Happiness and the Multi-multi-multi-tasking Brain

I think it’s safe to say that everyone wants to be happy. If there is such a thing as a universal goal in the context of humanity, happiness must be it, right?

Keeping that in mind, it seems a bit sad that so many people still feel themselves to be in pursuit of happiness. Folks are always trying to figure out, whether deliberately or not, “how to be happy”, as though they aren’t there yet.

I came across an image today on Facebook that really got me thinking.

12 things happy people do differently

I like this list. I like the way it doesn’t claim to be the answer to happiness; I like the way it uses words like develop, practice, cultivate, learn – words that address the process, the fact that you can’t just flip a switch to change yourself.

I also agree with most of the points. I consider myself a very happy person, overall, and I think a lot of that is due to things like consciously appreciating what I have, tending towards optimism, and so on.

The thing to remember is, there are certain other factors that allow me to do that – and most of those factors have to do with luck.

I am lucky that my body’s chemicals are balanced, rather than working to sabotage my happiness, as is the case for so many people, and that my health has always been good.

I am lucky that I wasn’t the victim of neglect or abuse when I was too little to defend myself, because in that case I would most likely have issues that would obstruct my well-being.

I am lucky to live in a part of the world where my happiness is not being undermined by war, famine, or disease, and to have been born into a family where we have always had a stable home, lots of love, enough to eat, and good education.

I’d say the above list assumes that “happy people” have the basics covered. People who manage to be happy in spite of those things have, in my opinion, really accomplished something.

It occurs to me that happiness, like unhappiness, compounds itself. Being kind leads to better social relationships, which makes it easier to avoid over-thinking and social comparisons, which in turn facilitates commitment to one’s goals. Furthermore, in spite of the truism that riches and material goods don’t make people happy, IF you already have the fundamentals of happiness covered, I think it’s possible – and reasonable – to feel happy about excellence in more materialistic things (such as my smart phone, my smooth-edge can opener, and my super-comfy shoes). I think it’s valuable to relish stuff that’s good.

Perhaps the best thing about this compounding phenomenon is related to #6: if you’ve worked to hone your “happiness skills”, shall we say, it’s much more feasible to cope with adversity. I think that’s how Anne Frank was able to write beautiful words while hiding from the Nazis, and how the Gaza Doctor was inspired to a hopeful project by the deaths of his daughters. I know it’s how I was able to draw a certain kind of joy from my son’s memorial service.

I want to make sure I include a sort of inverse to that idea, something I’ve learned (with some difficulty): even when you’re a ridiculously fortunate person, with every reason to be happy, it’s okay to get down sometimes. When you’re having a crap time, for whatever reason, it does not help to say to yourself, “But look! You’re so lucky! No excuse to be sad!” Your reasons are your reasons. Even for happy people, feeling like shit occasionally is valid. I’ve been struggling with that for these last two months, but I’ve decided it’s my prerogative to get frustrated when my baby girl is crying instead of sleeping – even though she’s she’s my rainbow baby, and the most precious blessing I could ever have hoped for. It’s okay. I can be filled with gratitude AND want to tear my hair out once in a while. In fact, maybe I appreciate the ups more when there are downs for comparison.

There is one thing from the list of “things happy people do differently” that I immediately zeroed in on – the thing that I need to work on most: #8. These days, I do not put enough time or effort into having “flow experiences.” (I didn’t know that’s what they were called, but I’ll go with it.) Most of the things I do are concurrent in some way, and therefore not awesomely done: nursing A + catching up on email, racing dinky cars + making a to-do list, doing dishes + helping E make playdough shapes, etc. It makes me feel like everything I do is half-assed, which is, frankly, not a happy feeling.

Two things come to mind that can centre my focus completely: 1) studying the scrumptious contours of my children’s faces, and 2) blogging when those children are asleep. Maybe that’s why blogging is so therapeutic for me – letting my mind really chew on a single idea for a significant chunk of time is incredibly satisfying, probably because it’s a “flow experience.” Makes my brain happy.

And, of course, the times I’m able to let go and get completely absorbed in my children… well, there’s no question that those moments are well worth it.

This is happiness.

ev and ar
Such yummy kids.

***
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Greyphobia: Why can’t I just love my wrinkles?

I’m thirty-four years old.

