it’ll shine when it shines.

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I didn’t know that ‘It’ll Shine When it Shines’ was one of my brother’s favourite songs until after he passed away in 2011. Since that time, I’ve listened to the song many times. I understand why he liked this tune so much. Just like my brother, it’s ‘shoot from the hip’ on the surface. But, if you care to have a look, there are layers and layers of elegant truths that sit just beneath that surface.

My brother was far from perfect, but I think that posthumous reflection should stray toward the ‘best of’ side of people. There is no peace to be had in focusing on imperfection.

He was an enormous man with a gruff exterior. But then you’d see him smile. Chances are he’d take your hand, say ‘Hey brother/sister’ and maybe even pull you into a bear hug. If you looked closely, if you accepted him as he was, you’d see the love literally spilling out of his eyes. If you gave him more than 10 seconds, looked beyond the obvious, what you got was gentle, tender and incredibly good.

He held my babies in his enormous, gentle hands and wept at the sight of each of them. As they grew, he loved them fully, just as they were. His face would light up whenever he saw them and he saw only the best in each of them, even when I couldn’t. He always got up to hug us hello, even when his body ached. And he never failed to say ‘I love you’ at every departure.

In his own way, he was always in pursuit of peace. He’d seek it in his relationships with those he loved and through quiet time spent tinkering (he called it ‘Louis-ing’). He’d look for it in stashing cash, finding bargains and in showing up for people when it counted. An avid fisherman, he also sought it on the banks of rivers and lakes, his rod in one hand and a can of beer in the other. 

Life didn’t always go the way he hoped it would, but he lived it with a simplicity that I find myself longing for lately. A true ‘it’ll shine when it shines’ philosophy that goes something like this: ‘Get out there, live with your heart wide open. Look for goodness in the little things and stop getting bent out of shape about the things you can’t do anything about. Just be. It’ll shine when it shines.

Thinking on all of this, I totally get why my brother loved the Ozark Mountain Daredevils and their sweet, philosophical tune. There is an exquisite truth to their poetry that’s got me feeling pretty reflective. There are a great many things in this life that are rip-out-your-heart hard. These are things I can’t do anything about. Things that happen to me or to the people I love. There are much bigger horrors that happen every day and in every corner of our world. Things I can never understand or control.

What I can do is live my life fully. I can be kind and grateful for all of the goodness I get to experience from dawn til dusk. I can be accepting. I can be forgiving. I can let love flow in all directions. I can be still when life hurts and trust that all will be well. It will shine when it shines.

Bit of an aside before I wrap ‘er up. A couple of weeks ago, my daughter and I bought ukuleles. Playing and singing together every day is the most fantastic thing for me. The first song we’ve tackled is in honour of ‘Uncle John’. This means that I get to experience ‘It’ll Shine When It Shines’ with my beautiful girl every day. I’m not a very good ukulele player and we forget the words and we’re out of tune and don’t always know which chord to play. But, as my brother might have said, it’s all in the experience of living, loving and letting things be what they are. The Ozark Mountain Daredevils’ spin on this is:

It’s in your heart, not your head. And you’ve got to sing and sing and sing.

And so I shall.

p.s. If you haven’t ever heard the Ozark Mountain Daredevils perform ‘It’ll Shine When It Shines, have a listen here. It’s pretty sweet stuff.

she to we to me

While there are times when I need a pretty good nudge to see the best in my kids, on the balance of my days, they positively delight me. Some days, they absolutely blow me away. Such was the case for me this past weekend with my youngest offspring.

She started at a new school this year – a change that has been remarkably good for her. Even still, she is missing lots of things about her former school. One of those things is the ‘Me to We’ program that she participated in for 3 years. Her new school doesn’t offer this program. To her credit, she’s been trying to find other ways to stay involved with Me to We. In particular, she has developed a burning desire to attend the annual event called We Day.

