Life Used to Be So Simple or Life Makes It So Hard

Life Used to Be So Simple or Life Makes It So Hard

How often have we heard someone, even yourself say, ” If only I could do it all over again? ” I suppose the sentiment here is that if only we could go back and fix all the mistakes in our life; to have a do-over so to speak.  That could repair so much heartache, or would it?

Imagine if you will that you’re taking some time for you, so you go for a walk. For me, my favourite place for solitude is the forest. There’s a peace that can be found when you’re alone with your thoughts. The birds and the breeze that is rustling the branches of the trees above. I suppose another reason is that you may not feel so exposed when you’re surrounded by nature.

So off you go, alone with your thoughts as you begin your walk. The weather is pleasant enough, so you continue deeper into the rich canopy that is the forest. After a few minutes, you stop and close your eyes. As you breathe in the rich fragrance of the damp earth and fallen leaves from long ago your senses far more alive. You feel, smell and hear far greater than ever before as you become one with nature, and that’s when it happens.

As you listen to the sounds of the forest, suddenly a new sound invades your senses. At first, you’re certain it to be leaves rustling in the breeze, but as you listen again, you’re certain that you can hear either something or someone darting between the tree. As you slowly open your eyes, you stop and listen again and nothing. So you decide to continue on and enjoy your walk.

After a few minutes, you hear it again and you’re not certain but you could swear that you saw a flash of something off to your side. As you turn your head to where you thought that you may have seen something, you call out, “ Is anyone there? “ Following what seemed to be an eternity, you see the head of someone peeking out from behind the tree. When this curious wanderer sees you they quickly hide behind the tree once more. This time your voice is a bit softer as you call out, “ It’s ok, I won’t hurt you. Why don’t you come out so we can meet? “

At first, the wanderer peeks out again and then very timidly he steps out from behind the tree. You say hello but there is no response as the wander cautiously looks you over to make sure that you’re as safe as you appear. In an attempt to gain this strangers trust you take off and reach into your backpack to see if you have anything to eat. Slowly you pull out an apple and motion towards this curious visitor if they would like something to eat. He nods his head as his eyes look towards the apple in your hand.

Slowly, you both step towards each other and you can’t help but feel his insecurities, loneliness and fear, so you look right at him so that he can see in your face that you’re safe. But as you do look directly at him, you think that in some way or another that he looks familiar. You’re not quite sure from where, but somewhere or another you’re certain that you must have known him. As you get closer, you notice that a small brook lies between the two of you. Not wanting to startle him you decide to remain on your side of the brook, you carefully reach out, holding the apple for him to take. You notice that this boy looks no more than 13 years of age, but you can’t be quite sure. Your thoughts begin to go in a million different directions as you try and remember who this is.

As his hand touches the apple in your hand, you suddenly realize that this stranger is… you. You don’t know how this can be, but sure enough, this person is you. Of course not you as you are now but you as you once were. Everything within you wants to step across the brook that currently divides the two of you. You think of all the things that you want so desperately want to tell your younger self. All the things to look forward too as well as the things to look out for. You begin to think how different your life would have turned out if only you knew the pitfalls to look out for.

So as you steady yourself to make the leap across the brook you look once more into his eyes and you can’t help but notice a hint of wonder, innocence a spark within his curious eyes. His or your eyes stop you in your tracks as wisdom holds you back from crossing the brook. Yes, every fibre of your being wants to reach out and hold him and tell him that everything going to be all right, but you know that if you do you will only extinguish that spark within that he will so desperately need as he lives your life.

So instead you give him the apple, you smile deeply towards him and shake his or your hand and say goodbye. As you walk away, your mind starts racing with the thoughts and memories of the past. You almost turn around to warn him but then you see a new butterfly emerge from its cocoon and then it hits you.. without the struggle, there really is no life after all.

EQ vs IQ

EQ vs IQ

Whether  seeking employment, attending academic studies or a variety of other everyday tasks, one’s ability to perform whatever tasks that may be required of them has often been measured by their intellectual abilities or IQ. Surprisingly though, we have often seen that the seemingly smartest person in the class doesn’t always get the highest marks or the person with the largest collection of degrees on their wall at the office is also the same person who is repeatedly passed over for promotions. Why is this, since after all “knowledge is power?” Or is IQ the only measure to knowledge? Or, is there more that could possibly explain the apparent discrepancies that we often see in our lives and in the previous examples?

