A Decade of Adventure

I am not sure, without looking back, if I have talked about my “decade of adventure”. Turning fifty in April, was at the same time the culmination and beginning of something significant. Somewhere along the way in the few months before, I decided that the next ten years were going to offer me experiences that I hadn’t yet had in my first half century.

Last weekend was the first of what I hope to be many new adventures. In part, I am simply trying to keep up with my brave, strong, passionate, loving-life son of fifteen. But more than that, I want to live life, in a way that prevents me getting old. Trust me, my body is fighting me all the way. Aches, pains, stiffness, almost daily small doses of Advil, wine, and massage keep me mobile. But more important than that, age is a state of mind. This past decade has been one mostly filled with indulgence. I invested most of my energy into developing my palate, my mind, my understanding of coffee, flavour, food, that art of imbibing. I figured it was high time for my body to get some much needed attention, which I trust will in turn, reinvigorate my perspective on what it means to grow old, gracefully in wisdom.

Arguably, many would likely question my wisdom, perhaps even my sanity, for venturing up a rock face 250 meters above level ground. Many would question my parenting in regards to not only encouraging dangerous sports with my son, but actually facilitating them. And yet this is what we did. We spent a couple of days with six other men, talking, hiking, labouring, struggling, climbing, sharing, eating, drinking, together, encouraging one another to take one more step, no matter how much it hurt, or how much it seemed like folly.

Obviously I am proud of the fact that I persevered through the difficult approach hike in and out on Saturday, where we traversed thousands of fallen trees while walking eight kilometres and climbing 400 meters in elevation. I wanted to quit so many times. I would look down at my Apple Watch and see my heart rate cresting 170 bpm confirming what I already knew as I could feel my pulse pumping out my ears.

But more importantly, it was a weekend of fellowship. Men, most of whom I did not know at the beginning of the weekend, now friends and fellow sojourners who journeyed with me and my son, along challenging paths in an adventure that we will regale for decades to come (hopefully). It was a weekend where my fifteen year old son got to witness vulnerability among men, a rare thing in our society. It was a weekend where my son was embraced and considered an equal by men 20, 30 even 50 years older than him. It was a weekend where my son sat quietly in the circle around a fire, and listened and then privately told me later that he thought it was cool the way Tim and I were a lot alike and connected so easily. It was a weekend where I was proud to be a dad, of a kid who despite all of my failings as a father, demonstrated how much of a man he is becoming in his own right.

My whole world view is in turmoil right now. But in the midst of that, it is grounding to know that despite it all, I am still just a guy, who needs to be known, and wants to know others. Who delights in the fellowship of sojourners along the way, and who feels humbled at the sight of my progeny living so well at such a tender age.

Given the start of the adventure, I may have been too conservative. Perhaps my decade of adventure will need to extend into the next half-century!

Brutally Honest (holding my breath with this one)

I wrote about expectations a few days ago. We all have experienced poor customer service because of unmet expectations! Deliver on my expectations and I am satisfied (but only), fail to meet my expectations and I am pissed (and will tell everyone how you failed over and over again) and if you happen to exceed my expectations, I will sing your praises until the cows come home (Canlis, Au Pied de Cochon). I may be wrong, but I think this is just human nature. These concepts around customer service is what we are trying to instil in our team at Transcend; exceed customer’s expectations and we win! I point to companies like Apple, Virgin Airlines and Mortons, as all of these organizations are famous for exceeding patron expectations and as a result garnering rabid customer loyalty. We all love to be treated well, to be known, to feel connected, to feel like we are included and belong, even with businesses we engage with.

Brené talks a lot about those who are wholehearted. Those subjects (research subjects) who have this innate sense that they are worthy of love and belonging. After reading Daring Greatly, I actually thought of myself as one of those people (confident of their innate worthiness of love and belonging). Oddly, after reading Rising Strong, I realized that I am actually not one of those people who inherently believe that they are worthy of love and belonging (I was lying to myself). I have another blog post in the cue about that, later.

Getting back to expectations. I realize that I am poor at communicating them. I rarely communicate them, maybe because I haven’t taken the time to figure out for myself what those expectations even are, and perhaps because articulating expectations is an act of vulnerability. With that said, I have started thinking about what my expectations are going forward when it comes to the notion of friendship. For those of you who (Still) count me as a friend, I apologize in advance.

I realize that I am disappointed largely because of my unspoken expectations in and around friendship. And yet I know that the people in my life cannot meet my expectations if I never communicate them. Even having to think about what my needs are in relationships is venturing into foreign territory for me. The process of communicating expectations requires courage (obviously something that I lack) to suffer discomfort and perhaps more risky, having my expressed needs rejected. So instead of taking that risk, I have in the past, mostly opted for the thing which is fast and easy, namely suppress, quell and ignore my needs and expectations, and then live frustrated in the reality that my relationships don’t measure up (circular and self defeating reasoning, I know!).

As I journey through all of this, I am beginning to realize that the lack of mutual connection in my life, is a source of pain. As I critically evaluate many of my friendships, I am finding that I have to admit that I am the often the instigator when it comes to facilitating connection. I enjoy hosting people, enjoy cooking for people, enjoy throwing a party (smaller lately). While all of this is true, what I am also starting to realize is that being the one to initiate these connections most of the time makes me wonder about the actual strength of my relationships. I get that that sounds shitty, TRUE, but I am trying to be more honest and vulnerable.