I  know she’s been giving it a lot of thought, but I really had no idea how much. And this is where my mind was blown. Without asking for my help, she sat down and wrote an email to send to the organizers of the event, expressing her desire to be a part of it. I was aware that she was working on it for the better part of the day but decided to leave her alone and let it simply be hers. When she finally showed it to me and asked for permission to press ‘send’, she got an immediate thumbs-up from her teary-eyed Mama. I’m proud of this kid every day because she’s an awesome human being. But this email she wrote is too sweet not to share. Here goes:

Reflections on and hopes for We Day by an 11 year old fan

Dear We Day Team,

Hi! my name is … I am turning 12 years old exactly 17 days after We day, and I love Me To We and doing what I can to make this world a better place. About 3 years ago I joined a school club that focused on different issues across the world such as hunger, child labour, poverty and many more that I want to help put a end to. We had the chance to address certain issues by taking on certain projects and then studying them to share what we have learned about the issue. Some people did projects like girls education, or free the children, and others did projects to raise money to build wells in Africa. And I decided to do Local Poverty. Of course I wanted to do something like building wells or helping raise awareness for girls and their education, but to get there I needed to start small. I didn’t have much hope because I was just one little girl trying to do something for local poverty. 

So I sat and I thought. I thought for along time. I thought about the struggles people must have. How they must miss their homes and their families. And for the people that can barely pay for food and for their homes, I can’t imagine how it must feel.

About a month later, the teacher who ran the club read the other kids and I a blog written by a woman who’s life just seemed impossible to live with. The first blog post was the woman telling us that it was April and the last time she had been to the grocery store was in February. She was a single mom who had two kids and could barely afford for her house. In the second blog post she described how embarrassing it felt for her to be in a food bank collecting food. This was hard for me to think of, because my family and I visit the grocery store weekly. And for someone else that hasn’t been to a grocery store in 3 months … this did not feel right at all. 

And then I realized, this was what I was looking for in my heart, to connect that final piece and to understand that feeling and to get my mind in the right place. This was when I knew that I had to do what I could put an end to this issue. Up until this year I continued to be in the club. I would be ready for every single meeting. My mom, before I was born and it was just her and my brother, she had a hard time affording things like his back to school supplies, or new clothes. So, when we were buying my back to school supplies this year, she was telling me the stories of when her and my brother would go shopping that it was hard to afford, it reminded me that this wasn’t only for people like my mom who had struggled, but for many other families too.

Every year, the grade 6 class gets to go and attend We day. I have been looking forward to doing that since I first joined Me to We in grade 3. I switched schools this year, and sadly at this school we don’t have a Me To We club. I plan to talk to some of my teachers about starting one and when that would take place. I searched up how to get We Day tickets and it told me that you can’t buy tickets, you earn them through service. I talked to my mom about it, and she said that I should try and tell you my story and about how passionate I am about Me to We. I would like to attend We day this year. It would be amazing and a dream come true if I could come and hear all the speakers and their stories. If there is any way I could do something to show you that I am devoted and how much I respect and look up to Me To We, and how much I would be honoured if I could come and be a part of that day. 

I just want to thank you for opening my eyes. For showing me the way, and how to help who needs it the most. Me to We does something more than help people, it changes people. It shows them a way to live fair, respectful, and to do what you love to do. You help show the world that instead of looking at someone’s plate and wondering if that person has more than yourself, it’s much kinder and more helpful to look at a someones plate and wonder if they have enough. It’s like looking at a glass half full, not half empty. You create idealists, with thoughts of what is right. You also create optimists, to help people look for the best in everything. Without you, I would just be a lonely realist, thinking that my goals in life are impossible with no hope. You help people’s dreams to help become reality. Without you, lots of people wouldn’t be as devoted to helping others and knowing about the issues. We wouldn’t have the dreamers living their dreams no matter how impossible they seem. No matter the challenge, no matter the journey, no matter the pain, everything has a silver-lining. 

