block us from our light source, we too can become "darkened" in spirit. Losing our power source in today's world can happen subtly and finding it again requires self-reflection and rebalancing of priorities. And that is my goal for this week.

"You are the light of the world.
 A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, 
but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.
 "Let your light shine before men in such a way 
that they may see your good works, 
and glorify your Father who is in heaven. 
 Matthew 5:14-16


Wednesday, July 06, 2016

Light, Darkness, Hope and Despair

She sat in the chair with her knees to her chest and her feet on the seat. She was so thin it seemed possible to fold her up and put her in an envelope. Her struggle with anxiety had gone on for decades and she craved medication more than food. Multiple investigations in the hospital revealed no specific pathology but she was too ill to function on her own.

He sat on the ground, his deformed, paralyzed legs folded beneath him. Spina bifida had left him this way from birth. He moved around in the dirt, pushing and lifting his body with his strong arms. He had no wheelchair or mobility aid. I watched as he sat in the shade in the courtyard of his home, singing and playing his guitar to no one in particular. Contented and part of a family and community in a poor Mexican fishing village, he had no complaints. 

All creatures are designed to survive in the best of times and the worst of times. It is normal to store fat in times of plenty to sustain life in times of famine. Animals, birds and other creatures are in a constant struggle with the elements and predators. Humans have always dealt with uncertainty. Natural disasters, wars, economic crashes, plagues and other illnesses have been present throughout recorded history. The human spirit is resilient and heroic human behaviour is usually born in adversity. Challenge and struggle is necessary to attain our full potential and strength;- emotionally, spiritually and physically. 

Canada is a country free of war and famine, a country with free medical care and social assistance. We have a democratic government and a fair judicial system. We have a better standard of living than the majority of people in the world, past and present. Most people I know are generally happy but there is an undercurrent of cynicism, criticism and dissatisfaction in our affluent society that is pervasive and destructive. Too many people struggle with addiction, depression, anxiety, lifestyle related illness, autoimmune diseases and a lack of purpose and hope. It is as if we expect life to be perfect making it difficult to cope with adversity in a healthy way. 

I watched a discussion recently where Bono and Eugene Peterson discuss the Psalms. In it, Bono says: “I would love if this conversation would inspire people who are writing these beautiful voices and writing these beautiful gospel songs — write a song about their bad marriage, write a song about how they’re pissed off at the government, because that’s what God wants from you. That truth — ‘the way, the truth’ — and that truthfulness — know the truth, ‘the truth will set you free’ — will blow things apart.”

Praise is meaningless if we have never experienced pain. We cannot appreciate light without experiencing darkness. It is important to face trouble with honesty and hope, not blame and cynicism. We need to make sure our children learn early that life is not always easy, maturity develops though adversity, and that perseverance is essential. Happiness and fulfillment comes from an attitude of gratitude, cultivating meaningful relationships, proper care of the body and soul, having achievable goals, and developing the ability to handle stress. 

Steve Bell is one of my favourite musicians (as well as being a Canadian) and I find his lyrics very meaningful and honest. Here is part of his adaptation of Psalm 90.

Psalm 90- Steve Bell 

Satisfy us in the morning with Your love
That we may sing for joy
And be glad in all our days
Satisfy us in the morning with Your love

Match the days Lord of our sorrow with Your joy
May Your deeds be always known
To the ones you call your own
Match the days Lord of our sorrow with Your joy

May the favour of the Lord
Rest upon us and our land
And establish for us all
The work of our hands

Yes the work of our hands