Great egret in South Carolina wetlands

20141025-huntington-egretA great egret (aka a great white heron) is perched atop a ‘rice trunk’ while taking in the sun as it sets over a marsh in the coastal wetlands of South Carolina. A rice trunk is a gravity-flow mechanism that uses tidal energy to transfer water from one place to another. It was used in the 17th century for rice farming; today they are typically used to create ideal habitats for birds that thrive in wetland ecosystems

When I was 14, I had trouble fitting in and felt there was no hope. And then everything changed …

I remember when I was 14 years old and I used to get bullied and beat up by the kids at school or in the neighborhood. I couldn’t play sports very well, I didn’t fit in socially and had only a few friends I could count on. I had switched schools a couple of times and often came home crying. It was around this point that my parents sent me to a boarding school, where I would be immersed in an intensely social environment, sleeping in a dorm with eight other kids at night, doing sports after school, and mostly having no one to turn to but myself when I encountered problems.

Shortly after this, there was a moment in September 1992 when I was so scared of the people I had to face on a daily basis that I faked a severe ear infection to get into the school clinic and stayed there for 2-3 days to escape it all. In a moment of desperation and fear, I threatened to kill myself rather than be put back into the classroom. My parents, who knew me better than anyone, comforted me, but insisted that I would have to stand up for myself.

This was a turning point for me. Although I was never very physically strong, I spent several years learning to fight my own battles (mostly with words), becoming more confident in who I was as a person, and realizing I could only depend on myself to follow my own dreams and conquer my fears.

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Running in a race in Quebec in 1985

My family and friends have stood by me as I’ve grown up and have always urged me to constantly push the boundaries of my thinking through loving deeply, higher education, and world travel. And I learned to see those who challenged and confronted me as an inspiration to succeed, rather than an obstacle to success.

One bit of advice I have always tried to keep in mind and will for the future: DON’T BE AFRAID TO FAIL. Someone wise once said: “The only real failure is the failure to try, and the measure of success is how we cope with disappointment.” For me that translates as trying to always live passionately and in the moment, being humble but proud of who I am, and learning from my mistakes.

Carpe Diem Friends!

Ever wonder what community-building looks like? Here is a colourful example from North Carolina in the USA.

Please have a look at this photo for a moment…

This is an example of community-building happening in the town of Chapel Hill, in the US state of North Carolina. A local church and a community center organized a block party for neighborhood residents to get to know each other.

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Chapel Hill is a rapidly growing college town and that brings with it a lot of benefits but also some disadvantages. Property prices have risen as developers gentrify the neighborhood to offer student housing. But this has caused problems for some longtime locals, whose property taxes have become unaffordable, since their household income has not changed.

The block party provided an opportunity to create ties. Kids are playing games, students are dancing, people are practicing handicrafts, and folks are eating, drinking and laughing. We are connecting with each other.

Hopefully in some small way this will help us to better understand each other’s perspective on what “prosperity” and “progress” really means for our community and how people are affected in different ways by development.

What’s your vision for the community where you live? Does it match what others see too?

A sweet and simple thank you from a girl who survived a brain tumour.

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Thank you note from the little girl Grace in Nairobi, Kenya. Photo courtesy of Impoverished Children http://www.impoverishedchildren.com

Pleased to share with you this thank you note from the little girl Grace in Kenya who was diagnosed with a brain tumour earlier this year. When funds were short to pay for medical care, a small group of people came together via Facebook to raise the money she needed. She subsequently underwent brain surgery and has recovered. Here she is, back at her school in Nairobi, with a message in her own words. That’s her with her mother and the school’s principal Catherine Whiting.Isn’t she cute? This great story reminds me of that quote from Margaret Mead:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

 

In the place where I was most happy, I believe I also learned how to be more grateful. This has had an incredible impact on my life.

I believe it was while I lived in Malawi that I finally learned how to look for, find, and appreciate the little things in life, instead of just accidentally stumbling upon them. There was something I discovered in the Malawian people that filled me with joy – happiness, a satisfaction, an interest in others, deep echoing laughs, and beautiful smiles. I saw that they had genuine interest in the well-being of others. The place was not always a barrel of laughs for me – work didn’t always go smoothly, I sometimes had trouble finding diabetic-friendly foods, the power and/or the water would go out about once a day – but it taught me to be more resilient, helped me learn to live with less, and most of all, that I could find wonder and awesomeness in these incredible little moments during the day. In every day of my life now and frequently during those days, I find myself feeling grateful for the things that happen around me. The smile from a homeless man on the street, the succulent taste of a juicy red apple, and the glorious green of the leaves on the trees as summer approaches. This is what carpe diem means to me.

RIP my dear cousin Fran

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My cousin Frances (Fran) Cartman and I in Montreal, Canada – August 2007

RIP my dear cousin Fran. You always had listening ears and encouraging words for everyone around you. I have vivid memories of your smiling face as you helped students (and me) at the John Molson School of Business, your frequent and fierce hugs, and how you never failed to use an opportunity to tell me you loved me. Please give Bob a poke in the tummy for me.

When I learned to relax and be myself, I learned I could be happier.

I learned an important lesson about myself some time ago. That when I relax and just let myself be, to be myself, then I begin to feel more natural, freer, and happier. I also feel a greater willingness to accept failure, learn from it, and keep plugging on, helping as many people as I can in the process with the lessons I have learned.

As my self-confidence grows, so does my ability to acknowledge my weaknesses and realize how they can hurt and help me. Facing this vulnerability and being authentic with the people around me has become one of my life’s passions. And the willingness to be true to myself, has helped me feel more confident in responding to those with whom I have differing points of view. And that has actually made those relationships stronger too because it fosters mutual respect and understanding. And sometimes, my points of view change as I realize I’m wrong.

I’m scared to grow old but also looking forward to it so much.

Bring life on! Carpe diem friends.

I witnessed a moment of love at a public library in Arizona and was filled with happiness.

This morning I was waiting outside a public library as it got ready to open. Others were gathering around me too and an elderly couple ambled slowly along the path, holding hands. As they approached, they greeted another fellow standing across the sidewalk from me. This other fellow asked how they were doing. The elderly man replied: “So far, so good”. His partner chuckled and said to the fellow: “He always says the same thing – So far, so good.” The elderly man smiled to himself and my eyes drifted to his hands, which were lovingly caressing hers. I saw the wedding ring on her finger and saw her respond by tightening her hands around his. It gave me happiness and a comfortable and warm feeling inside just wondering about the path they took in life to arrive at this moment together. A nice way to start the day.

Have you seized a day lately?

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