What brought you out?

“Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”

– Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

This week marked the 50th anniversary of the slaying of one of the most impactful human beings of the twentieth century. As I began to write this piece and searched for the most apropos quote to begin it with, it was no coincidence that I stumbled upon this quote by #MLK.   I don’t believe in coincidences. While I have no intention to mention Dr. King again here, yet in our sacred search for Kaden Young, #bringKadenhome, I have met so many great and inspirational human beings. People who are serving. People with a heart full of grace. Souls complete with compassion and love. And an imbued resolve by so many that in my experience – is unsurpassed.

Last Sunday was a tough day. They are all tough days when they end and Kaden isn’t found. The countless volunteers are heartbroken at the day’s conclusion, but also endure many heart stopping moments throughout the search.

I had several on Sunday.

There was extensive dense brush, fallen trees, broken branches, vines and bark all strewn about among the once flooded land of last February. If one is not dodging the ricochet of live branches in your face while trudging between trees you are tripping on the multitude of loose and not so loose vegetation upon the uneven ground. There are potential hiding places everywhere. Maybe Kaden is beneath one of them. And on a couple of occasions last Sunday, just as I had feared the week prior, I had an eerie feeling that I was going to find Kaden perhaps between those two fallen trees that had formed a little wooden tunnel or amongst the pile of an extraordinarily dense thicket of deadwood. Many of those with whom I spoke on my first couple of trips there proclaimed their preference to NOT BE the one to find Kaden – my sentiment as well. I should say, that WAS my sentiment. As the days pass and Kaden is yet to be found, more of us want to be the one to find him. And we are ready to find him and deal with it.

But in that thicket, I was working alongside a young man. And in those contemplative moments between the volunteers, the vast majority who have never before met one another, we often ask the other one, “What brought you out?”

He told me, that several years earlier, a friend of his died in a river accident. When he heard of Kaden, he just had to come out and help. But he wasn’t finished. He became choked up, turned towards me and said, “My brother was supposed to join him.”

One man, around my age has a knee that isn’t what it used to be. No kidding! A visit to my Chiropractor today proved that my body is not what it used to be either! He has to stop after so many steps to give his knee just that little bit of rest to allow him to keep carrying one. And he does – admirably and as fixated as anyone on finding Kaden. He is one of the many past and current firefighters I have met who just need to add their expertise to the search. I love all First Responders and have the utmost respect for them.

The mothers of young children … oh there are so many of them out there searching.   I needn’t tell you what brought them out.

The volunteers talk about many things out there and not all of it is about our sacred task. But I personally value the opportunity to get to know you and to learn of what drives you. It is an honour to be working along side you. And you don’t have to tell me why you are there if you choose not to. You simply are and that is what makes you great.

#bringKadenhome

Goodbyes hurt the most when the story is not finished and the book has been closed.

Unattributed.

 

They hurt even more when the book has not been closed.

Such was the heart-rending radio interview I heard driving to work last Friday morning. A plea for volunteers to assist in the search for 3-year old Kaden Young of Waldemar Ontario, swept out of his mothers arms by raging floodwaters of the Grand River on February 21st. As of this writing, he (his body) has not been found; leaving behind a family in excruciating pain. Kaden was a life that did not have the chance to live out fully and a book that cannot yet be closed. Never before had I ever contemplated inserting myself into such an undertaking, but I was drawn in this time and Saturday morning I drove to Waldemar not knowing what was in store.

I was afraid.

I am a “city guy” in my late 50’s, fit but with a wonky back, never a fan of camping, have a poor sense of direction and my idea of being outdoors is riding my road bike along a street, path or trail in Toronto, Southern Ontario or the Canadian Rockies. What do I know about being around a partially frozen river, the brush and a forest in below zero temperatures searching for a deceased child? Those are the physical fears I had. The emotional ones – well – you can only imagine. More on that later.

But I made the choice to be in Waldemar by 9am on Saturday morning – about a 70-minute drive northwest from my home in central Toronto.