The response. Less than 24 hours later from the We Day team:

Hi there,

Thank you very much for the note and for sharing your story with us. We would love to have you attend a We Day event this Fall. Can you please let me know where you are located so we can provide tickets for a city nearby?

In my journey as a parent, I’m exceedingly clear on what I’m for. And that is to raise our kids to be decent people who respect others, live with compassion, practice empathy and go for their dreams. This email written by my daughter … well, I’m for all of it. And I’m for her engaging with the world in a way that ‘instead of looking at someone’s plate and wondering if that person has more than yourself, it’s much kinder and more helpful to look at a someone’s plate and wonder if they have enough.’

My heart is full. What more could a mama hope for from her almost 12-year-old kid?

lessons i’ve learned from jerks

A while back, I came across an inspirational quote that went something like: see the best in others and treat them as if that’s all you see. It’s a very Namaste philosophy. I like it. I want others to treat me this way. So I do my best to fully embrace it.

I fail at this frequently. I’ll find myself in all manner of judgment – eye rolling, sighing, cutting people off before they can finish what they’re saying. Nothing I’m very proud of, but there it is.

My truth is, however, that this kind of small-minded exasperation doesn’t make me feel better. It used to, but it doesn’t anymore. In my life today, seeing what’s ‘bad’ in others actually makes me feel worse. Small. Angry. Most definitely not what I’m for.

In those moments (or oftentimes in the regretful moments after those moments) when someone is rubbing me the wrong way, I privately challenge myself to recognize a kernel of goodness in that person. For example, ‘S/he sure has beautiful eyes or a contagious laugh.’ Or ‘S/he’s really passionate about her/his kids, job, hobby, etc.’ It’s a stretch sometimes, but it usually moves me from judgment to appreciation.

If I that doesn’t work, I’ll try compassion. For example, ‘I know s/he’s quite outspoken, but I think s/he just really needs to be heard.’ It costs me nothing to listen, so I (usually) do. Or ‘I know that s/he’s terribly moody. Maybe s/he’s having a rough go right now.’ It costs me nothing to be kind and to just let someone feel what s/he feels (provided s/he isn’t overtly unkind to me or someone I love).

It sometimes takes a beat or two, but when I make this shift, I literally feel lighter. My heart sighs with relief. It’s a good personal rule that takes me from a ‘better than’ ego into a place of ‘we’re all doing the best we can’ humanity.

But as it is with all rules, this one has a unique exception … because some people are just jerks. Not at their core, of course, but the top few layers can be nasty. They roll over people without regard. They don’t own their behavior and don’t care who they hurt. Try as I might, I can’t get a lock on their goodness and I don’t have compassion for their behaviour. Gah.

So how do I flip this on its head? What’s the silver lining to jerks? Here goes:

  1. They offer a high-impact character foil for the many, many beautiful humans in my life – from permanent members like my family and close friends to the people I teach or work with.
  2. Jerks can even make an exchange with someone I hardly know a sweeter experience. I mean, if it weren’t for jerks, the good guys wouldn’t look as good.
  3. They provide real-life examples of what not to do and how not to behave. This comes in handy for me in all sorts of ways. It’s also very helpful as a parent.

So thank you for that great personal, professional and parenting tool, jerks. I mean that sincerely.

If you’re reading this, you might be aghast at how a blog that’s supposed to be about silver linings and positive thinking could waste so many words on jerks. I get that. It’s not very Namaste. I have absolutely no doubt that underneath all the jerkness (in most cases) is a perfectly beautiful human being. But getting to the bottom of what makes a jerk a jerk? Unless it’s someone that I am heart-tethered to, it’s just not my journey.

It’s a boundary thing for me. It’s not about blame or judgment. Not any more, at least. It’s about taking my own side. It’s about not being willing to ‘hang in there’ with a toxic person at the risk of damaging the beauty within me. There’s a Namaste that counts for something.