Missing My Grandpa

I’ve been remembering my Grandfather lately. For some reason, 7.5 years after his death, several events have resurfaced his memory, and I miss him. It started with our family reunion, when many of my relatives flew in from England and we came together at my Grandmothers house to spend time together. A few years before my Grandfather died, through the wildness of the internet, my Grandfather found a long-lost half-brother who he didn’t know existed. They connected, my Grandpa’s half-brother flew across the ocean so they could meet, and as luck would have it, their resemblance, mannerisms, facial expressions etc, is uncanny. Fast-forward 10 years, and 7.5 years after my Grandfathers death, and sure enough, he attends the family reunion with his wife and daughter, who also looks uncannily like my Grandfather. First tug of my heart.

Second: I attended my cousins wedding, and there is a slideshow shown at the reception with lots of childhood photos. Sure enough, photos show up on the big screen with my Grandfather smiling and playing with his grandchildren, and tears well up in my throat. I am not prepared for the suddenness of such deep sadness in my heart, the emotion that I can only name grief. I can only define grief as missing someone who I love so deeply, who I wish I could have one more cup of tea and conversation with.

Third: my neighbor took my family and I out on his sailboat on a beautiful August day. His boat was very similar to my grandparents boat, and sitting on the boat basking in the sun, all of my wonderful childhood memories of being on the boat with my grandfather came flooding back. As I looked out at the beautiful lake and up at the wide-open blue blue sky and as I looked at my family, I felt thankful in that moment and a strong sense of peace washed over me.

My Grandfather was an intense person, and not always the easiest person to be around. He was opinionated, and lived life with gusto. My Grandfather never took a second of life for granted, and taught me to live with conviction and care deeply about my life and my precious time on this earth. My Grandfather was an outspoken activist, who was not afraid to take risks and speak his mind. My Grandfather was a long-time Anglican Christian, but he had a conflicting relationship with his faith. He wanted so badly for the church to change their views, especially in being accepting of homosexuality as well as recognizing the multi-truths of other faiths and that Christianity is not the only route to God. I remember attending church with my Grandfather and him arguing with the clergy members, as well as muttering under his breath to me when certain parts of the service were not ‘in line with the times’.

Of course, in writing this piece, I decided to google my Grandfathers name (Eric Perryman), with little hope that he would have a presence on the internet 7.5 years after he has passed away. Sure enough, I found two letters that he wrote to the Editor of the Anglican Journal, advocating for change in views. I can hear his articulate, angry (but trying to be diplomatic) voice in these letters that he wrote:

Letters to the Editor – May 1999 – http://www.anglicanjournal.com/articles/letters-to-the-editor-564

“Dear editor, Congratulations for publishing the March opinion piece on collegiality by Canon Gordon Baker, and the editorial on the need for open debate within the Anglican Church on potentially divisive issues. The various points of view on any divisive issue need to be discussed in all segments of the church long before any motion reaches the floor of a diocesan or general synod. If the democratic process is to be followed, then it becomes questionable as to whether collegiality within the House of Bishops can be used as a reason to override the prevailing viewpoint of other parts of the Anglican community. The recent example in the Diocese of New Westminster where a motion agreeing with the blessing of same-sex unions was passed by clergy and lay delegates at their synod, yet put on hold by their bishop, is a case in point. There, democracy and collegiality were mutually exclusive. I have asked our bishop to provide us, the laity, with documented reasoning, which led him to vote against the blessing of same-sex unions. To date he has not responded. He is the leader of his flock and therefore surely has a responsibility to give us his reasoning even though this may be different from other bishops. We, the laity, would be helped immensely in our struggle with divisive issues if bishops would trust us and share discussions and differing viewpoints with us. I hope our bishops will recognize that the time has gone when people were content to leave their brains at the church door”. Eric Perryman Corbyville, Ont

Letters to the Editor – March 1998, http://www.anglicanjournal.com/articles/letters-to-the-editor-31

“Dear editor, I am writing to praise Bishop Michael Ingham’s fortitude and honesty in writing his latest book, Mansions of the Spirit. W. Turner (February letters) took exception to this book because it was allegedly not based on the biblical truths. What are these biblical truths which state that Christianity is the only road to God, that Christians will be given preferential treatment in the next life, that other people not of the Christian faith will be dealt with accordingly? As more and more regions of the world become multicultural and multifaith, Christians have to face the existence of other religious faiths and must be prepared to discuss whether the great religions of the world are all connected to the same truth. In the same way we must be prepared to recognize the connection between interfaith reality and interfaith conflict. We should be thankful to Bishop Ingham for providing us with such a well thought out book to help us become informed, caring and unbiased Christians. I invite Mr. Turner to provide us with documentation illustrating those biblical truths referred to.” Eric Perryman Corbyville, Ont.

