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Monday, February 23, 2009

Get Over Your Self

I laughed out loud the first time I read the name of this band: "Me First and the Gimme Gimme's". Yes, it is, in fact, a real band :-) They do a lot of cover versions of folk songs like Paul Simon's "The Boxer" and John Denver's "Country Roads", in a kind of hyper, head-banging alternative rock style. Not my flavour of music, but I just love the name.

Their name came to mind on the highway home from the ferries at Swartz Bay the other day. On the highway into Victoria people always get impatient when a ferry-load of vehicles clogs up a long stretch, and they do the stupidest things like driving on a long section of the shoulder because they can't wait to get to the next off-ramp. I counted four of them doing just that during only one stop at a red light. Me First and the Gimme Gimme's.

When I was on the ferry trip itself, I noticed how people in small groups would jump the line in the cafeteria and save seats for themselves, rather than wait until they had bought their lunch like everyone else. Me First and the Gimme Gimme's. In fact, it's quite common in any place where there are crowds of people, whether it's a busy highway, a crowded mall or a line-up at the supermarket, to watch someone's impatience and greed get the better of them. There is often an air of entitlement, as if their needs far outweigh the needs of anyone else in that particular place and time.

It seems to cross generations too...although I'd venture to guess that the majority of hogs out there (oops, did I call them that?) are younger. I almost forgive them, however, because they haven't grown their adult brains yet and they are incapable of recognizing the fact that there are other human beings in the vicinity.

There are two people I know who are not young by any means, and who continuously surprise me at how they can turn even the smallest bit of trivia into something about themselves. You can almost see their brains at work, figuring out how anything, absolutely anything in a conversation applies to them. If I picked a Caesar salad for lunch, for instance, they would probably say something like "Well, *I* don't like Caesar salad," as if my choice in lunch fare had anything at all to do with them!

How do people get so self-absorbed? Maybe I'm being harsh...maybe I do the same thing, viewing the whole world through the medium of ME. You might detect a bit of hostility in my tone. I confess, I'm probably right in the middle of a hot flash right now (I can't tell one from the other anymore, they come so frequently), and my hormones are all out of whack yet again.

But I don't think I'm mistaken: I think we are slowly losing our politeness, our generosity and graciousness. How often do younger people give up their seat in a bus to an elderly person, or people in a checkout give up their place to the person behind them who has fewer items to buy? How common is it for gentlemen to hold the door for their female counterparts anymore, or for a person to apologize when they've accidently bumped into someone? When is the last time you DIDN'T see someone racing through a yellow light?

The act of "giving" can occasionally be an excuse for someone to pat themselves on the back. While I applaud celebrities, for instance, for using their name for many causes...sometimes you get the impression that for some of them, it is more about showing the world how wonderful they are. Look at me!

True giving is the kind that hurts just a little, and most celebrities have more money than they know what to do with. True giving is thoughtful, not to oneself, but to the recipient.

But maybe I'm expecting too much. I once heard about people who would walk the streets of town and put a quarter in a meter of parked cars where the time had run out. One afternoon my family and I were walking out of a restaurant, heading home, when I saw a meter that had just run out of time...I giggled to myself and put a quarter in the meter. It made me feel good. A couple of blocks later I saw another one, and I saw the meter maid coming down the road, so I grabbed another quarter and did it again.

Then I heard a voice behind me "Thank you! Oh, thank you!" The owner of the car was almost out of breath running up behind me, late and having lost track of time. I smiled at her, sort of surprised at being caught, and then moved on. It was a small thing, but it made me feel wonderful. It made me feel human.

When is the last time someone did something for you that truly meant something...that moved you in a wonderful way, even if it was a small act? Do you remember how you felt? Imagine if we put just a little more time into thinking what we might do for someone, rather than what we might do for ourselves. I'm not going to kid myself that these "Random Acts of Kindness" movements are going to change the world, and by now the phrase is tired and almost hokey. But if you get an opportunity sometime in the next little while, do a small something for somebody and if possible, don't let them know.

But do let me know how it makes you feel :-)

IJ

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Love & Misery

My daughter likes to call Valentine's Day, "Singles Awareness Day" (S.A.D.). The reason is because she knows she's not going to get a valentine card or gift from anyone except her mother and father, and what a depressing thought!

There really is a lot of pressure, isn't there, for people to express their undying love for each other on such a day. If you don't, you're in the doghouse. And if you do confess your passion to someone who doesn't want your affection or anything to do with you, you'll be avoided like the plague.

Such is what happened to me when I wrote a Valentine's Day card to Mark Tweedy in Grade Three. I thought he was the cat's meow. He was blonde, blue-eyed, very smart (except for the time he dove off the sundeck at his home and broke both wrists), and I was head-over-heels. We gave lots cards to kids in our class leading up to Valentine's Day, so an envelope for each of us was tacked to the bottom of the chalkboard, making a long row of them hanging around the room.

By the time my kids went to school, you either gave every kid in the class a card, or none at all...you weren't allowed to be choosy. But in my third grade year, such was not the case. Each day we would come into the class and check the thickness of our envelopes; how disappointing it was when I saw that somebody else's envelope was fatter than mine. It made very obvious to all of us which kids were more popular in the class, and most of us weren't in that league.

