Once More to Gratitude

About five years ago, I was sitting outside a coffee shop with my cousin on a grey spring afternoon. We watched as a leather-clad, bearded man rolled up on his motorcycle. As he dismounted, a similarly-attired man greeted him from a wooden bench:

“How’s it going today?”

To which the newcomer replied:

“It’s going great! I’ve been waiting for this day my whole life!”

My cousin and I looked at each other, delighted by this unexpected exchange. So simple, and such a brilliant reminder to treat every day as if it is the only one we have. After all, it IS the only day we have.

I know that we can’t all be Pollyanna 24 hours a day and that we can’t live each day as recklessly as if it were our last. It’s impossible and unrealistic, and to anyone reading this as an indictment of not being perfect and perfectly grateful every moment, remember who writes this blog. 🙂 Some clients of mine used to resent my mentions of gratitude, letting me know that they have no interest in being grateful at the moment. When I trot out the importance of gratitude with some of my friends who are struggling, I wonder whether they feel I’m trivializing their pain.

The thing about gratitude is that it can shrink or expand depending on where we are in life. When things are obviously great, it can be pretty easy to access. Landing your dream job, having meaningful relationships, or a trip to Costa Rica lend themselves fairly easily to gratitude, though even then we sometimes stray from what is to what could be.

Then, there are the darker times. Times when we congratulate ourselves because we had a shower and that’s the most productive thing we’ll do all day. Loved ones’ diagnoses. Fear of where the next meal is coming from. In these times, and times of addictions, chronic pain, injustice, war, unkindness, abuse, and the terror of what we are doing to the planet, it seems harder to lead with gratitude. We grieve, we vent, we isolate, we wallow in regret. We glare at people who suggest we have things to be grateful for. Really, there’s nothing to be grateful about.

But here’s where gratitude gets back to the basics. The very basics. Gratitude begins as essentially an anatomy and physiology lesson. It can be found in your beating heart, which I’m going to assume you have and which does its job steadily while you go about your day and night. Gratitude can be found in your kidneys that let you excrete waste without dialysis and your liver which purges toxins. It’s in your limbs, which let you move around and do what needs doing. It’s in your hands, perfect for throwing balls and measuring out cumin and picking up a baby. The senses. . . the marvel of vision! Of being able to read and see animals and faces and navigate and be independent. Hearing Pachelbel’s Canon in D. Tasting chocolate, hugging someone, smelling peppermint.

Then there’s abundant food, clean air, drinkable water, laughter, memories, a warm place to sleep in the cold, the presence of dogs and elephants and songbirds on the planet, green trees, the sun on our faces, chilly winter air. . . The list is endless, and life a menu of choices. We might not have access to all of the menu items, but we all have some, and we can be grateful for those. Life isn’t (and let’s remember, will never be) perfect, but as the guy on the motorcycle knew, we all have so much to be grateful for if we just look for it.

 

 

It’s a Pod, Pod World: Part 1

Every once in a while I panic about missing out on the one podcast that would change my life. I feel this same panic entering a library and wishing I had an omniscient book genie who knew everything about me and the contents of every item in the place, a genie who could point me to THE book(s) that I need to read. How else can I possibly know what to read or listen to that will strike just the right chord for me? HOW?

I’m no podcast genie, but I can share with you some of my favourites, which also show up (for good reason!) on many “Best of” lists. These pods have fed my ears as I washed thousands of dishes, rode dozens of kilometers on my bike, and drifted into countless nights of sleep. Here are four of my desert island picks.

Ologies. This is a new find for me, and seriously, where has it been all my podcasting days?! The wonderfully funny and irreverent Alie Ward leads a weekly scientific tour, inviting often equally funny and irreverent guests to discuss their areas of expertise. The light-hearted conversational format allows Ward to ask anything (ANYTHING) that interests her about a subject, and fortunately, it’s usually what also interests me. Things can get gross and gooshy. Past shows include the study of eggs, hair, blood, oceans, trains, and death (oology, trichoology, hematology, oceanology, ferroequinology, and thanatology, respectively). If this description doesn’t intrigue you yet, take my word that if you have even a basic curiosity about . . . stuff, you will probably end up caring about things you thought you could never care about (such as lepidopterology – I’ll let you figure that one out!). 🙂 This podcast capably bridges the learning/entertainment divide. Get thy brain quickly to https://www.alieward.com/ologies

Outlook (BBC). I’m a sucker for people’s stories about their lives, and this podcast specializes in them. There is no experience beyond the reach of this international podcast; stories of chance meetings, hostage-taking, amnesia, heroic doctors, redemption, murder, sex-trafficking, and organ donation are brought to light by guests. Outlook has a superlative production value, top-notch (unsentimental) interviewing by its hosts, and it is blessedly commercial-free. https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p002vsxt

