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Wednesday, February 4, 2015

person of 2014: a man and his meanderings

I'm late in naming my Person of the Year for 2014, my apologies, but really it's only just February. 

Life is sacred, live on purpose.
Be intoxicated with this world and astonished with the world you imagine.
Growth is a journey, success doesn't require arrival.
Want what you already hold, Give no place to public opinion
Delight in your friends.
Practice the art of doing nothing,
Embrace moments of grace,
Give the child in you a wide sky
Understand that laughter is prayer. [Terry Hershey]

To give this particular person the title Person of the Year, for just the one year, actually does him an injustice. He’s an octogenarian (83!), and has surely lived decades worthy of the Person of the Year title. His name is John...and he is one of my favorite people.

 Friends in your life are like pillars on your porch. Sometimes they hold you up, and sometimes they lean on you. Sometimes it's just enough to know they're standing by.[unknown]

Since September 2001, John has been sending out an email full of wise and humorous quotes every single school day - that's like 2700 days, 2700 emails! I can barely manage to write once a week, but John researches and finds the most poignant, thought-provoking or silly things from around the world, almost every day of every week. What commitment!

How do you go from where you are to where you want to be? You have to have an enthusiasm for life. You have to have a dream, a goal. And you have to work for it…One thing I urge all of you, all of you, to enjoy your life, the precious moments you have. If you laugh, if you think, and you cry – that’s a full day! That’s a heck of a day! You do that seven days a week and you’ve got something special. [Jim Valvano]

John and his clan - there are too many of them to ask for photo-use permission - this way was easier.
John told me that he started sending out his Monday Meanderings, Tuesday Twitterings, Wednesday Whimsies, Thursday Threads and Friday encouraging snippets for his 7 adult children who were spread out across Canada. He had passed the torch of school leadership on to some of his children who were now in various levels of teaching positions in public, private and reserve schools.

It’s funny how a parent’s or teacher’s  raised eyebrow can do more damage to your psyche than say, Chinese water torture. [Arabella Weir]

John's selections are like signposts - messages to follow or not, if we want to take up the challenge of living peacefully with each other, becoming better humans and grounding ourselves more spiritually.

Give us grace, O God, to dare to do the deed which we well know cries to be done. Let us not hesitate because of ease or the words of people’s mouths, or our own lives. Mighty causes are calling us – the freeing of women, the training of children, the putting down of hate and murder and poverty – all of these and more. But they call with voices that mean work and sacrifice and death. May we find a way to meet the task. [W.E.B. Du Bois]

I'm not exactly sure when I caught wind of John's emails, but I have treasured them since they started popping up in my inbox...they inspire me. My John's Jems email folder is like a treasured library full of books from hundreds, thousands of different authors, different backgrounds and different experiences - so many beautiful words encouraging me to learn, to act, to chuckle, to love and not hate, to be an effective leader, to open my eyes and heart to others, to hear God and listen...challenging all of us really to keep growing and that we in turn encourage those around us to do the same.

Be bold. When you embark for a strange place, don't leave any of yourself behind safely on shore. Have the nerve to go into unexplored territory...if you know what you're heading for, that's all you will get - what's previously known. But when you open yourself to what's possible, you'll get something new - that's creativity!

I have always loved books. My father would read the newspaper with us, and any book we wanted as long as there were more words than pictures. Everyone knows that words are powerful - often you only need a few to make a big point, sometimes as little as three. I love you. I hate you. Je suis Charlie. Sometimes a phrase, a sentence, can reach straight through your chest and grab hold of your heart causing you to act. Oh the lovely power!

The time has come to put our stones down. For hands clutching stones can’t freely drum.
[Native Canadian Medicine Man]

It’s hard not to think about his family when I think about this Person of the Year. John and his wife are the most humble people I know so they won’t appreciate my gushing, but gush I will. So much of their great personality traits I see reflected in their children, and ergo their grandchildren. Generous of time and themselves, funny, clever, responsible, faithful, meek, musical, strong, loyal, humble, so smart, objective, a bit self-deprecating at times, easy-going, kind. Really, don't you think the greatest thing that a parent can give their child is that child’s desire to strive to embrace every good example the parents have set?

"I know what it is like to be powerless to forgive. That is why I would never say to someone, 'You must forgive.' . I can only say: however much we have been wronged, however justified our hatred, if we cherish it, it will poison us. . we must pray for the power to forgive, for it is in forgiving our enemies that we are healed." [Dr Sheila Cassidy who was tortured in Chile, during the Pinochet regime]

The daily emails revolve most often around forgiveness, leadership, what success truly means, learning, loving, working, being involved even if your hands need to get dirty, volunteering, and the importance of being goofy.

“If someone does not smile at you, be generous and offer your own smile. Nobody needs a smile more than the one that cannot smile to others.”[Dalai Lama]

Their children have at various times been scattered from the west coast across Canada to the east coast, B.C to Newfoundland, but the family has remained steadfastly connected as if an anchor rests solidly and permanently on their front lawn - only some anchors more rusted and weathered than others. I know that John and his wife's idea of 'holiday' is to visit their children, even if it means spending a winter week on the Saskatchewan prairies or driving the 14 hours to Winnipeg for a four-day stay. What a gift!

