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How’s Your Loonie Year? 8 Investment Entrees…

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BEWARE: If you don’t get off on boring “NUMBERS” stuff…

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… then click your way out of here right now.

Go jack up on some TRUMP’ed up FAKE NEWS and make your day happier. The enticing blood in the streets is found on other sites!

OK, let’s move on, my fellow Numbers’ Nerds.

It’s approaching the end of the year, days are staggeringly short, and the perturbed cats are perched at the back door, yowling at me because it’s cold outside, as if I’m God and have control over the outdoor temperatures.

All of this tells me the year 2017 is winding down and I have to look hard in the investing mirror and ask myself the tough question… who is the fairest investor of all?

I know that no song sounds the same to any two people. No investment looks as golden to any two people. We see the world through ourselves.

I’ve been an avid stock market participant since I was 10 years old in my Parkdale Steelers’ hockey pads, and so it’s a critically important question now that I’m on the “R” (shhhh, retirement) payroll.

Larry… I say to myself… Do I add value to my financial investments, or should I take a back seat and let someone else with “credentials” make the decisions about my New Worth and living income?

It’s a question I nervously skirt around, afraid of knowing the answer because I truly love reading investment reports, digging into Balance Sheets and Income Statements, deciphering and calculating to see if my choices are “value-adding” or “value-destructing”.

For sure it’s Number’s Nerd stuff.

Numerotica.

I’ve previously stated here that my annual goal of ROI (return on investment) or change in Net Worth is 15%.

ACTUAL Annual Returns? 1 year … 12.0%  –  3 year… 16.1%  –  5 year… 11.2%  –  10 year… 11.4%

There’s the nasty truth… Warren Buffett need not worry about being dethroned. I’ve modestly underperformed my 15% goal in every category except the 3-year return.

This year would be highly positive and I’d be bouncing off the clouds… except… the exchange differential between the US$ and CAN$ has narrowed sharply which has shaved nearly 10% off my returns (most of my stocks are U.S. based), leaving me… drum roll please… only ahead by about 6% at this point in the calendar year.

Cleese bring Monsieur a bucket

Bring Monsieur a bucket…

OK, I’m disappointed but not crushed.

I know that I need to eke out a return of at least 7-8% each year so that I don’t impinge on the principal value of what we’ve saved and invested for decades.

From this perspective, I’ve done OK as the upward momentum has been sustained, just not blown out of the water which I would truly prefer. Wouldn’t we all?

And now I’ve gone and added pressure to my decision-making in the last 6 months by boosting my goal returns to 20%, without sacrificing quality, safety, and security.

This means more diligence, more disciplined searching and selection.

In my earlier financier alter-ego, I scoured for quality undervalued stocks (that pay dividends) that I felt should provide a decent return with no quantitative idea of what “decent” really meant.

“Yeah, that company is kinda undervalued by most financial metrics, so I’ll buy some”.

girl and bull.jpg

But now… now… I’ve nailed down my idea of what my bottom line expectation is for any investment I hit the BUY order on.

Bottom line? If the company I’m sussing out doesn’t have at least a 40% discount to its historical price based on reasonable assumptions, then I move onwards, seeking out the next possibility.

This narrows my selection list dramatically, ruling out tons of amazing quality companies that have produced fantastic returns…

FACEBOOK is a perfect example. I used to own Facebook but it stubbornly – happily – went up and up and up. FB is a great company with stupendous profits and return on equity, but then I looked at its price on the market and saw that it was sky-high relative to those returns.

SELL, I cried out. Great company, but not a great price to buy or own.

Here’s how I see it: It’s like if I wanted the new iPhone X and one day it was priced at $600. Then the following week, Apple decided to boost the selling price to $1400. Sure, it’s a great purchase at a $600 price, but I’m not going to lay down $1400, even though millions of others likely would. It’s about discipline.

A few other current classic examples of “too richly valued for my blood”? GOOGLE, Microsoft, 3M & McDonalds… great companies all for years or decades but too expensive to invest in at today’s prices. I do own Apple, Disney, Microsoft, Deere and United Technologies but wouldn’t add any more at today’s prices.

