Thursday, August 25, 2005

Out of Sync

We've just been falling apart since Del left. He quit, and we all decided to quit too. We had somehow made him solely responsible for our success. Completely demoralized, attendance at practices dropped to 50%. Our confidence had suffered a lethal blow. We spent our hour on the water in a muddled state of disorganization, confusion and self-pity. How could our coach desert us in the middle of the season? What would we do now? How would we win? Unhindered by old patterns, newer members tried to rally the team's enthusiasm. But they were ignored and quickly fell into silence. We had become our own biggest obstacle.

A dragonboat is made up of twenty paddlers, one cox and one drummer. The fastest boats are a study in synchronicity. Every paddler moves in tandem, completely trusting each other. Blades hover above the water, twenty paddles CATCH and EXPLODE backwards, exit, arc forward, and CATCH again. Over and over again in perfect harmony. It can be beautiful to watch.

A boat out of sync is painful to watch - like an awkward teenager - all limbs, bravado and bad skin, paddles flaring out, water splashing everywhere. With twenty paddlers fighting each other for the same piece of water, the boat surges, bumps and spins, going nowhere fast. A five hundred metre race can feel like a lifetime - the start exhausting, the middle arduous, and the finish desperate.

This is where we were. In just three short weeks, we had totally discounted nine months of training, both on and off the water. We had lost faith in each other, and in ourselves. We were completely out of sync.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005


I started this day annoyed. When I arrived at the streetcar stop, I was late for work. I waited, and waited, watching hopefully down the road for a glimpse of the streetcar lights. More people arrived, bunching up on the sidewalk like grapes. Checking their watches. Stepping out into the street. Sighing impatiently. Time passed, and I decided to walk to the subway. I rushed down the street, irritated by the delay. I didn't notice the beauty of the day.

As I adjusted my sunglasses, a young man smiled at me. The beautiful, ambient Desire by Blank and Jones filled my ears. I slowed down. I noticed the bright, cloudless sky. I walked by a garden full of flowers. I saw lovely colours. Blue. Pink. Red. Yellow. I felt the warmth of the sun on my arms. I felt my heart expand. I filled with breath. I felt a wave of gratitude wash over me. And my eyes filled with tears. Tears of gratitude. For beauty. And for life.

And I realized that gratitude is always there, waiting, that it occurs naturally in every one of us. All we have to do is ask for it. Gratitude always strikes me when I least expect it, and sometimes I feel embarassed by my tears. It seems silly to be moved to tears by the colour of the sky. Maudlin to cry over a garden full of flowers. It's why I hide behind dark glasses. Avoid eye contact. Stay locked behind an impenetrable wall.

For how can one afford to be so vulnerable in a world ruled by the timing of streetcars?

Thursday, August 11, 2005

The homeless man outside my office.

So, I work as a lowly admin assistant on the 6th floor of a building, in the ritziest part of town. Gucci across the street. Prada next door. Chanel on the other side. You get the picture. There's a homeless man outside most days, selling the "Outreach" newspaper. He's older, clean, with a deep tan. He has lines on his face, and a long wisp of white hair tied in a ponytail at the base of his neck. He stands perfectly straight and tall, barely sweating in the hot, humid weather. He seems noble somehow. Regal. His bearing has led me to create a story about him, a history for him. Something about him choosing not to be a part of the system. Something about him being highly educated, or unwilling to give in due to some higher morality. I don't know. Something like that. My friend and I smile at him most days, and from time to time, she will give him a few dollars to get something to eat. He's been a constant fixture for the last 2 years.

In the last few weeks though, he's been missing. He showed up one day, after being gone for a week, stooped over with a black eye. He told us that someone had beaten him up for his alcohol, and that "his disease," was really getting the better of him. Turns out he has cancer. After that, he disappeared again for 10 days. My friend and I asked each other every day, "did you see him? Finally, he reappeared yesterday. Stooped over again, shaking, trembling, holding onto his "Outreach" papers with one hand, and his back with the other. We stopped to see how he was doing, and learned that he had been in the hospital. That he took 30 pills a day. That the doctors had told him he wouldn't make it much longer. That he had checked himself out, because he didn't want to die in the hospital. And that he was going fishing. On Thursday. He put his hand over his heart, and told us about how fishing was his favorite thing in the world. That he wished he could explain how it made him feel. To be fishing. How it gave him peace. And that he didn't expect to come back.