Tuesday, March 31, 2009


We were sharing the top bunk. Below was a family of five. In fact there were many families and groups all around us, more people than places to put them. Like a church picnic they were all preparing, sharing, and eating meals. Across was the toilet, a hole out to the tracks. The train had been stopped for some undetermined reason. It was 35 degrees Celsius.

Lisa and I had been, when the train was moving, traveling 2nd class across the eastern desert of India toward the border of Pakistan. We were very hot, covered in dust, and just a little bit uncomfortable in our perched position above the humanity below.

“You know,” Lisa said, “I had thought that we were the normal ones traveling among the abnormal, I am now realizing that it’s us who’s abnormal.”

I assume comfort. I assume order. I assume sanitation. Actually, for us in the west it’s beyond assumption – it’s entitlement. Is it any wonder the nickname for our western toilet is ‘the throne’? I am not suggesting it should be different. I like dishwashers, seats that recline, and cordless phones.

But, every now and then, I have the memory of that train ride, leaning on our backpacks, realizing that most of the world isn’t like us.

I can open my fridge at home, full of food, and say to myself – “there’s nothing to eat”. I will find myself buying clothes – even though I have many shirts I never wear hanging in my closet. In comparison with my train riding companions, I want for nothing. But, in truth, I want all the time.

That afternoon, stopped in the desert on the way to Jodhpur in the overwhelming heat, without room to move, and the rising stench from under the train, we watched families share chapatti and lentils, men talk and argue, children play and laugh.

The reason it seemed so different, almost difficult to grasp, was that oddly, for them, it was enough.

Monday, March 30, 2009


Bob was a mailman. He was quiet. He walked everywhere. He acquired little, and accumulated less. Growing up around the corner, from my vantage point, Bob’s life didn’t amount to much. He didn’t really ‘do’ anything.

Bob passed away last week. At his memorial service letters were read that had been written by his two grand daughters. They lived below with their mum and dad (Bob’s son) in a suite that had been built in the family home. In the letters these two young girls expressed just how much Bob had done. He had shaped their sense of wonder and curiosity. He had, through his presence and through his active participation in their lives, broadened their sense of themselves.

Bob’s son and daughter spoke of their dad’s encounters with others. As kids they had watched their dad engage people, his mail delivery customers, his neighbours, or their friends. They learned of his humility, his grace, and his desire to make others important. It became abundantly clear, in that crowded chapel, that Bob’s life had amounted to plenty.

Over my life time I have been on both a conscious, and unconscious, search for meaning. What does my life amount to? I have used as a measurement personal success, recognition, and all that goes with that. I have also used faith and belief, the idea that I count for something in the universe and the Creator of the world loves me.

But now, I’d conclude, success and faith themselves aren’t really what gives life meaning. The real meaning is what Bob discovered. The real meaning comes from stepping beyond myself, and giving myself to others.

These recent economic times have made many reconsider what is important. Acquisition and accumulation, even if still possible, don’t hold the same value. From television ads to magazine articles, the talk now is of a simpler life. A time to slow down. The suggestion is that real importance comes from relationships. Real value comes from what we give.

It’s clear that Bob was very much ahead of his time.

Saturday, March 28, 2009


What am I willing to die for? What is worth more than my life?

There are those who put themselves in harm’s way in order to protect others. There are those who stand up for what they believe despite obvious threats and danger. There are those who go to the aid of others in places that are unsafe and unsure.

From soldiers in battle to the volunteers with Doctors without Borders – everyday there are thousands putting themselves at risk on behalf of a greater good. They are making a choice that the idea – be it freedom, human rights, democracy, is more important than them.

We humans are an odd lot. We have ideas that are deemed more important than even the person espousing them. Ideas that cause people to both die and kill.

We honor our martyrs. We see in them the best of what it means to be human. We see in them a selflessness. In most cases they didn’t willfully die, they were killed for what they stood for – but if history is correct, they knew there were those odds, but they didn’t back down.

There are those indelible images and memories of those who have stood up. We remember the day when Martin Luther King Jr. was shot. We can see that young man standing in front of the tank in Tiananmen Square. We watched just last year as the monks in Burma openly protested the oppressive regime, and paid the price.

In a couple of weeks Christians celebrate Easter. Jesus said “there is no greater love than one lay down his life for his friends”. Christianity’s foundation is Jesus dying because He so loved the world.

Undoubtedly, I live the life I do because of the sacrifice of others. I am motivated and moved by the human stories from Harvey Milk to Ghandi. I am challenged by their example. For now, what I have is gratitude and thankfulness. From the comfort of my chair, the glow of the screen and the warm coffee beside me – would I do the same? God, I hope so.

Friday, March 27, 2009


They say you have to do something 28 times in a row in order for it to become a habit. (this is my 28th post). Why is it that it takes all that to form a good habit, when bad habits can happen overnight? Picking my nose seemed to take no time at all.

The fact is I am not a habitual person. I don’t really do anything with any consistency. I not a big fan of routine. Garbage day has been on Wednesdays since I can’t remember when, however I still find myself madly gathering the cans and running for the lane when I hear the truck.

I remember as a kid wondering ‘why are beds always made this way?’ I took the sheets and blankets and lay them at odd angles. Stupid eh?