He never gave up. I am not sure if the Anglican Church ever moved forward on these issues or not, but I do know that if my Grandfather was alive, he would still be writing these letters and fighting the fight.

I don’t know what I believe about life after death. But I do know that my Grandfather taught me some of my core values, about living my life with gusto and integrity, and taking risks. I am striving to teach these values to my children, and in doing so, his spirit is kept alive.

MyGrandpa-Eric

Thinking about Friendship

I’ve been thinking a lot about friendships lately. Candy Changs words resonate with me, in her amazing ‘Before I Die’ TED Talk (which if you haven’t watched, I highly recommend): “Two of the most valuable things we have is time and our relationships with each other.” As someone who struggles with feeling that I never have enough time to do what I need to do in a day, Candy Changs words hit me hard. Because sometimes (okay I admit, often), I think that I don’t have time for relationships with others. I struggle with time, with the feeling of not having enough time, and I often put my to-do list ahead of my friendships.

We were invited to my friends sons birthday party last weekend. These are friends that I have known for 20 years – unbelievable if I think about it, I have known them for half of my life. They are pretty much my oldest friends. In the 20 years, we have had times of intense closeness and times apart, and currently, they live far away and we don’t see them very often. But when we do see them, there is magic there, that feeling of joy when you are with someone who has known you for 20 years. We almost didn’t go to the birthday party, because it was far and we had just schlepped to IKEA and back dealing with an annoying furniture mishap. There were excuses, lots of excuses. I was tired. I needed to grocery shop, get ready for the week, etc etc. I thought I didn’t have the time.

Thankfully, we decided to get in the car and go. And I am so thankful we made this decision. It was such a joy to see my friends again, to hug and reconnect. I am so happy that I was present for their experience of celebrating their son turning five. Its amazing that we met as young adults (practically children still!), and now here we are, watching our children running around in a playground.

For me, valuing my relationships means that I need to be present. In this world of increasing distractions, presence is not always so easy. But it is critically important. And for me, presence is practiced and friendships are deepened through good old-fashioned face-to-face conversation. I keep in touch with many friends through Facebook where we comment on each others photos and I get updates on everyones day-to-day experiences of living. Facebook is great for keeping in touch, and seeing snapshots of life. But, I cannot make the mistake of thinking that friendship is developed through Facebook. For me, friendships and relationships deepen by being together, sharing physical space, making eye-contact, listening and sharing, and understanding each other.

And friendship is worth making time for.

Resonance in Song

A year ago, my friend and I started a band. We went out one night and discussed how we loved music and wanted to have more music in our life. I have always been a musician, singing in choirs as a child, and playing guitar since I was 16 years old. But when life got busy as I became adult with kids and job commitments, sadly I stopped making time for music. My friend found music later in life, teaching young children in a classroom and learning the ukulele to use to engage her students. It was a pivotal conversation and a jumping point for what is now our cover band: Folked Up. We practice in my back den every two weeks or so, and we just have a fun time trying tunes and playing around with harmonies. And I am so happy that music has come back into my life.

What I love most about singing in my band, is harmonizing. I am not generally a religious person, but the only way I can describe my feelings when I harmonize, is that I feel the presence of God/the Ground of Being/something greater than myself. I hear/feel resonance – energy coming together and multiplying, like tidal waves carrying across the ocean and crashing on the shores. And I feel transformed by this resonance, fundamentally changed.

We decided to do a small house concert for friends and family, to mark our one year of making music together. We aren’t polished, we make mistakes and fumble, but despite our nerves, we wanted to share this piece of our lives. Here are a few songs for you to enjoy!:

Bad Romance (Lady Gaga) – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wJ3BSbtspRg

You Shook Me All Night Long (AC/DC) – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tT8C_EDJR8M

Down Under (Men At Work) – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dFwDxenBd_E

Karma Chameleon (Boy George) – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wVddnkxOaA8

I Will Give You Everything (Skydiggers) – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EG3u_FwAOSU

All About the Bass (Meaghan Trainor) – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_o2zNJo0kKo

Summer Loving and Learning

My 9 year old son is a different person in the summer. He goes to daycamp every day, and comes back happier, lighter and at peace in his spirit. We have spent this past school year with our son being so tense and anxious, looking to pick fights with us and his younger brother, defiance and anger often in his eyes. This was a tough year in our home. And through it all, we almost forgot who he really was. We started to believe that this angry, disengaged self was really him.

