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Don't Ask Me How My Trip Was

No one tells you that the hardest part of traveling is coming home. After nine months of not being able to drink tap water, and carrying toilet paper in my purse because “you-just-never-know”, I was ready to come home to Canada, to my family and Tim Hortons and a shower I knew would have hot water.

So why as the plane began its descent into Toronto was I feeling not only reluctance, but fear? I suddenly wanted to pull a one-eighty and go back to the humidity and mosquitoes and the glorious unknown of Southeast Asia. I didn’t want to face the cold weather, certainly, but I also did not want to have to face the dreaded question, “So, how was your trip?”

I’ll try to tell you.  

It was sitting with my feet dangling off the edge of a train as it whizzed through the hills and tea plantations of Sri Lanka, sharing samosas with a young soldier.

It was freezing at the peak of Indonesia’s second highest mountain, witnessing the most spectacular sunrise I had ever seen and feeling more strong and capable than I had ever felt.

It was watching tears run down an elderly Burmese man’s face as we both stood doubled over with gut-wrenching laughter, not able to communicate with words but laughter somehow transcending all language barriers.

It was the photos I didn’t take because I was too busy being present. A girl not more than five years old walking her herd of goats through the mountains. An elderly woman and a baby perched on her lap, sharing a Popsicle. The sunrise from atop a pagoda in Bagan.

It was freedom and joy and pouring rain. It was feeling infinite and exhausted and useless and home. It was more jaunts to 7/11 than I ever expected.

It wasn’t always glamorous, certainly not always Instagram-able. I saw more poverty than waterfalls, more injustice than pristine beaches. And no one wants to see a photo of you during a bout of food poisoning (#travel!).

Sometimes, it was lonely. Sometimes I wished I didn’t have to miss out on things at home, or that I could be there for people who needed me. Sometimes there were long bus rides at night being kept awake by wild bus drivers, staring into the darkness and questioning the journey, wondering if I was in fact lost or running.

And while you ask me about the places, what I really want to tell you about are the people who made me confident I was exactly where I was supposed to be.

I want you to know the souls behind the faces – dear Pon who would propose to me every other day with a new plastic ring, or Kaopee who couldn’t remember anything I taught her except “blue”, which she used often.

I wish you could meet Chaydan - fashion business man turned hippie whose passionate, whiskey-induced speeches reminded me of what was important in life – “love, love, LOVE”.

Ameer – who welcomed me onto his tiny boat which was also his home, and in doing so taught me about simplicity, joy, and hospitality.

Chinh – a tiny Vietnamese woman of immense strength and passion who supports her family by guiding tourists through the rural areas of Sapa.

Or the many other sojourners I met who welcomed and inspired me, and taught me to trust the journey.

Travel is not many things people make it out to be. It is not an automatic cure for ignorance; receptiveness is a choice. It is not the quintessential element for a meaningful life; if that was the case much of the population would be condemned to a worthless life. Nevertheless, travel is unique in that one is forced to experience more, learn more, and make more connections in a short time than in any other facet of life. In effect, nine months feels like a lifetime and it is not easy coming home to a place where little more than the colour of the bathroom has changed.

Nonetheless, I am convinced that the lessons received while traveling are not fleeting like our tans. Rather, the vigor imparted on the mind and the colours which paint our experiences will seep into our vision so that all we perceive is forever tinged with the affects of our adventure.

2016 Didn't Suck, You Did.

2016 was the worst year ever. At least that’s what I have been told by the internet and countless millennials educated by the prestigious academy of Instagram meme accounts. In fact, when I typed “2016 was” into the Google search bar, I was given the options of “a bad year”, “the worst year”, and “a mistake”.

Indeed, this past year has seen enough tragedy and loss to be nominated for an Oscar. With tears and tributes, millions mourned the deaths of David Bowie, Prince, and George Michael. With a slight shake of the head and a passing feeling of privilege and guilt, millions ignored the deaths of refugees, black teenagers, and war victims. Climate change got worse. Brangelina broke up. Donald-freakin-Trump became the most powerful man in the world.

