I made the mistake of teasing a friend about her carrying of the sacred water bottle all day and I almost did not live to tell you about it. The women in my life are militant about hydration. Frankly, I don’t get it.
It happened one day, or so it seemed, very long ago (I believe it was a Wednesday). Women started carrying water bottles everywhere. I remember clearly watching women running about a small indoor track which had not one, but two water fountains virtually on lane one. It was all of three or four seconds between them but for some bizarre reason, that day every woman in the gym was running with a water bottle. At one point I witnessed one of them actually filling up her bottle at the fountain, an act that took far longer than actually taking a drink.
Back to my rabid friend. In no uncertain terms she described for me this miracle liquid that had transformed her life. Before she had been overweight and pale. Now she was overweight, pale, and hydrated. I am completely sure my wife is going to blow a gasket one day with her vast consumption of tasteless, lukewarm water.
I simply cannot pee that often.
I thought I would take a break from the professional jargon for one day and share a personal reflection. Please forgive my obvious self-indulgence.
When I was insane, all those years ago, I rarely understood what I had. I was overwhelmed by grief, drowning in my own head. All those years ago…
I have already written, in fact just recently, about my visit this summer with my mate Steve. Many things have changed in my life but he never did. While we were visiting my wife and Steve’s wife, Susan, talked about those bad days so many years ago. Susan may be forgiven her tiny betrayal, if perhaps because it was a small sin done in kindness and compassion. Annette asked Susan if Steve ever talks about that time and she said, “Steve never talks about it and the one time he did say anything it was only, “She left us.”
“She left us”. It staggered me when I heard it. A friend so close that he felt the sting of betrayal as only family could, and took it personally. Far from being offended I was humbled. That’s loyalty. I realized, probably for the first time, that there were friends who suffered beside me, in spite of my feeling so very alone.
I can recall, with vivid detail, the faces of those who had told me they were the most faithful of friends. People who, when the going got tough, bailed because it was too messy. Steve wasn’t one of those people. I’m thinking of a few friends locally as well. A few friends in Alberta and Saskatchewan and other points much farther away. Friends who aren’t easily frightened by my fallenness and not shocked when I have failed.
“She left us”. Three small words that have changed my life. Again.
“There are four questions of value in life… What is sacred? Of what is the spirit made? What is worth living for, and what is worth dying for? The answer to each is the same. Only love.” – Don Juan deMarco
I remember leaving home for high school and the abject loneliness I felt being dropped off at boarding school. I also remember hearing later that my father had cried for almost two hours as he drove the long road home to Alberta. I will never forget how that day my father kissed me for the first time since childhood. I was shocked, but overwhelmed. It was a moment of real intimacy between a father and a son. Kiss your kids. I try to still kiss my adult sons on the forehead on occasion. It is not strange or uncomfortable, it is a touch of belonging.
It’s Christmas time. Give the love.
“For it was not into my ear you whispered, but into my heart. It was not my lips you kissed, but my soul.” – Judy Garland
“It hurts to love someone and not be loved in return, but what is the most painful is to love someone and never find the courage to let the person know how you feel.” – Unknown
I was at a conference downtown but felt a nostalgic need to drive for an hour in traffic to go back and remember. So there I was, driving down a road I had walked hundreds of times, decades ago. I had never been back. It was the time, elementary school, when everything was possible and I knew I was going to be significant.
- Casual Friday – I Had A Dream (scott-williams.ca)
Have you ever tried to phone the Real Canadian Superstore? Let me save you some time. They are not in the phone book under the white pages, neither are they under any of the ordinary denominations in the yellow pages. That’s power. They don’t even need to let you get in touch with them. They know you’ll still come shop there. That arrogance is amazing. So after I finally found a number under pharmacy, I asked when they are open. The nameless automaton on the other end of the phone only said, “the regular hours”. Regular hours. The guy just knows I already know when they are open. And the sick part was, I did. That’s power. That’s arrogance.
They could care less if you like them. They have you and they know it. I despise that attitude. I hate the idea that someone has control over me. I want to believe I am in charge of my own destiny – that my decisions, not some power monger, determine my life. Of course on the same hand I like to play the victim so I have someone to blame when those decisions don’t turn out. I want to control my life – but I don’t want to be blamed for it. I also need to believe that I matter. With their cattle lines and impersonal service Superstore reminds me every week that I do not.
This has been good for me. It reminds me of those lines from one of my favorite ‘B’ movies, The Replacements, when Keanu Reeves, a replacement quarterback is confronted by the spoiled and arrogant star quarterback of the pro team who he has just replaced:
Eddie Martel: This doesn’t change anything Falco! I’m still an All-Pro quarterback with two Superbowl rings. You’ll never be anything more than a replacement player.
