Kindness. 2. Don’t Be Quiet. Be Kind.

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I was having a conversation with a friend the other day, telling him about a time not long ago when someone said to me, “I didn’t have anything nice to say, so I didn’t say anything at all.”

We’ve all heard this in various forms before. I’m sure I’ve even repeated it offhand, reminding someone that it is better to be quiet than to be mean. “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” That’s old. And to some extent, it’s true. If you can only think of shitty things to say, then just keep your mouth shut.

But if you can only think of shitty things to say, you have a lot of work to do. Because you can always be kind. Always.

Last week, my band performed a big show here in our little town. And watching the show was a friend who I know doesn’t particularly like my singing style. It’s not her thing, and that’s fine. But she came to the show. And you know what she said afterwards? She said, “The sound was great!”

And she was right. The sound was great. And that mattered. I love her for not just keeping quiet because the music we make isn’t her jam. She found something nice to say, to show her love and support.

Because there’s always something nice to say.

Someone got a haircut, tattoo or piercing you don’t like? Don’t say it looks like ass, because that’s douchy. And it makes it all about you. Who cares if you don’t like it? Someone’s haircut, tattoo, piercing, music, painting, and general lifestyle choices have nothing to do with you and how you feel about them. So don’t make it about you.

And don’t keep your mouth shut, because you know what? That’s also douchy.

You know she wanted to get that buzz cut. You know he wanted that rising phoenix tattoo. You know she wanted that eyebrow piercing.

Try “Hey! You finally got your hair cut! Good for you!”

Try “Wow, look at the colours in that tattoo!”

Try “I’m proud of you for finally getting that piercing. You’ve been talking about it for a long time.”

Try “Are you happy? Then I’m happy for you.” And mean it.

Someone wearing something that’s not your style? Compliment the colour.

Someone making art you don’t appreciate? Commend them for being brave, and putting their art out there for the world to judge. That’s a hard thing to do.

Someone invite you for dinner but then serve something that was barely palatable? Enjoy their company, and tell them you enjoyed their company. Thank them for their effort. Be gracious. Be kind.

Being quiet isn’t kind. Being quiet is a cop-out. Being quiet speaks volumes. Being quiet is a shitty way to be with the people in your life.

Don’t be quiet. Be kind.

Kindness. 1.

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Amira has always been an early riser, and when she was first born and the weather was still nice, I used to take her out early so Stu could get a couple more hours of sleep, and I could get the hell out of the house. One of the places Amira and I used to hang out in was our local Wal-Mart.

I know. Wal-Mart. I KNOW. But these were desperate times. And they knew what they were doing when they set that place up. It’s huge, you can walk up and down a hundred aisles, stopping to look at a million things, and spend hours in there just reading the magazines. They open early. And they have a McDonald’s. So once in a while, Amira and I would head to Wal-Mart early in the morning, just to go somewhere. She’d gurgle in her car seat, I’d have a coffee, people would ooooh and aaaahh over her while I smiled my proud-mother smile (because no one wants to hear the tired-mom sigh), and drink more coffee.

So anyway, this one morning in early September, we were at Wal-Mart. It was early. Like, I was sitting in McDonald’s with a cup of coffee in my hands by 7:00am early. It was cool and crisp, and just the kind of weather I loved to dress for. But on this day, like on so many other days during this time, it was ill-fitting jeans, boots that needed a good polish and some oversized sweater that hid my breastfeeding bra stuffed with those “Why are my boobs leaking?” pads. My hair was tied back. I wasn’t wearing makeup. I loved my baby, but the truth is, I didn’t recognize my myself, or my life.

As usual, a couple of the senior citizens who also troll Wal-Mart early in the morning stopped by our table, cooed over Amira, and went on their way. Then one of the older ladies who worked at McDonalds came over.

I’d seen her there a few times. She was probably in her early sixties, she was super-quick on her feet, and she always gave me my coffee with a smile.