Why do we form habits? What is the true benefit of a routine? There is an amazing scene in the movie Smoke, with William Hurt and Harvey Keitel. Keitel’s character, Oggy, has taken photographs of the same intersection at the same time, every day, for thousands of days in a row – he says it’s his ‘life’s work’. He is showing them to Hurt’s character, John, who is a writer who three years previous lost his wife. John is hurrying through the albums assuming he is looking at the same thing over and over. Oggy, encourages him to slow down “you’re not really looking”, he says.

All of a sudden John comes upon a photo that shows his wife walking across the street in the morning. “yah, she used to walk to work that way everyday back then”. I saw in Oggy that his routine provided him the opportunity to see subtlety, subtlety that is missed when one is always on to the new.

Athletes, dancers, musicians, contemplatives – all know how much habit and routine affect their craft. Often it’s doing the same thing over and over again that allows the new to emerge. I’ve been inconsistent for so long though, its going to be a hard habit to break.

Thursday, March 26, 2009


There is something about a recovering addict. The acceptance of weakness and powerlessness combined with a daily decision to overcome. Courage.

I am not a big fan of the Wizard of Oz. The whole flying monkey thing and that trippy bit in the poppy fields, I am still scarred from seeing it as a child. However, the idea that these three characters ‘lost’ their brain, their heart and their courage does make for an interesting story.

The absence of courage makes the lion a coward – scared of his own shadow. Fear is courage’s replacement. Fear breeds apathy, fear breeds excuse, fear is like anorexia of our soul. Fear starves me and reminds me that it’s not worth it. Fear causes me to give up and give in. With fear there is no hope.

I watched a documentary about philosophy. Cornell West was talking from the back seat of a car driving through Manhattan. “Courage is the enabling virtue for any human being. The courage to think, the courage to love, the courage to hope” – amen brother.

The lion was looking for courage everywhere except where it could be found. AA speaks of submitting to a ‘higher power’ in coming to terms with addiction. The realization that I am not all there is, that I am part of something much more, it draws me into a larger story. That bigger story is the source for my courage.

Each day on the news, or in the papers I am reminded of my own fragility. Tragedy strikes by the moment. Lives well lived are celebrated. My own mortality is a constant theme, conscious or unconscious. But, I don’t think mortality is just about the physical.

As I think about it, I face the potential death of myself all the time. The social equivalent to stepping off the curb into a busy street. Being really alive takes courage. Maybe that’s what it is about recovering addicts, I see in their eyes the courage that comes from choosing life even in the midst of the traffic.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


I am out of the closet as a creative person. This is not as easy as it sounds. For years I have fought against this idea. I used to think that all right brained people were good for was to entertain left brained people. I would sit in the audience, acting logical and rational, when all the while, inside, I wished it was me on stage.

It’s not that I was afraid to show my creative side – as long as it looked like a hobby. I thought for sure when I switched from PC’s to Apple I would be found out.

I loved hanging around creative people, discussing things in ways I couldn’t elsewhere. But then I’d be back at the office talking in my business voice acting like ‘art’ is what one buys at galleries on the weekend.

I remember once being out of town on a business trip. I slipped away from the meetings and found an artist supply store. I bought a pad of paper and some Caran d’ache crayons. I spent the evening in my room drawing.

As I think about it, even as a teenager I knew I had creative tendencies. I took a dance class, a ballet class in fact, when I was 18. I told everyone I thought it would help my skiing, and that it was a great place to meet girls (that part was true).

I could be creative in business, but there it’s called ‘problem solving’. My favorite meetings were with our ad agency. I’d always volunteer to meet at their offices. So cool. I’d dress different on those occasions. It felt like a day off. We probably spent more than we needed to on advertising.

But now, I am no longer in the shadows. I can openly say I don’t like analyzing financial statements or looking at stock charts. I like ideas. I like expressing ideas in writing, in art, and sometimes even on stage. I want the application of ideas to be my career – actually more than my career – being creative is simply who I am.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


The spoonful of passion fruit rice pudding dessert from that restaurant . The music Christmas night in Liberu Jazz Bar in Ichikawa. The outstretched hand beckoning me to come dance at that school in Rwanda. The grip of my son’s newborn hand around my finger. The line from the David Whyte poem, especially when he recites it. The opening bars of ‘Streets with no Name’. The moment, just before the moment, when making love. Ron Reed in Shadowlands. Lisa being greeted in Bufukula, Uganda.

There are many beautiful things, but confronted with real beauty I am moved in my soul. I know I can’t make it up. I am sure I miss many opportunities when beauty presents itself. I have to be paying attention. Still, it surprises me.

I am watching the opening scenes of a new skateboard movie with my boys. It is absolutely brilliant. I have tears down my cheeks. I am so moved by the creativity of it, the choices the film makers made, the music, the timing. A skateboard movie for God’s sakes.

Last summer my brother and I took a long hike on the East Sooke Trail. Midway there was a small cove. We ate lunch there. Lay on the warm rocks. I jumped in the cold water. We took photos. It was the experience of being there together, in that place. Later that day, finishing the walk through tall grass I was reminded again. The beauty.