But here he is, coming home from camp every day, with a huge smile on his face, openness and peace in his eyes, and excitement to tell me all about his day. When he went to school, I would ask about his day, and he would just shrug and say, ‘It was fine’, in a voice that told me that it wasn’t fine. When I ask him about his day at camp, he can’t wait to tell me the stories and activities, the friends he has made, the funny encounters, and what he has learned. We love the summer.

But it begs the question, running through my head every day, “Why can’t school be more like camp?” It feels incredibly sad, and a missed opportunity, that at grade three, my son waits all school year for the summer. As someone who is passionate about learning (and works in the post-secondary sector), I am very concerned with his disengagement at school. I want my son to be excited and engaged with his learning, to be happy going to school and happy in his life. I want him to feel safe facing learning challenges that stretch him, to be creative and innovative in his thinking, and to make mistakes and learn from his mistakes. Is this too much to ask?

So what is it about camp, that is different from school, that captures my son’s spirit? A few elements come to mind:

  1. Active: camps are very active, kids are moving around all the time, instead of learning at a desk. People need to move. My son needs to move to learn, not because he has ADD but because people need to move. He is happier when he is able to be active, not at set times but throughout the day.
  1. Experiential: Hands-on experiential learning, like trying to sail a boat and learning about wind patterns, will be imprinted in memory because it is interesting and practical. This engaged learning is far more powerful than book learning that is remembered only for a test.
  1. Fun: Camp is fun! The songs, jokes and cheers. Doesn’t everyone want to have fun and enjoy life? Does school need to be so serious? Can’t learning be fun? I found this great article about a professor who doesn’t have exams or tests, but now reframes them as ‘celebrations’ – that is the spirit I am looking for!
  1. Connected: This is the game-changer for my son. My son makes an immediate connection to his counselors at camp. This does not happen at school. Based on this connection, he feels like he belongs and that he is safe. At the end of Day 1 at camp, he knows all of his counselors names. He talks incessantly about his camp counselors, and at the end of his week at camp, he is sad to say goodbye. I was pleasantly surprised when one evening, he gave up storytime before bed so that he could make all of his camp counselors snake puppets out of construction paper to give to them as presents (and he is NOT usually a crafty kid!). He selected which puppet should go to which counselor based on their personality. This connection just does not happen at school.

How hard would it be for schools to integrate these elements, to foster a (dare I say) fun, engaged and joyful learning environment? It would actually be very hard, because it would mean radically dismantling the culture of education that hasn’t changed much in 100 years. The culture of education that I am referring to, is where ‘learning’ takes place in desks and in classrooms, where kids line up when bells are rung, and fun is relegated to a once a year ‘fun day’ (listen to Sir Ken Robinson talk on this – he is very articulate and inspiring). Yes, dismantling this system of education would be hard. But for the sake of our children, it is time for change!

SickKids – Soothing Spaces

I recently spent five days with my little one at SickKids hospital. It was probably one of the most stressful times in my life, and definitely the most stressful time as a mom. Five days is such a short amount of time in the grand scheme of life, but when I was there, it felt like forever. The days were long, waiting for tests and doctors and results and answers, and the nights were even longer, sleeping on the pull-out chair beside the hospital bed and worrying about my life (and my other son) outside of the hospital. I met several parents whose child was living in the hospital for months and months, and I can’t imagine how hard that reality must have been.

I think a lot about space, and how space impacts us, in terms of how we feel and how we act. I believe strongly that space has an incredible impact on our attitudes and behaviours, and even small changes to space can make a big difference. During our days at SickKids, we had a lot of time to explore this hospital, and I was always looking for ways to entertain my three year old. In the midst of stress, we found spaces that provided much needed laughter and peace. These spaces made all of the difference in our day, providing us with energy and uplifting our spirits. My favourite spaces were:

  1. The Elevator

What could be better than an elevator to entertain a three-year old? We ‘rode the rails’ for hours every day. We pressed the buttons, got in and out, in and out, and the elevator was a source of endless entertainment. We met a lot of people on the elevator, going up and down, all going about their lives. I love how the elevator is so open, and the space of the hospital from this perspective feels so open and spacious. I was so appreciative of this space during our stay at the hospital.

