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Forgiveness Friendship Grace Happiness Love real love Relationships

Say What Needs to be Said: The Positive Potential of Your Relationships

On Thursday, November 24th at 7 pm, I’ll be speaking on the topic of healthy relationships at the Tommy Douglas Library 7311 Kingsway (at Walker Avenue). This free presentation is sponsored by the Burnaby Division of Family Practice and the Burnaby Public Library. Because seating is limited, please register by phone at 604-522-3971, in person or online at http://www.bpl.bc.ca/events.

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As family doctors, we carry a heavy responsibility and profound privilege to serve each patient at every point in this precious human life. We share in our patients’ dreams and aspirations, support wellbeing, treat illness, and provide comfort at the end of life.

I continue to enjoy the soul-renewing service of delivering a newborn baby into the arms of a mother. I see every baby as a bundle of potential.

As a physician, I share in that child’s parents’ and our society’s responsibility in the realization of that child’s uniquely positive potential.

But at the end of our lives, the greatest tragedy is not that we have failed to reach our potentials but rather we die not knowing how much we were loved.

How many times are we moved to act with kindness and generosity – giving up our place in line, offering a kind word and donating to others in need – but hold back and let the moment pass? How many times do we let the sun set without saying what needs to be said? We seem to be given countless days as we go about the busyness of living, distracted by the news of the day and preoccupied with the world of material things. Yet when we lose the special people we have taken for granted, we realize we were short one precious day when we could have expressed how much we cared.

How do we get off track?

The biggest illusion in life is our case of mistaken identity. We get so caught up in our personal autobiographies that we mistake ourselves as separate and alone. We begin seeing every one else as for us or against us. We value those who serve us but not when they seem to work against us.

This may be the biggest problem in the world today: the illusion of our separateness, and the perception of a world of “others.” The “others” are no longer three-dimensional individuals who share with us the same emotions and needs with their personal dreams and stories. They become our enemies or our scapegoats. They literally become objects of our hate and fear. They represent the darkness that lies within our own hearts.

The antidote for our disconnection is remembrance of our connection – all that we share. Begin with family and friends. When we argue and disagree, we may begin to separate; but the alternative is to see different opinions and different goals as different points of view – an opportunity to deepen our understanding.

In everyday life, we take cognitive shortcuts based on caricatures (2-d stick people versions) of even those we know best, and we interpret what they say and do with assumptions we don’t check out. This leads to greater misunderstandings and separations.

For example, if your friend doesn’t call you back, you might assume she’s avoiding you and not that she didn’t get your text or lost her phone. If your brother brings up an embarrassing event from your past, you could take it as a personal attack rather than affectionate ribbing.

We are worse still with people we don’t even know but perceive as different based on outward appearances: clothing, accents, skin colour and position. We may even be guilty of the ridiculous assumption that the “other” is less important and of less value than ourselves.

We need new rules of engagement. The goals of conversation are not to get our point across and get what we want but rather for personal connection, mutual understanding and cooperation.

As a separated human being in your individual life, you will never be able to achieve and hold onto all that you seek. Together we are better.

Our place in this world becomes clear when we remember our very real connection with all of humanity. As infants we are connected to our mothers through the umbilical cord; we are dependent on our families as we mature and grow; we create a network of connections with our friends, in school and at work; we become participants of the greater society; we discover our uniquely positive potentials – our gifts to the world, and we help others and the rest of the world achieve theirs.

But in each day there lies a profound potential – the potential to nurture each of our relationships in many ways big and small. We can express our potential for love in countless forms – by forgiving and apologizing; by giving without expectation; by expressing gratitude. We can say we care with words, with actions, with a smile, a hug and a gentle touch.

Each day is a gift with which we can make a positive difference in the lives that we can touch, and let them know that they make a difference to us. At the end of life and at the end of the day, that may be all that really matters.

 

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Awareness Happiness Meditation Positive Potential real beauty real love Relationships stress management

My Working Summer Staycation

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What can you do when plans go awry?

Accept what you cannot change; appreciate what you have, and make the best of it.

I had the opportunity to put this into practice when I had to cancel my family vacation. Summer is usually the best time to take time off from my busy practice. Patients have fewer respiratory infections and with school out, many are on vacation themselves. To celebrate my daughter’s high school graduation, we had planned seven months ago to take her to New York and the Calgary Stampede.