Discipline … Discipline.

There is a flip side.

Even though markets are at all-time highs, there are still some pretty fair companies available for purchase at reasonable prices. Most names you’ll even recognize.

More often than not, these companies have a short-term reason for their prices sitting at low levels, but when examined closely, these reasons appear temporary and not permanently destructive. Well-known brand names are resilient and difficult to destroy (although not impossible, just ask the department stores).

VS sales brawl

OK, akin to a Black Friday sale, I have a set of bargain basement choices for you- some examples of undervalued and unloved stocks on today’s market (almost entirely U.S.-based; Canada, sadly, has meagre selections for my tasting enjoyment)… I’ve included their annual dividend payout in brackets after their name  :

  1. L Brands (4.8%) –

    Every man’s candy store has been the Victoria’s Secret catalogue… Bath & Body Works is icing on the cake. Despite Weinstein and Cosby and Spacey and Franken and… OMG… this page doesn’t have space for all the names… sex and sexy still sells. Vive la difference entre Mars et Venus!

  2. AMC Networks (0.0%) –

    Watched The Walking Dead lately? Yeah, me neither, too much gory blood for me, but zillions do… AMC makes TWD and a bunch of other cable shows (including previously, Mad Men and Breaking Bad)… ’nuff said…

  3. CVS Pharmacies (2.8%) –

    I’ve always been impressed by the CVS drug chain stores whenever I’ve visited the U.S…. arthritis and diabetes and ED and wrinkles mean drugs and cosmetics are staples in every age group.

  4. Penske Automotive (2.8%) –

    Luxury car (BMW, Audi, Jaguar, Porsche, Ferrari, Maserati) brand sales have a wonderful habit of staying strong regardless of economic up or down trends. Penske sells and services all of these as well as those big 18-wheeler trucks that crowd our highway lanes! Zoom Zoom!

  5. Starbucks (2.1%) –

    I would have never believed that a $5 cup of coffee or green tea could make a sustainable franchise. Boy was I wrong… $5 is the cheap cup now, and caffeine is no FAKE NEWS. I’m a regular customer now, Tim Hortons be damned!

  6. Magna International (2.0%) –

    Finally, a Canadian company in the mix that competes well internationally. If you drive ANY car today, chances are pretty good that Magna produced a sizeable chunk of the parts that surround you on your drive.

  7. J. M. Smucker (2.8%) –

    PB + J your favourite sandwich too? Actually, I prefer PB and banana, but no matter. For more than a century, Jerome Monroe Smucker’s company has placed jams and peanut butters, syrups and ice cream toppings on the tabletops of North Americans and others internationally.

  8. Cardinal Health (3.3%) –

    Specializing in the distribution of pharmaceuticals and medical products, it serves more than 100,000 locations. In addition, the company also manufactures medical and surgical products, including gloves, surgical apparel and fluid management products. Cardinal Health provides medical products to over 75 percent of hospitals in the United States. The sickness industry is very healthy…

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That’s 8 Delicious Temptations – if my enticing sweet talk has you drooling with these delectable selections, lick the peanut buttah off your fingers and investigate them for yourself.

But please don’t rely on my sterling judgment to be anything except Fool’s Gold until you’ve looked more closely yourself. I won’t rely on others out there to make my final investing decision, and neither should you.

If you’re just starting out in the investment world, I wish you wealth and wellness and healthy returns.

If you’re an older Number’s Nerd like me with a few notches on your profit & losses belt, I’m willing to suffer your slings and arrows if you disagree with my choices.

I’ll also gladly entertain any gold nuggets you’ve unearthed that I’ve overlooked.

