Don’t Tolerate, Celebrate.

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I grew up in a diverse city, and a lot of the kids I went to school with were either immigrants or first-generation Canadians. It was a pretty mixed bag – my group of friends growing up looked like a mini United Nations. My best friends came from Greece, Egypt, China, India, Jamaica, Japan and Iran.

Given the diversity of the population, there was a lot of talk in school about tolerance. Tolerating other cultures. Tolerating other religions. Tolerating people who didn’t look like you or eat the same food or who had a different accent. And this always rubbed me the wrong way. I never really gave it a lot of thought, but I always hated that word, and hated having those conversations. Not because they were boring. But because they felt…useless. Uninspiring. “Yes! Let’s tolerate each other!” Like, really. Is that the best we could do?

In my first week of university, I went to a mandatory frosh event that included the usual talk on diversity and inclusiveness. Except that the rad chick who gave this talk totally changed the game for me. She said, “I’m sick of hearing people talk about tolerance. I don’t want tolerance. I want celebration.”

She nailed it. Why have we been teaching tolerance all these years, when we could have been teaching celebration? What do we tolerate? Bank lineups. Traffic jams. Slow internet connections. These are things to be tolerated. Why are we lumping the humans we share the planet with into the same category as traffic jams? Why are we teaching kids that we need to put up with people who are different than us the same way we put up with long checkout lines? How do we teach kids about love, justice, inclusion and equity when the foundation for the lesson is tolerance?

What if we celebrated those who are different, instead of simply tolerating them? What if we looked at someone who doesn’t look like we look, eat like we eat, pray like we pray, or love like we love, and we got excited about it, instead of putting up with it? What if instead of enduring it, we engaged with it?

To me, tolerance looks something like this:

“Huh. So this is your holiday? Fine. Whatever. What are you eating? That’s weird. Never seen that before. It smells kinda funky. But fine. You can eat what you want, I guess. I don’t know anything about why you wear those clothes, or eat that food, or celebrate that holiday, or love that person, but fine. I guess it’s your right. I’ll be over here. Let me know when it’s over.”

To me, celebration looks something like this:

“Wow! So amazing! Show me! Teach me! I want to know all about this! How did it start? Where did it come from? What does it mean to you? Can I do it to? What does it taste like? Can I try it? Those clothes are so interesting – is there any cultural significance to that? How can I participate? I’d love to try something new. I’d love to learn something new.”

Tolerating people is really setting the bar so low, humans. We can do so much better. We can love so much better.

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Crying

I read this article today. It made me so desperately sad that I couldn’t even sit alone at my computer and cry it out by myself like I usually do. I had to go to Stu for a hug because I just couldn’t take it. That kind of set the tone for how I felt for the rest of the day.

I fear at times that this 100 day writing challenge will just be 90 days of “another reason humans suck” and ten days of “at least my kid is sweet.”

Here’s the article. Keep a tissue handy.

 

 

 

Hooping, Day 11

 

Some days, I spend my entire hoop practice dropping the hoop.

 

 

No matter what I try, I just can’t keep it up.

New tricks, old tricks, no tricks, it doesn’t matter. Some days, the hoop just falls. Today was one of those days.

So I went back and watched a video I haven’t seen in years. When I originally got into hooping, Safire was one of the first hoopers I found online. I loved her because she wasn’t a trained dancer, she had a cool style, and she’s Canadian. She posted this video that reminds me that we all start somewhere – hooping and otherwise.

No matter where you are in your practice, on some days, the hoop will keep dropping. Just love the process.

 

 

Michael Franti, Part: The First

I have a lot to say about what Michael Franti has been up to in recent years, and one day I will. But for now, I want to take it way back.

So it’s my second first date with Stu, (weird, right? But true. Second first date.) We’re at his place. And he’s telling me about this artist he really digs named Michael Franti, and puts this song on first.

“Love, why did you have to go away?” Those are the first words I ever heard Michael say.

They hit me hard. I was hooked from the start.

To this day, this song makes me want to cry, because it’s pretty much how I feel about the world almost all the time.

And even if his musical path has gone in a direction I may find hard to follow, I’ll never forget how much he inspired me as an artist. How much fun I had at the 15 or so Michael Franti and Spearhead shows I’ve been to. And I’ll never forget sharing our wedding day with him.

And this is is where it started.

 

 

 

 

It’s not my story to tell

 

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I was involved in something kinda big today. Everyone’s fine, everything’s okay. But it was a moment.

The thing is, it didn’t just happen to me. Other people I care about were involved. Their lives will be more affected by this than mine. And so, I just don’t think it’s my story to tell.

How often do we think about that when we start talking about other people and their lives, even if we are a part of it? Have you ever had a part of your story told that you would prefer hadn’t been? How many times have you told a story that wasn’t yours to tell?

