Everyone’s got a story….

While on my daily walk recently I thought of a very old man I would often see riding a really old bicycle. I passed this fellow often, when driving or walking, and would see him daily, pedaling for several miles throughout the neighbourhood. He was slight of build and wore what looked like work apparel; old slacks and a flannel shirt, both worn. He had an old satchel tied to the back bumper with bungee cords and it was heavily weathered, like the old man. He rode with determination and a stamina you wouldn’t expect from someone of such advanced years. I got the distinct impression this man wasn’t riding for the pleasure of it…he had to be 80 years old, if a day, and his heavily wrinkled face belied his youthful energy.

Sometimes, if he passed close to me I’d smile and say hello but he never answered, never smiled. In fact, he never acknowledged me at all so eventually I learned to ignore him, reluctantly, because despite his apparent unfriendliness, I cared about him. What was such an elderly man doing riding a bicycle such distances? He’d ride in all kinds of weather, up hills, long distances, alongside traffic – it was obvious this wasn’t a pleasure ride, and I couldn’t help but wonder what his story was.

On this particular day, the day  I realized it had been several months since I’d last seen him, it occurred to me that he’d either retired from whatever it was he rode to and from each day, or he passed away.  Either way he was out of my sight and I could only speculate on his life story. I had a feeling it wasn’t a happy one.

This brought me to thinking about others we encounter every day. The cashier at the grocery store, the school bus driver, the dentist, the housewife, the unruly teenager, the business man, they all have a story and no two are alike. Wouldn’t it be interesting to have a glimpse of another’s life, just for comparison? Maybe we’d see a life filled with struggle and turmoil, a life story that would make us grateful of our own. On the other hand we might also glimpse a life of pleasure, one we deem more pleasurable than ours ….maybe it’s better not to know. Or maybe witnessing a life better than ours would motivate us to make changes or improvements to our story.

‘People watching’ is something we all do, most often unconsciously I suspect, and we also likely pass judgement on these individuals based on our first impressions . This isn’t necessarily a bad thing because our first impressions are generally drawn from instinct, intuition, and that gut feeling is generally accurate in reading the basis of a situation, but that’s where it ends. From there our imagination kicks in and our subconscious embellishes the situation to explain it or to make it more interesting.

I imagined that the old man was unhappy based solely on my first impression; that he kept to himself and didn’t smile or acknowledge me told me he was unhappy….he had to be. Wouldn’t a happy person smile and return a greeting? And would a happy person impose a physically taxing lifestyle on themselves at an elderly age if it wasn’t necessary? My logical mind says no but then who am I to define what is or isn’t logical? I created a life story for this man to make sense of my first impressions of him. I envisioned a hard and lonely life. I convinced myself he was pedaling to and from a job of labour where he made a meager living, hence the need to ride a bicycle. He had no family and invited no friendships. Life brought him little joy and he merely existed to fulfill the routine he had established to sustain himself until his time to pass would come. Pretty gruesome picture huh? But then in the absence of any details or explanations from the old man himself, I had to create a picture that justified my first impressions.

I also have to face the possibility that this fellow is an eccentric millionaire who lived the life of a pauper by choice, then retired to his island in the Caribbean.

Speculating on another’s story gives your imagination free reign. You can create whatever scenario you want to make their story interesting and you can justify anything in your life that doesn’t measure up, because you’re the author and this particular story will never be read by another. The only thing we need to remember is that while we’re watching others there’s someone watching us and it would be interesting to see what story they fashion for us based on their first impression.

old man on bike

It’s never too late

I have a dear friend, a fellow, who retired after decades of working a high stress job in financial services.  Now he could’ve sat back and enjoyed the fruits of his labour, and no one would’ve judged him, but he didn’t. With a zest for life and a passion for music, he re-invented himself and launched a solo music career, in his sixties. How’s that for inspiring?

He performs at local pubs and was recently featured on a local radio show as an ‘up and coming new artist’. The fact that he has musical talent aside, one has to admire his gumption. It’s not easy to put yourself out there at any age, so to do it when you’re past middle age speaks not only to his courage, but also to his confidence, and that’s what got me to thinking.

We spend so much of our lives learning, practicing, and proving our worth, in our home, our relationships, and our careers, and it is the collection of these experiences over a life time that gives some of us the confidence to forge into new territory in our advanced years. Now not everyone feels compelled to launch a 2nd career. Many are happy to retire from one role and enjoy a quiet life, i.e. they don’t feel the need to prove anything to anyone because they are content with what they’ve accomplished and they just want to relax and enjoy life. For many though, the completion of one cycle just signals the start of another.

