Track 82 — Say You Won’t Let Go

About a week before leaving to climb Jade Mountain, a well-known Taiwan Peak, Rachel turned to me and asked if I would be angry if she didn’t go. I just smiled at her. You see, I of all people understand that my Love has absolutely zero affinity towards any prolonged amount of time spent outdoors. Yes, pools and beaches are okay; however, any vacations we have taken which included extended treks exploring castles, temples or ancient sites have ended on slightly less than amicable terms. This trek was an eleven-kilometer slow ascent up a narrow mountain trail which would peak at 3950 meters. Needless to say, I had been expecting this question for a while.

“To be honest,” I joked, “I was surprised that you agreed to go in the first place.” She grinned. I continued. “No, of course I won’t be angry. I know that you hate the thought of hiking. I won’t be upset at all.” I took a breath and kept going, “I will be honest with you though. I’ll be disappointed. I was really looking forward to reaching the summit with you.”

Rachel returned my smile and quipped, “Even if nag at you the whole way up?” I laughed quietly and nodded to her, “Yep.” And that was it. Nothing more was said. I guess my words were enough to convince her to make the ascent. And I am so glad that she did because it was breathtaking. Truly. Breathtaking.

The sheer grandeur or her stature

overwhelming

Her natural dichotomy

raw, rugged, peaceful, calm

constantly pulling me forwards

carrying me upwards

Her static beauty

captivating from the start

opening with each step

revealing

changes that had occurred over time

they

they are the reason for her majesty

 Each line and every wrinkle

a story to tell

inspiration, tragedy, hope and sorrow

Love

The splendor of her summit

The victory of our climb

Stepping back from her

basking for a moment in her splendor

watching her shadow

flowing gently into the horizon

leading the way

A blessing

And then

Taking my eyes from her for a moment

I look to the mountains above

Rachel turns

stares back at me

with love

We begin to climb.

My life has been blessed with a partner who completes me in every way. Our ascent to the peak of Jade Mountain is yet another testament to the beauty, purity and the depth of her love. I know that she made the climb for me. To be with me. To share with me. And I am grateful for her.

In any relationship, it is important to keep climbing. To constantly reach for the vibrancy of every sunrise that lies in the distance. It is necessary to face each obstacle, witness each miracle and most importantly to just make the journey hand in hand. Together.

And that, my Love, is something that I promise to do. Forever. To continue to love you and grow with you. To do my best to complete you as you have done me. I promise, Rachel, to never let go.

Say You Won’t Let Go Youtube link:

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Track 81 — 100 Years

The other morning as our train pulled into Union Station, Siaya turned to me and asked if three weeks at grandma’s and grandpa’s house was enough. I stared at her for a long moment, regarding her question with a little more thought than she was expecting. I know she was hoping for a quick answer. A simple ‘yes’, or ‘no’. Not the monologue she was about to get. Nevertheless, I smiled at her and began.

I can remember back when I was your age, traveling to visit my grandparents, aunts and uncles. Although your grandparents, Uncle Scott and I lived in Canada, we were always a plane ride or eventually a road trip away from everyone. Visits were never frequent. Back then, they remained annual events, very similar to our own trips back here to Canada. And like our trips here, they seemed to finish just moments after they began. Really. Doesn’t it feel as though we just arrived?

Siaya stared at me with polite boredom. I knew I had already lost her; however, I pushed on.

I listened to you and your brother laughing and chattering away as we pulled away from the platform in Cornwall. This train ride has been fun for you both. Onan loves just being here. For him, trains, buses, planes, you name it – they are all amazing. He is still at that age where a ride on any type of vehicle is exciting. You, I think, are anxiously anticipating the adventure that awaits you in Toronto. This will be your first vacation alone; your first summer camp. Your focus is on the freedom and independence that lies just around the corner.