But through circumstances beyond his control, my locum physician had to cancel without time to arrange a replacement. Realizing how disruptive it would be for patient care, I cancelled my trip and let my family travel without me.

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For part of my first day in an empty home, I appreciated the quiet order. Coming home after work, there were no shoes to trip over. The dishwasher was loaded the way I like it to allow for efficient unloading. There were no dishes in the sink except for my breakfast cereal bowl. I could choose what I wanted for dinner – and prepare and eat it alone.

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I made a list of things to do over the next two weeks (My wife was no longer around to write her list). Of course, the work of medical practice could consume as much as I would allow. The daily review of test results and consultation letters and making referrals consumes at least two hours after the last patient leaves the office.

After the long weekend, I worked an extra Saturday morning to reduce my patients’ wait time for appointments. I finished two medical legal reports (about 10 hours of work) on evenings and weekends. I was happy that I wasn’t out of town for the maternity and newborn care for two of my long-time patient families.

I missed my family especially on my wife and daughter’s birthdays. This was the first time I wasn’t with them on their special days. I was thankful for texting, email and facetime.

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I turned my quiet home time into a mindfulness retreat. I listened to Tara Brach’s podcasts on dharmaseed.org each morning and night and throughout the weekends. They inspired me to remain mindful at all times. I chose my thoughts and my activities.

I enjoyed being a tourist in my own town. We are lucky to live in a vacation destination for the rest of the world, and summer is a magical time with special community events every weekend.

I enjoyed Burnaby’s Canada Day concert and the awesome fireworks at Swangard Stadium. I called up my oldest friend and we met up at Deer Lake for the VSO’s Symphony in the Park. I enjoyed the live music at the Khatsalano Street Party.

I enjoyed weekend and evening cycling through busy, beautiful Central Park, and extra swims in the outdoor pool.

I cycled around my alma mater, UBC and explored the rich displays of the Museum of Anthropology. I treated my eyes and my soul to the Nitobe Memorial Garden, a uniquely beautiful Japanese garden hidden in the northwest corner of campus.

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I cycled the seawall of English Bay and Stanley Park. I must have taken over 200 photos during my two-week working staycation.

Life is never perfect and may not always go our way, but it’s still beautiful. Missing the people in our lives reminds us to appreciate them and our precious time together. Being tourists in our own town shows us the beauty around us each day.

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Compassion Friendship Growth Happiness Love Parenting Positive Potential real beauty real love Relationships

The Game Changer in Life: Seeing the Best in You

Central Park Lake 1

I confess that whenever I came across a green bag labeled for donation after my children had cleaned their rooms, I would rummage through it.

There I might find books and collectible items I thought they would treasure forever. After all, I had spent many hours finding just the right birthday or Christmas gifts at each stage of their lives.

Over time, I realized that such material things (though inspired by love) are not made to last forever nor should any of us cling to them. Kids grow up and outgrow them all.

The best gifts we can give our children are those they will keep forever.

A priceless gift my parents gave me continues to enrich my life, and I’ve done my best to pass it on to my children. Their gift was to always see (and expect) the best in me.

Though my parents were very thoughtful and deliberate in the decisions they made, I suspect that the ability to see the best in brother, sister and myself was a natural byproduct of their love for us.

 

We were each unique and as flawed as any other kids. They would give us feedback and correction when we could do better, but they always gave encouragement and praise when we did our best. Much more than looking for what’s wrong in us, they were always looking for what was good.

That simple but profound view – to the see the best in others – is a game changer in everyday life.

More often, we live on the surface of society and when looking at others, stop only on the outer surface. We judge – and then behave – based on appearances, gender, dress or disability, race and roles. We make sweeping judgments, and we forget that we see only glimpses of whole people.

We forget that every person that we pass on the street, sit beside on the bus, and interact with in the course of our daily lives is a complete and complex individual.

Every one of us has hopes and dreams, pain and disappointment. Everyone is someone’s friend or cousin, sibling or parent. When we remember this, we are more open to compassion and it becomes more natural to treat others with kindness and understanding.

Consider this when you disregard or ignore another human being or when you immediately dislike someone you don’t even know. We all have good and bad days, but we can always make someone else’s day better.

With those we live and work with, we can get caught up in our quirky habits and differences. We can take one another for granted and keep a running tally of what we don’t like about each other. One of the secrets of a happy marriage is to deliberately make more positive than negative comments about your partner. It reminds us to look for and express the best in the other, who in turn feels more appreciated.