I got wrinkles round my eyes, I got grey in my hair
I’m puttin’ on a little bit of weight but I don’t seem to care
Fool say, hey slick, you lookin’ good, lie, lie, lie
That fool in my mirror’s singin’ the same old song… Guy Clark

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For now, this fool has decided to stick with my own investment counsel… and if you managed to stick with me through today’s financial numbers’ maze… yawn…  I’d suggest a nap is in order…

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Wonder of Wonders… Miracle of Miracles…

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Fiddler

In song, a fictitious fiddler perched precariously on a roof… leaving the wonder of his music afloat in the flaming sunset… the miracle of his existence tenuous…

… in real life, and far less romantically, I indelicately leapt to perch precariously, and smeared some of my own DNA on the Capitol landscape.

It bled like stink and hurt like hell.

Washington, DC – It was stupid of me to attempt to jump up on the concrete barrier in
front of the imposing Lincoln Memorial.

An innocent impulse of childlike enthusiasm and impulsiveness overtook me, creating a slip and gash of my knee and shin, scraping skin and bone across the unforgiving concrete.

I was overflowing with enthusiasm about simultaneously viewing the wondrous Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument, and the Vietnam Veteran Memorial Wall… all were visible from one convenient location on the Washington Mall, and in my mind, would be even better so when elevated by about 3 feet on top of the cement barrier.

OUCH!

Are you as wide-eyed intrigued and awestruck as I am by the kaleidoscope of amazing natural and man-made parts of our world?

The skies over us are azure blankets to the countless wonders and miracles in life.

I’ve reflected in blogs past about my successful quest in visiting each Canadian province and territory.

I’ve blah-blah’ed on to outline my desire to touch ground on each of the continents as well as each of the 50 US States.

These fanciful aspirations must have been drifting through my dreams last night – I awoke in the early darkness with mini thought-balloons bouncing between my ears about the “official” wonders of the world.

A word of advice? Never debate your mind-thoughts in the middle of the night, they’re rambunctious and unruly 3 year olds who adamantly refuse to sit still and behave.

My foggy brain meandered in circles of pity, that bastard berating voice telling me how woefully inadequate I’ve been in failing to see and touch so many worldwide miracles that exist.

Case in point: I’ve yet to visit even one of the original ancient 7 wonders.

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The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World were:

  • the Great Pyramid at Giza, Egypt.
  • the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.
  • the Statue of Zeus at Olympia, Greece.
  • the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus.
  • the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus.
  • the Colossus of Rhodes.
  • the Lighthouse at Alexandria, Egypt.

Yup, nada. Not a one. Sad. Loser.

I mustered a spirited defence and volleyed a response to my sub-conscious: “Wait a minute, I’m able to place checkmarks beside 5 of 7 of the “new” wonders” …
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The “New” Seven Wonders of the World

  • √ Chichen Itza, Mexico.
  • Christ Redeemer, Brazil.
  • The Great Wall, China.
  • Machu Picchu, Peru.
  • Petra, Jordan.
  • The Roman Colosseum, Italy.
  • The Taj Mahal, India.

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Still not satisfied with my Wonders’ count, I reloaded further ammunition into my argument. Touché!

I’ve touched, smelled, tasted, absorbed, spoken to, and smiled at earthly masterpieces, experiencing some magnificent physical marvels that, similar to a well-written book or unimaginably beautiful painting, filled me with an overarching sense of reverence and awe.

I’ve seen and breathed in the air of specialness near and far. Personal defining moments.

So today, I give you my own personal life experience 7 Wonders.

 

The “Larry” Seven Wonders

of a Random Baby Boomer’s World

  • Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

&

Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, Washington, DC – USA

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I’ve combined two iconic American war-related sites into one spot.

The Battle of Gettysburg was fought July 1–3, 1863, in and around the town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania by Union and Confederate forces during the American Civil War.

The battle was bloody and fierce with the largest number of casualties of the entire war (Combined Union and Confederate casualties at Gettysburg totalled 7,058 dead – 33,250 wounded – 10,800 missing), and is often described as the war’s turning point. Union Maj. General George Meade’s Army of the Potomac defeated attacks by Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, halting Lee’s invasion of the North.