I have certain products I put on my face daily. One is an antioxidant serum I use around my eyes to prevent wrinkles.

I also have many grey hairs, which I first noticed when I was pregnant with E (age 30). Each pregnancy has accelerated the process. I’ve never dyed my grey, but that’s probably because it’s still mostly hidden under the top layer of brown hair. I haven’t ruled out the possibility of colouring someday. (Especially since I have a three-year-old who once said to me, “Mama, I hope I’m not getting old… like you.”)

Back in our twenties, when my Hubbibi was wooing me with written correspondence, I remember one of his letters – which always contained social/political commentary (yes, that was part of what wooed me) – talking about how crazy it was that companies could charge so much for something like anti-wrinkle cream and people would still feel the need to buy it. At the time, part of me agreed with him… and yet, I already knew that such vanity existed in me, although I had no eye wrinkles at the time.

Now, here I am. I do spend money on skin products, including ones to “keep me young”.

I know it’s kinda dumb. It’s not like I’m losing my eyesight or developing arthritis, both of which would actually hinder my ability to enjoy life. It’s not like I’m a famous personality who gets lots of public attention and scrutiny. I’m not hoping for some kind of big break based on my youthful face. But I can’t deny that when I see my wrinkles getting more pronounced, I sigh sadly. When I see an obvious grey hair, I pull it out.

Why do I do this? My “signs of aging” are the results of life being lived – the laughter and tears and sunshine and pregnancies and interrupted nights with my babies – and I wouldn’t trade these things for youth… not even the tears. I am glad to be healthy and alive, knowing lots of people have had their lives cut shorter than this. To age is a privilege.

It’s not that I think my life has already passed its peak and it’s all downhill from here. On the contrary, I look forward to the next thirty-four years – and beyond, if I’m lucky – as more opportunities to do and be and witness great things.

So why can’t I just own this aging thing? Be proud of my grey hairs? Love my wrinkles?

Frustratingly, this seems to be mostly a women’s problem. Men apparently don’t give a dirty diaper-full about going grey or getting wrinkles. Why do women get these neuroses?

Conveniently, I blame society. (Because society can be blamed for everything.) Especially advertising media.

It dawned on me when I saw the commercial for “Touch of Gray” (Just For Men).

For men, grey hair is an asset. It’s distinguished, handsome, mature. It says “experience”, for crap’s sake.

You’ll notice the woman doing the interview has NO “touch of gray” WHATSOEVER. No visible wrinkles either. Sheesh. Please excuse me while I gag on the double-standard.

Women get crow’s feet. Men get “crinkly eyes”.

Women are bombarded by anti-aging advertising, featuring models either airbrushed or well under forty (or both). These ads are designed to create anxiety about looking your actual age – aging skin can’t possibly be “great skin”. Have you EVER seen such an ad featuring a man?

Male actors – some of the biggest celebrities – can walk around with crinkles and grey on display, and still be considered hot… think George Clooney, Harrison Ford, Brad Pitt, Liam Neeson, Russell Crowe, John Slattery, Alec Baldwin, Richard Gere. Female actors don’t get to show their grey unless the part actually calls for it; Helen Mirren, Glenn Close, Susan Sarandon, and Meryl Streep almost never let their true colours show. (And don’t get me started on plastic surgery.) How is that fair?

Pretty-Woman julia roberts richard gere
Julia Roberts and Richard Gere (age 41) in Pretty Woman

I asked my husband if he ever worries or even thinks about grey hair and wrinkles. He practically scoffed. “Are you kidding? I can’t wait! I’ve always wanted to be an old man!” Of course, Sean is not a good person to ask about this; he has a perpetually young-looking face, and also an odd penchant for deliberately choosing accessories that are, shall we say, “elderly” (sweater-vests, flat caps, even the occasional walking stick or pocket watch).

But how and why does he get to want to be an old man? I think we’re dealing not just with ads, but with a deeply ingrained societal idea.

Say the words “old man” to yourself. (Or Google it, if that’s easier.) What images come to mind? Maybe it’s just me, but I think of someone old and wise, gentlemanly, even venerable… like Winston Churchill, or Gandhi, or Obi-Wan Kenobi. After all, the iconic “Old Man and the Sea” was about an old Cuban fisherman with extraordinary strength, determination, and resourcefulness.

