Tuesday, January 22, 2013

A long way from the sea, but never far from "home"...it's about kindness.

No act of kindness, 
no matter how small, 
is ever wasted.
- Aesop

Ice climbing tower - in the middle of Banff.
Mount Rundle's famous profile, to the right.
It's been just over six months since my paddling partner and I embarked on this new adventure we affectionately refer to as "re-configuration". After almost forty years in our chosen vocations (and having become increasingly eligible for certain "senior's discounts”), it was time to explore some new directions - with no firm plan in mind yet, except to explore and observe and learn.

In the fall, we spent two months in the country of my birth (Scotland). Currently, we are briefly in Calgary, visiting family. There has been the opportunity to make a quick trip to two other nearby places where we have lived - Banff and Canmore. Memories have come flooding back with the usual blend of images - so many joys and, of course, some struggles. It was comforting to discover that even with all the years that have gone by, and the miles we are from where we currently live by the sea, everywhere felt like, “home". 

Kananaskis Country.
We thought about what each and every place has had in common. Each locale was so different in so many ways. And then the “aha” moment arrived. We realized that the common thread was the experience of kindness - a warm, engaging, and wonderful variable that has woven itself into every place we have ever called home.

So many experiences come to mind. In what seems now like a lifetime ago, we spent a four-month internship in a tiny outport on the incredibly beautiful south coast of Newfoundland. Arriving from Toronto, we found ourselves in serious need of “orientation”. In no time at all, our new neighbours took us under their wing. They quickly taught us that there was never any need to knock on their doors. “Just come in, you’re always welcome to visit.” Soon after, I noted that there were no locks on people's doors - unthinkable in Toronto. Folks we hadn’t even met would drop off a freshly caught sea trout and show us how to prepare a delicious meal. When Joan had to return home for a month to complete an assignment, they quickly discovered that my diet had quickly deteriorated into a daily regime of peanut butter and jam sandwiches, washed down with reconstituted milk. There were lots of thoughtful invitations to dinner. 

Awesome to be back - so many memories of skiing
on the back-country trails in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park.
And then there was the time in Germany, some years later during my time as a chaplain with the Canadian Forces. I was with my unit on a two month exercise. After bivouacking in a field one night, two of us were packing up our kit in the pre-dawn darkness. It had been cold, wet, and miserable for days. Packing the last few things in our Iltis vehicle, we were aware of two individuals approaching us from across the field, flashlight in hand. It was the farmer and his wife. Smiling shyly, they offered us piping-hot coffee and warm, brötchen (bread). The rolls were fresh from the oven - they were wonderful. The couple had seen us come in the night, in the midst of the falling rain. Such heart-warming hospitality, such kindness. In the darkness and chill, they made us both feel, at home.

Back in Canada, on a two-year French language posting in Valcartier, Quebec, there was more of the same. Attending a meeting at which there was virtually nothing constructive that I could possibly contribute, the Brigade Commander, a Brigadier-General, asked those in attendance to “speak just a little more slowly for the benefit of our padre”. I was deeply touched and moved by his kindness.  Although I still wasn’t able to contribute anything very useful, the Commander’s thoughtful and gracious words were affirming to an anglophone padre, struggling in his recently-acquired second language.*

In Calgary and now on Vancouver Island, where we have spent the last decade, the thread of kindness has continued to weave itself through life and relationships. There are those very special individuals who have shared their love so generously and who helped us in so many ways to care for my mother through her difficult journey through the darkness of Alzheimer’s disease. Their kindnesses and generosity helped to light our path during that time, and continue to do so, to this very day.

Acts of kindness, born out of a willingness to simply care, and to live with compassion can change the world…one person, one experience, one moment at a time. In all the diverse places we have ever lived, we remember and cherish acts of kindness - those we have observed and those we have been privileged to experience in a very personal way.

The Bow River, flowing beneath the January ice.
These were the memories that made everywhere we visited yesterday feel like “home” again. The sharing of kindness in this world helps to eliminate that empty feeling of “homelessness”, that so many feel and the concrete reality that so many must sadly live.

So far from the Island (and the kayaks that patiently wait, once again), we have discovered that the experience of “kindness” ensures we are already home - wherever we are. There is, perhaps, no greater wealth in life than that which is contained within the gift of kindness, both given and received.


*Postscript: Two years later, that remarkable individual, who served as Brigade Commander at BFC Valcartier, was appointed to lead a UN mission to Rwanda. Through all the horror that he experienced and the heartbreak of that terrible time in history, his kind heart remained intact. To this day, Lieutenant-General (ret'd) Roméo Dallaire continues to be an outspoken supporter of veterans and those who struggle with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). A brief reference to this most extraordinary man can be found here.


  1. HI D,
    Looks rather cold out there. Did you tempt to climb the ice?
    You have had many homes, shared many adventures and have so many more to look forward to.
    Travel on!

  2. Hi L, yes it has been very cold indeed but nice to see snow again. Climb the ice tower? You gotta be kidding, the sidewalks are challenging enough! Haha! Thanks for coming by. D.

  3. Hi Duncan and Joan,
    Beautiful blog, once again!

  4. Hi Duncan & Joan:

    What a beautiful post going back over the years and places lived. It sure looks very cold there. We had our spell of cold here, freezing a lot of the trees, but thankfully it has now warmed up and is back in the 70's, so all is well. Safe travels and best wishes to you know who tomorrow.

  5. Thanks so for that, Jen. It would have been nice to have had an opportunity to see you all while in the province. Another time for sure. Hi to all! D & J

    Hi J, you are the only person who would know the "date" and at the same time be enjoying temperatures in the "70s"! :) Sure appreciate your comment and glad you enjoyed the post. D.

  6. It would have been really nice to get together but I know you are busy when you come to town. Next time.

  7. We'll make that happen, Jen. Thanks. Duncan.

  8. Hi Duncan and Joan
    Yet another great post.
    Maybe the other great wealth in life is Love, which you both share with each other and all those that you encounter on your journeys through life.

    When are you going to start the book??


  9. Thanks for that, Mike, I think you're absolutely correct about what makes for wealth in life. As for the "book", we'll work on it together - stories from the cockpits of a sea kayak and a classic Scottish MG! Haha! Duncan.

  10. And this is the life you always anted .... you have always made it happen! Not sure when you were on Gabriola last, but our cottage has walls and a roof! Also not sure where you are spending your time now .... look forward to reading/hearing all the news.

    Marti and Stuart

  11. Hi Marti and Stuart, great to hear from you. Yes, lots of news here - walls and roof? Sounds exciting! We'll be in touch. Love from us. D&J