Coffee with a Stranger

“‘Tis grace that brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.” -John Newton

***

Today was in many ways not so unlike any other day. I woke up (earlier than I would like), had a cup of coffee (with french vanilla coffee creamer), and went to work. Of course, what happened at work was a little different…and it reminded me that sometimes all we need is something a little bit different to make everything make sense.

So there I was, the day was not going terribly well (I had discovered unexpected rot in the deck I was working on and that meant a significant delay in an already busy schedule), and just when I began to feel frustration rising to the surface the elderly lady whose deck I was repairing came to the door and asked me if I wanted coffee. In a moment of pure selfishness I said (perhaps more curtly than I intended) that “yes, coffee would be great.” She said something polite that I was too busy to hear and wandered off as I returned to dealing with the problems at hand.

Before I managed to solve any of those problems she returned, without any coffee and asked me if I wanted to come in and have said coffee. What I could have said (I had every reason in the world), maybe even what I should have said (I was at work after all, and working and being responsible are ever so important), was “no.” What I did say (somewhat to my own surprise) was “yes.” I took off my shoes, entered into her bright and well-decorated home, passed through the living room and into the kitchen, where I was offered a seat and asked what I take in my coffee. I mumbled something about “milk or cream, but not too much,” while trying to figure out the most efficient way to get home to my large (and to be honest, somewhat ostentatious) television and a cold beer (a just reward for the trials I had been beset with on this most unfortunate of mornings) as soon as possible.

She moved slowly. Slower than I would have liked. But I held my tongue and sat politely in my seat as she, with trembling hands, placed a cup of steaming coffee before me. It was shortly thereafter followed by a tin of “danish cookies, don’t worry, they’re not too sweet.”

I took a sip. The bitter warmth burned my tongue only a little, and I swallowed, savouring (perhaps without even realizing) the respite from the problems of the day. Then she began to ask questions, and before I knew it she began to know me. I told her about my education, my career goals, and bits about my past. She continued to inquire, offering sage advice and 88-year old wisdom when she felt it was appropriate (wisdom, like wine, ages well). It was then that something strange happened. This ancient (or so she seemed to me at the time) woman spoke of grace, and in that moment the years fell away from her like autumn leaves and I saw her vibrant, full of life, and shining. In that light I felt like nothing but a shadow. A part of me wished desperately that I could speak my thirst for grace and that it would be sated (but reflected light could may only pierce a shadow, never dispel it). But then I said something, gave voice to a lesson I have been learning over and over and yet not seemed to ever understand. I said, “grace isn’t about what we’ve done, it’s about who we are.”

I want grace. I suspect we all want grace. Not because of the things we have or have not done. But because we know that we can never be enough. It struck me then that no matter what I accomplished in this life, no matter how strong, or wise, or kind that I become, I will never be perfect. That never changes. It doesn’t matter  if you’re a success story, a loser, a pedophile, or a saint. You will never be perfect. But that’s why grace matters. Because I think we all want to be perfect (in some way, shape, or form), and in grace we all can be. It is the light that dispels all shadows.

Today I had coffee with a stranger. I lost track of time, I worked late, and I let myself forget — if only for a moment — the “important” things in life (like time, money and what I “should” be doing). I sat with an elderly lady, and I smiled because she showed me grace. I had been rude and selfish, and she gave me her self, her kindness and her wisdom. All the things I may have deserved I did not receive, and what I deserved least was given to me. But here’s the twist: even if I had been polite, kind, and gone above and beyond at work today I still wouldn’t have deserved it. That moment was perfect (in a rather odd way), and such is grace. It was different, it wasn’t what I “should” have done, or even what made sense at the time…but it made everything else fall into place, if only for a second.

…and such is grace. Unexpected, undeserved, and (perhaps most importantly) unwavering.

A Shipwreck Sonnet

“But grace can still be found within the gale. With fear and reverence raise your ragged sail.” -Thrice, Kings Upon the Main

***

Lost within an endless sea of faces
Lost at sea – adrift in memories
Tide ebbs – like life from failing fingers
As from the depths their voices sing to me

Upon the waves I ride a jetsam steed
That surges with the power of the deep
Straining forward, toward an unknown end
As cold hands rake this flesh with salty teeth

Still memories like embers bring me warmth
The thoughts of better moments come and gone
A ship, a home, grace found within the gale
As the mermaids kiss spills water in my lungs

What dread we should have felt within the calm
For silence falls only before the storm

***

Sonnets are probably my favourite sort of structured verse. Because of this I try and write a sonnet every so often. This particular one was scribbled on a sheet of paper during a creative writing class whilst the professor rambled on about something that it may have served me well to pay attention to. Hopefully the sacrifice was worth it. Either way, I was pretty happy when this “spilled out” (pun intended! haha) on the page. Enjoy!