The words “old lady” just aren’t the same; inexplicably, I picture someone hunched, shuffling, blue-haired, going a little bit dotty. Even “old woman” doesn’t sound good – “old women” do things like invite hapless children into their gingerbread homes and roast them. They might live in a shoe, or swallow a fly for no good reason.

Why do I think this? It’s ridiculous! All the old women I know are amazing, intelligent, lovely people, not at all how I describe. Why does societal perception trump my actual life experience?

It would be easier to reveal the evidence of our journeys toward old-womanhood if women, as a group, were allowed to age properly, naturally, graciously. How will we get permission to be free of a myth in which we participate?

I guess I should start by wearing my wrinkles and grey hairs proudly, like the badges of my personal history that they are… and then show young girls it’s okay – by being super-awesome.

I’ll work on that.

***


 

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BANG Book Review: The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

casual vacancy jk rowling cover art
NOT HARRY POTTER.

I admit, I’ve been remiss. I haven’t been keeping you all up-to-date with the GGG book club’s choices for… um… approximately a year. Whoops. I know you have all been tearing out your hair and wailing (internally): But Dilovely, the books! Forget the rest of this drivel… the BOOKS!

I promise I will rectify the situation. We have been reading some really good books, worth writing home about.

But since this is one of the few times I actually bought a book (a virtual one, anyway) so soon after its release, I feel the need to tell you something about it post-haste. I usually don’t feel urgency about books – so far, basically just Emily Giffin and Jo-Ro have inspired this in me.

Most of you already know I’m a devoted Harry Potter fan, and am training my son to be a wizard (and my daughter too, eventually). That is why I was really excited to read The Casual Vacancy, by J.K. Rowling. Her first book written “for adults”. I knew it would not be in the same vein as HP, but I figured I’d be guaranteed to enjoy it.

It’s a story of a small (fictional) town in England, with a “small-world” feel, where everyone knows each other and is all up in each other’s business. The sudden death of one well-known man creates shock waves in the community, and the reader discovers how it affects the lives of the people he knew – and even some he didn’t.

(In case you are wondering, “The Casual Vacancy” refers to the deceased’s spot on the Parish Council that must be filled when he dies.)

Here are my thoughts and estimations – without spoilers.

You will likely be disappointed if:

  • You’re waiting for any mention whatsoever of Quidditch, Butterbeer, Animagi, or Hungarian Horntails. Sorry. There aren’t even any house-elves.
  • You want the action to revolve around one hero – here, the reader is privy to the thoughts of well over a dozen characters over the course of the book.
  • You expect any one of those characters to be as winsome as Harry (except in Order of the Phoenix when he’s kinda bitchy).
  • You prefer plots to follow predictable lines and/or contain lots of action and/or suspense.
  • You’d like to see the whole plot wrapped up in an epic, heart-thudding, satisfying finale where good triumphs over evil and true love poignantly prevails.

You will likely enjoy the book if:

  • You like lots of multidimensional characters with rough edges.
  • You want your novels to have a really gritty side, including sex, drugs, and… what was that last thing?
  • You have been hoping to discover that J.K.R. has a proper vocabulary of swear words.
  • You are engaged by realistic, non-formulaic stories.
  • You are comfortable with an unresolved ending and ambiguous messages.

This is not a magical showcase of Rowling’s impressive imagination. What it does highlight is her ability to draw characters with deft strokes, using their own thoughts, their actions, and the thoughts of other characters about them. The story practically studies the study of human nature.

Reading this book, I found I both liked and disliked almost every character presented. The majority of them I disliked at first impression, but grew to like as their strength and depth were revealed – and also their difficulties, which kindled my sympathy.

It’s like real life, for me at least: it’s not that I often actively dislike people, but I do tend to like people better once I get past initial impressions. Everyone is deeper, more prismatic, than they seem at first.

It’s also like real life in that how we are perceived not only differs with every person we know, it also does not match how we see ourselves. There will be people who like and admire us more than we realize, as well as people who really don’t like us, even if they don’t show it. Likewise, our actions – or lack thereof – sometimes affect people in ways we haven’t predicted or even considered. Sometimes we can think we are doing or saying one thing… and that thing is being regarded by someone else in an entirely different way.

