Month: August 2018



Notice there are videos showing up about feelings and the body lately on social media? I must have seen five or six in the past month alone. Let me tell you why I think it’s great.

I say it’s a good thing because finally people might at least start getting on to a whole host of physical issues which have at their crux the feelings they carry each day.

Feelings live in the body has been my assertion for 30 years. How do I know this? My back… and Fritz Perls.

Fritz Perls was this old bearded psychiatrist who with his wife Laura founded Gestalt Therapy back in the beginnings of the great psychological heyday, mid-last century to present.

Never mind the details of his approach, it was this one thing he mentioned which struck truth in me. It was the idea of carrying around a gunnysack of anger. How it would eventually bend you over with its weight.

No kidding Fritz, cause my freaking back was killing me at the time and I was often really pissed off!

That’s when I made the connection. Just as exhilaration is manifested physically with butterflies in the belly, a quickened heartbeat and breath, and a flushed face and wider eyes, so too does negative emotion have an effect in the body.

Only, it’s more than that. It’s not just the frowns and the downturned mouth and focused eyes. And that’s because of the second thing old Fritz taught me: unfinished business.

You know what unfinished business is like, it drives us nuts! You mean to get something done but there it lies halfway done and you have to leave it and hope you remember how to get back into focus when you finally have time.

Start to learn a new platform on your computer at some point. Be it Photoshop, WordPress, or this one: C-Panel.(*!%&!!). Go take on one of those as a complete rookie and then leave them alone for a time and go back. It’s a start over.

Do it halfway through a project that got put on the shelf and it’s likely the frustration factor goes up, WAY UP.

Hell, switch from a PC to a Mac. Don’t use it often and every new thing you try is a whole other learning curve. UGH!

OK, so we agree on unfinished business in general. And what about emotional unfinished business?

See, the problem with us humans is we need each other to get along. In fact, our need to belong drives most of our psychology. So, what happens when we interact, and those connections don’t happen to our liking?

Sometimes, let’s face it, we can come across as assholes. I’ll be the first to admit this. And sometimes other people are assholes. In my experience, they are the last to admit it. But that’s besides the point.

And that is where the gunnysack of anger and unfinished business meet: In the body.

It’s in the body because of the Chain of Being. Your existence is run on Physiology, Emotional States (comfort/discomfort, aroused/relaxed), Predictive Feelings (based on experiences) and Thinking.

The Vagus Nerve Complex connects the brain stem and the organs. Most of the neurons lining the gut and heart and elsewhere signal towards the brain, but some run the other way. When we have unfinished business, the body records it.

It does this protectively, and predictively. It wants to avoid future pain and so, beneath awareness, registers our pain and holds on to it for future reference.

There are two ways to intervene in the Chain of Being. One is through the body, the other is through thinking.

And you could say there is both a fast way and a slow way of impacting the body with feelings and emotional states.

Trauma is one way. When we experienced something significantly scary and are able to fully express our fear physically (crying, running away, being comforted by people) and resolve it with those around us, our sense of safety is restored to some kind of balance.

When we are prevented from doing this, when our natural defensive mechanisms are thwarted because of circumstance, we can become stuck in a defensive position indefinitely, depending on how far along we were in the vagus signaling.

And then, there is the insidious piling on way. That’s when we build up unfinished business over time to where it becomes as burdensome as trauma. It’s quantity over severity. And it can be just as devastating to physiology.

The brain ascertains what’s going on with the body, then predictively creates your emotional state using the databank of your previous emotional experiences before you are even aware. It all happens beneath awareness. Only afterwards is this measured up against social reality and made open to correction.

Carry around that gunnysack of anger and the Chain of Being is polluted with negativity. The body remains tense, emotional states remain aroused, feelings are neutral or negative. And thoughts, which Peter Levine in “In an Unspoken Voice” says are explanations from the body, are similarly influenced.

Now, you’ve got yourself a classic loop. A vicious cycle of negativity and eventually, the possibility of despair.

Hence, my bad back.

Medical science has known for a time some guys with two ruptured disks have pain and others with the exact same condition don’t experience the same level of discomfort, or any at all. How can this be? It’s either broken or it’s not, I thought.

Well, so much for the notion of a separate brain and body. Nope. One system.

Hopefully, you have an address, a place to put all your stuff and collect your mail, a place you call home on some street, in some town or county somewhere. No doubt, you have a number out front so people can find you.

Let me tell you something: the true universal address of your existence is in your body. That’s where you, (insert name here) really exist. It’s like the turtle who carries his home with him. You’re no different. That body of yours is your domain.

Four things main things I learned over the years to fix my back. Oh, there are plenty of subtleties I’ve picked up since then, but these were the broad strokes which saved me from being bent over like an old man every day in pain.

You can intervene on the Chain of Being at two places, physiologically or thinking. You attack it from the ends.

So, when I’m feeling tension build up, I do ten burpees. Nothing releases trauma from the body better than movement. And going at the body is fastest. Engaging the body causes a chain reaction all the way to thoughts at the other end. As my home, as the place where I live, I take care of it.

