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Love and Christmas (Neighbours…)

The fourth and final week of advent begins on the Sunday before Christmas. Depending on where in the week Christmas falls, the fourth week can be the shortest week of all.  This year it was as long as it could possibly be – a full week to reflect on the theme of love – made (seemingly) longer by the “gift” of snow received at the very beginning of the week.  After three other city-paralyzing snow storms in just a two-week period, the snow was really starting to pile up…


…and when life gives you snow, on top of snow, on top of snow… you shovel.  We headed out on that snowy Monday morning with shovels in hand to discover another great gift of snow: neighbours.  Six families from our tiny cul-de-sac came out in force to work together that morning, including one dad who was just moving in that very day.  Really.


I shovelled my heart out, starting in on one neighbour’s driveway while he helped to fix the snow blower of another.  Across the street a dad worked to clear the outdoor ice rink he has built for the kids to play on, and another friend pitched in for hours to clear the common areas even though he his own driveway was not affected.  Neighbours.

“Love your neighbour as yourself.” (Mark 12:31)


Where would we be without the kindness of neighbours?  The simple gestures, the unplanned acts, the selfless thoughtfulness that happens every day in tiny unseen ways – that is real love.  The easiest way to have love, the greatest way to give love, the only way to create love is with kindness.  Shovelling for hours, thinking these thoughts, I laughed a little bit to myself at a connection that was foreshadowing at its finest.  This year, for our annual Christmas card, Mr. Martini selected this quote:

“Kindness is like snow: it beautifies everything it covers.” (Kahlil Gibran)


Those of you who live locally and have been shovelling out there just as much may not be laughing, but in a very real way the snow (and the many littles kindnesses that it sparked) has brought some of us together. Kindness is love, and in the week before Christmas I saw it flourish all around me in many little ways.  Now that Christmas has come and gone (ushered out on Boxing Day with another snowfall) I am still thinking about the love and kindness that has meant a great deal to me this year.  Through all of the challenges and loss there has been kindness, and that has made all the difference…

“There are three things in human life that are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind.” (Henry James)

(I have read that Henry James spoke these words in response to a question from his brother William’s son, but my own son tells me that this quote is from Mother Teresa… thoughts?)


Love and kindness are discussed at length here at the Martini house, and often philosophically, as Miss G. approaches the “Age of Enlightenment”. She asks insightful and deeply empathetic questions about human relationships and our place in the world, and challenges the adults around her especially to be better people every day.  In response to her deep and thoughtful questions, she received this letter from a guest in our house on Christmas Eve:

“Love is very important to me, to my work, and most of all to our world.  This love, in giving and sharing, has created a special kind of magic that indeed is very real.  It comes from the hearts of people who love and care for others, and casts a glow in the world wherever it is needed most.  When people feel the love of Christmas magic at work in their lives they are able to do better for themselves and for others.” (Mr. C.)


Love.  It is the simplest and purest way to express the best of our own self, and to care for others at their most human.  And really, it is the essence of Christmas: divine love comes to earth in vulnerable human form.  It is protected and nurtured by family and friends, and eventually rises above human jealousy, cynicism, anger… but that part of the story comes later.  For now, we will think about love and the place it has in our own lives as we go about our daily work of weathering the storm…

“It is love that fashions us into the fullness of our being: who we love, how we love, why we love, and that we love which ultimately shapes us.  It is love, before all and after all, in the beginning and the end, that creates us.  Today, remembering this, let yourself acknowledge and remember the moments, events, and people who bring you, even momentarily, into a true experience of love, and allow the rest, the inescapable mundanities of life, like a cloud, to very quietly drift away.” (Daphne Rose Kingma, read from our book of daily gratitude in the week of love…)

Just… love.

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Gaudete (Joy!)

The third week of advent – the midway point, just finishing now – is meant to remind us of the joys all around us. Joy comes from many places: the holiday joys as we prepare for our celebration of Christmas, the seasonal joys (strangely crisp and snowy here in the Pacific Northwest) and the daily joys – the little things- that connect our daily life to the magic of Christmas…


We spent our week of joy in a whirlwind of joyful activities – Christmas parties, family dinners, an amazing evening Christmas scavenger hunt and lights with friends, baking, delivering and exchanging packaged treats with people who have touched our lives with kindness and generosity this year…

“Find out where joy resides, and give it a voice well beyond singing, for to miss the joy is to miss all…” (Robert Louis Stevenson)


It has been a long journey from last year, when our hearts were heavy and joy felt so far away…but we have continued to live our daily lives with the belief that underneath the uncertainty and sadness there was a joy that could sustain us.

“Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy, and keep choosing it every day.” (Henri J.M. Nouen)


Every day.  In times of trouble – in our own lives, and in the world around us – more than ever we need to reach out to the little joys and hold on tight. We need to find comfort and sustenance there, and then send joy back out into the world, wherever it may be harder to come by. 

“Consider it pure joy whenever you face trials, because you know it produces perseverance…” (James 1:2-3)

Where are you finding joy in your daily life? 

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Peace

Advent, week two.

During this second week we are reflecting on the theme of peace. It seems to come right when we need it the most – December can be the exact opposite of peaceful!  At the Martini house we have been making an effort to find peaceful moments as often as we can, but sometimes the rush of daily life ( a minor blizzard, or two…) gets in the way.

One peaceful family habit we have tried to focus on since October is a meaningful moment of gratitude before dinner every night. We started taking turns reading out of an old family book of daily graces (“A Grateful Heart” – thanks Mimi) and the tradition quickly became so popular with every family member that we sometimes have to have multiple readings.

Day by day the different quotes, prayers and readings seem to echo the significance and concern of our current daily life.  When my turn came last Saturday, on the eve of the “peace” candle, this is what I read:

“By being attentive, by learning to listen (or recovering the natural capacity to listen) we can find our self engulfed in such happiness that it cannot be explained: the happiness of being at one with everything in that hidden ground of Love for which there can be no explanations… May we all grow in grace and peace, and not neglect the silence that is printed in the centre of our being.  It will not fail us.” (Thomas Merton)

The imagery in this passage (“silence printed at the centre of our being”) was so striking to me that I spent some of my Sunday afternoon reading more about Thomas Merton, and discovering a bit of a kindred spirit.  While many aspects of his life and writing are fascinating, the part that connected most with my thoughts about peace was his exploration of the depth of human experience and wealth of perspective available through a collaborative understanding of various faith traditions.

His philosophy is not just inspiring – in our current culture it is essential.  How can we be at peace with ourselves, how can we create peace in our world, when we are overwhelmed with fear and misunderstanding?  Even as we reconnect with our own spiritual roots and traditions we can draw on the mystical traditions of other religions in order to better understand ourselves, as well as our relationship with others and with God (or the “reality that is present to us and in us: call it Being…Silence.” (Thomas Merton – again – brilliant…)

 

Merton’s idea of peace in silence reminded me of another quote I return to often, from Max Ehrmann’s Desiderata:

“Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.”

Two weeks ago, when coming back from a school field trip with Miss G., I sat with a friend on the bus to the ferry and talked about how we find time for peace in our busy grown-up lives.  “You have to go to it,” she reminded me, emphatically.  “It can’t find you unless you make time and space.”  In her life peace comes in the silence of nature, and she makes time to seek it out every day…

Seeking out a peaceful moment, a peaceful thought or a peaceful time in this modern world is increasingly a challenge.  Being a peace seeker, a peace keeper, a peace maker, has become almost counter-cultural.  (Inspired by another amazing article about Jonathan Lear’s book Radical Hope: Ethics in the Face of Cultural Devastation.)  Peace, however, is imprinted at the centre of our being.  We must not neglect it, and it will not fail us.  Where do you go to find peace?  Is it in the silence of nature, like my friend from the bus, or in the transcendence of music?  Is it in the warmth and comfort of home with your loved ones, or in the rush of energy that comes with dancing, running, sledding, flying?  Can you get yourself there today?

 

“You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.  And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.  Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be, and whatever your labours and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.” (Max Ehrmann)

(Art by primary students from Norma Rose Point School)

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Hope

Here we are again in the first week of advent.  A new beginning; a chance to think about the changing seasons, the year behind us, and to learn from what was, what is or what may be…


Our family tradition is to light a candle for each week of advent, and for me the first candle has always represented hope.  One year ago, when we lit the candle of hope, we were hoping for so many things.  One year later, in a different time and a different place, we have a new perspective on what hope means for our family.  Over the year, as the seasons have shifted, we have thought a lot about hope… for ourselves, for our loved ones, and for the world we live in every day.

