Friday, June 27, 2008

What Am I Missing?

Last night the skies opened up and drenched our garden. Afterwards, the sun poked its face through a ribbon of cloud, giving me permission to venture outside. I walked round the front yard, admiring the various shapes and colours of the plants. Droplets of water clung to the leaves and settled in the petals of the flowers.

Weeds had seemingly sprouted everywhere during the downpour. I plucked away tendrils of vines that slithered through the garden and snaked up the bodies of plants in their battle for takeover. I was caught up in my mission to supply much needed breathing space for our flowers and didn't notice that my husband had joined me.

He stood back and surveyed the front yard.

"Did you see the strawberries?" he asked.

Strawberries?...Tufts of gnarled grass lay at his feet. I bent down and took a closer look. Nestled amongst the tangled grass was a treasure trove of tiny rubies glinting in the sun, each one the size of my baby fingernail. I closed my eyes and popped a couple in my mouth. They burst open on my tongue, barely there but more flavourful than the larger strawberries I'm used to seeing in the supermarkets.

When I opened my eyes, my husband was waving his arms in the air.

He pointed in the general direction of the pond and mouthed the words, "Did you see the fish?"

Fish?...I was still basking in the wonder of bright red jewels sliding down my throat.

I didn't see it at first. The surface of the water was teeming with a life of its own, and a large display of purple wildflowers waved in the breeze next to it.

A large bass suddenly appeared out of nowhere, gliding swiftly past me in its silent world just under the surface of the water. I watched him for a few minutes, then he disappeared into the hidden depths of the pond.

I was grateful for the gifts of these gems hidden just beneath the surface of life. But I couldn't help but wonder what I would have missed if I'd been alone. In my quest to vanquish our weed population, I had forgotten to remain present to the beauty of all life that surrounds me.

Sometimes we need to stand back, survey the larger community, and be willing to look beneath the surface. There's an entire world of opportunities and experiences just lying in wait for you.

Friday, June 20, 2008

I'm In Here

I was staring sightlessly at a blank page this morning, when I was startled out of my reverie by a shrill squeak. For a wild moment, I thought that a bird had somehow infiltrated my office. My sanctuary, the place I retreat to, the room at the other end of the house that's reserved only for me, and where everything falls away.

I value the time spent here, for after filling my cup with the peace and contentment that comes with quiet time, I am a better person for it. I don't need to be pampered with various spa treatments, but I do need to be alone, from time to time. To soak up the silence contained within these four walls so I can take the gift of inner peace and allow it to flow out to others.

The chirping grew more insistent, a call to step away from myself and attend to someone's else's needs. I whirled round and came face-to-face with a bird. Well, not quite face-to-face - a pane of glass separated us from one another.

I stepped closer to my visitor - a rather daring visitor who didn't seem to appreciate my need for alone time - and looked him over from head to toe. He craned his neck, peering in at the darkened room, but his view was clouded.

This was obviously a planned trip, for he had taken great care to dress for the occasion. Brilliant red tie, crisp white shirt, and black jacket. (I later learned that he was a Rose-breasted Grosbeak.) After craning his neck a few times, he suddenly reared up, wings spread wide, and flung himself against a wall of glass. He stumbled back, but somehow remained on the windowsill. Smoothing down his lapel, my gentleman caller took a last lingering look, shrugged his shoulders, and flew off.

It's always a frustrating experience for anyone. We all share the need to connect with others, be part of a community, to belong. But we've all been in that dark place. Standing on the sidelines, peering in at a party in full swing, and just wanting to connect with those around us. Yet somehow we're left with the feeling that we're standing on the outside looking in.

As I watched a video the other day that calls us to listen with our hearts to those who often feel like they're beating their wings against a solid wall, I wondered how I could start being a better listener. Well, I could begin by stepping outside of my comfort zone, opening my doors wide to those who just want us to "see the world through their eyes for just a moment in time."

For a look at an anthem for autism, check out

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Am I My Brother's Keeper?

Now that I spend so much of my time at the computer, I'm in danger of missing the gifts that arrive on my doorstep almost every day. Yesterday, I was rewarded for stepping away from the busyness of my life.

Nursing a cup of coffee and staring dreamily out the kitchen window - my computer snoring softly in the next room - I became aware of clucking in the distance.

A group of wild turkeys were strolling through my neighbour's backyard. I watched in fascination as the females kept their heads down and concentrated on finding tidbits in the grass. The males formed a phalanx of protective armour behind them, keeping an eye out for marauding predators, while at the same time ensuring that the females didn't lose their way.

I quickly laid my coffee cup down and took up the binoculars. The head tom fanned his tail, from time to time, a casual flexing of his muscles that kept the younger jakes in line. Never once did the males let down their guard, and never once did the females feel the need to cast a furtive glance towards the forest.