The second thing was a decision. I learned this under the influence of an old preacher who wrote a book called “The Power of Positive Thinking,” way back. it’d been out for a long time before I got around to it. I’d just left a psychology class in the mid-80s and was walking down the hallway when it hit me: “Happy is a Decision.” I’ve been telling myself this since.

Thirdly was something my psych prof taught me. Anita Roy was a Gestaltist herself and a real fire-cracker of a teacher. She embodied the Gestalt Prayer I’ll include with this essay.

She explained something which changed my life. It was that people always make the best decisions for themselves at the time, If they could have made a better one, they would have.
You can’t fairly apply hindsight to yourself or others, it’s a bullshit ploy. It’s a judgment not available in the moment.

And with that understanding, I learned how to let go. People bring their own histories, locked and loaded into their bodies and predictively being operated by feelings derived from old experiences, and are doing the best they can.

Sure, they come up short. And don’t we all?

It’s here where I was lucky, perhaps more than most. I’d lived such a faulted life to that point, how could I possible judge someone else’s? That’d make me even more full of shit than I already was while accusing someone else of being in the wrong.

No, couldn’t do that. That avenue was closed. Which left only one possibility. Forgiveness. Well, I can’t tell you how annoying it was to come to THAT conclusion. WTF!

You mean, I’d have to let it all go? Because my anger had driven me for many years. There were secondary gains to hanging on to my bullshit, to my complaints, to my judgments and excuses. I’d have to let them go too.

So, I did. I used these four strategies and let all of it the fuck go. Gone, out. Shot to the moon in a rocket. And my back got better. Not cured, but damn it, WAY BETTER!

Which by way, the moon helped too. I’d picture myself up there sitting near the “one filled with cheese” during my first meditative experiences, and picture my life far below, a metaphorical ant climbing around down there somewhere on planet earth with all the other humans as ants too.

Gave me perspective. Powerful perspective.

Take care of that body.

Stay powerful.


©2018 all rights reserved



It’s true what they say: The quality of your life is measured by the quality of your relationships.

Most of us are lucky if we can count on one hand the people we consider close enough to confide in, to turn to in times of turmoil and trouble. Even, to be able to say “I love you,” to someone, be they man, woman or child.

Or, just to check in and connect, somehow, on some level, to let others know you exist while recognizing they exist too. And I’m not even speaking about only being able to tolerate someone else’s company. Or liking them.

Liking a person is kind of important if you’re going to consider them a friend. You think? I bet we’ve all had friends at some point we didn’t care for, people we really didn’t like.

One of our brothers tonight called to say his dog passed away. It was an honour to take his call.

Thirteen years he watched over his friend. It was a runt from a champion line, but because of a heart murmur, it was going to be put down. My friend rescued the little pooch.

He spent ten grand getting her a heart operation way back in the early days. At six months it was attacked by big mean dog and had to have 18 stitches, undergone without complaint. All her teeth had been removed…

And today, bringing her into the vet to see if there was anything he could do to make her more comfortable, she waited patiently in his arms in a room.

He looked at her, she looked at him, she closed her eyes.

She was gone. Just like that. As if, “thanks boss, but I’m 95 in people years and we’ve had a great life together. Goodbye.”

His daughter is 21 today. Most of her remembered life this little dog was part of it. As her father, this rough-around-the-edges son-of-a-gangster won’t tell her now. Not on her birthday. He’ll wait and tell her later in the week in person. He’s like that now, a man. He wasn’t always.

And that’s the thing about life and love. We may start out with not a lot of it in our heart but if we give it time, if we allow it for ourselves and others, it will find us.

They say there are three levels. One is “what can you give me” type love. It’s Janet Jackson singing “what have you done for me lately” while shaking her ass. Fuck off.

Two is a trading relationship. We trade with others all the time.

You tailor my suit coat for a hundred bucks, saving me from throwing out a perfectly good suit jacket I had made in Hamilton by Bruno the Tailor in ’89, and we’re good. Do it right and I’m happy, you’re happy.

But is that love? I don’t think so. Yet, many of us have only a trading relationship to come home to every day. And that’s the thing, you see: It’s not quality.

It’s why my gruff friend, as hard as any guy, grieved today. Because his little dog gave him nothing but level three: unconditional love. The dog made itself belong to my friend, unquestionably, irrevocably, and loved him even on days where my friend may have been unable to love her back.

It’s part of a man’s DNA to take care of others. If he does it or not is another thing. It’s not enough to call yourself a man because you produce more than you consume, so there’s extra to go around. It’s bigger, much deeper than that.

I once knew a fella whose background was the Irish Mob in Canada. Eastern Canada based, he worked out west. I think it was mostly because all the guys above him had been whacked.

Those Montreal Irish, The West End Gang, purportedly connected to the IRA guys back home, scared the shit out of the bikers and the mob most days. They made Montreal bank robbery capital for many years. Forced the Canadian Bankers’ Association to undertake drastic changes in their procedures.