Quotes from intelligent people are also a gift, and I have them jotted down in notebooks, on scraps of paper, on bulletin boards and next up, my arm. A dear friend, who just so happens to be one of John's children, had a wall in her kitchen painted with quotes she loved. Such a cool idea. I would totally steal that if I could, but my current roommate would kill me!

  Isn’t it strange that princes and kings
And clowns that caper in sawdust rings,
And common folk like you and me
Are builders for eternity?

Each is given a bag of tools
A shapeless mass, a book of rules;
And each must make ere life is flown,
A stumbling block or a stepping stone. [R.L. Sharpe]

John's emails highlight nuggets of experience - the words and thoughts from people's own stories that thankfully someone wrote down. But John, himself, has a story (which I won't get into detail here) as intricate and rooted as the rings of a thousand-year-old oak. A family history that includes fleeing war, coming to Canada as refugees, building up a farm on the prairies (oh the winters without electricity!), and more recently trying to fit 7 children plus 2 adults in one car. The foundation of his family throughout the many decades, as strong and unwavering as the thickest tree, is (it's not over) their family's commitment to each other, and to God.

Commitment means staying loyal to what you said you were going to do long after the mood you said it in has left you. [Unknown]

John has been married for over 61 years (to the same woman!), is the father of seven, the grandfather of 17 and almost great-grandfather to one. He and his wife have managed, which seems most unusual nowadays, to actively build brick for brick, with tears and laughter and long car rides, a really strong family who mostly really like each other. They help each other, they talk and listen, they play together and they just be...together, often. I truly think they all really love each other - the active, dependable love that we all hope for. That's success in my books.

Life is a storm, my young friend. You will bask in the sunlight one moment, be shattered on rocks the next. What makes you a man or woman is what you do when that storm comes. [Alexandre Dumas,Sr.]

Since I began my blog in late 2010, I have often tried improving it by borrowing the wisdom from John’s compilations...basically using other people's words so that mine look and sound better. Is that being creative or just lazy? I choose A. I so admire how some people's way with words leave their impact as obvious as a lightning strike.

Live life to the full. All around you people will be tiptoeing through life, just to arrive at death safely. But, dear children, do not tiptoe. Run, hop, skip, or dance, just don't tiptoe.[from an anonymous old guy]

John's emails aren't just serious, but like the man himself who is chock full of spiritual guidance and introspective thoughts, his emails also contain pithy prayers and poetry, punny proverbs and limericks, the supremely silly and unusual.

Actual Newspaper Headlines

  • Homicide Victims Rarely Talk To Police
  • Barbershop Singers Bring Joy To Students At School For The Deaf
  • Meat Head Resigns [CEO of Meat Packing Plant]
  • Police Raid Gunshop, Find Weapons
  • Man With 8 Impaired Driving Charges Blames Drinking Problem
  • School Division: New Sick Policy Requires 2 Days Notice
Recently I sent one of his children a short note trying to send encouragement his way, ending it off with one of my favourite poems (which ironically his sister once posted on my wall at work eons ago). A couple of days later that poem showed up in John’s Monday Meanderings. To say that the family is connected like the tightest web would be an understatement, and I feel blessed to be in a small way part of the web.

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”[Maya Angelou]

John's daily reminders of the rich lives people have lived and the stories they share are a blessing to receive, even more so when those words are acted upon. My cup runneth over because of John and his wife's mark on my life; in words, in spirit, in their open home and gracious family. They are my friends.

"My memories of growing up…are of a close-knit and happy family. We laughed a lot, had fun and just enjoyed being together. We grew up with a very strong sense of the importance of family - much of that came from the example of our parents – they worked very hard to make our lives happy and free from worry. Money was really scarce – we saw very little of it – but we never thought of ourselves as being poor – we were very rich in our relationships with each other, with our church, with friends, and with books……” (John himself)

Thank you John, for all that you've given. It's enough to fly…

(I know, I know, receiving the title from TIME would've meant more!)

“Hope” is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all -

And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard -
And sore must be the storm -
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm -

I’ve heard it in the chillest land -
And on the strangest Sea -
Yet - never - in Extremity,
It asked a crumb - of me. 
- Emily Dickinson


  1. Thank you Nina. A beautiful tribute to dad.

    1. Thank you Gail. As always, I just love that you read this - especially this one which I found really special thinking about and writing over the past many days. It was in me and wouldn't let go. Wishing we were closer that we could go for dinner. Take care, my friend.

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  2. Thank you so much, Nina, for this post. It's really beautiful, and a fitting tribute to dad and to mom. He was, as I expected, moved, but also kept saying "oh, this is really too much". I keep assuring him that it is not too much. You have captured both him and mom so well. Thank you.

    1. Thanks Kim. I tried to rein in my gushing, but I think I stand by it. I really appreciate that you read it. Thank you. I hope you and your parents had a good day.

  3. Rest in peace, John. John Schellenberg 1931-2015

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