To smell the roses…

My dearest readers,

Montreal has the ability to captures one’s heart at any time of year, but as the summer-loving girl that I am, I would argue that this city encompasses a very special charm from within the warm embrace of summertime. A week ago, after a particularly long stretch of winter, I found myself with a warm and sunny afternoon off of work at the hospital. It was in light of this delightful summer afternoon that I decided to take the metro to Montreal’s Mile End – I had no real plan for the hours that stretched ahead – I was in a “wandering” type of mood. As I wandered, I stumbled upon an enchanting flower shop called “Dragon Flowers”, adorned with whimsical hanging bird cages and the most vibrant of flower arrangements. It was there, amongst the aromas of lilies and roses, that I met a beautiful soul – the store’s owner for 35 years, Ms Lau. Ms Lau had this way of handling the flowers as she arranged them into works of art. You could tell that after 35 years she still appreciated their beauty and still loved the creative process that filled her days at work. In fact, as she took the time to show me all the flowers, bringing them up to my nose so that I may appreciate the gorgeous fragrances, you could hardly call what she was doing work at all. I asked her how long she had owned her flower shop; she teared up as she spoke about her longstanding relationship with flowers and her shop. I left her shop feeling blissful at the prospect of having met someone who loves what they do so much. My dearest readers, how beautiful it is to be moved by what one does for work; to have a fulfilling relationship with one’s career. I felt truly grateful that afternoon for having taken the time to smell the roses, so to speak.

dragon flowers

Here’s to a construction season full of detours!

My dearest readers,

Before I moved to Montreal I was warned about the constant construction that seemed to be omnipresent in the aging city. I quickly found out that the warning was far from an exaggeration when a sign went up at the end of my street quoting an estimated three years until the construction being undertaken on my street would be over. The word “detour” comes to mind when I think of construction; the need for a necessary alternative to get from point A, to point B, in light of a temporary change in a path’s usual landscape.

My dearest readers, you might be wondering why I am choosing to lead with an anecdote about Montreal’s abundant construction in today’s post. The answer lies in an analogy I recently used with one of my patients. During a heart-to-heart conversation one morning on the ward she had thoughtfully expressed that she was “constantly feeling lost among all the changes – twists and turns – in her life”.  Her carefully chosen words prompted me to imagine the struggle she was voicing as a series of detours, at times veering her off the course she had expected or wanted, at times bringing her to unforeseen circumstances. It is there that I clarified with her if I had understood her correctly – was life seeming like a series of detours to her? She said yes.

This conversation went on to be a meaningful one for the both of us, with or without the analogy; it is this analogy of life detours however that stayed on my mind and inspired this post.

My dearest readers, we often speak of life as a journey and how we should do our very best to not lose sight of the journey itself as we make our way from point A to point B. What we sometimes forget, however, is to prepare ourselves for the numerous times that the journey itself undergoes some “construction”, so to speak, and sends us off on detours. The detours themselves are diverse. Some detours bring us to new faces; people who end up playing an important role in our lives. Some detours, on the other hand, distance us from once familiar faces. There are detours that bring us to places where we are challenged to step out of our comfort zone, while others lead us to places of safety and familiarity. Detours can be everything from derailing, to thought-provoking, to grounding.

My dearest readers, detours represent a fundamental notion that the road to success, to achieving one’s dreams, is rarely a straight one. And so, the next time you feel as though your life plans are under construction, try to be open to the detours that will present themselves. Remember that journeys undergo change; that when one road closes, another one opens.

I wish you all the most beautiful of detours this spring; may the landscape of your lives be anything but stagnant – let it be dynamic, and ever-changing.

My dearest readers, here’s to construction season!

Annual Post-it Notes for Positivity Event!

Thank you to those who attended Positively Profession-elle’s Annual “Post-it Notes for Positivity” event last night! I hope that those who stumble on these little positive messages hidden around the city will experience a brighter day and have a smile come to their face! My dearest readers, there is no act of kindness that is too small! You never know who may need a little bit of extra positivity on a given day ❤️

May the journey be long…

My dearest readers,

So much of what we usually do is intensely goal oriented and time effective; we often celebrate the swiftness with which we can get from point A to point B. We like to move quickly. We often strive to jump from one life event to the next, from one life milestone to the next, from one project to the next. We fast-forward through songs in our playlists and fork-down meals without savouring the taste. We rush ourselves through uncomfortable emotions and take little time to take in our surroundings.