I noticed he always had a small dog with him. Little thing, probably a Bichon/Poodle mix or something. One day, I asked him, “Hey George, no disrespect or anything (respect is big with goodfellas, like a fucking religion), but why is it I see you with such a small dog all the time?”.

Fucker looks at me quickly, stares me in the eyes. I brace myself just a tiny bit. Suddenly, he softens a fraction and says to me matter-of-factly, “Because little dogs need protection too.” His eyes held mine for a moment and he looked, well, very human. Obviously, I accepted his answer.

In fact, I thought it was the best response ever. Sure shut me up, and no, I didn’t probe further. I knew there was something more to it but it wasn’t the time. What else could I say?

My friend today telling me about his little dog filled in a bit more about what George meant. See, my friend told me he grieved more today for this little dog than for his own mother and father when they passed.

More pain than the death of his mother or the death of his father?? Is that a sin of some kind? Maybe.

It’s just both guys had experienced little in the way of unconditional love in their lifetimes. Yet, their humanity, surrounded by a fortress of protection learned in a lifetime of pain, was there, mostly hidden, but intact.

It just took one little dog to bring it out.

In the quiet moments away from others, the loyal pooch and master found and celebrated what was important.

Not sad at all, I say. More like, hopeful. It’s a reminder to recognize pure love when we see it and know it’s real.

Because there lies the real power in life. If we are not standing up for good, we can’t even call ourselves neutral. Because good is love, and love is what counts. Indeed, it is love which is powerful.

Today, I salute all men and their dogs, big or small. Condolences to all of us who have lost a beloved pet. They are like family, perhaps even more. Man’s best friend is also a bridge to what is best in a man.

Find it early or find it late, we must all find love.

Rest in Peace Trixie. 2005 – 2018

Thank you.

Stay powerful gentleman,

Continue reading



Let me tell you how I best understand the fundamental links of being. These four variables together comprise something I call the being chain. It is these four factors which operate mostly unknown, influencing everything, especially how we think and interact with each other and the world.

Contrary to what most people believe, we exist emotionally and then use our brain (usually the left brain in right handed people) to rationalize things later. We tell ourselves a story of why.

Emotions occur faster than the brain can think for good reason: If a threat is present, we don’t have time to weigh the pros and cons of a situation. Instead, we’ll use our fight or flight system to prepare to either escape or resolve the danger immediately. OK, basic enough.

Out and about, we exist in a mild fight or flight state most of the time.

The human brain is a prediction machine. It uses the body’s needs, and prior emotional experience to make sense of the circumstances in the environment. Everything we do, our perceptions, our actions and our learning is based on making and updating expectations.

In fact, all our disappointments are driven by our expectations.

Even sight is based on predictions and expectations.

What you see comes in through the eye and hits the visual cortex at the back of the head. Most of the signaling goes from the eyes to the vision center there.

But, some neurons go the other way, coming and going from higher levels of the brain (the cerebral cortex) down to the visual cortex. These are thought to carry predictions. If you have seen it before, you are likely to see it again. If you can’t identify something, your brain will fill in the blank from memory until you see a more accurate picture. This is helpful remembering a route home, but also allows us to see imgaes in clouds on a summer’s day.

The brain uses interoception to gauge the body. That means it checks what’s going on with you physically through its special sensors. It does this primarily through the tenth cranial nerve, the vagus system, which is connected to the heart, gut and organs.  It uses something called proprioception to gauge where you are in a space, and exteroception, which gives you an awareness of your surroundings and stimuli derived from it like light and sound, etc. We focus mainly on interoception.

For example, 100,000 neurons line your gut, another 40,000 exist in the heart. More than 80% of vagus neurons are afferent, meaning they signal towards the brain. These give the brain a constant update of what is going on physiologically, in the body.

From this, you get two general emotional states: valence and arousal. Valence is simply comfortable or uncomfortable. Arousal is either on or off, alert and agitated or resting.

Feelings are predictive, not reactive. Long before we become aware of feelings we have, they have already taken hold of our body’s system. The brain is constantly trying to predict what will happen next to prepare you for circumstances.

You probably remember overreacting to something on incomplete information. We all do it. It’s a natural part of what it is to be human. It’s only as things unfold can we tell if our reaction was appropriate or not. We are constantly adjusting. The better we understand this, the easier it is.

Feelings are predictive responses to the body’s needs based on prior emotional experience, then tested against the social reality before you after the fact.

We learn emotions first as babies, and they become increasingly complex as we are exposed to new experiences. Contrary to the idea we all possess the same emotions, it is more that we experience many of the same things which produces a similar storehouse of emotional responses.

Every experience you have as a young child onward contributes to your bank of feeling states. These are called upon predictively (and mostly below the surface of awareness), allowing you to face whatever situation is in front of you.

It’s a best-guess system, corrected after the fact.

Even as you read these sentences, you are trying to predict where I’m going with this. In conversations with friends, you are doing the same; that is, trying to guess what they will say next. You’ve caught yourself finishing other people’s sentences more than once. Others have done the same with you.