A Matter of Perspective

“This is all your doing. This infection you call “freedom”…without meaning, without purpose. You have given my country to gangsters and prostitutes. You have taken everything from us. There is nothing left.” –Ivan Korshunov, Air Force One

***

At this point the vast majority of people in North America, at least those who use any sort of social media, have probably seen the recent Kony 2012 video, produced by the non-profit group, Invisible Children, that went viral a week or so ago. I am not going to post it, or even link to it, because that would take away from the point I am about to try and make. I will, however, summarize the point of the video.

Invisible Children is attempting to bring awareness to the “world’s #1 most wanted” man, Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army that operates in Africa. This man is said to be responsible for the kidnapping of children, turning those children into child soldiers, rape, disfigurement and a host of other crimes. The purpose of the video is to raise awareness and, ultimately, to put pressure on governments, specifically the US government, to arrest Joseph Kony by the end of 2012.

Sounds pretty good, does it not?

Of course, only a few days after all of Facebook was up in arms over the atrocities Kony has committed new information came to light that called into question the legitimacy of the information presented in the video. This resulted, from what I could tell, in a very rapid change in perspective for many. The informed “elite” suddenly taking it upon themselves to educate the poor, blind masses.

Shortly afterwards Invisible Children responded to the criticisms and brought many people back over to their “side”. Then new criticism’s were levelled and, as far as I can tell, most people are pretty bored with the whole thing by now. All of that jumping back and forth, leaping after the tantalizing new information, seeking to be on the cusp of true awareness certainly would be exhausting.

My purpose here is not to take a side, or even weigh in on this specific issue. This is a problem the scope of which is out of my comprehension and, to be honest, out of my hands. The thing that I find so fascinating about this whole movement, and the thing that I want to draw attention to is that things here aren’t perfect and yet we seem very content to ignore this in favour of a cause on the other side of the world, in a country more than half of us can’t locate (or perhaps didn’t even know existed). I find that very strange.

Day in and day out I am presented, rather starkly, with the information that things here are not as they should be. Sure, we don’t have warlords terrorizing our streets (that we see), nor do we have to go to sleep in fear for what might happen to us in the darkness of the night (oh, wait, some of us do), but that does not  mean we’re better off. We still have rape and murder, still have broken hearts and loneliness, still have greed, toxic waste, corrupt politicians and the homeless and friendless. We are surrounded by men who beat their wives, substance abuse and dependency, and kids in schools bullying each other, sometimes to the point of suicide…over their cell phones. We live in a society patterned on consumption and waste and even most of our activism follows that pattern.

The root of all of this, the root of all evil as far as I can tell, is selfishness, a lack of empathy, a conception of the world in which our selves and our desires are all that matters; and we have that in abundance.

I am not trying to say what you should or should not support. That is not my place. I am only asking everyone to slow down and think. Not just about the pro’s and con’s of Invisible Children, or the Kony 2012 movement, but about the root of what is happening. Ask yourself some questions, because questions, not answers, have the power to change things.

Who are we to take action? Why are we so indifferent to the pain and desperation that ravages our own culture and so incensed over a cause that, to be honest, we know almost nothing about? Do you know someone who cheated on their girlfriend with her room-mate and then decided to change the world by supporting Kony 2012? Or maybe someone who called that girl fat, or that boy too thin, leading to eating disorders or steroid abuse and then decided to change the world by stopping global warming? Why are we so content to hurt the people close to us if we can pretend to save the people far away?

A few years back I was on the streets of down town Victoria and I saw something that I think illustrates the point. There were a pair of representatives from the Red Cross, or Amnesty International or the World Wildlife Federation or some similar organization standing on a street corner with their paraphernalia attempting to talk to passers-by. I slowed as I walked toward them and thought about what I would say, would I give them my time or keep my eyes to the sidewalk and hurry past? But then my eyes drifted to something in the background, a homeless, elderly man, begging for change. A man being ignored by everyone who passed by, including the activists on the corner. Now, I don’t know the whole story, maybe they had just bought him lunch and a cup of coffee, I am not trying to criticize them or their organizations or causes. My only purpose is to point out the irony of the situation.