As I begin to attach words to long held feelings of unworthiness, I am asking myself why it is that I initiate text conversations at a ratio of 10:1? Probably because I crave connection? The same goes for hosting people for dinner. But at the risk of being considered petty, I am starting to realize that if I don’t initiate contact with many friends, it rarely seems to happen. Assuming that all of my friends are doing the best that they can, I have to assume that everyone is busy, everyone has a lot on their plate, and that life swallows up time and opportunity to connect. Yet, with that said, I also have to acknowledge that upon reflection, it doesn’t feel very good knowing that without my initiative (on the whole) my life perhaps would be largely devoid of meaningful connection. This realization is definitely an area of shame in my life, and one that I want a reckoning from.

So if I have to articulate my needs and expectations in and around friendship, I have to say that I have a need for greater mutuality when it comes to connection. How can friends be vulnerable with each other if there isn’t an opportunity to connect and build relationships of trust? If we are all too busy to connect, the chance of meaningful conversation built upon mutual vulnerability will likely never exist. Perhaps this is the reality of the world we now live in? And while the mad scramble of life seemingly takes no prisoners; I don’t have to like this reality that I find myself part of.

I realize that what I am writing is probably going to be perceived as being shitty. I realize that this may possibly result in less dinner invitations being accepted. But in truth, this is not my intention. My intention with this post (albeit raw) is to be brutally honest, and truly vulnerable about how I feel. As someone deeply committed to the notion of community, one of the things I long for is authentic connection. I also realize that many people in my life aren’t in the same place I am, aren’t in the same stage in life or career. I am aware that I am afforded a rarefied luxury of flexibility and freedom in my day-to-day life, and I think that this freedom perhaps, is in part to blame, because I have time to connect when most everyone else in my life is busy with work and family.

Me writing this, doesn't diminish my affection for my friends, on the contrary. Me writing this doesn’t negate my desire to host dinners, fires, or get-togethers. But having said all of that, what it does articulate is a deep desire to know that I am worthy of love and belonging and that my friendships aren’t simply a byproduct of my own creation, a product of my constant persistence (a polite but persistent nagging) and people simply giving way. Sounds a bit like junior high, I know, but this is where I am at; forty-nine years in the making.

Chateau Musar 2000 / Canadian politeness BS

OK, Let me acknowledge that this blog post is being composed at 12:35 AM after imbibing a little 2000 Chateau Musar in honour of my dear friend Sara's birthday. Actually, the disclaimer in and of itself is ultimately too Canadian.

We are far too much a product of our colonialist roots. "Stiff upper lip, and all that British shit", show no emotions, keep it all in... Recently a good friend of mine gave me a hug at the end of a time together and said "love you" which at first blush sounded out of place. But as "a guy" who is white, Anglo-Saxon, and has a Christian heritage, it should come as no surprise that the word love in English is too confined, too narrow. I remember well my 1989 English 1900 essay, written for Prof. Upton, about love which compared Shakespear's 116 Sonnet to the various Greek meanings of the word love, Eros, Agape, and Philia. The latter being the subject of this post, brotherly or sisterly love, the root of Philadelphia. For the most part as good Canadians, we are too bashful or prudish to say to our friends that we love them, but that is the emotion that we feel. Not an erotic love, but an affectionate love that is borne of friendship and companionship, where we acknowledge that our relationship is more than something casual. Those words uttered by a friend,  "love you"  have stuck with me, knawed at me, because I have been too cowardly to use them in return.

A conversation around a fire, wine shared in the heat of summer nights, debate, stories, flawed recollections, are all part of a community that I want to be part of. Even a good couple of bottles of Chateau Musar weren't lubricant enough to allow me to communicate honestly this evening. I want to tell my friends that I love them. I want to communicate to my colleagues that they are dear to me, that I value them more than words can express (a lame excuse) because I could simply just say how much I value them and quit being so Canadian or proper. Why does emotion have to reside within the confines of intimate relationships? I think that we should be able to say "I love you" to our friends. Maybe I am the exception to this, maybe the world around me already communicates with this level of openness, but within my sphere, we are still to stiff. I for one want this to change, I want to take a page out of my friend Candie's book and start to tell my fellow sojourners that I love them, and I value their companionship and conversation, their debate, their disagreement, their perspective (that are often different than mine) I love them for who they are, because they make up my community, and more importantly contribute to making me who I am.

Friendship and fires

I am quickly approaching the mid-century mark in my life. I have never been someone who has given much thought to age, and have had good friends who are a lot older or younger than I am. With that admission, my looming 50th birthday definitely has me looking to a horizon which appears to be more downhill than up!

With almost fifty years behind me, I am keenly aware of the fragility of friendship, and the gift that enduring relationships truly are. And with over 18,000 days to reflect on, I am reminded of a quote of CS Lewis who says something along the lines - is their any pleasure on earth as great as a group of friends by a fire? 

Having spent the evening with good (no dear and precious) friends by a fire, I can do nothing but agree with Clive. Having recently moved, to an amazing new (to us) home in a great neighbourhood, one of the things I am most thankful for is that this new home is within walking distance of dear friends. I have always wanted to live in proximity to good friends, and after almost half a century, this is now a reality. Hopefully I do not become a burden or a bother, but I am excited for what this next chapter in our lives has to offer as my dream of neighbourly living comes into focus. As someone who has spent most of their life trying to foster community, I am keenly aware of how difficult this is to do. In a world that is rife with screens and fleeting messages I am thankful for summer nights, smokey fires, glasses of wine, sincere conversations, and dear friends.