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What I'm for.

A recent post in exceptindreams (edit: actually it was in response to a poem by Taylor Mali) asked what I was "for" and I answered this:

I'm for the few blissful moments after sitting down to an anticipated meal with friends. Before actually eating. Those few bright moments to savor the aroma, the colors of food in front of you, and the sounds of your friends laughter bouncing off the walls and into your wine glass.

Reminded me of Thoreau...

I used to believe that I went to the mountains in order to think. But when I considered this more carefully I realised that, whatever the intention, the effect was the opposite: I went and I did not think. The physical effort of climbing two, three, four hills, the concentration on underfoot terrain, the crossing of burns and rivers, the watchful eye kept for changing weather, the sighting of the birds and other creatures, the sometimes tedious journey back out and the tired triumph of completing it - absorbed with all these immediate concerns, I had no inclination or indeed ability to think in any coherent, structured way about other things. Neither the plots of novels nor the meaning of life are worked out by hill-walking.

--James Robertson

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Whaaa?

Livejournal hasn't been blocked by the school board??
Why did I not realize this earlier?!

Living Compassionately

If we were working with mathematical averages, today would have been summed up as being a bad day by the definition of average alone. The events from 6 am to 1 pm were stressed-filled, painful on my knees, and complicated. Throughout the day, unease surrounded the store. This might be because I'm a new shift-lead and uneasy with managing a Starbucks store, or it could have been legitimate. (Truthfully, I wasn’t the only one to feel this kind of tension. When my manager later came in, she felt it too. She felt something was just not right.) As the story was told to me later, Ricky was closing last night along with Emily and Tamara. He was putting away the terrasse around 10:30pm, lifting heavy chairs and tables—in the dark no less—, when suddenly he tripped over the stand of our beach umbrellas that protrude seemingly out of the concrete. He fell on this concrete, and fell hard. His head smashed directly against the cement, and what’s worse, the tables that he was carrying fell with him, hitting his head again and pressing it back onto the concrete. He went to the hospital and was diagnosed with head trama, given CSST papers and went home sometime after 3am.

He explained all this to me after I had sent him a text message in the morning asking him to explain what was going on with the cashes. Every single till in the safe was completely wrong, there was no note explaining that anything had happened, and I was left to fend for myself on my second opening shift things that even experienced managers would have a hard time dealing with. Eventually, with a lot of help, it was under control but for most of the shift I was worried that something around the corner was about to go wrong.

Early in the afternoon my manager came in. The store wasn’t as busy as it normally would be and we were quite overstaffed, so I asked if I could do my shift-lead training manuals. She said that would be fine and I headed outside. I went outside because a) there was nowhere to sit inside, and b) I like outside, love autumn, and relish every moment that I can be a part of it.

After seven hours and fifteen minutes into my shift, and only fifteen minutes after I began reading and responding to the common sense questions about leadership and shift management that were in my book, an elderly woman was walking towards me and began asking questions about the city busses that travel down St. Johns, even before she was in front of me.

It has been my experience, that, with older people, as much as I adore and value each one of them, they speak a different dialect of English than their younger counterparts. I think it develops as they age. Whole paragraphs are spoken in single large sentences. New ideas are meshed and intertwined into the main question or idea that they're trying to communicate to you. The morphology, phonology, and syntax, as far as I can tell, are all the same and all relevant to what they’re saying, but it’s heard as though they were victims of a certain kind of degenerative aphasia. Its origins aren’t in the tongue, aren’t in forming words with the vocal chords, but are linked to Broca’s area of the brain, which governs language production.

Of course, being that she was obviously an immigrant also did not help her cause. Under, or over, or wrapped around this whole question of senile language production was a nylon rope that took the form of a thick polish accent. To sum up, I think that if I had met her twenty years younger, her English would have been far superior to the way it was when I was talking to her, guessing her to be in her nineties.

She wore small but very obvious bi-focal lenses that wrapped around her oval shaped head. From her chin hung long white hairs, and whiskers dressed her upper lip. Clasped between her paradoxically frail but firm grasp was a large, blue-plastic reusable tote-bag, acquired from a grocery store as one of their “going green” initiatives of weaning people off of pollution-producing white plastic. The tote itself was as wide as her torso and just as thick, if not thicker, since she must have carried half of her possessions with her. Standing less than four feet tall she had a hunched-over posture that didn't help make her more threatening.

In between her functional text of how she wanted to get to Pierrefonds Boulevard she meshed stories about her life, her husband's cigarette addiction, her daughter's good driving record, all of which were customary and expected by me when talking with an older person. Thinking of this custom made me smile, only because, overall, what she was saying was so barely comprehensible. A few times during the conversation I mentally took a step back from listening. Instead I would stare at her and remind myself that I was talking to someone who probably spent half of the past ten to fifteen years in this kind of senile delusion. On the one hand, it was funny. It was funny in the same way that this exact scenario, played out in a comedy film, would be funny. But then, pulling myself out of my inclusive thoughts and back into the moment, I realized again that I was talking to a real human being, with real human problems, emotions, a back story, some livelihood, and more.

