Thursday, April 30, 2020

Reflecting and Reconsidering


With time off during quarantine and social isolation many people have begun to reflect on their lives, lifestyles, and choices.  This can be both a challenging process and a wonderful time. In the past two months we have had the opportunity to catch up with pilgrims we met on our Caminos and people who helped us last year on The Great Trail.  We have had old friends reconnect to talk, high school acquaintances email to relive old times, university colleagues reach out to gloat about their career successes, and old loves email about missed opportunities and the choices they wish we had all made differently.  With the time we have on our hands at the moment it has left a great deal of opportunity to think about all of these connections, the choices we have made, and the path our life is on.  Some of it has led to reliving beautiful memories and hearing amazing stories of new experiences and new families - while others have been very hard to deal with.   In the past few weeks we have been elated by the successes of old friends and devastated by the hateful rumours (some of which we have just heard) spread by former flames in our lives – sometimes decades later. 

 
As the intrepid Mel Vogel once emailed us saying ‘anyone who wants to hike across Canada has to be a little different and maybe a crazy.’  So it is fair to say that both of us are a little different compared to others.  Neither of us have never been one to follow along with what was expected, nor are we really competitors.   We long ago both knew that we were on a different track – not the right one or the wrong one – just a different one and our own.  I have always been struck by those who at an early age set out clear goal posts in their lives determining as teenagers that – by 20 they must have their career set, by 30 married with 2.4 children, by 35 have $250,000 in RRSPs, by 40 that they must have a Mercedes, etc, etc, etc. I was amazed by friends who rushed to get married after graduation "because that is what you are supposed to do".  It always seemed to me that so many people I met simply wanted to get through life and be done with it all.  They wanted to plan for the completion of their lives without enjoying the journey.   Then again I can hardly plan what I am going to do tomorrow, let alone define what 60-70 years of my life must look like.  Clearly the choices we have made in our lives, like the choices anyone makes in their lives are unique and they are (hopefully) right for each and everyone of us.  Because I believe this, I don't think that there is a need for social competition, vicious comparisons, and judgmental ‘what ifs’ asked years later.  It is so odd and sometimes frustrating to hear how the past is rewritten by people to transform themselves into the great heroes or downtrodden victims of some imagined slight rather than to find that they are at peace with their own choices. We are defined by what we do, not what we tell people we have done.

I suppose what I am trying to say, is that we each have challenges enough and don’t need the fears and judgments of others piled onto us.  I feel like the wisdom of the Camino applies to those individuals who keep spamming us with viscous messages and judgmental commentary – “Those mountains you are carrying, you were only supposed to climb.”

For each of us, shouldn’t pursuing our own goals be enough?  Why do we have to compare and compete with one another?  What purpose does sending pictures of a new car or gloating about being a CEO,  or having a husband in the government do in a conversation with someone years and sometimes decades later?  I get that you are worth more than us, and that your house is huge, and that you have a 3 car garage and a cottage at the lake as well as perfect children - and if that is what you aspire to then you have done wonderfully! You have won the lottery of life, and we're happy for you! 

I am fully aware that I am homeless and that I spend my days hiking and teaching, that my nights writing blogs in a tent, or that we would rather spend time on trails photographing nature and discovering the world rather than building up our RRSPs and competing for that next promotion – but those are our choices.  Neither of us have never been drawn to a life sitting at a desk for 8 hours a day, 7 days a week, over 50 years.  I don’t love spending time in malls buying more stuff that I will never use.  And my goal in life was never to have a huge house filled with more things I don’t need.   My goals have always been to wander.  (I think we both “suffer” from insatiable Wanderlust).  I have always wanted experiences rather than stuff.  So, what is wrong with that - especially if we pose no burden on society or anyone else? Sure we have we made our share of mistakes, but that is the thing they are our mistakes, and we each have to live with them.  They arise from successes and errors we have made as individuals and do not arise from the concern that we are not where we are supposed to be by different people’s demands or society’s standards. 

Simply put, I am generally not impressed by money, the type of car someone drives, how many followers they have, their bank balance, their square footage, their degrees or their titles.  I am however greatly moved by kindness, generosity, integrity, humility, common sense, and respect. 