Prediction is why when you first gaze upon a scene, you may see things you know from memory before seeing what is actually before you. That’s the brains prediction system at work!

In any given moment, your brain is using its vast storehouse of recalled emotional experience to determine the future—and the best emotional state in the moment to keep you safe. You are also using the same basic mechanism to predict and understand the people around you.

We sometimes jump to conclusions based on beneath the surface feelings about something. Other times, we under-react because our experience doesn’t signal the current situation as a threat or familiar.

No two people’s emotions are quite the same, simply because no two persons have lived in the same way. In the case of anxiety or anger, you may now understand how prediction is the real cause of our discontent and pain.

You can imagine all this brings great advantages. Recording old emotions in the body for future use is a handy evolutionary adaptation. Having feelings directly connected to your sympathetic system means fear can safeguard your life.

The sequence is this: Physiology (body) to emotional state (valence and arousal) leading to predictive feelings (based on old experience) and finally, thoughts. This is the chain of being.

Think of thoughts as an “explanation” for what’s going on with the body.

This is why we adjust after-the-fact. The body is way ahead of us, and thoughts come last in the chain of being. Where do we feel fear the most? In the body. Follow me so far?

By understanding feelings as imperfect guesses based on old experiences, we can take responsibility for them by countering their effects and letting them go.

What’s the best way to create new feelings? Create new experiences.

Doing new things gives you new feelings to store away for later. This is also how we break an old fear pattern by implementing new strategies.

Doing this gives you a deeper repertoire of scenes and emotional data points—which your brain will automatically employ and test against the ongoing reality before you. That’s also what maturity is about: Life gets better as we get better at life!

It’s worth repeating: all our disappointments are driven by expectations. Not only is this true, everything else about how your body and mind deals with the world is also driven by expectations. Changing expectations is going to the source of things.

To consciously change your state at any given moment, you can change what you think or change what you do.


The chain of being: Physiology, emotional state, predictive feelings, thoughts.

That’s your approach to life, factoring in your consciousness. Here’s something else: You can intervene at each end of this chain to tackle anything. You can change the body, thoughts, or both.

Focus and Language: two special forces bridging the chain of being

We simply cannot take in all the information around us and record it. Nor can we mentally attend to but a tiny fraction of the stimuli in our environment. The brain is amazing, but it has its limits.

Imagine looking around you with a large magnifier and only seeing through its lens. You would see some things straight ahead clearly up close, the rest of it at the sides would be blurry and faded. That’s what your brain’s ability to focus is like.

Focus is both mental and physical. You use your eyes to focus, and you turn your body towards what engages you in the environment. And, pictures from what you see engage your mind physically at the visual cortex. The rest of your senses operate on focus as well as you touch, smell, strain your ears to hear or taste something.

What you are telling yourself, your self-talk, your thoughts, are under your free-will ability to control by way of focus. So is your imagination.

It can also be either/or. You can stare at something new and for a moment, register no thoughts. In these instances, you can almost feel your brain trolling through its databanks trying to make sense of the scene. Other times you can stare into the distance and see nothing, while vividly day-dreaming about something unrelated.

Where you decide to focus works at both ends of the being chain. You can use focus to take control of fear by determining what your body will do and thereby, what thoughts come to mind.

Language: a bit of both worlds.

If you were born wild without language, it is thought that you would soon develop one to communicate with those around you. Like focus, language has both thinking and doing aspects to it. It straddles the divide between the two ends of the chain.

You speak a language, in which case it’s a physiological thing. Add to this you can whisper, and you can scream, you can also sing, and you can whistle. There’s a remote village in Italy where some of the old-timers whistle to each other to communicate. Whistling to them is a language on to itself.

You will often think in images, impressions, even feelings, and taken together, you often express these with the use of language in thought. “I told myself…,” we say to others as we explain ourselves. “What I was thinking was…,” is another. And all of our rationalizing, the story we tell ourselves after the fact to explain why we have acted, felt, or thought something, is expressed in language.

While what you do and what you think are the main doors to your chain of being, both focus and language play special roles.

Focus means you cannot remember much of your past. You can only recall a tiny part of your history depending on its significance and emotional intensity. What this tells us is to put full stock in a remembered past is a mistake, necessary, but rather weak grounds for making conclusions about the present.

That’s not to discount or dismiss the past entirely. After all, part of the richness of your life and most important lessons resulted from what you remember. It’s likely there was both pain and pleasure derived from your history, and these experiences added to the fullness of your existence.

But it’s important to realize the remembered past is a faulty record, and therefore accord it the skepticism it deserves. Studies show just talking about our past experiences changes what we remember in an exercise in reconsolidation. It’s said every time we revisit a memory, we put it away just slightly changed. We put a different spin on it as we reconcile the past through today’s eyes.

Again, it’s the power of focus, a great deal of which is not under conscious control as the chain of being rules.

