167) Thanks Mom: Intergenerational Wisdom, Part 2 — Friendship and Community

I believe that Wisdom is about sharing as the default, trusting as the default, being open as the default, and putting your heart on your sleeve, as the default.  Obviously, sometimes you will get burned for this, and in those instances, you need to pull back, have good boundaries, and be willing to value yourself enough to assert them.

But usually, with most people most of the time, it’s not necessary to “pull back”.  When you choose more often to overcome your own fear of being judged or rejected, then you can be open, and personal, and kind, and even vulnerable.  And what it leads to, is Friendship.

I feel so incredibly grateful, especially as I’m getting older ((except 50s are the new 20s!!)), for the communities of friends that I have grown within over my lifetime.  It’s so lovely.  There are so many wonderful people with whom I’ve crossed paths and connected, and with whom I probably have some loooooooooong email or Facebook thread somewhere, maybe still ongoing, maybe gone cold for a few years.  

Even when you don’t see people all that often, you can still stay close.  Your friendships can remain solid, and even deepen.  To share with you for a moment, the last half-dozen years or so of my life have been pretty “low social contact” for the most part.  On an average month?  I don’t see anybody except my kids and maybe one key friend who lives nearby.  Over a few years, I will largely have seen the same small handful of people:  my family and a few friends. Maybe a coffee date once in a blue moon.   And that’s it.

(And yes, this is changing; there were reasons for it re: health. But I do miss hanging out with people in person more often, and I’m happy to say that this is now changing in my life.) 🙂  

The rest of the time, I have spent alone.  This is what I have believed, and felt, about myself for most of my life.  That I am alone.  Definitely since grade 4, when my life took quite an interesting turn for the worse, it’s been my predominant feeling.  

And it’s been a real source of shame, to be honest, to feel like somehow I wasn’t able to “make relationships happen” the way that people seem to. To have groups of friends that get together regularly, to have traditions, to spend time together, things like that?  Heck, almost all of even my Closest Friends, I don’t even see once a year.  

But I am coming to realize that this Tale of Aloneness was never actually true, and that what made me feel alone was simply Shame, not the reality of being disconnected from people.

When I look at my life from a different angle, then that same passage of time that seemed bereft of “social connections” was, in fact, RICH with relationships! 

Realizing this has given me a sense of…almost something like “awe”, as I interact with people.  Because it is so profoundly true that we plant seeds in people’s hearts and minds, everywhere we go, with every interaction we have with someone.  And we also water the seeds that have been planted by others.  

The cool thing is —— We have SO MUCH CHOICE in the kinds of seeds we plant and the kinds of seeds we water.  

The consequences of this, through the whole fractal web of life, rippling across time??  


* * * * *

For me personally, as much as I suck at keeping up in-person friendships over time (hopefully something that improves!), I have to admit to being much more capable at connecting with people in two specific ways.  These have been truly magical in my life, and are the reasons why I wrote this long and rambling and heart-gushing dual-post to you all in the first place.  Because ultimately, this is what I wanted to share, and it’s what I inherited from my grandparents, and my mom.  


Pen Pals

Letters and written messages, loooooong messages, are absolutely key to my entire social existence as a human.  One of my closest Friendships, now spanning more than half my life, was built for many years 99% out of letter writing. We talked like, once, in a decade or something, and saw each other not at all for the first 9 years of our personal friendship.  (And this was before email — like, actually mailing letters to each other….)  We have exchanged thousands of pages of writing.  It’s like having another person you trust so deeply, they are practically like a diary, except, in this case, a diary that also writes you back from their heart.  It’s a beautiful way of connecting with someone, and …..whew….believe me, you go deep.  

I have quite a number of what I would call pen-pal friendships.  And a much larger number of friendships that are basically like that, except the communication tends to be intense and in bursts, depending on what is happening in life that brought us together to talk about things at that particular time. Many pages of writing get exchanged….it’s lovely…..and then months, even years, go by.  And then, we reconnect and dive into whatever needs to be talked about at that new time.  No need for “sorry I haven’t been in touch.” It’s like, who cares? You can only be in regular, heartfelt contact with a very few people. But you can be in IRREGULAR, heartfelt contact with your whole lifetime’s worth of people.

I had no idea, when I was younger, that this long-term, and healthy, drama-free, elasticity of Friendship, was truly possible.  And I wonder how many people do realize this.   

