Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Joy is free and everywhere


Lesson 891,762 from the Universe



Someone else always has a bigger problem than we think we have.

I’ve been going to the same drycleaner for many years now. Owned and operated by an elderly couple, he’s usually in the back, cleaning and pressing the clothes while she greets the customers and, if needed, takes you behind the counter, draws a small curtain and does measurements and alterations.

Neither speak much English but they both speak the universal language of kindness.
When taking my clothes, with a big smile she would say,
“What day you need?”
“Tuesday?’

With a freshly sharpened HB pencil she’d circle the day on a slip, placing a copy in her wooden rolodex.

They’ve been in this same location for decades, the small desk in the back corner must be 50 years old, the small wooden shelf is covered in old ceramic coffee cups patterned from the 70s, a rice cooker and small bowls evidence they eat lunch, and maybe even dinner at this small desk every day.
That’s the other thing, the neon ‘OPEN’ sign in the window always seems to be on. Not unusual for a mom and pop run business.

A few weeks ago, on a Wednesday I rushed to the dry cleaner to drop off some things I needed for a flight on Monday. Running across the parking lot I noticed the husband outside taping a notice to the door at 12:30.
I thought it was odd as there’s never a sign on the door. He turned around and began walking away but saw me and quickly pulled out his keys and unlocked the door to let me in. I didn’t read the sign.

            “Are you sure?” I asked.
He just smiled and nodded.
Once inside I looked around for his wife but she wasn’t there. In fact, the place seemed eerily dark and quiet. He took my items and asked,
            “When you need?”
            “Is there any chance I can pick up on Friday? I’m going away, need to pack…”
            “Afternoon is OK?” he said.
            “Sure. Thank you!”

He handed me the slip and I forget about it until Friday 4:00.
I race over there and notice the neon OPEN sign is turned off.
What?! How can they be closed so early? It’s not even 5:00 yet.

I race to the door and sure enough it's locked. About to turn away I notice a sign near the door, 'Vacation notice'

Vacation! Vacation? They're on vacation! Why didn't they tell me on Wednesday?! Why didn’t they say get here early because we’re going on vacation? I’m going on vacation too and now I don’t have the clothes I need!

Under the vacation notice it reads,
In case of emergency contact our son at X number and he will come and meet you.

Well yes this is an emergency, I. I begin to dial the number to tell son to come meet me and open the door.

As the phone is ringing I continue to read the sign,
We will be closed for vacation from Friday until Tuesday.
I am saddened to say that my wife’s battle with cancer ended on Wednesday.

That's where he was going on Wednesday when he stopped to open the door for me and take my clothes. My stupid, unimportant clothes. 
Ashamed, I quickly hung up the phone and continued to read.

She thought of you all as her extended family and loved you all very much.
We are sorry for the inconvenience of having to close but will reopen again in a few days after the service.

I returned to the drycleaner a couple of weeks later. Now it was just the gentleman and a dark, heavy feeling inside the shop. I handed him my drycleaning slip and said I was very sorry for his loss and that I missed his wife’s generous smile.

I asked him how he was doing, OK, he said.

The coffee cups, rice cooker and even the vintage alteration mannequin looked sad.
And I was reminded, by the universe, that whenever I think I have a pressing issue, or a problem, it’s insignificant compared to the problem the person standing right in front of me has. The person who is putting on a brave face, who is being kind to me.
And this man, despite losing his wife that very day, who was maybe even on his way to the hospital to say his final good-bye, stopped to help me.

It’s usually in those times when we think our needs are so important that the universe gives us a reality check as to what’s really important.
A reminder to always be kind and to always remember that everyone is dealing with something.





Monday, August 1, 2016

Alive: Just out of View UPDATE!



There is an update on Rufus at the end of this post!

It’s been ten days since I lost my best friend. Caring friends have offered advice to ‘get out and see people’ and ‘keep busy with distractions’. And that’s what I’ve done. The last ten days has been full of parties, work and seeing people. Even in the quiet moments late at night I’ve filled the space with mindless TV. I’ve done everything they said to do. I was wrong.

