I Used to Watch…

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I used to watch ‘Meet the Press’ every Sunday without fail.  A political junkie, I relished my weekly immersion into U.S. politics.

I used to watch Sunday night baseball on ESPN. The Yankees and Red Sox.  The Cardinals, Dodgers and Giants. Every game was an opportunity to relax, and a reminder of my childhood.  When all that mattered was baseball.

I never watch Meet the Press anymore. The closest I get to it is the fading coffee mug my wife bought me years ago.

Baseball comes in snippets.  Five or ten minutes at most.

Life changes when children come.  That’s normal and to be expected.

However, most dads aren’t 45 when they have their first child.  I had four and a half decades of mostly living for myself.  Doing what I wanted when I wanted. 

That’s not easy to give up.  I have an innate selfishness.  I like to get what I want when I want it.

There’s a reason this blog is titled, ‘Reader, Writer, Runner,’ and not “Political Junkie and Baseball Fan.’  When life required me to prioritize, politics and baseball went out the window. 

Reading, writing, and running sustain me.  They nourish the essence of me.  My aging essence. 

Every day I’m conscious of my age in a way that I wasn’t in my thirties and forties.  There’s a starkness to being in my fifties that doesn’t go away.  I’m reading a book about an ultramarathoner who ran a 50 miler in 2001, weeks after September 11th.  The runner had just turned 60.  Which means, he’s over 80 now, if he’s still alive.

Twenty years doesn’t seem very long ago.  Maybe because September 11th is seared into our collective consciousness.  Twenty years is sobering.  Twenty years from now I’ll be in my early seventies.

Twenty years from now my daughter will be twenty-six years old.  An adult.  Forging her own path, with the confidence and vibrancy of youth.

Now though, she’s still just a little girl.  Instead of watching Meet the Press on Sunday mornings, I watch ‘Come Play with Me,’ a YouTube show about dolls.

Instead of watching baseball, I’m in the park, playing with my daughter.  If there is anything better in the world, I don’t know what it is. 

One of my favourite podcasters, Martin Yelling, talks about the seasons of life.  I love the analogy.  It helps me accept being a slower runner, and a reader who is helpless without his reading glasses.  Time takes a natural toll on speed and eyesight.

Time offers gifts too.  It was a gift that I became a father late in the seasons of my life.  I’m a fifty-one-year-old dad who bought his daughter a book about fairies a couple of days ago.  When I gave it to her, she squealed with absolute and pure joy.

This morning instead of Meet the Press,we may play croquet on our back lawn. Tonight, instead of the Yankees versus the Red Sox, we’ll be at the park.

There isn’t anywhere else I’d rather be.

Scattered Thoughts

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I’d like to write more, but often I’m pressed for either time or ideas.  Sometimes a photo prompts my next piece. Usually something happens that I feel compelled to share.  When the ideas strike, the pieces often write themselves.  I’m just the conduit.  At least that’s how it feels. 

Today I have time but no ideas.  Photos but no stories behind them.  Many things on my mind, and none of them flowing through my fingers.  More like scattered thoughts colliding.

I’m fifty-one.  Maybe closer to death than high school.  I was thirty when I became a cop.  I remember driving home at the end of a nightshift, pulling into the driveway, and wondering: wondering when I’d feel like a grown-up, wondering when I’d feel comfortable in my own skin, wondering when the world would make sense.

The world still doesn’t make sense.  Yesterday in Buffalo, New York innocent people were slaughtered in a grocery store.  I grew up near the U.S. border.  My parents shopped at that grocery chain regularly.  The grocery store is called “Tops.”  I can still hear their jingle in my head “Tops Never Stops Saving You More.”

I’ve given up trying to make sense of the world. That’s not going to happen.  Which ironically, may be an important step in having a better understanding of myself.

I may not be there yet – understanding myself that is – but I feel like I’m on the right path. It’s only taken half a century.

Fatherhood has helped.  Not that it’s easy.  Every day I grapple with being a dad.  When to discipline?  How to teach life lessons?  What’s the best way to help an innocent child become a strong and confident girl?

