Mike’s Note: As is often the case, this post is being written from about 35,000 feet. At the moment I’m somewhere over Alberta.
Today I’m reflecting on yesterday. Yesterday I was reflecting on the day before that. Let me try to explain.
Twenty-four hours prior to this writing I was driving across the city, completing a necessary but thoroughly unenjoyable task.
One day before that I was sitting on board the Queen of Surrey, reflecting on the reality that this was probably my penultimate ferry crossing prior to heading to China on December 1. And what a crossing it was. The sun was shining, the sky was blue, even as fluffy white clouds drifted by periodically. The snow in the mountains was fresh. We even passed a large pod of porpoises, something that has happened to me only twice on my countless BC Ferry sailings over the past eight and a half years.
I was feeling sentimental, nostalgic, and a little sad as it occurred to me that not only was I soon going to be travelling to China, but I would also be leaving Vancouver, even if only for a season. (As I type this paragraph Carole King is on the iPod asking, “Doesn’t anybody stay in one place anymore?”)
As I watched this beauty unfold in front of me I emailed a friend and described what I was seeing, and how I was feeling. I received a one-line answer:
”The Universe is on your side : )”
The smiley was because I have sent her this same response on numerous occasions. A taste of my own medicine. I replied that yes, that might be true. Or, conversely, the Universe could be sticking it to me. I added my own smiley for good measure.
Together we decided that I was getting a big send-off.
Fast forward 24 hours, and these were the thoughts that filled my head as I drove north through Vancouver. If anything, the sun was bluer, and the snow on the North Shore mountains was whiter. It was simply stunning… the kind of day we live for in Vancouver.
This led me to think about the Great Joys and Great Sorrows we encounter, and how I am now—on most days, anyway—equally grateful for both, and as I’ve said before, how I no longer feel the need to differentiate between the two. As Richard Rohr says, Great Joy and Great Sorrow are how God tries to get a hold of us. I believe it. The irony of course is that so many of us spend our lives trying to maximize the former and avoid the latter, with the tragic outcome being that we understand neither, and never really live. (Another way to look at it is this: If we somehow manage to avoid the latter we will never really experience the former.) As I drove I was once again overcome with gratitude. For the Joy, for the Sorrow, for all of it.
I smiled and cast a thought heaven-ward:
I get it.
The Universe, however, wasn’t finished with the object lesson.
As I approached the red light at Boundary and Grandview I saw the panhandler step off the curb and into the intersection. No cardboard sign, just a paper cup from the Wendy’s on the corner. He walked right past the car in the left turn lane, came straight to my window, and looked in at me, waiting to see if I would make eye contact.
This brother had been on the street a long time, and I knew that nothing I could give him then and there would change his prospects or improve his long-term outlook. But I also knew enough to understand that his long-term outlook probably extended to the end of the day and where he would lay his head. I lowered the window and handed him a 20. As I did his face lit up, he broke into a beautiful grin that would give any self-respecting dentist nightmares, and he pronounced a blessing over me that I will never forget.
“F*cking beautiful!! God bless you buddy!”
My friend Rob was in the truck behind me with his two kids, and he told me later about his own encounter. As he handed over $3 and a Crispy Crunch chocolate bar—everything he had on him—he asked our new friend if he was having a good day.
“A good day?! Of course I’m having a good day! I got $3 and my favorite chocolate bar from you, and that guy up there gave me $20! It’s a good day all right!”
OK, enough already. I said I get it.*
And so in 10 days I leave for China. I go with joy and with sorrow. I go anticipating a future beautifully wide open with possibility, while grieving the death of dreams. I go leaving a place I love and people I love for the unknown.
And I feel alive.
* I’m not romanticizing poverty, or suggesting that the sole purpose of this man’s life was to be a character in a vignette for my benefit, but I also think that God/the Universe/insert you favorite label here speaks to us through these encounters. In fact I think it happens all the time. We just need ears to hear and eyes to see.