Thursday, December 2, 2010

Romantic Life

     "Beauty is truth, truth beauty,--that is all
        Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know."
From Ode to A Grecian Urn by John Keats

Here we go into the month of December: cold and dark but filled with great hope and anticipation.  If ever there was a time for poets with their understanding of the bitter-sweetness of life, this is it.
John Keats lived at the time of the Romantics along with William Blake, Percy Shelley, and Samuel Coleridge.  His love affair with Fanny Brawne was depicted in the movie Bright Star which was recently shown at the Haliburton International Film Festival.  Fortunately, for those in attendance, there was an introduction to the movie by Rhodes Scholar and poet, Professor Emeritus John Unrau. 
Unrau put Keats’ life into perspective by describing the Classic and Romantic eras. The former, he explained, stood strongly opposed to anything fanciful, improbable or extravagant.  In literature, he said, Classical authors strove for precision, polish, decorum and control.  Their aim was to write, as Alexander Pope said, “What oft was thought, but ne’er so well express’d”.  “Note the lack of interest in originality: what oft was thought,” Unrau emphasized.
Romanticism began after the French Revolution and its credo was “Whatever is, is right.”  Whether they were political, religious, philosophical, scientific, or literary figures, Romantics understood life at deeper level.  As their name implies, heads and hearts connected, they could appreciate the many forms truth could take.  They applauded originality, intuition, imagination, the realms of the mythical and mystical, the rustic and natural, and especially solitude where they were happy to be away from society's judgements and restrictions. Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven were also classified as Romantics.
The Classicists, Unrau said, believed from the conception that poetry was something that could be learned, and that poems were “made” or “constructed.”  The Romanticists believed that poetry was a gift of nature; poems were “grown”, organic. Or, as Keats put it: “...if Poetry comes not as naturally as Leaves to a tree it had better not come at all.”
After Unrau’s introduction, we settled in, watched the movie, and revelled in the beauty of Jane Campion’s production – a piece of Romantic art in itself.  The picturesque scenery invited the body and mind to relax, releasing the heart to pulse with the joy and tragedy of young love. 
The beauty of this film could have easily been missed if only the logical mind was watching, for it worked on a different level.  There were no bang’em up mysteries, no spectacular special effects, and no graphic sex scenes.  What there was an abundance of, however, were powerful scenes of empathy and intimacy and it was glorious to watch: so human, so humane.
I am a romantic at heart and am pained to see the latest cultural swing back to Classicism. 
Gated communities and an us or them mentality may preserve the body but at what cost?   To be living is not the same as to be alive.  To live without freedom of choice and to repress feelings is the pathway to depression, so is there any wonder we have a society rife with grief and addiction?  How free are we really when box stores and fast food joints are idealized places?  Where’s the intimacy?  Where’s the originality?  Are we truly making these choices or have we been manipulated into them with the promise of comfort and safety? 
CEOs are laughing because they know most consumers only think about the bottom line.  But what really is the bottom line?  Our financial statement or our aliveness?  They’re making fortunes because we don’t seem to care where our purchases come from.  Are we alive?  Are we capable of caring anymore? 
I’ve spent most of my time restraining my emotions like a good girl. It was despairing at times because I knew there was more to life but didn’t know what it was or how to get it.  Somewhere along the way I must have been traumatized and begun to believe it was no longer safe to be enthusiastic or express my truth, so I turned off and shut down.   But to be dead inside is a shallow way to live.  How did I let it happen?  How have so many of us let it happen?
Life is a gift that so often makes no sense, which is why we need artists.  Their words, their colours, their acts, bring us down in to that calm place below the stormy surface where we are reminded how truth, simplicity, and love are what we truly long for, all that we truly need.  Then from there, as Jane Campion says, we can build up our enthusiasm so it’s higher than our fear.  And when that happens, we will soar.
Yes, there is hope; from darkness comes light.  That is the way.
Wouldn’t this be the perfect time for another revolution?