“All human wisdom is summed up in two words: wait and hope.” (Alexandre Dumas)

It has been a challenging year for us, for many reasons, and I know we are not alone in this.  And yet, through all the challenges, there is hope.  On Sunday evening, when we lit the first advent candle, I thought of the hopes that have sustained me and now I hope to share them with you…


My hope from the past is to carry forward the spirit of the women who inspire me with their lives and passion, who died knowing they lived their own best lives, who passed the torch of creativity, love and light, and who live in my heart everyday.  I’m grateful that they shared their gifts with me, and love that I can pass that legacy on to others.

My hope in the present comes from my children, who fill my days with questions and curiosity.  They live for joy in every season – laughing, growing, bubbling wonder and awe – and have carried my tired spirit through this year in particular.  Miss G, who read Anne Frank’s diary just last Spring, has a gift for being insightful and for respecting others.  Her ability to bring empathy and compassion with her every single day makes my heart sing.  G. Jr., only in the first grade, has charmed his way into the hearts of everyone he meets.  His happiness at the little things is completely contagious – spiders, bottle caps, interesting clouds – through his eyes the whole wide world is one hopeful opportunity after another.

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My hope for the future feels more uncertain, but I imagine it is similar to many of yours: for kindness, empathy, understanding and compassion to reach further than skepticism, criticism, negativity and fear.  Just like the light of that first candle dispels some of the late fall gloom, hope can shine through the darkness that sometimes obscures the better parts of humanity.  Don’t let darkness convince you that you are lost or alone – so many of us are waiting with hope inside.  Whatever it is that brings you hope – hold on tight.

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“Where there’s hope, there’s life.  It fills us with fresh courage and makes us strong again.” (Anne Frank)

 

 

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Pieces (Places)…

Years ago I read a book (I think it was Amnesia by Douglas Cooper) that inspired the way I think about place. I especially remember one passage that suggested every physical place holds the memory of the people, objects, events and emotions that have ever filled it. 

 

I can think of many places where this rings true for me. The apartment my grandmother lived in most of my life has long been demolished (“little boxes…”) but when I drive down the old street I feel strongly the spirit of that space. 

  

The neighbourhood I work in has evolved over the years – it used to be Middlegate and now it’s called “Highgate” to reflect its elevated status – but the spirit of the old 1970s bowling alley hangout still seeps through the sidewalk cracks here and there. 

  

Driving past an old east Vancouver park that was updated years ago I think of the welded steel-pipe rocketship that transformed the space for my own childhood – how many other children travelled with it to imaginary places?
  

I think about visiting my husbands Nonna and her hundreds of years old Italian stone house. How many layers of history are built up there, or in the back alleys of Venice or the mountains of Switzerland?

  

Thinking about the places that have meant something to me, and the people who make and occupy those spaces, has transformed the seed of that idea of place. I am imagining that every physical place I have passed through, lingered in, been inspired or influenced by has left an impression on me somehow. 
  

As much as the places are layers of emotion and experience, I am a patchwork of places. Each piece has been influenced by people and events – my whos and wheres are wrapped up in eachother and without them I wouldn’t be me…

  

Until I was 9 or so I moved quite often with my family. I was used to changing places and carried a sense of wanderlust with me as I grew into myself. I left home (and changed cities) at 17, and continued to move from place to place for more than ten years. My grandmother declared me the “moving-est girl”, and refused to keep updating my status in her address book… 

I was collecting places. 
  

Ironically, although I was voted “most likely to travel the farthest” at the end of high school, my collection of places has circled back on itself. Every day, sometimes more than once, I drive past several of my former schools and many of the other places I have lived, worked, and played…

  

In some cases the places have multiple layers of memory. The childhood/school years/adult versions of myself that echo through the places I pass through every day remind me how the layers of life and experience of place have brought texture to my now. Without the time spent in each of those places (even the painfully difficult ones) I wouldn’t have a complete picture today.
 