She came over and said, “Good morning! She looks happy today!”

I replied with my usual stock response, “She’s really good.”

And then the lady said to me, “And how are you?”

My eyes welled up with tears. I just looked at her, not really believing that she had seriously asked how I was doing. And it wasn’t just that she asked, it was the way she asked. It was both the concern and sincerity in her voice. It was her vulnerability in asking me, with as much love as she had, how was doing – a question I had been asked in passing a hundred times over the past few months, but mostly by people who just asked for the sake of politeness, even by most of my family and friends. This lady meant it.

“I’m okay,” I replied. But she had already seen my tears.

“Is there anything I can do?” she asked.

“No, really. I’m okay. But thank you so much for asking.” I meant it. And she knew it.

The weather got colder, and Amira and I hung out at Wal-Mart less. I saw that lady a couple of times again, but we didn’t really speak, until two years later.

The week before Stu, Amira and I moved to Costa Rica, I went back to that Wal-Mart. I stood in line at McDonalds until this lady was standing in front of me asking, “What can I get for your, Dear?”

I told her that I didn’t want to buy anything. I reminded her of our conversation that morning, two years before. She didn’t remember, but I’ll never forget it. I told her what her sincerity had meant to me, and that I hadn’t forgotten it. I told her we were moving next week, and I probably wouldn’t ever see her again, but I wanted her to know that I so appreciated her generosity and concern for me on that day two years before.

I haven’t seen her since we moved. But I still remember her kindness.

Salt Water

I have a routine I follow with some fair regularity, and it includes going to the gym a few mornings a week. But a couple of weeks ago, I was really having a week. And on my way to the gym on Thursday morning, I stopped at Playa Cochles.

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When I pulled my bike over, I thought I’d just stop for a moment, take a breath, and keep going. But that first breath of fresh beach air felt so good that I took another, and then another. Then I got off my bike, locked it to a tree, and sat down on the beach, just a few feet from the water’s edge.

I’ve wanted to do this so many times before – I ride back and forth by this beach ten times a week. But stopping always felt so…indulgent. I mean, I have a plan. I’m going to the gym. I can’t just not go to the gym and to go the beach instead.

It’s ridiculous. I know. But that’s how I felt. Until that morning a couple of weeks ago.

I sat there on that beach without one iota of guilt in my bones about skipping the gym to just sit there.

That was unusual. And amazing. And freeing.

I sat on that empty beach just enjoying the sound of the ocean for about 25 minutes before it felt like the sun was burning right through me.

So I went for a swim.

There is something about being in the ocean when you’re not having a good day that just makes it a good day. I once read that there isn’t any problem that salt water can’t fix: sweat, tears or the ocean. And that is the damn truth if I ever heard it.

I was gifted with all three that morning.

And it was so healing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

19 Things

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1. I support the rights of gay people to live without persecution, with all the same rights and freedoms as everybody else.

2. I support the rights of women to make their own choices with their bodies.

3. I believe in government-funded healthcare and education.

4. I support Black Lives Matter, and I tried to join the NAACP.

5. I believe that the entire criminal justice system in the United States needs a complete overhaul.

6. I think I will break if I see one more video of a black man being shot in the street.

7. I don’t like to eat animals, because I think it is mean to the animals, and that matters to me.

8. I am against routine infant male circumcision.

9. I support the right of the Palestinian people to live with dignity and humanity.

10. I support the right of Israeli’s to live in peace and security.

11. I believe there is no place for religion in the school system.

12. I think it is utterly shameful that in Ontario, public money is used to fund Catholic schools.

13. I think most of the news media is entertainment, not journalism.

14. I think that large-scale animal agriculture is the biggest threat to our planet.

15. I cry when I think about Syria.

16. I cried when it was over for Bernie Sanders.

17. I believe that if everyone doesn’t have them, they’re not rights, they’re privileges.

18. I believe that injustice will never be abolished until those who are served by it are outraged by it*.

19. I believe we’re all just walking each other home*.

 

*With special thanks to Plato and Ram Das for being more eloquent than I could ever be.