A similar case can be made for language. When I was learning to write, my father used to tell me how important it was to get the wording just right. In fact, this is one of the best challenges of writing, or communication in general. Getting it right when we describe our situation or thoughts to others is far more effective when we find the exact words to express what we are trying to say.

And so, it goes with our thinking. If I tell myself I always get nervous meeting new people, chances are I always will. If I tell myself I can’t, what I am really saying is that I won’t. If I mention I am “outraged” when the word “concerned” would have done just as well, I pay for it physically in higher emotional arousal. Inflammatory words cascade through the chain of being and cost me, exaggerating their physiological effects in the end.

Talk angry and the body is angry too. Speak fearfully and the body cowers from life, afraid, protective, tentative, hesitant and weaker than needed.

The body is the universal address of your existence. Living in the present is the only way to live life effectively. The past is but a distant memory.

Sure, keep an eye on the future but spend most of your energy in the present—where the real action takes place. It’s all any of us can control anyway, right?

Similarly, you can tackle the chain of being at the thinking end to reframe things, thereby providing answers which create better feelings and a more relaxed emotional state.

Letting go of ill-will towards someone or something often results in a noticeable relaxation of the body’s musculature or internal process. It can stop our guts from flipping. It can make a headache go away.

I have two ruptured disks. I’m in pain every day. Yet, medicine knows of others who have two ruptured disks and have very little pain. The differences between the two might be found in my chain of being.

I know if I carry anger towards someone, my back will hurt more than usual. I had to learn this over the years. Now, I’m very careful to not carry ill-will or suffer the consequences. Part of my self-care is to not make things worse by triggering the chain of being with shitty thinking.

Another cool example of the chain if being is smiling. Even better, smile facing a mirror. The brain will sense your smile and release hormones to match the body’s condition. Suddenly, mood elevates. Every time you brush your teeth, smile at yourself in the mirror to finish, hijacking the chain of being in your favour.

I used to bridle my door to door reps’ mouths with a pen. Having a bad day? Sit in the truck with a pen across your mouth, forcing your face into a smile for 10—15 minutes. Sure enough, when I put them back out to work, they’d start selling again. I’ve done this successfully too many times to question its merits as an intervention.

Anyone in a full-blown panic attack can kill the pain of anxiety in ten minutes by going for a jog. There’s something about putting one foot in front of the other while staying upright at speed which negates the future-focused thinking characteristic of anxiety. Soon, the body takes control and releases the tensions held by thought.

I tell you all this because we often forget the body. Instead, because we tend to think in language, or in pictures and music, we focus only on our thoughts and convince ourselves this is where we should put the most stock.

But when you consider the chain of being, it’s plain to see the natural order of things starts at the body and ends with thoughts. When people experience trauma, there is a disconnect in the chain of being. Heart rate variability will lessen and tension may hold physically indefinitely. Unexpressed defensive postures usually employed at the time of trauma may instead by internalized in the body and cause problems later. This is why activities like yoga are so effective in this case, the breathing and body awareness allow for a reconnection of interoception pathways.

The chain of being is why I put the body first when I consider areas of my life. It’s body, spirit, people and work. It all begins with the body. Routine habits like good posture while sitting or walking, or activities like dancing, can elevate your emotional state and provide immediate benefits.

You may think you live at some street or avenue or town somewhere. While this is true as a place where you rest, put your stuff and get your mail, it doesn’t give the real picture about where you live.

The universal address of your existence is in your body.

Go rattle that chain…

Stay powerful.

Christopher K Wallace
Advisor to Men



I went to school in grade 3 with a girl, Lise. Poor, from “basse-ville” (lowertown), tiny, greasy hair, glasses, and a big-toothed smile which appeared only when she was still. She was often picked on, ridiculed, especially by the French kids who knew her from her “quartier,” or neighbourhood.

I temporarily appointed myself her protector.

She wore braces, from just above the knees down. They were cumbersome, all steel and leather. The kind of stuff you’d bridle a horse with, maybe even forged and crafted at the same shop. Saddlery braces.

She was left out… of almost everything. Though, I had nothing in common with her, me an Anglo, she “un Franco-Ontarien”, she was like my little sister that year.

Polio. This had felled this little geek. But her spirit? Oh boy. What a privilege it was to take her under my wing.

Of course, I have never forgotten P’tit Lise; moreover, her lessons are with me still. Her smile was sometimes directed towards me. To have a hand in that was reward enough.

I can still see her hobbling along, head down focused on the ground, hair hiding her face, hips moving in an exaggerated way as she brought each steel-laden leg forward into the next step while leaning on her crutches, little cuffs of leather at the forearm holding them to her. She was beautiful.

And later, decades ahead, in a recovery home for the addicted, I met Dale. He’d lost his leg to polio. Once he confided he was one of the rare cases, the one-in-a-million who contracted the disease from being vaccinated.

Unfair? Sure.

Dale was a bit of an asshole sometimes. Headstrong is probably a better word. I couldn’t see it at the time but he had learned his own version of truth, and was adamant about it.