 Believe it or not, I can still I remember feeling the same sort of excitement and delight every time I boarded a train, walked down the gangway onto a plane or piled into an overstuffed car. When you are young, your focus is very much on the now. This means, every time you travel anywhere, the trip is all you can really think about. Your attention remains on the present adventure. This usually means that any amount of time spent on holidays is enough. Of course, there is disappointment when you leave; however, you have the trip home to make things a little easier. A little more fun. And that, my dear, is a youthful perspective.

Siaya’s eyes told me that I was beginning to take away from her fun, but, hey, I was on a roll.

For me, I must admit that this train ride carries with it a little more bitter than sweet. I am very sad to leave your grandma and grandpa behind. They are getting older and I don’t know how many more trips home like this I will get. Although I am thrilled to be sharing this train ride with you and Onan, I don’t have your youthful view on life. I can’t shake this feeling of sadness as we move farther and farther from your grandparents’ home. At this moment, I am preoccupied with where we are leaving rather than where we are going. And that, my love, is a more aged perspective.

I knew that that was too deep, so a backtracked a bit.

For a time, your grandparents, Uncle Scott and I would drive to New Jersey to visit my grandmother, aunt, uncle, and cousins. New Jersey is only a seven-hour drive from Cornwall, so we did this with a little more frequency. We made it into long-weekend vacations, about twice or three times a year. And every time the weekend ended, as we drove away, your grandpa would honk his endless goodbyes, and your grandma, Uncle Scott and I would wave wildly through the windows of our packed car (You really have no idea just how packed it was.). I remember watching as my grandmother grew smaller through the rear window of the car. She was always so much sadder than the rest of us. Her wave had a little less weight to it. Her smile never seemed to penetrate through the slow trickle of tears that made their way down her cheeks. At the time, I didn’t – couldn’t truly understand why she felt so sad. I was about to eat pretzels, chips and chocolate-marshmallow cookies for the next seven hours. What was there to be sad about? And besides that, we would, of course, return on the next long weekend. Youthful perspective.

Now that I am older though, my perspective has changed drastically. This morning, for example, as we boarded the train, the only thought on my mind was having to leave your grandparents. And it sucked. This feeling got even worse as the train pulled away. I’m not sure if you saw your grandpa standing on the platform as we left. You were very busy getting settled into your seat with your brother. I, however, did. And it broke my heart. How sad he seemed trying to catch a glimpse of us through the tinted windows. His waves held much less promise than the torrent of beeps he used to give his mother so many years ago. It brought tears to my eyes.

I had Siaya’s attention, if just for a moment. I needed to bring my rambling to an end.

No, my love. Three weeks was not enough. But as you get older, you realize that no amount of time will ever be enough. All I can do is to enjoy every moment that I share with your grandparents and satisfy myself with the understanding that each goodbye is simply a prelude to the next hello.

I could have gone on. I had more to say. But, I didn’t. I recognized that Siaya had had enough. So, instead, I kissed her on the forehead and let the moment pass. For her anyways.

Not for me. Not yet.

I turned from Siaya and stared out from behind the tinted glass for a moment, looking for another glimpse of my father’s face that was miles behind. I wish he could have seen me waving back at him as the train rolled away. He would have known that I shared in his heartache. But then again, I’m sure he knew. I’m sure they both know.

100 Years, by Five for Fighting is a song I tried to introduce to Siaya a few months ago. Unfortunately, at the time, she asked me to change the music. She said that she had had enough of my ‘old-school’ tunes and wanted to hear something from her generation. Fair enough. I do hope, however, that one day, maybe after reading this, she will give the song a second chance. For me, the lyrics have a lot to say. Once again though, perspective.

Life is short. As my father has said on many occasions, “Tomorrow always comes.” Fifteen turns to twenty-two turns to forty-five turns to sixty-seven turns to ninety-nine. And we’re done. As quick as that, it’s over. And all that is left are the memories that we have helped to create for ourselves and for others along the way. I have learned over the years to do my best to live these moments that I have been given. To laugh, to live and most importantly to love. Understanding that there is never enough time has pushed me to better cherish the time that I have. I may not have 100 years, but I will do my best to live a life that feels like it.