So when I look at my life this way, then all of a sudden, over the same period of years of feeling like a ghost, I have co-written thousands of pages of long, wonderful, personal, often-brilliant and thought provoking, funny, heartfelt letters & message threads.  With dozens, even hundreds of “co-authors” over a long enough period of time.  

These letters and messages are absolute treasures to me.

This, to me, is “social connection” in the deepest sense.  In some beautiful ways it is even deeper than most of the IRL hangouts with people.  When you’re writing back&forth, pen-pal style??  You develop trust with each other, as you share.  You end up connecting over some deep shit you’ve gone through, and before you know it you’re sharing memories, favourite poems, jokes, and then — OH MY GOD you have created a New Culture.  

At least between the two of you, you’ve created How Things Could Be.  

And the fact that Community and Friendship can evolve out of sheer words?  Letters on a screen?  I think that is a beautiful testament to how ready the heart is to reach out and bond with others.  

***I’d like to do a *Shout Out* here to, I imagine, most of my readers!!  Because very likely, you are one of those people I’m talking about, and we have some lovely, probably hilarious, long messages between us about deep, meaningful shit to us personally.  I know, on a personal level, many, many hundreds of the readers of this blog, and I know that YOU know exactly what I’m talking about here.  This, I think, is absolutely magical.***

This is probably the single thing I am proudest of in my life, plus my relationship with my kids.  

Which, let’s talk about now for a second…because my kids have reflected back to me this “intergenerational wisdom” that we’re talking about here. I said above that there were two specific ways in which I have come to realize that I do actually foster community in my life.  The first was letters.  The second, is ——

The Village

With my kids, (and I think my sisters would say the same thing about their relationship with their kids too), the intergenerational transmission of some unpleasant shit, stopped with us.  Not perfectly, of course, being humans and all.  But, we untied A LOT of those karmic knots.  And the generations that follow us are going to carry forward a different energy, as a result.  I am super damn proud of that.  

And of course, we didn’t do it alone, which I am realizing more and more as time goes on. 

We did it with our friends and family, and co-workers and colleagues and everyone else we’ve crossed paths with.  

I mean, in the simplest of ways, I can say that I never would have made it through high school if it weren’t for certain, specific, teachers, and one Vice-Principal.  I would never have made it through graduate school if it weren’t for certain staff members and admin assistants, who saved my ass more times than I could repay them for.  Let alone my advisors, Ziva, Steve, James, and John!

But you know, I’ve reflected on this a lot, because for a very long time, I really did feel like I couldn’t repay people for their kindness.  I always felt like I was a real burden to everyone around me.  (Yay childhood again….woohoo!)  I couldn’t conceive that they got much out of my existence in their lives, and it was more like, at best, I was tolerated.  

I tried to basically be funny and ….kind of just be easy-going and then, ‘move through’ people’s lives so as to not bother them too much.  … I know that sounds kind of pathetic and sympathy-seeking or something….but hey, I mean, these ARE the feelings and shit that I had.  And I know I’m not the only human who struggles with such things….

Anyway, yes, this was my predominant feeling about me-in-the-social-world, pretty much forever, until very recently.

At my worst, which was around 2016-2018 or so, when dissociation pretty much completely took over my life, this belief had escalated to the point that I dropped everything, and everyone.  I didn’t mean it to “ghost” people (although that is in fact what I ended up doing).  I meant to remove myself from them.  The intent wasn’t to distance from them, it was to spare them the unpleasantness of having to deal with me. It was never meant as “I don’t value you”, but more like “I am poison, so at least the one good thing I can do in the world, is drink it myself.”  

I cannot overstate the importance of key, key social connections at times like that, times when depression completely pervades your mind, when suicide is a very close step away, and when things fall apart because, it’s not like you don’t care, it’s more like you care so much that you are paralyzed watching it all burn around you. Yes, at times like that, “key social connections” are literally life savers. (Not the candy….lol….)

For me, my kids made a huge difference. I did have a functional Dad-mode that kicked into gear when doing things with my kids.  It’s like how people can function at work, even though in their relationships they really struggle or they go home and get wasted or whatever other spiral they go down.  (Again, been there.  No judgement here.)  For me it was the opposite; I could barely track reality or process information, but when being “Daddy”, hey no problem, let’s go do some things! So yes, this was a life saver.