Sunday, November 7, 2010


A number of years ago, I was invited to join a neighbour and his buddy deer hunting, and happily I was the only one to get a shot off...on my camera.  As keen as I was to participate in this ancient tradition, I wasn’t so sure how I’d handle witnessing the life go out of a beautiful animal.  
I met Stewart and Doug early in the morning armed with a packed lunch and a load of enthusiasm.  With the leaves down and crunchy, I wondered how we’d ever sneak up on anything.  Off we went, up the snowmobile trail, around the swamp, over towards the mountain and up to the look-out.  I’d never seen Victoria Lake before, and was amazed at the endless chains of lakes they pointed to and talked about.
I had no idea how we’d gotten where we were, but Stewart was raised in these parts and knew ever ridge and gully like all of it was his backyard.   If something ever happened to him, however, I realized I couldn’t get back.  Quickly I began checking behind to acquaint myself with as many landmarks as possible: tall stands of pine, creek beds and rock piles, but after a while it was all blurring.  I had to just trust my guide.
We walked and walked and saw untouched wilderness.  It was breathtaking - even under the dull, heavy sky.  My amazement fluttered and flowed each time we came to a look-out: “What’s that? Where are we?  Wow, is this ever beautiful.”  At the end of the day, I was exhausted and famished like I’d never known before and thrilled for the adventure.  What a great day.
Years later now and I finally understand how he never got lost.  I’ve been walking this bush for fifteen years and have gained a similar intimacy with it.  Often I’d go off trail and explore nooks and emerging pathways.  Where does this beaver path go?  How else can I get to the top of that hill?  Where has my dog gone now!?!?  With the luxury of time and the consistency of place, an elegant world has opened up and revealed itself. 
This Thanksgiving, while walking out back with my family, my niece asked if I ever got bored hiking the same trails over and over again, and I explained it was always different.  Each time I went with the intention of finding a treasure and each time I did.  They weren’t always material objects I could take home, like turtle shells, antlers or vulture feathers.  Sometimes I’d stumble upon and marvel at a blossoming orchid, or a deserted wasps’ nest, or a fiery orange sumac branch.  Other times I’d find my mind wandering freely and uncovering important insights – real treasures. 
Not ten minutes after I said that to her, we came across an astonishing find, as if our conversation was heard and we were directed to this spot.  Lying on the trail was the skeletal remains of a young buck.  It must have been there quite a while because it had been picked clean and the bones were taking on a greenish hue.  None of us had seen anything like it: the whole animal lying there, bones still in alignment and clumps of fur around.  The spirit of the animal had been long gone but its lesson of gentleness still remained.
Walking gently on the earth is a lesson for all time.  Being careful and caring is our basic nature that sometimes gets forgotten in a fast paced society.  There’s a tendency to want more in life, but sometimes when we have less we have the opportunity to enjoy it more, to go deeper into the relationship and really see the nuances, really feel the essence of what we’re involved with.  That’s where the true magic is.  It’s only after we become so intimate with something that we trip into a sublime connection that is the bliss we seek.  Musicians repeating scales, athletes repeating plays, they too push through to reap the rewards that practice promises – the buzz of feeling fully alive.
We are all hunters seeking various treasures.  It’s what keeps us going.  But the more we’re looking for can’t be bought, it has to be earned.  When we get to know something so intimately, life takes on another dimension.  And that feeling, that wonderful gentle feeling can never be taken away.

