Friday, March 23, 2007


There are three things I don’t much like about snow, the way it falls, the length of time it stays, and the way it goes, slowly and sloppily, which is the part we’re in right now. Now don’t think me a complete Scrooge! I am not so far gone that a thick silent blanket of infinite stillness cannot move me on a dark night in November. I am not a person who would or could sit oblivious in the house with construction of a snow fort in progress just outside the window. Without shame I confess to firsthand knowledge of the prickly thrill that assails the person who cracks the thin morning ice cap on a March puddle. But after the crackling comes the puddle, the sinking, soaking sogging of a sock in a shoe on a foot that might have worn a boot just a few days earlier.

Try as I might, I cannot think of a more perplexed and befuddled being than a blind person who unexpectedly encounters the deep section of a puddle. The colder the puddle, the nicer the shoe, the more perplexed and befuddled that person will be. Conditions call for immediate escape. But how?

There are always three choices. You can step backward out of the puddle and try to go around. This requires the constant testing of the edges to determine where the perimeter might lie. After all is said and done, it sometimes impossible to make the adjustments that would continue the journey without re-entering the pond. The pond is always colder the second time. You can step backward out of the puddle and go back where you came from. This necessitates cancelling the journey, an unpopular decision if, for example, you are on your way to a meeting and it’s your turn to bring the doughnuts. Ultimately, and this is the choice I most often opt for, you can plunge ahead, hoping you have already experienced the deepest part and the far side is very near.

It’s a risky business. Experience has repeatedly taught me that puddles, ponds of still water that they are, run deep, deep as your ankle sometimes, deeper at others. And they run cold. Cold water can cause unusual thinking. You start to wonder, for example, how long it took Marilyn Bell to swim across Lake Ontario which, if I recall, was extremely cold, though I do not believe there was any ice floating there when she swam. . And you start thinking about that Dennis Lee poem you used to read to the kids: “I’m sitting in the middle of a rather muddy puddle with my bottom full of bubbles and my rubbers full of mud.”

Your mind’s ear can hear the gurgling. Your mind’s imagination begins to form the story you would tell, how the neighbours rushed out to find you laughing dementedly in the water. And that is when you have to hurry, to surge forward and find the opposite shore as quickly as possible, just in case you cannot resist the urge to sit right down.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007


Carrie was overwhelmed by depression. It was as if she was wearing glasses that showed her the world with all the hope and joy filtered out, and you can’t plan the future when you see only that. So she was sent out to take pictures of hope. I wonder what pictures you would take if you were sent on that mission.

Carrie photographed the old bird her father left in her care when he died a few months ago. . She photographed a street lamp shining in the dark. She took pictures of a tree that had once been cut off at the stump, and later struck by lightning, and was still growing. Then she turned and took pictures of her dog, who was watching her take pictures, and hoping she would soon be finished so they could go for a walk.

The exploding international field of hope research is providing my research colleagues and me with a wealth of ideas about how to make hope practical to help people at times when they need it most. We make meaning around acts of hope. We study language to see what we can say to give people hope. We work with symbols, like the hope-opotamus. And sometimes hope is a catalyst for goal setting. But for those of you who aren’t the type to set goals, I want to say that in all the plans and dreams I had for my future, I never once imagined that someday I would be a psychologist with a whole herd of hope-opotamuses.

Saturday, March 17, 2007


Lunch begins with cucumber and parsley salad with red currant vinaigrette, then continues on to mustard chicken served with a medley of carrots and broccoli complemented by three-layer potatoes. To finish the meal there is chocolate raspberry mousse and coffee. You don’t eat much. Dinner begins when the girl behind the counter asks what you will have, and you say: “Double Cheeseburger Meal with coffee.” You are starving!

At lunch you feature a classic beige jacket with matching flared skirt, complemented with silver accents. Dinner finds you braless, in blue jeans, complemented by a stretchy barn-red shirt and the soft white sweater going to fuzz balls your mom wore in the hospital.

At lunch you make a less-than-two-minute speech to 750 people following a video clip that is all about you. And you hug your friends and your family and a few dozen strangers and thank them for coming. At dinner you sit across from the man who sat beside you at lunch and nobody says much of anything.

Suppose they made a video about your work, and invited a few hundred people, and they let you make your speech before lunch, thereby allowing you to eat without the butterflies or the fear of spilling food on your suit, and you could show up braless, in blue jeans, complemented by the stretchy barn-red shirt and the soft white sweater going to fuzzy balls your mother wore in the hospital. Now that would be an occasion to celebrate!

Thursday, March 15, 2007


The bone has officially mended.

The doctor’s involvement has ended.

The muscles all screech

When I tell them to reach

And the tendons ask not to be bended.

When the physiotherapist stretches

I am one of those miserable wretches

Who strives to be grateful

For things that seem hateful

But mostly complains and kvetches.

