Tag Archive: laughter


the power of great things

This year seems to be a good one for fireworks.  In August, I wrote of the serendipity of checking into a hotel in Gatineau to visit with friends, and discovering that a fireworks competition was taking place right outside the hotel.  This weekend, I was in Toronto for a conference and it turned out the Toronto Cavalcade of Lights was taking place across the street from the conference centre.

I am a person who hates Toronto very nearly as much as I love it.  Like any metropolis, most days it’s an overcrowded maze of unfriendly people, suffocating subways, grueling gridlock, and discourteous drivers.  It’s a place where there is destitution on every corner, where alleys are bit darker, where people’s dreams are chewed up and spat out, and where the gap between classes is more pronounced than elsewhere, having grown from a dichotomy of the wealthy and the poor to one of the obscenely rich and the profoundly indigent.

But it is also a place where everyone has a niche.  No matter how bizarre your interests, no matter how depraved or puritanical your lifestyle, there will be some alcove in any metropolis where you can find others who appreciate your tastes.  And it is a place where you can see things you will never see elsewhere.

While watching the fireworks at Nathan Phillips Square, sandwiched between throngs of people to the left of us and hordes of them to the right — a circumstance which would normally bring me close to a panic attack — I found a surprising calm and warmth wash over me.

Some of that tranquility found its source in the fireworks show itself because it seems that, the older I get, the more boyish is my fascination with them: the ecstatic bursts of colour, the thunderous booms of each explosion, the majesty of the orchestral track — I find it all thrilling.  Mostly, though, it arose because, for a moment, I pulled my focus away from the show and looked at the smiling faces upturned. There was no place here for family disputes, no place for unruly children and disciplining parents; the rich and poor and everyone in between saw the same show; people who, elsewhere in the world or at another time, might hate or fight or kill each other, stood side-by-side; the only skin color that mattered was the polychromatic glow the fireworks cast indiscriminately on the faces of all assembled; children’s faces were filled with wonder; lovers held each other closer; in short, all was well in that tiny corner of the world.

There is nothing of the experience of watching marvels that is so unique to Toronto, nor even any large city in the world.  But when that peace descends on a city normally filled with coldness and hate, it means something.  In a city so multicultural, where racial tension and ethnic intolerance run high; in a city so uncaring, where the gratuitousness of poverty has exhausted the empathy of so many; in a city so loud, with honking horns and flashing lights heard and seen every second of the day — yes, that peace means something.

homeless children playing

These things happen on a smaller scale every day.  Midst the rubble of catastrophe, people share moments of fraternity.  When I was younger, I remember during a visit to Toronto watching two homeless men embrace, the one flashing a toothless but immensely genuine grin when he saw his friend.  Then the other man pulled back his stained coat to show a treasure: a bottle of whiskey he had managed to palm.  He had come back to share it with his friend.  Yes, I know the bottle might have been stolen.  Yes, I know the men might have been riddled with addictions.  And for those reasons, I did feel a measure of sadness witnessing the scene.  But if I quiet those objections for just a moment, what I see is a brief glimpse of happiness in the lives of the downtrodden.

Today, I am thankful for the power of great things to give us pause and grant us a few moments to appreciate — either consciously or simply by the mere fact of our presence at, or participation in, an amazing event — some of the truly important universal values: togetherness, equality, wonder, and love.  For a little while, it makes me feel that, maybe, the world will turn out all right in the end.

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“best day ever”

It’s a good thing I’m not paid to write this blog. If I were, I would be fired. I discovered today that I only posted four times in October.  I’m not precisely sure how I should feel about that, but “ashamed” seems close to the mark.

And it is not that I’ve had no feelings of gratitude. But the last few weeks have been tumultuously busy, both at work and at home. It hasn’t been an unpleasant busy. I’ve felt a sense of efficacy and productivity at work, and home life has been packed with the sort of activities that are exhausting, but nevertheless remind me why having a family can be a great thing.

Today was an exception from the fast pace that has characterized the last month.  After bundling the kids into the car and getting my oldest on the bus, I discovered a text message from our child care provider saying she was ill.  What started as any other Monday turned into a “Daddy-Zachary” day.

father with son

Photo Credit: John H. White; Licence: CC BY-SA 2.0

When I was young, my mom and I would sometimes go out together for a muffin and coffee (muffin and hot chocolate for me).  Sometimes I would save up my money so that it would be my treat, though I’m willing to bet my money never made it to the till, my mother being so very much like a mom.