This isn’t my first time meeting grief. I know better. I know that avoidance and distraction are the worst things to do. Grief needs our attention otherwise it patiently wait for an unplanned space between the fillers then it pulls us into the darkness, knocking us on our ass in the process.

It’s better to make an appointment with grief instead of being caught off guard. 
Today I made the appointment.

I went to Rufus’s favorite walking spot. A marine hiking trail deep within an old growth forest. My eyes stung with tears with each step as I walked alone. Soon guilt became my companion. That’s normal. Guilt and grief usually travel together.

I sat on the sea cliff where we had sat hundreds of times before. In front of me an ugly, dead tree – a stark reminder.

They say those things that cause our suffering are just illusions, even death, they are not real. But in this time of suffering it doesn’t feel like an illusion, like Houdini’s magic tricks, it feels very real. Painful. Unnecessary. Unwanted. 
It was the promise of these human emotions that lured us here in the first place. We so desperately wanted to feel something other than, what, pure love? bliss? divinity? I don’t know what’s on the other side, I don’t remember. But I’d like to think that’s what it is and that we came here to be an active participant in the greatest magic show in the universe with illusions so great we believe they are real, especially when they make us feel these emotions so foreign to our true selves.

Being willing to sit with grief is terrifying. It hurts like hell. It sucks. The blackness is hollow. The loneliness deafening. It doesn’t feel like a magic trick. It feels very real. But it’s necessary. To feel all those things I don’t want to feel. 
Release the resistance. Sit in the darkness. Look in the familiar eyes of grief instead of looking away.

And just like when we search the newly black sky for a star, a dim light soon appears.
Grief is not a monster. It’s a deep, intense, powerful emotion that reminds me of my humanness, this temporary and fragile condition that was gifted to you, and me.

Soon I hear the gentle lapping of the waves on the rocky cliff. Slowly coming back to the moment, to the magic. A curious ant scuttles across my hand and I laugh at the creativity of the magician. Up above the honking chorus of Canada geese catches my attention and that’s when I notice that the dead tree is not dead after all.
For up above, just out of view, it is alive. And so is Rufus, up above, just out of view, he is alive.
Update
I had asked Rufus to give me a sign that he was OK, you know, after he passed. I think most of us look for a sign. I said, 'a beautiful sunset is not a sign, I want something really specific, I need to know it's you Rufus'. The days went on and there was no sign. 
Well, this morning I brought my three-year-old to McDonald's for breakfast (I know, I know) and she asked for a toy. I said,  
"No, they don't give toys at breakfast, (I know, I know), feeling like a schmuck I quickly said, “yes they do give toys at breakfast”, and the cashier let her choose a toy. I didn't pay much attention.
After breakfast she asked me to open the package and inside was a stuffed dog equipped with a blue wheelchair. Rufus loved kids so it makes sense he would give us his signal via a toy, a gift for a child.
My daughter screamed,
"Why does he have a wheelchair like Rufus!? Is his name Rufus too?" 

I said, "I don’t think so, this is just Rufus's way of telling us he's alright." 

And he is alive. He’s just out of view.  

 





Sunday, July 24, 2016

Ruby: The Fearless, Unscathed Creative Genius



Creativity Takes Courage - Henri Matisse
 
Walking through Kitsilano neighbourhood on this Sunday morning, my dear friend Penny and I happened upon a courageous young girl seated at what we thought was a lemonade stand.

But this little girl was not selling lemonade, she was an eight year old self-published author selling copies of her books, greeting cards and stickers.

My friend purchased two of her lovely cards but I gravitated to the books she was selling for $2.50.
The books were still wet with glue, because she had bound them together by hand. She is the author and illustrator and as you will see by the photo below of her ‘about the author’ page, Ruby is eight years old and got the idea of writing these books because she has two pet rats: Wilfred and Twitcher, who happen to be the main characters in her book series. Yes, she has written a series. She has written a series. A series. A %&@^$ Series!!!!

