The Evening My Wife Burnt My Heart

There was nothing out of the ordinary that night.

Mind you, there was a new dish on the table that night, but that was the new normal. My wife had been experimenting with meals since she had been on a new health kick.

The night’s dish was vegetarian tikka masala.

The tikka masala was a lot spicier than the food I’m used to, but I was hungry that night. It didn’t taste too bad. In fact, I went back for seconds.

It was about 30 minutes later when the pain started. My chest was on fire. I gulped down a few antacid tablets, but the fire continued to burn. It burned long and it burned bright. Death was a possibility that night.

“Was there garlic in that?” I ask.

“Yes.”

“Onions?”

“Yes.”

“Tomato sauce?” I ask.

“No. Diced tomatoes,” she says.

“That’s worse,” I say. “Spices? What kind?”

“It’s called garam masala.”

I look up garam masala: acidic and may cause acid reflux.

That evening, my wife— the heart arsonist—mixed in all the ingredients that contribute to my acid reflux and ignited it with a new, near-lethal weapon—garam masala.

“Honestly, I didn’t think you’d actually eat it,” she says.

“I guess I’ll know for next time, honey.”

Reader’s Digest and my Worrying Mind

My wife makes fun of me as I pick up the latest issue of Reader’s Digest.

“You’re so old.”

“But I like Reader’s Digest.”

“Yeah, that makes you old.”

I think about this claim as I adjust my glasses.

“And those silver rimmed glasses make you look old.”

I worry about looking old. I worry about getting old. I worry about my life. I worry about my wife. Is she going through menopause? I worry about getting cancer. I worry about fake news. I worry about the amount of trash piling up in our country. I worry about earwax. What’s earwax for anyway? I wonder why I worry and how to stop.

Lego and Change

My 5-year-old son loves building with Lego, and for a 5-year-old, he’s pretty good at it. Sometimes, I’ll be staring at the instructions and he’ll already have the right piece in the right place. His mind sees how little pieces come together to make something whole.

My son recently had a birthday party, and of course, he got some new Lego.

“Dad, can you help me build this?”

“Let’s eat the birthday cake first.”

“Okay. Then can we build it?”

“Sure.”

We scatter all the pieces into an open container, open the instruction booklet, and start building. He’s very focused, but like most kids, his attention span is not very long. Sometimes, I look up and he’s no longer there. Other times, he’ll ask me to complete the creation.

The last time it was a dinosaur. Unlike my son, I don’t love building with Lego. Sometimes it’s painful locating a particular piece and figuring out where it goes. Anyway, after a little hard work I completed the dinosaur.

“Check it out, buddy.”

“Good job, Dad. Now let’s take it apart and build a different dinosaur!”

“But it took me so long to build this one! Let’s just keep it for a while.”

“No, Dad. Let’s take it apart and build something else.”

It’s then when I realize it’s not about the creation. It’s about the creating. It’s not about admiring the creation. It’s about taking it apart and creating something better. It’s not about constancy, but fluidity. It’s about building something with the pieces we are given and once it’s built, using the pieces again to build something even better. It’s about improvement. It’s about growth. And it’s about spending time with my son.

Speaking in HTML

<blog>

<personal thought>Sometimes I wish people would speak in HTML.</personal thought>

<explanation>It would make conversations less confusing for me.</explanation>

<elaboration>I would know when people are being sarcastic. Or when people are withholding the truth. Or when people are hurt. All their words would be tagged with the subtleties of human communication.</elaboration>

<point repeated>Certainly, interactions would be less confusing for me.</point repeated>

<counterpoint>But I suppose there would be downsides. Interpretations, ambiguity, and poetry would be lost…</counterpoint>

<pun>Lost in a fog that would be mist.</pun>

<insight>And we wouldn’t be human if we spoke in HTML.</insight>

</blog>

 

Using “F” Words to Build Rapport with People from Other Countries

Over the years in my work, I’ve had many opportunities to work with people from other countries. It can be challenging connecting with someone from a different culture. However, it can be an amazing experience if we are open to learning and willing to build relationships.

I’ve discovered that having a genuine interest in an individual is one of the best ways to build a relationship. And when it comes to building rapport with people from other countries, I use three “F” words to stimulate conversations: food, family, and future. These conversation topics are helpful in bridging cultural divides and making positive connections.

Food. Who doesn’t like food? It doesn’t matter where you’re from, you eat. You may not like eating bland food as much as I do, but I’m sure you have a favourite dish. What is it? How do you make it? Describe it. I’m getting hungry.

Family. Most people can talk about their family. It might be a special bond with a sibling or a loving relationship with a parent. Sometimes you don’t get along with family members, but you still love them. If you ask questions about someone’s family and actively listen to the responses, you show that you care.

Future. Questions about the future are very relevant to students in college, the population I work with. But I see this conversation topic working with anyone from another country. Everyone has hopes and dreams. Why not tap into this core human quality and connect with someone?

I guess “F” words aren’t all bad. Food, family, and future: topics that help build relationships and help us realize we are more similar than different.

