Greetings from Paradise! I say this not to brag, honest. Our Paradise is also known as Crystal Lake, and of course, it isn’t just ours. Hundreds of people spend their vacations or just weekends here along side us and in the bigger picture, we all have our personal opinion on what constitutes a “Paradise”. Sadly, too many people don’t have one they can visit physically but thus my thoughts for writing this entry.
Several years ago, I read a book by Carl Honore’ called “In Praise of Slow”. He observes the frenetic pace of our new generation obsessed with fast-food, fast internet, fast cellular service, fast everything! To take nothing away from Monsieur Honore’, this wasn’t much of a surprise. It seems our society is hell-bent on bettering the previous one by making things “better” and while my opinion is not unique, it is in the minority. Plus, many people assume that complaining about the pace of life defines old people and my point of view is predictable from someone over 50. Well, if it helps, I think being over 50 is precisely why I get this and if you disagree with the sentiment, no problem but do me one little favour. This will only take a few minutes and it may even save your life!
I have been an expert on slow my whole life, I just didn’t know it! When you are born without arms, and you learn to use your feet for hands, nothing is designed for you…except soccer, or as the world calls it; Football! I actually love the ancient line I use about my bonus in football is never getting the penalty for touching the ball with my hands! The simple fact is, everything and I mean “everything” took longer to learn. Once I master it, then I am just as quick and as “inspiring” as my using my feet may be, it is completely normal and everyday to me. This is precisely my point.
Most people are in awe of how I handle life. That is not ego talking. I am simply stating a fact and if you know me, have heard me speak or simply met me once, you remember me, right? What do you remember besides my missing arms and talented feet? The most common answer I get is…”Just You. You and your way”. There are many adjectives; Presence, Mojo, Aura, A Feeling. Hey, really I am not boasting. In fact I find the reaction people have towards me very flattering but more important…affirming. And this isn’t just about me “being right”, although I like that too. This is about what I do everyday on stage and off; I like to help people. And let’s face it, a lot of people have gotten lost and there are a ton of reasons but today I want to write about the effect speed or more importantly, the “lack of slow” has had on our world.
When my family and I moved to Calgary, Alberta (Canada) in 2000, I had proven my success. I was as the old words from the song at thee beginning of that 70’s sitcom, The Jeffersons, used to say; “I’m movin’ on up”. I was moving up. Oddly, when I was growing up in Yorkton, moving up was Regina! Well, I did live there, twice for a grand total of 19 years and as great a place as it truly is, I took it fore granted. It took us seven minutes to get to the airport and we lived on the opposite side of town from the airport. The pace was “small town” even with population of 200,000 plus. But it was a combination of time to move on and my wife’s family being mostly in Alberta that led to our heading to greener pastures.
Let’s also get something else straight before I go any further. Calgary is a magnificent city. It is an Olympic City (Winter Olympics 1988). It is home to the world famous Calgary Stampede & Exhibition. It is a destination for travellers from around the world who come there to get to the Canadian Rockies and some of the best skiing and snowboarding in the world. It is also a community that may sometimes appear as just another big city full of apathy but after the catastrophic floods of June, 2013, the support from its citizens for neighbours or complete strangers was truly inspiring. So, you probably see a “but” coming. Yup!
My wife, Darlene has a nickname that I don’t call her, or anyone for that matter but she wears the title of “Polly”, after the idealistic Pollyanna of children’s books. Ever the optimist, living with her is 90% awesome but sometimes even my positive attitude gets weary of hers and specifically about this specific topic. Darlene believes there are Calgary’s everywhere. It is just a big city like any other. Okay, I don’t know this to be a fact but I disagree that is is like any big city.Fact: It is at the top of the list of fastest growing cities in the world. Fact: It has one the fastest growing economies of any city in North America. Fact: It is in the top three of highest house prices in Canada and has one of the lowest vacancy rates for rental properties. Fact: There are more job openings and shortage of skilled labourers than anywhere in North America. Fact: in the past ten years, it has one of the fastest growing population growth rates by migration in North America. Fact: Being the acknowledged Oil Capital of Canada, it has one of the most educated workforces in Canada who earn amongst the highest of anyone in the entire country as well. Oh, by the way…these are “my facts” but they are made for my point.
When you take a place with no Provincial sales tax, add to it the absolute beauty of its setting and climate and create a machine that grows itself by attracting people pursuing jobs and wealth, you have a “busy place” more than most. Rush hour in Calgary starts at 5:30 in the morning, goes all day and wraps up around 9:00 at night. By the way, I can hear my wife reading this going “blah, blah, blah” and you know, she’s probably right. I visit big cities across North America and indeed the world all the time and if push came to shove, they are all busy. I live in Calgary so am more sensitive to its energy but again, that is my point; energy!