A few months after the battle, on November 19, President Lincoln used the dedication ceremony for the Gettysburg National Cemetery to honor the fallen Union soldiers and redefine the purpose of the war in his historic Gettysburg Address.

The battlefields and cemeteries and museums of Gettysburg imprinted in me the tragedy and futility of war in heartbreaking contrast to the beauty of the surrounding fields and farms.

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The Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial Wall is made up of two seemingly unending 75.21 m long walls, etched with the names of the killed servicemen honoured in panels of horizontal rows.

At the highest tip (the apex where they meet) of the walls, they are 3.1 m high, and then taper away to a height of just 20 cm at their extremities. Symbolically, this is described as a “wound that is closed and healing”.

When a visitor stands before the wall, his or her reflection can be seen simultaneously with the engraved names, a symbolic way of bringing the past and present together.

The wall listed 58,191 names when it was completed in 1983. Simple names that exude power and emotion similar to the aged gravestones of Gettysburg.

This was the war that I “lived and experienced” as a youth each night on my black and white TV screen, watching the body bags unloading from the chasm of monster-sized airplanes.

  • Machu Picchu – Peru

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At the conclusion of an 8 hour mountainous hike, this is probably the most stunning vista I’ve ever experienced, as we surmounted a final hill and spied the Incan citadel from the Sun Gate overlooking Machu Picchu.

The 15th century citadel situated on a mountain ridge 2,430 metres (7,970 ft) above sea level is located near Cusco, Peru, where we studied Spanish for 3 and a half months.

Most archaeologists believe that Machu Picchu – built in the classical Inca style, with finely cut, polished dry-stone walls – was constructed as an estate for the Inca emperor Pachacuti (1438–1472).

If a picture paints a thousand words, Machu Picchu is the artistic soul of a million million words. To experience it first hand is to sip from the cup of spirituality.

 

  • Niagara Falls – Canada

Niagara

Despite being a huge tourist trap, this was a frequent childhood haunt for me. My Ontario family would visit the cataract most summers with out-of-town guests.

There is special magic when you stand just feet away from the parapet, feeling the rumble of the water, and the uneasy sense of being drawn in by the cascading, rushing water as it bravely leaps into the chasm.

  • Igloo Church, Inuvik, Canada

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Our Lady of Victory Church, often called the Igloo Church, was opened in Canada’s Arctic in 1960 after two years of construction.

Brother Maurice Larocque, a Catholic missionary to the Arctic, who had previously been a carpenter, designed the church despite a lack of any formal architectural training, sketching it on two sheets of plywood that are displayed in the building’s upper storeys. Its unique structural system, “a dome within a dome”, protects the church with a foundation consisting of a bowl-shaped concrete slab on a gravel bed atop the permafrost.

I saw this building in the summer of 1978 in the Land of the Midnight Sun (and Winter Darkness). The day was warm and dusty, and any igloo looks out of place in the heat and dry, but I knew then, and now, that bone-chilling, eyelash freezing winter filled with hoar frost and ice is always lurking nearby in the far north.

  • Sagrada Familia – Barcelona, Spain

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The Sagrada Familia is a large Roman Catholic church in Barcelona, designed by Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi (1852–1926). Gaudi’s work on the building is part of a  UNESCO World Heritage Site, and in November 2010 Pope Benedict XVI consecrated and proclaimed it a minor basilica, as distinct from a cathedral, which must be the seat of a bishop.

The Sagrada Familia, like any of Gaudi’s many structures, are in the category of “love ’em or hate ’em“… “unique” hardly captures his vision of art and architecture. The church exterior is akin to a child’s pop-up storybook filled with picturesque Bible tales.

Barcelona is a beautiful rose in my bouquet of world cities thanks to Gaudi.

  • Terracotta Warriors – Xian, China

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The Terracotta Army is a collection of terracotta sculptures depicting the armies of Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China. A form of funerary art, it was all buried with the emperor in 210–209 BCE. It’s purpose was to protect the emperor in his afterlife.

The buried “army” was discovered in 1974 by two local farmers in Xian, Shaanxi province.