Until very recently I listened to the Marathon Talk podcast.  The hosts embraced the notion of trusting the process.  It’s fine to have a goal, but the goal is secondary to the work you do along the way.  It’s the steps that matter, whether in marathon training, or raising a daughter.  Any goal is the product of the steps and moments that came before it.  Take your steps.  Live in the moment.  Keep your eyes on the horizon.  Never stop moving.

I became truer to myself when I stopped eating meat.  I eat a whole food plant-based diet because I believe it’s my best chance to live a long and healthy life.  There’s more to it than that – changing the way I ate showed me that, daily, my ideals and values could be in alignment with my actions.  That was a powerful lesson. 

Veganism led me to Rich Roll.   Rich chronicled his journey from addict to endurance athlete in his book ‘Finding Ultra.’  His podcast guests are leaders in their fields; health, neuroscience, athletics, and the arts.  Podcasts have reshaped the path I’ve taken in my life. They’ve changed the way I breathe, encouraged me to write, inspired me to wake up at 3:00 a.m. to run miles in the dark, and, conversely, prompted me turn my alarm clock off because sleeping may be the best thing any of us can do to promote physical and mental health. 

I used to have one or two books on the go at any one time.  Recently it’s been five or six.  Although the world doesn’t make sense, books help me navigate my way through it.  I’ve been reading about survival, hostages in Iran, a German general kidnapped in wartime Crete, the latest Reacher novel, a collection of essays from Jedidiah Jenkins, and Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations.  I read with a pen in hand, underlying meaningful passages.  I read with my journal by my side, and I copy especially meaningful passages into it.  Great writing moves me.  Incredible stories inspire me.  They all help me focus on my process and my path ahead.

My wife and I have a close friend whose mother is terminally ill.  Words so often fail in those situations.  So we sought the answer in words more eloquent than any we could ever express.  We sent a copy of Susan Cain’s latest book, ‘Bittersweet’ which is about grief.  Cain wrote ‘Quiet,’ a book about introverts.  It helped me better understand myself.  Without having read it, I know ‘Bittersweet’ will be an eloquent, thoughtful work which will help people all over the world.

I have a friend who did something special yesterday.  He ran one hundred kilometers in fourteen hours.  That’s more than two marathons.  He suffered.  He endured.  He finished.  His achievement was even more remarkable because of his training.  His longest training run was 10 kilometers.  He’s in excellent shape.  Obviously that helped.  But, on paper, no coach would draw up a training program without incorporating much longer runs.  On paper he should have done 20-, 30- and 40-kilometer runs.  He didn’t.  He didn’t need to. His mental toughness is off the charts.  He ran sixty-two miles yesterday with his mind. 

The mind.  That’s another thing podcasts have helped me appreciate.  The power of the mind.  To heal.  To create.  To help us reshape ourselves through meditation, and by visualizing the lives we want to lead.

Two more scattered thoughts.

Yesterday we adopted a kitten.  Her name is Molly.  Our daughter’s name is Molly.  We’re going to have to rename our daughter.

The pictures of the fallen trees are from a cutblock not far from our home.  I walked through it, and although it was undeniably apocalyptic, it wasn’t awful.  There was beauty in the desolation, and in the rich green forest behind it. 

Nails on the Trail

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The trails near our home are open to everyone.  The backcountry beckons.  I run while others mountain bike, hike or walk their dogs.  Some ride their dirt bikes or quads.  Sometimes when I run, I hear their engines roaring in the distance.  When we cross paths, I breathe exhaust fumes instead of fresh air. 

But the forest and trails are vast and my encounters with motorized vehicles are always fleeting.  I wave or nod to the riders as we pass one another.  We have different interests but a shared love of the outdoors. We mean one another no harm.