Friday, October 8, 2010


I love the fall.
Finally there’s a chance to slow down, linger in bed, and read a book again. What happiness- especially when my husband brings me a cup of coffee or two.
The morning light shines through my window and its hue is comforting: majestic. The gold radiates through to my core and washes clutter away. I am connected now to the wonder of life and bask in its grace. Life is good; love is here.
After a late breakfast, we meet friends for a hike around the sugar bush. The two young girls are curious and adventurous always wanting to know what’s around the next bend – just like me then...and now. What joy, what freedom to get lost and found off the trail. What fond memories flood in.
To lead and follow and crack open quartz and slip on old moss and trip in the mud and find delicate orange flowers and red leaves and climb over and under capsized poplars and follow deer tracks and spot two kinds of woodpeckers and marvel at the blue heron in the tree and scale rock cliffs and nearly step on huge spiders and return once again to the faint path and laugh and eat cookies and hug goodbye. What happiness.
I’ve started guitar lessons and am practicing my scales diligently- finally they’re fun because I now appreciate their fundamental power. And then I attempt the new song I’ve always admired and can now play. I experiment to find the right key then let my voice sing out. What happiness.
To plan a turkey dinner and search for new recipes and prepare the rooms and make apple pies, apple sauce and spice cake and make time to go out and look at the stars.
The sweaters come out, the wood comes in: a whole new way of life settles in.
I love the fall.
The sounds of the acorns plunk.....plunk...plunking down through the branches, the crunchy leaves that make squirrels sound like bears, the waves lapping over the dock and the kettle whistling proudly.
There’s something in the air that grounds me in the goodness of life. Reaping rewards then sharing the bounty is the natural order. There’s plenty to go around now, plenty to put down.
Boats pulled out, stabilizers poured in, lawn chairs retired.
Then there’s: gigantic pumpkins, little princesses, and vampires biting into chocolate.
It’s hard to believe I used to loathe autumn. Everything would fall, including my spirits. But now, as I stand on two strong legs, my heart is full of appreciation.
Ahhh, what happiness.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010


It was one of those partly sunny, mostly cloudy, anything can happen morning, so I grabbed my rain jacket and headed out to the trail for a walk while I could. I got back to the T-intersection, and listening to my intuition, veered right. This was the way to the rocky outcrop that overlooked ‘Treasure Island’, one of my oldest and favourite contemplation spots.
Treasure Island only appears to be an island but is in fact a peninsula that can be accessed by carefully crossing a beaver dam or going all the way around a fen. I gave it the moniker after exploring and finding two large white rocks with long, crinkly veins of gold. They were too big for me to carry so the plan was to come back with a knapsack. When I did, the white rocks were there but the veins of gold were gone. How strange. How curious. Oh well, the name stuck.
We have other names along the trail like Buck Point, the outlook where I’d seen a mighty antlered one, and White Pass, a shortcut through the rock cut that was named after the spectacular railway line in the Yukon we had recently visited.
It’s fun creating names, and necessary. “Meet me at Buck Point” is much more direct than “Meet me out back past the dead oak trees, to the left of the sweater trail and before you get to the steep rock.” But nothing is all good or all bad, and sometimes names can be shortcuts away from real meaning in life.
When we first started coming to the lake, I saw a peculiar bird that walked headfirst down the tree. I’d never seen anything like it so watched for long periods of time curious about its behaviour. Later I learned it was a nuthatch, and for some reason, after finding out the name and a few facts, it lost all its charm. My curiosity was satiated and I moved on to other things.
Later it had occurred to me I’d never spent any time watching robins. I was familiar with them so once the red breast was spotted, my eyes and interest moved on. What do I actually know about them other than the colour of their breasts and the colour of their eggs? I doubt they spend all day pulling worms out of the ground as they’re so often pictured. It was like once I had a label for something, I thought I knew it. Hmm, this was probably how racism and wars happened – taking shortcuts and not spending the time to get to know about the life within.
When I got to my lookout, I saw a big bird down on a point and not sure at first if it was a wild turkey or turkey vulture, I sat down to watch. The rain was coming but this was a rare gift I wasn’t going to miss. Because it was alone and because it had a featherless head, I deduced it was the vulture. My confusion was the head colour; I’d only known turkey vultures to have red heads and this one was dark gray - a young bird, I’d later found out.
I very much admired how it soared but had never seen one on the ground so gently moved over to a rock to sit and get to know it. At first I was the observer noticing how it hopped around, hunted and pecked in the ground and was curious about what carrion it was feeding on. It noticed my movement and when it did, wow, what a display of power and majesty. The wings opened out to about six feet across and after a while, when no threat was detected, tucked back in again. That’s when my head turned off and my heart opened up. Oh my, what a beautiful moment – a beautiful moment of recognition of other and of self...and of the fact that no one gets a free ride.
This lovely young turkey vulture opened up to me a few more times then hopped on a stump, pumped its great wings, and was soon back riding the thermals. For me, these connections, these moments of intimacy are what make it all worthwhile. The life within each living being is precious and the real treasure is knowing we’re all in it together.