In my backpack I had; protein bars, a clementine, a banana, a peanut butter sandwich on gluten-free bread, water, a change of socks, a roll of toilet paper, Band-Aids, a Swiss army knife and most importantly, a battery back up for my iPhone. I was wearing my relatively new hiking boots I purchased on a recent business trip to Calgary. Long underwear was a must, several layers of upper body clothing, a toque embossed with the mystic symbol Ohm and earmuffs as well. In addition, I brought two pairs of gloves to wear one over the other. Oh, and one Manchester United scarf. Yep, quite the city boy in the woods!

I was ready … a recurring theme in my life.

So there I was standing amongst dozens of people at the base camp of the search, Kaden’s home, listening to Richard the group leader, review instructions for the day. First and foremost, the safety of each and every one of us was paramount despite what we were there to do. And he told us what to do and what not to do, when we find Kaden.

I can’t begin to describe the people who were there, many who had been searching for Kaden since Day 1. Remarkable souls. Dedicated to the task. They were from the surrounding area of Waldemar / Orangeville, Guelph, Cambridge, Peterborough, Tillsonburg and many other locales as well. A vast majority, who like me were not related to the family and had no connection to them whatsoever. But unlike me, most were true outdoors women and men. They could read a terrain as Galileo could read the stars in the sky, track the path of where the floodwaters had washed through, and decipher sounds in the cold air, as could an always-alert deer.

I had stayed a bit behind the others with our team leader Shawn while he was checking some things out (safety first) and Brian stayed back of the others to wait for the two of us to catch up. With the three now together, Brian alerted us to what he was hearing in the distance. It was the distinct noise of ravens or crows making repeated and excited croak / shrill sounds. Shawn went forward to investigate. Brian and I nervously remained where we were waiting for Shawn to return. Those were anxious and fearful moments – about fifteen minutes actually to think about what or who might be out there.

We often talked in two’s or amongst the group about our mission. We were there to bring Kaden home. None of us that I heard from however, wanted to be the one to find him. In my mind, I was there so another would be in a different place in the field or forest where Kaden was. That was my role. At least that is how I motivated myself to be doing what I was doing. There were times on my first day in particular where I felt the trepidation of pulling back some debris or searching under a fallen tree and not knowing if that impending action would uncover Kaden or a part of him as was graphically yet tenderly explained to the volunteers.

It was a deer bed surrounded with coyote tracks and birds feeding on a deer carcass.

I could go on but some of it is too emotional to delve into.

Why did I go?

All I had to do was to make a choice.

Alternatively I could have gone to the gym, watched golf, taken a nap or written a blogpost – but certainly not this one!! Still, all I could think about was how dare I not go out? I was already contemplating this in my mind and I had sent an email to the group telling them I would be there. If I didn’t go, it would be a betrayal – to me. That is just how I felt about it.

So what are you afraid of? What is holding you back in life? And I am not implying you should be going to find Kaden, but if you are so inclined, I promise you, there will be no regrets.

Are you afraid of the unknown as I was? How it will turn out? Should you be doing something else? These are questions we face every day in many aspects of our life.

So, we prepare the best as possible. We absorb all the information we can get our hands on and make a decision with the optimal information we have at the time.

Everything for a reason. Everything for a purpose. We just don’t fully understand.

P.S. You can follow #bringKadenhome and learn about search information on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/groups/208839769860904/

 

An alley way all too familiar …

I have been here before or so it seems

The familiar cobblestone sections of intricate means

Windows closed so tight to seal out intruders

But leaky enough allowing a multitude of rumours,

 

Passing through town, an unlikely spot

Meeting a woman thinking I’ll give it a shot

She finds me witty, gritty but pretty?

Very alluring – gladly no time for committee,

 

I take her hand and we go for a stroll

Looking here and there but no grassy knoll

She finds this alley – a mysterious route

Another hundred metres to be rid of my suit,

 

Around to the left, the first door on the right

I bid adieu to you there, but it wasn’t the night

A nightcap you queried, I happily agreed

One became two, fulfilled a common need,

 

This is Sunday morning – few are around

Some go to church, others avoid to be found

Behind closed doors lay couples in love

Passion on fire, bodies thereof,

 

Rumours indeed, I’ve started a few

Are these windows sealed through and through?

I love this old town, bursting with tales

Magnificent design, a woman’s fancy nails.