(I have recently been reminded of this in my own life, in more ways than one. It is way easier than we realize to be and do things that become insincere or unkind by the time they reach someone else. That can be true even for people who prioritize niceness.)

We all keep secrets. We all do weird things sometimes without knowing quite why. We all have our vanities and insecurities. We all have motivations other people don’t guess at. We all occasionally have thoughts – about ourselves and others – that we’re glad no-one has to know about.

I think that’s what this book is about. (Not that it doesn’t have occasional heart-thudding moments, as well as poignant ones, and some very satisfying ones as well.)

So in my mind, the message isn’t actually ambiguous after all. It’s one of the oldest messages out there, told in a skilful and unexpected way: try not to judge people until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes. If you’re judging (or even if you’re not), you’re being judged… so take care. After all, you never know when you might die of an aneurysm.

I think Jo wrote this novel for herself. For a chance to do something completely different, relinquish the fantastical and write something outwardly mundane, but with insidious profundity.

And I’d like to think she would be tickled that I’ve figured all this out.

jk-rowling 2012
J.K. Rowling, 2012

So, to sum up:

In case you haven’t already deducted, I’m with List B – I enjoyed it, found it fascinating, read it avidly. It doesn’t live in the cockles of my heart, the way Harry does, but I did kinda love some of the characters. And I’ll remember them for a long time.

***


 

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Acts of Kindness

I’ve been thinking about Kindness lately. Being nice to people. An idea not as simple for us humans as it sounds.

I recently happened to read some interesting blog posts by one Miss Zoot, whose blog I found through Daily Buzz Moms, and really enjoyed reading this post about not being mean to other people. It struck a chord with me. Miss Zoot (a.k.a. Kim) is a person who tries her best to be nice (although we all mess up these kinds of goals occasionally). She also becomes uncomfortable when people profit from mocking others – she believes that making other people laugh (or read your blog or whatever) is not a good enough reason to be mean to someone.

This is something I can agree with. I’ve been trying to think back and figure out if I ever blog at other people’s expense. I’d like to think not, since I am also a person who tries to be nice, but I don’t know for sure. I once blogged about Ann Coulter and wasn’t very nice; I’ve written letters to Prime Minister Stephen Harper (one upon his majority election and one related to his omnibus bill) in which my ire got the better of my politeness.

In my defense, I don’t write these kinds of posts for their comedic value. I write them when I get angry at someone – usually someone who appears to lack kindness. I realize that my tendency is to write with compassion that is satirical, but contains a grain of sincerity that I hope my readers detect – because, after all, when people seem to suck… there’s usually a reason, and often a profound one.

On a lighter note, this morning I got out of the house for an hour-and-a-half’s jaunt about town (during the baby’s nap) in which I witnessed two acts of kindness I consider remarkable. Not random acts of kindness; kindness when a stranger needs it – but hasn’t asked for it.

On my way from the farmer’s market, there was a woman on the other side of the road who tripped on the sidewalk and fell, with all her market purchases. I was just looking to see if it was safe to jaywalk when I noticed another person crossing the street to come to this woman’s aid. She was apparently unhurt (physically), and the other woman helped her gather her things and get up again, respectfully, to avoid embarrassment. I was so glad to see that; sometimes people just ignore these situations and look the other way, but not today.

Then I was in a Tim Horton’s, in line behind two girls I would judge to be about twelve or thirteen years old. One was getting her toonie (two-dollar coin for the Yanks) out of her pocket and dropped it. She bent down to retrieve it and realized that it had fallen between the cracks of the slush grate and disappeared. She and her friend laughed a little, but you could tell she was upset; a toonie is worth considerably more when you’re twelve. And she just wanted a warm beverage. After a minute or two, realizing this girl had no more money, the guy in front of them in line simply gave her a toonie, saying, “That’s some harsh luck, there.” And for the record, he did not look like the kind of guy you expect to do such a nice thing. He wasn’t smiley or grandfatherly or anything; just kind.

After that, I thought to myself, Two lovely acts of kindness at just the right moments! I’m going to provide the next one.

Funnily enough, it’s not as easy as you’d think to find those great moments. Unless you count opening doors for people or letting them pull out in front of you in the parking lot. I’d like to say that when I bought Girl Guide Cookies from the poor, shivering young girls outside the market, it was an act of kindness… but they’re so delicious, I know it was really just hankering on my part.