But, what he had was balance. Not physical balance, mind you. No. He used crutches and later a rudimentary prosthetic which annoyed him. And he’d lifted weights and had good upper body strength. He was doing his best with what he had.

Somewhere along the way, after a suitable period rebelling and crying out for fairness, demanding he be treated by the universe differently than his reality, he lost his resentment.

He gave up his anger over losing a limb, replacing it with a kindness of spirit which inspires me to this day. He knew many were saved from the vaccine, and his casualty should be counted in that whole. He realized at some point, it was a numbers game. He shrugged as he told me this. He balanced things.

He looked when telling me this, expectantly, his defensiveness held back, below-surface, looking for signs of contempt. He didn’t trust me but took a chance telling me just the same.

He’d gotten straight before I did, so on the hierarchy of personal development, he could claim higher ground. And he was right. He was far ahead.

What he did so remarkably was this: he no longer asked, “why me?” and, instead, replaced it with, “why not me?”

Seems slight enough. Maybe too easy? When you lose a leg to nothing but the vagaries of life, to the well-intentioned efforts of those who were seeking to prevent the suffering of the Lise’s of the world, you need answers.

Dale found them, in his mind to be sure, but mostly inside his body, and eventually his heart. That one twist, a single reframe, was key.

He ended up marrying Shona, the hottest number to come through Our House in those years. The place was a unique recovery centre on James Street in Ottawa run by a recovered giver named Norm, and abetted by many of his converts.

I went to their wedding held at the Anglican church down the street, the church which had adopted our cause in recovery. We all attended Sundays as we sought to regain our spirits.

Together, Dale and Shona went off to serve the world. As far as I know, they still are.

What a difference one word made. N-O-T. Three letters.

Sometimes the smallest shift brings the greatest results.


Stay powerful,





The old man sat down on a tiny stool he kept a bit back from the dry cleaner’s counter where he served his customers. He thought for a moment about how many years it had been since he hung up his sign, Quality Cleaners. That was back when the plaza was first built in tiny Manotick, Ontario, a satellite village just south of Ottawa on the banks of the Rideau River.

It had been a small community of horse lovers, and cattle and cash crop farmers, and even had an operating mill well into the 20th century. It was for these people, still now numbering only a few thousand, and a few others who didn’t mind the commute from the inner city for the chance to breathe fresh air in wide open spaces, that the village had survived.

However, in the last decade and a half, like many of the places around larger cities in North America, little Manotick had new subdivisions nipping at its periphery. It even had a gentrified core which made it look a little trendy.

This was good for dry cleaners, he thought. Maybe the extra volume of people will help offset the trend that saw less folks getting their clothing dry cleaned regularly. It had become expensive, no doubt. He liked to say he paid all his bills in dollars but only collected nickels and dimes in return.

At 73 years old, he remembered proudly he will have been married to the same women for 54 of those years on a Sunday soon. This brought a slight smile to his face as he remembered her, then and now. More than half a century and going, praise the heavens, he thought.

A customer pushed open the door. It was mid-afternoon on a weekday and so, he wasn’t very busy. In fact, he hadn’t had anyone in in over an hour. It wasn’t a regular, but he recognized the person as someone who had been there before.

Turns out the man lived a few miles east on acreage and couldn’t find a dry cleaner close enough to his house and so had come here. Happy to get his business, they struck up a conversation.

Soon, each reminisced about how long they’d been coming to Manotick. The man had grown up in the south end of Ottawa when the village was a forgotten outpost except to those who lived there. Comparing notes, each remarked how it had somehow survived and was now being developed.

“The new Vimy Memorial Bridge is a marvel,” said the man. “Yes, they finally got it built,” replied the shopkeeper. “I remember when we used to rent a property with 3 cottages on it just a few yards from where it crosses the river,” said the man, “boy oh boy, has this place changed. When I was a kid, there couldn’t have been but a few hundred souls out this way.”

Soon they were engrossed in comparing notes about what came first, which area developed best, and where it was headed.

He liked this stranger, but then again, he liked all his customers. It’s not just that he wanted them to spend money here, it was just part of his nature. After all, you can’t devote as many years as he had serving a community in dry cleaning, of all things, and not like what you’re doing.

He told the stranger about opening his tiny little shop, mentioning he’d come to Canada as a much younger man from Uganda. “Oh, Uganda, I get it!” said the man. “Idi Amin really left that place a mess.”

Agreeing with him, he counted how long since then. It had been 34 years of service to this small community, and his mind was immediately littered with events and faces as he felt all that time go by.

“I commend your commitment to your town,” said the man. “There is something about serving other people that gives a man’s life meaning,” he said.

“Yes!” said the shopkeeper, “that’s exactly how I feel about it.”

Soon they were exchanging testimony about helping their fellow man. Not at all in a way to stroke egos, no. More in a matter of fact way, as if they were reassuring each other this was how it’s done.

“I will tell you something,” said the shopkeeper after a while to his customer. “You know, last month, I went for a chest scan.”

“Oh really?” said the man, his voice concerned.

