May 20, 2022

Engines and Fuel

I just finished reading the short novel What Strange Paradise by Canadian journalist and author Omar El Akkad. In Chapter 20 the smuggler's apprentice Mohamed says something simply awful and cynical to the passengers on the ancient run-down fishing boat that carries them across the Mediterranean to a shore they hope will provide a better life than the war-torn places they left behind:

        "You sad, stupid people," he said. "Look what you've done to yourselves. The West you talk about doesn't exist. It's a fairy tale, a fantasy you sell yourself because the alternative is to admit that you're the least important character in your own story. You invent an entire world because your conscience demands it, you invent good people and bad people and you draw a neat line between them because your simplistic morality demands it. But the two kinds of people in this world aren't good and bad -- they're engines and fuel. Go ahead, change your country, change your name, change your accent, pull the skin right off your bones, but in their eyes they will always be engines and you will always, always be fuel."

The irony of the smuggler's apprentice spewing the above as he is facilitating the migrants' journey to the West, making money off it, no less, seems lost on him. I definitely do not pretend to know much about the Middle East's history of troubles, but the fact that the leaders of much of those lands promote a deep mistrust of the West is well-known (and in some cases well founded). Still, people flock by the thousands in leaky boats and rafts in uncertain waters, wearing poor quality pdf's, risking life and life-savings in search of what the West seems to stand for. 

I have always been interested in origin stories. I enjoy learning how people got to where they are now. If I meet someone from a foreign country I often ask what brought them to Canada. I remember one woman who is now a friend answered that question with "Amnesty International and the Catholic Church. My dad was a wanted man for speaking out against the dictator of our country". Having lived a comparatively sheltered and privileged life, I acknowledge how out of touch I can be with the true, lived struggles of people who leave everything behind, often including the graves of many loved ones killed in armed conflicts or raids, to come to a country like Canada. I have to read books like What Strange Paradise to try and internalize some of what these immigrants experience. Or, I ask my hairstylist who was a Vietnamese boat person. He, too, got on a boat with his brother and father not knowing if they would live or die on the crossing to a new land. He is proud of the life he and his family have built here, and he and his wife, like many immigrants, work very hard. He has told me more than once that Canadians don't know how good we've got it. 

When I was working at my friend's tulip festival this past April I was reminded of how much it resembles an international airport during holiday times, or perhaps the UN. Every possible skin colour, ethnicity, and accent is represented (okay, a slight exaggeration, but you get the picture) Languages flow around me like bubbling streams. I love it. This year I worked in the farm shop where we sell potted and cut flowers, souvenirs, treats and drinks. As I greeted each customer I took the opportunity to be as welcoming as possible. I made short conversation with each of them and found my smiles returned. Each customer has an origin story. Each customer has as much right to be on this earth as I do, no matter where they were born. Many of them have earned that right much more than I have by the risks they have taken and the sacrifices they have made to leave all that is familiar. I am grateful not to think like the smuggler's apprentice, dividing humans into engines and fuel, and I need to continue to work in my small way to make Canada a place that gives equal opportunity to all. 

We can all be engines and fuel for each other. 

Until next time, 


May 6, 2022

What Next? A Mother's Day Post

This morning, poet Mary Oliver's wonderful, yet challenging question came into my mind: 

"Tell me what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" I'm not sure I have answered the challenge so far, but I do know the 28 years I spent bringing up children were propelled by a deep love for them, so that's got to count for something. Not that I didn't make mistakes. I made plenty.

When our kids were growing up my husband went to work every day and I stayed home and looked after the kids. Over the years, to supplement our income I undertook various forms of paid work like daycare and event planning, as well as a great deal of volunteering, that allowed me the flexibility we needed me to have, as well as supplying me with the sense that I wasn't 'just a mother'. My husband's work demanded long hours and I needed to be the one who kept everything running for our family. In all honesty, those crazy busy years were the best of my life so far. I felt needed, fulfilled, and appreciated...and as time went on, exhausted. I miss those days a lot, but I am adjusting to a slower, less demanding pace of life fairly well..

I have been fortunate in that, until this week, my four grown-up kids have all stayed on the West Coast, allowing us frequent meet-ups in the city and visits here. This week, my two middle children made big changes in their lives, taking them further away from their dad and me. During Covid19's worst two years I spent a lot of time with these two thanks to them both taking jobs at the resort their dad manages, and I am grateful. I am incredibly proud of them for taking these next steps in their lives, but I'll admit some ugly crying on my part happened last weekend, the end result being that I realized I need to figure out who I am without my children. Perhaps other people also identify me with my children because the first thing most people ask when they see me is, "how are the kids?" "Do you have twenty minutes?" is how I last responded before launching into a comprehensive answer involving a power point presentation with full orchestra.

One of my chief regrets in life was I never trained as anything in particular. My father was determined that I would write the Great Canadian Novel and I half believed him. My mother encouraged me to be a teacher, but when it came down to it, I lacked the confidence and the calling. Ironically, when I was thinking of going into teaching later on, my mom talked me out of it. The published novel never materialized either, not for lack of trying. I have never felt a call to any particular career in my life, and I found in motherhood my main purpose on earth.  That was all very well until I suddenly found myself an empty-nester and in need of redefinition. Not for anyone else - I don't care about other people's opinions enough anymore - but for my own sense of self. The last two years have been all about working toward a goal of regaining my health after a debilitating injury, not to mention surviving mentally and physically through a global pandemic, and now that that's basically achieved (with some limitations) I am waiting for inspiration to strike. In the meantime, I have rejoined the strata council of our condo building and even did some paid work during April. Baby steps, I guess. 

My husband still works long hours and will continue to do so until his retirement - whenever that is going to be. I have to find a new purpose to fill the void left by my kids' absence, but my husband insists that whatever I fill the void with must be what I really want to be doing, not what I think I should do. He has always just wanted me to be happy, bless his heart. One thing I detest is a sense that I have wasted time - 'this one wild and precious life' deserves more, doesn't it? I don't want to get old having more regrets, but I have yet to experience any of Oprah's 'aha' moments when it comes to my future.. In the meantime I am trying to be propelled by love in all the little things I fill my days with, in my encounters with my family, friends and neighbours, in my communications with my grown up kids, in my volunteer and paid work, and in my very nearly 30 year marriage with my husband. I suppose that will have to be enough for now. 

I wish all the mothers out there who are at the stage of life where they are also asking 'what's next in this wild and precious life?' a Happy Mother's Day. 

Until next time,