One of my regrets as a parent is that, after the birth of my youngest, spending time alone with either of my boys became a rare occurrence. No doubt all children with siblings appreciate an opportunity to spend time alone with a parent.  For the child, the absence of another sibling is the very thing that makes it special: for a little while, the child isn’t just “one of the kids” but a friend, a confidant, “chosen.”  For the parent, the experience is visited with a quietude that must otherwise seem like a distant memory.  Although my sons have a fraternal affection for each other I doubt my brother and I ever shared, spending time with both of my sons together still usually leaves me feeling like a referee, and I am sure most parents feel the same way.

Today, I am thankful for the few moments in life when parents are able to move beyond the parent-child roles and be friends with their kids.  After Zachary and I returned from a visit to the library, I suggested that he go use the washroom, and then we could read all the books we borrowed.  As he began climbing the stairs, he exclaimed, “this is going to be the best day ever!”  It’s uplifting to see that much enthusiasm over something so simple as reading books with Dad.  It’s not like we don’t read books together every day!  But today was special: it was just us.

now

My parents rented a cabin last week and took our kids with them.  Situated near the Haliburton Highlands, a gorgeous stretch of lush forests and sapphire lakes, the cabin placed them at a jumping off point for a variety of outdoor recreational opportunities.  Hiking, swimming, canoeing, picnicking — the kids had a great and memorable time.

My wife and I visited on Friday to spend the weekend there, and we learned that one of our youngest’s favourite activities all week long had been to go down to the river running beside the cabin and throw leaves in the rapids.  These are the sort of simple pleasures never fully appreciated by anyone much older than about four.  There were untold delights in the sweep of leaves through the current, moving slow at first, then rushing through the tiny waterfalls and gliding out into the wide river, destination unknown.

On Saturday, we drove to Bonnechere Caves, a series of subterranean paths irresistible to anyone with a sense of adventure – young or old.  Right before we headed out, I was down at the river with Zachary and my father, me snapping photographs and my father keeping Zachary supplied with leaves.  When we told Zachary it was time to go, he protested, and he continued to do so even when we explained that we would be exploring caves and tried to tempt him with all the wonders that activity would surely hold.  It would certainly be much better than throwing leaves in the water.

No dice: the kid was immovable.

leaves in water

Photo Credit: Jon Sullivan; Licence: Public Domain

We ended up getting him into the car, and had a great day at the caves.  Later, it occurred to me that I was a bit envious of Zachary.   I spend about a third of my life sleeping, and probably spend about 98% of the remaining two thirds focused not on what I am doing in the moment, but instead preoccupied with what I hope to be doing later (whether 10 minutes or 10 years later), or dreading some unpleasant thing I know I’ll have to do later.  It is a rare occasion indeed when I am able to appreciate “the now.”

Today, I am thankful for now.  This very moment.  The sun is shining down in patches on my freckled hands through an original wrought iron window in our 120 year old home.  Zachary is playing with a water table in a corner of our foyer, getting most of the water on himself and on the floor, but enjoying himself immensely.  Gregory is watching a show on his computer, earbuds in his ears.  Sandra has disappeared to the basement.  The room is quiet except for the sound of Zachary pouring water, the hum of Gregory’s computer, and the click of my keyboard.

This moment — this specific moment — is pure and discrete.  It’s a very rare gift — no one in the world can experience it from my perspective; it has never happened before, and it will never happen again.  It’s the only moment like it in the whole universe.

Gregory

birthday cake

Photo Credit: Lai Ryanne; Licence: Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

My eldest son, Gregory, has always been a… difficult child.  And by “difficult,” I mean that I’ve put a bottle of burn ointment in my wife’s purse to have at the ready when we’re at church, in case the priest starts throwing around any holy water.

I joke.  Really, although he still presents some problems at school, he is now a predominantly well-behaved and easy child at home and elsewhere. But it wasn’t always that way.

My wife and I have both taught parenting in formal settings and, while that certainly does not make us Parents of the Year, it does mean that we are familiar with a few parenting techniques. Evidently, our methods worked with Gregory over time but, when he was younger, we were sometimes up against a wall. I distinctly remember a violent tantrum he had when he was four years old over something ridiculously trivial.  As I stood outside his bedroom, containing his path of destruction, I looked at Sandra in frustration and said, “we’re way beyond parenting technique; it’s time to call in the exorcist!”