I bought the books because:
a)    Gotta support other starving writers (but Ruby is not starving because at $2.50 a piece she is making more than double what I do as a traditionally published author!),
b)    They are absolutely adorable and so is she.

But what I didn’t expect was how well written these books are. She followed Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey monomyth almost to a tee. 



Wilfred and Twitcher started off in their ordinary world where we learn they both come from poor families who struggle to put food on the table. Twitcher is bored, and tired of his circumstances, the rumblings of an adventure to come.
The call to adventure came when Twitcher asked Wilfred to go find the magical blue berries that his Dad had told him about.
The meeting with the mentor came in the form of a magical red bird named Scarlet who took them part way on their adventure, but then, this was as far as she could take them…
They met enemies and allies, went through tests.
There was a central ordeal in the BEAR-LION cave where they nearly died at the midpoint but managed to escape.
They seized the sword i.e. the magic blue berries.
Made the road back home with the help of a raccoon where they returned with the elixir – magical berries that produced non-stop food that would last them a lifetime so they’d never go hungry again!
All this in a 10-page self-published book of an eight year old creative genius named Ruby.

This creative genius has not yet been tainted by doubt, fear and nay-sayers; in fact, her mom and dad were out there with her helping her count change (and controlling the crowd that had gathered). She is an inspiration to the rest of us who ‘know too much’

I was thrilled to snatch up two copies of her books, and have the author sign them because, as her mom said, this is the last sale of the season as Ruby will be taking a year-long sabbatical in Berlin starting next week. No doubt she will find lots of inspiration for the further adventures of Wilfred and Twitcher. Go Ruby!

Check out the questions and answers page at the end of the book and the preview of book two. 




Thursday, July 21, 2016

I Lost My Best Friend Today



I’m writing this post in memory of my baby boy, my best friend but I’m also writing it for anyone else who lost their best friend today, or is faced with the painful question of whether or not they should let them go.

Rufus found me nearly 14 years ago when I was living in Cabo San Lucas. He showed up on my doorstep in the middle of the night, he was only a few weeks old. He chose me. He must have known how much I was going to need him.

He’s been the strong, steady, silent presence through the passing of many loved ones including my parents, and with it, my innocence.

You are not alone in your deep sadness. In your sorrow, in the darkness so black that you can't even find yourself right now, you, like me, are seeking solace. Something to take away the unbearable pain.

There is no magic answer to your question; how do I survive this grieving? But there is an answer to know if it is time to let them go.

I knew it was time to let Rufus go because he told me it was time. His hind legs were weak. We got him a wheelchair. But then his front legs went today. He looked in my eyes and I knew it was time. I thought about giving it a few more days, not for him, but for me, for my own selfish need to hold on. But that wouldn’t be fair to him. The best way to love our pets at the end is to let them go, with dignity and peace and comfortably, without pain.

I laid on his shoulder and cried one more time, soaking his fur, as I had many times before. He was steadfast and strong, comforting me, as he had, many times before. I can never give him all that he gave me. I have tried. I have tried. But he always gave me more. Your reserves of love, unlimited. I love you buddy. I am so sorry I couldn’t do more. And I’m sorry I let you go.

As I write this my tears soak this keyboard. The pain of death never gets easier, only more familiar.


We have to let them go. Hold him through his last breaths, if you can, and if you can’t that’s OK. Rufus laid in my lap those last few moments, I held him tighter and tighter even after his last breath, clinging on to what was no longer. But I know, I know I felt his love fill the room and it will never leave my heart.

How do you survive, how do you fill that huge, empty, hole in your heart? You don’t fill it with guilt, guilt will only turn that hole into a bottomless pit. When you brought an animal into your home, you saved him. He has spent his whole life trying to pay you back. And he did. Many times over. Even though you never wanted to be paid back. Even though you still feel indebted to him.

So you do it by remembering all the love you shared, the walks, the road trips, the sad times and the good ones, the one-sided conversations that were always met with big, floppy, listening ears and the unconditional love that always greeted you at the door, and then you say, I’ll see you soon buddy. I’ll see you soon. 