I love to run hills.  There is nothing better for the legs and lungs.  And I’m lucky.  I can walk out the front door, and minutes later be doing a grueling uphill workout.  Long and steep it holds the false promise of reaching a peak.  But there’s no summit for a long time, just short breaks, and then more inclines – steep dirt tracks with scattered rocks and boulders.  They’re ideal for trail running.  And motorbikes.  Sometimes I see the bikes themselves.  Usually tire tracks are the only evidence of their presence.  They are loud but my encounters with them while running are rare.  And we can not hear them from our home.  But others must, because this isn’t the backwoods yet.  More like the shared backyard of a subdivision where hundreds of people live.

A few weeks back I was running up one of these short, steep trails when I saw a nail laying on the ground.  And then two nails, and a third and a fourth, seemingly buried in the dirt intentionally, all over the trail.  Each one placed carefully and with malice, guaranteed to puncture the tires of a dirt bike, or a quad.  Equally guaranteed to pierce a dog’s paws or a child’s flesh.

I picked up eleven nails and filed a police report.  I returned a few days later and found at least ten more.  Maybe I’d missed them the first time, buried underneath the dirt and rocks.  Maybe whoever put them there had returned. 

It is in our nature as human beings to hurt one another.  We hurt those we love.  We hurt people we hate.  We hurt people we don’t know.  So, I was not surprised to find those nails on the trail.  Not surprised.  But saddened and angered.  Thankfully, no one was hurt. 

I still run that trail.  I was there yesterday.  I found six more nails.  One was visible, churned up after I ascended, I spotted it on the descent.  I excavated the area and found five more.  I picked them up and added them to the now harmless pile of nails I’ve created inside a nearby concrete barrier. There are thirty nails in that pile now.

Thirty.  Someone carried thirty nails to that trail, got down on their hands and knees, placed them individually along both sides of the trail and right down the middle, and then covered them with dirt and rocks.  That’s cold. That’s premeditated.  That’s malicious.  That’s humanity.

The dark side of humanity. 

We’ve had illness in our family recently.  Metaphorically one of us stepped on a nail on the trail.  That nail was Covid.  It hit hard.  Its effects are still being felt.  Things are improving but not back to normal.  In the toughest days we saw the best of humanity.  A sibling and parents who dropped everything to care for the one they love.  Friends and neighbours coming to the house and offering their medical expertise, bringing soup, dropping off cookies.  Flowers and well wishes arrived from across the country.  We saw the best side of humanity.

The absolute opposite of nails on the trail.

Bury Things Deep

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Sometimes the first time my wife learns about something in my life is reading about it on readerwriterrunner.com. 

When we first met, I told her that I liked to “bury things deep.”  Maybe I was exaggerating for effect.   There’s a difference between burying things, and not talking about them.  I’m very good at not talking.

But I don’t bury them.  To do so would mean hiding them away, somewhere within me – walled off from myself and unexamined.

I’ve seen a lot of death and misery in the last two decades.  Death and misery come with the uniform.  More and more over the last few years, I’ve seen colleagues suffering.  Sometimes one incident is the proverbial last straw and the weight of what my friends and colleagues have seen becomes too much to bear.  Sometimes the one incident is so awful it does it on its own.  For others, there is no one incident, just accumulated suffering.

I’ve learned that when this happens to my colleagues, they are injured – a physical injury as real as a broken leg. 

I’ve learned that this can happen to anyone, at anytime.  And not just first responders and veterans.  The pandemic has made things worse for everyone.

Last week I got a call from a close friend who was going through a tough time.  I don’t think I could have handled the things he has weathered.  He inspires me.  I think he would acknowledge that for many years he buried things deep.  And that part of coming to terms with those things is the opposite of burying them.

There are a lot of ways to shine a little light on dark places.  You’re probably already doing them. 

I read a lot.   I read with a pen in my hand and a journal by my side.  I underline passages that move me and copy some of them into my journal. 

I run.  Almost every day.  Sometimes listening to music that transports me a million miles away.  Sometimes in the stillness of a forest where all I hear is the stream that flows beside me.

I write.  Things I haven’t yet told my wife get posted online for anyone in the world to read. Anyone in the world, including my mom and my ex-wife and my ex-partner.  That’s a varied audience.