But, despite — or maybe because of — all the challenges Gregory has presented over the years, I have developed a special place for him in my affections.  It is a place that has formed over years of sitting in school meetings and hearing the horrible things Gregory had done and, far more often, the horrible interpretations of innocuous or even amicable things he had done; because once a child is labeled “bad,” it is a label that follows him everywhere he goes.  I have seen innocent acts typical of his age become laden with sociopathic interpretation.  Knowing the wonderful child Gregory truly is, I’ve come to be his fiercest advocate and most devoted fan.

This is the kid who once, when I was bogged down with a cold, said, “when I’m sick, you and mom take good care of me, and it’s not fair that I can’t take care of you when you’re sick.  I wish I could do something to make you feel better.”  (“You just did,” I replied).

Yes, he most definitely has a special place in my heart.  It has waxed through his endearing precocity.  Recently, he was convinced that he was going to die because he believed he might have inadvertently consumed poison ivy oil through an endearingly complex and circuitous route starting with possible contact with the pernicious plant at the locus of his calf.  When I assured him he was not going to die, he demanded, “how do you know? What studies have you read?”  Another day, he turned to a visiting friend and said, “you’re still filled with child-like wonder, aren’t you?”

That special place has grown from driving down country roads, singing loudly along with Creedence Clearwater Revival, with Gregory accompanying from the back seat on air guitar and back-up vocals whenever he knows the words.  Then, when I tried to entertain him by an exaggerated bopping of my head during a guitar solo, he warned me, “now Dad, don’t get too carried away.”

And, finally, that special place in my affections has developed from Gregory calling headphones “earmuffs,” and the preacher’s bench in our foyer the “creature’s bench,” and from those quiet moments when I am alone and he will find me and give me a hug and tells me he loves me.

Childhood passes in these discrete moments and, if we’re not careful, we might miss it altogether.

Today is Gregory’s 9th birthday and, today, I am thankful for him.  As a parent, I take seriously my duty to encourage Gregory to be the best person he can be, but I also have the rare privilege of being made a better person each day by him.  The few struggles richen the good moments, and teach me to be grateful for life’s tiny joys.

the gang

Today, I am thankful for family.  This is important because I don’t think I feel nearly as grateful for family as I should.  There are times when having a break from my family is necessary for my sanity and, altogether, having young children, I don’t feel that I have enough solitude.  But, as I have mentioned before (kidcationsolitude), one of the reasons I enjoy the moments of solitude I do get from time to time is because they help me appreciate my family more.

The Gang

Photo Credit: (c) J. Matthew Lake

Alright, maybe one of the reasons I like having family is selfishly motivated.  It’s nice, after a difficult day at work, to be able to come home and have someone to hear my gripes.  And, no matter what mistakes I make — even after one of my cataclysmic screw-ups — I’m still loved.

Joe: But Allison loves you?

Quince: [nods, sobbing]

Joe: How do you know?

Quince: Because she knows the worst thing about me… and it’s okay.

— Meet Joe Black (1998)

I also feel that good moments are made more memorable when there is someone with whom to share them.  Not only the fun and special moments, but even the simple moments when I do something which has value to me, but which would be too insignificant to bother mentioning to someone else.  In turn, I have the chance to be a witness to my family’s lives too: their dreams and hopes; their falls and the things they overcome.  And not just a witness; a participant.

We need a witness to our lives. There’s a billion people on the planet… I mean, what does any one life really mean? But in a marriage, you’re promising to care about everything. The good things, the bad things, the terrible things, the mundane things… all of it, all of the time, every day. You’re saying ‘Your life will not go unnoticed because I will notice it. Your life will not go un-witnessed because I will be your witness’.” 

Susan Sarandon, Shall We Dance (2004)

When my life ends, I will have had the privilege of having spent my life with not just any people, but these specific people: my “peeps,” my gang.  That makes me feel fortunate.

misfits

I mentioned previously (serendipity) that we are currently on the tail end of a family vacation.  While in Ottawa, I had the opportunity to spend some time with my good friend, Sarah.

I met Sarah in my first year of university.  I did not live in the dorms at any point in university, so sought out clubs as a way of meeting people.   We attended a club meeting and Sarah sat down beside me.  She said later that she chose to sit beside me because of the shirt I was wearing.  It was blue and seemed welcoming and safe to her.