I guess this will be a work-in-progress.

***

P.S. Here are some better pics of the dragon-fairy costume, taken while E was helping me make pancakes the day before Halloween.

three-year-old's dragon costume
Industrious dragon loves to cook.
dragon and pancakes
(So you know… those wings are sparkly.)


 

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Who would you have been when the Titanic sank?

Last night at about 2:30 a.m., the wreck of the Titanic turned 100 years old. There were four of us talking about it in our kitchen yesterday evening, and again this morning – about how there were boats travelling to that very spot in the Atlantic Ocean, to commemorate the centennial… and about what an overwhelming story it is, no matter how you look at it.

bow of the titanic wreckage

Just before Easter weekend, I went with Skye to see the movie Titanic in 3D. I remember I saw it twice in theatres when it first came out, and maybe once on video since then… but it had been at least a decade since I’d seen it. Certain scenes I still remembered perfectly, so deeply did they affect me at the time. (I know a lot of people call it a bad movie, but I’m sorry. They are just haters, and they are WRONG. The dialogue may be banal, but it is an incredible, monumental story, portrayed with obsessive attention to detail and accuracy. It’s an amazing cinematic accomplishment.)

Titanic_poster_kate_winslet_leonardo_dicaprio

I think I can honestly say that, although I’d seen many movies involving death before, this was the first film that made me really confront the idea. So many different ways to die with the Titanic, most of them inevitable. It is such a mind-blowing moment in the film when Mr. Andrews, the ship’s designer, tells the captain and others that it is a “mathematical certainty” that the magnificent, so-called unsinkable vessel will founder. Very, very soon. With lifeboats to accommodate only half the people on board. Human brains do not want to believe such things. Continue reading “Who would you have been when the Titanic sank?”

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The Gaza Doctor shall not hate – even if he deserves to.

Last week I attended a talk given by a man named Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish, also known as “the Gaza doctor”. Before I went, everything I knew about this man came from the flier advertising the event:

Distinguished physician Izzeldin Abuelaish MD, MPH was the first Palestinian doctor to receive a staff position at an Israeli hospital, where he treated both Israeli and Palestinian patients. He is the author of the bestselling book I Shall Not Hate, which chronicles his life growing up in Gaza and the development of his outlook on life, health and peace in Israel and Palestine. Dr. Abuelaish’s three daughters were killed during the War on Gaza in January 2009, minutes before he was to speak live on an Israeli TV program. Having his resolve to live without hate affirmed, he has dedicated his work to health and wellbeing in the world. He also established “Daughters for Life Foundation” in his daughters’ honour to promote the education of young women scholars.”

the gaza doctor dr. izzeldin abuelaish

That was enough to make me want to hear him speak. It’s not often that I’ve had the chance to hear from someone who has an actual grasp of what peace should mean. Quakers talk a lot about peace, but in Canada there are not many of us (thankfully) who have personally experienced real, actual… NOT peace.

At the talk, we were given a more thorough introduction, including excerpts from the video below. (The first five minutes will tell you a lot.)

Dr. Abuelaish took the stage as our ears still echoed with the sounds of his own sobbing, originally heard via cell phone on national Israeli TV three years ago, only moments after Israeli bombs ripped through his own home, killing three of his eight children and one of his nieces. His composure, when he reached the podium, was remarkable – but not, I think, completely intact. Continue reading “The Gaza Doctor shall not hate – even if he deserves to.”

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The Hunger Games and the Tough Questions

Okay, folks. If you haven’t read Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games, stop reading this silly old blog RIGHT NOW and go read it. I’m not kidding. Go.

If you HAVE read The Hunger Games, then you know.

I’m sure there must be people out there who didn’t like the series (and guaranteed there are people out there who will diss it without reading it, just ‘cuz it’s popular), but everyone I’ve talked to absolutely ate it up.

What a wonderful thing, to read a story that completely absorbs and transports you, that thrills you and moves you and makes you ponder all at once. It’s hard to beat the satisfaction of a truly great, well-written story. That’s what The Hunger Games trilogy is for me.