I talk.  Sometimes. One of the things I value more than anything in this world is going for coffee with my wife, at least once a week.  We have one or two favourite places.  We sip Americanos.  And I actually talk.  Things that have accumulated throughout the week come out.  And speaking those words, to her, over coffee, always feels good.

I’ve always known how important, reading, running, and writing are in my life.  I knew it instinctively.  I felt it in my marrow.  But I’ve increasingly also come to understand that it is when I read, run, write, and sometimes talk, that I shine light on darkness.  Far from burying things deep, I actually deal with them head on.

Postscript

I thought about some of these things last Sunday as I ran with good friends as part of the Wounded Warriors one day run from Sooke to Sidney on Vancouver Island.  This year’s team is gearing up for their 600-kilometer run from the north island to Victoria later this month.  (As a former member of the team, I was privileged to be able to join them for the one day run).  The funds they raise help first responders and veterans going through difficult times.  Those funds also help their spouses and children.  If you’re so inclined, you can visit Home – Wounded Warrior Run BC (akaraisin.com) to learn more, and perhaps even donate.

Thank you.

Daryl

Flat Miles

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Flat miles.

There’s no such thing on Vancouver Island.  Up and down, up and down.  Every run is a series of ascents and descents. 

Southern Ontario is gloriously flat.  I took advantage of that a couple weeks back, when I was home, alone, visiting my family.  I logged a lot of miles.  It was easy to do.  I had lots of time, and few responsibilities. 

I ran every day, except one.

Things happened in Ontario.  And I ran.

That’s the thing about running.  It’s with you always.  Wherever you are.  A runner can always run.  A runner can structure his day around a run.  Or a runner can squeeze in a run even when the day is busy and unyielding.  A runner finds time to run.

And think.

I had lots to think about when I ran in Ontario.

My mom.  Recovering from a stroke.  Working so hard on her rehab. Moving so well.  Speaking so well. I was very proud of her.

My dad. We ran together.  That was special.  He’s been doing it for five decades.  Part of the first great running boom of the 1970s.  He’s nearing eighty and still running.  Runners run.

My grandparents. I visited my grandfather’s grave. Born during the Great War, he and my grandmother started their family during World War II, in occupied Holland. My mother and her twin sister were born as the Battle of Arnhem was fought nearby. A famous battle – The Bridge Too Far battle. My mother’s twin died shortly after she was born, in a starving nation, torn by war. My grandmother’s name is not on the gravestone. Her ashes were scattered elsewhere. In my memory, they are always together.

My wife and daughter.  They did not make the trip.  My daughter is too young to be vaccinated.  There was an emptiness to this trip home, because my entire family was not together.

Guelph.  A small-town in Ontario.  I miss small-town Ontario.  I miss the brick buildings, Main Streets, and cenotaphs in town squares.  I miss walking in a small-town.  I miss feeling I’m part of a small-town.  I didn’t realize how important it was to me until I left it behind.

ACAB. An Acronym for ‘All Cops Are Bastards.’  Spray-painted on the wall of a cake  shop in Guelph.  I know a lot of cops.  All cops are not bastards.  I thought about how widespread anti-police sentiment has become.  I thought about the assaults my colleagues in Victoria have been subjected to recently.  Serious assaults.  I thought, if the ‘C’ in the acronym was replaced with a letter that stood for a different group, it would be a hate crime.

People.  I didn’t fly home to wander through small-towns.  I went for people.  Like my wife’s best friend and her husband.  They have become my friends.  A trip back home without seeing them is unimaginable.  People I only met a few years ago, are now important parts of my life. 

Life takes twists and turns.  I had dinner with my ex-wife. For the last 18  months, she has been on the frontlines of the battle against Covid.  Her efforts have kept vulnerable seniors alive. She has endured immeasurable stress.  She’s led her staff through difficult times.  I am proud of her.

In life’s twists and turns, there are constants.  Like my brother, and his wife and their children.  They are proverbial rocks in my life.  We don’t talk often and see each other rarely.  And yet we are there for one another, with a closeness and comfort level that transcends distance and time. 

