bogey & ruby

bogey & ruby

Monday, December 28, 2015

Party Pooper

A good friend once admitted that she liked to hang around me mostly when she needed calming. I was her tea and chat amiga, someone with a talent for creating soothing, melancholy playlists.

(Perhaps what she really meant is that I'm boring.)

I can only presume that I don't hear from certain friends these days because they are happy and thriving and have no desire to listen to sad music.

This makes me glad even though I miss them in a way only an introvert can: with a longing to see them that includes a very clear exit plan.

I will put the kettle on and some cookies out just in case. After all, January blues (and snowstorms) are just around the corner.

From my party-hearty days.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Non-Christian Christmas

A couple of months ago I was asked what my plans were for Christmas. When I didn't give the expected answer, I was told, "But you're not even Christian, why would it matter to you?". It was statement rather than query, coming from someone who, ironically, is not Christian either, but who can at least claim to have a religion.

Those words, whether by intention or not, prickled, stirring up familiar feelings of exclusion and hurt. They implied that first-world, modern-day Christmas celebrations are only about the birth of Christ, and as such, only those people invited to the baby shower need attend subsequent birthday parties. In other words, I don't get a say on where I want to be and who I want to spend Christmas with even though I have a tree up in my house and presents under the tree and a son who is Protestant ( but thinks he's Catholic) and the same stat holidays as everyone else.

Let me be clear, my mother is Christian and my father is not. Dad tried to teach us his religion but the words weren't in a language we could understand, and being a pragmatic and logical man, he soon stopped trying. As a compromise, because that is the best way to get along when there are profound differences in a culturally-mixed marriage, we kids were raised in a secular household, celebrating most of the Christian holidays while respecting some of the Sikh traditions, picking and choosing the good parts and leaving out the bits that made us uncomfortable.

I know enough about the story of Christmas to be able to name all the main characters involved. Indeed, back when the schools were divided by religion (Catholic and Protestant, no less) it was difficult to avoid these stories. As a kid, I made gold-painted macaroni crosses at Brownie camp, read Gideon's pocket bible on a family vacation, sang the Lord's Prayer along with Sister Janet Mead, hung on to every lyric in Jesus Christ Superstar, and even attended Sunday school (my own initiative) at the local Salvation Army Church down the street from my parents'. I celebrated every single Christmas both spiritually and commercially, bought presents for everyone with my own money, and learned about the true meaning of Christmas from Charlie Brown.

Somewhere along the way, I got tired of being asked what tribe I was from. I grew weary of being welcomed as a "non-believer" at Church services. I avoided attending the "You People Who Come Once A Year" sermons. I couldn't relate to the hypocrisy, dividing lines, or righteousness of organized religion but I still wanted to embrace the compassionate, community-oriented parts of it.

I don't wish to come across as disrespectful to those who do practice their religion faithfully. In times of difficulty I wish I had a god to pray to. It just isn't in me. Or maybe it is. Something is.

Years ago, I developed a friendship with a former patient who happened to be an eighty-six year old Dominican nun. She once said to me "You're such a good person, I can't believe you aren't Catholic!". I replied, "You don't have to be Catholic to be a good person." You also don't have to be Christian to appreciate the significance of this time of year, in all its glory and its heartbreak.

So yes, it does matter to me. Thanks for asking.

I'd like to take the opportunity to extend best wishes to my faithful readers, all nine of you.

Oh, and Merry Christmas to the rest of you, including the good, non-Catholics out there.

S <3

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Things I've Learned This Week

(Reposted from a facebook note written November 14th, 2012.)

1.  That I CAN eat a combination of cauliflower and onions without exploding, as long as it is deep fried in spicy batter by dad, flattened with a spatula by mom and consumed during the festival of lights.

2.  According to the girl with the flawless skin at the cosmetics counter, toner is for EVERYONE, not just the young and beautiful. Still, I resist, having only recently started "cleansing" my face with gentle foaming washes after years of abuse with soap.

