I can be a little obsessive. Just ask anyone who knows me. I worry about my kids (well, I suspect every parent does that); I worry about my friends’ kids. I frequently worry about strangers’ kids. I worry about my Mom. I worry about my home. I worry about the environment – a lot.
In a time when people – even dear friends and family – are divided over just about everything; in a time when most news channels cover stories that have been carefully crafted and custom-designed with a very specific viewer in mind, it is impossible not to take a side. Do you lean to the left? There are news channels guaranteed to mirror exactly how you feel about every possible news story that interests you! Do you lean to the right? We’ll provide you with news guaranteed to make the left look like idiots! Just watching the news is pretty much certain to leave you feeling confused, torn, frustrated, anxious, and likely, pretty angry.
I am not a great traveller. There, I said it. I am a homebody. I like my quiet routines. I love my cat. I love my dog. I like knowing that my little domain is safe and cared for. I like keeping an eye on things.
There are 49 derogatory terms for women listed in Wikipedia, including quite a number of terms I’ve never heard in my life. I do know they are all meant to be insulting and I am sorry to admit that I’ve used a few of them, mostly in the privacy of my own mind.
I’ve also occasionally been called a few of those words.
As you can perhaps imagine, I never liked the experience.
I have a few childhood memories that will always haunt me but one of the worst happened in one single, terrible moment. I must have been 6 or 7 years old and we had been visiting my Grammy and Grampy. I remember that it was a beautiful summer day: we had all gone somewhere – I don’t recall the location now – with the exception of my beloved Grampy, who had opted to stay at home that morning.
Upon our return, as our cars pulled into the long dirt driveway that led to my grandparents’ humble little country home, I was the first to tumble out the car so that I could go find Grampy and excitedly tell him all about whatever amazing thing we had just been doing. He was unusually hard to find: I ran all through the little house, scouring every room for him.
It was a very stormy Christmas Eve back in 1970 and Dad had finished work at six o’clock. I was eight years old; going on nine; my sister would have just turned seven. Back in those days, the family always met at my grandparents’ house on the other side of the province. It was normally a two-and-a-half-hour trip. Because Dad had had to work right up until the very last minute, Mom had everything ready to go. As soon as he arrived home from work, Dad gobbled up a sandwich as Mom hurried me and my sister into the back seat, already dressed in our jammies.
I don’t know quite when she started it, but many, many decades ago my grandmother, who was a beautiful and accomplished seamstress – if only to keep her own family frugally but very well clothed because money was tight – made Christmas stockings for the entire family. Every stocking is made of red felt with white-felt trim and each one bears the family member’s name as well as a number of lovely felt decorations, each slightly different and unique to its owner. My parents, my sister, my aunts, my uncles and every one of my cousins had their own stockings. Back in the 70s, when we all got together at my grandparents’ home for the holidays, our stockings used to cover every inch of my grandparents’ stairway banister. My own stocking is now dix decades old and although it is starting to look a little weathered, every single stitch remains intact.
For as far back as I can remember, I always wanted to make a difference. I wanted to do something amazing: something that I would always be remembered for. I wanted my name to be recalled with admiration long after I was gone. I wanted my children to be proud of their Mom. I wanted to feel proud of myself.
I chose a profession in education: a place where it is easy to make a difference – if you want to – every single day. For most of my career, I worked in adult education; adult literacy, to be exact. One would think that working with adults who are learning to read and to write would be about as fulfilling a career as one could aspire to. Instead, I worked far, far in the background: writing and overseeing grant proposals for our annual funding; preparing action plans and strategic plans for the government to approve and therefore allow us to keep doing what we were doing for another year; training the teachers who would actually get to teach an adult how to read for the first time, as well as teaching them the myriad life skills that the statistical majority of us take for granted: skills that feel like a mountain to the adult learner who is absorbing them for the first time.
With the above in mind, buy local, or if you cannot, buy items made in countries whose values align with your own;
Make ‘kind’ your default as often as you can;
Get your money out of RRSPs – and into a more spendable, less taxable, more easy-to-pass-on-to-your-kids format – while you still have a pulse (a banker gave me this advice);
You do not have to rinse your dishes before putting them in the dishwasher. The new detergents work better if they have food enzymes to help them break down better. It’ll save you loads of time, reduce the cost of your water bill and it will be much better for the environment;
Grow something you will be able to eat;
Take good care of your things and try to fix them rather than replacing them, whenever you can;
You really don’t forgive for the other person. You forgive because it’s just too toxic for you to carry that anger around;
Whatever awful drama or tragedy you are going through, time will make a difference. Hang on…
If you have kids and you don’t have a will, get one done up. In many places, you can legally draw up your own will so it doesn’t even have to cost you all that much;
Re. the above: if you have specific wishes, write them down! Tell your loved ones where they can find that information. And review your own wishes periodically. You will be surprised how they change over time;
Also re. the above: make sure a person you trust has Power of Attorney over your finances and your health decisions, just in case the day comes when you are unable to make those decisions on your own;
Regardless of how important you think you are in a business or an organisation, you are easily replaceable (and soon forgotten). Almost everyone retires at some point. Whatever work you do, it may be the centre of your existence now, but the time will come when you are obsolete. Rare are the people who work until the day they die of old age. Make sure you have a real life to fall back on when you do retire (and start early if you can);
There is nothing – nothing – human about ‘human resources’. Never, ever forget: they are not there for you; they are there for the system;
Re. the above, systems are never there for you; they are there for themselves (and especially, for their bottom line). The best you can do is to be your own best advocate;
Breathe. And stop to just look around, as often as you can. Leave your phone at home from time to time. It’s really, really beautiful out there…
Living isn’t the point. Making a difference isn’t the point. Making your mark on the world isn’t the point. What did you learn? I think that is the point…
In my country, Canada, today is the second official National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
There were 140 federally-run residential schools all across Canada that operated between 1867 and 1996. The intent was to ‘teach the Indian out of the child’: complete assimilation, in other words. The children were forcibly removed from their homes. Their hair was cut; they were forbidden to speak their native tongue; they were forbidden to practice their spirituality and their traditions; they were not allowed to go home and they endured unimaginable abuse: either of neglect, physical and sexual abuse, or worse.