She shuffled towards me and excused herself for interrupting me (and did so many more times during the remainder of our conversation), but would I happen to know the 207 bus? She wanted to get to Pierrefonds Boulevard, you know, to see the area; Ile Bizard.

“I never been. My husband he wants cigarettes. I went to the pharmacy to buy some but I only bought two packs, you know? Eight packages last time, only two today! But he gets sick now and should be in hospital but I go to pharmacy anyway for cigarettes. I have time… I have time. We live near the Roger-Pilon and across the street, turn left on Sunnyside, 185 Sunnyside. That's my house.”

At this point I was thoroughly confused as to whether she wanted to know how to get back to her house or how to get to Pierrefonds Boulevard. I addressed what I thought made more sense and pointed directly at the bus shelter where the 205 stopped.

Easy enough to follow, “the 205 takes you down a street called Rene Emard which stops almost in front of Pierrefonds Boulevard. But then you’ll have to transfer because it goes down Gouin—you said you were going to Gouin, right?"



She backtracked. She wanted to see “the area” and Ile Bizard and that she wasn't familiar with the area. I took another direction and told her where the stop was for the 207, that it was actually right in front of the building we were at. While the lady was talking about not taking the bus often, something completely different must have occurred to her, when, in mid-thoughtshewondered if I was a student. She must have seen the open binders on the table that I was using and assumed they were for school. I said yes I was a student of--, at which point she cut me off and replied, "You want to be a doctor?"

Upon reflection this too could have been considered comedic. As it happened, I had wore my school sweater that, in large red font reads "McGill," and the word "EDUCATION" directly on the chest and stomach, which coincidentally was in perfect line of sight of her eyes.

"No, actually, I'm studying to be a teacher."


Seeming somewhat disappointed, I quickly offered a large smile and said "which, you know, is equally as important as a doctor!"


She nodded and seemed to accept that, then excused herself again for interrupting me from my work. "Your books, the wind. Excuse me excuse me. I so sorry."


Finally, a break in the conversation came and she shifted to thanking me very much and she will find her way to the bus stop. “I okay. Don't worry I okay, I just go wait for the bus, the 207 bus, the stop is right there? I be fine; you study, study. Thank you so much you're very kind man."



She turned and waddled toward the bus stop and I continued with my books for another twenty minutes. After completing the section on "Effective Scheduling," I clocked out, grabbed my keys, my shirt, said goodbye to the rest of the staff, and left. No sooner was I out the door then my vision focused on the old woman, still waiting at the bus stop. It was a peaceful scene but at the same time, innerving. I don't know why I smiled. It was lonely to see her by herself. 


Autumn, for me, is the most beautiful time of the year. More fresh and more lively than spring, with more to do in it than summer and less to wear in it than in winter. It makes me happy to immerse myself in it. However, looking at this woman waiting for the bus brought about a paradox of scenery. The fall was gorgeous; the wind brought golden leaves down and across the street in a trail not unlike a swerving line of ducklings closely following their mother. Seeing that less-than four-foot-tall woman hunched over with her giant tote-bag made me feel very lonely and uneasy with myself. Nevertheless, I got in my car and heard the key enter the ignition and click twice into the standby position, the position where music plays but the engine hasn't been engaged yet. I paused for an instant, as I looked out of my dirty windshield and directly at the woman.

The next thing I knew I had gotten out of my car and was walking over to her. Did she want a lift? I'm headed in that direction and I don't mind bringing her to Pierrefonds Boulevard, if that is in fact where she’s headed.

"You have your own car? Really? Really? No. You're going to go that way? Pierrefonds Boulevard?"


"Of course."


“And you drive there just for me? No... It's a sin."


"A sin? Why is it a sin?"


"You're too good. You’re such a good boy to do this for me. You come over to myself my house sometime maybe one day when you need car, I'll give you mine. I make you food, you can eat and you can have some things of mine if you want them. Whatever you need I can give you. I give you my number. What i it? 1-6-8. Nono. It can't be that. 514 ehhh, 514, ehhh, 514… 9-8, nono.

“514.... 683---19...09. Yes. 168 Sunnyside, near Roger Pilon; That is my address. The other one is phone number, Don't forget me. Call me."

We had just left the Starbucks parking lot.

Driving on the route that the 207 would have taken her down anyway, she never failed to have words to say, which was pleasantto me. It took a lot of focus and concentration to converse and try to decipher what she was saying at the same time. It reminded me, strangely enough, of customer service. Particularly, of any irate customer complaining about a mistaken drink order, while the employee tries to resolve the problem by intermittently cutting in with "yes, yes. Don't worry. Everything will be fine I'll take care of it. Yes. I understand. Yes, yes. Already taken care of. You’re right. You’re absolutely right," but they just keep rambling on about why they’re so right. This was sort of like that, but positive. “Don't forget me. You'll call me, you'll come over and visit. You are..."