The teachers who see the best in their students can inspire them to work harder and achieve their best. The manager who sees the qualities of each team member will lead a productive and positive team.

The doctors who can help their patients see themselves as agents of positive change in their own lives will guide them towards their potential for wellbeing.

Today, take a good deep look into the mirror and in every face you meet. See the best in everyone.

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Compassion Emotions Forgiveness Letting Go Love Parenting real beauty real love Relationships

Love . . . the real thing

Ducks at Central Park
Central Park, Burnaby by Davidicus Wong

I believe we are each a unique manifestation of the divine in this world.

When we are self-less, identifying less with this everchanging physical body and the elaborate personal story of endlessly conditioned thoughts and feelings that we have created throughout our lives, we see that we are all connected.

When others harm or insult me personally, they are also harming themselves. If I respond with misery or anger, I also harm myself – I allow myself to be twice stabbed, and it is my own self-inflicted wound that causes the longest suffering.

Our bodies are 60% water, but we don’t own that water. We are each a part of the water cycle. We take it in, we let it out. Water flows, evaporates, condenses and precipitates.

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We are also vessels of love and part of a great Love Cycle. It is an essential part of us, we take it in through many forms, it nurtures and sustains us, we give it out and we let it go.

Like all gifts in life – youth, health, friends, loved ones, careers – it is given to us in trust. It is not ours to own or cling to. We must appreciate these gifts when they are present but we cannot hold them forever – even our selves are not forever; we must let go of every gift.

But being human, we do not always love unconditionally – particularly with those closest to us. As parents, we may add judgment and expectation in our love for our children. The newborn baby is beautiful to us (even in her imperfection) because she is our own baby. When I was younger, I thought that I had to earn my parents’ love by being an overachiever but I later realized that that was not the case. They loved us each just as we were.

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Loved ones, friends, neighbours, coworkers and classmates may say and do things that attack our personal selves, and we can be pulled back into the usual mode of thinking of ourselves as separate selves – defending ourselves and competing for limited resources – the status quo of the win-lose game.

When couples fall in love. It begins with love, the idea and love, the emotion. Love, the idea is the product of infatuation – and we don’t see clearly. It’s like a psychosis, and I wonder if young people madly in love can really give informed consent to be married (until they have cooled off and come to their senses). Love, the emotion is a complex of our physical responses (which always fades with the passage of time) and our ideas and beliefs about that person (often inaccurate and incomplete).

With these limiting definitions of love, we can only love a few people in our lives.

Agape, metta or unconditional love is the real thing: the capital “L” Love. It is Love, the spiritual experience. It comes from an unlimited wellspring. It comes without conditions. Although it may seem foolish from a self-centric perspective, Love-based thoughts and actions benefit our truest, deepest, spiritual selves.

Just as Shakespeare said of mercy in the Merchant of Venice: The quality of mercy is not strained . . . It is twice blessed. It blesses both the giver and receiver.

Forgiveness is the same. Letting go of the past, acknowledging but relinquishing anger, and completely forgiving others – benefits most the one who forgives.

Life on Earth in a human body is a delicate balance. So easy is it for each of us to get lost in the delusion that we are just our separate personal identities. So easy it is to forget who and what we really are. When someone else – enemy or loved one – pokes at our little selves, we feel that natural response to defend and react. Mindfulness of our true identity reins us in.

We are human and imperfect, and we don’t always love unconditionally. In fact, most of the love that we have received in our lifetimes has come of course from other imperfect humans and came with conditions. But it is still love and part of the love cycle of which we are a part. It is the love that we give forward.

We can filter that love, purify it and share it with the rest of the world more unconditionally and closer to the original source of Love.

With real Love, I see more clearly. I see real beauty in the world and in other people. The two greatest spiritual experiences are to Love . . . and to be Loved in this way. It comes from the divine within us, and with it, we see the divine in others. As human beings, this is the purest way that we can experience God.

May you be happy, healthy, peaceful and safe. May you be filled with Love and give it freely.

God Creating Adam

 

 

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Compassion Friendship Happiness Love Purpose real beauty real love Relationships

To love and be loved: the point of it all

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Love is central to our lives. It is the purpose, passion and meaning of life. To love and be loved is the point of it all.Yet love, so important and central to our lives, is a complex experience and a confusing word. We mean different things and misunderstand each other when we say, “I love you.”