I can’t say exactly what beauty is. Is it simply the world offering it’s very best at that point in time? It seems more like a small crack in the firmament and a view beyond, to something other. I do know, that when I experience it, it’s transcendent.

Beauty may present itself in an infinite number of ways, in languages only known to the beholder. Regardless of where it is found one thing is for certain, beauty is food for the soul.

Monday, March 23, 2009


We had a choice. We had been hiking most of the day along a ridge that would lead down to a relatively easy walk back to the water, and our boat pick up. Unfortunately, there was an unexpected large amount of snow that we’d have to navigate. It wasn’t impossible, but there was a fair amount of risk and exposure. The high school kids we were guiding were inexperienced.

The alternative was to go back to our last camp, stay one more night, then hike out the way we came – doing in one day what had taken four days coming up. The group was already tired. The other guide and I took a moment, discussed the choice, and made the call to return to our last camp and hike down the next day. That decision turned a five hour hike into a 17 hour last day odyssey.

It was a choice informed by my experience and training, and yet I was questioned by both the kids and the chaperones that were with them.

The more fortunate one’s circumstance, the more one has choice. Poverty is the absence of choice. I get to choose. I want to be more mindful of this luxury. With my important decisions, the colour grey far outweighs that of black and white. I still find myself at times on the wrong side of even the obvious ones, but the greater challenge is choosing between easier and harder, less or more, better or best.

I can’t believe how many stupid choices I have made, some with grave consequences. These weren’t mistakes or accidents, these were willful decisions. Instead of using knowledge, training or experience, I relied instead on ignorance or arrogance.

In the mountains my job was to make decisions based on a variety of factors and variables – like group ability, weather, mountain conditions. I had spent a lot of time prior learning how to do that.

It isn’t much different down here, or at least it shouldn’t be. I make choices everyday based on a variety of factors and variables. I just need to keep learning how.

Saturday, March 21, 2009


Ignorance. It has to be a humans worst trait. The choice not to know, not to find out, not to discover, not to consider another side. It’s the opposite of curious (See Curiosity). I was reflecting today on my worst act of ignorance.

I chose to believe that being gay was against the divine plan. Yet, my best friend, the best man at my wedding, the one whom my middle son is named after – was, and is gay. But, God said it, I believed it, so that settled it.

I remember a week long road trip we took together, he and I. Across Canada we drove. Him clearly confused how I, his closest friend, could be so cold, callous, and unwilling to empathize. I mean couldn’t he just choose not to be gay?

In the name of Love, I hurt him beyond all measure. I devalued him as a person, who he was, was wrong. I had chosen to believe those who told me, rather than understand myself.

The debate may rage on, but I have now come to feel it’s totally pointless. The composite picture of God is someone who loves and embraces – we humans are the one’s who want to play street cop – like the children on the playground so determined to enforce ‘the rules’. What rules? Love your neighbour?

How foolish it seems now to look back on the debate over slavery, the voting rights of women, or the equality of blacks – and know who was on the other side of those debates – determined that the ‘truth’ be upheld.

We live in a culture where we are all involved in ‘ethnic profiling’. There is a paranoia born of ignorance. I was in a taxi today driven by a Sikh man who spoke little English. As we got closer to my destination I was suspicious he was slowing down to increase the fare. What the fuck was I thinking?

I am still in touch with my best man. I am confident we still love each other. I do know though, I have left scars, unholy scars, inflicted because I was too certain – too certain of what I didn’t really know.

Friday, March 20, 2009


I am not a big fan of waiting. Having the attention span of a gnat, the exercise of sitting in one place, for an indeterminate amount of time, can be excruciating. In a word, I get bored.

Medical waiting rooms, airline departure lounges, arriving early for a meeting, or even long red lights all are potential boredom producers. I am left with nothing but myself to entertain me. Teenagers use the word boredom to describe the fact that they don’t like what they are doing. I use it to describe the fact that I don’t like what I am not doing.

It’s not so much that I am looking to be more productive, it’s just that I’d rather be engaged, involved, active. Waiting is so passive. I am wondering though, what is on the other side of boredom? Is it possible to push through the mental inertia, to overcome the need to move, act, or do?

Is there something to be learned by not doing, by just waiting? I honestly can’t think of anything at the moment, I’m just asking.

Time is all we have as humans. I really dislike the phrase “killing time”. We don’t get any of it back, we can’t save it up, we only have what we have right now. Waiting is just that, waiting for something else to happen. It can very easily fall into the category of killing time.

I have resolved before to always carry a book – ‘Catcher in the Rye’ or ‘Mutiny on the Bounty’. Instead, I don’t, and am left with whatever magazine matches the Dr.’s hobby – eg. ‘Quarter Horse Monthly’. I had no idea bridles cost that much.

Waiting is a fact of life – unfortunately the world doesn’t anticipate my arrival and have all that I need or want at the ready. There are those moments in time, those spaces, where the only obligation is to anticipate what is next to come – be it a root canal, or first lift on a powder day. The challenge is to not kill that time, but to live it.

Thursday, March 19, 2009


Africa can be a mirror.

I stood on the edge of the embankment looking down.  At the bottom lay an overturned Jeep Cherokee, it having tumbled off the highway probably 15-20 minutes before.  There were lots of people down there and up on the road. I asked if an ambulance had been called, that's just what you do when you see an accident.