There was another point during those years where….well, let’s say things were pretty dark.  The details aren’t that great….  But what I do want to highlight is that I did let one friend into what was going on.  (via letters….of course….)  And that friend was a SuperHero.  Honestly.

She texted or messaged me every day, like EVERY day, for weeks, and then months.  I was in such a non-existent place most of the time, that “time” really didn’t mean a whole lot.  So ‘every now and then’, I would notice I had all these messages in my phone.  I’d read them, and cry, and feel…..really grateful.  And then eventually respond, sometimes a multi-page gush of appreciation, other times all she’d get from me for a long time might be a “Thanks love….I appreciate it….”.  

She was a Rock for me.  

There are others; my sisters really made a huge difference, especially once I let them know where I was at.  Which I tend not to do…..  

So the idea of repaying people for their kindness?  I figured that was impossible.  It was an ever-mounting debt, rooted in a sense of shame that had become so normalized I thought it was just what it felt like to be alive.  If you start with “unworthiness” as a foundational assumption, then what follows in life is a real struggle.  Because the bad things, you internalize and blame yourself for.  And the good things, you feel ashamed for because “clearly you don’t deserve them.”

* * * * *

Insert Therapy Here

Years of therapy later, I have FINALLY come to accept that this “debt” is largely one of my own creation.  Because, in truth, I was “repaying” people the whole way along.  

When I think of the admin staff who saved my butt, for example, I can see that I did play a role in their kindness.  I was, at the very least, friendly!  I genuinely liked them, and spent time with them, chatting about their day, asking them about their weekend or their summer plans or whatever, hanging around for those extra few minutes after some admin task was accomplished, to hear a story about their kids, or tell a story of my own, or just laugh and commiserate about what was happening in our lives at the time.  

And THAT is Connection.  

When I used to replay the memory reels of my life  while stuck in the quagmire of depression, what I saw was all sorts of “endings” and “things that didn’t work out” and “people I haven’t talked to in a very long time….”

And those things were true.  They deserve to be recognized, learned from, appreciated, grieved.  But they weren’t “The Truth”.  They weren’t the whole story.  And a partial-story is basically a lie. A partial-story, built out of truths? That’s the most pernicious type of lie.

Now, when I play the memory reels of my life, I see those endings, yes, but I can also look back at thousands and thousands and thousands of moments of Connection with people.  Walks with friends.  Laughter over meals, card games, bongs.  Profound convos around campfires.  Star-gazing on beaches. Hugs. High-fives.  Tears shed in my office hours at U of T.  Wild, zany conversations with super-bright and enthusiastic students, sitting on a park bench together or having a coffee or sitting in my office or walking down “Philosopher’s walk”.  Sudden self-disclosures, because someone’s parent just died or their boyfriend or girlfriend just dumped them, or they’re breaking down in front of you talking about how their life fell apart, or how their parents abused them, or the weird stuff in their relationship, or their body image struggles, or how they feel controlled by their family and don’t know what to do.  

I see these, endlessly, in my memories.  From friends and neighbours, to students and complete strangers, it’s like a million points of lights stretching across the oft-seemingly-dark ‘space’ of your life.  

I think, like Mr. Holland in the movie Mr. Holland’s Opus, I do understand now “what I have done with my life”. 

I’ve given it to people.  And been given theirs in return.  (Ironic, eh?  For so much of it, I assumed and therefore felt like I was alone.)  

My mind is FILLED with thousands of people’s stories.  And I really do mean thousands, as we’ll get to in a moment, as I finally have built up the courage, or just the sheer momentum in this writing — to deliver what I promised in the beginning — 

My Mom’s Intergenerational Wisdom

I sure as heck didn’t invent this way of being with people.  I don’t take credit for having this “in me”.  (Although I do take some credit for choosing, day by day, to continue being this way.  It is not always easy, to be sure.)  

But from the deep-correspondences with pen-pals, to the moments-of-Connection with acquaintances and strangers, this is something my Mom inherited from her parents, and I and my sisters were blessed enough to have this quality downloaded into us, by all three of them actually.  (My grandparents were truly lovely people; they made a transformative difference in our quite-chaotic lives growing up…)  

But yes, this is my mom’s way of being in the world.  She has always had that friendliness, with everybody who crosses her path in a day.  It’s lovely.  I see it in my kids now too, especially as they’ve gotten older and are stepping into adulthood, and rather than being “the child” at the side of the adult, so to speak, they are now the person having the conversation with the cashier, or whoever is ‘the person’ in that moment. 