Recent studies give evidence to what could be considered the missing part to what is known as IQ; that is EQ or Emotional Quotient. EQ could be described as “qualities like, understanding one’s own feelings, empathy for the feelings of others and the regulation of emotion in a way that enhances living or, to redefine what it means to be smart” To understand our own feelings is probably one of the best ways of understanding ourselves.  Self-awareness, be that positive or negative will often define who we are to ourselves and to those in whom we come in contact with, for this, in essence, is what we believe about ourselves. This concept, although relatively new to social circles is not new at all. In the bible, it states “For as he thinks in his heart so is he.” Proverbs 23:7, NKJV A modern translation could be, you are what you believe you are. Closely related to this is empathy for others. If a person is in touch with their own feelings or emotions, only then can they truly be able to touch and be touched by others. With this comes a connection that cannot be expressed through mere numerical figures. When we come into contact with others through empathy or being able to identify with their feelings or emotions, then trust is formed allowing for the free exchange of thoughts and ideas, thus giving way to a far deeper level of communication than possible without this empathetic connection.

Probably the most important level of EQ is the ability to regulate our own emotions. “Once an emotional response comes into awareness, or physiologically is processed, the chances of handling it appropriately improve. Scientists refer to this as meta-mood, or the ability to pull back and recognize the particular emotion.” If someone finds themselves in a stressful situation, often their thought process is hampered due to this stress. If that same person is able to recognize that the source of their stress is related to a particular fear, then the possibility exists where you may be able to deal appropriately with it thus enabling you to approach the stressor with a greater sense of ease. Once any given emotion, be that positive or negative is recognized and appropriately dealt with then cognitive consonance can be achieved. [Nancy Gibbs, The EQ Factor, Time Magazine Oct 2 1995: Volume 146, No 14]

It could be easy to infer that EQ and IQ are actually in competition with each other. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, they are in complete harmony with each other and true intelligence could not be attained if one portion of this equation is missing.  IQ could be described as a numerical measurement of one’s inborn intellectual capacities. Someone with a higher IQ is thought to be smarter and has a quicker grasp for learning. Whereas EQ could be described as the ability to tap into the already ˇexisting intellectual qualities through emotional self-awareness and expression. One who has a strong EQ is thought to be emotionally aware and is confident in their abilities thus enabling them to think freely. Although, as discussed earlier, EQ and IQ are not in competition with each other. Some would even go as far as to say EQ is more important because a true intellectual approach cannot be fully achieved in life without solid emotional strength, therefore giving the individual a holistic balance. This enables full intellectual and emotional expression to be achieved.

Although a deeper understanding of EQ within society could prove to be extremely beneficial, there is still a need to approach such a change with caution. Yale psychologist Peter Salovey says, “I love the idea that we want to teach people a richer understanding of their emotional life, to help them achieve their goals.  But, he adds, “what I would oppose is training conformity to social expectations.” If we were to teach children the aspects of EQ, the danger is the possibility of teaching a right or expected emotional response to any given situation. Children and adults alike must be encouraged to explore and develop their own emotions. For if emotional responses are taught instead of explored, then is the individual’s response real?  [Nancy Gibbs, The EQ Factor,” Time Magazine Oct 2 1995: Volume 146, No 14]

For years now through my own experiences, I have known about EQ, I just didn’t have a name that matched my knowledge. As a young child, I was told that I had a learning disability thus explaining my slow development in school at the time. This diagnosis was made during a very formative and traumatic time in my young life as I faced the death of my grandparents, multiple cases of violence in my home, the divorce of my parents, the death of my mother and my subsequent adoption into my current family. I have heard it been said by psychologists that if a child faces multiple emotional traumas such as I had, that same child will be temporarily, mentally impaired. This, I believe is what happened to me resulting in a possible mistaken diagnosis of a learning disability so many years ago. Armed with such knowledge, I don’t believe for a second that I have a learning disability. Unfortunately, this diagnosis is what I believed about myself and thus was what I allowed to define me most my life. As I was going to school, I was faced with various academic challenges. Unfortunately, I mistook this challenge as an inability to learn due to my learning disability. Through this process my emotions and self-worth plummeted, therefore influencing my intellectual outlook. In order for this process of emotional/intellectual destruction to be halted, a change of equal proportions-had and continues to take place. I had to have a proper self-worth, value and significance restored within myself. This emotional healing that continues to take place in my life,  is the result of intense psychological therapy, but primarily because of my deep faith in Jesus Christ. In Him, I have found forgiveness and unconditional love, which in turn has provided me with deep value. “ I have great worth apart from my performance because Christ gave His life for me, and therefore, imparted great value to me. I am deeply loved, fully pleasing, totally forgiven, accepted and complete in Christ.  [Robert S. McGee, The Search For Significance (Houston, Texas: Rapha Publishing 1990) pg. 61]

This phrase has become very valuable to me because it is full of life-giving truth, unlike the possible inaccurate diagnosis of a learning disability that was placed upon me. As I have adopted such truth as my own, I have changed, and one areain particular, is my perceived intellectual capabilities. At the risk of sounding proud, I now know that possess great intelligence. Yes, the process of learning is difficult, for in many ways I am learning all over again, but now I am armed with the truth that anything is more than possible. Truth is a powerful weapon for change. As my Lord has said, “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” John 8:32 NKJV

A Sandblasted Wall

A Sandblasted Wall

The dreariness of the weather matched the sombre mood of all on parade. The day was the 11th of November 2008. November the 11th is a day of great significance in Canada, that we all call Remembrance Day, a day that collectively the people of Canada takes time to pause, remember and give thanks to the men and woman who have served our great nation in the military for the cause of peace.