Our personal journeys and growth in love may begin with attraction emotional and physical but it must grow beyond this in order to last. It is warmth and affection, compassion and care. Many reserve their love for one soul mate. For others, love is expressed as compassion to many.

I see love as a potential spiritual experience – to see and be seen as we really are – beyond what we each appear to be. To love is to recognize the divine in another person, and with that recognition, dedication, compassion and caring flow naturally. To be loved this way is like coming home, finding your authentic self and discovering that you are not alone.

Love takes us deeper into the self yet goes beyond self. It penetrates to the depths of the soul. We love the unique expression of the divine in the other, the other is no longer separate from us, and once that connection between you is experienced, there can be no separation.

Life is all about relationships, and love is the point of it all. Life is imperfect, we are all flawed, life is unpredictable, and we all make mistakes. We waste our time and energy, we stray from our paths, and we harm each other. Yet love makes it worthwhile and allows us to forgive others and ourselves.

At the end of our lives, relationships matter most, and what lasts is love. All I have left from my mother is love but that love would just be a memory if I didn’t continue to share that love – to express it in thoughts, words and actions, to do more than is required, to do what I am moved to do.

The greatest potential in our lives lies in our capacity for love – to love and to accept it. What holds us back?

We fear rejection, exposure and the vulnerability of expressing our deepest feelings. We fear potential loss. Having opened up and shared joy, will we lose it again? Can we save ourselves from future misery by keeping the door closed? By holding our cards close to our heart and never showing our hand, will we win or will the loss of not fully loving or accepting love make us all losers in the end? With the deeper love is the grief greater – or do we die a thousand smaller deaths, a little at a time with love unrealized?

We can express our love in many ways. In daily acts of caring, parents prepare their children for school, make their breakfasts and pack their lunches. We express love and appreciation with kind words, thank yous and doing our share to make living together more pleasant, picking up after ourselves and one another.

We express love by showing concern. To ask and listen when someone needs help or comfort.

When my daughter was 10 years old and I was away at a conference, she sent me her picture by email with a message that she missed me. She packed a teddy bear in my bag.

When my sons were teenagers, they were more reserved. I would listen for the positive inflection in a grunt, and I accepted their share of the housework – clearing the table, unloading the dishwasher and helping with the laundry and the lawn – as their expressions of love.

Our best friends can love us the best. We can have many kinds of friends, but it is in our deepest, longest friendships that we experience great love. It is expressed in empathy, being on your side but telling you the truth when you need to hear it, always ready to drop everything to help, always offering unconditional positive regard with our aging bodies and changing circumstances. One of my best friends, not knowing if he was going to make it through major surgery the next day, called me to say, “I love you, man.” We cannot open ourselves in this way to many people, but just one great friend can make life more livable.

Love gives meaning, purpose and passion to our lives. In our minds, we organize our lives with an evolving story. Love is the point of our stories.

At the end of life when you ask yourself, “Have I loved enough?”, what will be your answer? We ought to ask ourselves this question often throughout our lives so that we can do what we should while we can.

My childhood friend, Stan once asked me, “If you knew tomorrow you weren’t going to see someone ever again, what would you say and do today?”

So what are you going to do today?

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Awareness Friendship Grace Happiness Love Meditation real beauty real love Relationships Wisdom

#7 The Three Gifts

Maui with the kids

Each morning before rising, I open my mind with a meditation of gratitude for the gifts of a new day. There are three gifts that we are each given: the gift of place, the gift of person and the gift of presence.

These gifts are not meant to be clung to, put on a mantle or stashed away. They are ephemeral and precious. They must be appreciated right now for they are not ours to keep. We are entrusted with them this day and perhaps this day alone.

The Gift of Place This is where you are in life right now. You may be a child, a teen or an adult; at the beginning, middle or end of life. You may be pondering your choices for a vast, unknown future; beginning a course of study; starting a new job, considering a change or nearing retirement.

Wherever you may be in life, there’s no other time like it. In spite of the challenges facing you today, appreciate what you have right now. This may be the stuff that nostalgia is made of.

To embrace the gift of place is to see what is before you at this time and to appreciate what you have in your life this day. Look around you. Though all may not seem perfect, much of what you see today may be gone tomorrow.

In youth, we have energy, dreams and enthusiasm, but we lack experience, wisdom and money. As adults, we learn from life experience, make a living and may finally be able to do the things we’ve dreamed of, but we may lack the health and vigour to live those dreams. Parents are often too stressed and overworked to enjoy their children as much as they would wish; when they finally have the time, those children may have grown up and moved on to their own independent and busy lives.