And why is this quality blossoming in them now?  Because, this IS my family’s intergenerational wisdom.  From my grandparents, through my mom, and through me, my kids have experienced years of walking around doing stuff in the world, and all the while, connecting with people.  

Chatting with grocery store cashiers.  

And the person behind us in line.  

And cracking a joke with the guy who works the produce section.

And saying hi to the lady who works behind the meat counter.

And the person sitting beside us on the subway.  

And the girl who works in the bakery.

And the kids in the park.

And the teenagers in the park.

And the old couple sitting in the park.

And the nannies watching their charges in the park.

And the old man sitting on the bench while we’re having ice cream.

And the family the other time we had ice cream.

And the campers, sitting on the rocks, while we all had ice cream.

And the people we became insta-friends with when we made homemade ice cream on the beach. 🙂

And so many families and couples and kids and everybody — while having ice cream somewhere.  

(We eat a lot of ice cream, especially in the summer.  Heck, that’s “dinner”.  If you get chocolate, peanut butter, a fruit-something or other, and a huge cone?  That’s like, 80% full nutrition, right there…. )  😉

[[[joking, by the way.  We do eat pretty healthy.]]] 🙂

[[[not joking about ice cream though; that would be a sin.]]]

Thousands, maybe tens of thousands, random conversations, puns, moments of laughter, with the people that interweave through our daily lives.  All these “moments of Connection”, multiplied by every day, every year, for their whole childhoods.  I literally don’t think there has been a time that we have been out in public without having conversations with SOMEBODY, and usually many somebodies.  It’s The Best.  People are SO fun, so funny, so smart, so insightful, so charming, so cute and vulnerable and brave.  People carry SO MUCH pain.  And sure (especially as a middle-aged “white guy” in my recent past), there are often moments of — awkwardness, suspicion.  For sure.  

But, in almost every case in my life, and especially those that unfolded over a period of time (i.e., a one-shot conversation with the random person standing beside you at the hot-dog stand may, sometimes, never pass the awkward stage; although even THAT is rare).  Take, for example, the paradigmatic Cashier.  Often a young woman, maybe a high school or university student.  …..  And you say hi, how’s it going….blahblahblah, and something like so, anything cool happening this summer in your life?  (or whatever ‘happens’ in the moment….)  

And, usually, it goes great!  Or, it might be a bit awkward at first, but trust builds over time as people realize, it’s all good, your vibe is super-chillz, you’re just some friendly person, and you’re kinda funny and smart and …it’s cool.  ESPECIALLY when the person also sees you talk to literally everybody — the other customers standing near them, the other people, of all ages, ethnicities, genders, like, whatever, who also work in the store.  When friendliness is universal, and really IS universal, then it carries a “vibe”.  And I think everyone, or as-close-to-everyone-as-possible, picks up that vibe and ‘gets it’.  Because that’s WHAT WE ARE.  Social animals, tribal beings, who thrive on love, acceptance, art, laughter, sharing.  It’s simply what we are.  

Seeing people go from ‘Huh? why is this person talking to me?‘, to then smiling, laughing, and sooner or later and often even in a single conversation, they’ll tell their own little stories and share their own things.  I think it’s miraculous.  It’s a deep testament to our evolutionary heritage as a tribal species, and it reflects an interconnectedness that I can only call “spiritual”.  

You see this Magic in moments of synchronicity between people, where something totally random is the “break through.”.  And there’s a spark!  And you never know what it is going to be.  But it’s SO BEAUTIFUL when it happens.  

One of my stand-out memories is the high school girl who worked in a bakery I used to frequent, a few years ago.  Our first interaction — “hi, how’s it going, blahblah”….I get my things….business is slow, so there’s a moment while I’m adding milk to my coffee and I ask her if anything cool is happening this summer.  “No…not much, just working.”  — silence — So I’m like, “Well!!  I’m pretty jazzed about this weekend, because it’s supposed to be sunny and after all this rain, it’s perfect mushroom weather! So, my kids and I are heading to the woods to forage.”   