We were half way on our drive to the Rwanda/Congo border.  People were meeting to help get us through customs and immigration.  I had no time for car accidents.  I had no time for African blood.  I had no time for getting my last clean clothes dirty.  I decided the situation was under control. We weren't needed.  I got everyone back in the van and we drove on.

For the next hour we drove in silence.  I had no idea who I was.  The person I thought I was would have been down that hill doing whatever I could.  I thought I was the guy who 'did good', traveled to Africa, came back, told stories, and encouraged people to engage with those less fortunate.

Africa didn't let me get away with myself.  That roadside incident is one of many where I was unpleasantly surprised by the reflection in it's mirror.

I was the guy who didn't want dirty clothes, who cared more about a schedule to keep than people.  I really didn't like that guy.

That one hour drive was the beginning of an eighteen month journey.  I began by being unable to answer the question of who I was.  I realized how much time I had spent being what others wanted me to be, or what would win me approval from others.  That facade worked ok, until I was faced with a situation like on the road to Congo.

Most of the time now I am pretty damn sure of who I am.  What I strive for these days is authenticity.  My identity is not tied to who others want me to be.  I am even ok with disappointing people on occasion if I don't live up to their expectations.

A year and a half later Africa welcomed me back.  This time, no mirrors.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009


The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. But it seems we humans are more interested in certain parts over others, at times at the peril of the whole. This recent economic car crash seems to have been the consequence of a financial GMO. Mathematicians engineered formulae and investment concepts that worked for awhile, under certain conditions, and for certain situations. But with a slight change in the ecology of the economy, like oil prices, everything fell apart.

We visited a farm recently where a couple is growing hundreds of species of plants, fruits and vegetables on 15 acres. Lisa asked the young woman what her favorite job was on the farm. ‘Observing’ she said. I thought, ya, I’d rather watch too than tote around heavy wheelbarrows, etc. But, she meant it. A lot of time there is spent watching, looking to see what impact things have on each other. On their farm, everything is done in consideration to its impact on something else. Where and what is planted next to each other – to fight pests, increase soil nutrients – it’s the essence of their farming.

In my life, I spend very little time observing or reflecting. I just ‘do’. My inattentiveness means I am more focused on some parts than others, at my own peril. I divide myself up – Mind, Body, Soul. I don’t think what is required here is a balance between the three. A balance to me suggests compromise, making sure none outweighs the other.

For me to live ‘wholly’ means to live with a creative tension – a consideration of how one action or one choice will affect other areas of my life. What is the real impact of drinking too much wine on a given evening? What is the real impact of helping a friend? What is the real impact reading a book?

In the church of Santa Maria Novella in Florence is a fresco of the trinity by Masaccio, the Renaissance Painter. The painting is large, and stunning. The beauty of the human form was clearly important to the artist. The depiction of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit was evidence of his devotion to the faith. His use of linear perspective shows a keen understanding of math and geometry. The painting’s appeal is in its attention to the whole.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


It was mid December. I had a meeting with a prospective customer, but before we left the office I gathered my partners. “Guys, we are running out of money, we have enough to pay employees until the end of December, but not us. If nothing is sold in the next two weeks, we’ll be shutting down in January.” With that we left for our customer meeting.

We were pitching a new idea and it was the most expensive proposal we had put out there - a ‘hail Mary’ if you will. The meeting was going well, but I wasn’t sure what would come of it. “Well, I like the proposal, and I think we are interested, but I have one problem”- I knew what was coming and already started thinking about what I’d do after this gig ended – “our budget year ends at the end of December, if we do this, I have to pay you all up front for everything before the end of the month – is that ok?” I am sorry, WHAT? I gathered my composure “I am sure we can accommodate that”, I said with my best, faked, professional tone.

I went into that meeting expecting nothing, and that one deal ended up saving our company. We got lucky.

Luck happens, yes, but I don’t believe it’s random, or that it’s mystically doled out on an unequal basis. I asked a friend yesterday if she ever thought about luck and without skipping a beat she responded “opportunity meets preparedness” (she’s a consultant by trade – can you tell?). Evidently its something they tell their kids. If you want to be lucky, be prepared and look for opportunity.

It is said there is something about ‘the luck of the Irish’. I am not sure how that fits with the whole potato famine thing, but I will give them U2, and Guiness Beer.

I figure, if someone has the tenacity and patience to look through a whole field of clover to find that one mutant four leaf one – then there’s a pretty good chance other ‘luck’ might come their way. Happy St. Patrick’s Day.

Monday, March 16, 2009


What does it mean to be happy? What does it take to be happy? Is it really something, as new Americans were encouraged to do by their founding fathers, worth pursuing?

I believe we have set happiness up to fail. We have put on it such high expectations, they can’t possibly be met. Happiness is hard to define, and harder to conjure, at least for any sustained period of time. Getting stuff makes me happy, but what about when it’s not new anymore? Happiness can be as fleeting as that new car smell, or the first set of batteries.

I have read that ‘happiness is a choice’. Is it? Can I just decide to be happy? What if I can’t, then what? Maybe those phrases are written by therapists as a ploy for new clients!