3.  I have been misspelling karaprosad. I looked it up and found a whole Wikipedia description. Apparently, refusing to eat "karah parshad" might be considered insulting to some Sikhs.  Well, I won't be offended if you politely decline. Then again, my dad made it, not me and the alternative to refusing his karah parshad might be enough food to feed an army.

4.  It is no fun eating something fattening in the company of someone who is dieting. Sharing even one bite removes all the guilt and at least half the calories.

5.  My shih tzu has a problem with things on wheels, kids smoking pot at the park entrance, and city surveyors measuring the twilight zone at the intersection adjacent to my house, where several happy couples have disappeared lately.

6.  If I want my son to be autonomous, I have to let him go and let him do, even if it means taking ten times longer to bathe, and going to school with mismatched clothes.

7.  Acknowledging that another person's pain is greater than mine absolves me of the part I don't own.

8.  The worst thing about facing a hard truth/big fat lie/excuse in life, is the uphill trudge and drama leading up to it. Once it's been said out loud, it's okay to stop for a while and let it sink in.

9.  I am not that special. It is not always about me. But I do appreciate that people indulge me once in a while.

10.  Owning a ukelele would solve all my problems and make the world a better place.

11.  I am taking a serious break from altruism.

Peace out...xoxo
Me without toner.

Me without toner.

Call Me Stinky

This is an old post from three years ago that popped up on facebook today. I decided to archive it here.

It's anti-bullying week November 19th to November 23rd and Sean's school has organized various grade-appropriate discussions and projects. Yesterday, he watched a movie that showed examples of bullying and was quite affected by it, describing different scenarios in detail and asking me questions about them at length. He seems to be overly concerned that I might have been bullied when I was younger. Maybe he's seen pictures of me before leave-in-conditioner was invented, or presumed that because I was small like him, I was an easy target. Sure, I was called names at times, but they were mostly isolated incidents that didn't stick. In fact, I was probably my own worst enemy back then, using a combination of humour and self-deprecation to cope with my insecurities. Hey, if I say it first and make them laugh, then they're just agreeing with me, right?  Well, old habits die hard, but I honestly don't worry too much about appearances anymore except perhaps for those mid-line zit days..Which is why, when Sean told me one of his classmates called me stinky today, I laughed out loud. That is, until I saw the look on his face and heard the outrage in his voice. Apparently, calling someone's mother stinky is about as low as you can go when insulting a fellow third grader.  Not only does it suggest I have B.O., but it also insinuates that I generally suck as a person. Huh? When I was growing up, we avoided stepping on cracks out of respect for our mothers' backs. We respectfully addressed them as "Mrs. Soandso". And more often than not, we were afraid of them!  I googled "your mother is stinky" but the only thing the search engine came up with was "yo mama's so smelly jokes". Something lost in the French translation perhaps? And the insult didn't stop there, I'm afraid. Nosiree. The kid made fun of my stature and build as well. Not only am I stinky mother, but I'm short and fat as well! (This was demonstrated emphatically when my son assumed a hunched over posture and exaggerated, wide-open arm gestures.) I finally asked him who this rude kid was and how he knew me. Apparently, he had seen me at a birthday party Sean attended this past week-end. I couldn't place him, not that it matters. I mean, the kids are always a blur at these events. I did however try to remember if I showered that day and whether I'd worn three layers of fleece or four under my parka.
To make a long story short, Sean reported this boy to a teacher, the boy got a warning and now the teacher probably thinks I'm a smelly mama. I thanked him for his chivalry and tried to put the incident in perspective. People say mean things, they disappoint, they try to make us feel bad. The only power we have over them, is whether or not we choose to believe them. The rest of the discussion was on empathy for others and standing up for anyone who's being picked on or bullied, not just mom.  :)

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Ten Reasons To Picket With A Positive Attitude

1) "Without unions, you wouldn't have labor laws in the first place. The right is the right to collective bargaining, not a right to a good deal. But dismantle collective bargaining rights, and you have no opposing structure to protect - even minimally - against exploitation." -- Cameron Skeene

2) Unions developed as a way for workers to join forces against the inequality of bargaining power that exists between an individual worker and an employer. When an employer is dealing with one employee, the balance of power is with the employer. When the employer is dealing with an organization that represents all employees, there is less power imbalance. In other words, there is strength in numbers.