And BOOM —  her eyes lit up, she started telling me about her Polish grandmother, and how excited she used to get about mushrooms, taking her on back-country car trips to hunt for good shroom areas and they’d go for walks in the forest……etc……  We talked about how, once you know a few things about plants, walking in the woods is more like playing; it’s like a treasure hunt.  —— WONDERFUL conversation.

For the next two years, insta-friends.  We chatted probably 3-4 times a week.  She knew all my kids, their names, what everyone was doing in school, what I write about, stuff about our D&D adventures, etc.  And she shared about finishing high school, where she was headed for university, what she was studying, stresses about leaving home.  One hilarious party story with her friends.  Etc.  Etc.  Etc.  Two years of friendship!  From a totally random, one-off convo.  And with someone from such a different “social category” that you wouldn’t normally cross paths in any significant way.  In fact, people usually avoid each other from such “different social categories”.  And for good reason!  There’s a lot of creepy shit out there.

But you can tell the difference, I believe.  Especially over time.  If someone has an agenda, their friendliness turns to pushiness pretty fast.  And it’s exclusive to you, or at least to people they are attracted to (e.g., they might turn on the charm to the “hot waitress”, but not so much for the bus-boy….).   But if you see friendliness towards you that is maintained, and that generalizes to everyone else you see the person interact with, then…..well, then this is just straightforward Human Goodness.   And thank the gods THAT still exists.  🙂

What happened to my mushroom-cashier-friend?  Well, two years of great talks and bright moments in many, many days.  And then, that’s it!  We moved, and she was heading to university and leaving the job, and we had a goodbye!  And now, to me, she’s one “point of light” out there in the world, and in the inner space of my mind.  I love knowing that she is now richer for having known us, and we are richer for having known her.  And she carries memories of some wacky, friendly family who used to talk to her in the bakery.  And I carry my memories of this wonderful connection, and her stories that now add to the richness of my experience of life!

This is Magic, and I mean that literally

Moment by moment, person by person, interaction by interaction, the fostering of these frequently-reinforced micro-bonds ends up becoming a living web of relationships, a “community culture”.  It’s like a collective, distributed Mind.  (Seriously, think about that one for a while….it blew my mind…..)

It’s so…beautiful, how people respond when you just respond to them with genuineness. I find great solace in the irrefutable fact, that even in our seemingly-shitty world, people’s hearts still open so readily, when you show them your own.  

I really don’t have the words for this.  It’s profound.  It’s beautiful.  It is Sacred.  Because OH MY GOD, everybody you meet, like — everybody — has awesome, awesome shit that they can share (and they want to!!!) — insights, heart-warming and heart-breaking experiences they have lived through, or just unbelievable, crazy stories you’ll never forget:  A few examples out of countless:

  • the times they saw a UFO — this was a 65-ish lady I was a co-passenger with on a trip
  • the time they saw a ghost — (I’ve had dozens of people tell me their ghost stories…)
  • the time they biked across India — this was the 50-ish lady who stopped her bike at the red light while I was rollerblading down Dundas St one day.  We talked through the next two lights and she told me this craaaaazy story of this multi-week adventure she had, biking across India.  It was awesome.
  • their solo-backpacking trip to the Arctic circle — this was the guy at the Rent-All place last summer, renting me a dolly for moving a piece of furniture
  • their Ayahuasca/Peyote/Shroom trips — (I have so many of these, oh my god….they are all AMAZING)
  • the science fiction book they are writing — This was the delivery driver of a UPS van, who also had a Ph.D. in philosophy.
  • etc….forever….

This week or so?  I don’t want to give away any identifying features, but in respect to these wonderful people, here are the connection-moments I remember:

  • cashier at drug store — explains to me about skin chemistry and why the same shade of make-up looks different on different people.  (This was not even my cashier….lol…but she became part of the convo with the other cashier, who was talking with me about) —>
  • her hair and how she wishes she had the body/curls of my hair.  And I was like, no girl, my hair is frizzy AF, and I really don’t know what to do with it….(then acknowledged that yes, I did still enjoy it…lol).  But her hair looked so soft!!  — and we all acknowledged that yeah, it’s pretty slay, whatever kind of hair you have, because there’s always cool shit you can do with it…..
  • lady walking her dog near where I live — told me about her knees/arthritis, but how she still likes to get the dog out for a walk, although it’s tough to see ‘how much the neighbourhood is changing’.  (There’s a lot of building going on around us….)  I told her about getting run over when I was a kid, and how it fucked my back.  She commented how we were both “getting older” and had maintained our mobility this far in life, so hey, we have a lot to be grateful for.  🙂 Then she said I had a nice dress and asked how the kids were. 
  • the dude repaving the parking lot near me — laughed about how we don’t have any money; he wished they could take the hot days off, but ‘what can you do, you gotta eat!’ 
  • older (70-80) woman (from rural China!) in the park — told her about some wild plants and how to cook them.  She told me about foraging in China, but I admit I didn’t understand any of the names she used for plants.  The language barrier was tough for formal things like that. But it was really nice talking to her. 🙂
  • guy with dog in the park — told me about his fav hiking trail
  • other guy in the park — asked me what I was foraging and we chatted for a bit — I think he was hitting on me….heehee….
  • 30-ish woman on the subway with the great shoes — told me about her law-business that she’s starting, and that she’s moving into the neighbourhood near where I live.  We exchanged contact info and are going to have lunch soon….  (!!!)
  • 19 y/o guy in the coffee shop I’d never been to before — told me about his upcoming travel plans, and trying to figure out what he wants to do with his life, post-school, b/c he doesn’t want a ‘career’, but he also doesn’t want to be broke….etc….We talked about the possibility of working online and living in some chillz place like Costa Rica….
  • the young woman (25?) who works in a grocery-type store I frequent.  She just got promoted.  And is kind of nervous being “in charge” of people who yesterday were her co-workers.  Esp. b/c one of them is her sister.  (The sister, who was standing right there, laughed.)
  • lady at the make-up counter — briefly said hi; I asked about the other lady who works there (they have the same name, but one has worked for 40 years and the other for only 10 or something, so we have joked about them being the intergenerational beauty team).
  • uhhh….le’s see….
  • the cashier at the grocery store I went to — she works two jobs; that one and a human resources one.  Works 7 days a week.  Hasn’t had a day off since ….she actually couldn’t remember.  She’s lived here for 5 years.  Finds that Canadians are friendly on the surface, but don’t follow it up, and therefore don’t really build community.  Being an immigrant is hard, because even though most people accept you, they don’t include you in their lives or community.  I said being trans sounded interestingly similar to that, and she agreed. We talked about how maybe “community” was easier in small towns where people have roots with each other, and hoped “the city” would figure out a way to evolve in that direction.
  • the lady (40-ish) with her daughter (about 10-11) on the subway — they were adorable together, all dressed up.  We talked about Hamilton (the musical), her daughter’s skill at cat-eye make-up, what other musicals we love, and I told them about my kids and I singing in the car (to Hamilton…lol….). The lady told me about her wife and how she doesn’t share their musical interests, so her and her daughter get to do these things together! ….They were really charming. The little girl high-fived me as I got up to leave.  
  • the guy, “J”, who works at a store near me.  I made him blush by commenting on how FUCKING GREAT (with huge enthusiasm) his hair always looked and what the hell did he do with it????  He practically died laughing.  Then we talked about the Mario movie (he liked it, but it was dumb, but he liked it anyway), the cottage he went to last week (they got super high….lol….), and he explained how high-THC joints are made, which I didn’t know before. 
  • the janitor in, let’s just say a building I go to frequently, told me his name; he finds the heat difficult because his legs get swollen (or something like that; I didn’t entirely understand the details through his accent….but I got the gist anyway)

That’s this week, so far anyway! And those are the actual conversations.  On top of that there are TONS of smiles, hellos, “nice day we’re having eh?”, “cute dog, what kind of dog is that?”, and tiny moments that don’t amount to an actual conversation, but still transform the social landscape from one of isolation and everyone-is-a-stranger, to community.  

So, I really do want to share this with people more openly, because, now that my kids are reflecting back to me their own awareness of these things throughout our lives, I can see the VALUE this way of being has had for them.  And in realizing this, I’ve realized the value it’s had for me too.  And, I assume anyway, for the countless people who have co-woven this lovely tapestry with us!

And, I don’t know —— there’s something weird about hitting your 50s.  At least, there was for me.  It’s the whole “death thing”.  It’s becoming very real in my mind, not just an abstraction.  And I’ve wondered, “What WILL I be leaving behind?”  