If ever a podcast defies being pigeon-holed, it’s Taggart and Torrens. Hosts Jonathan Torrens and Jeremy Taggart helm this chaotic, loving tribute to Canada and “Canadianity”. Shows are stuffed with homemade games (often revolving around music and quizzing each other about slogans), skits, lists and countdowns, and  stories about vacations and the happy everyday-ness of life as parents, husbands, and (don’t tell them I said this because they’d hate it) celebrities. A highlight of the pod is the plethora of in-jokes cultivating a culture of “bahd”s, or listeners of the pod. Torrens and Taggart enact imaginary exchanges between Gino Vanelli and his much-less-famous brother Joe, and send a whiny Gordon Lightfoot climbing into the office window of his agent, Bernie. They lament the plight of the underappreciated wailer in Enigma’s “Return to Innocence,” and Torrens especially plays with francophone, British, and Seth Fisher-ian accents. They morph into spunky Andrea and her indifferent roommate, Laramie, hit the sound booth as name-dropping producer Donovan and guest, choke on the off-colour Gork-Gak, and spend sleazy 2-for-1-drinks-evenings at a franglais strip club featuring such performers as “Jann [H]arden”. Bonus if you were raised in the 80s, as you will get every CBC-soaked reference about old TV commercials, Beachcombers characters, and heinous CanCon-protected music. Get yer maple syrup on at http://www.taggartntorrens.ca

White Coat, Black Art (CBC). My Scrubs-watching, biology-degree-holding self adores all things medical, and Brian Goldman, MD, hosts this most excellent of podcasts on the subject. He is an ER clinician, but he is also a medical communicator, and he knows how to convey both compassion for patients and knowledge from “[his] side of the gurney.” In WCBA, Goldman explores medical errors, racism in healthcare, patient advocacy, and physician burnout in a way that holds doctors to account without throwing them under the bus. He speaks less about medical innovation and more about simple stories of people’s frustrations and felt powerlessness with an eye to improving the medical experiences for patients and physicians alike. https://www.cbc.ca/radio/whitecoat

 

 

 

 

Sunny Days, Small Picture

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Re-Extinction

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And Now for Something Completely Adorable

In cute news, here are a cute bell pepper and watermelon. Enjoy!

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I No Longer Need Everyone to “Like” Me

Today is very close to the 8-month-iversary since I left Facebook. I celebrate the day my account was deleted forever (and there was no mistake about how forever; the website’s solemn reminders of the seriousness of my decision to leave must surely rival any language found in a kidney donation contract) in December of last year.

Funny thing about Facebook: they are not willing to let you go without a Hotel California-esque fight. You can check out anytime you like, but can you ever really leave? After you Google how to delete your account (it’s not a one-step process to ensure you don’t hit a button in a vodka-fueled haste), you are reminded how much more appealing – and less permanent – it is to deactivate your account than to take the irreversible action of deleting it. If you are convinced you can commit to a lifetime free of electronic likes and news overkill, there is one last, paternalistic feature that ensures that you have three weeks to wake the f*#k up and just log in as soon as you’ve realized your ginormous error.

I was determined. I was ready to banish permanently my ball of Facebook-induced anxiety, sadness, and lost faith in humanity. Mentally scarred from reading racist comments on news pages and seeing pictures of hundreds of animals that need adopting, I had forgotten that Facebook was supposed to be a fun way to connect with friends. What happened to a good old poke or two? When did people start reacting to well-articulated essays with jeers and “lol”s? When did every cause for animals, people, and the environment become such constant presences that no matter how sun-soaked and family-filled your day, you would be dragged into a world of drowning migrants and dying bees? When did Facebook become a grim chore to be endured? If there is a balance to be found between wishing to stay aware and wishing to remain sane, I never found it on Facebook. Add to my personal angst the corporation’s horrific ethical indiscretions and its CEO’s sickeningly bloated net worth, and I was finally, officially out.

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The condescending last-chance period ended Christmas Day. I remember because I flattened onto my fainting couch that fair yule wondering how I might let acquintances and remote family know how tasty and spicy the glory bowl I just had was and how I couldn’t stop eating candy canes from the smartly-trimmed tree. If you are one of my acquaintances or remote family members, you might not know those important details about Christmas ’17, and I know you will have felt that loss as keenly as I did when I was not able to hear how your cranberry sauce turned out and how lucky you felt to bicker with those you love for several days.

I made it through the merry season, the new year, and beyond, but the severance was bittersweet. Sure, happier me knew I had done the right thing, but they really weren’t kidding that the account deletion is permanent. No peeking, no backsies; I was officially out of the community. The likes I craved were no more, the cheerful status updates gone, my e-soapbox dismantled. How I loved Facebook. And how I despised it.

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I still feel a pang of FOMO when I hear of an adorable puppy video being shared over FB chat, and I am incredibly out of the activist loop since I don’t even know anymore how to find out about local events,  BUT…my blood pressure has decreased, my hair remains in my scalp longer, and these days if my eyes are red from staring unblinkingly at the computer, it’s because I’ve been working on my thesis [playing spades]. Sometimes I even read paper things! Now, when people tell me to look up a Facebook page, I tell them with a hint of pathetic pride, “I’m not on Facebook.” And it makes me happy.

The World’s Dying. . . Let’s Blame Someone Else!

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