They continued on their leisurely walk, the females pecking at the ground, and the males on high alert. It all looked....well, so effortless. I could almost imagine the females mincing across the yard, parasols held aloft, their long, flowing dresses brushing against the tall grass...the males with walking sticks, jingling coins in their pockets, and gallantly throwing down their cloaks over puddles.

I wondered what it would be like to have such a presence in my life. To move through my day, a squandron of angels in my corner. To be honest, as a modern woman, I'm not entirely comfortable with that image.

But I am comfortable with the urge to protect: doesn't every mother feel it, even when her children have outgrown the need for her protective arms around them?

This leads me to another question: is it an imperative to extend this primal urge to the larger community?

As the birds disappeared round the corner of our house, I felt a new resolution stirring within me. Are you your brother's keeper? whispered in my ear. I had a choice. I could put down my binoculars, and join hands with others. Or, instead, in this day of voyeurism taken to new heights, I could choose to read about others through news blogs, sighing over those who are largely ignored in our society. Wishing I could do more, but reassured by the knowledge that I'm only one woman.

Don't get me wrong. I have done my fair share of merely observing the plight of others. But maybe it's time to flex my own muscles, remind myself that I am not an island. I may be only one woman, but there are others who are willing to join hands with me, creating a safety net for those in need of one.

And in so doing, by willing to step away from the distractions in my world, I can open my heart to the gifts that are right there in front of me. For, as L'Arche reminds us in their video, What Makes a Community?, when we are supportive of one another, we all benefit from the gifts present in each one of us.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

A Simple Act of Love

Last night I sat on my deck and watched the sky play a game of cat and mouse with me. I wanted to be in a comfortable state of mind, so I had taken some pillows from our living room and heaped them in a corner of our deck.

My sketchpad lay open, and I stared down at the stark white page. I am not an artist, but my fingers itched to translate the beauty of the sky into a visual feast on paper.

Scrolls of cerulean blue, magenta, and deep ochre painted the canvas above me. Maybe the colours would leap to life under my paintbrush if I concentrated long and hard enough. I bent over my sketchpad, engrossed in getting the colours just right.

How much easier it would be if I didn't need a paintbrush...I imagined the colours magically falling from the sky and coming to rest on my page. Suddenly, the paintbrush came alive in my hand, and I didn't look up until I felt the classic 'aha' moment. That moment when a little voice in the creative hub room whispers, You got it, baby...

But while I had been struggling to capture the moment, the sky had shape shifted into something else entirely.

By the time I had painstakingly created something that could safely be tacked to the storage-shed wall, the sun had dipped behind a bank of trees.

The sun was gone, but it was a warm night. It held the kind of darkness that is strangely comforting. I was reluctant to leave my nest of pillows, so I waited for the darker, nighttime orb to take its place in the sky.

A faint breeze moved across the backyard, gently riffling its fingers through the trees, and through my hair. The moon was smudged over by layers of gauzy cloud, and I basked in the stillness of the night. Inside the circle of the moon was a network of lacy webs, like the Spirograph patterns I loved to create as a child.

The artistry took my breath away. Maybe the play of light was creating something out of nothing, but whatever the case, I was enjoying the show.

It struck me that the moon didn't choose to reveal breathtaking beauty. It didn't labour in front of the mirror, for hours at a time, intent on showing itself to maximum effect.

It simply showed up. Like a simple act of love. It arrives without any fanfare, and asks nothing of us.

My thoughts strayed to my friend, and fellow board member of Ideal-Way, Robert Hajjar. Before the birth of Ideal-Way, Robert sat down with his Aunt Ad and Uncle Don. He took a plain wooden box from under his bed, and emptied it. Nickels, dimes, and quarters spilled helter-skelter across the smooth expanse of his bedspread. Together, they counted the coins out loud.

Robert sat back and held his breath. His entire life savings, held out in the palm of his hand, for the sake of others.

He figured it would be in the thousands. But the amount didn't matter. He just knew, in his gut, that what he was doing was right. God had told him that his Aunt Ad was the perfect person to start up a company for people just like him. And he would be the first donor.

As the last coin was deposited in the box, Ad held up her hand.

"Attention, everyone! The final amount is...drum roll, please...Sixty-two dollars and five cents!"

That was the beginning. The first donation to Ideal-Way. I wasn't there. I didn't see the tears in Ad's eyes, or Don turn away and cough sharply. I can only imagine Rob's gentle smile as he handed over the wooden box to his Aunt Ad.

"Do what God told me to tell you. Start something for people like me. Make their lives better...because they can't do it for themselves," Rob said.

As I sat on my deck, watching the sky transform from one glorious vision to another, it prompted me to think that I don't need to work so hard to get things 'just right.'

Maybe it's time to leave the sketchpad at home, and just show up. Follow the lead of a Down syndrome man who didn't struggle for one second with his decision to give everything away.

Rob is a reminder to shine your light into every corner of your world. And don't be afraid to offer whatever gifts you have. The beauty contained in a simple act of love will transform every life around you.

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