I was riding my bike home a few days ago and stopped at a red light. While I waited for the light to change, I saw a woman stop by a homeless man and offer him a large bag. He fingered through the bag, and started to pull out one sweater after another. Different colours. Stabs of bright hues on a dreary day. There was a large blanket as well. The man struggled to find the words, but I could see him mouth “thank you” over and over again to the woman, who then walked away. I smiled at the woman as she passed me. I smiled to acknowledge her kindness, but she needed no recognition. A heart knit with compassion needs no validation.
As I zigzagged through the city, I soon found myself near the lakeside. I don’t often pass through that area of the city, but on that day I was moved to divert from my usual route. I stopped to take in the beauty of the cold Toronto view from the waterfront district. I was taken by the ice floes that hugged the walls of the harbour and which stretched back towards the belly of Lake Ontario. I found myself mesmerized by the pattern of no pattern, the markings, the veins of water and ice which made each piece unique. I was taken by the simplicity of this formation, yet struck by the complexity of it.
I moved forward and began to think of the inter-connectivity of those ice pieces, those floes, and of the act of kindness I witnessed earlier. I began to see the unfolding of how we interact with others, how we are in this world, our community, our circles of strength and support. There seemed to be something about the ice which stuck with me for a while. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was drawn to the water for reflection, for the consumption of the cosmos sending me a message of sorts, or perhaps a reminder of who’s the boss (Mother Nature ain’t no prison bitch, if I memory serves me right.)
If I were to map out the people in my life, of my family, my extended family, my recovery and spiritual communities, my work colleagues, and my friends, I would see a collage of souls similar to what those ice floes looked like. I would see spirits in different stages of growth, solidity and size. I would see the capillaries and stretch-like marks on and underneath the surface. I would see the singular strength that everyone has in varying degrees. I would see just how connected we all are, even if we aren’t strictly joined in some ways. When I see the seemingly fractured nature of those ice floes and of the human souls in my life, I see cohesion. I see dependence and individuality both at play.
It’s a bit esoteric perhaps. Maybe the cold has cracked a part of my brain, but (polar?) bear with me here. We understand water as being in different states—fluid, ice (snow as well) and steam. It depends on the temperature and what it being applied. Heat on ice melts ice and turns it into steam. It changes the state of the water, but not the chemical nature of it. Water is still H2O regardless of its condition. And with us folks, we are still the DNA etched into us. My state changes, but I am still Paul. I am still me, but my state may change depending on the conditions put on me. My core remains the same. Of course, we are a little bit more complicated than water, but hey, aren’t we about 65% water? I see some kind of divinity in water. It’s in us. We know that when we observe water on other planets, our first thoughts leap to the idea of other beings inhabiting those planets.
Water is life, yo.
I look at the water between the ice floes as the connecting fluid between us all. It’s the connection we share with one another. Water which washes us clean, which transports, which refreshes, which replenishes us. We are interlocked with one another, even when we are separate. The larger pieces shield and support the smaller ones. We have our space, and yet we are so close as able to reach out and touch one another. When the conditions are right, we begin to solidify into something greater and stronger. When I am low, I know that there’s encouragement from others if I seek it. I understand that if someone I know needs some kind of refuge, they will find it with me and others. Random kindness, like that woman towards the homeless man, is part of that fluid which circulates about us. It’s part of our make up. It’s a way to stay in touch with the large current underneath us which keeps us afloat. The Great Deep beneath us is the Goodness that the Creator bestows upon us. I can feel it.
Look, maybe I’m stretching this metaphor. Maybe you’re thinking “look dude, chill” (no pun intended.) It’s just some damned ice. And maybe it is. Sure, there’s lots of strife and darkness in the world. Where’s that damn ice flow now, Pauly? It’s there. I have faith that we are meant to be connected in community, and while parts of the world go under (and hell even people in our own lives go under), that the water is still there. There is hope. If there is anything that recovery and the path of spirituality has taught me, it is that we are meant to surround ourselves with others, to be a part of and not apart from, and to be a spark for others in their lives. We don’t “do” alone very well. Even for an introvert like me, I need people. I need you.
It’s the flow of life.