The figures vary in height according to their roles, with the tallest being the generals. The life-sized army includes warriors, chariots and horses. Estimates are that the three pits containing the Terracotta Army hold more than 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses, the majority of which remained buried in the pits nearby Qin Shi Huang’s mausoleum. Other terracotta non-military figures were found in other pits, including officials, acrobats, strongmen, and musicians.

The scope and detail of this underground discovery still leaves me shaking my head in amazement.

  • Dachau – Germany

Dachau concentration camp was the first of the Nazi concentration camps opened in Germany, intended to hold political prisoners.

It is located on the grounds of an abandoned munitions factory near the medieval town of Dachau, outside of Munich.  It was enlarged to include forced labor, and eventually, the imprisonment of Jews, German and Austrian criminals, and eventually foreign nationals from countries that Germany occupied or invaded.

Prisoners lived in near-starvation and constant fear of brutal treatment and imminent death. There were 32,000 documented deaths at the camp, and thousands more undocumented.

I stepped through the gates of the camp as a “tourist” in 1979 and immediately felt a heavy enveloping curtain of pain and a huge weight of human tragedy.

 

  • Grand Ole Opry House – Nashville, USA

Grand-Ole-Opry

Music is an important part of my world – music of all types.

And what is more welcoming and friendly and joy-inducing than a beautiful church-like haven (even the seats of the Opry are pews) to sweet sounds of instruments and voice? The Opry House is a modern mecca for those of us who love the sound of the fiddle and the steel guitar.

Listening to the final group song of the evening a few years back, Will The Circle Be Unbroken, left a chill in my spine, even to this day… yes, that’s the power of music.

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And there you have it in wondrous fashion. 1 natural wonder, 2 distinctive churches, 3 war-related memorial sites, and 3 man-made spectacles.

OK, did you notice? You did?

Yeah, I cheated.

That was 8 wonders, 9 if you separate out the Gettysburg and Vietnam Veterans’ Wall. And given half a chance, I could list dozens more spectacular moments and vistas that I’ve been lucky enough to glimpse in my days.

And despite all these incredible facades and edifices sprinkled around the world… if we view our world in another way, there are wonders and miracles to be had without setting alight on an airplane, or a ship, or a train.

I leave you with the following poem to reflect upon:

Seven Wonders of the World

I think the ‘Seven Wonders of the World’ are:
1. To See
2. To Hear
3. To Touch
4. To Taste
5. To Feel
6. To Laugh
7. To Love.

The things we overlook as simple and ordinary and that
we take for granted are truly wondrous!

A gentle reminder —
that the most precious things in life
cannot be built by hand or bought by man.

Author: Unknown

 

 

 

Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow…

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Stevie_Nicks_and_Lindsey_Buckingham.jpg

Do you hear Lindsey, Stevie, and Fleetwood Mac floating past in the background?

I’m not a religious guy.

You may know this.

Not religious in the traditional sense of God and heaven and hell and all that.

But I find beautiful moments of inspiration and indeed, spirituality, in the things I see and hear, and the people I encounter.

Last week, I played my guitar and sang at a local church supper. They know I’m not religious.

I carefully chose songs to play that I figured were humble and kind, you know, innocuous from a “Godly” perspective.

I strummed and picked my guitar and was having a great time crooning away… If you could read my mind love what a tale my thoughts ….

I figured that 15 or 16 songs would be plenty for the occasion, but then I reached the end of my playlist.

The group asked for just one or two more songs. An encore? For me? My ego jumped a tall fence like a bounding deer.

I have a pretty big repertoire of tunes in my quiver and so I happily launched into another song.

The first verse and chorus sailed along smoothly… and then… I realized as I approached the second verse that the song I was singing contained sexual, nudity-type references. Not nasty, violent or hurtful stuff, but adult in nature.

Oh SHIT (sorry… SHOOT!). Panic city. There were children and elderly in the group.

What were my choices? Should I stop singing now? A whole novella of coping ideas ran up and down the hallways of my brain as I smiled outwardly and sang onward.