Sunday, August 22, 2010


Wow! What a great summer this has been: full of excitement, exploration, and new endeavours. I’m exhausted now, however, from packing so much into such a short period of time.
Back in January when I turned fifty-two, a privilege my father didn’t get a chance to enjoy, I decided I wasn’t going to let fear stop me from pursuing my dreams. Every day I lived was one more than he had, so I began to treat each as a gift and make the most of life.
For a long time, I’d thought of writing a musical for stage so decided to start small and write something for The Minden Fringe. It was titled: “And the Word Was...” and was about how words can be misinterpreted, misused, and misleading, but if you went deep down through the words to the primal feelings, you’d find truths that were universal. In the piece I explored what the feeling at the base, the platform, of all life was – well, one possibility.
In a moment of paralyzing terror, I panicked about having to perform it as well. Did I really have to do it all alone? Never, so I reached out to Gemini award winning actress, Brigitte Gall, and after reading the script she signed on excited about the sonic element it was rooted in. Wonderful, I just had to polish the script.
Meanwhile, I had several functions to plan for and carry out, including a business dinner for twenty, a family reunion for forty-five, another one for fifteen, a ten day holiday with our grand-daughter, kids’ visits, friends’ visits, my book group’s visit, rehearsals, re-writes, plus work on various committees. So now I’m exhausted: exhausted with a smile on my face.
I first noticed this kind of exhaustion on our holiday. We were awed by the mountains in Banff, entranced by the horses and riders at Spruce Meadows Equestrian Centre, and overwhelmed by the harmonies of the Canadian Tenors. I felt spent by all that beauty which surprised me, because I thought it should have been uplifting. Maybe that’s how the saying: “it took my breath away” came to be: like a balloon, we can only take so much before we lose it all.
And then I looked out my window and saw acorns, some on the trees and some on the ground, and realized a similar pattern in nature. I was reminded that it was the juiciest, ripest fruits that fell to the ground, and from there, new stories would soon begin. How perfect it was that the decaying flesh of apples and peaches would fertilize the hidden seeds. It was all so wondrous, so perfectly conceived: out of death came new life.
Funny, we’re afraid of death but it’s actually happening around us and to us all the time. All the time the wheel of life is turning; all the time it is filling, filling, emptying, emptying; all the time the old gives way to the new; all the time, all the time and it’s bittersweet. Life is bittersweet: the joy and the sadness together. Is my cup half empty or half full...or is it both at the same time, the joy and sadness intertwined? Inhale...full, exhale...empty. How do you hold both emotions?
As I looked up at the wall and pondered this question, I saw a poster that said “Make Art Not War” and who knows, maybe that was the answer. We could take sides on issues or we could create space to honour both. Is it good or is it bad? When we mature, that question no longer has relevance because there’s no more need for judgement; it’s all life! Underneath, there’s just one song.
In the East they talk about the three parts of the wheel of life: the rim, the spokes and the hub. If you live on the rim, you get crushed each time the wheel goes around. If you live on a spoke, you get dizzy from all the questioning – should I go up or down, say yes or no. But if you live in the centre, you are unmoved by all the comings and goings. There no longer are highs and lows because nothing is judged, everything is appreciated; the heart is always open. People aren’t being ‘good’ or ‘bad’, they’re just being true to their experiences: “we’re all on a path and each place on that path is honourable.”
I’m tired. My mind is wandering. Does this make any sense? Perhaps next summer I shall pace myself better. Perhaps next summer I shall sit in the centre with a smile and a full heart opened to and appreciating all that life has to offer. I am the seed and I am the decaying flesh. It’s all so bittersweet...and that’s okay. That’s the song of life.
Wow, what a great summer this has been. What a gift!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010


My husband and I come from two different backgrounds. As he describes it, he grew up with a lot of organ music and little symbolism. I, on the other hand grew up with a lot of symbolism and no organ music. As a result, his senses and passions are wide open whereas my abilities to analyse and interpret are well honed.

