Yesterday morning, I hopped in the car and made the brief (!) thirteen-hour jaunt over the Rockies for a weekend in away in Vancouver. I’ve been looking forward to this weekend for a while, not least because tonight I’ll be heading downtown for the second of U2’s two Vancouver shows to open up their world tour. Plus, it’s just always nice to come back to this beautiful city—a city where we lived from 2005-2008 while I attended graduate school, a city where we have many friends and made many good memories.
I had a few hours to kill today before meeting up with a friend, and wasn’t sure what to do. I thought about going to Stanley Park and walking the seawall. Or going downtown to see the sights and sounds. Or making a quick trek through the little forest where I used to walk on the UBC campus. In the end, though, I decided against some of these more touristy options, and just went for a walk around the southeast Vancouver neighbourhood where we lived. It’s a pretty ordinary part of town, on one level, but it’s special to me. And it was good to be back.
I walked through the graveyard across the street from our house where I used to ride around with my then 5 or 6-year-old twins. I walked past the church where my son rode his scooter and split his forehead open once while fooling around on the front steps. I remembered the rainy walks across Main Street to bring our kids to kindergarten, the bus stop where I probably spent hours waiting for the 41, hoping it wouldn’t be so full that I had to stand for the entire forty minutes to school. I meandered down Fraser street, past the library, the thrift shop, the little grocery store we used to go for odds and ends. Eventually, I ended up at the little coffee shop/bakery where I used read and write essays occasionally, and where I am now writing these words.
Coming back to this city always puts me in a bit of a nostalgic mood. Our three years here were very good ones. They were not without their challenges, to be sure, but overall, we loved our time in Vancouver. It was and is a special place for us—a place where our kids started school, where we ventured out as a family from the safety of the only place we had ever lived for any length of time and discovered that we could make it. And it is, of course, a place of spectacular beauty. I remember regularly marveling, during our first years here, at the greenery, the colours, the cool rains that kept everything clean and fresh, the magnificent mountains that surround the city, the ocean. Yes, I like coming back here. Very much.
Sometimes it takes a little getaway like this to gain a bit of perspective. I listened to a sermon on the drive out that talked about the importance of joy and gratitude. These are sentiments that are easy enough to commend to others, easy enough to affirm in theory, but not so simple to put into practice. It’s easy to allow the daily grind of life to wear us down, isn’t it? Easy to convince ourselves that we are the victims of countless offenses and grievances, that we are owed this or that, that the world is generally doing a very poor job of meeting our entirely reasonable demands and expectations. It’s easy to measure out our gratitude in rather meager portions, saving it only for the obvious, the indisputable instances of goodness that come our way.
But in the end, everything is, of course, pure gift. Even as I look at the preceding sentence, it strikes me as little Hallmark-y. But it’s true. I don’t deserve any of the good things in my life. I don’t deserve a weekend away with the blessing of my wonderful wife and kids. I don’t deserve to drive through the breathtaking Alberta Rockies or the picturesque North Okanagan landscape—none of this beauty has any need of my affirmation or participation. I don’t deserve the good people that God has seen fit to place in my life—people to welcome, encourage and inspire. I don’t deserve a nice night by the fire with good friends, pondering the directions that our lives have taken since last we met. I don’t deserve a dinner with good friends downtown and a sense-tingling rock and roll show on a glorious May evening in Vancouver. Gifts, each one of these, and many more besides.
As I was walking down Fraser Street this afternoon, I noticed a weary, bearded old man sitting on the sidewalk, hat upturned in front of him. In the distance, I could see a younger guy striding purposefully up to the old man. The younger man approached, opened his wallet, took out what looked like a dollar bill, and gave it to him. Cool, I thought. That guy must have given him at least $5! As I approached the old man I saw him staring incredulously at not one, but a small stack of bills. There must have been over $50 there. The old man was just holding the bills in front of him, mouth half-open, staring and staring.
I wanted to tell him to hide the money—quick!—before someone tried to take it. But then, who was I to interrupt or constrain his appreciation of this most unexpected gift? Maybe we could all do with a bit more open-mouthed staring at the undeserved things that find their way into our hands, into our lives.
I took the picture above while wandering around the graveyard across from our house that I mentioned in the post. A pretty ordinary scene, on one level. But also, more importantly, a gift.