Well, one of those things, and I am damn proud of it, is this distributed, vibrant, decentralized, random, beautiful “community” that I see so clearly now when I look around my life, at how interconnected so many of my friends are online, when I look back at my own memories.  I feel like it’s my grandparents, in a sense, still alive, now in COUNTLESS people’s memories of a friendly moment, a funny moment, an interesting moment, a beautiful moment.  

I’ve thought a lot about the “Unstoppable Snowball” activism idea that a whole bunch of us (including my kids!) were trying to get off the ground.  (Or rather, trying to roll down the hill…being a snowball and all….).  Whatever that project may have become, I know that my own life imploding as it did was a pretty large determining factor in what I have since felt was a kind of “failure”.  I felt really bad about this, to be honest with you.  It’s been a real source of regret, and “I wish things had gone differently for a couple of key years there….”  

But you know?  As I look at my life now?  

We did get that Snowball rolling.  Not the way we expected (how perfect, for a chaos theory fanatic!!).  But more magically than I could ever have conceived at the time.  

From Cloudy Sky, to the Milky Way

What I described above, in terms of chatting with strangers, is probably reasonably familiar to people who live in small towns and rural communities.  Like the way I grew up.  But what I’ve realized through my life in many places now, is that EVERYWHERE can feel like a small community.  We’re all just people.  And people in Big Cities like Toronto, with all its presumed dehumanization and “lost in the crowd” anonymity —— can also feel like “a small town”.  Especially in your own personal experience of life, day-to-day. I’ve been here now for 20 years, and NEVER thought I would like living in a city.  But, there are beautiful people everywhere.  And chatting with my fellow humans in the communities I’ve lived in throughout the city? It’s pretty much the same, especially if you put some work into it, here as anywhere else.  

If you live in the same neighbourhood or shop in the same grocery store for say, a year, AND if you talk openly with people, say hello, tell them random shit going on in your day, ask them about their own, etc., you will in that year’s time get to know pretty much every person in that store, or even throughout the places you go in that neighbourhood.  Within 3 years?  My god; you can know EVERYBODY.  And they’ll know you.  

I’m not usually that great with people’s names, but I’ll recognize them, and know something about their cottages, or their childhoods, or where they just went on vacation, or some story about their kids, or that their wife is sick, or that cool memory they have of winters at their grandparents’ house, or some shared joke you have together, or whatever — and THAT is enough.  You have a bond, and over time it just grows and grows, because once that bond exists, even the most tenuous of ones, then every interaction you have strengthens it.  And over a year?  Three years? It’s like friendship!  

Throughout your entire life, peppered through every community you are in, you navigate a sea of ever-changing interactions with ever-changing people.  And that can remain a sea of the Unknown.  It can feel alienating and like nothing you do really matters.  

Or, it can light up with little beacons of insight and personal connections and random moments and shared references and memories of humour.  

And Magic happens. That whole grocery store, that whole neighbourhood, from the local pub to the Tim Hortons to wherever else you go, is a place of friendship.  Every time you go there, various people say hi to you, or exchange some comment or whatever.  I love it.  It’s like instead of an overcast sky of nothing, you gaze up at a galaxy of stars. 

And THEN, sooner or later, something big happens.  And your friendship?  Becomes like a diamond.  For example, a pub I used to frequent when doing a lot of writing became a “Cheers”-like friendship haven for me.  Mostly strangers, because I wasn’t really there to chat with the regulars; but I got to recognize them and they knew me on sight and we were all friendly and had our moments of pleasant banter. But the owner, the bartender and the wait staff, I all knew by name, and a ton of things about their lives, and they knew mine in return.

Anyway, one night around closing time, the pub got robbed.  So the owner, the bartender, and myself, went tearing down the street at 2 in the morning, and chased some guy into an alley.  At which point we called the police.  (And then I went home…)  🙂  

After that, those people in the pub, and myself — we were gold.  And every time I go in there now, or even walk by and poke my head in the doorway, it’s warm like family.  

I try to approach life in that spirit.  Every person I encounter, to the best of my ability anyway, I try to just Trust that they are a good person.  And assume that over time, what grows out of that, is a better world.   (And yes, I have my boundaries, when necessary.  So far, so good!) 

That’s how deep “being seen” goes.  And that’s been my best understanding and experience, of Wisdom.

So, thanks Mom.

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