The issue isn’t whether or not happiness is a good thing – of course it is. But, I have come to realize it shouldn’t have the emphasis in my life that I have given it in the past. For me seeking happiness is like taking crack. The first hit feels really great, but only lasts a little while. Subsequently I need more and more to get back to that same high.

Happiness is not the measurement stick I want to use, nor is it my objective. Its absence can be a symptom of something awry, maybe like a headache telling me I should drink more water. Happiness is a byproduct of being satisfied, being content, being fulfilled.

A life of fulfillment, or a full life, comes with all sorts of stuff – joy, happiness, pain, grief, boredom and disappointment. What I chase after is that – living life to its fullest, sometimes realizing that by doing so means there’s a good chance I won’t be happy.

While I am sure those guys, when writing the Declaration of Independence, had the best of intentions – my experience has been that pursuing happiness itself is like chasing a shadow toward the sun.

Saturday, March 14, 2009


My son comes home from school saying he got 82% on his French test. My first question: how did the rest of the class do? Its not the great grade itself, it’s how it compares with everyone else’s.

In the last couple of years, yup it’s taken that long, I have come to realize the tyranny of comparison. It was never just who I was, or even who I was in relation to my neighbours and friends – it was also who I was compared to that guy in the coffee line up. He had such great shoes, why didn’t I have great shoes?

Just because he has great shoes, does that mean I need great shoes? If he jumped off Lions Gate Bridge, does that mean I should jump off Lions Gate Bridge? … Why didn’t I listen to my mother, it could have saved me years of grief.

Pick the area and its open for comparison. Money, parenting, humility, abdominal muscles. There is always someone better, smarter, kinder, richer, or more disciplined.

I admit to having tried on many different personalities and roles. I certainly didn’t have Popeye’s fortitude “I yam what I yam, and that’s all that I yam”. Oh, am I now comparing myself against a cartoon character?

When I find myself caught in the comparison loop, it’s usually because I am feeling insecure about who I am, or because I am dissatisfied with myself in that given situation. In my experience, neither of those are a good basis for sound decision making.

I do really like who I am, serious flaws and all. I don’t think I can shake the comparison thing altogether – its probably just part of who we are as humans. In fact it can be positive if I want to aspire to something and see others as a role model. However I think I’ll have to give up ever having the body of the new James Bond.

Friday, March 13, 2009


Passion is a challenging word. There are semantics involved. Passion is not its own objective. However, living with passion can be (see Intention). Having a passion is different again.

I live my life with passion a lot of the time. It’s an attitude where I don’t take things for granted, I see the vividness of my experience, and I relish in it. But, so far, I don’t think I have a passion in my life (outside my family). I don’t have a thing I can’t not do.

I have friends who do. I see in them a desire so strong that they are willing to sacrifice for it. I greatly admire them, and even envy them. Like Lucia, leaving husband and baby in Vancouver to act in Calgary, in a play about the next ice age, in an unheated tent, in –20 weather, or six weeks. Clearly, she either has a passion for acting and her craft, or was just really desperate for the money.

I have tried many things from business to acting to photography to triathlons. I like them all well enough, and enjoy them, often intensely. But, I won’t sacrifice much for them.

My wife Lisa has always enjoyed gardening. However, I have noticed lately that it has moved to a completely different level. The gardening books have increased in number and changed from the ‘how to’s’ bought at the Garden Centre to actual textbooks. She has enrolled in a six week course on Permaculture (google it). She devours articles on sustainable farming. But, I believe it was the homemade worm composter in the garage that tipped the scales from hobby to passion.

I am coming to realize though that having a passion isn’t really a choice. I can’t just decide one day that my passion is kayaking. Its elusive, when it happens, it happens.

I am wondering though, here I am on Spring Break holiday, up before the dawn, writing....

Thursday, March 12, 2009


A rainfall in Bukavu, Congo, is like a snow day in Vancouver. The roads, such as they are, become thick with mud making driving a real challenge. We were out one rainy Sunday visiting a hospital on the outskirts of the town.

On our return we arrived at a junction of three roads, all of which was on a slight uphill. It was chaos. Truck drivers were putting their foot to the floor thinking more gas would provide more traction. Instead, mud flew, and their rear ends swung into oncoming traffic. Twelve seater Minivan taxis, filled with their twenty passengers found themselves stuck, the driver insisting his paying customers get out and push.

None of this dissuaded other drivers of all manner of cars to inch forward, or slip in beside others - filling in any and all gaps - insuring nobody was going anywhere. We discussed abandoning the Toyota in favour of walking.

Then, from the side of the road came a guy, a bystander.

He took charge. If space became available, he made sure it wasn't filled by another car, he looked for ways to decrease the gridlock. He had a stern expression and shouted if he had to. But, before too long, the cars began to move. We had our turn and were soon leaving the hill behind us - with a last wave to our new best friend. He was too busy to notice.

There was no incentive for his choice. He could have stood on the side saying “somebody should do something about that”. But he didn’t. He stepped in and solved the problem.

I want to be that guy.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


What is better: Justice or Mercy?

Omar Hassan al-Bashir, the President of Sudan, has been indicted by the International Criminal Court for Crimes against his own people. The indictment is a slam dunk, al-Bashir has been the overseer of the atrocities of Darfur for years. His guilt is pretty much certain. However, with the indictment in place, any talks of peace in the country have ground to a halt, and now the Government has kicked out all the NGO’s (non-governmental organizations) – those responsible for bringing life saving aid the population.