The Gift of Person These are the people in your life today. Just as a man can be adrift in the ocean and die of thirst, we can be surrounded by people yet feel alone. To live fully, we must feel connected; the deeper our connections, the greater the satisfaction.

It’s too easy to take others for granted especially those we see every day. Think of the people in your life today. Who would you miss if you were never to see one another again? Treat them accordingly – with respect, affection and joy.

There are special people in my life with whom I can’t help from smiling whenever we meet. I know I would miss them dearly when life separates us as it inevitably will. The most precious gifts in life are not flowers, metals or jewels; they are the special people who come into our lives, bring joy and enrich our experiences but must eventually say good-bye.

I no longer have my mother in this world, but I do have my father, sister and brother; my wife and children; my extended family and my friends. Whenever I feel a pang of irritation or start to take them for granted, I remember how precious each is to me.

The Gift of Presence When our names were called during roll call in school, each of us would pipe up, “Present!” In both school and life, we may be physically present but without our hearts and minds fully engaged.

The gift of presence is the ability to master our conscious awareness of life’s experience; that is, being more fully awake, in touch and involved in the very experience of our lives today. As we explored in my previous article on meditation, we exist on many levels. To be fully present is to know our own thoughts and feelings, see our world with clarity and act with passion and deliberation. It is to be open to the experience of wonder.

So seize this day, and enjoy the ephemeral gifts of place, person and presence.

Ready to take a fresh look at life, question self-limiting beliefs and discover enduring happiness? Join me in “A Hundred Days to Happiness.” Since February 1st, I’ve been sharing insights I’ve learned from my patients, friends and family. Each day, I will post one new insight on facebook.com/davidicus.wong, twitter.com/DrDavidicusWong and my blog, davidicuswong.wordpress.com.

 

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Grace Happiness Healthy Living Love Parenting Purpose real love Relationships

#3 Your Book of Good

 

In literature, it’s been said that comedies end with weddings and tragedies with funerals.

Since we are all mortal, does that make life ultimately tragic?

In the face of death, much of what has consumed our attention and energy over a lifetime seems futile and worthless. Who on their deathbed wishes that he had had spent more time at work, more nights drinking or more weekends cross-border shopping? Who after losing someone they had loved wishes they had won every argument?

The tragedy in life is that we rarely devote our attention to what matters most and that people die not knowing how much they were loved. The comedy in life is that we squander so much time and anxiety over a house of cards, arguing about matters that won’t make a difference at the end of life, and collecting and hoarding things we can’t take with us.

Life is limited, and it can be precarious and unpredictable. We are tossed from extremes of hot and cold, wet and dry, hunger and satisfaction. Life at times can be unfair. We and our relationships are imperfect. But all of this makes each day, your life and everyone in it all the more precious.

This day will never come again. You will never be this young. You will never have all the people that you have in your life today.

Live today. Live fully, and live mindfully.

But don’t squander the limited hours of this day fretting about losing what you already have, grieving what you have already lost, and wanting something more in the future. Happiness is not lost in the past nor is it a place in the future when everything is right. Enjoy what you have right now. Be happy today.

This year, I began what you might call a gratitude journal. I call it my “Book of Good”. I’ve written about the wonderful, timeless, love-filled, joyful experiences of my life. These are the moments, hours and days of my life where I have found happiness.

I remember the kind, loving words of my mother and father, and their wise advice about friends, relationships and life that I still remember word for word. I remember every Christmas Day and all that my parents did to make each one wonderful.

I remember my mother’s great cooking, the flavor of roast beef, and texture of roasted potatoes. I remember my mom taking me to doctor’s appointments, and spending hours at my bedside when I was in hospital.

I remember my dad suturing a bad laceration on my leg. He taught me how to use every tool in the workshop, how to change a tire and how to polish shoes. I remember the stories and the laughter around the table at dinner time.

My journal continues with the joys of being a dad when my children were small and the whole world was full of newness and adventure. It continues with the joys of today with each of my children’s unique personalities and their emerging talents.

Buy a hardcover journal from the dollar store, and begin writing today. What are your happiest memories of childhood? What were your favourite meals? What did your mom and dad do for you? What did they teach you? Who taught you how to ride a bike and tie your shoes?

What was the kindest thing that someone did for you? Who loved you the most? What did it feel like to fall in love for the first time? What was your favourite toy as a child? What are the greatest things you have done for someone else?