The husband (who has since passed) of another close friend, preceded his own upcoming retirement  from a career in law enforcement by returning to school to get a law degree  because he knew there was more in him to offer. Returning to school as a mature student is daunting enough, let alone taking on the challenge and discipline of higher academia while middle aged and working full time.  He finished out his 2nd career, as a lawyer, then tried his hand at acting, (something he’d always enjoyed) landing several support roles in movies, television shows and commercials.  He lived life to the fullest and were it not for his untimely passing, I’ve no doubt he’d be on his 4th career by now.

These two individuals not only warrant our admiration, but reaffirm to anyone over 30 that our worth never expires. The lessons we learn throughout life contribute to our library of knowledge, feeding our self-confidence and fueling our ambition.  It is never too late to learn something new, or launch a new career, or make a new friend, because despite the snow on your roof, it’s the passion in your heart that ignites the fire that is our driving force. The older we get, the more open and accepting we are, and the more open and accepting we are the more freely our creative juices flow.

Don’t sit down and look back on your life, sit on the edge of your seat and look forward with enthusiasm because there is still so much to accomplish before you write your last chapter.

youre never too old

Organized Religion

I was born into a Catholic home. We went to church every Sunday, I sang in the choir, and I received all the applicable Christian sacraments. I raised my 3 children in the same manner but somehow I did not ingrain the religious discipline of my own parents practices into my children because somewhere in their young adult lives they made the conscious choice to walk away from organized religion.

I can’t say I’m surprised, nor do I blame them. When I think back on the years when my family were young much of our routines were simply formed from habit; going to church was something we just did. And somewhere in my mid-thirties I came to realize that my heart wasn’t in it anymore. It’s not that I stopped believing in God, no never. I always have and always will. What I do struggle with is the religious ‘organization’ itself.

Society, mankind, whatever you want to call it, has evolved since 24 AD. The Catholic church, on the other hand, sadly hasn’t. Parish priests struggle with a rapidly diminishing flock and family traditions no longer include any religious routine. Does anyone say grace before a meal anymore? Do any of us wake up in the morning and give thanks for a new day?

We’ve become a busy society, too busy. Families no longer have the time to give to the church. Both parents work. Children are busy with studies, and preoccupied with sports, music, friends, part time jobs, life. And by the time Sunday rolls around all are tired and grateful for a day to catch up on homework, housework, or visiting parents/family/friends. Church then takes a back seat, by choice, cause let’s face it, we do have choices. If we wanted to give the church a bigger role in our lives we could, but we don’t, and I think I know why (at least for me)

I struggle with the Catholic church’s refusal to move with the times. Parish priests are not allowed to marry or carry on any kind of ‘relationship’, yet they are required to counsel young couples on that very thing prior to marrying them in a church. How does one counsel on something he knows nothing about? (and don’t even try to sell me on the notion they learn it in the seminary where emphasis is on religious studies and philosophy. Relationships are not taught, they are experienced)

For that matter, why are women still not allowed to become priests? Personally, if I had to take advice on marriage and relationships from someone who’s experienced neither, I would, hands down, pick a woman. I just think women are more compassionate and intuitive when it comes to relationships. For that matter, I think there are many who’d prefer to serve confession with a female versus a male, (although I don’t buy in to the whole confession process at all – I talk to God regularly and if I need to relieve my conscience I do it direct to the big guy himself! I do not need to seek approval or punishment from any of Gods ‘representatives’)

I recently watched a wonderful series on the history of the Popes throughout the ages and was shocked to discover they had all kinds of relations back in the early days of Catholicism. (Apparently not being able to marry didn’t stop them from having children. How’d they get around that…”the Devil made me do it?”) So it seems the laws of abstinence were only enforced much later. (which is a darn shame cause if the church would allow priests to marry and live normal lives, maybe they wouldn’t have to resort to committing these ‘indiscretions’….oh, and you might consider selling off some of the billions of dollars worth of art in the Vatican to pay the settlements to the abuse victims instead of bleeding the resources of the individual diocese that are under the pastoral care of these wayward clergy)

It is unnatural to mandate anyone to live a life of celibacy and I find it hard to believe that a loving God would set such unreasonable expectations of his own children, especially knowing they are mortal, and flawed.

I also struggle with the whole atmosphere at church, and I’ve touched on this in a previous blog. I just don’t understand why going to church has to be so somber. Isn’t mass supposed to be a celebration of our faith? Shouldn’t we come out of church feeling better? I think the short answer is yes, and yes, but we don’t. Too often the homily is delivered as a rebuke for our supposed sins when it should be simply a message reminding us of the right path; something positive and uplifting i.e., you shouldn’t walk out of mass feeling like someone pounded the snot out of you. And again, I don’t think God would’ve intended for his words to be delivered this way.