Opposites attract they say, and I guess it’s because they complement each other. Of course Alan would never ponder that, he’d just enjoy the life and beauty that surrounds him. Like just now, when he whistled a whippoorwill song and the loon sang back.

For him, life is like music; it comes in either a major or minor mood: happy or sad, good or bad, energy is going up or it’s going down. For me, life, like water, is always changing, flowing, interpreting: adjusting.

There seem to be three stages in relationships. After attraction comes repulsion: when you wished the other was more like you: if she’d just lighten up, if he’d just go with the flow.

Thinking there is a right way and a wrong way is one sure path to conflict. I remember my nephew the sailor telling me I had tied a knot the wrong way. His dad had taught him a different way so all knots had to be tied that one way. “Does it work?” I asked. “The boat’s still tied to the dock, isn’t it?” He shrugged his shoulders and moved on. Thinking there is only one way to dress, one way to pray, or one way to live has caused endless pain and suffering in this world, and relationships of all kinds split apart if they get stuck in this dualistic way of seeing things – my way or the highway.

My husband and I are still together twenty years later because through this stage, no matter what, we were kind to each other. We rarely said anything we regretted, and as a result, we continued into the third stage.

As I see it, when we get past criticism, get past thinking there’s only one way to do anything, a whole new world opens up. With respect, we’ve moved into reaping the gifts of union. Through the years we’ve come to appreciate the other’s strengths and have opened ourselves to the complimentary way. We’ve both softened and let go of our need to be right.

In yoga, there is a bending over pose where the intention is for the wisdom of the heart to flow to the head. This intermingling of opposites creates the third energy, or the middle way as some call it. This is what Goldilocks and the Three Bears was about: not too hard and not too soft, not too hot and not too cold – just right.

When the opposites not join but integrate, a different vision opens up. I’d read about this in different places but it’s taken a while to finally understand it. In The Little Prince, St. Exupery wrote: “What is essential is invisible to the eye. It is with the heart that one sees rightly.” I have a framed quote on my wall from Helen Keller who wrote: “Beauty cannot be seen or touched. It must be felt within the heart.” And Proust wrote: “The greatest journey is not to travel to new places but to see with new eyes.” Rising above the dualities and living in the goodness, appreciating things as they are, is what I think they’re talking about.

Like a symphony orchestra with its strings, brass, percussion, woodwinds and voice, there is more than one way to be on this earth. And when the different parts come together with respect and appreciation, an opening is created that lifts both players and audience to a higher place: that place of bliss we search for.

Alan may have a preference to perform and I to conduct, yet together we make beautiful music.

Marci Mandel has written a sonic performance piece for the Minden Fringe that stars Brigitte Gall, August 21 and 27. “And the Word Was...” is about getting to the root of things. “If you go deep down through the words to the primal feelings, you’ll find truths that are universal: mythical. What was at the beginning? This work suggests one possibility.” Look for ticket information.

Thursday, June 17, 2010


As spring ends and the summer solstice soon arrives, I sit and take stock of the many seeds of ideas planted in my mind that are now gestating. For instance, I keep thinking my life is supposed to go a certain way; I’m supposed to create a certain body of work. But instead it’s more like I’m the star of the movie “Mr. Holland’s Opus.” I work on my screenplays and my music but nothing gets done to my satisfaction because the immediacies of life take my attention. As my neighbour said last night, we can either live for our dreams or we can live for the moments. Ghandi said: My life is my message.

It’s funny, we get an idea of who we are when we’re young and think that’s who we’re supposed to be for the rest of our lives. But then I heard a singer/songwriter interviewed on the radio and this angel spoke to my heart when he said there are many aspects of who we are and as we get older, new ones arise that need to be attended to. Eventually we realize that what we do is only one aspect of who we are. Balancing the doing with the being is the interesting task in life. Too much doing is exhausting, not enough doing is depressing: too much being is ineffective and not enough being is blinding. Hmmm.