These are the moments that make you smile. These are the moments that make this life worthwhile.

If you’re ready to take a fresh look at life, question self-limiting beliefs and discover enduring happiness, join me in “A Hundred Days to Happiness.” Since February 1st, I’ve been sharing the insights I’ve learned from my patients, friends and family. Each day, I will post one new insight on facebook.com/davidicus.wong, twitter.com/DrDavidicusWong and my blog, davidicuswong.wordpress.com.

Mom & Dad's Wedding Photo

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Compassion Emotions Forgiveness Friendship Love Parenting patient-doctor relationship Positive Change real love Relationships

A healthier way to love

Belle

Disneyland has always been a favourite holiday destination for my family. When my daughter was small, we could spend more time in lineups to meet her favourite princesses than to get on the busiest rides, but fairytale magic had no power over nature; we would often arrive at the front of the line, when a princess had to take a break. It happened so often that my daughter started to harbor grudges against Cinderella.

Disney has raised generations of women with more positive identification with princesses’ and their stories. Virtually every young woman I know has a favourite Disney princess.

Some may still dream of the magic of true love’s kiss.

Unrealistic expectations can set us up for disappointment. Falling in love is like a psychosis that prevents us from clearly seeing the other as a real person: qualities are exaggerated and faults minimized.

In the grip of infatuation, we may not be capable of making rational decisions. If patients with advanced dementia, delirium or psychosis are not able to make their own medical decisions, should those madly in love not be allowed to get married (at least until the end of a cooling off period when a prince turns back into a toad or a beast and has the opportunity to leave the lily pad up once too often)?

When infatuation fades (as it always does), many ask with sober reflection, “What was I thinking?”

When the honeymoon ends, we become disenchanted and “happily ever after” becomes work. We can start competing with one another and keeping track of what we compromise. In the leger of what we give and take from a relationship, we all lose.

To avoid disappointment, should we give up the search for the one true love who is our perfect partner and soul mate?

The love we seek is an emotional, spiritual and social ideal but is within our reach. The love we have sought from someone else is what we must nurture within our own hearts. It is unconditional love.

It is like a physician’s unconditional positive regard for his patient, wherein the needs of the patient take precedence over those of the physician. The wellbeing of the other comes first.

We are human and we love imperfectly. More often than not, our affections for one another are conditional. If our partners disappoint and displease us, we hold back our love. We project our own ideals and identity onto our children and if they fail to live to our standards and rules, they may feel we love them less.

Unconditional love does not judge but easily forgives. It is like a best friend who knows everything about you but accepts you and loves you anyway; who tells you what you need to know, sees the best in you and pushes you to live your potential.

We are human and we love imperfectly, but we must accept ourselves and the love we have received as imperfect as it may be. Our world is not perfect but there is still beauty in it. We are not perfect but still worthy of love.

By nurturing unconditional love, we may live more happily ever after, accepting ourselves, improving our relationships and becoming better parents.

As an exercise to develop more unconditional love, picture first someone you care about and say, “May you be happy, healthy, peaceful and safe.” Then picture in turn someone you feel neutral about (no particular feelings whatsoever), someone you have a quarrel with, and yourself, while saying, “May you be happy, healthy, peaceful and safe.”

If you practice this exercise regularly, you will become an agent of positive change – beginning first in your own heart and spreading to the world around you.

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Love Parenting real beauty real love Relationships The Qualities of a Child

Real love and real beauty. Truth in a fairy tale.

What We Learn From Fairy Tales Davidicus Wong, M.D., July 7th, 2014

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My beautiful daughter turns 16 this week.

Once upon a time, when we were all much younger, a favourite family ritual was to make up a fresh bedtime story each night. By capturing the experiences, thoughts and feelings of my children’s day, I engaged their imaginations while providing parental lessons both subtle and obvious.

What follows was a favourite inspired by the funny faces my then 8-year-old daughter made. Parents have always warned their children that their faces may freeze that way.

Of course, there is some medical truth in this. In our thirties, we discover that our parents were right after all. Our wrinkles reveal our habitual emotions with lines betraying smiles or frowns.

I trust that my daughter will remember this story for its deeper lessons about real beauty that inspires us more than a striking physical appearance and real love, the recognition of that truer beauty within.