She expected an answer and the hanging tone that she used told me that she was asking for my name.

"Graeme.”

"Graeyem…

 “And I'm Anne.”

"Nice to meet you Anne." I always had a smile on my face, trying to find the polite proportion between looking at her and looking at the road.

She forcibly fidgets in her tote-bag, grabs another plastic bag in her first, and shows me a tightly knotted bulge centered in it, which she shakes while saying “Look. Here; the cigarettes…”

"But Anne, I don't smo—"

"Nonono, I know you don't smoke; this is for husband!

“Yes, he is sick now. He has prostate cancer. He should be in hospitable but he won't go.” Anne sounded upset when she said this.

“Oh my. How is he doing?”

There was a pause. "Yeah. Yeah he okay now but should be in hospital."

Further down the road she says "I've never seen this area, this area new to me. Not very rich area though. ‘Must be poorer neighborhood. Yes.

“You have paper? I give you my phone number you come over and I make you things to eat and you can maybe later have my car. It’s big, my car. A lot of gas it takes right now, but it will go down. It will go down…”

I didn't know that by driving this nice lady a few blocks down the road that I would be next in line to collect from her will.

---

I came home and told my mother about my day, how it was mostly bad but good overall. I told her about the old lady Anne and how I drove her to the end of the street and I almost began crying right there in front of her. I felt emotions come up and quickly clog my throat. Since my father’s death these are the symptoms I so frequently feel when emotion overwhelms me.

I didn't let tears come out in front of my mom, though. I went downstairs with haste and focused on the tasks that needed to get done, that is, turning on my computer, taking a shower, and focusing on what had happened not ten minutes earlier in my car.

---

I pulled into the gas station and as the front tires passed over the sidewalk, Anne spoke anew. The moment I stopped and turned off the car she immediately got out and thanked me a hundred times. She gave me her number on my notepad and told me to keep her pen. "I have lots, I have lots." It was just a regular blue Bic but I kept it and don’t ever plan on throwing it away. As she was shuffling off she didn’t stop to turn around, but told me that she would be able to find that 207 bus stop herself, not to worry. But I did worry, and I made a point of stopping her to point it out. She called me a good boy again and hoped I would come over and not forget.

Before I could ask her if everything was okay, if there was anything else I could do, she scuttled towards the bus stop. I got in my car and drove slowly out of the gas station’s lot, looking in my rearview as I turned around to make sure she was headed in the right direction.

---

On the one hand I’m glad I did this, on the other I’m kind of worried. I’ve drawn comparisons of this weird event to my view about killing bugs that have made their way inside my room. Very simply, I don’t. I pick them up and bring them outside. This is what irks my mind, though. Who's to say that is the right thing to do? Who's to say that the bug’s "natural environment," where they belong, is outside, after all? By putting them outside instead of killing them dead, am I doing a righteous thing? Am I doing them a favor? For all I know they won't be able to adapt to their new environment and might die within a matter of hours.

The same applies to Anne, however less fatal. I could have left her at the bus stop and she would have assumedly managed to get on the 207 and travel the same distance and the same exact route that I brought her in my car. So why did I take the risk of asking her whether or not she would like to come with me? Truly I don't know. What I've reasoned to myself is the following. For whatever reason, I have a real desire to help people. I want to help, in whatever way I can.


Here is what I find interesting. It is true that I was having a very stressful and not so great day that day. Instead of looking for something or someone to do something for me to make me feel better, I went (marginally) out of my way to do something nice for somebody else. That thought in itself made me feel better. It seems kind of contradictory, doesn’t it? There's something to be said here about living with compassion.

The more hours I spend around, around people, around the field of education, around life in general, the more I realize that compassion is paramount to my existence. I'm not going to generalize. I won’t say that this is a common trait for all people, not because I don't believe it is, but because I don't live through the eyes of others. I can only know myself, or part of myself, and from what I know thus far, this is what I believe.

Compassion for others makes me feel better inside. I can easily recall scenarios in the past where I have given up the occasion of showing compassion. There are of course other times where I could have offered people a ride, could have spared some change, could have helped someone cross the street, but I didn’t. I regret those missed opportunities every time they occur. I feel bad for myself. Don't get me wrong. I don't dwell on them. I am certainly not the epitome of the Good Samaritan. Being only human, after a few hours I have well forgotten about those feelings and have occupied my head with more “pressing” issues. Ultimately, though, I do not think it does me any good to ignore those opportunities. For the few hours that I feel upset there could be, in a transverse world, a me that did take it upon himself to show that compassion to others, and that me feels spiritually, emotionally, holistically fulfilled. It brings serenity. It brings me closer to peace. It brings me closer to the world and to the world's overarching spirit, if you will.

