The Year of Making Connections

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ARC Cover Better TogetherAn introvert by nature, it’s not always easy to reach out and connect with other people (you can’t imagine the depth of horror I feel when informed we have a party to go to… Eek! Small talk! People I don’t know!) But, when it happens and I actually get over myself and meet people or spend time with those I already know- there are few things more soul-satisfying and positive than spending time with others. I recognize some aspect of my inner nature does not make it easy to take that first step and make an overture, start a conversation… but my mind (and my heart) also know just how healthy it is to nurture relationships of all kinds, with all sorts of people.

I’ve been working on this for a while, but since we’ve just started a new year, I’ve decided to make this a theme. In the lingo of my yoga classes, I am setting an intention for the year which, hopefully, will become a new habit, a better way of being for the future. Which all sounds a bit airy-fairy, I know. So I thought I’d share a bit of some of what I’m doing/planning to do over the coming year to help make this new reality happen.

Better Together: Creating Community in an Uncertain World could not be arriving at a more propitious time. My fourth in the Orca Footprints series, this non-fiction book for kids will come out early in April (here’s a link to the book’s page at Orca Book Publishers… which reminds me, I should update my books pages here on the author blog… maybe I should add ‘connect with a personal assistant’ to my list of ways to stay on top of my To-Do lists!). The theme of the book is all about making connections, about finding ways to create a sense of community and why people in groups are such a powerful force for good and facilitating change.

Family Cabinet
Many members of our family got together this year in Vancouver, where we took in a Cirque de Soleil show and ate a LOT of popcorn. 

Writing the book was a terrific exercise for me. I began by looking at the most intimate bonds we form – parent and child, siblings, grandparents, best friends – families in all their many configurations. Of course, thinking about family made me very aware of how lucky I am to have a good one! Keeping in touch isn’t always easy with relatives spread out between Canada, Europe, Tokyo and Hawaii. It’s a good thing we all love to travel and are able to do so often enough that various branches of the extended family manage to get together fairly regularly. One day, we should host a massive family reunion somewhere in the middle and get every one together – the Germans, the Brits, the Italians, the Canadians, the Japanese, the Swedes… That would be a mighty fun event.

Kipling Better Together

Anyway, that’s chapter one, which looks at those very first key relationships. Chapter two branches out into neighbourhoods and local community groups, bonding through the workplace, at school, at the local community garden (and, under less pleasant circumstances, the ways communities form when people are thrown together in places they don’t necessarily choose – leper colonies and prisons, for example).

Religion

The third chapter pulls the lens back a bit and has a look at how people group themselves according to religion, race, ethnicity, peer groups of various kinds – and, what can go wrong when a group defines itself in terms of those who are excluded or when two groups decide they have no common ground and must use aggression to decide who is stronger/better/more deserving. Because, of course, the basic human need to form tight bonds has a dark side when we focus more on the differences between groups than on the fundamental similarities common to all people, no matter where we live or what we believe in.

Little Women

The final chapter takes another step back and focuses on global organizations and how they try to transcend borders, nationalities, religious affiliations, and cultural differences to try to work together to meet basic human needs for all. And, it turns out, in a world where it seems at times we are doomed to be unable to get along, there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic. Acts of human kindness, generosity, consideration, gentleness, and cooperation based on a desire to help and nurture are abundant. And, they occur at all levels – from a simple gesture between siblings to UN missions costing millions of dollars and involving people around the globe.

Mind Map

When I sat down to write this post, I did a mind map, sprawling all my thoughts about community and making connections on a couple of pages in my new journal (I start a new one each January). The page is full – overflowing with thoughts and ideas. This post, which I thought was going to be a very general one reflecting all those ideas, wound up being only about one point on the page… which is a good thing, I guess, if I’m ever stuck for an idea for a post I can grab another one!

Note: If you are a children’s book reviewer, contact me and we’ll arrange to send you a digital reading copy…

Dutch Power! (reposted from darkcreekfarm.com/blog)

Dani and I were trucking along today and about the 6 kilometre mark after leaving our hostel in Salceda a couple of Dutch guys slowed down and insisted in taking a turn in pushing Dad. For a couple of kilometres they stuck with us, chatting away and helping us on all but the steepest of downhills.

Then, it was better for us to hook up our patented “D-brake” system, with Dani behind and connected to the wheelchair with the laundry line and me hanging on to the handles of the chair. As soon as we hit level ground again, though, the fellow from the Netherlands (I can’t believe that throughout the entire time we spent together nobody mentioned names!!!) took over again and kept pushing.

We made excellent time and found out about a documentary film called “I’ll Push You” https://youtu.be/W7gKD3q0-V0 about two friends, one in a wheelchair, who do the Camino together. Turns out one of the Dutch brothers is a Camino-phile. This trip along the French Way is his fourth, his seventh Camino in total. In 2013 he happened to see the guys on their wheelchair trip, stopped and took a photo. Then, recently, he saw their documentary film and (I think) watched it with his brother. And, when the brothers saw us, they immediately wanted to stop and help.