“Ithaka”, by Cavafy, brings us back to the importance of slowing down the pace and allowing ourselves to wander. Ithaka metaphorically reflects the importance of the journey… the space between Point A and Point B where all the adventure and discovery takes place; “As you set out for Ithaka, hope your road is a long one, full of adventure, full of discovery.” Not only might the journey be full of excitement and “thoughts raised high”, but it also encompasses living through very real emotions and challenges. “Ithaka” paints a fine balance between striving towards the dream while enjoying the process and experience of achieving said dream.

My dearest readers, as the holiday season unfolds before us, let us enter an “Ithaka” mind space. Let us not allow hectic Christmas shopping, busy social lives or cold snowy days to quicken our days to such an extent that we miss out on the beautiful subtleties of this special period of the year.

Wishing you all a long road ahead…full of adventure, full of discovery.

Enjoy…

Ithaka

  1. P. Cavafy, 1863 – 1933

As you set out for Ithaka

hope your road is a long one,

full of adventure, full of discovery.

Laistrygonians, Cyclops,

angry Poseidon—don’t be afraid of them:

you’ll never find things like that on your way

as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,

as long as a rare excitement

stirs your spirit and your body.

Laistrygonians, Cyclops,

wild Poseidon—you won’t encounter them

unless you bring them along inside your soul,

unless your soul sets them up in front of you.

Hope your road is a long one.

May there be many summer mornings when,

with what pleasure, what joy,

you enter harbors you’re seeing for the first time;

may you stop at Phoenician trading stations

to buy fine things,

mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,

sensual perfume of every kind—

as many sensual perfumes as you can; and may you visit many Egyptian cities

to learn and go on learning from their scholars.

Keep Ithaka always in your mind.

Arriving there is what you’re destined for.

But don’t hurry the journey at all.

Better if it lasts for years,

so you’re old by the time you reach the island,

wealthy with all you’ve gained on the way,

not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.

Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.

Without her you wouldn’t have set out.

She has nothing left to give you now.

And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.

Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,

you’ll have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.

Unbreakable is, the body

My dearest readers, I recently finished my clinical rotation in pediatric oncology. The patients I worked with taught me so much about life; the potential for dire vulnerability at one moment and unbelievable resilience at the next. It was an emotionally taxing rotation; it is an understatement to call children and adolescents who are fighting cancer as the epitome of strenth. They are truly fighters. I wrote this poem as a reflection on my experience, to explore the idea that the sick body is not one that is broken but still holds so much strength…strength to heal, strength to inspire hope, strength to love, strength to leave a legacy. This idea stretches far beyond the wards of the hospital my dearest readers…we can be hard on our bodies at times. How can we be kinder to them? 
A bone marrow that is infiltrated, a heart with faulty pump
A leg that limps, a chest that collapses, a neck that reveals a lump
Why did their body fail them?

How easy it is for all the call shifts to tarnish the view
Of the human body…in all its supposed complexity
How easy to call it broken…

And yet there exist moments, reminders of the reasons
Not to reduce it down to that
Not to completely medicalize, not to demystify it

And so we are reminded of the resilience
That accompanies the vulnerability
The beauty behind the abnormalities, behind the so-called digressions

Instead of what’s broken, we might want to look at what is
Still beautiful, inherently unbreakable

Unbreakable are the smiles that turn up at the edge where lips meet cheek
Eyes that see the world for the first time, every time
The kind that spark tears of joy

Unbreakable is the little voice inside that says “I can”
The ears that weave together voices and sounds into life’s soundtrack
The quickening of a heartbeat, in love

Unbreakable is when a hand holds another, in unconditional love
The hardening of feet after years of wandering
Callused hands from years of work

Unbreakable are the butterflies that flutter inside
The wings that spread during a leap of faith, 
when we take a chance, on life…

Should we be able to see it, to appreciate it
In all its supposed complexity
Unbreakable is, the body

Life is full of meaningful adventures… Ana’s story & Project Mexico

Life is full of meaningful adventures; experiences that allow us to see the world differently and even see ourselves in a new light. These adventures come in different forms, at different times in our lives. Ana Shteto, a young woman who just started her University career this past September, was kind enough to share one such personal adventure with us. Her travels to Mexico to do volunteer outreach this past summer created a lasting impression on her. Let us live vicariously through her experience…thank you Ana for your story!