100 Years Youtube link

 

Track 76 – Someone Like You

Last night I found myself in front of the computer fighting with my fingertips (again) , trying desperately to find the words to express what was going on inside. I guess the gap between tracks has been too long. One o’clock came and went and I had written nothing worth posting. At about one thirty, Rachel finally came out into the living room and asked me to go to bed. Five thirty was going to come around way too quickly. It was time to catch some z’s.

Without argument, I closed up my laptop, padded off to the bathroom, brushed my teeth and quickly slipped under the covers next to Rachel. As I snuggled up close against her bulging belly, I concentrated on the gentle movements coming from deep within her womb. I looked at her and smiled. Our little one seemed to know that it was finally time for us to meet. His day had arrived.

And what a blur of a day it was.

It is now one fifteen in the morning of January 5th and I cannot help but wonder where the hours have gone. Our baby boy, Onan Aaron Kaufman, was born in the wee early hours of January 4th, 2014. He was brought out from the delivery room, face scrunched up in discomfort, by one of the nurses. We were told his weight (3.6 kilograms), his time of birth (7:44 a.m), the status of his mother (healthy) and were allowed to take a few pictures before he was whisked back inside to be cleaned up and swaddled.

The rest of the day was a series of visits, texts, snuggles and pictures. Somehow, through all of the excitement, time, the elusive demon that it can be, managed to slip away. The early hours of tomorrow became today, and here I am, once again, perched at my computer searching for something to say.

Fortunately, tonight I have found my words.

Kind of.

I have actually borrowed some words. Two to be exact. A short sentiment that was passed to me through the lips of my other brother. Something that he said to me after I thanked him and a group of friends and family for all they had done to give Rachel and I such an amazing baby sprinkle. His words were nothing special. Nevertheless, they were something very profound. They gave me an outlook that I hope (and pray) I can pass on to my children. What he said was,

‘Thank you.’

At first I thought it was a rather odd response to my words of appreciation. After all, he (and everyone else) had put so much time and effort into making little Onan’s baby sprinkle such an extravagant success. He had no reason to be thanking me.

Or did he?

My ‘brother’ replied that the anticipation of Onan’s arrival had given us all a reason to celebrate. It was an act of love that provided a group of friends with an excuse to let love’s beauty shine. He continued by saying that we live in a world where love must be cherished, nurtured and spread. Any reason to celebrate it is something to be thankful for.

As I sit here in the faint light of my computer, looking over my wife and daughter and thinking of my newborn son snuggled peacefully below, I am struck with the wisdom and insight of his words. All I can do is to respond with nothing less than the same sentiment.

‘Thank you!’

(Someone Like you, by Adele, is the background music for Onan’s birth announcement. (http://magis.to/fX9xAwMHRQkfDnIGAw) It was the song that seemed to fit the moment and for me it will forever be ‘his’. Welcome to the world, my son. Thank you for the love that you have brought with you!)

Someone Like You Youtube link

Track 75 — This is the One; Hidden Track — Seasons of Love

I sat down tonight with a mission; a mission to finally complete this post; a post which I had every intention of publishing three weeks ago; three weeks ago, of course, being my forty-first birthday and the intended finale to my 365 day blog; a blog which somehow never reached its conclusion.

Sigh.

Trust me when I say that I tried. I wrote, scratched, typed and deleted so many introductions and ideas that I almost forgot what it was I that I had hoped to say. I struggled so much, in fact, that I felt as though I was playing a game that my brother and I used enjoy as kids. (Actually, it is not so much a game as it is a psychological phenomenon. But I digress.) He and I would repeat ‘giraffe’ over and over again until the word completely lost its meaning. It was somehow amusing for us to disassociate the word ‘giraffe’ from the long necked animal that roams the Savannah. What can I say? We were easily entertained. Now. Not so much. Now. This game of semantic saturation has lost all of its appeal. Now. All I want to do is get to track 76.