“Yes, they told me something was wrong, very wrong. It was a rare case and I was going to need experimental medications costing 25,000 dollars. Can you imagine? I’m not a rich man,” he said.

He remembered how devastating his wife of more than fifty years was at hearing the news. He remembered her face, her pain, her worry, and he winced at the memory.

“OHIP wouldn’t cover it. Too experimental, they said. So, I got on the phone with the pharmaceutical company. They agreed to provide the medications for free through a local pharmacy. Only, there’d be a $912 fee to dispense the medications here in Ottawa. We talked some more and soon, they agreed to waive this fee as well.  I felt very fortunate.”

“Wow, nice going,” said the customer, listening intently. “Let me get this straight: you not only got the pharmaceutical company to cover the cost of the experimental drugs, but you also got them to waive the local dispensing fee. Almost a grand?”

“Yes, that’s what happened,” said the old man. “And then, I got a referral to a top thoracic surgeon in Toronto that same morning. Only, I couldn’t get there with my health. There was a waiting list too. So, we did a teleconference at the medical centre by Billings Bridge. You know where that is?”

“Yes, I do exactly,” said the man, “I’ve had conferences with Toronto doctors myself from those same offices about my liver.”

“You know, then,” said the shopkeeper, “these doctors are busy.”

“Get this,” continued the shopkeeper, “I get on the video conference with the thoracic surgeon in Toronto and he says he knows me. “What do you mean?” I asked him. He says, “I remember having dinner at your home more than 30 years ago and afterwards, doing the dishes.””

Turns out when the shopkeeper was a much younger man, part of his service to his mosque was to mentor young people, especially new immigrants to Canada. He and his wife often hosted a dinner Saturdays at home and counselled arrivals about settling into their new country.

It was a way to help people transition, to provide a like-minded person of faith as a contact in the community, and to impart sound values to the newcomer. The surgeon, then a student, was one of them, and he remembered him well. The shopkeeper told the stranger about how his students at one point wanted to host a dinner for him in thanks and he refused the accolade on principle. He told them it was his natural duty to help them all, and they should focus on doing the same for others in the future.

“You can imagine my surprise,” said the shopkeeper. “I wasn’t sure what this meant but during the call, the doctor told me, “Either your heart is trying to divorce your lungs, or your lungs are trying to divorce your heart. You will need a transplant.”  He would put me on a list, he said.”

“The Toronto surgeon says the transplant will have to happen in Ottawa where it just so happens he has a friend at the Heart Institute, because my health is too frail and makes the trip too risky,” recounts the shopkeeper, “You can imagine how worried my wife was.”

“I can’t even grasp how difficult that must have been for her. How long have you been married?” asked the stranger.

“It will be 54 years next Sunday,” he replied.

“Bless you both my friend. So, what happened next?” enjoined the stranger.

“Right away,” he continued, “The Heart Institute here in Ottawa called me and said I had to be there in one hour to see the doctor. You know where that is?”

“No, but I can imagine we have good people here. I know the first Canadian heart transplant was done at the Civic. Is that where you went?”

“Yes, it’s right beside there now. It was another surprise,” he replied.

“How do you mean?” asked the stranger.

“So, I get to the Heart Institute,” he continued, “and I am by myself. There is a line-up to get into the parking, about six cars ahead of me and time is ticking by. A young guy comes to my window and asked for me by name.  He said the doctor sent him and he took my keys and told me he would take care of my car, and to go in immediately to see the doctor. He went off to park my car and off I went to see the doctor.”

“And so, you went in?” asked the stranger.

“I did go in, and he sees me. First thing he did was sent me off to get another scan in 30 minutes on an emergency basis. Then, he wants me to go home and prepare to be admitted any moment because they had a good candidate with viable lungs dying within the next 24 hours.”

“Wow, all this on the same damn day! It’s no wonder your heart didn’t give out!”

“I’m not finished,” the shopkeeper continued, “you won’t believe what happens next.”

“Uh-oh,” says the stranger.

“I get lost on my way to the MRI room. Can you believe it? I miss my test!” he exclaims.

“Oh no!” says the stranger.

“You know how big and confusing these hospitals are. I get there and I’m about 30 minutes late. The waiting room is full of people, some of them look sick, much sicker than I felt for sure. I went up to the lady at the desk and apologised for being late. Turns out she was a long-time customer of mine here at the dry cleaners. She tells me not to worry and puts me to the head of the line and I get my MRI!”

“Wow again!” remarks the stranger. “I hesitate to call this luck in the circumstances, but so far so good!”

“Yes, I was overwhelmed but I did notice it. You know, I thought this is how one should die. Like going away in a parade, everyone waving at you, but knowing they are being nice because you may be leaving,” he says solemnly.

“But, …,” replied the stranger, lost for words.

The shopkeeper continued, “Off I go home to pack a few things and explain all this to my wife. She is very worried. We’ve faced many challenges together, but this is the biggest.  The mood at home is very sombre, very sad. A little while later, I get a phone call. It’s the first doctor, the one who made the original diagnosis, requiring me to be at his office first thing the next morning at 8:30 am.”