Question 1: Tell us a little bit about your recent philanthropic adventure to Mexico! What was the volunteering project that you worked on and what role did you play within the initiative? 

The organization I was lucky enough to take part in is called Project Mexico, it began as a home building mission in 1988 with the purpose of providing less fortunate families in Tijuana, one of the poorest cities in Mexico, with homes. After realizing the immense number of young homeless boys on the streets of Mexico, the mission expanded, they transformed a 16-acre ranch property into ‘St. Innocent Orphanage,’ a loving home for abandoned and abused adolescent boys. Thus, this ranch is not only the base operations for the summer volunteers building homes but also provides a home for many young boys.

Each day we drove down to the work site and worked on completing one stage of the house. The process was broken down into various tasks; mixing and laying the concrete base of the house, building the wooden frame, laying chicken wire around the house, and finally placing stucco on the walls to fortify them. After the days’ work was completed we would head back to the ranch for dinner, an evening church service or, if time permitted, explore Mexico for a couple of hours before heading back. The evenings also provided time to spend with the boys in the orphanage, which were so sweet, each with their own energetic character, they added so much genuine joy to the days but also made leaving at the end of the week a great deal harder!!

Question 2: Some experiences in life have the potential to change our perspective of the world; the potential to provide insight into a different culture or a different way of living! How did your experience in Mexico change the way you see the world?

I had always heard that many people in the world would be ecstatic to receive things that I completely take for granted, such as a house or an education. However, it takes on a whole new meaning when you see it yourself, when “many people” become familiar faces that react with huge grins, tears, and genuine gratitude as they receive their new home, which is no more lavish than what we would view as a shed. To say that the the other volunteers and I experienced a culture shock in this aspect would be an understatement. Driving through the streets every day and taking in the rugged, simple structures and environment, it all juxtaposed entirely with our own streets in Ottawa, where priorities were obviously very different.

However, I was equally taken aback in seeing the liveliness that the Mexicans in these neighborhoods possessed. The Mexican culture is an incredibly vibrant one- filled with lively music, dancing, and amazing food (which by the way helped me discover just how how pathetic my tolerance for spicy food is). Visiting the beach or more central locations it became apparent that people were very joyful regardless of the many financial problems many of them encounter. This contrasted with the world I was used to in an even stronger way than the difference in physical structures, less importance was placed on materialistic things and more gratitude was harbored for little things!
Question 3: Volunteering is a very fulfilling experience to make part of one’s life; how has volunteering and service helped form who you are today? What advice would you give young females about the role that volunteering can play in their lives?

Volunteering is such an amazing thing because it gives you the opportunity to help someone who does not possess the same opportunities and luxuries as you but as you do this you are unknowingly benefiting yourself equally. Unlike simply donating money, which of course is still very helpful, so much can be learned and taken away when you give your time to help.

Almost the entire organization of Project Mexico is facilitated by young adult volunteers, many of whom were females starting as young as 17! It was so uplifting to see such strong young women leading the house building. Especially for young women in todays society, where issues such as self esteem and image are quite prominent, I think that a great deal of the answer lies outside of ourselves in recognizing the immense value we possess in the ability we have, even if its just a little, to influence and improve someone else’s reality. Through this we can truly ‘find ourselves’ not based off of what we look like, or brands we wear but through using our influence to propel a larger cause. As author Albert Pine eloquently said “what we do for ourselves dies with us but what we do for others and the world remains and is immortal.”

One of the most precious gifts that each person possesses is the ability to sympathize with the hardships of others, sometimes people we don’t even know, and effect their lives whether in small or large ways; practicing this ability through volunteering brings so much knowledge, joy and insight into the world and lives around us!