Saturday, June 25, 2016

The Problem with Politeness: The Gritty Lily


April. Dusk slips into the city almost unnoticed as a spring shower tiptoes across the collied sidewalk.
The rush from Point A to Point B races against the clock.
There is never enough time.

Impatiently waiting at the crosswalk I hear a man yelling. I can’t make out his words but he’s loud, obstructive perhaps even desperate.
What’s that guy on?

His voice is getting louder. I look down the sidewalk to my right and you see him. He’s a young man, maybe 30, wearing what appears to be pajamas, stained with dirt, rain and who knows what else. His eyes are wild. His hair disheveled and even in the fading light I can see his fingers are blackened. He runs from one person to the next, holding up something in his hand and every time he does the person quickly turns away.
When is the light going to turn? I hope it turns before he gets to me. I don’t want to deal with this shit.

Now he’s heading straight for me. What is in his hand that’s making everyone else run away?
A knife?

The light turns but it’s too late. He’s made eye contact and now he’s right beside me. He raises his hand with a desperate look on his face and in his hand is…
a flower. A flower?
He’s going to try to sell me that flower.

“Do you know what kind of flower this is?” he pleads.
What’s the con? Is he going to ask me to buy it?

In his hand is a torn, dirty, yellow flower; but despite its condition he cradles it ever so gently.
            “No, sorry I don’t.” Because I really don’t know.

            “OK.” he says and continues walking with the green light beside me.
Is that it? He’s not going to ask me to buy it?

Walking beside me, he asks every person he passes the same question he asked me. But every single one of them does what I almost did.
Looks the other way. Holds up their hand in disgust. Crosses the street to avoid him. Some even tell him to ‘f’  off before he can even ask. 

Walking alongside him I can’t help but begin to feel the same things he feels.
Rejection. Judgement. Condemnation.
I may have been polite in looking at his flower, but I wasn’t kind and therefore was no different than even the ones telling him to ‘f’ off right now.
This is wrong.

            “Can you please tell US what kind of flower this is?” I suddenly find myself saying to the next person who passes us.

I am met mostly with mistrust as they look at him, then me in my sharp blazer and matching hat.
But he continues forward, and so do I, forgetting about time or the importance of getting to Point B. For this, this is more important. This is a calling, a calling for kindness amidst the judgement and indifference that only moments ago I was a part of.

Slowly some begin to at least look at the flower now. But not everyone does, some give me the same treatment they gave him, but this just adds fuel to my passion for humanity. I meet their judgment with laughter, a reflection of the irony of their blind condemnation.

I don’t know the purpose of this mission, it just feels like the right thing to do.

The man with the flower looks at me and I see hope in his bloodshot eyes as he realizes that he is no longer invisible. No longer alone.

            “Good evening! Have you ever seen this type of flower before, madam?”

And then it happens, a small crowd of three or four people has gathered around us when a man peeks above all our heads and in a thick foreign accents says,

            “This is a lily!”

            “What is it?” screams the man holding the flower, spinning around to face him.

            “It is a lily. I am sure of it.”

The young man crumples to his knees and begins to sob. The small crowd quickly scatters.

            “Are you alright?” I ask.

            “Am I alright? Am I alright?” he is nearly screaming again, “This flower is a lily. A lily. A beautiful lily. This was my mother’s favorite flower but I never thought to ask her what it was called. And now she’s…gone.” His voice trails off as he gently strokes the lily.

            “I’m sorry. But glad you found your answer.” I said, beginning to walk away feeling changed in some small way I can’t quite put my finger on.

            “Wait!” he screams, “Take it.” He holds the wilted lily up for me to take.

            ‘No, that’s OK, thank you.”

            “Please!”

I notice a twinkle in his eye that I’m sure wasn’t there before and accept the lily with the same gentleness he offered it to me.

As I’m walking away he says,
“Do you know what it means when someone gives you a yellow lily?”

            “No, what?”

            “It means you’ve been kissed by an angel.”

Yes, yes I have.



Monday, June 6, 2016

You Won the Lottery


You won the lottery. And so did I. We are the lucky aliens who got to come to this planet and know form in its never ending possibilities and, more importantly, the human experience.


