Bravo Toronto! … and Happy Birthday Art

Happy BirthdayI wrote this post almost a week ago, planning to post it last Monday, just a few days after my sweet grandson Art’s 9th birthday.  I’ve delayed it a couple of days to give myself space to honour Walter Cronkite.  And so …..

Did you know that there’s been a city worker’s strike in Toronto that’s now (as of July 17 … which is by the way also my grandson Art’s 9th birthday) nearing it’s 30th day?  That means that in this city of over 5.5 million people – a city which prides itself on its recycling and composting programs – we’ve all been left to deal with disposal of the garbage that we create ourselves.  I’m going to come back to the notion of dealing with the garbage that we create ourselves in a moment – which is what I’m really writing about today, but first I want to pause to congratulate the people of Toronto.

Garbage site Christie PittsThe city’s transformed a number of parks into garbage collection sites where we can ‘deliver’ our carloads of garbage.  That’s not a perfect solution for sure (especially for the people who live in close proximity to those parks … remember that it’s also summer weather which means sun and heat) but – and this is the remarkable part – it seems to be working.  Why?  Because I live in a city that hasn’t lost it’s sense of civic responsibility.  Even with a population this size we’ve managed to build some sense of community and that’s a terrific thing.  Put that into the context of the fact that Toronto is likely the most multicultural city in the world, with over 1/2 of its population born outside of Canada … which means that there really has to have been a building of community.  Throughout the city, we’ve had people – just like you and me – voluntarily picking up garbage after large events (like Salsa on St. Clair last weekend) and generally keeping their neighbourhoods clean.  City workers on the picket line at garbage drop-off sites are indeed keeping people waiting while they promote the reasons for their strike (which some of us support and some of us don’t), but there’s been no violence.    I’d be amiss if I didn’t mention that the city of Windsor (into its 14th week of a strike) have mostly been setting a great example for us).  Amazing and definitely worth kudos.

Now, back to the heart of the matter.  No, that’s not quite right.  My heart’s definitely with Art today … it’s the first time (other than when the kids spent a year in Australia when he was a baby) that I haven’t been at his birthday party.  We’ll be together two weekends from now at the Blue Skies Music Festival and we’ll celebrate both of our birthdays there.  Not perfect, but will have to do for this year.

So … here’s what I really want to talk about.  ‘We all have to figure out how to dispose of our own garbage’.  Now there’s one of those basic truths about life I think.   We all have our personal ‘garbage’; the stuff that we bring along with us in an invisible backpack that we draw on as we move through our days.  Whether it’s the privilege that we carry because of an accident of birth (for example, our gender or our colour or our social class), or the history of our perceptions as they’re locked into our thoughts (our personal stories), we all have our personal “mishugus” (that’s Yiddish for idiosyncrasy / hangup/ craziness ) that we bring to the table with us each day.

That said,  as a culture we seem to have missed learning that we are responsible for the mishugus that we “bring to the table” and that means we can’t just blame everything/anything on someone / something / anything else.  Makes sense?  We … and by this I guess really I mean I since I can’t talk for – or take responsibility for – anyone but myself  … need to find ways to become really aware of what our “mishugus” is or we/I  can’t take responsibility for it.  Right?  So in a culture that rewards superficiality and emotional numbness  and in so many ways encourages us to repress or ignore that which is unpleasant (just think about something else … ever been given that advice when you’re struggling to understand something difficult or painful?) this becomes particularly important I think.  We’re taught  to rationalize … which can be a far cry from being rational.  ‘Owning’ our mishugas isn’t the same as explaining it away;  for me, it means being really mindful of what I do and how I do it.  It means trying to be as fully aware – and open – to the full spectrum of experience (and that includes feelings) as I can be as much of the time as I can be.

Carl Jung said that “the more I accept myself, the more I change”.  meditative imagesFunny, isn’t it?  Acceptance of self – that means I have to first be able to really see myself.  This journey in MBSR (Meditation Based Stress Reduction) that I’ve been on has been a good one for me I think, giving me more strategies for developing that full awareness/acceptance of life as it is.  We’ve just completed the pivotal day of the training – a 6-hour silent meditation practice.  It was amazing.

Meanwhile I will continue using this first year of retirement as a transitional opportunity.  Sometimes really hard.  Sometimes amazingly wonderful.  Always interesting.

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