I thought about the people I did not see.  My friend Stitch.  A man who has suffered, and endured, and come out the other side.  Strong and resilient.  If I called him and said I needed him, he’d drop everything and fly across the country in a heartbeat. No questions asked.

I thought about some people I have not seen in many years.  Once good friends who I let slip away. 

These are some of the things I thought about when I ran flat miles in Ontario.  It was hotter than I would have liked.  No crisp cool autumn days. And the colours of the leaves were muted, not vibrant.

Runners run.

And runners think.

And when this runner arrived home, in rainy, hilly, British Columbia, he was greeted by a daughter who shrieked, “daddy,” and he was a hugged by a wife he loves and missed, and he was thankful for everything he has, and everything that was.

What are the Chances?

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Yesterday I wanted to run for an hour.  Not 59 minutes. The difference is psychological but real.  There’s comfort and completeness in that extra minute.

Sixty minutes means thirty out and thirty back.

Our home is surrounded by forest and trails.  I have many options, but one favourite – a short jog down the street and I disappear into the woods, unlikely to encounter anyone in a world of silence.

I climb, and descend, sometimes fast, sometimes slow, usually somewhere in between.  Yesterday I checked my watch, once or twice, determined to turn around at the thirty-minute mark.

Twenty-four minutes into my run, on an isolated hilltop that overlooks our neighbourhood, I sensed where the run would end.  I have been running long enough, decades now, to have a feel for pace and distance.  It’s almost instinctual.   

The tree.  I would finish at the tree. 

There are tens of thousands of trees within miles of our home. 

There’s one that stands out. 

Pictures don’t do it justice.  My pictures at least.  But it is wide and thick and towers above everything around it.  It’s a special tree.  The kind of tree that protesters would chain themselves to, if a logging company ever threatened to cut it down.

What are the chances?  What are the chances that tree, my favourite tree, would be exactly thirty minutes from my home, along my favourite route.

It got me thinking.  About something that happened two weeks ago.  I ran a trail race, with a friend.  “Trail’ doesn’t do the event justice.  Almost twenty miles long, with 4400 feet of elevation, it’s a never-ending series of ascents and descents.  Nothing is flat.  Nothing is easy.  Everything burns.

About four hours in, my buddy was in pain – run stopping pain.  He moved to the side of the trail and stopped moving.  He’d been hurting for awhile but had never stopped.  He’s not the kind of guy to stop.  Ever.  So, I knew he was in agony.  And just then, at that very moment, another runner came by, her palm open, salt tablets in her hand.  She offered him a handful.  He swallowed them.  And almost instantly his pain lightened.  His legs loosened.  He was moving again.  What are the chances?  We’d been on the course for hours.  He’d been stopped for seconds.  At that very moment, in his time of need, another runner, carrying exactly what he needed, came by. 

He and I talked about that moment.  We talked about God and chance, about life’s profound moments and what lay behind them.

I work in a unit that investigates homicides.  Fortunately, on the island we live on, they are relatively rare.  Relatively is a relative term.  Because our plates are full.  There is no shortage of work.  Even though sometimes months pass between murders.  Months. 

Until a few weeks ago.  When there were two murders within hours.  Over a hundred miles separated them.  Only minutes separated them.  What are the chances?

I don’t know.  Perhaps there are answers.  Maybe none exist.

Sixty minutes.  Salt pills.  A hundred miles apart.

One tree.

Ashes

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Ashes

It’s been almost a year since a vet came to our home and put Maggie down.  She lay on the floor in our living room.  The painkillers, which had given us a few more months with her, no longer worked.

The morning she died, she walked into our bedroom.  A room she wasn’t allowed to be in.  Later, she nudged her way into my bathroom.  Also off limits.  She did it to be closer to me. 

Two unmistakable signs that the time had come.

I said my goodbyes on the living room floor.  My daughter, Molly, hugged Maggie.  Told her how much she’d miss her.  Molly was four, Maggie thirteen.  Molly had never known a world in which Maggie did not exist. 