Monday, March 12, 2007


The warming days and cooling nights of late winter turn the tall soft drifts to icy rock. For most of us it is a time of waiting, a time of transition. For Pirate the dog, it is a time of opportunity. You can climb the icy rock, observe the big wide world from its peak, and then, when no one is looking, you can walk over the fence. Now you are free to embrace an adventure. How long will it be before they notice you are gone? How many back alley treasures can you claim for the chewing?

They will find you soon enough, and when they do, you can waggle your cheerful tail as if to say: “What took you so long?”

Sunday, March 11, 2007


As an act of hope, David wrote a story to post on the door of his father’s hospital room.  The story began like this.


My family wants you to know a little bit about me.  Since I can’t tell you it myself, they are writing this for you to read.


In general he was not a man who wrote stories.  But when you can see that things are wrong, and you have taken the logical steps to fix them, and you are seized by an overwhelming sense of helplessness, you do things you might not do at other times. 


He hoped that the staff would think of his father as a person, so he began with language his father might have used. 


I celebrated my 89 birthday on January 6.  Over my 89 years, I have provided loyal service to my God, my country, my family and my community.


He hoped the staff would pay more attention to a man with an interesting life than they were paying to this paralyzed man who could not speak to them. 


I was raised in Manitoba and in the Peace River area of Northern Alberta.  I was one of the few boys of my generation who completed high school.  I homesteaded at age 16.  In 1960 at age 43, we moved to Edmonton so that I could follow my life long dream of going to university.  I completed a 4-year Bachelor of Education degree in 3 years.  I was an instructor in Business Education at NAIT for 19 years.  During that time I completed my Bachelor of Science degree in Computing Science and my Master in Education.  I loved to study and read.  After I retired, Iris and I traveled the world.


He hoped that a little humour would get their attention and so he wrote: 


I am a veteran of World War II – and one of the benefits of the war is that I met and married my wonderful wife of 61 years, Iris.  She is Welsh, and people even thought I had a Welsh accent. 


He hoped to shed a little light on some of the things that might be irritating the staff, so he wrote. 


Five years ago I had a serious stroke, which meant that I couldn’t speak or walk.  But I could still communicate, play cards, and enjoy life at home.  Last December, my body grew weaker and I was admitted to the hospital.  I moved to Long Term Care in February, but got a chicken pox virus which brought me to this room. I am here by fate.  I never drank, smoked, or swore.  One of the tricks that my body has played on me, is that I say swear words now when I want to be able to tell you my needs. 


Finally, he hoped they would realize what a gracious man his father intended to be, so he wrote:


If I could, I would thank you for taking care of me!   


It was not a perfect story, for it was written in a hurry.  But it seemed important, urgent really, that something be done.  So he printed the little story, jumped into the car, went straight to the hospital and read it to his father. 


At another time, his father might have withheld his praise, quibbled over the details, requested time for a thorough review.  But things were not as they had been, and he gave enthusiastic assent on the first reading.  David posted the story in the hallway at the entrance to his father’s room. 


I wish I could report that, from this moment forward, the staff flocked to the room, wanting to be with him, jostling each other for opportunities to stand by his bed, the way they might if Wayne Gretzky was admitted to their unit.  .  That story will have to be written as fiction.  What I can report is that some staff read the story, and some of them commented on it when they visited his room. 


As an act of hope, the story was a smashing success.  For it transformed helplessness into action.  Today that story is still around, a comforting reminder that his loved-ones made many efforts to speak up on his behalf when he was no longer able to speak up for himself. 

Monday, March 05, 2007


What are the things we can suddenly notice in routines that are so familiar?  We walk along the path in a hot winter’s day when the sun is removing our hats and our mittens.  Over the din of the traffic, and the barking excitement of the scurrying dogs we pause at the sound of dripping water.  A dozen miniature waterfalls have sprung themselves from the clay bank that rises to our right.  Gurgling and bubbling they send out their trickles while we wonder how we can be hearing this sound for the first time on a path we follow every day.


Next morning I sit listening absent-mindedly to the story of the loaves and fishes.  Five barley loaves and two fishes are produced and offered up as lunch to a crowd of five thousand.  And there are the old familiar questions.  How did the food stretch to feed so many?  Did people in the crowd get out their lunches and add their contents to the picnic?  Did Jesus do some sort of expanding miracle on the food?  Suddenly there is a detail I have always known, but now notice for the first time.  The crowd numbers five thousand.  Jesus addressed this crowd.  Does anyone ever pause while contemplating the food to wonder how, without a modern public address system, he made himself heard in an outdoor venue?


Here we see two consecutive examples of the force that surely propels the efforts of detectives and treasure hunters.  How can we fail to have hope when, in observing something we have observed hundreds, maybe thousands of times, we notice a detail that previously escaped our attention?  In the daily grind of the familiar, possible discoveries abound.