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.
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
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.
The 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.