And then I’ve been thinking about the difference between being humble and being humiliated. I said something that was taken to be arrogant but the fact was, it was true to my experience. The word respect comes from the Latin respicere, meaning “the willingness to look again.” Being respectful and being humble are linked, and so I had another look at what I had said and true enough, it was based on outdated knowledge; I hadn’t kept up with the times and I apologized.

The word humble comes from the Latin humus or “earth.” To be humiliated is to feel less than, inadequate, which feels bad. But humility is about being open to the wonders and knowing you are very small in the great scheme of things - and knowing, too, you are a part of something quite grand, and that feels good! And then there’s the word “human” that shares the same root. We, and all of life, are made up of the very same elements as the earth... “from dust to dust.” I’m not sure what to make of this. Is calling someone dirt really a compliment? Interesting, neither of the words - earth nor dirt - are pluralized; they represent collectives. Hmmm.

The third thing I’ve been pondering is prayer. There are three types, I have learned: petitioning prayers, prayers of worship and prayers of gratitude. I’ve been looking into this because I feel like maybe I need a more ritualistic practise. With all the natural disasters - or perhaps I ought to say - with all the disasters happening in/to nature (including people), prayer seems more relevant. An email has been going around inviting everyone to pray for the water: be bold and see the oil spilled waters being clear, writes Dr. Masaru Emoto. At 5 pm Eastern on July 21st a group will be doing just that. I intend on joining them, and I petition you to do so as well.

I’m not really sure what the difference between prayers of worship and prayers of gratitude are. When my husband praises the meal I make, I understand his words to also mean ‘thank you for the care you took in preparing this food.’ When I praise him for the renovation he’s done, my words also mean ‘thank you for the care you took in upgrading that.’ When I praise my young grandsons for blowing beautiful bubbles, my words also mean ‘thank you for bringing me such joy.’ If the only prayer you say in your life is "Thank You," that would be enough, said Meister Eckhart. I wonder if that’s what he meant. Hmmm.

There’s so much going on in the world today, so many possibilities. Is it all darkness? Is darkness bad? Seeds are planted in darkness.

Wow, there’s so much I don’t know, yet at the root of things, there seems to be some weird and wonderful connection.


What if every day we imagined to ourselves: what seeds will come to fruition because today I have said thank you!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Seeing Goodness

When I was in my twenties and looking for the perfect man, my Aunt Cherry advised me: “one person can’t fulfil all your needs.” She told me that she and my uncle had a circle of friends they enjoyed golf and cards with, but she also had friends with whom she alone enjoyed the art world. I found those comforting words then, and recently they’ve taken on a whole new meaning.

I became close with my aunt because I had a hard time communicating with my mother. It didn’t matter what I did, it seemed to me she would always find something wrong with it. I’d long since let go of those feelings and moved on, I’d thought, until recently. I was frustrated about a certain aspect of my life and returned to those old sentiments: it’s mom’s fault. And then I was shocked to realized, hey, I have a pretty wonderful life: a life of love and beauty...and this too must be mom’s fault.

Yes, if I wanted to, I could go back through my life and point out where my mom wasn’t what I thought I needed her to be, but what a childish waste of time that would be. For a young mother with four children and a husband with health problems, she did a heroic job of keeping us together. When she wasn’t available, others sure were: teachers, family friends, Aunt Cherry (whom she’d recruited), as well as the books she’d given me. If I’d only recognized I had not just one mother but many who were available to nurture me, if I had only focused on what she gave me instead of what I thought was missing, I would have been able to relax.

Today, as I stop looking at the world in black and white and instead see a rainbow of possibilities, I see how I have always had the guidance I’ve needed. Even when I’ve felt alone in the world, a chance encounter – a found photograph, a song on the radio, or a magazine article - could turn me around to a path of goodness. I am not alone and I never have been. There are so many angels waiting to fulfil what my tender heart needs, I just have to learn to recognize them and let them in.