I squirmed uncomfortably inside as I neared the part in the lyrics that I figured was somewhat incompatible with proper Christian values…  at least while ensconced in God’s shelter.

Now I know good Christians have sex, lots of it if they’re lucky, so I wasn’t unleashing some erotic blasphemy into their happy haven. But I fretted (get it?, guitar playing… fretted? Never mind!) nonetheless.

My solution?

As I meandered into the lyrical minefield I slowly lowered the volume of my voice and craftily turned my head away from the microphone in a truly artistic way so that the mic wouldn’t pick up the “naughty” lyrics.

From the corner of my eye, I spied no one appearing uncomfortable.

Whew… maybe I had managed to wiggle my way out of God’s wrath from above… maybe.

lightning

I’m sorry. Excuse me.

All of this is irrelevant and unrelated to what I was going to tell you. You know, the inspiring part.

Have I mentioned that this post is about inspiration? It is.

After I finished playing, I was conversing with some of these good church folk who were so warm and appreciative.

I stopped to chat with a darling little 90 year old lady who smiled and expressed her appreciation to me (she obviously missed my sex-related lyrics!… or maybe NOT!). Then she commented that she had played guitar herself in her younger years.

She asked, “do you think it’s too late for me to take some guitar lessons?”

That was the sweetest music of the night in my ears. “Of course not.

Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow…

old lady guitar.jpg

Life and love and learning (and sex) don’t have to end when we strike upon some magical age like 60, 70, 80, 90.

Len at my gym is 93 this year and lifts weights like a robust 40 year old.

On another stimulating tangent, this past weekend I felt inspired by two others in my sphere.

By late fall, I’m usually well past the summer mindset where long running stints are possible.

Like skiing in April or golfing in October, the season just seems to be finished and stowed away like Christmas ornaments on New Year’s Day. We move on.

But last Sunday, my brother … my almost-4-years-older-than-me brother… ran his very first Marathon race in Ontario. That’s 26.2 miles ….42.2 kilometres… more than 4 hours of non-stop running. His body is a well-tuned middle-aged+ machine. Incroyable!

I’ve done marathon runs in my 30’s, 40’s, 50’s … I know how incredibly demanding it is and how much mental strength it takes to train for the endurance run.

Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow…

The same day, a local friend of mine ran through icy and snow patches in a 20 kilometre trail running event along the Kettle Valley Trail line. She’s in her early 30’s but dedication and motivation and perseverance hang over her like an energetic halo.

Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow…

There I have a trio of perfect inspirational examples… one in her 30’s… one, his 60’s… another in her 90’s.

All of these people are “ordinary” in the sense that they aren’t superhuman to the best of my awareness. But they have “extraordinary” heart and drive powered by a youthful zest.

They each contain their own clues of how they reach for something special. I want those clues to become mine.

Each of them makes my heart beat quicker, and gives me a boost of inspiration.

As I grow older it becomes easier and easier to inwardly reflect and focus backwards to the days when, as Billy Joel sings, “I wore a younger man’s clothes“. Memories are wonderful gems that we can hug and admire and treasure.

But looking in the mirror at what is and has been is a delicious distraction, a distraction that shouldn’t prevent me from gazing out the window and discovering what else lies on the future horizon… ravishing orange-flavoured sunsets can be followed by amazingly bright and cheery sunrises.

The best thing I can do today is to finish writing this blog post, learn a new song (maybe one about sex) on my guitar, think about all the inspirational people that surround me, smile, and say to myself, 

Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow…

looking forwards.jpg

 

 

 

 

Stuck In The Middle With You…

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snowy pumpkin.jpg

I’m trying to laugh.

There’s snow and ice on the ground suddenly, just 3 days post Hallowe’en … and the ghouls of early November have laid havoc and challenge across the streets and life paths.

Cosmic jokes.

This morning, I studied a homeless woman crossing at a corner in downtown Penticton, doggedly pushing a shopping cart filled to the gunnels with who knows what.