Nothing is simple. Sadly we do no live in a world of black and white. Answers provide something simple, something enticing because they are easy. But we need to slow down and ask questions. The reality is that amidst this myriad complexity of economics, politics, global awareness and our own thoughts and feelings, we are all pretty helpless. There’s a lot out there, more than we can hope to understand, more than most of us could hope to affect or change. But what we can understand, what we can certainly change is all around us.

It’s just a thought. But if I were going to start changing the world I would not start in Africa, I would start with myself. Then I would look at all the lives I connect with and touch and ask some questions about those relationships and I would go from there. Like I said, just a thought.

***

Note: Last week I wasn’t feeling up to posting anything worth posting so I took the week off. As I enter the “hell weeks” of my semester updates will be infrequent, but please, if you’re liking what you read or see here then keep checking back. Also, feel free to comment with your thoughts, opinions, criticisms or whatever else comes to mind and I will do my best to respond to each comment even if I’m not creating new posts.

I Fall

“The sacrifice which causes sorrow to the doer of the sacrifice is no sacrifice. Real sacrifice lightens the mind of the doer and gives him a sense of peace and joy. The Buddha gave up the pleasures of life because they had become painful to him.”  –Mahatma Gandhi

***

I fall
Once I clung upon an others strength
Then the first whispers of the winter came
I separate
Myself from where the rain
And wind, the cruel hands of fate
Play rhythms on my face, my skin
I break
My stem, your heart, like frostbite, aches
With thirst for nourishment I cannot sate, for I
I myself
Need water, life, I would imbibe
Yet trembling in the wind I fall
From the well and from the source, I fall
To earth from lofty heavens heights, I fall
Knowing not the fate
Awaiting there, upon the cruel earth’s face
Devoured by the dust from which my form
Began, was born, and rose upward in your arms
I depend
Upon that strength
Your form, that wreathed in me found beauty
Worth, beyond your silver bark
I fall
So that the world may see your nakedness
That the wind and sun may touch your skin
That in your shadow I might die
To provide that which my color never could
A beauty all your own
I fall
That in my golden hour you might live.

***

Don’t have much to say about this one. It’s from sometime in 2009. WordPress won’t let me format it like I would normally, ah well, what can you do? I like the imagery. I like the theme. I hope you do to!

No post yesterday. Updates will likely be inconsistent for a while as I seek to settle some of the chaos in my life. I’d apologize for that, but I think that’s more of an apology to myself than anyone who happens to read this. I will try to stay on top of things though. I’ve really enjoyed doing this thus far, and hope one day to be more consistent. Feedback is always appreciated and encouraged!

Colour from Ireland

“May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind always be at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
and rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
may God hold you in the palm of His hand.”

***

***

I miss Ireland. These are a few of the pictures I took while I was there and I was playing around with bringing out colour a bit more today. Each one was very hastily edited, which accounts for some of the garishness. But I didn’t manage to get out and do a proper set of photos this week like I wanted to. Life is sort of happening and it tends to get in the way sometimes. Hopefully next week I’ve got something a little more put together. Regardless, hope you like them!

Disarmed

“Look to the day the earth will shake, these weathered walls will fall away!” –Thrice, The Earth Will Shake

***

Anyone who knows anything about me, and especially about my musical tastes, knows I love Thrice. Some people even agree with me that they are a great band. But very few people know why I love them.

It’s not because of their music. Although I do love it. They are an exceptionally talented rock ensemble. I mean, honestly, how many bands do you know that consistently and effortlessly play in 5/4 time signatures? And don’t get me started on their harmonies! Or the raw power in Dustin’s scream, Teppei’s ethereal guitar solos or the Breckenridge brothers grooving as a rhythm section. But still, for all that greatness that’s not why I love the band. Which is why, even if all that stuff doesn’t necessarily appeal to you I think you owe it to yourselves to check them out, at least a few songs.

The reason I love them is because, somehow, as a band, they taught me more about faith, reason and being a better man than almost any other influence in my life over the past few years. Sounds stupid, doesn’t it? Well, regardless, it’s true. If you look, and if you listen you might find the same thing there that I did. Or maybe not. That’s not really for me to say.

The song I’ve chosen for this week is a song called Disarmed, and it’s important for two reasons. Firstly, because Thrice has recently gone on indefinite hiatus as a recording and touring band. Secondly, because this is the last song on their last album, Major/Minor, and it’s a killer track. It’s a song about death. Actually, it’s a song sung to death. But it’s not what you’d think.