Unfortunately, in order to do that that, I must first open the door to track 75. And as I have said, that has not been an easy task. I am not sure why, however, as I had chosen the song about two months before I really began thinking about what I wanted to say. Come to think of it, maybe that was the problem.

The song I had originally chosen was Seasons of Love from Rent. The selection seemed appropriate for the occasion. (To me anyway.) How do I measure a year? From the words I have written over the past 365 days, I hope that the answer is obvious. In love. For my family. My friends. My past. And of course, my future. The answer should be nothing but – love.

The snag came as I tried to relate the song to my life. Rent was the last musical that I saw before coming to Taiwan. My parents purchased four tickets; two for themselves, and two for me and my fiancée at the time. Life worked out, however, that I needed to find another date for the performance. (see track 54 Closer To Fine) Although it might not have seemed true at the time, I know now that I was sitting next to the perfect person as the final number faded and the curtains came down.

As I write this post, it seems to me that Seasons of Love was the perfect choice. The song was a prelude to what became be the next chapter of my life; the chapter which eventually brought me to where I am today. If only the last three weeks had been so easy.

I am not sure why, but any thoughts that I had put down onto the paper or screen in front of me did not seem to fit. Possibly I was trying too hard. Maybe I was looking for a bit of poignancy that was not there. It could be that I was striving for a depth that could not be reached. Or maybe I just did not know what to say. Nevertheless, for whatever the reason, I abandoned Seasons of Love. The post was not going anywhere and I decided that I needed a new song.

When I sat down today, I had no idea what track 75 would be. All I knew was that I had to relax. (The three-finger shot of single malt that sits next to me as I type is my failsafe guarantee to success.) It was not until I started writing that I began to hear the music. I guess that I needed to first understand that this post was neither a conclusion nor a finale. It was just a post; a rambling like any other. Not written to be deep. Not told to be meaningful. Just published as a means to tell my story.

My blog is nothing more than a compilation of musings that give insight into how I lived, what I have done, what I have hoped for and what I strive to achieve. As I tap closer to track 76, I have finally realized that this post was nothing to be planned or forced. It was simply the one.

This is the One, by the Stone Roses, was a song that was introduced to me in university by the same woman who sat next to me at Rent. (See track 71 Faithfully) It is a song that has been with me for all of my adult life. Although I have no idea what the lead singer is singing about, (I assume it’s about a girl, but his accent is just too strong for me!) the chorus sings out to me with every heavy strum of the guitar. This is the one. There is only one. I am in love with it and look forward to every moment of it. I pray for a future filled with the same love and happiness with which I have been blessed. To my family and friends, nothing but love.

Now, let’s hit track 76.

This is the One youtube link

Seasons of Love youtube link

Track 73 – Faith

My father, forever the optimist, has always been a firm believer in the adage, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” Having heard it enough times as a child, I began to understand the worth in these words. Now, as an adult, I do my best to live my life in much the same way. Things always seem to work out better when I face the world with a positive attitude.

Most of the time anyways.

I have to admit that I didn’t taste anything but the sour tang of disappointment when I woke up a couple of weeks ago to a downpour. Normally, I don’t mind a little precipitation in the morning. I actually find the pitter patter of raindrops to be quite relaxing. However, on that particular morning we were not at home. We were on the island of Koh Chang about to enjoy the first day of our vacation. Or so we had thought.

Upon hearing the rainfall, I rolled over to Rachel and let out a groan of displeasure. I then reached for my smart phone and began to check the long range weather forecast for that area of Thailand. As soon as I did, the foul tasting bitterness that had filled my mouth slipped heavily into my gut. Grey skies, mild rain, thundershowers and nothing but for the next ten days at least. My disappointment only grew as I checked a number of other weather websites. They were all the same. Not one would give me the forecast to which I had been looking forward for so long. It soon became apparent that any lemonade I would taste would have to be drunk from underneath an umbrella.