SickKids-elevator-K SickKids-elevator

  1. The Tim Hortons train

The Tim Hortons at SickKids has a train that goes around and around the store. There is a button for kids to press that makes the train move. Again, this was a source of great entertainment for my boy, who loves trains. A few times a day, we would do the walk to Tim Hortons, and I could drink much-needed coffee while K pressed the button and delighted in watching the train move. I was very thankful for this space.

SickKids-TimHortonswithtrain

  1. The Starlight Room Rooftop Space

This was the most important space for me during our time at SickKids. It brought K and I (and others) a deep sense of peace when we needed it. We weren’t able to leave the hospital, so we were stuck inside during beautiful sunny days. When I found the Starlight Room Rooftop Space (on the 9th floor – if you are looking for it, you can only take the middle elevator up to it), I almost cried with joy. The rooftop patio is beautiful, with couches and water features, and we were able to be outside! We were able to enjoy the warm sun and the breeze of the wind, without leaving the hospital. We spent a lot of time up on the rooftop patio, playing and making crafts and enjoying fresh air.

SickKids-StarlightRoom-rooftop

These spaces at SickKids made my stay there bearable. SickKids is a special place, with amazing doctors and nurses and staff, and I am so thankful that little K was taken care of there.

The Power of Questions

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”- Rainer Maria Rilke – Letters To a Young Poet

I passionately found and read Rilke’s writing over and over and over again when I was a teenager and into young adulthood, and his words continue to resonate for me.

I have been thinking a lot about the power of questions lately, and our relationship to questions. My three year old is at the stage where he is constantly asking questions about everything – how does this work? Why do we do this? What does this mean? He spends his day questioning, and that is how he is learning so much about his world. I try to be patient and open with providing the most (and age-appropriate) response to all of his questions, as well as encouraging his curiosity.

But something happens when we get older – we seem to lose our questions. We become more comfortable with answers, and limited answers at best. We lose our capacity for questioning. Questioning is perceived in a negative way, and interpreted as defiance. Our natural ability to ask questions seems to disappear.

I teach at a college, and for one of my assignments, students are asked to come up with a research question about a social service topic that they care about. I thought it was an easy exercise, until I went into my classroom and my students looked at me like I had three eyes. Overall, they are challenged to develop questions that they want to think about and research. We now do extensive collective brainstorming to help each other with developing questions, but it doesn’t come easy. While most of my students can identify a topic that they are interested in, when I ask them: “What is it that you want to know or better understand? What questions do you have this topic?”, their mind is blank. They haven’t thought about questions.

I have realized that questioning can be used as a powerful pedagogical tool in my teaching. I try to encourage questioning as a way to challenge students to think differently and deeper. For example, once we have discussed and learned about a subject, I ask my students to come up with questions to look up online and dig deeper into their learning. I crowdsource my test questions, asking my students to come up with good questions that would effectively test their learning (at an understanding/not fact based level), and then I promise to use some of their questions on my tests (ironically, their questions are often harder/more complex than mine would be!). I find that while, at first students are uncomfortable with the task of creating questions, once we have done it together a few times, they enjoy the challenge.

Michael Wesch, in his amazing Ted Talk “From Knowledgeable to Knowledge-Able”,  speaks about gauging student engagement by the questions they ask when learning. The typical questions that we hear from students sadly show a lack of engagement: “What do we need to know for this test?”, “How many multiple choice questions will there be?” “When will my assignment be due?” etc… Wesch passionately states, “A good question is one that leads you on a quest.”

The quest is lifelong, through our ups and downs and windy paths alone and together. There will always be more questions than answers, and questions that arise from existing answers. In the words of Rilke, let’s ‘love the questions themselves’.

Inspired by the Internet

I remember being in my last year of high school and my father sitting me down in front of a computer screen, excitement in his eyes, saying ‘This is called the world wide web. It is going to change our world forever.” I remember feigning vague interest to be polite, but frankly, I didn’t believe his prediction. More than twenty years later, it is clear that my father was right.

Being on the young end of the Gen-X demographic, I am not a digital native and didn’t grow up online. Even among my age peers, I have been accused of being a luddite – I resist new technology and I have been slow to embrace this seismic shift in our society (ask my partner, who has been pushing me along for 15 years!). However, now that I have a smartphone and am connected to so many amazing folks through various social media (namely, Facebook and Twitter), I cannot imagine a day without the internet. And I am so thankful that it exists – I embrace the learning/teaching and collaboration/connecting that happens every day!

