Lessons in Grace from the Gas Bar

bottles

I stopped for gas this afternoon, cold and complaining to myself, huddled deep into my coat as I waited for the tank to fill. A flash of neon green caught my eye; one of our town’s more infamous characters was pulling a sled with a hot pink skipping rope handle. The sled carried a couple of black garbage bags, open to receive the day’s bounty of discarded cans and bottles retrieved from sidewalks, dumpsters and trash bins. As I watched, she approached the black plastic garbage can at the pump island where I stood.

My instinctive reaction was distaste. For some reason the sight of her and her sled made me feel something unpleasant for a moment. The idea of going through other peoples’ trash makes me so uncomfortable. It’s dirty, it’s dangerous and it just makes me shudder.  I am (I think) more generous of spirit than that, usually. In that moment though,  I was small. I’m not proud of that.

I watched her, as I pumped my gas. I could only see her bare hands from where she stood on the other side of the pump station. Such a cold day today, -25 and colder, and she dug into that garbage can with bare hands. I watched as she bent over, head going deep into the bin, digging deeply for whatever she could salvage. She retrieved a few water and pop bottles, an empty vodka mickey and a McDonald’s bag worthy of further investigation. While I watched, I started to worry. I met a street fellow in Vancouver a couple of years ago with a raging infection in his hand; he’d cut it on something while rummaging for recyclables this same way. I worried for how cold her hands must be, doing this work in the frigid weather.

As she finished up, she did something I won’t forget. She straightened the garbage bag out, making sure the sides were properly stretched down over the top before she carefully replaced the lid. She pulled out a few paper towels from the dispenser and wiped her hands clean. Most memorable to me? A small square of paper towel tore off and fell beside the garbage can. Her red, cold fingers tried four or five times until she was able to get hold of it to toss it in the bin. She moved on to the next can and started over, tidy in her work.

The cautious, careful way everything was set to rights when she was done affected me very much. The small piece of paper, so difficult to pick up with frozen fingers was not left as litter on the ground. I felt, still feel, shame for my initial reflexive distaste. While I hope I don’t have to do that in my lifetime, there is a quiet honour in what she was doing. From an environmental standpoint, she was doing us all a service. Through the salvage efforts of people like her, many discarded cans and bottles make it to recycling centres instead of the landfill. From a self sufficiency point of view she is doing something honourable too; working to earn some money despite the challenges. That effort makes liars of people who point fingers at “lazy” recipients of social assistance. From where I sit there is nothing lazy about crossing the city day after day on foot, pulling your harvest behind you in the depths of winter to make a few bucks.

I don’t ever want to have to dig through garbage to make money, but I need to feel and show respect for the people who do. All work has honour, all work has value. All people have honour and value. I need to work on empathy. It’s  easy to look away, to feel different, separate, more, better, to look for something that provides safe distance between me and “them”.   She did her work today with dignity and I respect that. I hope I don’t mean that I wouldn’t respect her if she’d left the lid off, left the trash where it fell. I hope I’d respect her no matter what, but the  grace shown in the small act of leaving the space tidy moved me in a powerful way. I hope never to be judged the way she is likely judged, every day of her life.

 

Me and KD Lang… we’ll just be meditating over here.

photo

Meditation huh? I have recently downloaded the new free app promoted by KD Lang called Stop, Breathe and Think. It’s interesting.  I tried it out for the first time last night using the “commonality of suffering” meditation. Seems like an odd place to start but given the events in my life over the past six months it seemed reasonable. A very calm voice led me through a 6 minute meditation focusing on breath, on imagery, and on empathy. Imagine how it must feel to lose everything… put yourself in the place of someone whose family and home have been destroyed by a storm.  That’s big stuff for a six minute meditation but I am a novice, so can’t say yet whether it’s too much or just a lot to contemplate in that context and time frame.

Anyway, I’m going to try it again. It’s a free app and I’ve got time on my hands. The commonality of suffering is probably not where I’d like to focus all my attention, but I can see that many of the meditations listed (the longest is about 10 minutes) are of a more positive tone like those entitled Kindness, Equanimity (I guess it’s as good a time as any to figure out what that word means), Joy and Great Compassion. I could use more of all those in my life and would do well to share more of those things too. There’s a great check-in screen that invites you to choose up to 5 adjectives to describe how you’re feeling, then suggests meditations that might be meaningful or relevant.

The truth is I grew up fearing meditation; my mother’s warnings about the risks of transcendental meditation and the obvious link between meditation and certain death by fire (soaked with gasoline) ring loudly in my ears even now. I’ll do my best to avoid long haired men in caftans (think Rasputin in a dress) when plugging in my ear buds; if I see any lurking in the shadows with a jerry can I’ll definitely reconsider the meditation and consider a sprint instead. Joking aside, meditation is still a bit “new age” and “flakey” to many. I’m going to try to overcome that and silence the lingering doubts.

I don’t know if meditation is going to work for me. I’m a rapid processor… my mind has been referred to as a pinball machine in the past, whizzing and bouncing, rebounding and doubling back with bells and flashing lights, zany music and strobe effects. I’d do well with more focus, less zing. If KD Lang is willing to help, I’m all for it. I really dig KD Lang. If KD Lang says meditation will help me gain clarity, peace and inner tranquility, I’m going to listen. Actually, if KD Lang tells me pretty much ANYTHING, I’m going to listen. And if a ten minute meditation once a day really will help me “become more mindful and compassionate”, then cool. Nice to know there’s an app for that. I could certainly use my own “forcefield of personal calm and peace”.

The organization called Tools for Peace is behind the app. Tools for Peace™ teaches people of all ages how to develop and apply kindness and compassion in their daily lives” says their site. That’s a good objective, and any methods likely encourage compassion and participation are good. I’m going to give this app a try and see what happens. I’ve always wanted to try meditation, maybe this will be my starting point.

And KD…. if you’re listening? I’ll meditate with you any day.

This is KD Lang at a concert in Vegas a couple of years ago, holding the magazine I offered her from Yukon… my home. She and I are pretty much best friends now.  While the image quality is not awesome, the quality of the image is pure awesome!

315827_10150331476850728_471338533_n

Why Matches are a Perfect Gift

ImageA while back I blogged about a box of beautiful matches, their use and misuse, and my sadness when they were all gone. A smallish thing, but Moms understood the value of beautiful objects and rituals. My friends understood… more than I knew, apparently. 

My blogger friend Donna (The Redneck Princess) emailed me the other day asking for my mailing address. She is talented, beautiful & crafty.  She often has contests and so on on her fab blog, so I didn’t think too long about what I might have won, just gave her the address and carried on. 

Donna and I are friends through her younger brother… “Little Jimmy”, we called him. He’s a great guy who now lives in the same Yukon town as me.  Donna is a couple of years older than me so we only knew one another peripherally in school. Over the last little while though we’ve become online friends through a gang of awesome crabby women approaching our best years. She and the rest of that gang of foul mouthed awesome bitches have become my posse, my safe place. I am one lucky lady.

This is what Donna sent me:

Image

Isn’t that just about the best gift ever? A BEAUTIFUL box of matches, just for me. Just for lighting a beautiful candle  when I want to just be Deborah, instead of Mom… or wife. 

So I want to say thank you to Donna – wow… what a hugely awesome thoughtful and kind thing you did!

And now, I will try to find a way to do something as kind and thoughtful for somebody else.  What a nice challenge… I’ll be watching you, my friends. Watching and listening for a chance to make your day like my lovely friend Donna made mine. 

Happy, happy Thursday friends!