And so, I did what any fool in that situation would do. I put down my Samsung, stepped out onto our balcony and defiantly thrust my finger into the sky. I poked at the dark clouds looming overhead and willed the rain to stop. I would not allow the holiday that I had waited so long to enjoy to be washed away in a torrent of wind and rain. I would see the sun.

And I did.

By mid-afternoon that day, the rain had subsided and Siaya and I were swimming in the ocean. The next morning, we woke up to the beauty of a cloudless sky. That night, I went to sleep satisfied with a tender redness on my skin that came from a full day in the sun. And for the rest of our holiday, save the last day, we enjoyed the beauty of Thailand ‘sans’ precipitation. (During the times that we were out anyways.) It seemed as though my finger worked. I, at least, take it on faith that it did

I remember the first time that I got it into my head that I had the power to stop the rain. It was in Bali during the summer of 1999. My brother and I had bought our parents tickets to the island as an anniversary present and then met them there for a family vacation. As I was laying out by the pool on our last day, I noticed a cluster of menacing rain clouds rolling in. For some reason (I think I had seen my father do it before.), I pointed my finger at the clouds and wished them away. I don’t know if it was a freak of nature, a spirit in the sky or my will, but within ten minutes the clouds had all but disappeared. I was blessed with a couple extra hours of sunshine. That was all it took for me to believe in the power of my finger. That was enough to give me faith.

Now, every time there is a chance of bad weather ruining our plans for a party, outing or adventure, I jab my index finger into the sky and attempt to work my magic. If you ask me, I will tell you that it works eighty to ninety percent of the time. I will tell you with some conviction that I have the power to stop the rain. Or at least delay the onslaught of precipitation for a time. Am I crazy? Probably. Just a little. Peculiar at the very least. But I am ok with that. With the present state of the world around us, I believe that having faith in anything at all is a good thing. It’s needed.

Any time I turn on a newscast or read a news-report I am drowned with stories of political corruption, deception and self-serving ambition. It is difficult for me to have faith in our governments.

The same stations and reporters that provide me with those stories also try to convince me that it is important to be aware of how JAY Z now spells his name or that the Queen has just visited the baby prince. It is difficult for me to have faith in our media.

I read about teachers being mistreated, students being mislead, and an entire system being mislabeled. It is difficult for me to have faith in our so-called education.

Criminals are let go while victims are abused. Truth, justice equality have been replaced by dishonesty, power and greed. It is difficult for me to have faith in the law.

I read of, bees, bats and birds dying, polar ices melting and waters rising. It is difficult for me to have faith in our future.

The world, it seems to me, is full of lemons and not enough sugar. I need a little faith in something to sweeten my drink. And so, I cling to whatever beliefs I have no matter how far fetched they may seem. After all, if something as wildly unbelievable as the ability to stop the rain could be true then maybe (just maybe) everything else in which I have lost faith has the potential to get better.

Faith, by George Michael, brings me back to grade thirteen, a road trip to North Bay, and the woman who drove me there. Throughout our long friendship, we have shared in a number of rather unique experiences that I know will keep us bonded for life. I hate to be a broken record (Something else that was taught to me by my father!) but there is nothing more reassuring than the certainty of a true friend. It is a wonderful thing to know that someone will always have my back no matter what. I can only hope that my friend has the same amount of faith in me.

Faith is the belief in something without proof. Although it is often a step made blind, it provides us with the confidence and light to make the journey possible. As Rachel, Siaya and I get ready to welcome the newest member of our family, I force myself to keep my faith and belief that things will continue to work out for the best. However, if they don’t, the next time it I see the dark clouds rolling in, I will just lay off of my finger a little and allow the cool rain to water down the sour taste of lemons.