One phrase that has always intrigued me is from the book The Little Prince: “What is essential is invisible to the eye. It is with the heart that one sees rightly.” How does the heart see? How does the heart know? Curious, I began to pay attention to my own heart. As I eased into relaxation, the thump, thump, thump......became tha-thump, tha-thump, tha-thump. I am not alone; there is always something, however faint at first, guiding me. Silly little child, quiet yourself and listen: tha-thump, tha-thump, tha-thump. You see? Now follow the lead; follow the goodness and everything will transform around you.

And so it has, for now I can feel my mother’s tenderness; I can feel my father’s approval; I can feel my siblings’ support; and I am so light, I could fly.

Will this feeling last forever? It’s possible. But usually it takes a while for new patterns to be established. Soon, though, I know I will be led into temptation, and it will be wonderful because I will enjoy being reminded of how I have blossomed, how I have chosen the direction of my life, and how I have come to see the invisible.

How fitting that I have just begun the crone phase of my life. Can you imagine: a child’s sense of wonder mixed with an adult’s sense of control? This will be the rainbow time of my life.

Thanks mom! You were exactly who I needed you to be.

Thank you, mother, I can finally see what you’ve done for me, and I love you forever.

Sunday, March 28, 2010


One of my favourite movies of late is August Rush, and one of my favourite lines was something like: “You know kid, sometimes ya just gotta have a little faith.” Even with April being the cruellest month, the promise and beauty of the season is coming. The feeling is palpable, and with the anticipation of new sprouts and buds about to burst forth, I can’t help but feel part of a magnificent and glorious shift. Yes, it happens every year, but this time it feels like it’s coming from a deeper, more significant force.

Buffalo Springfield, in the sixties wrote: “There's something happening here. What it is ain't exactly clear.” It became a little clearer for me after watching the Olympics in Vancouver. There was something different about those games, those athletes, which set my body to relax into a state of comfort and confidence it hadn’t known before. It’s all going to be okay. Peace is in the air and in my heart today because the grandchildren of the folkies and hippies finally get it. “Tune in and turn on” wasn’t about drugs, and watching those victorious athletes pump their fists in the air demonstrated it.

The seventy’s movie hit Star Wars brought to light the concept of the hero’s journey - the myth about separating from one’s family, joining up with a guru and friends, confronting demons, and returning home to assist the community. These kids, these athletes, did just that, and at the finish line, or end of a winning match, we watched them experience this bliss, and we revelled in it with them. Who will ever forget the joy in Jon Montgomery’s eyes when he sipped from the golden goblet? This wasn’t the swagger of a conqueror but the jubilation of an achiever.

There are no shortcuts to this kind of thrill, and yet as we watched, we saw that no two athletes shared the exact same path to that peak experience. Each athlete trained differently, experienced their own list of setbacks, longed to give up at different times, and was seduced by self-doubt and various ease-bearing schemes. But the ones we called the champions, the Alex Bilodeaus and the Joannie Rochettes, persevered and won because they were not alone at the centre of their dreams. They knew the true meaning of life and showed us absolutely the hero’s journey and the hero’s reward.

These Generation Y’ers, these kids born in the 1980’s and after, grew up with play groups, team sports and technology. The Cold War, nuclear threats, and the Berlin Wall were not a part their awareness and supremacy was not a part of their vocabulary. The Vancouver Olympic Games reflected this shift. Gone was the fierceness of rivalries past, and present was desire for all to push personal boundaries. Own the Podium was not a call for these athletes to win at all costs but a call for them to release their personal power and let it soar; and oh, how they did!

And it wasn’t just the athletes. Fifty young Canadian musicians secretly got together in Vancouver and recorded a song with the proceeds going to Haiti relief. Wavin’ Flag quickly became an international anthem not just about struggle but also about hope.

And then there’s Craig and Marc Kielburger of Toronto, the two young men who have invented a whole new socially conscious business model. Craig was only twelve when he was so moved by a newspaper article about the death of a Pakistani child labourer. Today, Free the Children is a global brand which has brought over 500 schools and water projects to communities around the world. As well, the brothers run a for-profit business, Me to We, which receives income from the brothers’ speaking engagements and sales of socially responsible merchandise. This company offers young people trips abroad but channels most of the proceeds back to the “children helping children through education” not-for-profit.

