Archives for the month of: August, 2012

There are times when I contemplate the state in which we’re passing on this planet and this society to our children that I’m overwhelmed with a sense of helplessness.

I want to be a force for positive change, but I’m only one person, one small voice in the wilderness.  How can I possibly make a difference against a cacophony of angry or simply loud but indifferent utterances?

But, last night, I received a lesson regarding the power of a single voice.

After a sunset walk on the beach, and a lovely chat with friends, my faithful hound and I returned home late in the evening to a darkened abode.  When I turned the key in the lock, and entered, I heard a disconcerting sound.

Above the gentle hum of the fan, a shrill squealing was rending the air.  Mystified, I began following the source of this din.  It emanated from an upper kitchen shelf; at the top of the crisp cotton curtain covering the stash of preserves intended to provide local food throughout the winter, I spied the tell-tale twitch of antennae.

A cricket!  I quickly grabbed a magazine and swatted at the curtain top.  The sound stopped abruptly.  “Well,” I thought ruefully, “I may have murdered one of God’s creatures, but at least it’s quiet now!”

And it stayed quiet, blissfully quiet, as Maz dropped down onto his cushion, and I got undressed for bed.  It stayed quiet as I nestled amidst smooth sheets and contemplated the day’s events before drifting off into a peaceful slumber.  It stayed quiet, in fact, until 2 a.m. when, once more, an accursed, high-pitched squeal pierced the silence.  I clambered out of bed and snapped on the kitchen light;  the sound once again ceased in an instant.   But how, how, how could I guarantee silence, and accompanying sleep, for the rest of the night?

I knew I would never be able to find the cricket amongst the jars of canned plums and dehydrated zucchini that graced those particular shelves, so, hypothesizing that crickets chirped only in the dark hours, I left on the kitchen light and crawled back under my duvet.

But as I lay there,  the half-light coming from the kitchen creating a twilight aura in my bedroom, I had an interesting thought.

If one small cricket, simply by rubbing his back legs together, could create such a powerful noise, how much better was I equipped to raise a strong voice to be heard?

After all, some of the men and women I most admire, who have had a significant impact on both myself and the world, were single human beings, invested with only their unique personal voice.  I don’t compare myself to Thoreau or Gandhi, but they made a difference by speaking their truth forcefully yet with compassion and wisdom.  Jane Goodall works tirelessly to help save the diminishing chimpanzees of the world and their habitat.  Dr. Shiv Chopra and his small team at Health Canada were the reason that the children of this nation drink milk free from Bovine Growth Hormone.

The question, then, is what small but still significant changes of a positive nature might I facilitate by speaking from the heart with an educated and non-judgmental voice on the issues I care deeply about?  What positive changes might you precipitate in the same way?

One doesn’t need to possess the deafening force of a clanging bell to be heard through the ongoing clamor of the modern world.  Sometimes a single voice is enough.

These were the only flowers not destroyed by the ogre. (Fortunately, ogres are afraid of bees!)

For the past half dozen months or so, an ogre has been camping out in my backyard orchard.

Without so much as a “how-d’ya-do,” and certainly without an invitation, he moved in and began wreaking havoc:  breaking branches off trees and strewing them across the walking paths; digging holes for me to stumble in as I stroll barefoot with my morning coffee; and trampling just about every flowering plant in the vicinity.

In early May, I spotted him up one of the apple trees, calmly devouring the blossoms.  It seems no accident that those trees were unable to produce fruit this year.

My friends are terrified to visit, and even more afraid to bring their children, lest they be spirited away like changelings, never to be seen again.

Since his arrival, I’ve been shooting him many a dirty look, but the nasty thing just cackles with laughter in a most discourteous manner and carries on with his destructive behaviour, seemingly intent on ruining my life.

For months, I have despaired, and even considered moving on to another locale far beyond the ogre’s reach, but quite suddenly, I find I’ve become not only older, but wiser.

This morning, directly after throwing back a fortifying cup of organic joe, I marched myself out to the back yard, where I discovered Mr O. hunched over the back steps, earnestly stripping the paint from off my back door.

“Ahem!” I said, loudly.

The ogre paid me no mind, forcing more vehement interruption.

“EXCUSE ME!” I shouted.

He ceased his assiduous peeling, and without any discernible alteration to his hunched posture, turned a malicious eye in my direction.

“Thank you,” I said civilly.  “Now, there are a few things I’d like to discuss with you … or to say to you, if you choose to remain so resolutely silent.”

The ogre narrowed his eyes and wrinkled his nose slightly at this, but otherwise made no response.

“First of all,” I stated firmly, “I want to say that I know this isn’t personal.  Destroying property, creating confusion and alarm, inciting fear and anxiety — that’s just what ogres do.”

His face was an impassive mask, but his eyes burned into mine in a gaze straight out of Edgar Allan Poe.  I continued, confident that I had his full attention.

“Furthermore, I want to thank you for your visit:  it hasn’t been easy, but I’ve learned a great deal, and you’re welcome to stay as long as you need.  I know I can trust you to move on when the time is right.”

At this, the ogre looked startled, as if I’d asked him to dance a fandango when he’d come prepared to do only the foxtrot.  His eyes widened further as I took a step toward him, coming within range of his less than fragrant breath.

“You have something for me,” I said quietly.  “May I please have it?”

Just for an instant, a cunning smirk leapt onto his face, but the ogre hid it quickly behind a smile that oozed hospitable chagrin:  he turned out the pockets of his filthy trousers, showing them to be empty.  With an apologetic shrug, he began to shuffle backward, preparing to end our conversation.

“No!” I said with a firmness of tone to which the ogre was obviously unaccustomed.  He raised his grizzled visage to me and paused.

