Monday, September 27, 2010

Pets and "The Art of Racing in the Rain"

Been awhile since I wrote my first entry to my blog.  It's been a busy time.    This retirement deal is a lot more work than I thought it would be.  I've been working out regularly though because this weekend I am competing in the first Xterra event in Kelowna.  I'll be racing in the Sport Duathlon division, which involves 2.5 km of running through the woods, 15 km of mountain biking, and another 4 km of running.  I'm ready and eager for Sunday to come.  Although the weather has been iffy for the last little while, the outlook is good for Sunday!

But I don't really want to talk about the race right now.  What I want to discuss is a book that I just finished reading.  A book written from the perspective of a dog - The Art of Racing in the Rain (by Garth Stein).  Enzo, an intelligent and philosophical dog, talks about his life and his role in his adopted family.  According to a documentary he had seen on the Discovery Channel, Mongolians believe that when dogs die they become human beings in their next life.  As Enzo ages, he is rather looking forward to his  passing, as his current body (in his opinion) has two severe shortcomings - no opposable thumbs, and a floppy, uncontrollable tongue that does not permit him to talk.

I personally found this book to be very powerful, not only because I like dogs, but also because the events that are encountered by Enzo's family were quite similar to some I have had to deal with along the way.  It made me revisit some largely disturbing episodes from my past, and at times I considered not completing the book because it uncovered long-hidden feelings of anger and hopelessness.  These feelings were primarily related to the legal system (lawyers and their inhumane arrogance) and how ultimately, within the scope of it, money usually wins out over what is truly fair and just.  There were a couple of times thoughts reawakened by the book prevented me from falling asleep.  Finally, after failing to fall asleep after a particularly disturbing chapter, I decided to get up and finish the dam book!  Fortunately, the book generally had a satisfying conclusion, although a bit far fetched.

This now leads me to what I REALLY want to talk about.  Pets (primarily dogs and cats).  I have 3 pets - 2 dogs (Gabriel - a 7.5 year-old chocolate lab, and Angel - a 7 year-old golden retriever) and 1 cat (Zoe - my dad encouraged me to dislike cats, but during the past few years Zoe has converted me).  I have frequently sat down with one of these genuine beasts, looked into their eyes, and contemplated the processes within their minds.  If you read my first blog installment you might recall that one of my retirement goals was to spend more time talking to my dogs  because they know what it's all about.  I guess the book kind of reinforced my beliefs regarding dogs.  They live life rather simplistically and are therefore are generally content.  They don't second guess themselves, regret what they did yesterday, or worry about what's going to happen tomorrow.  They are inherently trusting, quick to love, and quicker to forgive.  I truly feel "honoured" to have 2 dogs and a cat living in my house with me.  Yes, I have to clean up after them, sometimes they wake me up in the middle of the night, and other times they impose limitations on our actions..... but I have never wished that they were gone.

The late evening that I finally finished The Art of Racing in the Rain, I went to bed and thought about the personally painful events that the book had awakened, and also contemplated the significance of my pets.  Zoe, my cat, chose that time to silently leap up onto the bed, gently make her way onto my chest and lie down.  This is something that she often does and tonight was not an exception.  But she did something extra tonight that caught my attention.  Something she had never done before, as if she "knew".  She moved her body up a little further than usual and gently rested her head on my cheek, and there she remained.  For some reason my eyes moistened and a tear appeared.

Sometimes spontaneous, seemingly insignificant occurrences can have a major impact.  Don't dismiss them or regard them lightly cause they are what make life meaningful.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Opening Retirement Comments

This first post to my brand new blog is meant to be an introduction to who I am and what I am about.  
The overall purpose of my blog is to record my thoughts and feelings as they occur.  Now that I am retired I need to debrief and understand my past, and plan my future.

I retired at the end of June after teaching for about 35 years.  On Friday, June 18 we held a retirement celebration at my favourite restaurant.  At this "wake" for my career we drank, ate, talked, and I had the opportunity to go up on stage to sing my version of "I Shall Be Released".  

I sent out an email to all of the guests and my other important friends a couple of days later.  I wanted to make sure that I had said all the things that I had intended to say (cause there may not be another chance to address the combined group).

Following is a copy of that email.  It will give a bit of an insight to who I am and how I work.  Hope you enjoy it.

I just want to thank everyone for the celebration that we had on Friday.  It really meant a great deal to me and I was really pleased to see so many of my good friends there.  I often don't know what to make of celebrations.  Do we have them because "we" want them, or because "somebody else" wants them, or because we're "supposed" to have them?? During our lives we do so many things that we are supposed to do or other people think we should do, regardless of our personal opinion.  One of my goals during my retirement is to not be a hypocrite.  I plan on doing what I want to do (because I think it is the right thing to do) for the next 25 or 35 years.  I do know that "I" truly wanted this celebration, and I thank every single one of you for being there, in body and/or in spirit.

I can't quite remember what I said when I was up talking on Friday (Brenda made sure I was well lubricated) but I hope whatever it was, it made a bit of sense.  I probably didn't thank you all for the "over the top" gift certificate to Fresh Air Experience.  Wow!  Money to spend frivolously, yet wisely.  An investment in Fun and Health.   Yippeee!    I am grateful that I am healthy at this advanced stage in life and am truly looking forward to retirement.  I'm not sure I like the word "retirement".  It sounds like an "old" type word.  I guess I'd like to call it "the time you get to do your own thing".  And I have a lot of things that I want to do.  Let me tell you about some of them...... those of you who get bored easily may want to skip this part and get back to doing your report cards..... What!! they're done already?......but I digress.

During my time of doing my own thing I want to do a lot of things including (I'll just put 10 of them here):
1.  Take care of my absolutely amazing wife........2.  Ride my bike like crazy.......3. Spend time with and talk to my dogs more cause they know what it's all about.......4. Learn to cook so I have great food to enjoy with beer and wine........5.  Watch the plants in my garden grow so I will continue to be amazed at life..........6.  Become a better swimmer and runner so I can keep up with my wonderful wife........7.  See the parts of the world that I want to see........8.  Spend more time talking to my brother cause he's older and wiser and the "best" person I know.......9. Spend more time with nature and just sit and listen and look .......10. Continue to challenge myself and LEARN. 

Incidentally, my major goal during the time of doing my own thing is to figure out what life is really about.

Thankyou to the choir for their heart rendering version of "A Bicycle Built for Two"  (how appropriate).  I'm glad you chose a tune that I'm not too young to remember and old enough to appreciate.

One more thing before I get back to my report cards.....................Peter.......Thanks so much for being a good friend.  I think we've shared a lot.  You blew me away when you read the kid comments.  They meant the world to me.  As a teacher, those are the comments that I long for.  I hope no one wrote that I did a really good job of covering the Grade 6 learning outcomes.  That would be disappointing.  I hope  (please, please, please) that I can have a copy of those valuable kid feelings, cause that's what it's all about.

Anyway, I've said enough.  I'll let my version of "I Shall Be Released" finish it off.

Thanks a bunch.................Erik

I Shall Be Released

Standing in front of you is a man with mixed emotions
A man who swears he's not to blame
All the outcomes weren't always taught
But at least the kids came out sane

Chorus:    I see my light come shining
From the west down to the east
Any day now, any day now
I shall be released

They say everyone can be replaced
I know my time is getting near
Rest assured I'll miss you all
As I bike and chug my next mug of beer.

Thanks for being at this joyous wake
Thanks for the times that now are past
This crazy job was a bit of give and take
But overall it was a blast