Thursday, 20 December 2018

tiny stories

This time of year, when latkes have been fried and consumed, and when Christmas lights are draped over hedges and wrapped around the trunks of trees, it can be challenging for many.

Brian and I participate only a little in holiday festivities.  A latke bash at friends' is a highlight for us, and so is lighting the Chanukah candles, which seems both solemn and joyous. 

I miss my "kids" and their families at this time and wish we could all magically assemble and share our love for one another as we sing the prayers.

At my next shift at the food bank I will bring in a huge tin of Walkers shortbread.  Because cookies are only available through donations, not purchased through the food budget, often there are no cookies at all.

The people we know probably don't consider having a cookie a luxury.  

Think again.

Our book club members are a generous group of women. To our December meeting we bring in socks to donate to Our Place and in January, the bookies give me items for the food bank at St John the Divine. This year I've suggested special items like honey and jam, chocolate and olives. Tinned salmon and salsa. There are enough months when tinned vegetables and beans and pasta are the regular fare.

At the food bank, shampoo is poured into little plastic film canisters. Once a month, when a client gets to select 15 items from a printed shopping list, choosing shampoo means getting two of these containers. Last week, we emptied the last from the larger shampoo bottles into these wee containers.

 I imagine it's on next month's list of items to purchase.

The next day when I was at my hairdresser's, I talked about my experiences at St John's and asked if she might purchase a gallon container of shampoo and sell it to me at her cost. "Yes, absolutely," Moira said.  And today she phoned from Salon Modello to say she had the shampoo, and that she was donating it to the food bank!

Another angel.

On the darker side of gifting, I am horrified by its excesses.I subscribe to Ruth Reichl's newsletters in large part because of my fascination with how a select group of people eat, drink and otherwise indulge themselves. At this time of year she posts "A Gift Guide"  featuring one item a day for about two weeks. 

Noir Chef's Knife


Even today when she recommended the reasonably priced collapsible coffee press, she suggested to wrap up a few great bags of coffee to go with it.  A few. 

I've just reread what I've written so far and, with a slight blush, notice how self-righteous all of this sounds. 

But, when David Hockney's "Pool with Two Figures" was recently purchased for $90.3 million after nine minutes of heated bidding at Christie's in New York, all I could think of was "No painting is worth that much", followed by, "Just think of the good those millions could have done."

What I see as supreme selfishness is that this painting will likely be hung in a locked room with specially controlled temperature and humidity. Or perhaps it will be stored in a vault.  The iconic painting, simply an acquisition. No longer art.

I wonder how I would feel if I found out that this private purchaser had also spent $90 million on famine relief in Yemen. Would that be justification for this personal indulgence?

 No, it wouldn't.

Opportunities for kindness and generosity surround us. 

                                                               $Millions not required.

When I pass someone sitting on the pavement, asking for money, I try not to look away. That doesn't mean I need to give money to everyone. Sometimes I have a pair of socks in my bag to offer, sometimes a Tim Hortons Gift Card, sometimes I offer acknowledgment with a nod.

And sometimes I do look away.

I had a powerful experience a few months ago. I was on Fort Street and a middle-aged man walked quickly by someone sitting against a storefront, berating him in a very loud voice. "Go get some work! Get off your ass!!" was the gist of it. I ran after Mr. Sanctimonious to say that his remarks were both hurtful and totally unnecessary. 

When I returned to the man who was the object of this toxic display, he quietly thanked me. Our pain was visceral.

For that moment I WAS the man on the street. 

For generosity is much more than about giving away things or money. Assisting people with kindness and giving people recognition for who they are, embracing differences with acceptance, is truly what generosity is about.

I believe that we can be most generous to others when we are both giving and forgiving towards ourselves.

This is something for me to remember as we move ever closer to 2019.

The photographs were taken in Pasadena when we visited my niece, Andrea

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Saturday, 8 December 2018


These last many months I have thought a great deal about our responsibility for the things we read and for those words that we choose to pass on from our gathering of information. 

