Category: "Positivity"

What's in the dash?

by Helene Louise  

About a year ago, I had an interesting conversation about life in general with someone who astutely summed up what we were talking about by saying something along the lines of, “...On your tombstone, it will show the year you were born and the year you died. The dash in-between will represent your entire life. So, the question we need to ask ourselves is...What’s in the dash?”  A year later, I still find that interesting to think about.

First of all, it’s jarring to think that for all of us, the entirety of our lives will eventually be represented by a tiny in-between symbol. And, since “dash” can also mean “to destroy” as in dashing someone’s hopes, or “being hasty” as in dashing off to a meeting, there could also be an underlying negative connotation to the whole thing.

In my case, however, consistent with my ongoing focus on the importance of celebrating the tiniest of triumphs in the context of my daughter’s rehabilitation after a childhood stroke (as I’ve written about in my book and throughout these posts), I prefer the idea of “dash” in terms of “a small amount of something”—as in a dash of salt. In that context, I truly believe that it’s been our ongoing recognition and appreciation of the little dashes of hope here, and the little dashes of encouragement there, over many years, that has fuelled much of our perseverance and therefore, much of my daughter’s progress to overcome the effects of the stroke as much as possible.

And more generally, despite the frustrations of everyday life, I think that consciously trying to add dashes of gratitude into the mix of my daily thoughts is a major contributor to my overall wellbeing. There is, actually, always something to be grateful for. I’m grateful my daughters still choose to have dinner with me most evenings and talk to me about their lives as the young adults they are becoming. Over dinner, I can pass the salt and still add a dash of motherly encouragement here and there to the extent that it’s still welcome. I’m grateful for the love and support of my partner, and my family. I’m grateful for every single expression of interest in this project from close to home and far away. I’m grateful for having had the opportunity again this year to be a guest lecturer at McGill University's School of Physical and Occupational Therapy.  I’m grateful for the questions and comments from the students, all of which give me so much hope for the future.

So, a year later, I’m still reflecting on the question of What’s in the dash? But, maybe my answer would be that in my dash so far, there are many little dashes of this and that, all of which absolutely must be appreciated in the here and now.

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What I Learned in Econometrics Class

by Helene Louise  

As I've written previously, even though my objective after high school was to avoid anything remotely math-related, I ended up studying economics further to the advice of a misinformed guidance counsellor, who told me that economics would be perfect for me since there would be no math (was she ever wrong about that...!). I was most definitely out of my element but stubborn as I was, I persevered until I had completed a master's degree. 

One of the most complicated areas of economics and the one which I found particularly difficult, was econometrics. One semester, the course was taught by a young visiting professor from Australia. He was very shy and awkward, which seemed very un-professor-like given the older, self-assured types that we were used to. And, he not only spoke very softly, he also had an accent that we weren't used to so overall, we were quick to write him off.

However, we soon discovered that underneath that awkwardness was an exceptional enthusiasm for what he was teaching, a boundless positivity, a sense of humour which surprisingly, he was able to bring to such a dry subject area. And, a sincerity that won us all over. I don't remember anything at all about what we learned that year but I do remember how much I looked forward to his class and that to my surprise, I did really well. The experience showed me that despite that I was not a natural in the field of economics and that I hadn't consciously chosen it, if I worked hard enough, I could succeed. 

And most importantly, I learned how someone's approach to teaching something, anything—be it a complex math theory or finding a way to open a jar because a person's mobility has been affected in some way—can make a difference in whether the process ends in success or failure.  That's certainly something I’ve applied to helping my daughter overcome the effects of a childhood stroke. Adding some fun to the hard work wherever I can has made a world of difference.

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Is a measly 27% on a math test a certain failure?

by Helene Louise  

As I wrote in “A Little Bit of Positive”,  I ended up studying economics despite that my objective was to avoid anything remotely math-related altogether. And, on my first university-level math test, I got a humiliating 27%. I was devastated and I was certain that there was no hope of me ever completing that first year, let alone graduating. 

Academic evaluations tell us how well we know something and how we rank in relation our peers. One of my daughter’s first primary school teachers, however, had an interesting perspective, which I have found very helpful. She said that rather than looking at our children’s marks as a reflection of how well they were doing, we should simply look at them as an indication of what they still had left to learn

Obviously, there are some tests which do have pass/fail consequences, like those that determine acceptance to specific programs. But for everything else, maybe there is scope to look at things differently. In terms of my own children, by trying to look at their test results more in terms of what they know and what they still have left to learn, our dialogue has centred more on learning as something inherently positive, rather than just a competitive process characterized by pressure to succeed and a constant fear of failure. 

I think the same can be said for other areas of our lives. If there is an activity that my daughter can’t do very well because of the effects of her stroke, then maybe it’s not necessarily an incapacity or a question of not being good at something. Maybe it’s just an indication of the starting point from which we can move forward. Looking at things that way has certainly helped us to keep motivated and more optimistic, even in the face of what might otherwise be seen as a “certain failure”.

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A Hopeful Sign of Spring

by Helene Louise  


Where I live, the winters are long and this year it was colder than usual—even for someone like me who doesn't mind the winter. So this week, I was particularly happy to find these little crocuses cheerfully blooming in the sun. Every spring, I keep my eyes open for the crocuses in my neighbourhood that year after year, bravely bloom through the barely-thawed earth. Even if the air is still cold and the landscape is mostly grey and brown, it reminds me that the worst of the winter is behind us and ahead, are the warm, colourful days of summer.

 And interestingly enough, next winter, when that very same spot is once again frozen solid and covered in three feet of snow, and it feels as if the dark, cold days of winter will never end, those same little bulbs will still be there underneath all of that snow, waiting once again to bloom at the earliest possible opportunity. 

Every year, the crocuses remind me that there is always hope, even if we can't see it—whether it’s hope for warmth after a long, cold winter, hope for another tiny triumph in my daughter’s rehabilitation after a childhood stroke, or hope for relief from whatever else we find dark and difficult.

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Celebrating the Tiniest of Triumphs

by Helene Louise  

One of the things that I've learned in the process of rehabilitating my daughter after a childhood stroke, is the importance of appreciating and celebrating even the tiniest of triumphs. For example, the ability to zip up a coat, button a shirt or hold a piece of paper in one hand and scissors in the other, is something that most kids take for granted. But, for kids who have suffered a stroke, these tasks can seem impossible. In fact, in my daughter's case, these abilities came only after years and years of effort and frustration. 

I don't think that we would have been able to sustain the effort that was required to achieve these goals if we hadn't, together, celebrated every tiny triumph along the way. And, when I say tiny, I mean really tiny—the slightest movement of any of the fingers that had been essentially immobilized since birth and, even when there was absolutely no movement at all, the mere fact that she was still trying so hard, was definitely worth celebrating. The brief moments of celebratory laughing and hugging that followed, helped keep us motivated and working towards our goal, however remote it may have seemed at the time.

If we constantly compare ourselves to others, we can lose sight of what is relevant to our own situations and our accomplishments can seem insignificant.  But, all of our little accomplishments, no matter how small, are individual triumphs just the same. And, in my experience, they are most definitely worth celebrating.

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