I’ve had people tell my story when I’d rather they didn’t. And I know I’m guilty of being the storyteller of a moment that truly wasn’t mine to tell. It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, as I tell more stories. Being mindful of exactly whose story I’m telling.

If I were going to tell you my story about what happened today, it would be that I had 10 seconds were I was a little scared about what was going to happen next, and then I had the privilege of supporting my friends for the next two hours as did what they needed to do. And that’s pretty much it. That’s my story.

If I started to tell you the details about what happened, who caused what, and who had to deal with what — that wouldn’t be my story. That stuff didn’t really have to do with me.

Think about it the next time you want to tell a story. Make sure it’s your story to tell.

 

Meditation

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Over the years, a lot of people have suggested I try meditating. Like, a lot of people. People who know me well and people who barely know me at all have suggested that a meditation practice would be “good” for me. My responses were usually the same:

“I’ve tried it – I can’t quiet my mind.”

“I meditate when I’m running – it’s an active meditation.”

“I can’t just not think.”

“I don’t want to.”

It kept coming up, and I kept dismissing it, until a day almost two years ago when a conversation with a friend changed my mind.

I’ve known Sanjeev for 20 years. Some of my favourite memories with him include stopping at a gas station so Sanjeev could chat with the guy in a green Lamborghini, and Sanjeev showing up at my house close to midnight one day with a bag of pills in his hand. The pills were Hydroxycut – a workout supplement we had both been coveting for some time that was illegal in Canada. But Sanjeev found some at a tiny health food store where no one was checking the inventory, and shared the pills with me.

20 years later, I’m a writer living in Costa Rica, and Sanjeev is a cardiologist living in San Diego. But we still manage to catch each other in Toronto once in a while, that’s just what happened on this day two winters ago.

In that conversation, I asked Sanjeev for his professional medical opinion:

“What would you say is the number one thing people can do preventatively to benefit their long-term health?”

I’ll admit, I expected him to say exercise. Because I know him. I know he’s a gym rat like I am. (Remember the Hydroxycut?) I know that he’s a scientist. I know what the science says about exercise and long-term health benefits. So you can imagine my surprise when he said,

If you had asked me that question two years ago, I would have said exercise. But now I’d say meditation. …followed closely by exercise.”

I was surprised, and intrigued, as he told me about the benefits of meditation. Not just from some study he read, but from seeing how a regular meditation practiced  changed the lives of his patients, and himself. He told me about the benefits of meditation on both physical and mental health (stress reduction, the lowering of cortisol, increased feelings of contentment) and that his personal meditation practice had made him a better husband, son and doctor.

Sanjeev didn’t suggest that I try meditating myself. He was only answering the question I asked. He didn’t know that I was also going through a time when the voices in my head were getting very loud, my anxiety was running at a record high, and the black smoke of depression was starting to nip at my heels. Running was only helping so much, and I was open to trying more. So I decided to try meditating.

I did quite a bit of reading on meditation, and came to a few conclusions:

  1. There are lots of ways to do it
  2. There is no right way to do it
  3. There aren’t a lot of wrong ways to do it
  4. Just get started, and find what works for you

So that’s what I did. I decided that my practice would be for 10 minutes in the morning and 10 minutes in the evening. That I would just sit quietly, and try to focus on one thing, whether it was my breathing, an image, a mantra or a few words that meant something to me.

It has now been almost two years of an on-and-off meditation practice. There have been times when I kept my practice up for long stretches of time, and other times when I let it slip. And I can say with absolute certainty that starting this practice, and coming back to it, is one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself.

I had a friend ask me about my meditation practice recently – about quieting my mind, how I do it, how I stop myself from falling into judgement when my mind strays, and what benefit I’ve gotten out of doing it regularly. And here’s what I told her:

It’s called a meditation practice because that’s exactly what it is – a practice. Something you practice every day. It’s not a meditation destination. The benefit isn’t derived when you get somewhere – like, if you can meditate for 10 minutes straight without thinking about anything else except your own breath, you win. The practice of noticing your thoughts, catching them when they stray from where you want them to stay, and bringing them back again, is where the benefit is derived. Practicing controlling your own thoughts, rather than letting them control you. That’s the magic. It’s in the practice. Not in doing it right or doing it for long. Just doing it. 

I have noticed a huge difference in how I relate to the people around me when I maintain a regular meditation practice. I’m calmer, more patient and more understanding. I’m less easily triggered and more empathetic. And I just feel more…content.

All those years, all those people were right.

Thanks, Sanj.

 

**If you’re interested in reading a bit about the science behind meditation, you can start with  this, this and this.**

 

The Doctor You Never Want To See

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I sat with Amira in that impossibly small, claustrophobic examination room at the paediatric walk-in clinic, while the doctor listened to her heart for several minutes.