3) The strike mandates were obtained through a democratic process. Not everyone voted in favour of a strike but an impressive percentage of members did, and these members represent a variety of different unions and job descriptions. We are not alone ; we are part of a common front. Nobody wants to strike. Quite the contrary. This strike is a last resort, the result of months of frustration over the government's refusal to negotiate a new collective agreement in good faith. It is a legal strike and essential services will be provided.

4) If you can't make the cause about you, then make it about someone else, perhaps a devoted teacher you know or admire, a child with special needs who is struggling, a vulnerable client without an advocate who is on an endless waiting list.

5) I am exhausted after 30 years working in public health. And yet my colleagues with only a few years experience are showing the same signs of wear and tear. It takes a lot more energy to do the job than when I started years ago. Clients are older, more frail, and resources are more limited than ever before. I could choose to coast until my retirement but what about the people I leave behind? Will health issues force my younger colleagues to leave the system? Or will they stay, depleted and jaded, until they drop? I am standing up for all of you, even though I am tired too. The system is broken but I refuse to give up on it. I will not be apathetic.

“The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it's indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it's indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it's indifference.” ― Elie Wiesel

6) The new health reform will centralize services. As a result, there will be less representation from the community on many levels. As unionized members, we have a strong, collective voice and an established medium by which we can express it. Let's not squander this opportunity to demand better, on behalf of our most vulnerable citizens.

"Scientific data show clearly that a decentralized system is closer to the centres of decision- making and allow for health and social services to be better adapted to populations needs, especially those of the underprivileged or those living in rural or outlying communities. Contrary to industry, which seeks the production of uniform and standardized services at the best price, health systems need to be able to adjust services to the needs of the populations being served.

The disappearance of local institutions risks standardizing services throughout a regional territory, hence diminishing access to more marginal populations while increasing the inequalities of health. The creation of regional mega structures will result in an important loss of linguistic, cultural and community identity. Those institutions that have been serving their community for many years and are essential for their role in maintaining community ties and supporting community development will be lost.

Scientific evidence does not support the presumption of Bill 10 that there will be a reduction in bureaucracy with the centralization of decision-making. National and international experience has shown time and time again that the proposed reform will not have the desired effects and, in fact, will make healthcare delivery more complex. We should learn from these experiences instead of increasing the centralization of decision-making in our healthcare system." -- François Béland

7) Do a little research about the history of unions and you will see that despite the bad rap they get today, a lot of good has come out of them and non-unionized workers have reaped the benefits too. Here are a few examples: child labour laws, minimum wage, workplace safely laws, pregnancy/parental leaves, sexual harassment laws, social security, public education for children, etc.

8) A little fresh air, some exercise, and solidarity is good for team building.

9) Our union has worked very hard to represent us under difficult circumstances. Whether you opted to strike or not, please show them your support.

10) "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter." -- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

These are things that matter, peeps. Take a deep breath and picket with passion this Thursday.

Monday, October 12, 2015


In my dream

a small child plays peek-a-boo in a crib

under the broad leaves of a banana tree

swaying delight

she reaches for the handsome young man

who is laughing - white teeth under a flower

I am there too

suspended in this photograph of my grief

alone without memory of her

suffocating like breath pressed to heart.

(April 2003)

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Death of a Goldfish

I am not claustrophobic yet cannot imagine swimming in a fishbowl while big moon faces peer in, gigantic shapes that block the sun with their useless gaping mouths sucking oxygen from the room, stubby fingers tapping ripples through the glass.

I wanted to make life better (for a while) and save your tiny world with clean water and a clear view of the moon and the sun, but I tried too hard and instead, turned the fishbowl inside out, causing your death with my stupid pet store hose and my giant, clumsy hands.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Maintenance Day

I tell my clients
On bad days
Don't worry it's
A maintenance day,
Tread water
And try to stay afloat
Or ride the wave
You cannot fight,
Do just enough
To get through
And no more.
But --
What do I tell myself
On bad days?