Athletes, musicians, social activists: kids today are seeing their own clouds and silver linings and are not afraid of the hard work it takes to succeed.

It may feel at times like the world is coming to an end, but maybe the tsunamis and earthquakes are just shaking out the stale ideal of ‘powering over’ to allow the bright ideal of ‘powering with’ to once again flourish. “Tune in and turn on.” These kids get it: work hard on personal excellence and heaven is here on earth.

Isn’t spring wonderful! We all get another chance to create the life we want. We all get another chance to be artists and create heaven on earth.

Sometimes ya just gotta have a little faith.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

My Dad

My next birthday doesn’t look like a milestone on the calendar, no zero or five at the end of it, but it has tremendous significance to me and my family. My dad died the day before his fifty-second birthday, and as I approach it a lot of emotions are stirring.

I felt a strong connection with my dad: he was the calm in the storm, my personal encyclopaedia, and my scout leader. He introduced us to beauty in many forms by taking us rock hounding, gallery hopping and antique sale hunting. He didn’t have a formal education past high school, but his thirst for knowledge kept him pursuing new endeavours. He started off as a builder; became a stock broker after his first heart attack; and was a property manager, a mortgage broker and a real estate appraiser before becoming an officer of the Ontario Rent Review Commission – the only non-lawyer at the time to have been offered the appointment. At his passing, Gerald Irwin Mandel was so well respected in his job he’d been elevated to the post of Appeals Commissioner.

My dad also had a lot of hobbies. He was a skilled woodworker, enjoyed learning about computers and bonsai plants, and even wrote a song on the vibes. To say he was curious would be an understatement.

It is said the good die young, and I can’t think of a better death than my dad’s. He was dancing at the wedding of his friend’s daughter’s, went to bed, and passed away shortly thereafter. I’ll never forget the funeral and the rabbi telling us Moses also died on his birthday. This left me with a sense of completeness: a sense that his was a life well lived.

So here I am, twenty-six years later: half my life with my dad, half without. There was a tendency for me to measure my life to his, compare our accomplishments, but I don’t think that is useful anymore. Instead, I prefer to look at the foundation he, my mother and my other ancestors set and ask: have I added to it? My grandparents came to this country with nothing and created financial security; my parents had financial security and provided us with an education. I have tried to take that knowledge and transform it into shared wisdom, and whether I succeed or not, only time and my actions will tell.

My dad, like Moses, wasn’t perfect, and I find myself imperfect in similar ways. Life has thrown me some interesting curves perhaps in order to face parallel challenges and maybe find redemption for us both. We all, in our gut, seek to transcend our mistakes and find that place of freedom. I recently stumbled upon this excerpt while reading The House of Mirth (1905) by Edith Wharton.

“My idea of success is personal freedom.”

“Freedom? Freedom from worries?”

“From everything – from money, from poverty, from ease and anxiety, from all the material accidents. To keep a kind of republic of the spirit – that’s what I call success.”

“...There was no tell me about the republic of the spirit.”

“There never is –it’s a country one has to find the way to one’s self.”

“But I should never have found my way there if you hadn’t told me.”

“Ah, there are sign posts –but one has to know how to read them.”

In taking us to galleries, museums, and nature trails, by continuing to pursue his education, by refining his craft as a woodworker, by providing for his family, and by being a just arbitrator my dad familiarized us with the landscape. The Republic of the Spirit for me is where people live in harmony with the land and with each other; where there are no wants; where there is only being curious, creative, and compassionate. My dad didn’t teach us this; he showed us.

The title for The House of Mirth, came from Ecclesiastes 7:4: The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth. I must be wise because I have such sadness in my heart: sadness that the sign posts have been so obscured and sadness that my dad is no longer here to talk to about these things.

Along the trail, the strongest two hikers are at the front and the back of the pack thus assuring the whole group gets to its destination safely. My dad died at age 52 and my grandmother died very close to her 104th birthday (26 x 2 = 52 x 2 = 104 hmm). Am I here to lead the way or to follow and help others along? I don’t know what my fate will be but what I do know is - I miss my dad.