Shane Falco: Yeah. Yeah, I can live with that.
We all need to come to grips with who we are, not who we pretend to be. It’s tempting to spend your life chasing after something only to find out that when you get it, it really wasn’t what you needed after all.
Close to his death Martin Luther King preached his famous sermon, “The Drum Major Instinct”. As usual, he said it better than I ever could…
“Tell them not to mention that I have a Nobel Peace Prize. That isn’t important.Tell them not to mention that I have three or four hundred other awards. That’s not important. Tell them not to mention where I went to school. I’d like somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King, Jr. tried to give his life serving others. I’d like for somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King, Jr. tried to love somebody. I want you to say the day that I tried to be right on the war question. I want you to be able to say that I did try to feed the hungry. I want you to be able to say that day that I did try in my life to clothe those who were naked. I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity. Yes, if you want to say that I was a ‘drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. That I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter. I won’t have any money to leave behind. I won’t have the fine and luxurious things of life to leave behind. But I just want to leave a committed life behind. And that’s all I want to say.”
- Casual Friday – How Long Have You Been Alive? (scott-williams.ca)
- Casual Friday: Does Anybody Out There Know Who I Am? (scott-williams.ca)
- Dr Martin Luther King’s Drum Major Instinct Sermon (his last). (sharefaith.wordpress.com)
Tony Campolo tells a story about how he challenged his students at Eastern College by asking them, “how long have you been alive”? They responded by reciting their birthdays, almost without thinking. Then he turned to them and asked again, “how long have you really been alive”? He went on to tell of a time that as a child, he stood on the Empire State Building and for a few brief moments, as the wind whipped his hair and the panorama overwhelmed him, felt fully alive. Then he turned to his students again and said, “now, how long have you been alive?”
Some years ago I went skydiving with my friends Fergus and Wendy in Fort McMurray, Canada during an impending rain storm. It was one of those days when you could see the vistas of the horizon and watch the heavy grey clouds roll in like a blanket. It was undoubtedly not a pristine skydiving opportunity but we were anxious to get in a jump, despite our best interests. As we rose to meet the sky the clouds extended over us like a cotton canopy. We leveled out at approximately 6500 feet and flew just under the clouds. I climbed out of the door and held on to the top rim. The wind in my hair I watched the plane skim just under the unbroken cloud. On a whim I reached up and wiped my hand through the fluffy billows, splaying them behind me. For that moment, I was truly alive.
So much of life I have not lived really alive. Days meld into days without end, seasons come and go. It is easy to just exist but not really live. The older I get the more I understand that my life is so short. It’s very easy to live day after day like time doesn’t matter, wasting hours, even months doing nothing notable, nothing meaningful, taking people and situations for granted.
I had a pretty brutal car accident last year. I was in Saskatchewan, visiting friends and attending a wedding. I broke a few ribs and totalled one of best friend’s cars. Everything initially seemed to work out fine. It was a little later that I realized I was quite shaken by the experience and afraid to drive. I had to use some of the cheesy stuff I teach patients to work through it. Things are fine now but I was left with a pervading sense that I am mortal. Last month when I had a grand mal seizure I was again reminded that we are finite beings and need our lives count. Like you, I still have some things to do and want to make my life count for something.
I want to be awake and alive. I want to fan my had through a few more clouds.
If I close my eyes I can see myself clearly from a distance, standing in the doorway, the solid bank of clouds, looking up – then pushing my hand into the solid mass. There is joy on my face. Truly alive.
- Casual Friday: Does Anybody Out There Know Who I Am? (scott-williams.ca)
- Casual Friday: The NTLA (scott-williams.ca)
- Casual Friday – Stampy The Elephant (scott-williams.ca)
- Casual Fridays – Lessons From Life (scott-williams.ca)
- Casual Friday – The Speedo (scott-williams.ca)
It starts with what Augustine calls “undeceiving ourselves”.
Men. If you read nothing else on this blog please hear this. If you wear a Speedo we need to be honest with you. It’s gross. It’s disgusting. It’s pretty much naked… and not in a good way. We can see your basket is full, no matter how small or impish. It’s time to let it go… to undeceive yourself.
You aren’t French. Let it go…
Many of us, myself included, have spent a lifetime learning to undeceive ourselves. Some of us grew up believing things would turn out differently. We believed in the fairytale ending that was promised, but not delivered.
I never talk publicly about my ex-wife, until today. We were together since I was fourteen and she was my god. I worshiped the ground she walked on and even today have difficulty thinking ill of her. I loved her to distraction. She had only one glaring flaw, she was completely closed off emotionally. People who knew her for years admitted they had no idea who she really was. She didn’t show emotions in public. She didn’t show emotions at home. By the time she ran away with one of my best friends I was a needy, pathetic, love-seeking man-boy. I kept the kids, the house, most of her clothes. She didn’t seem to want anything. Especially not me.