A part of me wants to try and write some fitting tribute to a band that has meant much to me. Especially considering that in all likelihood they will not produce any more music as a band, although that door remains open. But I can’t, so I won’t try. But they meant something to me. Hope you enjoy the track🙂

A Perfect Defeat

“He thought of his desire to make a design, intricate and beautiful, out of the myriad, meaningless facts of life… It might be that to surrender to happiness was to accept defeat, but it was a better defeat than many victories.” –W. Somerset Maugham, Of Human Bondage

***

I have seen the rising star of greatness
Amidst darkness, burning bright throughout the ages
Like the dawn, unfailing, sure to come again
Resolute; illumes the tattered tapestry of man
The threads of which, tight woven, speak of bondage
Though mystery of life flows in those strands

This star bespeaks the secret, manifold
Left here untold, that each might discover for his own
To find meaning in the meanness and the madness
The painted world, made comprehensible by genious
And shown to liberate the tired soul from pain
Blind from bitter lust and avarice

Shine on, bright star, throughout the tide of man
Guide us o’er land and sea, and deliver us from that hand
That seeks to hold us here in cruel tyranny
When man’s best end is to be but happy, peaceful, free
Assuage burden of this painted tapestry, with
The light that shines from man to man to thee

***

Late last night I finished reading Of Human Bondage (point of interest, you can generally tell what I’m reading based on the quotations I use to start the posts). It’s not an easy book. In fact, it’s one of the hardest I’ve ever read. Not only because it uses the heavy, oft cumbersome, English of the early 1900’s, but also because it can be quite thoroughly depressing. However it does end well and is worth the read.

This poem is an attempt I made today to capture some of the themes and images that run throughout the book in concise poetic form. This is the unedited, first draft, as it came to me (more or less, I struggled with the second to last line quite a bit) in my break between classes today. Overall I am happy with it as a draft. Particularly with the structure, I often write free verse, and took it upon myself to force a structure upon the stanzas. I would like to flesh it out a bit more in the future. But I thought it would be good to post something I am only just working on, rather than something I wrote in the past.

Hope you like it!🙂

The Fear is what keeps us Here

“I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.”
-The Litany Against Fear, Frank Herbert, Dune

***

Choice, real choice, is a scary thing.

What do I mean by “real choice”? I mean those times when there’s not a good answer, no obvious solution or path to follow. If presented with the option of being given an ice cream cone or being shot in the leg by a .357 magnum (that’s a gun, in case anyone was wondering, a gun with big bullets) there’s not actually a choice there. We all know exactly what to do, what is a good decision and what is a bad one. Even if we don’t like ice cream!

But what about when you’re presented with a choice that doesn’t have an apparent right or wrong decision to be made? When the two paths both go beyond your sight, but as far as you can see, and as far as you foresee, they both look equally appealing? That is far more difficult. Unfourtunately, these are what most of the decisions we make in life look like. They’re a choice. The consequences of which are unknown. And it is precisely because they are unknown that choice is scary.

Uncertainty frightens most people. At least it frightens me and most of the people I’ve talked to. I don’t like swimming in the ocean or lakes because I am uncertain of what might be in the water with me. I don’t like asking girls out because I am uncertain of whether or not I will be rejected. Most of all I don’t like making plans for the future, or sometimes even making decisions in the present, because I am uncertain of what comes of those choices. These are all, I think, common fears. Like most fears I suspect the root can be traced back to uncertainty.

The problem is that fear is the worst possible motivation for doing (or not doing) anything. I should probably make the distinction here, quickly, between fear and rational hesitation. The former simply being afraid to do something, the latter referring to an acute awareness that what we are about to do is potentially harmful to ourselves or to others. But if fear is our motivator I don’t suppose we are likely to ever find success or even contentment. In fact, if I had to pick one word to describe fear it would be paralyzing. Fear generally keeps us confined to exactly where we are, as we are. In doing so it robs us of much that we might otherwise stand to gain.

So, the question becomes: how do we deal with this fear and make choices? Because if you’re anything like me you’ve held back from making choices, or made choices you’re not thrilled about, because of fear. Whether it’s as simple as not taking an opportunity to do something (like climbing the shrouds of a tallship when you have the chance) or by making a lukewarm choice that ends up getting you nowhere.

Well, the first thing to do is realize that it’s only in your head. Crazy, I know, but I’m pretty sure it’s true. I’ve done much in my life, made some big choices, that filled me with fear initially, but, without fail, as soon as I took the leap (sometimes literally) the fear just disappears. It wasn’t anything. It lacked substance. It is also worth noting that those tend to be the most valuable, impactful and rewarding choices I have made.