I gave cards to my best friends and to my teacher, but my most passionate expressions one year in particular were saved for the card I wrote for Mark. I don't remember what I wrote, but I don't think I held anything back. I had hoped that my affections would be returned, of course, and why not? I was a dazzling Grade Three-er...who wouldn't love me right back?

I'm sure you can imagine the disappointing end to this story. If he ever spoke to me before that day, he never did again. All I got was a kind of sick-to-my-stomach look from him when he opened it, and then nothing more. I don't know what ever happened to Mark and I went on to fall for other boys, but I won't forget my first foray into passionate Valentine's Day confessions.

When I was older and single and living by myself, I had similar disappointments. I would hope and hope for a sign from that certain someone and hardly get a "boo". Of course, later that turned around for me and eventually Valentine's Day cards became nothing more than another entry on my To Do list.

Let's face it, for most of us, Valentine's Day is really for lovers, like Christmas is for kids. But the first time you have an exchange of cards and love from the person you have your heart set on, is the most wonderful thing in the world. I hope my girls get to feel that way one day. In the meantime, Single's Awareness Day will probably thrive. Maybe somebody should start creating and selling Single's Awareness Day cards...there'd be big business in that, I'm sure.

All you need is love.

IJ

Sunday, February 8, 2009

The Thing About Things

Last fall, I had the ominous task of packing and loading up my Dad's lifetime collection of books and hauling them back home on the ferry to Victoria. The majority of them were history books, everything from Pierre Bertons' series on Canadian history to large picture books of World War II and biographies on some of the world's notorious and historic leaders.

I was able to give some away to my brother-in-law who is a high school history teacher, but the rest I had to contend with myself.

My Dad loved his books. There is a room in the townhouse where my parents moved to in the early 90's and where my Dad had a whole wall of bookshelves filled with them. He'd spend a lot of time, especially as he got older, going up there and perusing through them, and sometimes I think it was more to remind himself of certain dates and events than anything else. His dementia has slowely robbed him of his ability to remember significant moments in history--something he used to know like the proverbial back of his hand. 

And so it was with great regret that I sat in that room and packed away every last book into boxes for the trip back home. It was a sweaty job...books are heavy! Not just physically, either...every one of them seemed to be a little piece of him somehow. A couple of the books were in Danish, and another book or two I put aside because I knew they were special to him. I hauled them down the stairs and into the van and drove them home. Oddly enough, I felt like I was robbing him, but he wasn't there to see me haul them away, thank goodness. For almost a year now, he has been living in a care facility and has only had a rare trip back home.

When I got back to Victoria, I dragged the boxes into the basement and wondered what I was going to do with them all. Could I sell them? I took a few and looked them up on the internet, but realized they weren't really worth that much and it would be more bother than it was worth. Could I donate them to the local library? There seemed to be no way to do that.

This weekend, though, I finally had my answer. And so I loaded them all back into the van and drove them a couple of miles from where we live to the Times Colonist Book Drive, a local event put on by the Times Colonist (a Victoria newspaper), to raise money for a program called "Raise A Reader" which furthers education and literacy projects here on Vancouver Island. For all the time and sweat and heartache it took me to pack them up, it took only two minutes for the volunteers to take them out of the back of the van and into the wearhouse to be organized for the book sale. I stood and talked to one of the volunteers...a part of me wanted to talk about where they came from and what they meant to my Dad. But I really didn't get the chance, and I doubt very much that anyone cared except me. After all, they're just books.

Which brings me to the topic of this blog entry; things. We sure attach a lot of emotional value to things. I once bought a new set of wine glasses because I had been using my late mother's set and had occasionally been cracking or breaking them. I wanted to save them...but for what and for whom? My daughters don't really care about my mothers wine glasses, so I'm sure they'd eventually be given away or even thrown out. The only reason those glasses have any meaning is because of something in my head and my heart and my past...and that's all.

I have three sets of china. One set is from our wedding, the second is my mother's and the third is my grandmother's, rescued by my sister when my grandfather passed away and his house and its contents were being dispersed. So I have all of these sets of china, none of which are used very often. But I hang on to them because they mean something. And yet, things become as much a burden over the years as anything else. I worry about them, take care of them, keep them safe, all which takes up time and energy. If I'm not careful, I will have all of these things to burden my children with once I get too old to look after them myself. Not only do I have my things, I have other people's things because I've offered to store them, and I have my children's things packed away for when they move out or want to come home and take them. Which perhaps they never will.

Last week I went to Vancouver to take my Dad to a doctor's appointment, and afterwards we drove back to the townhouse where we had a lovely meal. When we had finished eating, I started to clear and clean the dishes, but when I turned to say something to my father, he had disappeared. I knew where he went...upstairs to his room of books. I guess I panicked thinking he'd see that they were all gone, so I tore up the stairs. I was right, there he was in his room. But he seemed not to have noticed how empty it was, he was more interested in grabbing an extra comb from a drawer. "I need another comb," he said and promptly slipped it in his pocket and walked out of the room.

Did he see that his books were gone? If he did, he certainly didn't show it. And I tried not to show my relief. Sometimes I wish I could grab an alms bowl, put on some simple monk robes and walk away from all of these things I have. So much of what I have, I don't use, and all they do is sit and collect dust. So I have resolved myself that I am going to have a huge garage sale in the spring and try to get rid of everything I don't use at least once in awhile. Except my mother's wine glasses. And the dishes. Ah, I'm hopeless... IJ