{I would like to state, for the record, that I read this series over a year ago, several months before shooting for the movie even began. Sean’s co-workers at the bookstore (where they’re pretty up on their books) recommended it to him, and he sped right through it and told me I HAD to read it. My point being, I’ve been building expectation for this movie for a long time. Since obviously there was gonna be one. Sean and I had date night, the Monday after the movie was released, so that we could see it.}

My straight-up opinion: If you loved the book(s), I really think you will love the movie.

The-Hunger-Games-Movie-katniss-and-peeta

Unless, apparently, you are a racist and a sloppy reader, like these boneheads. (Not the ones who wrote the article – the article’s good.)

I read the special Hunger Games edition of People Magazine before seeing the movie (thanks, A & R!), and thought it boded well that:

a) the author, Suzanne Collins, co-produced the movie and co-wrote the screenplay; and

b) the cast, and especially the star, are (is?) devoted fans of the book.

But still, I was prepared for the movie to disappoint in some way. Leave out too much (as film is often obliged to do) or stray too far from the story for Hollywood’s sake. Continue reading “The Hunger Games and the Tough Questions”

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Encouraging the love between boys

Imagine a 12-year-old boy with a chip on his shoulder. He moves from an inner-city school in a large metropolis to a well-to-do urban school in a much smaller city.

He has been moved, for the most part, because his mom doesn’t have a clue how to control or improve his behaviour. The administration at the previous school has warned: this kid is a “high flier” – in other words, a “bad” kid.

He begins at his new school right after Christmas break. It is completely foreign to him, but he does his best to find some friends to hang out with.

He must, indeed, be a higher flier than his new peers. He knows how to be quiet, but when provoked, he displays the kind of hardened anger that shouldn’t exist in a kid so young.

After a semi-violent incident in the cloak room, the likes of which his classmates never instigate, he gets a talking-to by his classroom teacher. She’s known for being tough but fair, with no tolerance for bad behaviour.

He confesses that he’s never been in a place like this. At his old school, the boys who were really tight, really close friends, were always the “bad kids”. He has tried to find these bad kids, this niche, at his new school – and it simply doesn’t exist.

Sure, there are kids who are annoying, kids who aren’t always nice to each other, kids who goof off in class sometimes, kids who break minor rules. In some classrooms, kids occasionally say bad words; there are a few kids at the school who are known to be hitters or biters.

But his class is not bad enough. For example, they don’t tell each other to f— off. He tried that, and instead of giving him street cred, the other kids looked at him as if he were a complete weirdo. Also, they do not put their anger into action and pin each other to walls or punch each other in the face. Children with these kinds of tendencies, at this school, are subject to early and frequent intervention to teach them new ways of dealing with things.

Instead, the kids in his class do what they are expected to do, overall. They do their work. They play friendly competitive games at recess. They join in school activities and attend school events. They haves squabbles and eventually work them out.

Our jaded 12-year-old has to find a new way of functioning, if he is to remain and fit in at his new school. Continue reading “Encouraging the love between boys”

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Sleep

You know how sometimes, people suck? You know those days when you look at the world and go, “How did we even get this far? We’re shallow and violent and self-centred. We hurt each other and we waste and we destroy and WE SUCK.”

Then there are those other days: the days where you’re reminded that humanity is freakin’ amazing.

Today I did not go to school, because I didn’t really sleep last night. Rarely in my life have I had insomnia, but suddenly it was like my body forgot how to sleep. Even though I didn’t feel anxious in my mind, my physical self was in the grip of unplaceable jitters.

This happened on Saturday, too, but for only a couple hours (instead of five) and I chalked it up to “going back to school” syndrome. The first day back at school was fine, so I have no idea what last night was about. I guess I have to get accustomed to myself no longer always being quite the self I used to be.

Anyway, boring story. Today, I slept in but am still rather out-of-it. I felt I was up to the task of [beginning the work of] cleaning out my inbox. I found this fantastic TED Talk, originally sent to me last April by my musical father-in-law, about Eric Whitacre and his virtual choir – and I’d never watched it. I usually don’t think I have time to watch things when I receive them, but this one reminded me that sometimes it really is worth the fifteen minutes.

I cried watching it. Not that it’s so surprising – I am somewhat sleep-deprived… and there’s no question that in the last six months, tears are always closer to the surface for me.