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Sick Day

I sent my son to school today despite the fact that he woke up feeling nauseous, sick enough that he couldn't eat his breakfast. "Maybe it's nerves.", I suggested unconvincingly. "Try some deep belly breaths." He had an outing today, an outdoor activity, the kind of thing that would normally cause him some anxiety.

The bus picked him up on time but I didn't feel any relief, only vague worry and of course, guilt. I had two important clients this morning. The visits had been coordinated with other workers who were to meet me there at a designated time. They wouldn't be easy to reschedule. I had to go into work.

And anyway, what if he was faking a stomach ache to get a day off?

I'd written a note to Ian this morning to validate my suspicions that he was faking. Ian is an elementary school teacher. He knows these things. Not to mention he'd faked his fair share of stomach aches growing up in order to get out of going to school.

I saw my clients and got through a busy day but the unease never left me. On my way to pick up my boy, I called the school daycare to give them a head's up. Madame Lise answered the phone. She said Sean was sitting next to her and was feeling very sick. I told her I'd be there as soon as I could. At 4:55 pm, exactly ten and a half hours after he'd told me how awful he felt, I picked up my son. He was white as a ghost, biting his upper lip, trying not to cry. He'd spent the whole day sucking it up, waiting me for me to pick him up, confiding he wasn't well only when it became unbearable.

Once home, I gave him a children's gravol and sent him to his bed where he slept for two hours straight.

"So how's the little faker?", Ian asked, when we touched base after work.

"He wasn't faking after all."

"You know, we talk about parents like you, the ones who send their kids to school when they're sick."

"No need to talk about me. I've done enough talking to myself since I picked him up."

I'd told Sean I was sorry he'd had such a difficult day, but what I was really doing was apologizing for letting him down. This morning, my gut tried to tell me the truth while my head shouted excuses. Ironic that I'm a healthcare worker by trade. I got a lesson in parenting and priorities today.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Moving Day

They said two boxes
would be enough
to transport thirty years of
agenda books,
exercise programs,
thank you cards
from people who have since died.

I took three instead
out of respect
for the dead.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Mother's Day

This past Saturday, I called my ex-husband to advise him about a birthday party our son was invited to because it is during his week-end on. The exchange was pleasant enough and as I said good-bye, I heard him start to say something, but it was too late, I had already hung up. A few seconds later he called back.

"I wanted to wish you a very happy Mother's Day tomorrow. You're doing a great job and I know it isn't easy under the circumstances. Thank-you."

I tell you, that small gesture meant the world to me. The best gift ever. I bawled.

Divorce tends to bring out the worst in us, particularly when it is acrimonious. We forget the good parts of the marriage, the qualities that brought us together in the first place. We avoid taking responsibility for our contribution to the break-up. And we blame our ex for warning signs that might have been there from the get-go, signs that we chose to ignore in our pursuit of domestic bliss. 

It worked for a while and then it didn't. Or it never worked. It's as simple as that. Own your part. Get counselling. Heal. Move forward. 

Yes, the aftermath can be challenging, particulary if you have children together.  But it doesn't have to be toxic. You can take a compassionate stance towards the person you once loved even if it is unrequited. And if that doesn't work, let go of the negativity and bitterness anyway. In the process, you will save your soul and be more present for your children. And you may even be open to loving again. 

Monday, April 27, 2015

Sofa Blues

My head hurts
As I straighten my
Misshapen sofa
Lumpy, bumpy
By the weight
Of bodies and
The heaviness
Of stinking

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Marry Me

Marry me,
He said
To the Princess Bride
I will always come for you,
But one day he didn't
So she started reading
Horror genre instead.

Marry me,
Said the first boy
She ever touched down there
I will love you forever,
'Till he cheated on her
With a true love
He didn't marry either.

Marry us,
Said the rebounders
And mama's boys
Like she owed them
Just for dating her
Left her feeling empty
Guilt trip for a honey moon.

Let's get married,
They said,
Second time around,
One foot out the in-door
She waited at the altar
While he ran
Away with the spoon.

