The Cuban and I took a long walk around Helsinki this evening on our stroll, and found a new-to-us route. It was stunning and we plan to return with proper cameras tomorrow (weather permitting). There was something about this walk, though, that we just joked and laughed and enjoyed ourselves the more we walked, to the point that my cheeks actually hurt a wee bit as I’m typing this. I’m not sure either of us had just let loose that much in far too long.
This year sucks, y’all. And we’ve all already experienced more heartache than we need for a single year, perhaps even a lifetime. But, you know, today wasn’t all bad, and I think that’s largely because I got to spend it and a few uninterrupted hours with my favourite human, without worrying too much about everything else going on. Yes, we talked about our worries. But, we also felt free to marvel at the good around us. And likely scared the shit out of some poor woman we said ‘hello’ to unprompted. We are still in Finland, remember?
So, despite the shit and chaos that currently surrounds us all, try to take a few moments out to enjoy those in your lives and those you love. Life is entirely too fleeting to not stop and photobomb at least one panoramic photo every once in a while. And look at how long your torso can become!
On the last slide for my last class meeting in all of my classes, I include a picture of my desk. It’s messy. It’s filled with crap related to teaching and my work at the university and beyond. It’s also filled with non-work stuff, which I use to take various type of mental health breaks.
Fundamentally, it’s a reflection of me, with bits of nonsense peppered across the surface featuring the necessary and obligatory giant cup of half-drunk coffee and a water bottle or three.
My new workspace took so much less time to set up and feel ‘right’ than any other workspace I’ve previously created. Perhaps because I’d been thinking about it for a while. Perhaps because my system now works precisely as I want it to. But, this new space feels fantastic already and feels as though, once I sort the remainder of our packed life throughout the flat and truly and completely nest, this workspace will prove productive.
Yesterday, one of my classes met for the last time. It’s been a challenging few first two months of classes this autumn given our kitty breast cancer ordeal and the move. But, this class has been patient and attentive and worked incredibly hard, as well extended truly unexpected and most welcome kindness each week. I’ve entered class on some Monday evenings feeling rather homicidal. I’ve never left it feeling that way. Anyway, I needed a new pic for my last slide. Given that I’d only just finished setting up my desk about four hours before the class met, it’s rather miraculous I managed to get more than the absolute minimum sorted.
The image with the window to the left of my desk is my new space and I genuinely love it. The image on the right is my old workspace. As much as I loved it, I confess: I do not miss it, not even a little bit.
I still have some bits to sort out, naturally. But, I love this space. From where things are on my desktop to my desk’s contents to the views to the left (out the window) and right (to the living room).
Even better, on the other side of my screens, The Cuban sits at his own workspace.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg has always reminded me a bit of my grandmother. Quiet. Proper. Often wearing a stern look or serious expression accentuated by flawless hair and pearls. And, retorts at the ready which leave all present to hear them slack-jawed and cowering at their own ignorance. In my family, we often repeated a mantra, ‘Don’t cross Grandma’. I would imagine some variant exists for RBG amongst those nearest and dearest.
Notorious RBG is a must-read for any self-respecting feminist or equal rights activist (Is there really a difference between the two?) needing a beacon of hope and a dose of ‘get up and go’. And, RBG the woman is that beacon during very dark times. This woman. Unlike her, rather than seeing nine women justices on the highest bench in the land, I’d like to see nine RBGs at SCOTUS.
Oh, to dare to dream.
Detailing her life as a young newlywed law student, then graduate of Columbia Law (top in her class) unable to land a job, then law professor (needing to hide her second pregnancy)…, she understands not just in theoretical terms but from lived experience what perceived differences mean and how they affect us as individuals and groups. To her, it isn’t simply about disregarding those perceived differences and the ideal roles of men and women; it’s about those institutionalised categories and erasing the various barriers and injustices they unfairly impose upon us. Her weapon of choice, however, is the law and the US Constitution. And, this woman plays the long game.
As I was finishing this brilliant, inspiring book this morning, I wept. Not because of anything particularly troubling that appeared upon the page at that precise moment. But, because so many of us are simply too tired to continue fighting for and working towards what we believe is right and just. If this tiny woman could become one of the most inspiring memes of our times, we—who have benefited from her tireless efforts in classrooms, courtrooms and on the bench—can certainly work just a little bit harder to solidify and make permanent those giant gains she made for us.
RBG inspires for many reasons. And, we do her and all others who have blazed various trails a disservice by simply giving in to despair because it is too damn hard.
One of the appendices features a list of ‘How to be like RBG’. It reads:
Work for what you believe in
But pick your battles
Don’t burn your bridges
Don’t be afraid to take charge
Think about what you want, then do the work
But then enjoy what makes you happy
Bring along your crew
Have a sense of humour
I’ve got my to-do list sorted then.
RBG. However long she graces the Supreme Court and this world, it won’t be nearly long enough to satisfy me. I’ll still want more. But, her legacy. Long may it guide and inspire us all. And, may we all have red hot pens at the ready to sharpen and hone our words. Because words and how we wield them truly matter.
Several years ago in a discussion with a colleague after a typical day in the office, a brief snippet of our conversation has stayed with me and inspired much reflection. Discussing the many issues in the world around us which we’d like to see change, a world more socially and economically just and fair, I declared my own desire to make the world around me just a bit better. Whether that difference be at a community or national level wasn’t important; making a difference to the lived experiences of others was what drove me, even if it was on a seemingly small scale.