I want both. I want al-Bashir held accountable. I also want the people of Darfur and Sudan to know peace, and to receive much needed aid and assistance. No easy answers.

How can one make black and white choices in a world so grey? We may begin with an ideal, but then have to make adjustments according to the reality of the situation.

Vancouver has a safe injection site for intravenous drug users. There are those who believe this condones drug use and perpetuates the problem. There are others who, just as sincerely, believe this is part of the solution. The ideal would be no drug use, however the reality is different.

I am an idealist. To become a realist feels like I am giving up something. To describe myself as a realist would be a defeat. It would mean I am giving in to circumstances. I can’t do that. Yet at the same time, to hold my ideals with open hands rather than clenched fists seems like the better choice.

Now, knowing when to hold fast and when to let go, that is the real challenge. I’d like to have a pattern to work from, a way of knowing when to stay the course. The only real override that I can come up with for to any given situation is “love your neighbour as yourself”.

So, what I am saying is, the only circumstance under which I should let go of an ideal, is if it comes in conflict with loving my neighbour - not much of a compromise, but a hell of a lot easier said than done. God Bless the negotiators in Khartoum.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


I realize I haven’t spent enough time teaching my boys how to fail. I’m not talking about the failure that comes from not trying – that rarely begins or ends with anything positive. I am thinking more about the failure that comes from trying.

I am a lousy handyman. Well, no, I have been a lousy handyman. For most of my adult life I have steered clear of all but the most obviously easy tasks. If the problem was small, I’d just learn to live with it – drippy faucets, peeling paint, stuck windows. If the issue was bigger, well, thank God I had the ability to hire professionals!

Sure, I didn’t have the skills. But then again, neither did my brother in law Mike, but it never seemed to stop him – I think he has rebuilt his kitchen at least 3 times since joining our family- not to mention raising his house 4 feet so he could build his own recording studio. What did he have that I didn’t have?

Mike’s not afraid to fail. I have seen him screw things up plenty of times. But he doesn’t jump up and down, throw tools, hate himself or any of that. He just figures it out and moves on. Here I am more content living with the annoying sound of dripping water, or cold air blasting through that crack in the window – than I am risking failure by trying to fix it myself.

I have learned that good failing comes in the three phases. The trying phase, the admitting phase, and the getting-on-with-it phase.

It all starts with trying. This is where all those voices that I’ve grown up with tell me I can’t, or I shouldn’t. They really count for nothing – rarely do their words amount to a ‘voice of reason’. So, ignore and press on. It is always worth it to try.

Then comes the failing part, which while not a certainty – does happen. I have learned that if I do fail, to fail fast. That is to admit to myself that I’ve screwed up. If I stay in denial, things usually only get worse.

Ok, so I’ve failed. This is where I either wallow in self pity, play it over and over in my mind, listen to the ‘I told you so’s’, or just move on. Usually this type of failing comes with its own lessons – often hard won.

Of course the handyman thing is a metaphor here for so many areas of my life. From marriage, parenting, work – fear of failure has usually caused more issues than trying, failing, and moving on. Who knew that failure could be such a source for success.

Monday, March 9, 2009


In the fall of her 10th year, Emirance was going into the equivalent of grade 5. She had also just become the legal guardian and principal caregiver for her two younger siblings. That was in 1994.

She lives where she grew up - on the outskirts of Gitarama in Rwanda. Her father had died of an illness when she was very young. Her mother, killed during the genocide.

I’ve got to know Emirance over the years when I have traveled in Rwanda. Her circumstances are not unique in that beautiful little country. Many kids have overcome the odds and successfully raised families. Emirance’s story, however, stands out.

With the help of her community and aid groups she was able to both raise her brother and sister and complete school. At different times she has cared for more orphans who have lost their parents to AIDS. Once finished high school she chose to become a hairdresser. She did so well in her course at the government run school that they asked her to become a teacher.

Today, at 25, Emirance still lives in her childhood home. Her brother, his wife and new baby moved back home 3 years ago. The school where she teaches is a three hour walk from her house. Up until recently she walked that every day. Now she has a bike.

I’ll never forget the first time I met Emirance at her house. We drove a long way off the main road, down past all manner of housing. Small shacks of spare tin and plywood. Mud homes with thatched roofs. Little in the way of order, but what I had come to expect in very poor areas. Then down on the right was her place.

The house itself was much like the others around it – mud walls, tin roof. There was however, one significant difference. Arching over her front door was a deep pink climbing rose. It stood out like a flag. The beauty of the bright color against the brown walls, signified that in that home there was hope, in that home there was determination to rise above circumstances.

Saturday, March 7, 2009


I find the two most stressful times in the year for me are Christmas and my birthday. After 48 of them, I am finally figuring out why. I am a lousy receiver of gifts. I like to say ‘I’m not a gift guy’, but what does that mean? The truth is, I don’t like to be on the receiving end of gifts, generosity, support, etc.

I started thinking about how it’s just easier for me to be in the giver’s seat. Its not that I am particularly generous, its more to do with my ability to control the situation. When I receive something I have no idea what is coming. Receiving makes me vulnerable.