A Visit

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photo credit: Rob Greenbon

I had a visit from my grandparents last night. I used to call them dreams. But a few years ago, I had an eye-opening — a heart-opening — conversation with my amazing cousin Farhan, and he introduced me to the idea that these were not just dreams, but visits.

Now, my belief in a world beyond our own heartbreaking reality is equal parts shaky, desperate, deep and nonexistent. But I have to say, something about what Farhan said really stayed with me. Because it felt true. It hadn’t felt like a dream. It felt like a visit. And so it was.

Visits from my grandparents aren’t new. The first one was a couple of months after my great-grandmother died. She and I were pretty close, and she passed away one night in her sleep. As far as little old ladies dying, hers was kind of ideal. She wasn’t sick. She wasn’t immobile. She was just old. And done. But still, I was heartbroken.

A couple of months after she passed away, I had a dream that she was sitting on a couch across the room, with her two daughter-in-laws beside her. I missed her, and I started crying. I asked her, “Where did you go?” And she responded, “I’m right here.”

I had this dream 21 years ago, but it’s as clear as day. Not a dream. A visit.

My grandparents visited me several times after Amira was born. In one of them, I asked my grandfather what he was doing there. He looked down at Amira in the stroller I was pushing and said, “I just came to see her.” He always wanted lots of little girls in the family. There’s no doubt in my mind that he came to see her.

And last night’s visit was similar. My grandfather, my grandmother and my great-grandmother were there. The little old ladies were sitting together and talking talking talking like they did every day. My grandfather was off to the side, and when he noticed me, he said, “We came to visit.”

 

All those things I could have said.

I had a great hoop practice today, and then sat down at my computer to write about something interesting and fun. Something that would capture your attention and keep it. Something that might make you laugh or make you cry. Something that would make you say, “Damn! Someone else needs to see this.” and share it. Something that would prompt you to send me a note telling me that you enjoyed it or appreciated it. Something really good.

But I made the mistake of checking the news first. And I saw another video of a black man being shot dead in the street by the police in the United States. And that was followed by another story of bombing in Syria. And that was followed by another story of migrants dying at sea. And that was followed by another story of a black man being shot dead in the streets by the police in the United States. And that was followed by a hundred comments from people who said he probably did something, said something, in some way provoked the shooting. Saying that he deserved what he got.

And then anything I wanted to say that was funny or smart or interesting, anything I could say that could touch or move you, was gone. Because I see all this stuff and I know that it’s there and then all I can say is, “Fuck. Everything is broken. It’s just all broken and it’s never going to get fixed.”

It’s not eloquent. It’s not even interesting. But I kept my commitment to myself. Even when everything else is broken.

When you stop changing

I had an idea a while back.  It went something like this:  We don’t change as we get older.  We just stop trying to change.  The more we stop trying to change, the more we come back to who we really are.

Allow me to elaborate a bit.

As children, we do what we love without much thought.  We sing, dance, play, create and express ourselves fully and joyfully.  When you are fully self-expressed, how can you be anything less than joyful?  We lean towards those who show us love and kindness, and we avoid those who are mean and hurtful.

At some point as we get older, we start to change. We stop singing, dancing and playing.  We start changing who we are – who we BE – to fit a mould or a stereotype or an ideal or an image.  Our life gets overtaken by shoulds and shouldn’ts.

I should take this job.

I shouldn’t wear stripes and polka dots.

I should study that subject.

I shouldn’t sing in public.

I should.  I shouldn’t.  I should.  I shouldn’t.

