I am here in this ancient city to oversee yet another move. It’s been a year of heaving stuff. None of said stuff is my own. I’m still trying to figure that out. When I do, I’ll let you know.
My eldest will begin an internship here in Athens on Monday. While she’s at it, she may just unlock the secret room to her father’s character. We all have them. His may just be in the country of his birth. There could be profound truths. Or maybe she’ll just learn how to make the most delicious snack this side of the Atlantic.
Moments—as a writer and producer, I mine them— and this plaque on my desk is a helpful prompt. As a criminal lawyer, my partner in things beyond crime (love, kids, mortgage, insane movie marathons, late night ice cream dives) navigates those who have seen their lives changed by a single moment.
Today is THIRSTY THURSDAY. I’m hungry for your moments. Share some below of your summer bliss moments. Here are some of mine:
The canoe is sleek and unfussy. You need only a paddle (and a cushy thing for your knees, if you’re my vintage).
My paddle’s keen and bright
flashing with sliver
Wildlife is rarely disturbed by a paddler if your dip is quiet.
Meditative for a solo paddler, canoes accommodate crowds too. Dumping is allowed…once.
If you want to know about someone, take them on a canoe trip. Lily dippers are the ones to look out for. They can get back into your good graces only if they join the trippers’ chorus on the lake. Knowing the harmony will win you an extra marshmallow come dusk.
In my side of the family, there isn’t anyone who missed a canoe lesson from our chief canoeist, Marion Langford, today celebrating her 85th birthday.
Over the decades, my mother has given paddling lessons (dockside and in the boat itself) to her five children and their spouses, and all her eleven grandchildren. Once a camp program director, always a camp program director.
The loons on the lake have surely come to recognize the hairstyle and sure stroke of my mother. Neither have changed much. She’s not a cliché either. Happy Birthday Mom. Dip, dip, and swing.
As for the rest of you, any virgin paddlers out there, find a lake. Glide awhile. No need for flag waving. It’s all here.
Age spots come with time, as do smarts. Being smart on the right day is a bonus of middle age. Being smart to soak it all up, it being this delicious brew of parental pride, and poignance for a life on the speed track. Being smart to pay attention to every detail of a glorious day and to thread together the beginnings…
And the benchmarks.
Paying attention is harder these days. Our eyeballs are begging for relief. I found them in the faces of graduates, paired off to be presented to the gowned academics smiling at each one with genuine encouragement.
We live in an age of terrible global truths; here there was nothing but hope. The graduates faced the audience for a few seconds before descending the steps. Each bore grins I’d like to string up on kites to sail high over the gorgeous University of Toronto campus. Some gave modest waves, no different than iterations a few decades earlier at the kindergarten door. Others bowed with grandiosity; a few sported swagger I’d like to borrow on one of my less than shiny days.
Earlier in the day, we were invited to an awards ceremony ahead of the convocation. Need some inspiration in your routine? Pop in to one of these events and douse yourself in a little wonder. Honours degrees with wide ranges of major and minor combinations: all weird and wonderful. Kinda like our newest grad. A devout curator of street fashion, new music and ideas, our eldest has wonky sleep patterns developed since reading late into the night as a skinny kid. Her paintings dot the walls here; her mess, as considerable as her kindness, dot the floors where she once practiced ballet, over and over, those slippers tracing patterns in a life sure to hold beauty. This year she will cross the globe to pursue a career in public health.
Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself;
( I am large, I contain multitudes.)
-Walt Whitman, Song of Myself, Leaves of Grass
Thrilling for this writer was the thoughtful address given to the awards participants by Professor William Robins as he encouraged this group to engage in communities throughout their lives, especially local ones, and to be compassionate towards themselves.
You are here at this ceremony because you are extremely smart and keen individuals. Your families and your teachers expect, and have probably always expected, great things of you and no doubt you do too. I bet most of you have deeply internalized these expectations such as your own sense of identity cannot be easily separated from the marks of success that are recognizable by others. There is a lot of pressure to succeed and there will no doubt be disappointments and setbacks. These can often lead to feelings of inadequacy and doubting your own worth. At such moments, I encourage you to find compassion for yourselves, to take a moment and think about what it is like when you bash yourself, when you judge yourself and find yourself wanting. Think about what expectations lead you to be harsh on yourself. What would it be like if you could remove that judgemental criticism? So I encourage you to practice a generous kindness not only towards others, but towards yourselves. Because there will be times when you need it, and because you’re worth it.
Prof. William Robins, President and Vice-Chancellor of Victoria University, University of Toronto
Back at home, we drank sangria and, as is our way in these parts, toasted the long line that came before: Kate knows well enough hers is a family that values learning almost as much as chocolate.
All over the map in June right now appear dots now connected as one jump of joy at completion: WE DID IT, said the chorus of gowns.
But wait, doesn’t this mean leaving a posse behind? Yes, it does. Sort of. That cosy group will disband. Others will form. Be assured of the terrific possibility of newness again. And if your facility with goodbyes is poor, take a shot, as my fine young friend (and 2017 grad herself) Alison Chang did, to say goodbye to her university friends in song. Her ode to her USC university friends is one I’m going to borrow for my own cherished smartypants. It’s not goodbye. It’s just see you later.
I grew up surrounded by classical music in this house. These days, unless I’m driving, I find classical music to be a balm when my soul is weary. Here’s a great list of summer concerts where you can drown in classical music.
Dream up some fun summer plans that require wearing a big hat.
It was an April morning like any other in Toronto when my parents pledged to take care of one another in front of friends and family at a midtown church. Sixty years later, the front of the church stands yet; behind it, an enormous hole where construction has begun on new condos. Change is a constant in this city. To become attached to any one pile of stones is sure to bring heartbreak.
Attach instead skin to skin.
Today my dad reaches under the table for my mother’s hand at an intimate family lunch in their honour. Beside me, my mother giggles. For a second I allow myself to be her University of Toronto chum, pondering the merits of this very tall suitor, who courted her for more years than he would have liked before she said yes. He would have to promise first to have many children for this only child was resolute about wanting a brood. That we would be unwieldy and prone to spontaneous outbursts was likely not what she imagined. Yet here we are, doing that celebrating thing we can’t seem to give up, and here’s Dad at the head of the table once again, reeling out the first chapter.
“I was suggested by somebody that I should run as as a Member-at-Large in first year so I went to the meeting and there was this good looking blonde who got nominated as the woman head of the year. I went out to Charles Street on the first football game and here came the blonde with her friends and I said to myself, I better sit by her because we’re going to be on the executive together: this was the beginning.”
We’ve heard this one before. Indeed, we’re arrogant enough to think we know all the chapters, one spectacular constellation to guide us in the fog. Of course we don’t. It is theirs alone, inside every embrace.
But we do have the main, the heft, the long thread of this gorgeous narrative weaving through all of us.
Today, I had the immense honour to toast this couple and what I told them was this:
Your story is unending. It is in me when I wake up and when I close my eyes at night. It is the story of us, and lives within your five children and eleven grandchildren. It will be the story their children and all future generations know. It is the story of devotion and strength, of tremendous commitment and good humour. It inspires me and sustains me; my own marriage exists on the shoulders of yours.
“I know what it is to live entirely for and with what I love best on earth. I hold myself supremely blest — blest beyond what language can express; because I am my husband’s life as fully as he is mine.”
“Mother of all bombs” dropped this week. Did you shake where you stood as I did hearing the terrifying physics of this first-ever weapon deconstructed on a radio programme? I was in my kitchen, chopping carrots.
Far away is right here in 2017. There is no far away.
Be relentless about peace where you stand if you’re lucky enough to live in Canada.