This is the first time I've ever explicitly referred to the world as having a spirit. But I think it's true, and to a certain extent I believe that everyone can agree with me. I’ll do my best to articulate what I mean.

The world is a living, breathing thing. Or, if you prefer, hundreds of billions of living things, each connected in some way, in some how, to the other parts of itself, which ultimately forms one entity. In the same vein, your arm is in itself a living organism but not an independent one. Your arm is connected to your shoulder, which is connected to your upper body, which is connected to your lower body, all of which, when put together, makes you whole. Thus I don't think it's a far stretch to say that the world, as an entity, has its own presence, its own characteristics just as we, the world’s persons, have personalities. Written differently this “presence” can be referred to as a spirit of the Earth. By acting compassionately I feel more in tune with this presence. I'm not sure how, but in some way I'm operating on the same wavelength. I don’t mean to suggest that there is one fixed wavelength, one way, that humans could possibly live on, but more that there is one that the Earth recommends to us. It may be easier to understand if we consider it in terms of music.

Close your eyes. Think of a blank sheet of music. Think of the five parallel lines that would normally contain notes, stops, indications of rhythm, volume, and stresses. Hold those lines in the forefront of your mind. Now, simultaneously peel those five parallel lines off of the blank sheet of white paper and have them steadily float in front of the eyes of your mind. With the infinitely powerful hands of a creator, grab each end extend them both ways from the beginning to the end of time.

What we have now is kind of time-line. A musical continuum. Each one of us, each individual on the face of this Earth can be then seen as a blip on that continuum, as a note on that score of music.

Humans then, are placed somewhere surrounding the confines of those five lines. You can be as high up as you can imagine, or as low down as you wish. (Truthfully, the only thing limiting how high or how low we place musical notes on actual sheets of music are the limitations of the human senses, right? Only sounds that we can hear with our ears, and only notes that we can produce with our mouths and our fingers, can be recorded on paper. But who’s to say that those are the only ones that exist, especially if we know for certain that dogs, for instance, can hear notes that we cannot.)

Place yourself on that music score somewhere. Fully realize that, further down the time-line, there may be other notes, other individuals, which fit in the same depth as you, but also realize that not a single one of them will ever be at the same location as you in the grander scheme of the overall piece of music. You have your place in the continuum just as I have mine.

We can extend this analogy further. Notes that are connected, played one after another in rapid succession could represent our loved ones; our families, our friends; special connections that sound beautifully when played together or one after another.

Also realize that placing yourself on this piece of music is placing your very essence, what makes you, you on it as well. Not how people perceive you, not the actions or the consequences of those actions, but the pure being that is you. Your spirit; your presence. The ultimate good that resides within you that may come out often or perhaps almost never, but never ceases to exist.

Altogether, this infinite set of five parallel lines, notes, scales, and progressions unify to form the most beautiful song that was never written, never needs to be written, never heard, and never will be heard by any human ear, and yet each of us inherently, unconsciously knows its melody. Contained in it here is a harmony that, when played, is more flawless than the most innocent of children, more pure than any ray of warm sunshine just emerging over the horizon of a new dawn.


---

For myself, acts of compassion such as driving Anne to the bus stop, whether it was useful or not, draw me back to that line, back to remembering that I'm part of that piece of music, part of the song that is projected outwards from the aura of this world, much like an angelic pitch that radiates from divine presence.

Anne, I still have your pen, I'll keep it with me always. It has become my writing instrument, to be used only for one occasion: to ensure my mark on that spatial sheet of musical never fades.


 

Jul. 11th, 2008

I hate the last half an hour before tickets to a show you absolutely need to have good tickets for go on sale.
C'mon internet connection, don't fail me now.

AMAZING.

Daily intake of interesting useless knowledge:
"The Greek philosopher Chrysippus allegedly died of laughter watching his donkey attempt to eat some figs after he gave it wine."

“Sometimes It Happens”

“Sometimes It Happens”
Brian Patten


And sometimes it happens that you are friends and then
You are not friends,
And friendship has passed.
And whole days are lost and among them
A fountain empties itself.

And sometimes it happens that you are loved and then
You are not loved,
And love is past.
And whole days are lost and among them
A fountain empties itself into the grass.

And sometimes you want to speak to her and then
You do not want to speak,
Then the opportunity has passed.
Your dreams flare up, they suddenly vanish.

And also it happens that there is nowhere to go and then
There is somewhere to go,
Then you have bypassed.
And the years flare up and are gone,
Quicker than a minute.

So you have nothing.
You wonder if these things matter and then
As soon you begin to wonder if these things matter
They cease to matter,
And caring is past.
And a fountain empties itself into the grass.

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