The ‘universe’ created this blue mass of miracles for us. The sky is blue for us, the mountains high for us, the grass green for us, the birds sing for us, the sun shines for us, the clouds rain for us, the trees give shade to us. Stars light the sky for us in the darkness, the darker the sky, the more stars there are to remind us that even in the darkness, we are never alone. Everything we could ever imagine is right here. In perfect form.



Next time, before you squash a spider, suspend your fear momentarily and just stop to really look at it. Look at his furry legs, his tiny pinchers, the design on his back. Like, who came up with that design? To say it was beautiful would be an insult because it’s miraculous.

What’s even more miraculous is the function of a spider. What kind of a mathematical genius, architect and engineer does he need to be to spin a web, in the dark, without so much as a rudimentary tool? Just think of the planning and thought that goes into not only it’s design but placement?

Spiders catch bugs, hummingbirds eat spiders, it’s all a perfectly balanced and intelligent piece in a system with an infinite number of pieces all designed to function perfectly with all other pieces in the system.

And we are the ones who got to come here and witness it. Explore it. Stand in awe of it. 
It's easy to let the distractions, the disappointments and the temporary set-backs of life bring us down. In those moments, more than ever, we need to remember that we won the lottery. We really did.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Happy Star Wars Day

Fellow Jedi Masters,
Happy Star Wars Day and May the Fourth always be with you.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Sharpen The Saw

I just returned from a five-day Novel Intensives writing workshop with Writing Legend (and former Texas Rangers relief pitcher), Larry Brooks and Story Coach, Jennifer Blanchard in Portland.

I've been developing my story for book two for what feels like a lifetime very long time. The search for story and development of a story is a lonely, excruciating and, exciting process. 
It starts with an initial spark of an idea that seems to come out of no where. For me it was about five years ago while hiking in the San Jacinto mountains in California. 
Since that fateful morning I put it on the back burner where it has been simmering, bubbling and boiling over at times but I just haven't sat down and hammered out the concept and premise into a workable story. 
Because it takes time. 
A lot of time. 
And it's a painful process.
But it's time to sharpen the damn saw and get 'er done. So that's what I'm doing. Sharpening the saw, honing my craft, learning what I need to learn to make it better. Spending the time with bottom in chair, developing the story and the characters who are bored to death just waiting for something to do.

The point of this post is to say that too often we know what we need to do (exercise, pre-make healthy meals, foster better relationships with our loved ones, get down on the floor and play with our kids even if they keep breaking the crayons and asking us to do impossible things like color the glue pink and put it on our eyes!). 
We don't do what we need to do to make our lives better, to make us better people, to reach our goals, because it takes time. 
Stephen Covey says one of the habits of highly successful people is that they sharpen the saw, unlike your neighbor who wastes hours trying to cut down a tree with a blunt saw and won't just go sharpen the saw because, it takes time. 
So sharpen the saw.




Monday, January 11, 2016

Oh Yeah


A lion never loses sleep over the opinions of sheep 
- origin unknown

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

I Remember You


I am as you are.
We are one and of the same.
Perfection. Divine. Love. Light. Brilliance.
We are all brothers and sisters who experience these temporary homes we call bodies.
Souls sharing the gift of human experience.
When I see you I will smile, and know that it is genuine.
I'm not intoxicated, I just remember who you are.
We are One and of the same.

Free will is ours to try different things, learn different skills, live in different lands, study different teachings, and believe whatever we choose.
Our ego would lead us to believe that our differences make us separate, better, worse, special or unworthy - but we won't be fooled by that sneaky devil, at least, not for long.

He leads us to believe we suffer alone, but truth reminds us we suffer together in our successes disguised as failures and our growth disguised as heartaches.
We must only look to the left, the right, behind and in front of us to find one who suffers equally as we do.
But we must only look within to find the antidote to our suffering for it is here, in our hearts, where there is enough love to heal the world.

Until then, when I see you I will smile for I remember who you are and who you are is perfect.