We must get married,
She shouted
When time was running out
And this one said,
Yes, because
There was nothing else
To do that day.

Marry me,
She asked
Her one true love
At last,
Then wept into his chest
When he told her
That he couldn't ...


Wednesday, February 25, 2015


When I was asked to pray for someone dear to me a couple of weeks ago, I was struck by the fact that I have no God to pray to. That combination of no God coupled with too much medical knowledge makes me abandon hope and imagine the worst when faced with imminent loss. 

I did try to find God when I was much younger, visiting most of the Christian churches within walking distance of my parents' house, but the experience was for the most part disappointing, and by its exclusiveness, painful. 

So call me a non-believer if you must, even though I believe in lots of the same things that organized religion supports, like the importance of community and altruism. I am also comforted by the rituals and use of scriptures to explain away the inexplicable, like how someone so young and worthy of life, could possibly have died. 

But the problem with borrowing religious doctrines, is that the relief is short-lived. And when the nagging doubts and questions stir once again, there is no white light and no hope, only blackness. So what does come after religion then? Are there alternatives? Aren't we all seeking the same things via different paths? Alain de Bottom's new book may have some answers. I am definitely putting it on my "to-read" list.

In the meantime, I will try to heal by surrounding myself with my little community, art, nature, and love. Not so far from religion after all.


Tuesday, February 17, 2015


My son's occupational therapist died last Thursday. His name was Jeff and he was only 23. Around the time he should have been at our house, as he had every week for the past two years, I sat my son down on the sofa and told him that his friend and mentor was gone. "Jeff died?", he asked in disbelief. I nodded and watched his little face crumple in pain, then recover a second later as he sucked in the horror of it all and held his breath for what seemed like an eternity but was actually only five days.

When I picked him up from school today, I was greeted by a concerned daycare worker in the waiting area who told me Sean had finally exhaled. She told me this in front of all the other parents as my son stood behind a glass partition holding his breath once again, counting slowly to a hundred. Earlier, she had found him laying on the ground outside sobbing, with a group of kids standing around him. She knew that Jeff had died because another educator told her so right after the incident in the playground. And a little while before that, the same educator who told her about Jeff, told Sean to sit down during the after-school homework program. This was just as the dam was about to burst and my son was trying to tell him that someone he loved had died and that he was feeling upset.

When he was finally released from the holding area, he ran into my arms and exploded. It was a very messy and public display of grief, rather unfortunate in its timing but long overdue.

Quite frankly, I am relieved. Relieved because he is finally releasing the sadness he feels over this loss, and expressing outrage at the unfairness of it all. "Jeff didn't deserve this.", he managed to say through his tears. I held him tightly against my body all the way to the car.  

I honestly don't know how he has been able to keep it together for so long, when I have been turned upside down and inside out since it happened. 

Because there are reminders of Jeff everywhere in our house: the bed he taught Sean to make by lining up the edges of the quilt with the bed frame, the neatly organized books in his bookshelf that Sean was never able to put back properly until Jeff showed him how, the chore schedules and "how to cope with bad days" strategies taped on the fridge, mom's OT cupboard (badly in need of its own intervention), and the basketball I gave Sean for his birthday the Monday before Jeff died, that he continues to practice every day, as a way to honour his friend.

I can't imagine what Jeff's family and close friends are going through now. Maybe some are holding their breath the way Sean did. Or perhaps they have realized, as we have, that the worst part of his death isn't the unfairness of it all, but rather the selfish bit- the way Jeff made our lives so much better, how we took for granted that he always would, and the grim acknowledgement that things will never be the same now that he is gone.

Love you and miss you, Jeff.

Sharon and Sean


Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Eleven and a Day.

"Au cours de ma grossesse, je m'attendais à un garçon aux yeux bleus, qui excellerait au hockey et qui apprendrait à jouer du violon salon la méthode Suzuki. Au lieu de cela, j'ai eu un garçon aux yeux bruns, qui tenait dans ses mains une feuille de paper avec Plan B écrit sur elle et rien d'autre. Le papier est toujour blanc et nous prenons la vie doucement, un défi á la fois." 