This past Christmas there was a viral video going around called the “Advent Conspiracy” it was advocating not spending money on gifts but rather focus on relationships, and give the money to projects supporting clean water in Africa. I thought this was great. I showed it a close friend who I thought would totally appreciate the video’s creativity and message away from the material focus of Advent. He was visually upset after watching it. ‘Great, another excuse for my wife not to give me a present!’

My friend loves getting gifts. I mean loves it. He’s also very good at letting me know when he needs help or support. He is a great receiver. We make a good team. But, he is also a really good giver. Out of the blue he will give me something that is so perfect and thoughtful – his receiving informs his giving.

It seems an odd thing, not wanting to receive. We live in a very self sufficient culture. Like Mary Tyler Moore “we’re gonna make it on our own”. I think, given the choice, most people, with the exception of my aforementioned friend, would prefer to be on the giving end of things – whether that’s gifts, help, support, etc. But, there is something to be able to receive, to accept openly that which we are given.

I am learning that this receiving is a practice, like a spiritual practice. It requires open hands, open heart. Maybe it is better to receive than to give.

Friday, March 6, 2009


Last spring I watched a play “A Man for All Seasons” about the true life of St. Thomas More. He lived at the time of King Henry VIII. He rose in rank to being the Chancellor for England – the top Catholic and head judge. The story is that Henry wanted him to annul his marriage to Catherine so he could then marry Anne Boleyn. More, on the basis of his beliefs and conviction as a Catholic refused. Angered, Henry then demanded that More take an oath that would have had him renounce his allegiance to the Pope. More refused that as well. Ultimately, he was jailed, and executed for treason.

There is one great line in which his wife is jesting, asking him if he wishes to rule the King – to which More responds “I neither could nor would rule my king. But there's a little...little area...where I must rule myself."

Thomas More could not, and would not, abdicate himself to anyone.

He was a man, deeply committed to God and his church, who also took complete responsibility for his actions and lived by his conscience. There is not, in the life history of More, or in the play or movie anywhere where More says “Why me God?” or “it’s unfair”.

I am responsible for what I know to be right and true. I am wholly responsible for myself. I believe that as I grasp that, I know myself better. I also believe that by being responsible I have to take much more seriously what it is I believe. There are no loopholes, spiritual or otherwise.

The world is set before me. The precepts of right and wrong, good and evil, noble and, and, not-so-noble. I don’t need to wait to be told. What’s more freeing – taking responsibility for my own actions and desires, or giving that responsibility away to someone else?

St. Thomas More was free. There was that 'tiny area' of his own life that he ruled. He knew who he was. He knew what he believed. He took full responsibility. That’s the challenge before me.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Pay Attention

I am a multi-tasker.  I am a forward thinker.  I like to think I can anticipate problems before they arise.  I am a visionary.  I have my fingers in a lot of pies.  I have a lot of energy, I rarely sit still for very long.....oh, don't get me wrong here, I'm not bragging, I'm confessing.

About two years ago I came to realize that something wasn't right with me.  I had lost my drive, I had no motivation, and I faced each day with absolute dread of all that needed to take place.  I was not me, or not the me that I had been for many years.  It got to the point where I booked some time with a therapist.  At my first appointment I spent about half an hour listing all that I needed to do, people that were counting on me, the lists, the stuff I just wasn't getting to, etc.

She listened patiently.  Once I stopped my rant she said "I have a picture of you galloping on a horse, behind you are all the people and things you feel responsible for and are worried about following you at full speed.  I have some homework for you.  Turn your fucking horse around." And with that I had permission to stop.

There are a lot of things that got me to that point of seeing the therapist, but I came to realize that one of the biggest reasons for my anxiety is that I had stopped paying attention.  I was so caught up in all I had going on, and all that I was trying to do, what was next - that I became disconnected from the present.

Over this past year my brother has become a student of Zen Buddhism.  I have asked him to explain what it is and what he does and his response is surprisingly simple "It's paying attention".   Central to the practise is zazen - sitting.

For me to sit still and pay attention is quite the challenge.  The attention doesn't begin with all that is around me, it begins with all that is in me.  The beat of my heart, the rhythm of my breath.  The practise of prayer often becomes just a litany of requests and expressed fears and anxieties.  Yet even Jesus taught to pray "give us THIS day our daily bread" he also said "don't worry about tomorrow, today has enough trouble of its own". 

I was driving my 17 year old to the airport about a month ago. He was leaving for an amazing adventure of sailing both sides of the Atlantic Ocean for the next five months.  I said "Patrick you must be really excited about heading to Brazil to meet the ship". 

His response will be something that will stick with me.  "I am looking forward to that, but I am also really happy and excited right now. Its about the present - I have learned that from playing music, when I am playing my guitar I can't be thinking ahead."   As I dropped him at the airport I realized I had crossed a threshold - I was now learning from him.

It takes work to pay attention, but I am amazed at what I have been missing by looking past what is now ahead to what might be.  As another great friend told me when I was going through the anxiety odyssey - "Rory, don't just do something, sit there."