We clicked immediately, but it took most of our first year for us to forge a meaningful friendship.  We crossed paths intermittently and, for several months, I always happened to be wearing the same shirt I was wearing when we met.  At first, Sarah joked that I must have only one shirt, but I think she later started to become suspicious that it was true.  I think we became better friends partly as an effort on my part to expose her to the rest of my wardrobe and allay her suspicions.

The following summer was a summer we later referred to as “the summer from hell.”  I actively searched but was unable to find a job, was having roommate problems, and was up against a self-worth dilemma I came later to call my “first quarter-life crisis” (and not my last, by a long shot).  Sarah, who was used to the company of others, struggled with living alone for the entire summer in a house she had rented with four other students, all of whom would not begin living there until September.  And that certainly wasn’t the sum of her troubles.  Spending time together lent us reprieve from the despair that ailed us.

On days when we felt particularly anxious, we would sprawl out on her couch under puffy duvets and watch Breakfast at Tiffany’s.  There was a line in the film about the mean reds and I suppose we felt it described pretty accurately the way we were feeling.

Breakfast at Tiffany's film still

Breakfast at Tiffany’s film still. Licence: Fair Use (click image)

“The blues are because you’re getting fat, and maybe it’s been raining too long. You’re just sad, that’s all. The mean reds are horrible. Suddenly you’re afraid, and you don’t know what you’re afraid of.”

– Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffany’s

Other days, laughter would consume us over the silliest things.  We would make up goofy show tunes and sing them at the top of our lungs, dancing around the house to our own ridiculous choreography.

It all sounds ludicrous and puerile but, without getting overly dramatic, there is a very good possibility that, without Sarah at my side that summer, I might not have made it to September and wouldn’t be writing this today.

Years later, when I married, Sarah was my best groomsmaiden.  I know it went against tradition to have a woman stand up for me on my wedding day, but who else would I want at my side but a friend with whom I had shared some of the best and worst days of my life?

Contact is rare nowadays.  Over the years, we moved apart and now live on opposite sides of the province; also, our schedules don’t match up very well.  But every now and again, we manage to get in touch, and we simply pick up where we last left off.

When I try to figure out why Sarah and I clicked together so well, I am sometimes at a loss.  But I think it’s just because we were a couple of misfits who found each other, not unlike Holly Golightly and Paul Varjak.

This post is dedicated to all the misfits, to best friends, and mostly to Sarah, who has added a little bit of sparkle to my life.  Today, I am thankful for her.

sun

Yesterday, I was thankful for rain, so it seems only appropriate that, today, I am thankful for sun.

It is a little inconsistent with the theme of this blog for me to be thankful for something so universal. My posts have thus far registered my gratitude for things that I am lucky enough to have but shouldn’t take for granted because they are not givens: not everyone has the benefit of them, or they could be torn away from me at any moment.  But the sun?  It shines in even the most desolate parts of our planet.  Yes, I could be thankful for every day that the sun continues to be visible, because there are certainly a few things which could keep sunlight from getting through: nuclear explosions, meteors hitting the planet and sending a cloud of dust into the air, etc.  But I don’t want to get too morbid.

No matter how commonplace it might be, I nevertheless feel gratitude for the sun every time it rises and sets, filling the sky with impossible colours; every time I drive down a country road and am startled by how golden the wheat fields look under the sun’s rays; every time the sun glistens across calm waters; every time grim winter yields to verdant spring.

I am grateful for the relaxation I feel after a day in the sun; for the contentment I extract from listening to the laughter of my children running through the sprinkler to cool off when the summer heat hangs in the air; for the happiness I derive from waking to the sound of birds singing outside my window, welcoming the inception of a new day and new possibilities, while the sun plays hide-and-seek with the breeze-ruffled curtains.

With the longer days of summer, I always feel a sense of timelessness and eternity, as if there is no end to what I can accomplish today, no limit to the range of good things that can happen.

What are your happiest memories of time spent in the sun?  Please share them with me in the comments below.

laugh

Today I am thankful for the laughter of children. More specifically, the laughter of my children. Gregory’s laugh is contagious, coming in short gasps and snorts. It bubbles up from his belly, but then sort of gets stuck in his throat, rattles around in there for a while, and then finally it is discharged in a small but delightful explosion. Zachary’s laugh is spontaneous and unfettered, and seems to hang in the air for a while after he has stopped laughing. For a few moments, it feels as if the air in the room has grown lighter. It is difficult to feel cantankerous when I look into the vivid blue eyes of my youngest, and my eldest’s lighter blue eyes, reminiscent of sea mist, and listen to their laughter fill the room.

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