The global, big-picture situation is grim. Yet despite visions and plans which extend beyond and beyond, we do not live global, big-picture lives. Our lives are composed of quiet, paltry decisions, made in a blink and surely inconsequential to The Grand Scheme of Things. How will I spend my day off? What should I eat? Which apps do I want on my phone? Shopping and burritos and infinite social media apps are not the cause of calamity. What’s mine is mine. I do not affect nor am I affected. Sorry Donne, but man is indeed an island. Or is he?

We like the thought that each moment, day, and upcoming year is ours to do with as we please. This may be true, but so is the fact that your precious moment is also somebody else's, and seven billion other’s precious moment as well. Time, simultaneously, is intimately personal and utterly public. This clearly contradicts our individualistic lifestyle, so instead we deny this paradoxical nature of time and the interconnectedness of man. We assume that what we choose to do (or not do) will only affect my personal bubble of time and space.

It is this nearsighted perspective which makes a repeat of 2016 not only possible, but likely. This paradigm allows easy access to the greatly coveted “innocent bystander” seats, from which one has a nice view of the show - perhaps free popcorn - and the allowance to judge and critique brutally while assuming no responsibility. You may even get a free sense of entitlement thrown in as well.

So, 2016 was the worst year ever, and somehow also the best year of my life. Because time is personal, and time is shared. It is both claimed, and communal. Home is a place between walls with family photos, where shoes and masks come off; but home is also a city, or a country. We are responsible for the care and well-being of our community (mankind), in the same way that we are responsible for the dishes in our sink. We belong in The Grand Scheme of Things whether we feel it or not.

So, 2016 was not the worst year ever, for every year shoulders great beauty and pain. Like each year before it, 2017 will burst forth in chaste hope and will be crest-fallen by June. But while with hopeful hearts we teeter on the brink of the unknown, let us resolve to forgo our tunnel vision and never tire in our pursuit of beauty and love.

 

Dear Toronto

 Dear Toronto;

I’m sitting here on my cozy apartment balcony, sipping coffee as I always do, and over-romanticizing things as I usually do. I can’t help but think about how I sat on the balcony of my first apartment overlooking the cityscape three years ago, convinced it was the greatest apartment ever and the most beautiful view I had ever seen.

I’m a different girl than I was then; that wide-eyed eighteen year old who couldn’t wait to get out of the one horse town she had lived in all her life and experience the glamour of the city. It was all new, all fascinating, and even experiences like eating nothing but cereal for days carried a sense of romance. Every person I passed was a story, and every place I visited was a memory waiting to be made. I was unaffected and ambitious, and perfectly naïve. 

I’m different now, but in many ways I’m still the same. I still like to wander the city by myself and I still forget to lock the door sometimes. I still have absolutely no sense of direction, and can hardly cook anything but eggs.

But some things have changed. I no longer meander through questionable neighborhoods by myself at 3 in the morning, and I don’t spend my days off at the Eaton Centre or Kensington Market, because you and I both know this city has much cooler things to offer.

You have taught me things too; ninja-like maneuvers to always ensure snagging a seat on the bus, and how to be just enough of a pretentious coffee snob. I can shove my way through any mass of people at rush hour, and I have mastered the look reserved for churlish cat-callers (a delicate mix of “how-dare-you” and “as-if”). I can sneak onto the back of a streetcar, and I know that no one who goes to the beach intends on swimming (ew).

But Toronto, you have also taught me good things. The shirtless man bicycling downtown with a massive python hanging around his neck taught me that people aren’t as concerned with you as you are, so do whatever the hell you want.

Thomas, with his cardboard sign and kind eyes, taught me that it’s okay to be desperate, and to admit you need help.

And finally, Leo Zhang, the subway cellist who always plays with his eyes closed (my one true love), taught me to find beauty in the rat race, and to throw my art into the world passionately and fearlessly even if no one stops to listen.

So thank you, Toronto.

Until next time,

KB. 

Stars, Whales, and Ecclesiastes

Blue true dream of sky. Trees in italics. Water like a bed sheet rippling in the wind. Clouds like wispy baby hair. Lazy adolescent sun dragging its feet across the kitchen floor.

 I felt as though I was in a Group of Seven painting as I observed Georgian Bay from my canoe. Wholly distracted by the beauty around me I was a perfectly useless canoeing partner – forgetting to paddle most of the time, and when I did remember, paddling on the wrong side of the boat. Yet it was the kind of morning that distracts canoers, inspires poets, and makes awaking at ungodly hours worthwhile.

