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Last night, I went leafing through an old journal, one that I kept while I travelled across Canada with ten other young people.  While we were in New Brunswick (in the town that would eventually become my home for four years), we made up a treasure hunting game that involved a van, a blindfold and a lot of sugar-induced hyperactivity.  The blindfolded person would make decisions about which direction to turn at intersections, taking us in circles and down sidestreets until they shouted STOP! – at which point the driver would park, we would all jump out and begin running desperately around trying to find treasure – any treasure.  An incredible leaf.  A swingset.  An ice cream shop.  It didn’t matter what the treasure was, so long as it was considered treasure by the beholder.  It was all inspired by the Calvin and Hobbes books and Calvin’s claim that there is treasure everywhere.  And really, there is, if you go looking for it.

As I drove home through downtown Hamilton today, this idea of treasure everywhere wandered through my mind.  I looked at the people walking along the sidewalks, waiting for buses, coming out of stores.   I looked at the drivers who were passing me.  I looked at the shops and thought about who their owners might be, who might work in them.  I thought about the people I’ve met downtown.  Agnus, who came to Canada from Vienna fifty years ago; Dave, who runs an art/book shop; Jenny, the artist I wrote about a few months ago.  And so many others.  Downtown Hamilton is a busy place.  There are people everywhere.  Treasured people.

But these people are so fragile.  Some of them have been very obviously broken by poverty or addictions, abuse or mental health issues or unemployment.  Some have very obviously fallen through gaps in the system – be it the mental health system, or the education system, or the justice system.  And there are others who you would never know are broken.  Who walk around in nice clothes, with jobs and kids and smiles on their face, while society hands them every kind of mask they could possible need to hide what exists on the inside.  Because people are so fragile.  So easily broken.

And yet, these same people are so resilient.  Some of the most caring people I have met have stories of abuse and cruelty in their past.  People who have been treated like garbage by family or society who choose still to love and trust and reach across the space between us.  To try again and again and again to get on their feet, despite others knocking them back down.  To believe for something better.  Or even to just keep going in the absence of that belief.

I am astounded by this paradox.  The fragility and resiliency of humankind.  I see it everywhere.  On their faces.  In my own reflection.  I see it in you.

You are me and I am you.
It is obvious that we are inter-are.
You cultivate the flower in yourself
…so that I will be beautiful.
I transform the garbage in myself
so that you do not have to suffer.
I support you, you support me.
I am here to bring you peace,
you are here to bring me joy.

– Thich Naht Hahn

Let me tell you how excited I am to be writing.  Often over the last couple of weeks, I have sat down to write and only found blank spaces.  Perhaps this is necessary at times but I am so thankful for the flow of words again.

Someone recently asked me where we pull more rope from when we reach the end of our own.  It struck me as an important question.  As part of a community, I must recognize and give rope when another needs it and ask for and accept rope when I need it.  And I am learning that rope can come in small ways, from unexpected places.

Some nights I come upstairs to my room exhausted and thankful for little more than the end of the day.  There are unexpected difficulties or grumpy moods (my own or another’s).  There are conflicts or broken dishwashers or just long days.  I want to rush through the end of these days towards the moment that I can close my door and be alone.  On these nights, the value of relationship can easily get replaced with a to-do list and the gift of the moment is overlooked.

But then there are the nights we dance.

Some nights, like tonight, Alice and I dance in the bathroom.  There is probably very little in the world that can give me as much joy in such a small way.  We recently discovered the added amusement of watching each other in the mirror while we dance.  Alice will cycle between fits of laughter and ridiculous dance moves until she lets out a long sigh, signaling to me that its time to head to her bedroom.  She relaxes into the pillow with a giggle and a “t’kyou” and we both end these nights with contentment in our hearts.

My hope is that on the nights when my rope feels shorter than usual, these memories will be a source of strength.  Not every night can be like this, which is what makes them so special, but hopefully their impact is able to carry both Alice and I through the longer days.

Peace.  And I hope you have nights when you can dance.

A few weeks ago my mother dug a fern from her garden and potted it for me.  I welcomed the gift as a daily reminder of new life, despite her skepticism about whether the fern would survive.  True, I don’t have a great track record when it comes to plant care and apparently ferns that grow up outdoors don’t transition well to living indoors.  (I don’t know if this is true or if she was just making it up.)  Besides all that, Ellie, my parents’ three month old puppy, decided that parts of the newly potted plant would make an excellent pre-supper appetizer shortly before its trip to Hamilton.  Suffice it to say, the plant showed up in need of some serious love.

Sometime last week I noticed the already beginning-to-be-neglected plant was looking, well, shabbier.  One shoot had all but collapsed, the others were brown around the edges and looking tired and frazzled for the most part.  I admit, I haven’t been diligent with watering.  I’m sure last week’s plus thirty temperatures and lack of sunlight in my room were not helping.

And so began the intervention.  This plant was not yet dead.  Although well on its way to being nothing more than compost, there was still hope.  I began dousing it daily with water, entirely unsure of whether I was helping or hindering.  I’ve heard too much water can be a bad thing.  Still, all my best intentions got side-tracked this week and yet again, the plant has not been watered for a few days.

Imagine my surprise tonight as I am cleaning off my desk and I notice two incredibly strong, healthy, tall new shoots bursting from the soil.  New life juxtaposed against the dry, shriveled stems beside them.  What joy.  What hope.

I am like this fern.

I’ve never been good at saying sorry.  I don’t like conflict (does anyone?) and yet I can be very confrontational.  I guess I started thinking that when tension begins to build, it is better to accuse the other of something before I am accused myself.

Is it inevitable that conflict will arise in such shared space, when people who are different from each other come together to try to build community?  When those people have different ideas about what community can and should look like?

And yet, without good conflict resolution skills, such communities will always eventually crumble.

Two weeks ago I said I would commit to taking the first step towards repairing bruised relationships when I find myself sitting in a messy house, saying to myself “I shouldn’t have done all that.”

Turns out this is no easy task.  My pride, my self-entitlement, my craving for power – they all get in the way.  When conflict arises, I find myself getting my back up, defending my stance, and drawing away.  Instead of opening communication and seeking to love the other.

How do I learn to live differently?

With practice.

I got a chance to practice this today.  Like a rookie on skates, I stumbled and found myself clinging to old patterns.  But slowly, something better is beginning to emerge.

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