 

 

Youthful Einsteins

“Aging is an extraordinary process where you become the person you always should have been.” David Bowie

Most of us have been there before, “If I only knew then what I know now.” Wouldn’t we all be frickin geniuses were we to apply that latter life knowledge to our past ignorance’s and unintended errors? But in addition to not knowing many things we wish we’d known, there must be more to this idiom than just knowledge. Some attribute it to experience and or maturity – yet I don’t entirely buy that. As I have confronted my own fears and in the process bared myself to new ideas, concepts and pseudo-philosophies these past several years, it is not merely within the purview of the mature that I have learned these matters. I am often in awe of – let’s label them (oh I hate labels) the Millennials – who themselves possess vast stores of mindful wisdom. How is it that such wisdom is acquired at a relatively early age? I have watched their YouTube videos or the like of these youthful Einsteins and the messages I heard belie the youth-like image of the vessel in which the message is elucidated. Speaking of Einstein, his manifest “Miracle Year”, the year in which he wrote among other papers the famous E=mc² and the theory of relativity, he was but 26 years old.

That we can all become Einstein’s is preposterous yet many of us can concede our particular failings and grow out from them at any age. The mere fact that I learned something at fifty meant I was capable at thirty or even younger. I myself may not have been ready to learn then but that is another story.

So what is it that holds us back? What imprisons and entraps us? Could it be we try to live up to the “Joneses” not merely in material acquisitions but also more profoundly trying to fit in with the crowd by hiding our own and unique authenticity? What if so-and-so found out we liked country music when they thought we were rap fan enthusiasts through and through? Perhaps we hid our love of entertainment wrestling because we thought it would be weird within our circle. What if they thought we were religious and we were not? What if we are living a lie?

We are a fearful species. We fear negative judgement and will do almost anything to prevent it from occurring. One question to ask ourselves is; who are “they” that we fear? Who gives them such power over us? And what would happen if they found out our secret? There is that judgement again.

Fear guides us. Fear often controls us. Fear shapes our daily interactions with the world. Fear drives our suspicions. Fear creates prejudice within us. Fear is of the unknown.

So we needn’t get older to know who we are and to begin to rid ourselves of fear. What is prerequisite is to break negative habits that have been a part of us for years and years. Aging however might be that catalyst of “enough is enough”; I don’t want or need to absorb this self-inflicted shit upon myself any further. Perhaps that is where aging helps. But aging is not essential to determine who we are. Look at and be inspired by youth. Some of them figured this out long before we did or have. The sooner we begin to recognize our walls, the sooner we can break them down, be free and happier more content human beings. That potential is within each one of us.

 

 

Once taboo – previously forbidden

You dared venture into something, somewhere, unnatural and unfamiliar. Once taboo – previously forbidden.

But you are different now …

You were also different before …

Fear is now in the past …

You know what fear is about. It had controlled you and stymied you. Experiences you craved were inaccessible. Friends you could have made you never met. Places that fashioned curiosity were only left to your imagination. Architectural and artistic masterpieces were bereft of your awareness. A forbidden relationship or intimacy desired, lingered on unrequited.

Fast forward.

An invitation was accepted. You were willing to let the experience become a part of you without any preconditions, reservations or fearful expectations. You welcomed that opportunity to see what it was all about and were not concerned of what others thought – or judged.

You observed a plethora of souls young and old. As racially diverse as anything you had hitherto witnessed. While the enthusiasts indulged, you studied at first and then slowly you became as one with the assemblage. You were also struck by the surprising similarities to what you knew and were familiar. Surprised? Why?

In the end, you were the same and you were not. You left with a peace not present upon entering. But the confidence in you was breathtaking, fresh and alive. You emerged declaring; “I am special” for indeed you are.

——————————————————————————————————

Well enough about you.

On October 16th I officially released my book WHEN WALLS BECOME BRIDGES, A Journey of Discovery to Heal and Conquer Hatred. That week was a personal celebration made exquisite by the warmth, companionship and love shared by so many. It was a remarkable journey. It was hard. There was pain. There was joy. And it all continues …

And it was and is fun.