But this is just plain awesome. I’ve written a lot about music and its power and importance. I know first-hand how incredible and transformative it can be to make music with other people. I believe strongly that it makes us better, both as a species and as our own selves.

This is a perfect example: take that power, and combine it with the potential uniting force of the internet, and you get this. An individually self-chosen community of people who love to sing beautiful music, and want to give it back to the world. Seemingly random souls, with their bedhead and their earphones and their baseball caps, coming together from countries all over the world, just singing.

I dare you not to be moved.

Here’s the full version of the second song, called Sleep:

It made me think of Ze Frank’s Chillout song, created in the same way but on a smaller scale. (I’ve linked to this one before in my Top 10 Pick-Me-Ups, but it bears re-linking.) The story of how he – and a whole crowd of strangers – just up and brewed this simple, beautiful thing when one of his fans wrote to tell him about what a rough time she was having… well, it’s worth many, many points in the “humankind rocks the casbah” column.

Makes me wish I had a whole lifetime to spend just on discovering all the ways that humans spread love and awesomeness through music – and joining in.

***


 

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Thinking about Jesus’ Mama

I was brought up Quaker, Christian in a mild sort of way. We didn’t talk lots about Jesus, but we knew what Christmas was meant to be about. We did Christmas pageants, we sang carols, we read the Bible story of the birth of Jesus every year. (Of course, we also read ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas with a similar level of reverence, but we knew it was a completely different kettle of sugarplums.)

I like the story of Christmas. I like the image of a baby bathed in starshine, protected by the friendly beasts, mysteriously drawing believers to trek from afar to worship him. I like the idea of the world celebrating so that the “fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains repeat the sounding joy.”

I was probably about thirteen when I read Robert Fulghum’s It Was On Fire When I Lay Down On It. Reading his essay about pondering, I realized for the first time that Mary was, as he says, a “teenage kid” in a barn when she bore the Son of God.

Nowadays, I know that most first-time moms in biblical times would have been teenagers, because lifespans did not allow for dallying much past puberty in the business of family planning. But when I first read this, I was a teen and could NOT conceive (sorry) of having a child. Much less a child I didn’t ask for, planted by the Almighty before I’ve even “known” a man.

I just think that if I were in such a situation, I’d be scared outta my gourd.

So when I contemplate Jesus’ birth, I hope that the details left out by Matthew and Luke were the untold story of an exhilarating birth experience for young Mary.

jesus birth mary and joseph

I hope she was not having real contractions while she was riding on a donkey from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Being in a moving car while in labour is bad enough; a donkey ride would be excruciating.

I hope she had a deep affinity for animals, and secretly wanted to give birth in the straw, surrounded by their creaturely sounds and smells… and in blissful ignorance of the kinds of pathogens that exist in a livestock barn. Because if I were moments away from giving birth, being told – over and over – that I couldn’t have a bed or any decent place to rest… well, I might just freak right out on one of those innkeepers.

I hope Joseph held her hand and told her she was doing great, awesome, amazing. I know there’s no way he fed her ice chips, but I hope he had some water nearby.

I hope she had one of those smooth labours: quick but not too quick, with the baby in an ideal position to be born, just a few pushes – and there was the Prince of Peace. Because it’s crossed my mind more than once: giving birth as a virgin would be… um, ouch. (Perhaps God gave her the gift of elasticity, or maybe Jesus healed her flesh on his way out.)

I hope she looked at her newborn son and fell directly in love with him. I hope whatever fear she might have been feeling melted away as she looked at his little face, knowing she was meant to be his mama. I hope he latched right on with no trouble, and they got to have some beautiful mother-son snuggling time before all the “astrologers, sheep ranchers, and angels” started showing up. I hope he slept well – especially with all the travelling they were going to have to do, all too soon.

I hope that when she lost him, many years later, she felt it had been worth the pain to parent such a very special boy. That she was comforted by many sweet memories with her extraordinary son. There’s no doubt in my mind that she was a wonderful mother, or she wouldn’t have been the one to have him.

pieta michelangelo

She must have been euphoric to see him again, a few days later. After all she’d endured, she deserved that moment. I hope it brought her peace.

jesus mary resurrection

It’s 1 a.m. on December 25th. Time for bed.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

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