His response? ‘If you help just one person, you have succeeded, no? You have after all changed the world for the better for at least one person.’
So, so simple. And, so, so true.
Both before and since that after-work conversation and revelation, I’ve thought often about what one person can do to make the world a little better. A little brighter. I’m perhaps in equal measure hopelessly naïve and optimistic enough to believe that one person can and often does make a difference. But, it wasn’t until that conversation several years ago that I stopped worrying about how many people or how large the impact was (something which my day job placed priority on — the number of people reached rather than how much better life was for one person). Yet, one person’s world is still ‘a world’. And, perhaps by helping that one person, others’ lots would improvd as well.
However seemingly insignificant the gesture may be, a single act of kindness, a random bit of support extended to another can create good. From holding a door open to buying a meal for someone who is hungry to clothing a stranger to standing up and speaking for those who have no voice, no act is too small. No act is too insignificant. And, perhaps, those changes and improvements to an individual’s ife can mushroom out as ripples on the water—one person can help another can help another and so on until an entire community benefits.
Like I said, hopelessly optimistic. (It beats the alternative!)
But, what of the more significant, larger acts? Do they take a village or can they be accomplished through the actions of an individual on his/her own?
A single person has made an enormous difference with an amazing impact, as evidenced by Jadav Payeng.
Since 1979, this one man has been planting saplings and growing a forest in Brahmaputra, India. Growing a forest. These saplings have transformed a barren, eroding landscape into a lush, green habitat for various creatures, including elephants, tigers and vultures, which returned to the region in 2012 after a 40-year absence.
Talk about seeing the forest for the trees…
If a single man can create a forest, imagine the possibilities of the seemingly small and insignificant actions we each want to do and don’t for fear it will change nothing. Just as each seed may not on it’s own create a forest, each individual action may on its own seem unimportant and carry very little benefit. Yet, over time and collectively, imagine how much better the world could be? Imagine how much better it would be?
Sometimes, it’s quite alright to focus on that individual tree.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about possibilities and if anything is really impossible. A quote by Nelson Mandela has been stuck in my head for most of this week:
It always seems impossible until it’s done.
This lead me on a quest to find other quotes which speak of defying seemingly insurmountable odds and spitting in the face of the naysayers. Here are a few of my favourites:
‘Listen to the mustn’ts, child. Listen to the don’ts. Listen to the shouldn’ts, the impossibles, the won’ts. Listen to the never haves, then listen close to me… Anything can happen, child. Anything can be’. ―Shel Silverstein
‘Never say that you can’t do something, or that something seems impossible, or that something can’t be done, no matter how discouraging or harrowing it may be; human beings are limited only by what we allow ourselves to be limited by: our own minds. We are each the masters of our own reality; when we become self-aware to this: absolutely anything in the world is possible.
Master yourself, and become king of the world around you. Let no odds, chastisement, exile, doubt, fear, or ANY mental virii prevent you from accomplishing your dreams. Never be a victim of life; be it’s conqueror.’ ― Mike Norton
‘If nature has taught us anything it is that the impossible is probable’. ― Ilyas Kassam
‘Many things worth doing in the world had been declared impossible before they were done.’ ― Louis Dembitz Brandeis
‘My dear, just because something seems implausible doesn’t make it impossible. Think about how long people believed the world was flat.’ ― Angela Henry, The Paris Secret
‘Start by doing what is necessary, then what’s possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible.’ ― Francis of Assisi
That last by Francis of Assisi particularly speaks to me. There are so many moments when just starting out and doing the tiniest of tasks resulted in possibilities which then accomplished what had at one point seemed impossible. It’s a nice a reminder to us all, and can serve as a gentle reminder to simply break any larger task which seems impossible into the various necessary components. Before long, we’ll be achieving the impossible. Nice!
‘Possible impossibility emerges
From an impossible possibility,
Or possibly, impossible possibility
Blooms from the impossibly possible impossibility’.
However you define ‘impossible’ and regardless of what obstacles you think stand in your way, just get on with it. Dare to dream and dare to defy the odds. Then, everything is possible. And, the possibilities are endless.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about things which used to seem exceptionally extra-ordinary that have become rather banal and common.
What started this train of thought was the tragic story of a young man from the UK who summited Mount Everest but ultimately died on the mountain after suffering from blindness and not being able to climb down unaided. Rather than risk the lives of the entire team, he was left to die alone on the highest peak in the world.
Many have died there undoubtedly. But, what struck me was how many actually attempt to summit Everest each year now and how many of them die in the process. It seems to me that attempting a super-human feat such as summitting the highest peak on the planet should not be a goal undertaken by just anyone.
But another story of ordinary individuals attempting and succeeding in exta-ordinary feats also serves to inspire me.
Recently, several individuals from a South African-based organisation called Positive Heroes ran an 89-km marathon. What made this such an amazing tale is that all of the individuals are HIV-positive. Further, this was not their first time running the marathon and they’ve managed to incorporate the rigid routine of taking their anti-retrovirals during the marathon.
These are truly positive heroes. They demonstrate in an extra-ordinary way the amazing feats that ordinary individuals can aspire to and use as inspiration to others.
Congratulations to the ultra-marathon runners on their success and victory! And, many thanks for demonstrating the true meaning of extra-ordinary.