Faith youtube link

Track 68 – Better Man

Although my brother and I first arrived in Taiwan on the eve of Dragon Boat Festival, neither of us paid the occasion any mind. I guess at the time it wasn’t a big deal for the foreign community in Hsinchu. At least it wasn’t for my boss and buddy who picked us up at the airport. They didn’t mention anything about the holiday on the drive back to our new home or as we drank beers at Nepal that night. The only thing that was mentioned was the fact that we should try to balance an egg on its end at noon the following day. Apparently any individual who is able to succeed in such a feat is promised a prosperous year filled with luck and good fortune. I unfortunately forgot to raise my egg the next day and have neglected to give it a go every year since. If only intention and retention meant the same thing I might be a very rich man today.

As Dragon Boat Festival approached the following year, I asked my students to explain the significance of the holiday. In fact, I must admit (with embarrassment) that I needed to have it explained to me once a year for the next few years. For some reason my Canadian brain just couldn’t hold on to these new Taiwanese traditions. (What was I saying about retention?) Nevertheless, slowly but surely I have learned that the holiday falls on the fifth day of the fifth month of the Chinese calendar. I also know that the festival originated as a means to commemorate a famous martyr poet who committed suicide thousands of years ago in opposition of the ruling emperor. My students taught me that zongzi (rice dumplings) are eaten and dragon boat races are held to honor his death. It, along with Full Moon Festival and Chinese New Year, is one of the three most celebrated of all Taiwanese festivals.

Or so I was told. I’m not so sure that I believe the hype. Of the fifteen years that I have lived in Taiwan, I have only celebrated Dragon Boat festival four times. Sure I have eaten my mother-in-law’s rice dumplings every year for the past fourteen; however, peeling bamboo leaves away from these sticky delicacies doesn’t carry the same weight as a Passover feast of brisket, potato kugel and matzo ball soup or a Christmas banquet of turkey, potatoes and stuffing. I just can’t seem to get excited over rice and an egg yolk. But that’s just me.

I was, however, brewing with enthusiasm over the prospect of taking part in a dragon boat race. The first time I joined a team was in 1999 – my Nepal days. Looking back on the experience it might be fair to say that our team was a little ill-prepared for the competition. I most definitely was. The first time I had ever seen a dragon boat was on the morning of the race. I left Nepal at about 6:30 after a night of drinking and dancing and rode straight to the harbor to meet my teammates. By 7:30, the first signs of my impending hangover started scratching at my brain. When we finally entered the dragon at about 9:00 the drumbeats seemed to be coming from the inside of my skull rather than the front of the boat. Nevertheless our team won our first race and finished the day by taking home the gold. Our first race was also our last. There were only two teams in the competition. As I said, back then Dragon Boat Festival didn’t have the fanfare that it does today.

After celebrating such a hard fought victory, I took an eleven year hiatus from the sport and didn’t venture back into the belly of the beast until 2010 when a good friend of mine organized her own dragon boat team. By this time, Dragon Boat Festival had become a widely recognized competition attracting many more teams and spectators. It had become a true holiday in which I was ready to participate again.

This time, our team, The Talladega Dragons, had a little more training. We practiced our technique for about an hour on the Saturday before race day; however, our oars didn’t seem to match the rhythm of the drums and we only won a heat or two. The next year, the same woman enlisted a group of eager foreigners to have another reach for the flag. In 2011, The Bamboo Warriors, moved up in ranks and managed to place third.

This year, we were led by the captain of The Foreign Devils. This team seemed to train a bit harder and want the gold a bit more. Unfortunately, however, our dreams of standing highest on the podium were thwarted by our long time nemesis. After a rather controversial call and a number of hard fought races, they proudly took first and we were left standing tall with second.