“Please, may I have it?” I said again.  “I’m only asking for what’s right and fair.”

This must have touched the creature in some secret reservoir of compassion,  hidden within his breast, for he slipped his greasy hand into a small pocket in the front of his vest.  After a moment, he pulled it out again, his fingers loosely closed around an object.  Looking full into my eyes, he opened his hand and held it out toward me.

There, nestled in his palm, was a dark, dusty orb.

My surprise and disappointment must have been evident, for he picked the orb off his palm with the fingers of his other hand, and raising it to his lips, blew on it lightly before rubbing it on his sleeve.  Once again, he held it out to me, this time grasped between his thumb and index finger.

There poised between his fingers was a large black pearl of such remarkable beauty that my body drew in a sudden breath.

And reflected in the liquid surface of the pearl was my own image.  But I could see more … so much more.

I registered in an instant that the drama of my everyday existence was simply that:  a piece of theatre created by my ego for its own entertainment.  That my frantic competition with those around me for status and possessions was akin to a temper tantrum thrown by a petulant child. That my life in the orchard was designed to be an ongoing cavalcade ping-ponging between anguish and bliss, and that the ogre himself was responsible for giving it meaning:  his destruction ensured I felt the pain and anger of loss only because I had something in life I deeply loved and hated to lose.

I raised my eyes from the ebony luminescence of the pearl to find the ogre studying me.  Although I had looked him in the face many times, I had never really seen his eyes before:  they were a hypnotic shade of deep sea blue, and as I returned his penetrating gaze, I recognized that they were filled with love.

It seemed an epiphany to realize that to be shielded from pain was to spend a lifetime shrouded from life itself.  And that not just the pearl, but the pain itself comprised the ogre’s gift.

And this I know with certainty.  Next year, the orchard will bloom again.  The trees will have replaced their broken branches, and even the flowers will be manifesting a miraculous amnesia regarding ever having been trampled at all.  Everything will be the same, yet everything will be different.  For the ogre will be there, not as an intruder, but as a welcome guest.  I will stroll through the trees in the moonlight, and smile to see him lolling on the grass beneath the low-hanging boughs.  He may even chuckle as he regards my serene composure, and aim a cheery wave in my direction.

As for me, I will be in my orchard, exactly where I need to be, calmly and joyfully experiencing every moment of a life now gratefully shared with the ogre.  Pandemonium will reign, but a life will be lived.

I ask you to forgive my absence from this page over the past several weeks, gentle readers.  The extreme heat and other pressures of life began to overwhelm me, and as is so often the case, I retreated into the relative safety of my little world, which has recently revolved around health and canning nature’s bounty and, of course, finishing the requisite changes to my thesis.

But, last night, I had a sort of epiphany.  Part of that epiphany recognized that the times when the world overwhelms is absolutely the right time to express that feeling through the written word.  And the other flash of understanding I will attempt to illustrate through parable.

When the weather becomes unseasonably warm, my thoughts inevitably clang like a clapper to the side of a bell, pealing out negative thoughts regarding the havoc we are wreaking on this poor planet.  No matter how I try to lift my spirits, the resounding knell of global warming rattles my bones, and at these times, I despair of mankind, assiduously proclaiming to anyone who will listen that even a dog knows not to crap where it eats.

The heat at Long Point was so extreme last week that my poor canine boy was unable to traverse the scorching sand to reach the cool of the lake unaided.  Halfway there, he began to limp, then his hind legs literally buckled under him from the pain of his burning foot pads.

This is exactly the sort of scenario which causes me to plummet into a downward spiral, and the apex of this slippery slope is the following limiting thought:  “This is awful.  This has always been awful.  This will always be awful.  Forever and forever, without the amen.”

But being reasonably stoic, at these times I remind myself of a tale brought down through history in the writings of the Eastern mystics.

The story tells of a village which was overrun by the army of a feudal king as he plundered and conquered far from his own lands.  This lord had given the order that the villagers should be put to death, but, being of a whimsical nature, he bowed to their pleas for mercy, offering them this challenge.

“I will spare your lives,” the king said, “if, by this time tomorrow, you give me a very special gift:  a gift that will make me sad when I am happy, and happy when I am sad.”

At first, the villagers were struck down by despair.  How could they comply with this strange request?  What gift could possibly achieve what seemed impossible?

But their wisest elders and their craziest fools joined forces, and at the appointed hour, they approached the king, bearing a small, plain box.

When the king opened the box and saw the villagers’ gift, he was filled with awe at the perfection of it, and holding it high in the light of the new day, the sun shimmering off its surface, he immediately ordered their release.

The gift was a silver ring on which was inscribed, “And this, too, shall pass.”

Last night, I stood outside in my backyard orchard, gazing at the stars, set like jewels in a cobalt sky, and felt the first cool caress of autumn on my bare arms.  “This awful heat may come back,” I thought, “will certainly be back next summer, but in this present moment, I know in my soul that it is just now, and not forever.”

Whatever the joy, comfort, anguish, confusion of an instant, the only certainty is that it, too, will soon pass.  Surely the secret, then, is to fully inhabit every moment; to embrace every aspect of this divine comedy we call life, secure in the knowledge that each tick of the clock brings with it a transition into a new experience.  It is the accumulation of these moments and experiences that make us who we are, and since we are all on our own perfect journeys to becoming our fullest selves, whatever the moment holds is, in itself, a silver circlet of fleeting perfection.

So today, I give myself this hero(ine)’s challenge:  I will slip the king’s ring on my finger, and try to encounter every one of life’s moments fully.

And make no mistake, the ring is there, patiently waiting for the present moment in which you choose to grasp it in your palm and allow it encircle your life.