It was pretty cool to hear their stories and share a bit of the journey with them. One of the things we have really missed in our journey so far was the camaraderie so many pilgrims speak of. Our Camino family has been limited to the three of us as moved so much slower than everyone else. Now, though, people don’t pass us nearly so quickly and when they do, it doesn’t throw them off schedule too much to walk with us for a short while and have a chat.

After a couple of kilometres it was time for us to stop for lunch, which was lovely in the warmth of a late autumn afternoon.

The Dutch brothersa continued on their way and then Dani, Dad and I finished up the day here in O Pedrouzo. As soon as I get somewhere where I can stream video, I’ll have to watch “I’ll Push You.” From the trailer, though, it makes our little jaunt look pretty cruisy!

The Kindness of Strangers (reposted from darkcreekfarm.com/blog)

Albergue Camino Das Orcas

The common cold. A few days of feeling crummy, a runny nose, being irritated with the inconvenience of a cough. But really, it’s not that big a deal. Until you are past 80 and a cold is no longer a small thing to shrug off. A few days ago Dad started sniffling. Then the cough started. And now, several days in, this bug is hitting him hard. The past couple of days have been really tough going, so we had several conversations about what to do next. Send Dad ahead in a cab? Take an extra rest day and try to make time up later? Some combination of cab and walking where Dad went as far as he could and then we called a cab? That sounds reasonable, except a lot of the route is not on a road and given our limited Spanish, it could be tricky to describe which cow field near which hill we had chosen as a potential pickup point in the event Dad needed to be rescued en route.

Yesterday we visited a local hospital – nothing to do with the cold, but rather to get Dad a blood test. He takes blood thinners (post heart valve, he needs to keep things flowing smoothly) and he was due. While we were waiting to be seen, I noticed a couple of wheelchairs standing around in the waiting room and that made me think that perhaps we might be able to find one somewhere we could use to complete the journey.

We decided to see how last night was going to go and then make a decision this morning. At three in the morning I woke up to Dad’s coughing. Awful – persistent and grim-sounding. It didn’t sound like any walking was going to be on the cards. That’s when I really began to fret about where we were possibly going to find a wheelchair. It’s the weekend and Azura is not exactly a metropolis, though it is definitely bigger than many of the teeny one-farm villages we’ve stayed in. I wondered about the hospital and if, with my limited Spanish and Google translate I might be able to convince the to lend us a wheelchair. Then again, given how hard it had been to explain that we needed a common blood test, that seemed unlikely.

We had seen a couple of physiotherapy offices and I thought perhaps they might be able to help. Dani, too, tossed and turned all night and by morning, she was also formulating plans. Over breakfast we hatched a plot… Or first stop was to visit the helpful tourist info centre. The lovely woman on duty there did, indeed, offer suggestions – but because it was Saturday, they involved taking a bus to Santiago about 42 kms away. And, we were told, it was going to be tricky to find anyone open before Monday.

Back at the coffee shop where we had left Dad nursing a cafe con leche, we had a go at Google. We found a website called Accessible Spain Travel accessiblespaintravel.com with a phone number. I called and explained our situation and the very helpful guy at the other end said that he would see what he could find out for us.

Not long after, he texted that everything was closed that might be useful in Arzúa but that he had managed to reach Jose Manuel in Santiago who could meet us at his shop as long as we could get there before 11 am. Though the shop was shut, he was willing to come and meet us and fix us up with a wheelchair. Alas, there was no way to get to Santiago by bus in time, so we sprinted back to the Info Center to find out where we might be able to get a taxi.

Once we figured out where the cabs were, we grabbed Dad and all leaped into the taxi with Pepin, our driver, who not only took us to Santiago, but then waited patiently in the street with Dad while Dani and I waited for Jose Manuel to arrive, let us in in and give us a wheelchair. That process was crazy – no forms to fill out, Jose didn’t even ask for my name – would only take 30 Euros for ten days rental, and wished us well.

Meanwhile, the taxi driver then drove us all the way back to Arzua but then took less than half of what should have been the metered fare.

We were ravenous by the time we got back, so we had lunch and then set off. We experimented with all sorts of travelling variations – Dad pushing the wheelchair for a bit (which was ok on flat terrain and as long as the distances were short), Dani pushing, me pushing. Hills were an adventure. The going in places was steep and not exactly smooth. It took both of us pushing (Dani pushing the wheelchair and me pushing Dani) to get up some of the rough spots. Likewise, going down, it took two of us to slow things down – one of us leaning back against the handles and one pulling back on one of the walking poles we had attached to the back of the wheelchair.

By the time we finished our not-quite 5 kms, we were all bagged! A whole new set of muscles hurts! However, we made it!!! And it looks like we will get all the way to Santiago in one piece, as long as we keep going, don’t rush, and no further afflictions decide to sneak up on us.

One of the delights of the day was the contact we had with locals all along the way. A farmer (83) who walked with us for a bit after turning his cows out to pasture, a number of pilgrims who stopped to cheer us on (and take photos), the hostel-keeper who provided a great ground-floor, fully wheelchair accessible room for us, and a full-time pilgrim travelling with his donkey (worthy of a blog post all his own…)

Despite the physical challenges today (and, earlier, the stress of not knowing how on earth we were going to magically produce a wheelchair), today turned out to be a good day, in large part because of all the small kindnesses shown to us along the way.