No brakes on a break

I’m sitting here by myself at the Waterbird Café, after a good walk and a strong yoga workout this morning, drinking a cup of green tea, writing a post, feeling peaceful and admittedly a bit righteous.

Paint by numbers

Paint by numbers

I’m watching the reflections in the water. Did you do paint-by-numbers when you were a kid?—do you remember how the colours were not blended but rather formed little dappled pools? It’s like that here. There are only four or five colours—almost black where the underside of the pier is reflected, grey where the white posts are reflected, then a couple shades of grey-green where ripples pick up the light—so it’s not the usual subtle merging of colours, but more like I remember from those childhood painting experiences.

Meantime, in front of me on the normally quiet Manning River are any number of speedboats, roaring up and down the river, some pulling water skiers or screaming children on flotation devices. The beach where I’ve just come from was peppered with 4-wheel drive vehicles. I’m still feeling a bit of adrenalin from the anger I felt while watching one oversized vehicle, pulling a trailer, who couldn’t make it up the ramp and tore apart every beam in the process of trying.

It’s summer time, I live near a little tourist town and everybody’s hooning around. They’re making big noise, they’re chewing up the beach, they’re overfilling the garbage bins, they’re producing queues at the general store as they load up with ice cream bars and loaves of white bread.

And I’m quietly sitting here with my green tea enjoying tiny patterns in the water.

Which is the better way to live? Which is the more socially-conscious, health-conscious, enviro-conscious expression of a quality lifestyle?

Obviously, the answer is…Oh. Wait a moment. What occurs to me, as the shrieking children roar by behind the speedboat, is that I’ve been there. I’ve taken young children on holidays and wanted nothing more than for them to experience the exhilaration of something completely different from their routine of school, soccer, ballet, homework and television. I’ve rented a 4-wheel drive

Me, 4-wheel driving on Fraser Island

Me, 4-wheel driving on Fraser Island

on Fraser Island, as one does, and enjoyed the unusual buzz of zipping along on the sand. I’ve been someplace unfamiliar where I had excess garbage and no idea how to dispose of it. I’ve bought the kids ice-cream snacks because it was fun and white bread because they wouldn’t eat brown—and had no problem with any of it.

Suddenly I get it! It’s a break. Everybody’s on holidays and ready to push the edge of a very different envelope. How fast can I go? How loud can I yell? How close can I come to disaster? How much routine can I jettison? I’m free! No boring job, no contrary co-workers, no more been-there-done-that. Let’s create some memories!

The brakes are off.

I guess this is what it is to be human beings living together on the planet. We are very different from one another, with different values and priorities. To make things even more complicated, we become different people at different times in our life. Just when I’ve got someone figured out, they change and it’s no longer clear what will make them laugh or what they’d like for Christmas.

The guy with his four-wheel drive trying to get off the beach?—Well, the truth is, my judgments notwithstanding, I don’t know him at all. Perhaps he is a thoughtless idiot, or perhaps he’s just me in another time and place. Perhaps we only appear (to me, at least) to be at opposite ends of a long spectrum of social consciousness.

Here’s what’s good about me: although I am admittedly opinionated and contrary, I’ve worked for a long time now to master acceptance—the ability to live and let live. I try to accept my judgmental self, and to learn to push back my boundaries so I can be more accepting.

To illustrate: our neighbour across the road is a friend and a good mechanic—with an aggravating interest in collecting old vehicles for parts and repairs, and then storing them in clear view of our house. It’s a bit of an eyesore if you’re not looking through the fond eyes of a mechanic. However, someone recently reported him to the local council and he’s having to dispose of most of those old cars. While my view will no doubt improve, I feel saddened that his hobby and his livelihood have been impacted by an anonymous neighbour’s sense of propriety. I would much rather leave him to his own devices, plant shrubs to make the view more conducive, and keep practicing tolerance.

You can imagine the opportunities to practice tolerance that come with living in a collective household with five other adults, each of them also somewhat opinionated and having their own agendas. On a daily basis I get to work on communication, enrolment, invitations, requests—and ultimately, open-mindedness.

Tolerance2The more I’m able to say, “I can live with that,” the more power, variety and energy there is in my life. Perhaps those of us in co-op communities are the poster children for role-modelling tolerance—in plain view of fundamentalists everywhere.

So, in the moment at the Waterbird, I tell myself: Relax, enjoy the patterns in the water and the laughter of the children. Give up all the curmudgeonly ATTITUDE about the guy on the beach. Relish being part of the human race and do what I can to smooth the way toward a more peaceful world.


7 thoughts on “No brakes on a break

  1. I’m just travelling into the city alone on the train and watching a young man seated facing me a couple of seats away telling a long story to his friends who are seated with their backs to me. I can’t understand what he’s saying but he’s enjoying himself immensely. It’s a hugely involved and belly-laughingly funny story. His mates are deeply engaged. He’s made my day, put a smile on my face. Behind me I have two ladies in another conversation I can’t understand because they’re speaking in an Arabic language. Both conversations remind me of the richness of human communication.

    Just a vignette to add to your contemplation of tolerance and acceptance and the human race, Heather.

    • I love the image. And when you could well have surrendered to some judgments, how much more fun to respond with a smile on your face!

  2. You could definitely hook me with that one! 🙂

    I’m engaged in a related story. I’m about half way through Charles Montgomery’s “Happy City” right now. One thing that struck me was how the attempts to sanitize our urban environments in the early 1900s led – quite logically, in hindsight – to the sterile suburban landscapes of the latter half of the century. By progressively banishing the “not us” from our neighbourhoods, we were left with the “only us”, and it was bor-ing! And unhappiness producing, if you accept Montgomery’s evidence.

    But for a short attention span, I might have gone into urban planning in the 60s and helped exacerbate the problem. I was on the same pure wavelength in my 20s.

    With the perspective of years, I see this is a more complex concern. While I share your view of DIY mechanics’ front yards, as I wander around the Powell River area and spot one of these “collections”, in addition to my urge to clean things up, another small voice also tells me that I’m visiting a region where there’s a certain amount of “live and let live.”

    And, even as we work towards a better future of human flourishing, “live and let live” is likely a darn site better than its flip side.

    • Love what you say about hindsight. Some things I find I was pretty right about in my 20s but if I had a dollar for every misinformed view….etc, etc.

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