Frank and I were privileged to appear on CTV News Channel. If you missed the broadcast you can view it here and yes you will hear it correctly, I was called Stuart Little – once.

Recently the Chronicle Herald of Nova Scotia published my story in Conversations, a Q & A article that you can read here if you are so inclined.

Of course, my book and ebook is now available for sale. You can follow the link http://whenwallsbecomebridges.com/purchase/ to discover the different ways to purchase it.

And now I could use your help.

If you have read my book, I would greatly appreciate you posting a review on Goodreads.

If you belong to a book club, I would welcome an opportunity to speak at your club and do a book signing – and selling of course.

If your place of business, worship or organization are interested in my book or a talk that would be wonderful.

If you come across a bookstore that you feel would be perfect for WHEN WALLS BECOME BRIDGES please drop me a line here. It doesn’t matter where the bookstore is located.

And I thank you for your patience, indulgence and comments as I continue to navigate our world.

Wishing you joy and discovery in your life.

Stuart

Renounce

Renounce

 

Why do we follow the lost,

For it is us who incur cost,

The ones with anger to bait,

The muddled souls of hate.

 

We know it’s a lie,

Yet still look on and sigh,

A failed leader’s mission,

Truths of parochial vision.

 

A crowd of like-minded,

Compliant nectar of the blinded,

The fruits of the sheep,

A path of least friction runs deep.

 

I renounce that which is old,

Discredited, weary and not bold,

It is not from without that I fear,

But those internal opinions held so dear.

 

It doesn’t function anymore,

You know wisdom’s your core,

Don’t be like the rest,

It is time to accentuate your best.

 

I dream of the day,

You will see things another way,

Until that moment is now,

Hope you resolve to discover how.

www.whenwallsbecomebridges.com

What is Loneliness?

“You come home, make some tea, sit down in your armchair, and all around there’s silence. Everyone decides for themselves whether that’s loneliness or freedom.”  Anonymous

I hear you. I understand you. You feel alone in body and in soul. You see others walking about in pairs. You are not part of a pair. You ride your bike alone – I know – I saw you as you saw me. You are having a beer at the local pub – alone. However, when we are alone we are free to observe others without any hindrance and that can be illuminating. Walking along a downtown street I saw a woman struggling to open her car door with her hands full of groceries – I offered my assistance and she cheerfully accepted. Twenty yards ahead I then saw someone who was holding two speciality Starbucks coffees give one of them to a homeless man. She stopped ahead of me to light a cigarette when I turned to tell her what a beautiful action it was that she did – she smiled and thanked me.

So, are these examples of loneliness or freedom that is queried by the anonymous writer?

To combat loneliness we may force ourselves to be busy and that is often defined by being occupied with people, but you know that is only a temporary respite from what ails us. Yet the benefit of being alone is to be able to think a lot more – to contemplate life as it were – unfortunately, that is not routinely a positive practice.

For an individual who has suffered abuse, their solitary time hinged with their haunting and tragic memories, can potentially exacerbate the trauma. For them, therapy is crucial. I cannot fathom what that type loneliness feels like.

But like most of you, I do know what it is like to be alone with random troubles escorted by the echo of our internal deliberations reverberating around a sometimes-empty chamber of existence.

A most unsettling type of aloneness is when we are with others and yet at the same time feel secluded from them, as if we weren’t even there. It is the feeling one gets when our partner fusses with their smart phone while out together – ignoring us. It is the observation I wrote about recently when one party rudely walks in front of the other. It is also the sense that the significant other in our life doesn’t seem to understand us. And there is always the emptiness of an unrequited love. Any of this sound familiar to you?

The world now has 7.5 billion people and there have never been more lonely people than there are today.

“All the lonely people, where do they all come from? All the lonely people, where do they all belong? ” John Lennon

Sitting here on this computer and writing is being alone but also splendidly being free as well. Writing my book When Walls Become Bridges or even this blog, have allowed me the glorious opportunity to figure me out. But I have a confession to make: I am still a work in progress and while I am miles ahead of my starting point, at times I still struggle. And that is okay.