Like a heavy lawnmower in thick grass, it was a difficult push for the poor lady dressed in an old Salvation Army coat, scarf and gloves. The small wheels on the cart were chattering like frigid teeth over crusted ice.

In a surreal juxtaposition, pea green leaves still clung to the large maple tree overhanging the street.

She may have been young, maybe older. With her head bowed, and layered up against the chill as if attired in a niqab, who knows?

Do I know this woman? – maybe she’s visited the soup kitchen on one of my volunteer days – but with her face totally covered, it’s impossible to say.

I try to envision how she finds respite and comfort somewhere in the gloomy rawness of the grey cloudy day ahead but I’m drawing blanks.

I’m trying to find some humour in her situation.

Isn’t there humour somewhere… somehow… to be found in every situation?

If she dressed like that in mid-summer, I could have a belly laugh at her comfortable eccentricity. Or… if she had a Canada Goose perched on top of her cart watching out as her navigator I could laugh.

Humor-Quote.png

Bill, a man I’ve worked for, and with, for close to 30 years died suddenly this week.

He was a man who could find humour.

He’s dead and I hurt.

I hurt like when I see a wounded animal in agony. It makes my gut knot up and cry out. I hope he felt that his life was worthy… that he had done the best he could.

A rapid, candle-snuffing heart attack stung like an angry wasp as he hung Christmas decorations at home.

The irony (but not humour) I suppose is that he spent his career skillfully slicing into thousands of cold corpses, detecting and probing for clots and other sources of cursed invaders that initiate a final breath.

The thief that stole his last breath was a tenacious clot similar to innumerable ones he’d seen over the decades.

Bill and I weren’t fast, bosom buddies, but we were friends.

When together, we talked easily about our kids’ exploits, our travels, and frustrations with medical bureaucracy.

We laughed a lot and enjoyed each other’s company. Bill’s amiable smile unearthed nuggets of humour in most situations even when he was acting his curmudgeonly best.

Bill was like raconteur Stuart McLean in real life. Bill gifted me smiles.

I’ve attempted to locate some humour in his situation.

But Bill is gone from this world.

Bill is gone from his family’s world.

Bill is gone from my world.

Bill is a ghost now in the minds of those that cared.

So where’s the humour?

If he’d had a heart attack and survived, I could have sighed in relief, then found some laughs in the dietary and lifestyle changes that might have magically transformed this big teddy bear curmudgeon into a vegetarian fitness guru.

I can burst out in laughter at the mere thought of seeing Bill dressed in tight yoga wear.

yoga man

The shopping cart lady and Bill remind me of the “polar opposites” in life.

I don’t like this life deal where some of us live in warm, luxurious comfort while others exist in stiff and frosty discomfort.

I don’t like this life deal where the delight and joy of new birth is mirrored by the shock and pain of unanticipated death.

None of us has the choice of where we begin or…  where we end.

Life is about opposites.

Life is warm and cold.

Life is joyous and tragic.

Life is hello and goodbye.

Or perhaps as Susan Sontag said, “Life is a movie; death is a photograph.

Life is…

… a movie with your beginning, your middle, then your end.

The middle? The sweet middle is all about understanding and choice.

Let’s face it, your beginning is sheer luck and random chance.

Two unrelated amorous people make a carnal choice to build a person that is you. You don’t get a vote! Nope, none…

But there’s a nugget of beauty in this story.

The diamond gem is that you and I have the opportunity to write our own middle, and how the middle shapes the ending.

The “note to self” in the street lady pushing her cart and in Bill’s departure is the reminder to constantly remember that we make the middle, the funny and messy middle, we make the proactive choices every day that shape our world, for better and worse.

Every person’s “middle” is different, but a satisfying ending is written in that middle.

Little by little, I’m still learning. Little by little I’m still growing.

Little by little I’m paying attention and keeping my eyes and ears attuned to the small stuff that all adds up to the the BIG stuff that is life.

I’m trying to laugh today, but honestly, there are small tears tickling the corner of my mouth.

inside out.jpg