As the final notes of the “last post” sounded across the parade square, the uneasy quiet of the rows upon rows of soldiers standing at attention was shattered as the artillery guns fired the first rate of the funeral salute. Even with the noise as well as the pomp and ceremony that was all around, it would be hard for one not to be lost in his or hers own thoughts concerning the significance of this day. For me, Remembrance Day has always had great significance and more so now as a Canadian Army Medic.

As the snow began to fall lightly at first, it’s swirling patterns matched the swirling thoughts within as I was contemplating going to Afghanistan in spring 2009 on my first combat mission as a medic. Little did I know then that Remembrance Day would forever afterwards take on a totally new meaning and significance for me.

And so here we are 11 November 2018 once again giving thanks on Remembrance Day. Though a lot has changed in 10 years since that dreary day caught between rain and snow. To begin, my family has now grown, then from 4 children as well as my wife and I to the 8 of us. It’s funny how time has a way of playing tricks on us. When I was growing up, I came from a family of 8 and I swore that I would never do the same thing, and yet here we are the 8 of us, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Secondly, when people gather to give thanks and remember those who have gone to war on their behalf, I am now one of those who is remembered. Once again, life has a funny way of playing tricks on us. As a teenager, I was a rabid antiwar advocate. From my clothing, the music I listened to, to the way I lived my life gave testimony to my disdain concerning war. Nothing in that regards has changed, I still hate war. I heard someone once speak about the topic of war that sums up my feelings exactly. “war is not about the hatred for the enemy in front of you as much as it’s about your love for those behind you.” After 9/11 something changed in me. Even though I’m Canadian and the events of 9/11 did not directly affect me or my country, it did affect my neighbours to the South very deeply. So in the same way that I would never tolerate the abuse of my neighbour down the street, I could not stand idly by while America was being attacked, they are my neighbour. So after I received my diploma from college as a paramedic, I rejoined the Army knowing very well that I may be called upon to ante-up and go to Afghanistan. Never then, did I know what the cost would be, but I feel I can share in the sentiment of General Eisenhower when he said, “I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its stupidity.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m immensely proud of what I was a part of there. How often can you say I get to save lives, well in Kandahar I could say that almost every day. Yes, there were days that it was the opposite but thankfully our averages leaned far greater to lives saved than lives lost. I’ve often said to myself and others that knowing what I know now, would I do it again? That’s a hard one. Once I read an editorial in a major newspaper asking one simple question. “Now that Canada has pulled out of Afghanistan, when you consider the lives lost and the war still goes on, was it worth it?” I’m not one to answer many editorials but this one I felt compelled to. My response was something like as follows; “When we ask was it worth it, it would first be important to consider to whom you are asking the question. Has this question been asked of any girl, who for the first time in her families history, is now able to go to school and with that have a real possibility at a future? Or perhaps you should ask the many soldiers and civilians who are still alive, who perhaps without Canada running the Multinational hospital in Kandahar would not be here to tell their story. Maybe you should ask the parents, brothers and sisters, spouses and children of those who have come back home, either of their own ability or in a flag-draped coffin if it was worth it? I for one will never forget and nor do I wish too.” 

So this brings me back to the topic of Remembrance Day. Now I actually have something to remember, now that I can remember the faces of those who were won and lost. The faces of the children, who for no fault of their own were born in the wrong place at the wrong time. Like the one child, we treated for a double amputation below the knees simply because he decided to take a different way home than usual and is now the victim of another senseless landmine accident. Their screams that still wake me in the night and the visions that invade my thoughts during the day. Now that I have been diagnosed with PTSD and Major Depressive Disorder and as a result, I had to be medically but honourably discharged from the military. With all these thoughts and memories swirling in my mind like the first few flakes of snow on that same parade square so many years ago, would I do it again? YES, I would. For those of us that can remember the events of 11 September 2001, there is one thing that stands out to me beyond the senseless waste and loss of life, the airplanes and collapsing buildings, that is the rescue workers. The countless men and woman of the New York Fire, Police and EMS, who despite everyone running from the danger, they, instead were running towards it. Something like this far out shadows “just doing my job.” This is the heart of a warrior. A warrior is one whether at home or abroad who stands on some imaginary line often not of their own making, stare death and evil in the eye and say, “ You are not crossing this line even if it costs me my life to stop you.”