When she left I had no idea she had a problem, any problems for that matter. I assumed she was completely happy, I know I was. It didn’t seem to matter that I could be away on a speaking gig for a week and come home to someone who didn’t seem to realize I had been away. In my needy way I served and served, pathetically trying to be loved. When she finally left she wrote me a nine page letter. I believed every word of it.
I spent a great deal of time sorting myself out. I learned how dysfunctional I was. I had presumed I knew what my wife was thinking and feeling, but I was profoundly wrong. So I spent countless hours researching women – their emotions, their sexuality, their philosophies. I endeavored to become a student of the opposite sex. I went to counseling, with a very bad counselor. I tried to be mother and father to my boys. I learned to undeceive myself, it took years. By the time I met my someday-to-be wife I had sorted some things out. I continue to sort.
After more than a few years I am married again to a woman who reminds me everyday that I am loved and appreciated. I am no longer needy, although I deserve little credit. It is much easier to become healthy and whole when you have an amazing and brutally honest mate cheering you on. I believe profoundly that I need to share the message with women that not all men are pigs. Not all of us are emotionally unavailable. There are men who are willing to do whatever it takes to love you well, they just need to be taught. We are not dumb, we are simply not paper-trained. I also feel that there is a message for men. We were not raised to understand women, or each other for that matter. It’s time for men to suck it up, grow up, and live sacrificially.
The most important lessons are not learned in the classroom. The most important lessons are learned in pain.
I still believe in fairy tale endings. In real fairy tales, however, my tale is a little beaten up, more honest, and balder.
I still do not believe in Speedos.
“Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.” ~ James Baldwin
I did not really grow up in a strictly religious home. My grandparents were alcoholics and they taught me different lessons than you would probably learn at “Johnny Church Member’s” grandmother’s house. By the age of eight or nine I knew how to play Bridge, Texas Holdem, Blackjack, Craps, 21, 31, 333, Follow The Queen, Stud, Baseball, Woolworths, and various other derivations of many poker games. I learned that you had to be at least thirteen before you can sneak beer from the basement. I learned that everyone drank, that only certain types of beer, always Canadian beer, did not taste like “panther piss”. I also learned that children didn’t matter. I learned that mouthy little kids like me were to be “seen and not heard”. I learned that drunkenness was a daily thing, not a special holiday activity. I learned how to swear. To this day I can pack more empties in the trunk of a Ford Fairlane than anyone I know.
My grandmother was a poor gambler but didn’t know it. She thought she was an excellent player and indeed seemed to be so to an eight-year-old child. She understood the fundamentals of the game and would beat me every time we played. She would usually take my allowance. It was a very tender family.
By the time I was eleven or twelve, however, I began to win. Eventually two things dawned on me: First, she wasn’t that good. Second, she had taken a great deal of my boyhood money and it was time for her to go down. Somehow I convinced her that we should play for higher stakes and I began the carnage. Slowly, relentlessly, I drove her into the ground.
I looked at my grandmother. This was the person who had taught me how to play. She was the woman who had raised my mother. She was an old lady on a pension, and I took her for everything in her account. At eleven years of age I damaged her financially. I watched her sign a cheque in defeat. It was for hundreds of dollars. Did I feel guilty?
I remember thinking at the time, “this is the greatest day of my life”.
As I look back I wonder why I did not feel any remorse. My grandmother was not a nice person. She did not know how to express love, and one could argue she felt little as well. She was a bitter, angry little alcoholic who would later disown me because I won an argument, and not even an important one. When she found out I was engaged she commented, “I don’t know the woman but she must be a slut to marry him.”
I learned a great deal from my grandmother. I learned that family is not that important. I learned that it is easy to lie to cover up addiction, that beer was consumed before lunch for ‘medicinal’ reasons. I learned that bitterness worked. I learned that I didn’t matter. I learned that love was conditional.
As I ponder that part of my life, and the subsequent apathy I felt when she died, I realize that I, on occasion, feel ripped off. I did not have grandparents that I could love and cherish. My father was an orphan. The grandparents I had were not nice people.
I look at the grandparents that my children have and I’m thankful for all four of them. They each have brought something unique and wonderful to the table. My children love them all dearly. When the boy’s papa died last year I was saddened and thankful for his life and his legacy. I am jealous of the relationship my sons still have with their remaining grandpa and grandmothers.
And thankful. Very very thankful.
p.s. – next Wednesday my father will be joining us as our weekly guest blogger!