Question 4: If you had to pick one moment that made a lasting impression on you from your experience in Mexico, what would it be?

It would be impossible to narrow it down to just one moment- however as I previously mentioned seeing just how grateful the family was when they received the finished house on the last day is something I will always remember. A part of the trip that had one of the largest influences on me was spread throughout the week as ‘quiet time.’ Every morning all the volunteers would disperse throughout the 60-acre ranch, find their own spot and have 15-20 mins with nothing but a journal, a prayer rope, and nature. I didn’t realize just how valuable this time would be when it was first explained to us but it quickly became one of my favorite parts of the day.

I realized that reaching for my phone and scrolling through Facebook or listening to some music had become an automatic reflex whenever I was left with any free time, so much so that I had forgotten what it was like to sit in silence without technology or distractions. Starting the day off this way gave time to reflect, pray, and find a serene place that made it easier to deal with any hectic aspect of the upcoming day. After the trip I began doing this as often as I could- waking up early and sitting outside to simply be in silence, reflect, and pray starting the day off by appreciating its beauty! I’ve noticed that this provides you with more tolerance, less stress, and the ability to handle all inevitable surprises or difficult aspects of the upcoming day much better.

The soundtrack of our lives…

My dearest readers,

What if, at any given moment, we all had a soundtrack playing in beat to our lives; a melody that played in keeping with our journey through the day, constantly evolving to reflect our current state and mood, from moment to moment? If this were the case, what would your soundtrack sound like?

This thought crossed my mind this weekend as I was sitting on a grass hill, listening to a live performance of Lana del Rey at Montreal’s famous Osheaga Music Festival. My soundtrack at the time was a mix of the singer’s voice, of the rustling of grass under my legs, of the banter of festival goers sitting close together on the hill, of the sound of fireworks echoing in the sky from a nearby amusement park. These evident sounds were matched by a melody of nostalgia, as I remembered her smooth lyrics from summers’ past.

I thought to myself how different this current soundtrack was from one that I sometimes knew all too well from work.  As you well know, my dearest readers, I am a pediatric resident. The word “resident” being quite fitting indeed; as “pediatricians in training”, my colleagues and I spend most of our hours “residing” within the four walls of the hospital we have come to call a second home.  Thus, naturally, I have found myself at many times in a situation where the soundtrack to my story is an endless series of beeps; let me explain. Imagine a night on call in the neonatal intensive care unit. I carry around my neck a pager that rings constantly, as well as two phones in my pocket that relay calls directly from the delivery room. As I walk past the many rooms where the babies are sleeping, I can hear the consistent beeping of their heart monitors, relaying to me their heart rates and blood pressures at any given time. My own heartbeats resonate in my chest, in anticipation of calls and pages to come. This soundtrack, so different from the one I experienced this past weekend.

I sat there, thinking about the silliness of the prospect of having a soundtrack to my life, as if I were living in a weird Hollywood reality – I was envisioning the roadrunner from Looney Tunes cartoons, a rushed and speedy melody playing in beat to his running around the scene.  And yet, aside from the very silliness of this thought, I also began to think, what if this concept of life soundtracks could be used as a model for building emotional resilience?  What if going through the mental exercise of defining our real-time life soundtrack could be a way of gaining insight into our moods and thoughts at a given moment? What if our life soundtracks became a sort of mindfulness; transforming our feelings towards an experience or current state into a tangible melody, that we could reflect upon and change?

I thought again about the constellation of beeps that I often associated with my nights spent in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) – instead of a series of beeps and an awareness of my own anxious heartbeat, what if my NICU soundtrack became one of nursing babies, of the chatter of nurses, of my running shoes squeaking as I ran promptly to another delivery, of tears of joy from relieved parents and loved ones?

In any given moment, my dearest readers, what soundtrack is playing in rhythm to your life? What does that soundtrack tell you about how you are feeling? Could you possibly be “hearing” things differently?

We all aim to write our own story, envision beautiful dreams…let us also begin to play the melody of the soundtrack that we hope for…how do you “hear” your life?