Now with slight reservation, I now count myself among the ranks of the warriors that have gone on before me. And one thing you’re not going to hear from any of those warriors is that they are heroes. In fact, when anyone has tried to attach that label to me, I will humbly deny the honour, because it’s not mine to wear. If you think I should, maybe you wouldn’t think so if you saw me when I was saying goodbye to my family at the airport on the way to Afghanistan. I was crying like a baby and so were they. A word of advice I was given from another soldier prior to leaving is “once you say your goodbyes and you turn to leave, don’t look back.” Well, I didn’t listen, instead, when I got to the corner my heart ached for one more glimpse of the ones I love. So contrary to sound wisdom, I turned around to see them one last time. What I saw was my 5-year-old daughter sobbing bitterly, holding on to the leg of my wife, her mother.

Now that PTSD is now a part of my life, in many respects, I don’t even know who I am sometimes. Everything that I once held on to so dearly, everything I thought I was and will achieve, has over the past several years have been slipping through my fingers. Everything I thought I was is vanishing with the same winds that blew across that parade square 10 years ago. It’s all been nothing but a facade, but that brings me to my final thoughts; change whether we want it, it is a good thing. Have you ever seen an old building restored to its original grandeur? The process is not just a mere fresh coat of paint and the sweeping out of the lobby. No, the process is far greater than that; no coat of paint will ever cover up the defects that are plainly visible. No, often the building has to be gutted, walls that were crumbling have to be rebuilt or even replaced. The wiring and the plumbing need to be ripped out and replaced so that the building is up to code, and the inside is redecorated in order to match the purposes and designs of the master builder. And finally, there is the outside or the facade. All the years of paint, dirt and pollution have to be removed in order that the outside matches the beauty of the inside. Often that process of stripping the exterior facade of a building is accomplished through the process of sandblasting. The process of sandblasting is where sand under very high pressure is forcibly sprayed against a surface in order to remove any foreign material like paint and grime from the surface of an object. The thing is, that once the process is complete, and the dust has settled, that same building no longer resembles what they years have marked it with, instead it now reveals the original design it was always meant to wear.

That, in many respects, is what PTSD is. It strips all the false facades that we’ve put up for one reason or another. The process is not an easy one, in fact, it can be very painful. The fear and anxiety that I have faced as I’ve groped around in the darkness looking for anything that may resemble my former life are now gone. But for me at least there is good news. I believe that the process of my own personal sandblasting due to PTSD is now revealing who I really am according to the Master Builder, God’s original design. In Romans 8:28 it says; “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” Holy Bible NKJV Now am I saying that my loving God has brought PTSD upon me? No, that would be cruel and not fitting at all with the loving, tender character of Jesus. Once again the bible tells us; “For God is not the author of confusion but of peace.” 1 Corinthians 14:33. To bring such a disaster upon me would be completely contrary to His nature, instead, He has used what was meant to destroy me and is using it for His glory and my benefit. Since PTSD has invaded my life, I’m no longer the serious stern taskmaster that the Army so loved (perhaps that’s one of the reasons they got rid of me) with very little imagination and always willing to follow someone else’s path that they made for me. Instead, in some ways my inner child is coming out, that often silly child that no one including myself can predict. As a child, I could spend hours immersed in a variety of art projects or imagining some of the wildest stories imaginable. Well, thanks be to God, if that is my original design, then in many ways that is what is being revealed in me, the mystery is, I haven’t a clue what’s next.

A Spark Within

A Spark Within

Alone

Darkness is all around

Darkness is everything

Can’t even move

Can’t even see

And yet there’s a spark, deep within

The spark ignites a fire

It’s a raging fire and it refuses to give up

But the spark

Barely visible

And yet visible

The spark remains

Giving light to the eyes

And with the light there comes vision

And the vision comprehends that the darkness is a veil

Alone

…or are you

Pull back the veil, PULL IT BACK

First, there’s one

And another

And more still

Previously alone

All of them

But no more

Their eyes seem vacant

Empty

Void of life

Darkness

But look deep

Very deep within

Allow those eyes to pierce your own

And you will discover a …

SPARK

Breathe

Breathe

Going down

Can’t breathe

HELP

Suddenly, there’s a hand

AIR

I can breathe

Don’t go down

Breathe

Breathe that sweet air

Don’t go down

There’s another hand

And another and another

Six hands together

Together, pulling me up

Breathe

Breathe in …

LIFE

a new day

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