The above paragraph is from a presentation I gave to first year occupational therapists at L'Université de Montréal this past year. I was reminded of it a couple of weeks ago when I received a modest but symbolic paycheck for my efforts and again this past week-end while celebrating my son's eleventh birthday, revelling in what a kind and thoughtful young man he is becoming.

Like most parents with children who struggle for one reason or another (my son's challenges are due to a diagnosis of DCD), I've run the gamut of emotions over years, asked all the hard questions and come to the same conclusion every time. There's nothing to do but work on stuff so work on stuff we do, with a whole lot of help from our "village".

There are plenty of times when my son laments over the difficulty of some task or expresses disappointment at not being able to perform a specific activity well, but I have never once heard him express envy or jealousy towards anyone who demonstrates a skill or talent he wishes he had. In fact, quite the opposite is true. He's genuinely happy for them and shows it through unabashed admiration and praise. This character trait is quite remarkable under the circumstances as it would be so much easier to feel sorry for himself. It is also a strategic quality, not that he is being consciously guileful, quite the opposite is true, but the end result more often than not, is that his peers step away from their glory long enough to show a struggling boy how it's done. And that, dear readers, is how you fill up a blank sheet of paper with moments of grace, when just yesterday the only thing written on it was "Plan B."

Thursday, February 5, 2015

The Promise

Today, my thirty-eight year old stroke patient asked me when he would walk again. He asked me this after he'd walked a dozen feet using a hemi-walker, me holding onto the waist band of his sweat pants while his mother following closely behind with the wheelchair. "But you are walking.", I said, even though I knew what he meant. "I promised my son I would walk again. He wants me to climb a tree with him. I promised."

Sometimes this job breaks my heart. And a promise to a five year old boy reminds me to take nothing in life for granted.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Mean Girls

"Mummy, how come every girl I like is mean to me?"

"Did something happen today?"

"Well, this girl I like wanted a number bib. I couldn't reach them in the cupboard so I stood on a cone and it got squished."


"She said, "Really, Sean?", in a mean voice, with her arms crossed."

"Did you get it for her anyway?"

Looking sheepish, "Yes.".

"Good boy."

What's endearing about this is that the girl is a head taller than him. Personally, I might have told her she was being rude as I handed her the number bib but I'm not sure that would have made a difference.

How do we deal with mean girls (and boys for that matter)? I never really mastered the art back in the day. And even now, I'm more about modelling empathy than fighting back. In the meantime, I advised him to hang with the nice girls. Hopefully he'll figure that one out before another cone gets crushed.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

New Year's Day

He died on New Year's Day
My friend
I'd known him
Half his life
In fits and spurts
And stops and starts
And ages in between
Long before
He lost his legs
I knew him when he ran
While I stood still
And watched him fade
Till he came back again
When illness
Took some more of him
I could have stayed but left
And never said goodbye to him
Which I deeply regret.
He had so many friends
My friend
And I was oh, but one
Who loved him more
Than I realized
And now too late, he's gone.

Monday, January 12, 2015

On The Road

It was a good day to see patients today, three of my favourites plus a new one who surprised us all. Sometimes it feels as though I'm the one getting the therapy.

Patient #1 : The sweetest man ever. Says I am like his daughter. He and his equally lovely wife are always worried that I may be starving/thirsty/tired. Each visit, they enquire if my son is better. This is because two months ago, I had to cut short our session when my son's school called me to tell me he was sick and could I pick him up ASAP. Last week, my patient tried to slip me a twenty ... "Pour votre fils.", he insisted. I declined, politely and firmly but ended up insulting him anyway. My son probably has more birthday and Christmas money languishing away in his savings account than my client has in his. We spent most of today's visit trying to sort out why he was having more pain in his leg. We started off by blaming the weather, always a convenient scapegoat in this climate, then I suggested it might be because he often forgets his walker when he's up and about, a sure sign that things are improving. After going through his exercises, we scheduled the next appointment and as I was heading to the door, I turned to find him right behind me, without the walker.