It’s easy to pray in a place like this, I thought. It’s easy to be good.

On the other hand, the bedlam of the city teems with temptations and promotes shameless self-centeredness. Along with the perpetual clamor of construction and bustling traffic is the echoes of the thousands of voices shouting about how important they are.  They are terrified of being nothing, and so they shout until their voices grow hoarse, or they run out of business cards.

Become something. Get more followers. Put out an EP. Don’t forget me. Start a business. Only work a job you love. Brand yourself. Don’t forget me. Be happy.

Make a website named after yourself…?

We do our best to convince ourselves again and again that this hiccup of a life is important, and that our existence matters greatly. Prideful to the very core, we are ever so reluctant to believe that we are less consequential than we think we are.

 But as I floated on the still waters of Georgian Bay I had a slightly bleak but perfectly relieving thought: the city did not miss me, and was not lacking anything by my absence. I am small.

I adore both whales and starry night skies because they remind me of this fact. I was told as a child that the blue whale is larger than three school buses placed end to end, and I remember feeling short for breath and acutely aware of my tiny frame.

Beneath the dome of the night sky I dare you to utter a whisper about your importance, let alone shout about it.

I wonder if the writer of Ecclesiastes scribed the book under a starry sky. For when I stand beneath a canopy of black velvet marked with a million pinholes letting out heavenly light, I understand the author’s pronouncement of this world being “meaningless”, or better translated “a vapour”.

We pour our heart and soul into this short blip of an existence on earth, not realizing that like the mist that comes with the dawn, it also will soon be gone and not remembered. Perhaps humanity’s greatest fault is a disorganization of priorities; attributing greatness to that which should not be great, and deeming insignificance to that which is anything but.

In the end, God is great and we are small. Life is short, and eternity is long. Indeed, we may draw the same conclusion drawn at the end of the Ecclesiastes:

“The end of the matter, all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” –Ecclesiastes 12:13

 

You Are Here

As a child, I used to practice what I called “Now-ing”. I would slip outside and steal away somewhere beyond the prying of my mother or the pestering of my siblings. Then, I would plant my feet firmly, stretch out my arms, take a deep breath, and think about Now. 


NOW I could smell the gentle aroma of lilacs, and the sweet mustiness of the old barn, and the hopeful anticipation that comes with June.


NOW I could see a painter’s palette of a flower garden, and a dejected Super Soaker gun, and a sunset so delicate I wonder why the world is not made of porcelain. 


NOW I could feel the long grass wrapping around my pinky toe and the warm sun kissing my forehead before it turned in for the night, it's yawn a gentle breeze.


 I would stand like this until I felt like I was truly feeling and appreciating as many of the stimuli that my body was experiencing as possible. I was a weird kid; a freak of a child, really.


And yet, it was in these moments that I felt more alive than ever; as though I was not merely a shell of a being gliding upon the surface of each moment. I was a dusty-shoed traveler who rose and fell with the crests and dales of the land and not like those who soared effortlessly in the planes above.  


I felt alive – infinite, even – because I was truly living in the moment (for lack of a better phrase). I was experiencing Now in all of its naked, raw, spectacular glory. It is a difficult sensation to express if you have never forced yourself to focus on it. You must force yourself, because NOW (unlike past or future) is quiet and modest and will not elbow its way to the forefront of your thoughts. Rather, it is very much like that child who stands on the outskirts of group and quietly observes, not speaking until asked to, and when asked to, utters something so deeply profound you scold yourself for not calling on them earlier. 


Why is it that the most important things are the easiest to overlook?


I challenge you to make yourself aware of how often your thoughts are not in the Now, but in the future. When I forced myself to become conscious of this I was appalled at how little time I spent really appreciating Now. If not days or months in the future, my thoughts were often focused even ten minutes from the present moment. 


If you would like to eschew this habit, I suggest spending more time with children. Having worked as a full-time nanny during which I spent all day with two year old twin boys, I quickly noticed the difference between the way our minds worked.