This introspection, a reflective looking inward, is being forced upon me primarily because of Donald Trump and his toxic comments on Twitter.


"Mike Pompeo is doing a great job, I am very proud of him. His predecessor, Rex Tillerson, didn’t have the mental capacity needed. He was dumb as a rock and I couldn’t get rid of him fast enough. He was lazy as hell."
PRESIDENT TRUMP, on his current and former secretaries of state.

This quote was included, in the large print you see above, in a New York Times newsletter I received this morning.

The internet, as well as reaching and connecting many millions of people and dispensing valuable information, has opened a huge chasm of differing viewpoints and comments from the ethereal to the divisive and toxic. The word, chasm, from the  Latin, chasma, and from the Greek, khasma ‘gaping hollow,’ evokes in me the frightening image of being in a deep hole or pit and trying to crawl up from its depth.

Why this dark image when I have seen and read glorious and positive stories on-line?  Stories of kindness and discovery; introduction to poets and artists; fact-finding and wisdom. And cartoons that make me laugh. On-line I find help towards understanding my camera and Google translations from Spanish into humorous English so I can read emails from my friends in Cuba.

For sensitive people in particular, the burr of negativity sticks, just as the burdock plant's prickly seeds stick to our clothing.

I know how the people we choose to be around is important to our well-being.  How the negativity of a person in our midst can pull us all down. And how, likewise, a  person's joy and consideration have a positive effect.  I am conscious of my effort to cultivate the friendships of those who elevate, and to move away from those who do not.

When Brian and I were in Cuba we were distant from all world news. No television, no internet, no communication at all outside of the personal day to day ones.

No tales of sorrow and bigotry. Of pain and unleashed anger. Of better than and less worthy.

In Havana I witnessed the kindness of people we met.  Not an easy life, to be sure, but as an outsider I appreciated how often people helped us figure out directions from our small map, often walking along with us. How we laughed together, unable to say in words what we meant, but noticing that it didn't really matter.

                         a tee shirt I brought to Havana....a perfect fit!

No "outside noise", as in negative news cycles, made it so much easier to access kind expressions from inside, from close to my heart. To notice parents' love for their children, older men and women sitting near a window observing life in the streets and to be able to smile and say"no thank you" to the multitude of bike taxis.

Yes, I did see the poverty in Cuba partly as a result of the American embargo. I saw too the young adults sitting on door steps, who seemed not to have work. I realize that I was a tourist/visitor who didn't know the stories behind the nearly 2,000 photographs I took.

But, in retrospect, I was healing from the American and Canadian news outlets.

I can escape again by returning to Cuba in the spring, but, as an ongoing filter, this isn't practical!

Just as responsible parents restrict their kids' screen time, so too do I need to limit mine.

I feel somewhat virtuous as I don't follow the news on television, but visiting on-line is no longer much different.  A half hour or more scrolling weighs me down. Where has the time gone and why am I not reading the books from the library and the three new ones from the Beacon Thrift store that sounded so fascinating just yesterday?

I've just scrolled through this month on my Facebook page.  I am trying to determine what grade to give myself.

When is sharing a truth okay and when is it best to be silent.

The entry (Dec 4) from Doctors Without Borders telling about being forced to stop their rescue boat from saving migrants in peril in the sea seems important to share. And, another post, saying that the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) announced that it had located a terror tunnel, constructed by Hezbollah, that extended 40 meters (131 feet) into Israel, also seems important for others to read.

I think that sharing information, whether on-line or in person, needs to be considered as carefully as measuring drops of a chemical into a test tube.

For me, Trump's tweet translates to acute toxicity.

Toxicity: The degree to which a substance (a toxin or poison) can harm humans or animals. Acute toxicity involves harmful effects in an organism through a single or short-term exposure.

The effects of Trump's produce absolutely nothing of positive value.  His hateful rhetoric benefits no one: not even the one who spews the dirt.

How can we ask our children to understand the pain of bullying and the harm hatefulness lays upon all of us, when the President of the United States belches forth these toxins.

Yet we must try. We must discipline ourselves, as well.