This was pre-vaccine.  Only one of us was allowed to be with Maggie at the end.  I took Molly upstairs.  My wife, Sonja, stayed with Maggie.  They loved each other very much.  I’d had Maggie for years before I met Sonja.  But Maggie became her dog – Sonja spoiled her, spent her days with her, spoke gently to her, and not surprisingly became the primary recipient of that sweet and strangely morose golden retriever’s affection and loyalty.  I’m thankful Sonja was with Maggie at the end.

I carried Maggie’s body to the vet’s van parked in our driveway.  A neighbour, walking her own golden retriever, saw me carrying the white shroud and knew exactly what had just happened. 

A week later, Maggie came back to us.  Ashes in a cannister.

I didn’t know how to tell Molly about cremation.  I didn’t want to tell Molly about cremation.  So, I fudged the truth.  I told my daughter that the vet had used chemicals to transform Maggie’s fur into little white particles. 

Sonja loved Maggie, but not Maggie’s ashes.  So, Molly and I took that cannister, walked the trails near our home, and scattered some of Maggie’s ashes in a stream where my girls had spent countless hours playing.

It was a big cannister.  And there was another special place where Maggie needed to be, and where I needed to take her.  Victoria, and the ocean, along Dallas Road.  One of the most beautiful places in the world.  Maggie and I had lived in that area for years.  In different homes, at different stages of my life, she was my constant.  My faithful companion.  We’d walked hundreds of times along that stretch of beach.  I’d thrown thousands of stones for her.  She chased every one of them with abandon.  In my darkest hours she was my confidant.  When I felt alone, she was by my side, figuratively, and literally – on the beach and in the ocean, swimming near me as I threw one rock after another, she never gave up hope that just once, she’d catch the rock that splashed in the ocean, right in front of her.  Without Maggie, I wouldn’t have met Sonja.  My online dating profile picture was a photo of me and Maggie.  Maggie was indisputably and infinitely better looking than me.  I rode her coattails into Sonja’s life.

That’s why I wanted to spread the remainder of her ashes along Dallas Road.  But life intervened.  As it usually does.  So, for the better part of the last year, the remainder of Maggie’s “fur” remained in that cannister, in our garden shed.  Sadly, and honestly, a little forgotten.  I walked in there many times, grabbed a shovel, or the lawnmower, and never once thought about Maggie.

Last Sunday, on a sunny, summer’s day, we took Maggie back to Victoria.  Maggie’s remains accompanied us as Molly fed the ducks, ate French fries, and played in two different parks.  And then we headed to the ocean.

It was very windy.  I pictured Maggie’s ashes blowing back into my face, and hair, and covering my clothing.

Leave it to a five-year old to come up with the perfect solution.  While Sonja watched, Molly and I dug holes in the sand.  I poured Maggie’s fur into those holes.  We covered Maggie with sand, and then, covered the sand with stones. 

And then we walked away.   Before the tide came in.

I didn’t want to see it happen, but I knew that the ocean would wash over those stones, and take the rocks, and Maggie, back out into the water.

That had been our special place.  It always will be.  And I know that every time I return, I will look at the beach, and the water, and the mountains in the distance, and I will know that Maggie is a part of that splendor. 

That Darkness

A child was killed in a tragic accident not far from our home last week.

I heard sirens that night.

The boy wasn’t yet a teenager. 

A life ended.

Parents shattered.

When I was about the same age, forty years ago now, something similar happened.  Close friends of my mother and father lost a child, struck, and killed by a car, as he delivered papers in Hamilton, Ontario.  I knew that boy.  He was older than me.  My last memory of him is a brief conversation as he fixed his bicycle in the driveway.  I remember hearing about his death on the car radio as we drove to their home the day after he died.  I remember entering that home – palpable grief.  Silence and sobs.  I played with his young sister.  She spoke very matter-of-factly about her brother being dead, seemingly too young to truly understand.

My current job, much of my career, involves investigating death.  What caused it?  Who did it?  Those investigations span months.  Years. 

Months and years where families suffer.  The source of their intense grief is my 9 to 5 job.  It’s a sobering thought.  A jarring discrepancy. 