Patient #2 : A young man recovering from two devastating strokes, not a candidate for a rehab centre at the moment. It was a joint visit with the occupational therapist and her stagiaire. How I love team work! The client was asked what his goals were and he was adamant : "I want to walk." For more on walking, click here. We began our assessment with him in bed, and finished off in the kitchen as he took a few steps using the counter for support. Hurrah! Success from the start! Believe me, motivation doesn't always translate into goals met.

Patient #3 : A beautiful soul who turned 90 this past Saturday. During my lunch hour, I bought her a card with decoupage flowers on it because she loves flowers and her daughter keeps her supplied with fresh ones all year long so that her apartment is like a perpetual garden. She cried when she read the card and hugged me tight. For some reason she thinks I'm an angel and everytime I protest, she shushes me and half closing one eye, shakes a finger at me and tells me she knows these things. She goes to mass every opportunity and when she can't, someone brings mass to her. She's seen Jesus three times and was pushed once from behind by the devil while on vacation in the Caribbean. She prays for everyone she knows every single day, takes requests, and has been known to stir up a miracle or two. She says she's ready to die but Jesus won't have it so she's going to try a little reverse psychology by not asking him for a while. Her daughter left me a piece of birthday cake and I left her apartment balancing an enormous slice on a paper plate that she covered with a cocktail napkin. I drove around all afternoon with it on my passenger seat.

Patient #4: One of my absolute favourite clients ever. I have treated her on and off over the years following all sorts of joint replacements, flare ups of her rheumatoid arthritis and post hospitalizations. Each time the goal is the same : to access the 14 steps that hold her hostage on the second floor of the house she shares with her elderly mother. A lot has gone wrong since the last time I saw her and I honestly don't know if I'll be able to help her this time but I don't tell her this yet. As we stood side by side in front of the mirror in her room today, I noticed that for the first time since I've known her that she is shorter than me. She shook her head in disbelief. "I can't believe I'm 4'11!" I didn't correct her even though it's obvious that she's much less than 4'11". I know this because I'm 4'11" and the top of her reflection came up to my earlobe. "What does it matter anyway?", I asked. "Because tall people get more respect!" And we both burst out laughing.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Emulating Gandhi

"We may never be strong enough to be entirely nonviolent in thought, word and deed. But we must keep nonviolence as our goal and make strong progress towards it." -- Mahatma Gandhi

Or as I liked to boast in past dating profiles : "I strive to be truthful, to be kind, to be authentic." The choice of the word strive being deliberate, of course, as it lets me off the hook whenever I fail miserably. 

A couple of days ago, I called someone an asshole on a Facebook thread. It wasn't someone I knew personally; he was the friend of a friend, and, according to my friend, not a very nice person anyway. Nonetheless, I asked her permission to let him have it, and she gave it to me. It felt good at the time, to unleash my disdain and not have to worry about any face to face recrimination. But later on this week-end, as I reflected on the types of articles I had been posting following the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris, about responsible freedom of speech, it began to bother me. I had accused him of being without empathy and compassion but hadn't my self-righteous nastiness amounted to the same thing? The truth is, I could have used kinder words to get my message across, or better yet, said nothing at all.

My days as an angry, ranting and raving union rep are long over, but sometimes I slip into old habits. Back then, I learned the hard way, that the people you want to change the most eventually stop listening. And there's the rub, people. We tend to expend the most amount of time and energy trying to convert people who won't be moved, at least not while we are being rude and belligerent.

Is it still worthwhile to speak up? Absolutely. But as a couple of manager friends often remind me, if you want to be heard, stay respectful, and come up with some practical solutions while you're at it.

I wrote to a journalist friend of mine, a confession of sorts, and asked him how he coped with the unpleasantness of it all. He suggested "that our concern over hurting these people is not a sentiment they waste on us." He also reassured me, to paraphrase, that I was loved regardless, by the good people, which I take to mean the people in my life who count the most.

But even as his words relieve my conscience, a nagging voice in my head and heart tells me I can do better in my striving -- to be truthful, kind and authentic, particularly in situations (like posting online) where it is easy to avoid accountability. Perhaps we all can for that matter.