Pearls of wisdom: Highlight reel

Calgary Herald, July 4, 2016: The newsprint has yellowed and there’s a water mark on the obituary that I ripped out of the paper and stuck to the fridge with a little red heart magnet.
“Sara Eaton died on her feet in her tai chi class, surrounded by friends. She was deeply loved,” reads the tiny scrap of paper, one of my favourite quotes in the collection that has amassed on the fridge over the years.

I only tore off the first few lines of the obit, so I have no idea who Sara was, where she lived or how old she was when she took her last tai chi class. But I do know she was a lucky woman. I keep her on my fridge to remind me how I want to die, or more importantly, how I want to live.

George Carlin said, “Life is a series of good dogs” and that is absolutely true. But one could also say that our lives are guided by a series of good quotes, little dictums that turn up on kitchen appliances, t-shirts and Facebook. A few are turning up in this column today because lately I’ve heard a lot of smart people offer big insights and little pearls of wisdom and I want to share the greatest hits.

Starting with Beverly McLachlin. The Chief Justice of Canada was one of the speakers at Congress 2016, a Lollapalooza of humanities research at the University of Calgary at the end of May. “Diversity is a process that every Canadian must engage in every day,” she said, telling a story about growing up in Pincher Creek. Her mom invited some native kids in for tea while their dads talked business outside. Decades later, one of those kids gave McLachlin a present and told her that was the first time he’d ever been in a white person’s house. “I understood how the simple acts of everyday people could make a profound difference in a child’s life,” she said.

Romeo Dallaire also spoke during Congress. In a thoughtful and gently funny speech, the retired Canadian lieutenant-general talked about conflict, and the heartbreak of Rwanda in particular. He recounted walking through a village and encountering a little boy whose family lay slaughtered all around him.

“What I saw in the eyes of that little kid in the middle of genocide is exactly the same things as when I looked in the eyes of my son in Quebec. That kid is just as human as my son,” he said. “All humans are equal.”

Another speaker at Congress (I told you it was a Lollapalooza) was Leroy Little Bear. The founding director of Harvard University’s Native American Program is from the Blood Indian Reserve west of Lethbridge.

“In western thought we limit ourselves and our reality to the state of awakeness,” he said. “In Blackfoot culture we draw from a much broader spectrum of information. Dreams are part of our actual experience so dreams are not left out. We don’t limit ourselves to that state of awakeness. Blackfoot thought is wide open.”

Chew on that for a minute.

And after you do, here’s another nugget of gold about listening to yourself: “If it looks like a duck, and walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, but you think it’s a pig, then it’s a pig.” That one came from feminist icon Gloria Steinem who spoke on International Women’s Day at an event sponsored by UCalgary’s Werklund School of Education’s Youth Leadership Centre.

I grew up reading Gloria Steinem but I’ll admit I’d never heard of Jay Triano when I saw him at a Faculty of Kinesiology reception celebrating his honorary UCalgary Doctor of Laws degree. It seems being a basketball coach is working out pretty well for the tall guy from Niagara Falls, but he could always take his comedy show on the road.

After just making the Canadian national team in the 1970s, he told the rather tall crowd: “I phoned everybody I knew, and then I called people I didn’t know.” Along with the belly laughs, Triano delivered words to live by:  “Be a hard worker and be a nice person. You can take that into any endeavour that you find yourself in.  If you are the hardest worker and a good person you get to go a long way.”

Full disclosure: UCalgary paid me to cover most of these events for them and while I generally can’t read my own writing I was careful to capture these quotes correctly. A little more disclosure: I have typed these out for me as much as for you. I will clear some room on the fridge, rip this column out and plunk it on the door with the magnet that reads: “She knew Mike wasn’t right for her, but he went so well with the drapes.”

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