What I love most about the internet is the opportunity and experience of collaboration. Sharing and collaboration has been the cornerstone of what sets the internet apart from its ‘cousin’ screen – the tv. While the tv is one-way communication (we receive entertainment, news etc from it), the internet is (or has the potential to be) two-way collaboration. While we may use it as one-way consumers of entertainment or info, as a tv/book/magazine (ex. Netflix, youtube videos, articles etc), to me, the real magic of the internet is it being a tool for collaboration.

And to go one step further, for me, internet collaboration beats other forms of collaboration because it is open to the whole world, crossing all boundaries of geography, race, age, expertise, education etc. Collaboration through the internet has been termed ‘crowdsourcing’ (See Crowdsourcing: Why the Power of the Crown is Driving the Future of Business by: Jeff Howe), which harnesses many people’s knowledge in order to solve a problem or create something. Another term used for this is ‘collective intelligence’, making the case that groups with their collective intelligence, have the capacity to far outperform individuals. And the theory behind the success of crowdsourcing is that diverse groups (and the internet is the epitome of diversity) outperform homogenous groups. As Howe argues in his book, ironically experts often experience greater barriers to problem-solving because their expertise narrows their ‘out-of-the-box’ abilities. Individuals with passion but without expertise come at the problem with a creative openness to fresh ideas.

The other critical factor of collaboration on the internet is that people are not being paid for collaborating. They are doing it for free. The motivation of a monetary reward is taken away, and that frees people to connect and collaborate based on their internal motivation – to make a difference in the world, to share their knowledge, to connect with others etc. Daniel Pink’s amazing TED Talk “The Puzzle of Motivation” illustrates what research already knows – monetary rewards stunt creativity, narrow thinking and limit the ability to effectively problem-solve.

The example of amazing crowd-sourcing internet collaboration that is most widely known is Wikipedia, where 31.7 million registered users have contributed their knowledge (with an estimation of 100 million total volunteer hours) and research has shown it to be just as accurate as expert-written encyclopedias. Here are a few other internet collaborations that I find incredibly inspiring:

  • Eric Whitacre’s Virtual Choirs – Eric started the concept of a ‘virtual choir’ where people from all of the world join the choir, learn their part in a song and upload a video on youtube of themselves singing their part. The videos are all put together to make beautiful music and a virtual choir of thousands of voices singing together is unbelievably powerful! The most recent Virtual Choir was made up of 8,409 videos from over 100 countries in the world. You can read more about Eric Whitacre’s Virtual Choirs here, and check out the newest song, Fly to Paradise, here.
  • Participatory mapping projects – technology has been amazing in providing an opportunity to crowd-source geographically, so that maps are created to share information quickly and effectively, and to visually represent our communities accurately in real-time. There are lots of examples of participatory mapping – globally, Unicef is on the cutting edge of using mapping as a tool for social justice (one example – youth mapping environmental risks in their communities). And at the grassroots community level, participatory maps are being created using Google Maps to map out and better understand the underground sharing economy.
  • Sharing science and experimenting together: Michael Rubinstein is a computer scientist who created a ‘motion microscope’ that captures and amplifies the smallest of movements, so you can for example, witness the pulse under someones skin or the constant movement that is taking place in our bodies even when resting. But for me, what is more amazing than his invention, is that he is sharing his code so that others can play around with his tool and innovate further. On his website, anyone can download their own video and virtually try out his microscope to see what motion magnification will do. Through this shared technology, people have seen their babies wiggling around in-utero, their friends move differently (when they are supposedly standing still), and even their pets heartbeat. And the innovation continues.

And last but not least, I am very inspired by the “Humans of New York” site/Facebook page, where a guy named Brandon decided to photograph people on the streets of New York, and he now has over 12 million followers on Facebook (including me). His reach is so far, that when he photographed Vidal, a middle school student from a dangerous neighborhood in Brooklyn who was inspired by his principal (who made him feel that he mattered), people were so inspired that a fundraiser raised $100,000.00 in 45 minutes and $1,400,000 in one month. What started out as a fundraiser for a class trip to visit Harvard (so students can expand their idea of their own potential), has now turned into a scholarship fund for students to go to Harvard! And of course, the first student who will receive this scholarship will be Vidal, who started this tidal wave of social media support.