Several minutes.

When was the last time the doctor listened to your heart for longer than 10 seconds?

Minutes, people. Like, I was wondering if the doctor got lost in her own thoughts and forgot what the hell she was doing.

Finally, the doctor looked up and said, “She needs to see a paediatric cardiologist.”

In that moment, the world stopped. I had brought Amira in because I thought she had an ear infection. The last thing I expected was a referral to a paediatric cardiologist.

But there we were, sitting in this office, with this doctor who couldn’t have been more than 25 years old telling me that my daughter’s heartbeat was highly irregular, and that it was imperative she see a specialist as soon as possible.

Amira wasn’t even two years old. What the hell do you mean she has to see a fucking cardiologist??

Late that night, I crept down to Amira’s room and picked her up in my arms. I sat down with her in my lap, and put my head to her chest while she slept, listening for whatever I had missed. I mean, how could she be so sick that she needed so see a cardiologist? 8 hours ago, I was tearing my hair out because I was worried she was developing an ear infection. I was not prepared to deal with this. I was barely prepared to deal with an ear infection. Anything wrong with her heart was just out of the question.

I know a lot of people say a lot of shit about doctor wait-times in Ontario, but I got a call the next day from the cardiologist’s office, with an appointment for Amira the day after.

I remember sitting at my desk while Amira napped just before we went to the appointment. I remember crying uncontrollably, terrified that this visit would start in the doctor’s office and end in the hospital, or worse. The fact that we were supposed to be moving to Costa Rica in less than a month was the furthest thing from my mind. Every worst case scenario crept into the recesses of my brain, threatening to destroy me.

I thought about all the things I could have done to cause this. Was it because I had problems breastfeeding? Was it because I gave her formula? Was it because I didn’t give her enough spinach? Was it because I let her play at the construction site down the street on the weekends when there was no one there? She loved to climb on the bulldozers – but maybe there was something in the air there that had made her sick. Maybe I gave it to her. Because I have a benign heart murmur. Maybe my non-condition translated into an actual condition in her tiny body, that was threatening both her life and mine.

Even writing about it now, I just can’t find the words to adequately describe the feeling of knowing that something could be wrong with Amira. In the absence of an actual diagnosis, my mind was at liberty to freely roam into the darkest places, with no way to pull myself out because I couldn’t fix it. This wasn’t something I could just kiss better. This wasn’t something I could take her mind off with a cookie. This wasn’t a problem that sitting in the rocking chair with her in the middle of the night could solve. It was completely out of my control, and that was completely unthinkable. That something bad could happen to her was completely unthinkable.

I remember sitting in the office of the cardiologist, while she sat and played with Amira for the first 10 minutes of the appointment. I was sitting there thinking, “Lady, something is wrong with this child. Why are you playing with trucks and Elmo stickers? FIX HER.” But she took her time getting Amira comfortable before she reached for her stethoscope.I guess she knew what she was doing. I was about to have an aneurism.

Finally, she listened to Amira’s heart. For a long time. She asked me a ton of questions about her eating habits (great), her activity level (non-stop), her sleep (pretty good) and her general cognitive development (Um, are you listening to her talk?). She did an ECG on her, and even called in another cardiologist, who spent the whole time having a conversation with Amira about the different types of construction equipment this not even 2-year-old was familiar with.

And Amira was fine. She is fine. The cardiologist told me that kids will have moments of arrhythmia, but given that Amira’s general health was perfect, she was probably fine. She said Amira may develop a heart murmur similar to mine when she gets older, and it would probably be fine. She gave me her card, and even wrote her personal cell phone number on it, telling me to call her if I had any questions or concerns. The doctor was great. And my daughter was fine.

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.

Conversations At The Gym, Part I

In the gym today, I got myself tangled up in a conversation I didn’t want to have. It started innocently enough about music, but I should’ve known it would devolve into a pile of shit when he told me that rap music hasn’t been good since Marky Mark. (True story.)

It didn’t take long before the conversation turned political, and it became very clear very quickly that I was speaking to a Trump supporter.

And so it began. Him spewing his right-wing nonsense, and me smiling and nodding and “uh-huh”ing and “oh really?”ing and not arguing with him. Because I knew I couldn’t and wouldn’t change his mind.

I admit, I did get a smug satisfaction when I informed him that Gennifer Flowers was, in fact, not going to be in the audience for the debate tonight.

So about that debate:

I don’t think anyone’s mind was changed tonight. Trump supporters love him because he’s an idiot. Hillary’s supporters can’t stand the idea of a Trump presidency. And I don’t think either of those camps shifted today.

But after all the shit he has said about women over the years, it was a real moment for me to watch the first woman in a Presidential debate laughing at him on stage. And he deserved it.

She mopped the floor with him.

I can’t wait to go to the gym tomorrow.