At the end of the day, loneliness, like any other sentiment is not a concrete thing. We have created the acceptance of that particular state or emotion and allowed it to infuse our consciousness. How in theoretically identical circumstances can one person be lonely and another not? For example, two widows, two divorcees, two singles – some feel alone and some proclaiming freedom. I really do believe in the independent ability and capability of making choices in our life. Not just in the choice of action to turn left or to turn right, but owning the power of thought to either think judgementally or alternatively with the freedom to embody and accept the present moment as applied to others and to ourselves as well.

I am not dismissing the fact that many of us feel lonely at times and for many different reasons, all I am saying is that we don’t have to. I feel the same way about hate …

As we move forward together, I hope that we all continue to find joy and discovery in life.

Time Does Not Stand Still

Exploring my neighbourhood I was curious regarding exactly how long it would take me to walk to the main street taking the shortest distance possible from my home. I used the Stopwatch feature on my iPhone so that I would be precise with this acquired knowledge. I have experienced this feature before, typically when doing planks at the end of my workout as I attempt to meet specific time oriented goals. This time fixated feature measures the duration of the activity to the hundredth of a second – YES, I need to know that – well maybe not to that granularity! Yet as I was walking onward and intermittently glancing down at my phone I became mesmerized by the rapidity of the fractions of seconds literally ticking away and I thought of life – my life. We can never get those fractions of seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months and years back. So what are we doing with the ever so valuable, indeterminate amount of finite time remaining?

I suppose that as one becomes eligible for the senior’s discount at a national drug store chain and refuses the savings, or when I asked the public transit bus driver the other day what the cash fare is and her response was, “you mean the seniors cost” and I get facetiously offended, I ought to read the writing on the wall … we don’t have forever in this physical form we know as life. I vividly recall at age twenty taking the opportunity of parachuting with my mortality not even remotely in question, but walking to a local independent coffee shop in my fifties brings me to an entirely different temporal contemplation by merely observing a stopwatch.

So is there anything that you desire to do before it is too late? Of course there is – we all have our “bucket-list” of sorts. But with that morning’s walk and the visual of hundredths of seconds accelerating by, I intuited new meaning and fulfilment regarding a momentous event in my life – the upcoming launch of my book.

The idea percolated in my mind to write this story about seven years ago (although it profoundly changed by the time it was completed); in fact I told friends for many of those ensuing years that I was writing a book and I am not sure neither they nor I actually believed it would ever come to fruition. There were a few people along the way who provided immeasurable support, guidance and encouragement yet I never made it over the finish line and often doubted I would. But one got me there, my remarkable editor Lindsay R. Allison. She pushed me forward with timelines and deadlines that were not without personal challenges – thankfully I kept to her direction. It worked for me, it might not work for everyone. So to Lindsay, I have much gratitude and love.

When Walls Become Bridges  in ebook format is currently available for pre-sale on Amazon and Smashwords – the paperback version will be available for pre-sale in a few weeks with the official release date of October 16, 2017. So it is happening!

Which brings me back to – does time stand still or not? What does that mean to you? While time may appear to stand still in a moment of euphoric bliss or emotional agony, I see the clock as forever ticking away despite truly being in the present moment, which I now attempt to embrace always. All I know is that I am still dreaming of things I want to do and accomplish. There is nothing wrong with living your dreams. Do what you love. Be with those you love. Keep dreaming.

My dreams have only yet begun …

Why does a guy walk in front of his female partner?

When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves. Viktor Frankl

Like the reformed smoker upon witnessing someone lighting up, I cringe every time I see a couple where the male is often one to several strides ahead of his partner while “taking a stroll out together”. They might even be talking to one another while he crooks his neck over his shoulder just enough to indicate the direction of his communication. I look at this feeling guilty for what I once did.

Perhaps this is your reality still? Guys, why do you do it? Gals, how does it make you feel? It may appear to be a banal observation of mine but I ask you to indulge me for a moment or two longer.

That there can be any logistical or physiological explanation is pure nonsense. He is stronger, has more energy to burn or has longer legs doesn’t cut the mustard. If so, then the pair “walking together” would eventually not have a one or several stride separation but the longer the duration of the walk he could end up dozens of metres ahead of her. So therefore some semblance of self-control on the male’s part is unmistakably feasible while keeping that preferable and steady distance advantage. But why?