Wednesday, March 4, 2009


The latest Jim Carrey movie is called 'Yes Man'.  Carrey's character goes to a motivational speaker that challenges him to say 'yes' to everything - hilarity ensues....  The movie leaves much to be desired, but I was caught by the idea and wondered how often I said 'yes' rather than 'no'.  Life isn't really that binary.  But the idea of saying 'yes' suggests that we are moving forward, being intentional. 

I know what I want from life, and I know how I want to live - but do I? I want to be in great shape, be well read, engage with interesting friends, do meaningful work, be creative,  be generous,  be environmentally aware, care for my soul, and love my family.  I am sure if I worked a bit at that list it would grow much longer.  These aren't things that I think I should do, these are things I really want to do.  I realize how often I fall short in achieving even the desires that are on the top of my mind.  I waste time.  I get caught by the things that distract from what is important.  I don't think I am good enough.  I have lots of excuses.  

This blog itself is a conscious choice I have made - get up and write.  I have wanted to write for so long, but always found reasons not to - whether not enough time, or not enough talent - I would talk myself out of it.  It seems the reasons not to do something often win over my desire to do something.  

I also have that very odd experience of when I am in the midst of doing what I really want, when I am being intentional about life, I can't imagine life being any other way.  Yet, if, for whatever reason - being sick, travel, etc. - I am knocked off my course - getting back on becomes incredibly difficult and feels often like a complete restart.

I have had lots of conversations with my kids about why they didn't do something, or couldn't do something.  They would list the reasons and excuses - which often included things which they felt were beyond their control.  I would tell them 'you have two choices, you can either make life happen, or life will happen to you'.  

I have to do a better job of taking my own advice.


Tuesday, March 3, 2009


I was sitting in a chair bent over with my head on the edge of the bed, too tired to sit up straight. Across on the other side was my sister in law Lynne in the same position.  Between us, her husband Ron, breathing as one who was close to the end.  My father in law, Joe, sat, with his back to the wall at the end of the room.  We had been keeping vigil with Ron as he struggled these last hours in the hospital, finally succumbing to 1.5 years of cancer.

We all fell asleep.

I was awoken by the strong sense that someone had just left the room, it took me a moment to realize that Ron was no longer breathing.  I quietly called to Lynn, also waking her dad.  We all spontaneously stood up - the moment seemed to call for that type of reverence.

I talked with Lisa that night on the phone, she was too pregnant with our second to travel, and I wept. I was overwhelmed by the moment, the privilege I had of being there, of experiencing it, and realizing I had been there before, with Lisa, when our first son Sam was born.

The experience of being with Ron when he died was remarkably similar to the arrival of Sam, which had taken place two years prior.  Both of those times marked the essential passages in a life 'from the forceps to the stone' as Joni Mitchell sang.  To see life ushered in, and to be present as it left, gave me a clear sense that this life is not linear.

In the room that night with Lynne, her dad, and Ron there was a strong, strong sense of something else going on - just as there was at the birth of our son.  Cultures around the world build ceremony and ritual around birth and death. As humans we recognize most vividly at those times 'the other'.  The mystery.

Over the years I have become so much more comfortable with the idea of mystery.  That is not to say that mystery is a euphemism for things I can't explain or understand.  I see it as a description for things that transcend explanation or understanding.  Religion seems quick to want to label the what, or why, or how.  As does science.  As does philosophy.  Its very human to want to figure out our world.

I find increasingly that the best theological answer for me is "I don't know".  Not knowing used to drive me nuts, but now it seems so much more honest.  There is much mystery 'between the forceps and the stone' and I feel so fortunate to be in the midst of it.


Monday, March 2, 2009


Once a week I go for a run with a buddy along our waterfront.  Our route takes us past the Hollyburn Sailing Club and I remember my dad.  My father founded the club in 1961 to provide teenagers an alternative to hopping freight trains and causing trouble.  

The other day as I ran by I was struck by the thought that in 1961 my father was 51 years old. He had 3 kids including a newborn at home (me).  He had arthritis in both of his hips, and one wrist joint fused. He also had a demanding job.  All to say, my dad had more than enough excuses not to start something new.  He also wasn't a prominent guy in the community.  Just someone who loved sailing and decided he wanted to do something.  I am not sure if he had in mind that the sailing club would endure almost 50 years, and still occupy its prominent place on the beach.

As I ran past the club I asked myself what legacy I would be leaving?  What excuses do I make for not stepping out and starting something now that can benefit others in future decades?

What comes to mind immediately are my boys.  I figure the best way to positively affect the future is to work to raise them the best I can, loving them,  giving them a sense of the world and the confidence that they can do anything.  But, they are pretty much on their way now.  I have time and energy to put towards something else. 

I have talked myself out of plenty of ideas because I don't believe I have the talent, influence, ability, etc., etc.  Now, to reflect back on the sailing club.  My dad was not a 'man of means' by any stretch.  When they started they had no clubhouse, and 1 boat.  He was grumpy a lot of the time, and frankly I don't even remember him really liking teenagers. None of that stopped him.

I can't believe I am going to say this but....I want to be like my dad.  I want to be the guy who recognizes the need and steps up to do something about it.  Everything great was started by one person.  Salvation Army, Red Cross, Abolition of slavery, Sisters of Charity, Apple.

It's a good question: What is my legacy?  I guess everyone has one - positive or not.