I was in a dollar store yesterday.  Having fun.  Buying birthday balloons, batteries for my daughter’s glowing princess shoes, and 5 pairs of reading glasses for my ageing eyes.  I’ve been to that store dozens of times.  The lady behind the counter is kind, friendly and we always chat and laugh, although I don’t know her name and she doesn’t know mine.  Yesterday she asked me what I did for a living.  I told her where I worked.  She responded, “I’d never have guessed you were a cop.”  I never asked why.  The conversation moved on.

This morning I wonder why she never would have guessed.  Is it how I look?  I’m very thin.  I lift weights but never seem to add muscle.  Should a cop be bigger – tougher looking?

I laugh in that store.  Always.  I chase my daughter around.  Everything catches her eye.  Stickers, sparkles, cards, toys, costumes.  She loves everything in that store.  Wants everything.  I’d like to buy it all for her.  Of course, I don’t.  But I can’t resist getting her something every time we visit.  Should a cop be firmer, stricter, less indulgent?  Less joyful?  Gruffer.  Meaner.  Angrier.  Bitter.

There are days I feel gruff.  Mean.  Angry.  Bitter.  Sad.

Everyone does.  Cops do.  You do.

I bet that every cop I work with could walk into that dollar store – and the kind woman who works there would never guess they are cops.  They are moms, and dads.  Husbands and wives.  Athletic and not.  Calm, and intense.  Funny and serious.  Not stereotypes.  People.

People whose careers expose them to darkness that most people don’t often see.

People who cope with that darkness in different ways.

People who are regularly exposed to death.  Sometimes it breaks them.  Sometimes it gives them a heightened appreciation for life.  Usually, it’s somewhere in between. 

I try not to think about what happened close to our home last week.  It’s too heartbreaking.  And because of that I do think about what happened.  Mostly I think about the parents.  And the young boy.  But I think about everyone who was there.  Neighbours, paramedics, firefighters, and the cops.

I think about what happened in Hamilton 40 years ago. 

And I think about a comment in a dollar store.

About how television and movie cops have shaped society’s perception of what a police officer should be.

A police officer is a person.  It’s you.  It’s your neighbour.  It’s the person next to you in a grocery store you’d never guess is a cop, because they don’t look the part.

I like cop movies.  I love detective fiction.  The best of it captures slices of reality.  But it’s fiction.  Stories.

Stories aren’t life.  And life is complicated.  So are people.  So are cops.  Just like you.  Just like me.

… If you interested, here’s a link to a podcast, where cops talk about their careers and their lives.  I work with these people.  Real people.  I’m proud to consider them colleagues and friends.  True Blue Podcast (buzzsprout.com)

Like my colleagues and friends, I pray for the victims and their families.  For peace and healing.

Silence

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Silence is rare in our home.

My wife is exuberant.

Our daughter is not a dud.  She rarely stops moving.  Or speaking. 

I’m quieter.  Not talking is my default. 

When I fly across the country to visit my parents after not seeing them for months, I often sit in the living room and read.  It must frustrate my poor mom as she regales me with stories, and I do not respond.  Instead, I’m mute, poring over the local newspaper.

Last week, after Covid restrictions loosened, we visited with my wife’s parents and sister for the first time in forever.  They are a passionate family – interested in everything – lulls in the conversation are rare.  We sat outside on their patio, which offers a spectacular view of the ocean. 

True to form, I said almost nothing.  I sat.  I gazed at the water and Mount Baker in the distance. 

I must appear disengaged.  Lost in my own world.

Yet that’s not the case.  In those situations, nothing is more precious to me than my family.  Being surrounded by those I love means more to me than anything. It is where I want to be.  It is my comfort zone. 

Talking isn’t. 

My wife and I joke that I “bury it deep.”  Why speak aloud what can safely be tucked away inside? 

I could do better.  I could talk more.  I do believe we should all push beyond our comfort zones.

Yet, we have comfort zones for a reason.  Water finds it level.  We do too.  Learning to accept who and what we are – those things that are intrinsic to our personalities, and fundamental to our beings, is essential. 