I don’t plan to delve into an anthropological analysis, but at play can be any number of factors: Ego. Power. Fear. Misogyny. Culture.   The norm …

We go through life repeating actions, actions that might make others or us uncomfortable, ill at ease, angry or disheartened. I do believe that much of this is subconscious – we can act on autopilot once our norms have become customary and deeply rooted into our daily activities and interpersonal relationships of whatever form they may be categorized.

Those norms are our crutch or our co-dependency. They are our safety or our misery. Sometimes they ground us; at other times they bury us.

What if you held yourself back and genuinely walked beside her? I bet she would instantaneously notice and be thrilled by your amendment to the norm. How would you then make this your new norm? Do you even want to? Maybe this change would be a positive one that grounds you.

The barrier to all this is our natural resistance and reluctance to change. We are too old to change. It is too difficult. I am afraid to change. I see no need to change my life. Why should I slow down, she should walk faster! The excuses are endless.

Change is not always easy when patterns in our lives have existed so long. Lolly Daskal

So where does one go from here? If the status quo is serving you well then there is no need to transform anything. No one knows that better than you do. Yet if any unsettledness exists within, a different approach may be warranted to achieve contentedness. I know we are all capable of honest and substantive change in our lives. It works but requires work. Are you ready?

My upcoming book, When Walls Become Bridges*, is all about change – mine and the wonderful benefits and surprises that are possible with it.

 

* When Walls Become Bridges, A Journey of Discovery To Heal and Conquer Hatred will be released on October 16, 2017

 

Into the rain …

I will always be waiting, And I’ll always be watching.

Amy Lee, from Speak To Me

 

This is one of those days; I am sure you have had them as well; you wake up and just know from the depth of your soul that this day will be different. I felt raw, alive, energized, vital – and I felt powerful despite not everything being as I would choose. I heard a pelting sound behind me by the window of my home office as it began to pour while I was composing this piece. I stopped and ran outside – unprotected, feeling the rush of life, arms raised in the air and I remembered the last time I was out in the rain – and I smiled. I returned inside.

 

Speak To Me

At the same time I had discovered a new song written and performed by Amy Lee of Evanescence – Speak To Me. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lB8ZsjMhy5M

It is beautiful and breathtaking and Lee is spectacular. And it did speak to me – powerfully. It was the perfect storm so-to-speak. I have written in this space once before about a song that absorbed me so, http://lettersandwalls.com/?p=88 but unlike the band Disturbed who were foreign to me at the time, I have always been a big fan of Lee’s, and again today I have been bowled over by the unmistakable sound of her magnificent and reverberating voice.

 

Speak To Me

There is so much going on for me today. As some of you know, I have written a book and it will be published this October and today I have numerous deadlines to meet that have nothing to do with the writing of it as that task is I can joyfully declare – complete. I do feel the weightiness of all that publishing my story entails; the excitement, the fear, the anticipation, the unknown but more to come on that in the coming weeks.

 

Speak To Me

Today is also Father’s Day.

I lost my father over two years ago but gained exponentially more than I lost by our brief time together at the end of his life. I am also a father to four beautiful, talented and distinctive children, each of them are finding their own way in the world as I had to. I understand that. Life can be complicated but only by so much as we allow it to be. Yet I will always be waiting and I’ll always be watching.

 

Speak To Me

I witnessed incredible joy in the world this week. I attended a wedding that meant a lot to me. A special family, a remarkable extended family too, and I got lost in it all. I realized at that celebration that we come to a point in our life when things have changed; People, relationships, friends, sometimes family. It is the journey of life that stagnation is never an option. We may subconsciously change or change with full awareness, but unmistakably we are constantly changing. And there are always more weddings to come.

 

Speak To Me

We are now today who we are because of all of these experiences. It is about our growth. We needn’t be sad. We learned. We hurt. We were hurt. We loved. We made choices. Some worked out as planned. Some not. Was it all fate? Was it meant to be? These are concepts that preoccupy me at times. I am however forever grateful for all the experiences. It’s time to move forward – back into the rain …