The shopkeeper explains how he spent the night in prayer, reassuring his wife, consoling her fears, and trying to get some rest but knowing at this point, it was out of his hands. Fed up, he determines to leave it up to greater powers than he. God-willing he would be alive the next day. He decides this is a test of his life-long faith… and he must not waiver.

But in his darkness he dared to have a secret wish: it was to make it to a few Sundays from then to celebrate his wedding anniversary with his bride one last time.  He thinks to himself: we should be grateful for our 54 years together, whatever happens tomorrow. He pictures her face in his mind’s eye.

With that, he drifts off to a restless sleep, the anxieties of the day leaving him sapped of physical strength while his mind wished to remain awake and alert.

The next morning, he is at his doctor’s office on time. “You know what happened?” the good doctor asks, “you’re not going to believe me when I tell you.”

“I have no idea,” replied the shopkeeper as his mind raced with possibilities, none of them good.

“The doctor says, “I am very sorry, but I have made a mistake. You were misdiagnosed. I read someone else’s chart who was terminal and thought it was yours. It’s our fault. We have made a grave error, I hope you can forgive me,” his face filled with remorse.

“I was frozen in place, not believing my ears,” says the shopkeeper to the stranger.

“Oh my God,” says the stranger, “a mistake? That’s outrageous! The news alone could have killed you. He’s lucky he didn’t cause you to go into cardiac arrest from fright.”

“You know what I told him?” said the shopkeeper in a sly kind of voice.

“This I got to hear,” said the stranger.

“I said simply, “I forgive you, and thank you.””

“Wow, thank you? really?” replied the stranger, “Now I’m inspired. How did you come to that?”

The shopkeeper went on to say, “The doctor looked at me puzzled, mumbling something about how this was an unforgiveable error on his part and that he was ashamed of his office. He wouldn’t be surprised if I were angry and complained. Again, he said he was sorry.”

“I just smiled and repeated to him the same thing: “I forgive you… and thank you,”” said the shopkeeper, his voice now confident and relaxed, his eyes a little brighter, a beatific smile on his face.

Then, he told the doctor of his journey. “Did you know I was able to suggest the pharmaceutical company waive costs for their experimental medicine for humanitarian reasons and they did? That is an unusual arrangement, you’ll have to agree.”  And the doctor agreed it was unusual. “And then they waved the local dispensing fee of almost one thousand dollars on top of it,” even more unlikely.” The doctor sat still.

“If it were not for you,” I told him, “I probably would never have been thanked for giving those Saturday suppers all those years, and to know one of my students was a top surgeon in Toronto,” explaining now how he knew his surgeon.  “Wasn’t I glad I’d refused any accolades for doing this and thereby set an example to my charges? Look how this returned to me in my time of need,” he continued.

The doctor was fascinated by his good fortune, nodded and stared at him blankly.

“And doctor, how lucky was it that the surgeon in Toronto had a friend in Ottawa?” and, “did you know the Ottawa surgeon sent a parking attendant to park my car and usher me into his offices?”

“Yes, he’s a very well-known doctor, one of the best in the world,” answered the physician.

“And something else doctor, what are the chances, of all the people who work in a hospital imaging lab, one of them would turn out to be a long-time customer of mine. When I got lost and missed my appointment, with a double lung transplant operation a few hours away, it was she who made sure I got in despite others still waiting? Can we still call this luck?”

The stranger could only imagine what must have been a dumbfounded look on the doctor’s face.

“It was because of that appointment we are sitting here this morning, instead of at the hospital preparing for surgery,” the shopkeeper said matter-of-factly to his doctor.

The doctor agreed, adding the donor candidate will die that morning and his lungs will go to someone else who is already waiting for them in that very moment.

“Doctor let me again say, if were not for you, if it were not for your misdiagnosis, I would not have found out about all the wonderful people around me. What is the price of such a thing? Can you tell me? All these various people from different areas came together somehow to show me kindness and respect, and I owe all of this to you.  It is me who needs to thank you now.”

The doctor, tears in his eyes, blinked at the remarkable man before him and thanked him.

“And that was it,” said the shopkeeper.

“That’s quite a story my good man, mind if I write this one up?” asked the stranger.

To which the shopkeeper replied, “Oh sure, please do. Just remember we are all brothers and sisters.”

“You bet, I will never forget today. Do you have any more advice for me?” asked the stranger.

“Yes, I do,” replied the shopkeeper. “I will tell you this: Even the homeless on the street, don’t pass them by. You don’t have to give them money if you don’t want to but you should always look them in the eye and say hello at least.”

And the stranger was not at all surprised by this last bit of wisdom.

“Do you need these shirts by Friday or can you wait until Tuesday?” asked the shopkeeper.

“Tuesday is fine,”replied the stranger.

Christopher K Wallace
Advisor to Men

©2018, all rights reserved.

Hassan Ismail, shopkeeper