Ten days ago, we hooked up the utility trailer to my SUV, weighed down by all the “stuff” one needs to spend some well needed vacation time at Paradise. Add the two big dogs and a cat, their kennels and the escape was on. We were vacating beautiful Calgary headed to our cottage. Its nothing fancy but it is on the water. We have a boat, a kayak, a fire pit and chiminea. We have a couple of decks, a huge dock and the weather is usually in the high 20’s to mid 30’s in celsius so hanging out on that dock with the pristine lake right there to cool you down makes for a pretty special Summer. I know that and once again, I am really not meaning to show off.
It takes 11 hours to drive here. I can physically feel the stress start to melt and sitting on the deck having a glass of wine, maybe having a nice cigar between my toes and wow, am I relaxed. DUH! I know what you are thinking. Of course you’re relaxed, who wouldn’t be? Just wait. So after a couple of days here, I leave Darlene, the dogs, cat and the view behind to drive three hours to Regina to fly to Des Moine, Iowa which will take me nine hours and two flights to get me there. I arrive to discover my first flight to Denver is postponed for three hours which means I will miss my connection to Des Moine, which will put my speaking engagement the next afternoon in peril. I am not alone in my frustration as it seems everyone is going somewhere else after Denver so there is tension, frustration and high anxiety everywhere. By Denver, which has its own problems with weather, there are literally hundreds of people feeling the same angst and it is palpable. Very few people are going with the flow. But I am!
Several years ago, Darlene taught me the power in side the expression, “It is what it is”! Ironically, it involved another trip, another airport and bad weather, albeit snowstorm versus thunderstorm. I will leave that story alone but my connection is simple. As I observed the first time it was pointed out to me, and let’s be very clear that I am far from perfect and was profoundly guilty of “losing it” while travelling. The concept that having weather delays is “personal” is pretty asinine, isn’t it? Frustrating? Of course. In fact, part of my own frustration taught me to build in a cushion while travelling to account for inevitable delays or issues. Yet I have heard people actually say, “I don’t have time for a cushion!” What?
So let’s backtrack to Regina airport. I am waiting in a very long queue and i will admit, I was getting stressed. I am if anything, a professional and when I get a gig, I want to deliver and a big part of that is showing up! I also understand that I am not an essential service s if I don’t get there, the world will continue to rotate but I set a high standard for myself. Nevertheless, as I am waiting with as much patience and self-control I possess, a desk agent with Air Canada (I am flying United) who knows me and I, her, spots me and comes over to say hello. She asks me where I am heading to which I say Des Moine to which she replies, “not today”. Bummer! She then does something extraordinary. she takes my cart, moves me out of my queue and takes me to her counter. Because of Air Canada and United being part of the Star Alliance, she could access my itinerary but technically, I’m pretty sure she wasn’t supposed to do this. But she did. She confirmed I would miss my connection but also advised of many more delays to flights including mine but rather than take a risk, I chose to re-book for the next morning with a confirmed seat. She called the Doubletree Hilton by the Denver Airport and confirmed a room covered by United and within 15 minutes I was all booked. Prophetically, when I got back to the Denver airport the morning after missing my connection, I discovered my original flight to Iowa was eventually cancelled and had I not had thew Air Canada lady rebook me, I wouldn’t have gotten to Des Moine until after my talk as the flights were all oversold. These “coincidences” never cease to amaze me but again, as Darlene has tried to teach me , it is all about our personal energy. When we are frenetic and panicked and rushed and “busy” the universe simply responds in kind. I have made a deliberate effort to pay attention to this and to what I am exhibiting. It works!
When I asked the wonderful person at Air Canada (I am keeping her anonymous in case she broke protocol) why she did this, here’s what she said; “Mr. Law. We miss you here. Ever since you moved to Calgary, it hasn’t been the same. Sure, we have our regulars but you were one of our favourites. You never complained, even when there was a legitimate issue. You always had a smile for us and were never in such a hurry you couldn’t take the time for a visit. You just have a way about you and if everyone was like you, our jobs would be so much better. It is my pleasure to help you today. Don’t be a stranger!”
Okay, how nice was that? One more time…this isn’t about me. This is about you. The cottage is beautiful but the point is the calm. It is possible to replicate the pace and naturally, vacation isn’t work but here is the most important point I want to make today. Speed is killing us! I normally don’t make this observation as I am usually in work mode but this latest trip, I noticed something about me. Whenever I got close to the frenetic pace, either at the airport or on the freeway or even at the hotels, my stress would obviously increase, but I could feel it. I could feel my blood pressure rise, my muscles start to tense, my head start to pound. I felt it! So I paid attention.
I have been practising meditation. I need to get better at it but my trip to the cottage reminded me we don’t need a place like ours to reduce stress. We simply need to “SLOW DOWN!” I am completely tired of the “I’m so busy” crap. You choose everything so choose the other way. Turn of your smart phone, put away your iPad, click off all the distractions and B-R-E-A-T-H. Close your eyes…okay not right this second but when you are done this blog; close your eyes and imagine somewhere calm and serene. Feel your pulse slow and your blood pressure decrease. Do this every single day and more than for just five minutes ’cause you are so busy.
There are some people who say, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead”. Well guess what? If you don’t slow down, you will be.