And mostly we get so stuck wondering and worrying about what other people think about who we are and what we’re up to, that we forget about I am, and I love and I’m happy.  We change away from who we are, turning into some version of ourselves that we don’t quite recognize.  We accept people in our life who makes us feel bad.  We do things we don’t love – and don’t do things we do love – because we feel like we should.  Or shouldn’t. We have to, or can’t, or not right now, or maybe later.  

And my favourite: One day.

One day I’ll start painting again.

One day I’ll exercise.

One day I’ll have dinner with my old friend.

One day I’ll write that book.

One day I’ll open my own business.

One day…some day…

This leads to all kinds of drama.  All the Who am I? questions and What’s my purpose? questions and I need to find myself inquiries.  And then we read books (and blogs!) and talk to therapists and friends and listen to tapes and listen to Oprah and then something happens…

We find ourselves drifting away from those people who make us feel bad.  We find ourselves colouring again.  Or running.  Or playing the piano.  Or whatever it is that brings us joy.  We stop worrying about what other people will think, and just live our lives with a little more love.

And we’re happy.

People say “You’ve changed.”

No, you haven’t.

You’re back to being you. Back to who you were always meant to be.

You’ve stopped changing.

Jumping In Puddles

Driving home yesterday afternoon, I saw a little girl walking in the rain, going to the library.  She was dressed up for Halloween, wearing a tattered black and red skirt, a black veil and some crazy makeup.  I’m not sure what she was dressed up as, but she looked creepy and interesting – perfect for a 10-year-old girl on Halloween.

As I was watching her, she walked for a few steps, then skipped a few steps, and then started running, and then skipped again, and then jumped in a puddle, and then hopped a bit, then she sprinted up the steps to the library and disappeared with her black veil trailing behind her.  And in the 15 seconds I watched her, I was flooded with emotion.

I was so happy to see this happy little girl.  I loved that she was oblivious to the world around her, and doing her thing however she felt like doing it. She didn’t care who was watching her.  She skipped when she wanted to.  She jumped when she wanted to.  She ran when she felt like it, and stopped when it suited her.  She wasn’t hurting anybody, she was being who she felt like being in that moment, not thinking about who may be watching, who may be judging.

I would love to skip down the street instead of walk, but I don’t.  I love jumping in puddles, but I’ll only do it if there is someone to jump with me.  I would love to wear a black, birdcage veil on a Wednesday afternoon just because, but I don’t.  Because I know people are watching.  Because I think people are watching.  Because I worry that people are watching.

Though I can’t remember it now, I’m sure there was a time in my life when I wasn’t acutely aware of my surroundings – wondering who’s watching and whispering behind my back.  A time when I wore something out of the ordinary because I thought it was pretty or interesting.  A time when I jumped in puddles alone, or ran and stopped and ran and stopped because it suited my fancy.  I’m sure we all had a time like that.  When did we lose it?  And why?

I would love to go back in time to the days when I didn’t worry about what others thought, and I did what I wanted to – what I loved – because I loved it.  Wore something unique, skipped down the sidewalk, and sang to myself regardless of who was around.  A time when the world was there for me, instead of me simply occupying space in the world.

Of course, I can’t go back in time.  But maybe – for just a little while – I can try jumping in puddles, skipping down the sidewalk, and singing to myself without worrying what the guy behind me is thinking.  I can’t go back to oblivion, but I can try a new state of being – not giving a hoot.

Can’t lose me

 

Dear Amira,

You’re only 4 months and 2 weeks old, and I’ve already written you a hundred letters in my head.  You’ll learn that about me as we get to know each other over the years.  I write.  Always in my head.  Sometimes even on paper.  I promise, I’ll try to write to you more, because there are things I want you to know, and I often write better than I talk.  When I talk, I can get loud and screechy when making a point, and then the point gets lost in the screech.  You’ll see.

But today I read this letter, and it made me cry.  And I knew I couldn’t keep this one inside.

This poor girl, who did nothing wrong, doesn’t have her mom and dad in her life anymore because she is who she is and they can’t accept that.