To be truly loved is to be accepted and cherished just as we are. As we age, we wrinkle and weaken, shorten and sag yet authentic love sees a beauty that persists. As Yeats wrote in his poem, When You Are Old, “How many loved your moments of glad grace, and loved your beauty with love false or true, but one man loved the pilgrim soul in you, and loved the sorrows of your changing face.”

The Scary-faced Princess

On the day she was born, Princess Michelle had the most beautiful face ever seen. She was certainly the most beautiful baby the doctor had ever delivered. At the moment of her birth, he couldn’t resist pinching her dimpled cheeks. The newborn princess frowned, wrinkled her brows and scrunched up her nose. So shocked with this scary transformation, the doctor nearly dropped her.

One day, the queen while feeding the princess could not resist pinching her precious dimpled cheeks.   The pretty princess frowned, wrinkled her brows and scrunched up her nose. The queen was startled and Princess Michelle spat up her milk into the queen’s eyes.

At the princess’ baptism, everyone in the court, all of the villagers, and each of the forest fairies came to adore her and bring gifts. Each visitor was enchanted by her incredibly sweet face. No one could resist pinching her soft dimpled cheeks.

The royal baby soon grew weary of this. Just at the moment the Pink Fairy approached her crib, raising her wand to grant a spell of eternal beauty, Princess Michelle frowned, wrinkled her brow and scrunched up her nose.

So shocked was the Pink Fairy that she dropped her magic wand into the crib. After an explosion of starry flashes, the Pink Fairy was nowhere to be found.

The king and queen rushed to their daughter’s side but with one look at her once sweet face, the king fainted. The queen, who could not see quite as clearly because of the milk in her eyes, quickly bundled up the princess in a soft blanket and hid her from the eyes of the court.

The face of the once beautiful princess was frozen with her frown, wrinkled brow and scrunched nose. The effect on others was immediate and frightening. One look upon the princess’ face caused a reflex of fear.

Only one person in the kingdom was able to look upon her features and not freeze. The queen whose eyes had been clouded by warm milk could not see the frown, the wrinkles and the scrunch.

Though still loved by her parents the princess grew up in the dark so that even she could not gaze upon her own features in a mirror. No one else would be frozen by her frightening features.

Servants brought Princess Michelle her meals to this darkened room lit only by a single candle in its farthest corner. They would only see the outline of her body, which appeared like a shadow.

Her voice and her heart remained sweet and kind. Each visitor would be entranced by her gentle spirit.   She had many friends but none ever saw her face.

In her dark room, the princess had learned to listen. When her friends came to visit, she would listen and reflect back what they were truly feeling. She had the gift of compassion. The heart of anyone who came to see her would leave a little lighter and happier for no one else could listen and understand so well.

One true friend, Peter learned from the princess how to listen well. He helped Princess Michelle grow up in the dark. He told her of the outside world – what it was like to play with other children and to see the beauty of nature.

The king and queen too enjoyed their daughter’s kind company and counsel. It is difficult to rule a kingdom. There is so much to think about and so many decisions to make.

Princess Michelle was able to make their work easier and their hearts lighter. She had acquired wisdom beyond her years. They knew that one day she would be a fitting queen.

Yet the king and queen worried that she would never marry. Her frightening face would certainly freeze the heart of even the warmest suitor.

According to tradition, the princes from the surrounding kingdoms were allowed to ask for her hand in marriage when the princess was old enough to make her choice. The king and queen could not deny the parade of young men who came to meet the princess when that day arrived.

Although they knew that most of these princes only wanted to acquire the riches of the kingdom, the king and queen felt they must warn them of the princess’ secret. None believed them.

One by one, each prince would enter the princess’ meeting room, where he would try to convince her to accept his hand in marriage.           The princess told each prince that she sought only true love – love that would last regardless of age, illness or appearances.

After each prince, promised such love, she would open the curtains of the window revealing her frown, wrinkled brow and scrunched up nose.One by one, each prince froze in fear and had to be carried out by her servants. The princess was heartbroken. It seemed she would never find true love. No prince would see past her scary face.

At that moment of need, her best friend, Peter came to comfort her. He knew her better than anyone in the whole world and he knew that she had beauty within. Peter then revealed his secret.   He was also a prince and he had always loved her.

Before she could stop him, he opened the curtains of the window, gazed into her eyes but instead of fainting or freezing, he smiled and kissed her. Princess Michelle felt her face transform – her frown melted into a smile, her brow relaxed and her nose unscrunched. The room was filled with a wondrous light, and the kingdom was again enchanted by the princess’ beauty.