  
More than anything I wonder and worry about how youth navigate the parts of the online world that have such long memories, foster the narrative of the loudest voice and are so cynical and spiteful?  How do you find space to be yourself, to take risks, or to try new things in a forum where critique and judgment are the norm?

It has taken both of us a long time to feel comfortable with who we are and what our plans are - but that has only been possible because we have had amazing support from family, friends, and our fellow hikers.  If I had existed primarily online - as so many do today - I'm not sure I would have had the courage to go my own way. 

Sufficient to say, the past month or two has been a period of lots of thinking, talking, laughing, and yes at times crying.  However, while remembering the past can be joyous, and being asked to relive old heartbreaks and reconsider different opportunities can be rending  it also lets each of us to reconsider the world we want after Covid and figure out what types of people we want to be.  With this in mind, perhaps right now – with all the time to reflect and reconsider the world – we can all decide to restart in a more positive direction. 

Despite the challenges of the moment – we think that the current situation presents a wonderful opportunity.  It seems to me that more and more people are spending more time outdoors and demanding to be allowed more access to nature.  During the period of social distancing and shuttering of society – many Canadians have instinctively returned to nature (whether consciously or not) – on daily hikes, in their backyards with family, or by taking the time to watch their bird feeders again.  For me it is wonderful to see so many children back out playing, skipping, climbing and puddle stomping.  Many people are becoming more active on local trails, working in their gardens planting pollinators and hedges, and rediscovering the songs of birds as well as the sight of wildlife in their neighbourhoods.  They are seeing the litter beside the sidewalk, and notice the pollution in the local rivers and want to clean them up.  Newscasts are filled with reports of wildlife returning and stories of how clear the skies have become providing views of amazing vistas and starscapes not seen in decades.  In communities where local trails and parks have been closed people are furious that their right to connect to the natural world has been limited.   It would seem that it took a pandemic to make us realize what is actually essential in our lives and where we enjoy spending our time.

  
What this means is that by slowing down and reflecting people have begun to instinctively reconnect to the natural world.  This is an extraordinarily positive result of our time in quarantine.

It also leads us to realize that who we are as individuals and as a society does not have to be the same as it was before the quarantine began. If we are more relaxed on our walks then why not make them part of the everyday routine?  If we enjoy gardening or seeing birds come to our feeders then we need to keep engaged.  If we see that there is a need to address the pollution in our communities so that people can continue to enjoy clean lakes to swim in, beaches to play on, and trails to wander down then we need to get involved. 

Now of course, many of us won’t have the amount of time that we all currently enjoy to dedicate to being in nature – but there are lots of ways to stay connected and involved.  The key is to make that choice. Download a Citizen Science app (iNaturalist or Seek), join a local nature group or hiking club, or get involved in your communities to keep waterways and greenspaces open and clean.

We can make this world as we want it to be, we can be the people we present ourselves to be - regardless of who you are, what you believe, what your background or orientation is.  Each of us has a role to play in making this world.  Everyone makes a difference every day.  The goal now has to be to ensure that we each make a positive difference.


4 comments:

  1. Don't let anyone tell you how you should live your life. Enjoy yours, and delight us with your story.

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    1. Very true, but it can be a challenge at times. Thank you for following along

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  2. I for one have enjoyed your recounting of the adventure of walking across Canada. Is it something I'm going to do? Probably not. However I am thrilled there are those who have made that decision. It saddens me to hear about the negative emails you have received. Have we really come to that as a society? I guess we have. Obviously you have hit a very raw nerve with some if they feel impelled to show you all their material advantages. I feel very sorry for them. I enjoyed that you used a Jane Goodall quote. Who told her to go live with chimps for years? But she did and she has given us all a remarkable story to appreciate. And new understandings of a species we share the planet with.

    Those who's focus in life is material goods will never understand those who's focus isnt. Feel sorry for them. I'm sure 'They spent their life acquiring money' will make a lovely epitaph on their tombstone.

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    1. Sorry for the delay in responding. I think you are right, there is a lot of anxiety in the world and unfortunately much of it gets expressed online. I worry not so much for myself but for those youth for whom the digital world is their world and who (I imagine) take such comments much more to heart.

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