I don’t actually bury it deep.  If I did, this blog wouldn’t exist.  On it, I share some of my innermost thoughts.  Things I wouldn’t say over coffee with my family, friends, or co-workers, I write down for the world to see.  I can’t explain it. It just feels right. 

Like silence.

As we sat on my in-law’s patio, and they talked, I spotted two Orcas, no more than a hundred meters offshore.  The fins of these killer whales cut through the water with grace and precision.  It was a spectacular sight.

Silence has its rewards.

Striving for Mediocrity

We live in a beautiful subdivision.  West coast style homes on large lots.  Perfectly manicured lawns and gardens abound.  Last weekend I watched someone vacuum their rock garden. (I once went 8 months without vacuuming the carpet in the basement apartment I shared with my Golden Retriever. … In my defense I did clean the bathroom weekly). 

I love our neighbourhood – a perfect mix of young families and vibrant retirees.  The park, the trails, the front porches, are all conducive to building friendships and creating a community.

There are rules though.  We’re governed by bylaws.  A long list of ‘though shall’ and ‘though shall not’ commandments dictate how our yards must look: our grass, our fences, what we park in our driveway.  Breaking the rules is a roll of the dice.  Maybe no one notices or cares.  Or maybe someone writes a letter to the council.  And they investigate.  And issue a warning letter.   Or a fine.  Maybe things get ugly.  It’s happened before.

Our home and grounds will never be the most attractive.  Our lawn is not perfectly manicured.  There’s moss, and dead spots from dog pee.  But we try.  We plant flowers, and hang baskets.  We grow vegetables.  We’ve trucked in yards of soil and mulch and spent thousands of dollars on cedars and shrubs.  In part we do it because we enjoy it.  It is satisfying and rewarding to beautify our home and our neighbourhood.  But there isn’t enough money, and definitely not enough time.  We’re treading water in the battle against weeds, erosion and decay.  We’re striving for mediocrity.  Trying to fit in, and not stand out for the wrong reasons.

I’m learning to accept that striving for mediocrity is okay.  It’s not the mediocrity that matters.  It’s the striving.

Before work I often run at Summit Park in Victoria.  This time of year, the sun rises as I run intervals on a dirt path around a reservoir in this hidden jewel of a park that overlooks the city.  This week the sunrise reminded me that our sun, and the universe, are billions of years old.  They will continue for billions of years after we are gone. 

In the time scale of the cosmos, you and I, and everything we do, are utterly insignificant.  We could not matter less.  Which, paradoxically, makes you and I, and everything we do, infinitely important.  Because our lives are miracles, precious and rare.  Every second matters.  Everything we do counts.

We cannot and should not strive to be mediocre in all we do.  Mediocre doesn’t cut it when it comes to being a husband or a father.  Our careers matter too – we have a responsibility to do our best when we go to work.  We owe it to our colleagues.  We owe it to each other.  We’re privileged to live in this country.  We all play a role in keeping it working – whatever work we do.

But life is too short to define it by our careers.  The universe is too big and too old not to pursue our passions.  Last month I went bouldering for the first time.  I’m scared of heights and I wanted to face that fear.  I’ve been three times now.  I love it.  Being sixteen feet off the ground, knowing a fall might mean serious injury focuses my mind and body more than almost anything I’ve ever done.  Talk about living in, and appreciating, the moment.  It’s impossible to think about work while lunging from one hold to another while dangling in the air.

Two weeks ago I bought a guitar.  I’ve never played an instrument in my life.  I have zero innate musical talent.  I can’t read a note.  I can’t hold a tune.  I’m starting from rock bottom.  I’ve played that guitar every day since.  I’m awful, as my neighbours will attest, because sometimes, when I get home from work, I play on the front porch or back patio.  If there isn’t a noise bylaw in our neighbourhood there should be.  They have every right to complain about my botched chords and terrible twanging.

If someone does complain, I’ll plead guilty and pay the fine.  I’ll never become a good guitar player, or even an average one, if I don’t strive for mediocrity first.

… Now, out to the garden.