The second thing is to embrace the uncertainty. Life is a story that we’re telling. Often the reason we enjoy stories, what keeps us turning the pages, is that we don’t know what’s coming but we’re pretty sure it’s going to turn out all right for our heroes in the end. Sure there can be scary parts, conflict, and what have you. But there’s also humour, love, and a whole lot of other good things too. But ultimately that assurance that things will turn out all right in the end is what keeps us coming back to stories. If we didn’t believe that we wouldn’t want to finish half the books or movies that we start. That same attitude, if adopted in life, is not only liberating, but also incredibly enjoyable.

Lastly, if you feel fear then talk it through. I personally have actually used the Litany Against Fear from Dune more than once in my life. If that feels too silly to you, or too nerdy, then just find something that works for you and remind yourself that it’s never worth it to live in fear. Talking with friends can help a lot too. Never underestimate the people you’re surrounded by. They probably care about you more than you think.

Choice may be a scary thing, but as far as I can tell living with fear is a much scarier prospect. We’re always going to feel fear, but we can’t let ourselves be paralyzed by it. So when choice rears it’s head and you don’t know what to do just take the leap, dive into the story and turn the page and see what happens. Odds are you’ll end up somewhere a little different than you expected, but I bet you’ll like it when you get there!

***

Sorry for the late post. I forgot to bring my computer to school today. Also, sorry if this isn’t super well put together. Because I couldn’t get it started until after my class ended at 2200 I didn’t have a lot of time to edit it or refine my thoughts. Next Monday will probably be a continuation or spin-off of this topic. I feel like there were things I wanted to explore that I didn’t manage to work in. Regardless, I hope it gives you something to think about! Feel free to share those thoughts😉

The way I see it

“He realized, what he had only read before, that art (for there was art in the manner in which he looked upon nature) might liberate the soul from pain.” –W. Somerset Maugham, Of Human Bondage

***

***

This past Monday morning I roused myself at 0530, threw on some clothes, and staggered out to my car in the cold and crisp pre-dawn darkness. Clouds still hung low in the sky, not a star could be seen, but the weather forecast for White Rock still said it should clear up by the time the sun rose at 0722. At that time I was still optimistic, I desired very much to see a sunrise, and all optimism is simply the overflow of desire.

Two days earlier I had become aware that I had not seen a sunrise in a very long time. I love sunrises. There is an ageless, mystical quality to the rising of the sun. Whether over mountains or the sea. Seeing so clearly the light overcome the darkness is, to me, a sure symbol of hope, of newness and, ultimately, the way that things should be. So I began to check the weather forecasts each night because I wanted to drive out to White Rock to see the sun rise over the ocean at the first chance I got. Sunday evening I saw the forecast I wanted and so Monday morning off I went.

Now, as you’ll see from the pictures I never did get my sunrise. The sky just turned from grey to grey. I could have been upset about that. Feeling I wasted my time. It wasn’t what I wanted. But I knew, standing on the cold, grey shore, listening to the muted roar as sea meets land, that it could still be what I needed. There is much beauty in this world. It’s not all brilliant, painted skies and fire upon the waters. Some of it is just grey fading to lighter grey. It’s all in how you see it, I suppose.

The pictures I did get I’m actually fairly happy with. I still feel like I might be going a little bit overboard on the editing. Definitely, as you can tell, feeling very much more comfortable with black and white photography. Next week I’ll try to play around with colour a bit more. Enjoy!🙂

Dive In

“One good thing about music; when it hits you, you feel no pain.” –Bob Marley

***

Music is a big part of my life. Some days I’ll lock myself in my room for hours with my guitar playing and singing, pretending no one can hear me. I find it immensely difficult to drive anywhere without music blasting from my speakers. In fact, I love driving because when I’m alone in my car I know I’m safe and I can sing and scream in ways that no one will probably ever hear. There is a freedom and abandonment in music that is magical.

Because of this I’ve kept wanting to make music a part of fire or fire. Thus far, however, I’ve had difficulty deciding exactly how to do that. Eventually I want to record and post my own songs/covers, but I’m not quite there yet (both in confidence and skill and with the capabilities of wordpress). So for now I think I’ll probably just post links to songs that have been grabbing my attention lately. Maybe with something to be said for them, or maybe I’ll just let them speak for themselves.

Today is a song called “Dive In” by Jennifer Knapp, off her 2010 album Letting Go. The whole album has really grabbed me, and if you like this song I’d highly recommend you check it out. It’s very honest, kind of gritty, and ultimately real. That’s something I need in the music I listen to. Enjoy!

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