I was not at all bothered by our defeat in the dragon boat lanes. As I said, our team rowed with the heart of champions. We were just outmatched this time out. What left me choking on a bitter taste of something more than the salty waters of NanLiao Harbor was the fact that the rules of the competition seemed to have been altered to suit the needs of the winning team. Whether or not this was the case, it led me into a couple of rather heated debates with a friend of mine on the opposing team. My argument was that his team shouldn’t have been in the finals at all because their flagman had fallen into the water during a preliminary race. His was that technicalities shouldn’t matter – the better team won. This was a point I just couldn’t concede.

Did the better team win? Is there really such a thing as a better team? I don’t know. And really, I shouldn’t care. My buddy’s team beat us three out of four races and deserved kudos for their accomplishment. I should have let it go at that. Further reflection has allowed me to realize that there is no better team. Only a better man. And the better man wouldn’t have taken part in this debate. I guess I lost again.

Better Man, by Pearl Jam, brings me back to my last years of university. Although the memories and people I have attached to this song have absolutely nothing to do with dragon boating, competition or even Taiwan, the chorus, ‘can’t find a better man’ kept pounding through my mind as I paddled my fingers along my keyboard and anyone who has ever been dragon boating knows that you need to follow the beat of the drums.

Better Man youtube link

Track 66 – Give Me One Reason

Growing up, my parents were always consistent and fair when it came to my brother and me. My mom and dad both made a point of letting us know that there were no favorites. In their eyes, we were and always would be uniquely equal. Choices, consequences and privileges were the same for us both. This, without a doubt in my mind, is the only effective method to parent a family. Nevertheless, being the younger of two brothers, I was quick to notice the drawback to their parenting style. Equality meant me waiting an extra year and a half before receiving most privileges. (Oddly enough, this wasn’t true for most consequences.) Therefore, I had to stand back and jealously watch as my brother earned an allowance before me, mowed the lawn before me (Only my brother could have convinced me that that was a privilege.) and of course got a job before me.

I can still remember the day my mom, dad and I drove my brother to his first shift as a fuel jockey. I was so green as I watched him walk towards the gas pumps and the freedom they represented that I could have shit leaves. A few months later, when he graduated up the part-time ladder to flipping pizzas at Fat Albert’s, I think I actually did. Not only was my brother taking on new responsibility and making money, but he was also gorging himself on free pizza and subs every weekend. Equality had never tasted so bitter!

And then came the day when I was finally allowed to work. I proudly followed in my brother’s footsteps and donned the same purple Fat Albert’s uniform as him. For a few weeks, I basked in the glory of another step towards manhood and gloated about the cheese it put in my mouth and pockets. I had arrived. I was of age. I was free.

Or so I thought.

Two weeks after serving my first pizza, I realized that this was another of my brother’s footsteps in which I should have been a little more patient to step. As he did with mowing the lawn, my brother somewhat deceived me on the pleasures of part-time work. Sure there was cash, responsibility and a belly full of free food. But there was also obligation, responsibility and an extreme loss of free time. (It didn’t take long for me to understand the biting pleasure of responsibility – one of childhood’s true double-edged swords.) Nevertheless, for better or worse, I had entered the world of employment and there was no stepping back.

And I never did. I eventually gave up my fast food career and finished high school working part-time at Woolco giving fashion, sports and hardware advice to those who knew no better – Shane Kaufman, Woolco floor representative and bullshitter extraordinaire; I spent all but my first of seven university years reprimanding frosh for the same stupidity that I was given shit for during my first year – Shane Kaufman, campus security, desk clerk and hypocrite especial; and I spent my summers earning money any way I could – Shane Kaufman, camp counselor, group facilitator, and Walmart construction worker meraviglioso.