And I had to tell you – I have to tell you – that there is nothing nothing NOTHING you could do that would make me turn my back on you.  There is nothing you could be that would make me not accept you for who you are.  NOTHING.

Baby, I don’t care if you’re gay or straight.  I don’t care if you’re tall or short.  I don’t care if you like to read or do complicated calculus equations or draw pictures or ride horses.  I don’t care if your favourite colour is pink or yellow or if you love vanilla or hate strawberry.  I just don’t care.

What I care about is that you know that you’re loved.  And you are, baby girl.  More than you will ever know.  I want you to know that we will support you, and be there for you, right behind you, as you make your way through the maze of your life.  I promise that every time you fall – and you will fall, and sometimes it will hurt – it will be made softer by your dad and me.

There is nothing that you can’t tell us.  I know there are things you won’t tell us – like the first time you try a cigarette (don’t you DARE), or the first time you have a beer, or if you cheat on a test in the 10th grade. But you know what baby girl?  You CAN tell us.  Yes, sometimes we will be upset, but we will never be upset with you because of who you are.  The only thing that would really upset me is if you’re NOT being who you are.

Because you are kind and beautiful and important and loving and good.  Even after only 4 months, I know all this about you.  And when you’re not being these things – when you’re not being yourself – it will make me sad.  I’ll be sad because I know that when you’re not yourself, you can feel stuck and unsure and out of sorts.  I don’t want you to feel those things, but I suppose we all go through those moments.  But in those moments, you can always tell me what’s going on.  You never have to be scared or unsure or worried about how I will react.  It won’t make me turn away from you.  It won’t diminish my love for you.  It will just make me love you harder, as though my love were a looking glass, and the harder I love you, the clearer the reflection, so you can see for yourself just how amazing you are, and you can live that amazing every day.

You’ll always have your dad, and you’ll always have me.  Right behind you, adoring you.  No matter what.

Love,

Mummy

Storytelling

We all have stories we tell ourselves about the people around us, about the lives we’ve lived, and about what our futures will be.  We create tales based on things people said, things we did, things we saw and things we want.  But of all these stories, the most powerful ones are the ones we tell about ourselves.

We tell ourselves stories about our worthiness, our intelligence, our abilities, our looks.  We make up stories about every single part of our lives, and then we live those stories out.  And too often, those stories suck.

We tell ourselves that we didn’t work hard enough.  We tell ourselves that we didn’t try hard enough. We tell ourselves stories about all the things we could have done and should have done and will never do.  We make up stories – and we believe these stories – about things that have happened in our lives, and then we spin those stories so they ultimately cast a dark pall over us.  Then we hide under this cloak of  stories for fear of what would happen if we came out and stood alone under the sun.

But what if we told ourselves new stories?  Stories that don’t say thinks like “I should have”, but rather, “I tried my best in that moment with what I had.  And that’s good enough.  And I can do it different in the future if I choose.”  What if, in our stories, we were always good enough. What if we were more than good.  What if we were great?

What if our life stories weren’t filled with doubt and judgement and shame and fear, but instead were stories of triumph and effort and heads held high even in defeat.  What if our stories were stories of love – for others, and our lives, and ourselves?

What if we took a chance to stand alone under the sun, faces upturned and smiling?  What if every story we had for our futures started with “I can” instead of “I wish”.  And what would our lives be like if we believed them?

It’s time we start telling ourselves new stories.  Stories where we are the winners.  Stories where we live with love and joy and overcome obstacles with grace and dignity.  Stories where it is okay to make a mistake – or ten – and where defeat doesn’t equal a diminishing of your worth or abilities or future prospects.

Tell yourself a new story about your life.  A story that starts and ends with you being wonderful and perfect and doing nothing wrong.  A story that is full of lessons and possibilities rather than mistakes and missed opportunities.

You will live the story you tell yourself, so tell yourself a story of love.  And believe it.