I don’t insinuate that the bible is just a ‘guide’ by any means, but I do think much of what the church dictates is under the Vaticans’ interpretation of the holy book, and isn’t interpretation personal and  somewhat biased? And if society has progressed and adapted their beliefs and behaviours to accommodate change over centuries, why can’t the church? We’re not saying change the word of God. We’re just saying modify the terms of delivery of His word to adapt with society’s progression. Surely there’s room for compromise in every interpretation of His word.

Couple that with the tiresome, morose, drawn out music played in church and it’s a wonder more people don’t leave mass and head straight to a bar to drown their woebegone hearts.

I don’t think the church has ‘lost’ their flock. They have however, lost their ability to effectively communicate with them and that has resulted in a loss of visible support. Those who believe still do and always will, but they will practice their faith on their own terms because they know their God is nothing if not loving and understanding.

Move with the times already.



Yesterday, it’s gone, and that’s ok.

Yesterday, it’s gone, and that’s ok.

New year celebrations are now firmly behind us, and thank goodness! I am not a fan of New Year’s parties. I resent having to stay up later than I’d like simply because the date is changing (you know, it’ll come whether we’re awake or not) and I especially hate the behaviours of some New Year’s Eve revelers (too many men use New Years as an opportunity to get drunk and grope everybody else’s wife) Suffice it to say, I don’t like New Year’s Eve but I do love the prospect of a new future – there’s 365 tomorrows full of promise ahead of us and I can’t wait to see what is in store for me!

Now I’m not one to make New Year’s resolutions, for no reason in particular. I just don’t feel the need. If improvements need to be made to myself or my life, I’d like to think I’d act on it as the need arises versus waiting for a deadline to ‘motivate’ me. I am not perfect , I make mistakes, and like anyone, there’s things about me I could change, if I really wanted to. I guess I just don’t allow myself to dwell on the things I didn’t do – it just seems counterproductive. (besides, who needs to be reminded of their shortfalls?) I do, however, allow myself to reflect on what I did accomplish in the past year and that’s a pat on the back we all need.

So I didn’t lose 20 pounds, learn to speak Italian, take up yoga, return to church, volunteer at a charity, join a book club, or meditate daily.

I am learning to love my additional girth, (even if only a little..ok, all I need is one good flu to kick start a new diet! Hope is the last to die)

I bought  the Rosetta Stone CD to teach myself Italian, (ok, my son bought it for me 4 years ago and I’ve yet to crack it open, but when I last travelled to Italy, everybody spoke English……if Italians aren’t speaking it, why should I?)

I have been taping various yoga programs to find a suitable style for me, (I watch them almost daily (…is it my fault the right program has yet to appear? As soon as the right one presents itself, I’ll participate)

As for returning to church, well, let’s just say God and I have an agreement (as soon as the Catholic church moves out of the 14th century and peps up the atmosphere a little, I’ll be there, Until then, I go direct to the big guy and he seems to be ok with it)

As for volunteering at a charity, that’s a toughie. I can’t even make eye contact with a homeless person because my tears well up – I can’t seem to detach myself from the emotional aspect of those less fortunate (if I volunteered at a soup kitchen I’d probably end up needing more consolation than those I’m serving) No, I’m not capable of that kind of task – If I’m truly meant to aid others I need some direction as to other ways to be of charitable service. (it’s not for everyone)

I also didn’t join a book club. I would’ve liked to, but to date I haven’t been invited to join one I’d like to be a part of. (ok, I haven’t been invited to any…I guess I’m not as popular as I thought)

And as for meditation, I did try, and will again. It isn’t easy to gain the discipline needed to truly relax the mind but I suspect practice is what is needed so I will continue to make the effort and, as luck would have it, I have a whole new year ahead of me to give it a go!

A clean slate!

If I had to make any resolutions, I would make only one. “Don’t look back to yesterday”  I did the best I could with what I had at the time, and if it didn’t work out as well as it should have, well, that’s a sign to try something else. It is not a reason to berate myself, so don’t go there.

I’m a good person, with good intentions, as I believe we all are, and I like me just the way I am. The past year gave me time with my family and friends in a wonderful way, and the New Year poses opportunities for me to expand on that. And if somewhere in there I manage to read an Italian book, on yoga, while on route to a book club meeting, hosted by a priest, I’ll try to meditate on ways to help those less fortunate. If not, I will still be ok….I’ll just re-evaluate my goals for the following year.

I’m ok, and life is good. Love and accept yourself, just the way you are.

Happiness and blessings.