☕️ The Best, the Good… and the Ugly

A Saturday Caesura

Before Christmas, COVID-19 restrictions moved my students from our classroom to their homes for three weeks. We made the transition with resigned acceptance; for too many students extended time alone at home only leads to anxiety or depressive loneliness. To help curb the mental health issues that arose when we had to ‘go remote’ in the spring, I added a “What’s your best thing from today?” to our daily writing exercises. Every day for those three weeks we took time to look for goodness and joy and positive things even when we weren’t necessarily happy about our overall circumstances.

Just this week, our first week back in class, though not back in the classroom yet, a grade 12 student popped back in to our online video session after I had dismissed everyone to work on the day’s assignment. She shared with me that she found the daily focus on “Best Things” so helpful that she decided to extend the practice. She took an empty mason jar, dubbed it her “Best Things Jar” and has been using it to collect more Best Things, each neatly written on slips of paper.

Any guesses what this teacher’s Best Thing for that day was?

My frequent Noticing Walks, a (mostly) weekly writing habit of Saturday Caesuras and Sunday Doxologies, my daily time in prayer and Scripture are all meant to focus my attention, not only on Best Things, small blessings woven into the routines of daily life, but also on the Good Things of God, rich blessings etched with eternity in the human heart.

But noticing the good does not remove the ugliness from the world, or even from my own heart. And sometimes all that ugly looms large and ominous. It consumes.

So I’ve been pondering another aspect of noticing and paying attention: What do I need to overlook or ignore? This question is not meant to ensconce me in blinders, to box me firmly into a position of denial about the world or my heart, but it is a reminder that I do not need to wade into the ugliness or let it weigh me down with anger or swamp me under in despair. Instead, I can respond to the Ugly Things by following Christ’s commands to love God with all my heart, soul, and mind (best way to deal with my heart uglies) and love my neighbour (best way to respond to the world uglies).

If this first week of 2021 has taught me anything, it is that I need to pay attention to what I am giving attention to. I need to focus my noticing, set boundaries on what deserves or requires my attention, celebrate the Best Things, be deeply grateful for the Good Things, respond with love, prayer, and humility to the Ugly Things.

☕️ Friday Night

A Saturday Caesura

It is Saturday and it is a blue-gold one, one that holds all the mercies of a new day. Last night, in the fog of Friday Fatigue I struggled to find anything to write. So I focused on my surroundings, my place at that moment, and discovered much to be grateful for…

I am sitting lengthwise on the couch that keeps its back to the wood stove so that I have full view out the front window as well as the window to my right, the one that faces the sunrise each morning, the one where perennial sweet peas crowd round to peer in like pink-cheeked nosy neighbours. Tonight I am mostly peering out the front window, watching the chimney smoke fall in gentle breaths on the mottled yellow-green leaves still clinging to the trees hovering over the now-empty garden boxes. My Mother’s Day fuchsia sits atop the wood pile on the deck, its fairy-dancer blossoms pirouetting amidst graceful leafy cascades. The sun has set. Dusk unfurls a soft grey hush. The wind grows sleepy.

Inside, a floor lamp spreads its light across my page, burnishes warm hues in the bamboo flooring. I am warm, perhaps a bit too warm now that the fire is fully engaged. I could cast off the worn afghan and fleece sweater that cocoon me, but I don’t. I like the weight of the afghan — it anchors me to the couch, calms me. A pot of water on the stove sizzles a merry melody; an off-beat percussive crackle or pop from the fire accompanies the rhythmic whir of the fan. It is good to be home. It is good to bring another work week to a close. It is good to just rest.

And there was evening, and there was morning. And there was goodness in between.