As my path continues to wander and wind, I know the places I have been will always hold a piece of me – I have left a layer of love and learning on my way. And as I go, I add the love and learning left by others to my own …

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Welcome Home…

  “Do you ever stop feeling sad when someone dies?”

Miss G. asked this question of me not long ago, and in doing so she opened up feelings that I hadn’t realized I was trying not to share. As she often does, she sensed something deeper than words and too complicated for her age , but her question made me think a lot about how we share our experiences of loss and sadness…

  

So many of us have lived through the death of a friend or family member and felt irreversibly changed by the experience. Four months ago, faced with the loss of a great and inspiring friend, I knew that life would not be the same for me. The feelings of shock and emptiness have weighed heavily on my thoughts and actions, and even regular tasks have taken more effort than they should…

I miss her every single day. I miss her laugh, her advice, her creativity, her enthusiasm, her style and optimism and certainty about things…

And yet. The sadness of missing, the inactivity of mourning would have made my amazing friend crazy. That girl was a do-er. She set her mind on following and fulfilling her dreams, and in doing so shared passion and joy for living everywhere she went.

When she wasn’t inspiring learning in the the littlest people she was designing welcoming places for all the rest – creating spaces for people to be themselves, to live their own dreams, to love their families and to build their own futures…

“Just Home and Love! the words are small

Four little letters unto each;

And yet you will not find in all

The wide and gracious range of speech

Two more so tenderly complete:

When angels talk in Heaven above,

I’m sure they have no words more sweet

Than Home and Love.”

(Robert W. Service)

 

Home is the people or places that bring you love and comfort, and help you bring love and comfort to others.  Whatever it looks like for you, wherever home is for you, you can fill it with the kind of welcome you want the world to be full of.

“We leave something of ourselves behind when we leave a place, we stay there, even though we go away. And there are things in us that we can find again only by going back there.”
(Pascal Mercier, Night Train to Lisbon)

  

It was her mission to create places where people would be comfortable and inspired. For those of us left behind, we have that mission to carry on – I can let the shock and emptiness weigh me down, or I can spend my energy on making something out of it – wherever and whoever is home to you, you can do it too. Make yourself welcome, open yourself to others, and build…

She would be proud.

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In Between…

There are certain times and places in life that are neither one thing nor the other. In between seasons, in between jobs, in between awake and dreaming, in between childhood and adult life…

Coming through these in-betweens always gives me a slightly unhinged feeling; the surreal rearranging of place and personality goes through a period of “unsettled” before becoming something new. Nothing is familiar, there are no landmarks or keystones, there is a lingering feeling of discord.

  

I began this post in between seasons – in that wet grey time that isn’t winter and isn’t spring. I kept thinking about it as I travelled with my family – in between work and holidays, in between countries, in between states, in between city and country landscapes, in between ever changing weather patterns…

…but now I have come to an in-between that goes well beyond unsettling. In between life, and death.

I have lost an amazing friend. Even though I knew it was coming, even though I thought I was prepared, I am in between acceptance and overwhelming grief. I might be here awhile.

    
There is no easy way to be in this place.  I am wallowing in sadness – for her beautiful girls, for the man who loves her, for her younger brother and his family too, and selfishly for myself and my own family as we have to live in this world with a little less light in her absence.   

An amazing friend. In her last letter to me she noted the in-between herself:

“It’s funny how certain life changes make us appreciate what we have/ had before it’s too late. It’s good that they come our way sometimes.”

The moments that give us pause, that make us uncomfortable, unhappy, unwilling… Those are the moments that can really open our eyes to ourselves and our possibilities. They’re like windows into or out of reality – a place to change perspective and focus.

  

In those places in-between we have the opportunity to transform. As quoted in my favourite film, just a few seconds are so much more than waiting:

“We Breathe. We Pulse. We Regenerate. Our hearts beat. Our minds create. Our souls ingest. Thirty-seven seconds, well used, is a lifetime.” (Mr. Edward Magorium)

  

In between sunrise and sunset there are hours filled with choice and opportunity. There is life to be lived. There are people to be loved and helped. There is laughter, there is joy, there is kindness. Use your in between – it’s everything…

“The moment in between what you once were, and who you are now becoming, is where the dance of life really takes place.” (Barbara de Angelis)

Oh Margaret; How I miss you…
 

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