 

A Walk with my Son

“Let’s go see what’s over there, dad.”
“Okay, son. Do you think we’ll see any animals?”
“Maybe some bugs. But don’t squish ’em. We have to protect nature.”
“Okay.”
“I’m gonna drive a motorcycle when I’m bigger.”
“Cool. Can I go for a ride?”
“Sure. But you have to wear a helmet.”
“Of course.”
“Dad, some days I love you more, and some days I love mom more. I take turns.”
“Okay. Can you love us both?”
“Yeah…yeah, that’s good. Dad, do you want to have ice cream later?”
“Sure.”
“We can get some for my sister too.”
“Okay.”
“But let’s go for a long walk first.”
“Sounds good.”
“I love you, dad. BFF.”
“I love you too, buddy.”

On Being a Hero

If you’re lucky, there will be opportunities in your life to be a hero.

I was lucky enough to be given such an opportunity recently.

I wanted to taste the feeling. That is why I was purchasing a Coke© from a vending machine. Beside me, another individual was purchasing a bag of Doritos© from an adjacent vending machine.

doritos
A vending machine with Doritos at the top. Photo by M. Fleming.

My Coke© dispensed easily from the machine. I was excited to open happiness and make it real. My enthusiasm, however, was short-lived, for beside me, tragedy struck. The man’s Doritos© had not dispensed from the machine. The bag had fallen from its initial position and was stuck on a ledge.

The man’s face darkened. Oh, the disappointment and anguish. I felt his agony.

I saw my heroic opportunity and pounced. I tapped the glass. I tapped harder. The man’s face brightened a little. I saw a small sense of hope in his eyes. But the cheesy tortilla chips were still stuck. I tapped the glass harder. I stuck my hand in the bottom of the machine. It read, “push,” so I pushed. I pushed harder and harder. Finally, the Doritos© dislodged.

The man’s face lit up. The audience cheered. And the hero smiled.

Nothing feels more heroic than freeing another person’s Doritos©. So be mindful of the little golden things in life.

Bad Fences Make Good Neighbours

On a Friday in May in 2018, 100 km/hr winds hit southern Ontario and Quebec. Trees were toppled, shingles were flown, and power was cut.

During the windstorm, my neighbour climbed onto his roof and it was so windy, it blew his fascia off.

My fascia was okay, but my backyard fence was not as lucky. My old fence panels were down. My deteriorated fence posts were knocked out.

There’s an old saying that says good fences make good neighbours. But I think they’ve got it backwards. I say bad fences make good neighbours, and here’s why.

The collapse of my wobbly fence brought me closer to my neighbours. Gone were trees, shingles, fascia, and fences, but our shared sense of loss and our common desire to repair things created a stronger community. My neighbours helped me mend my broken fence, and I spent more time with my neighbours in one afternoon fixing my fence than I had in a long time. For one afternoon, I experienced something that is rare in our fast-paced, individualized, technological world—a sense of fellowship. It was an amazing feeling.

And it’s why I hope my old fence blows down again soon.

Insights from Narrative Counselling

As a professional involved in student development in a post-secondary setting, I was recently intrigued when a colleague outside my organization told me he had started exploring narrative counselling in his work.

He said individuals are often stuck because they have created unfavourable story lines of how their lives are playing out. They are unaware that there are infinite story lines that can be created for their lives. This caught my attention because one, I like stories, and two, I like talks of infinity.

To begin my exploration of narrative counselling, I read Narrative Counseling in Schools. It was powerful and brief.

Book by John Winslade and Gerald Monk.
Cover of book Narrative Counseling in Schools. Photo by M. Fleming

Everyone can benefit from some of the ideas highlighted in the book.

First, we can realize that everyone has gifts and abilities. When we interact with others, we can approach conversations with a respectful curiosity, look for hidden talents, and help construct appealing story lines.

Second, we can encourage and inspire others to write different scripts for their lives. The authors of the book write:

For most of us, it is not possible to make radical changes in our lives without somebody cheering us on.

I’m excited to help people craft their stories, and I’m excited to cheer them on. I’m also excited that others can help me craft my story. And I hope they cheer me on too.

In the Pit

My friend tells me a story that goes something like this.

There’s a guy trapped in a dark, deep pit covered in the stuff that gets flung at Tim Hortons.

He calls for help.

A guy passes the pit but doesn’t hear him. Another person hears but ignores. Another person tries to help but is unsuccessful.

Finally, another guy jumps in the pit.

“You idiot! What are you doing? Now there’s two of us down here.”

“You’re right,” the guy answers. “But I’ve been here before. And I know the way out.”

I recently returned to the pit.
I didn’t want to go.

I knew it would be hard.
I knew it would be uncomfortable.
I knew it would be painful.

I recently returned to the pit.
I didn’t want to go.
But I did.

I had to.

And I will go back again.
Even though I don’t want to.
Because there are people down there.

I tell them
I’ve been here before.
And I know the way out.