My thoughts: I will take them on a long walk to tire them out. Okay, that was long enough now I have to get them back to the house quickly so I can feed them lunch and put them down for a nap. What should I feed them for lunch? I hope J falls asleep easily so I can have my lunch. And if he doesn’t sleep then he will be grumpy later. And he’ll probably fall asleep during dinner. And then he will wake up just before bed time and won’t sleep at night. And then he’ll be grumpy tomorrow. Dang it, they’re all dirty now and I’ll have to give them a bath. J hates baths, I hope he doesn’t throw a tantrum.


Their thoughts: Oh nice, we’re going on a walk. Look Katrina! I bug! I will stop and watch the bug for ten minutes. A stick and some mud! I should sit in the mud and draw in it with my stick. I’m hungry. 


A child is not thinking what will happen five minutes from Now, much less a month or year. Ah, we can be taught so many valuable lessons from the ones we are trying to teach. 


But why is it so important to focus on Now? Isn’t it wise to plan, and prepare? What ramifications come from fixating on the horizon ahead or the sea behind rather than the dirt beneath our feet?


Stay tuned my loves.

 

 

You Are Here Part 2

As humans, we are within time. Our freedom and power in all its glory cannot lengthen the day beyond twenty four hours.  We are slaves to the turning of the calendar; handcuffed to the bridle of a runaway stallion racing across setting suns and greying beards.

There is but two aspects of time in which God commands us to concentrate our concern: the Present and Eternity. Scripture constantly encourages – nay, rather, demands – believers to attend to these two things.

“So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” 2 Corinthians 4:18

“Be very careful then, how you live – not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, for the days are evil” Ephesians 5:15

On the other hand, scripture warns against the devil’s schemes to distract our energies from the Present and Eternity to focus instead of the Past and Future. Observe:

“Say not, ‘Why were the former days better than these?’ For it is not in wisdom that you ask this.” Ecclesiastes 7:10

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not see it? I will make a pathway in the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland.” Isaiah 43:18-19

“Now listen you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” James 4:13-14

So why the emphasis on Now and Eternity? Why does the devil scheme tirelessly to fixate our minds upon the Past and Future? The answer is simple: in both we are utterly useless.

The Past, I would argue, is the lesser of two evils being that it is determinate. It is stagnant and frozen and no longer flows with possibility or prospect. Nevertheless, scripture says that it is not wise to look upon the Past too fondly for discipleship loses all effectiveness if one is looking at “the way things were”, as opposed to the way they are currently.

On the other hand, the Future is dangerous in that it sparks both dreams and dread. The Future’s mysterious nature draws our prying fingers to the unmovable veil, and causes us to wonder, anticipate, and expect. As we do so however, we slip briskly away from Now.

The result is terrifying yet familiar. We become blinking, stone-faced subway-riders. We shift our eyes in discourse; we do not remember what colour the walls are in our office. We are not here, we are 6 months hence, or five minutes. We who are both capable and commissioned are Now empty, useless, shells-of-a-being floating from moment to moment. It is truly the devil’s delight to see us this way, for he does not have to worry about us being of any use to God.

Yet alas, the devil trembles when Eternity and Present are on the forefront of our minds. As believers, to dwell upon thoughts of Eternity is to dwell upon thoughts of the God and in doing so we naturally acquire aspects of His character. If not dwelling on Eternity, we must consider the Present for only in the Present do we dwell in actuality and power.

Now is the moment He has granted us. He has given it to us so that we may see the needs of our community now, the opportunities before us now, the crosses we must bear now, the grace He offers now. The Present is, as CS Lewis so eloquently puts it, is “the point at which time touches eternity” and is “all lit up with eternal rays”. Consider for a moment just how beautiful that is! This Now, this very moment you are experiencing is reticulated so closely with Eternity that whatever you do or think (or don’t) will bleed into Eternity.

“’At the acceptable time I listened to you, and on the day of salvation I helped you.’ Behold, now is ‘the acceptable time,’ behold, now is ‘the day of salvation’” 2 Corinthians 6:2

But I Want to Go

Change is a colour which compliments me well, and I like to wear it often.

I feel comfortable in the uncomfortable. Movement, fresh starts, and first impressions energize my being and propel my spirit out of the godawful wasteland of routine. 

Over the past two years I have worked three different jobs and lived in five different places, had ten different housemates and applied for university three times. Now, after working the same job full-time for the past three months, I am itching for my next endeavor. 

Although I am dynamic and possibly even interesting, I am not brave.

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