It was during my years of doing part-time and summer work where I learned that job satisfaction rests with the people more than the position. Put the wrong person in the right position and a dream job suddenly becomes a nightmare; likewise, give the right person the right position and a job in the sewers smells of roses. I’m sure this is why I settled so smoothly into a career with kids – they are far more genuine, upfront and fun to work with than most adults. Although it is never enjoyable dealing with the drama and angst of pre-pubescent students (of which I have many), I can at least relate to where they are coming from. As I have said before, I am still very much kid myself. It’s walking into a staffroom at work and being confronted by the same sort of teenaged anxiety amongst my peers that gets my teeth gritting in disgust and my hand reaching for the door. Drama works well on TV, not in my life.

One of the most interesting jobs I have had as it relates to this was at Open Hands, a group home (Actually there were five homes scattered around the city.) for the developmentally challenged. I had a love-hate relationship with that job from the moment I stepped through the front door at one of the five houses. The clients (This is what the residents were called.) varied in abilities, disabilities, age and need. Some residents were in a vegetative state and required complete and utter care, while others were extremely high functioning individuals who went to school and even worked. The diversity of the people at the homes brought something new to every shift.

Some days were shaded with chaos, violence and rooms full of feces and others were colored with laughter, fun and hours of innocent joy. Nevertheless, whatever excitement the shift had in store for me, I was never really caught off guard. The residents didn’t know of drama or hidden agendas. They were and always would be true to who they were. There was no reason for them not to be.

At one house, I knew that the little girl who sat quietly in the corner grinning at me through her mischievous black eyes, was waiting for me to turn my back on her so she could spring up, wrap her tiny fingers in my hair and pull with all of her might until a nice thick lock was ripped from my skull. (She caught me. Once.) Likewise, I knew that behind the angelic eyes of one little boy at another residence lied the spirit of true wickedness. He was very honest and open about wanting to push my buttons until I was ready to explode. (I only worked the night shift at his house.)

I was only ever caught off guard once. But even then, I wasn’t all that surprised. I was told from the very start that one female resident often got aggressive towards the male staff and clients at the house. She wasn’t violent though. Just extremely horny. I was told to send her to her room whenever she started acting up so that she could calm herself down. As it turned out, this was a very regular occurrence and the whole ritual became a hazy shade of normal. At least it was until along came the day when I heard her gravelly voice call out from her room, “Shane. Shane. Come touch my pillows. Shane….” That was the last shift I worked at that house.

Despite how difficult it was dealing with some of the clients, I always found their honesty to be quite endearing. Believe it or not, they were one of the things I loved the most about that job. What I disliked about Open Hands, however, were my co-workers. I couldn’t stand how gossip, rumors and insults seemed to work their ugly fingers into almost every conversation that I had with them. As I said before, I don’t do drama well. This is why I opted for the night shift every chance I got.

Give Me One Reason, by Tracy Chapman, brings me back to the second summer that I worked at Open Hands; particularly, to a man who was possibly one of the most imposing individuals I had ever seen. He was a giant of a man who carried himself with the weight of a bull, the eye of a beast and the quietness of a mouse. The only time I ever heard him speak was when he asked to watch Speed (Apparently it helped to keep him calm which (trust me) was a good thing.) and when he heard this song. The staff members knew he loved it and played it every time they took a drive in the van. I couldn’t contain myself the first time I heard this guy belt out the chorus. “Gimmi one reason to stay here, and I’ll turn this car around…” I was grateful to hear him giggling along with me as things might not have fared well had he thought I was mocking him. I guess he saw the humor in what he was saying and was tickled. Simple and very pure.

Open Hands helped to teach me that work becomes less of a job when you enjoy what you are doing. It also showed me that the people with whom you share your day have a lot to do with how much enjoyment you get. I feel that I have payed my employment dues and am currently blessed with the opportunity to work for myself. At our school, I have had the pleasure of working alongside teachers with whom I call friends. Fate and friendship spared me office drama. And now, as I anticipate starting the new semester working with my brother, I am excited for what the future brings. I relish in the thought and belief that I have found the right man for the right job.

Give Me One Reason youtube link