Readers’ quality responses made 2007 a banner year

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, December 27, 2007

What makes writing this column such a wonderful experience for me is the quantity and quality of responses I receive from our coffee companions year after year. 2007 has been no exception.

The past 12 months of your affirmations, suggestions and personal experiences over coffee and by e-mail have made this column really live for me and for our readers; your thoughts and words are what drive this column.

And what themes grabbed your attention most?

Stories of lives well lived always generate lots of interest – especially stories of elders from the Stoney Nakoda First Nation at Morley. Among these we remembered the late Gerald Kaquitts, globetrotting goodwill ambassador the late Walking Buffalo, and recently deceased Lily Wesley. Their legacy of wisdom – and especially lessons learned in “Nature’s University” – enriches all of us.

Columns on nature and nature photography were right up there, too. Topping this category was a feature on photographer/priest Fred Monk, who focuses his lenses on the sacred in the every day.

Equally popular were columns on art and literature. Our celebration of Cochrane’s mosaic mural, Trust, continues to draw responses from around the world. Such artists and writers elevate us to the realm of wonder. As local poet/artist Marie Sigurdson put it, “Wonder allows one to see the divine thread hand-painted through all of life.”

Language and word usage continues to be a topic that draws lots of responses. Early in the year, coffee companion Phil Minnaar introduced us to his The Positive Dictionary: Only Words with Positive Messages. This positive feeling was echoed in The Hippo and the Unicorn: A Rainbow of Words, by Cochrane authors Lindsie Haxton and Elaine Phillips, who fashioned words into a collection of friendship letters between two unlikely correspondents. For some readers, however, my endorsement of the use of “hopefully” (as in “Hopefully, I’ll see you…”) was debatable. (I still stand by my endorsement.)

The closely-related topic of great quotations also drew considerable reader participation. Some, such as Mexico coffee companion Barbara Hollenbach, shared from a lifetime of collecting inspiring sayings. One of her favourites was by Rabbi David Wolpe: “Part of our task in life is to choose worthy companions who will cultivate what is good in us.” That explains why I enjoy our coffee companionship so much – you are those “worthy companions,” and I love to speak of the goodness you cultivate.

Which brings me to what is overwhelmingly the most popular set of themes among our coffee companions, based on this year’s reader response: quality-of-life issues associated with happiness, inner stillness, death and dying, perseverance, responding to change, human rights, and making wonderful days.

In second place was a series of four columns on embracing and responding to change. We quoted from renowned mythologist Joseph Campbell: “We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us” – not a bad motto as we cross from one year into the next.

Coffee companions David Ambrose and Leo Peters spoke of how they have committed their professional lives to drawing happiness out of what at first seems like adversity. As you may recall, a near-fatal accident helped David re-evaluate his own life priorities, ultimately culminating in his many published and speaking contributions on happiness.

In Leo’s case, the return of cancer some years ago and the real possibility of having only six months to live led him to the choice of living each day in the fullest, happiest, most positive way. He’s long outlived that deadline, but continues to do everything in his power to bring happiness to all he encounters.

Which brings me to the first-place topic in our coffee columns for 2007, a four-column topic which Leo himself raised for us and has dominated reader reaction for the past month: What does a wonderful day look like, and what can any of us do to make it a wonderful day for others?

I received 49 e-mail responses alone to that question, and as you may recall, the major features of a wonderful day that emerged are: gratitude, a listening heart, contentment, and choice.

Now, as we cross over into 2008, my prayer is that those four qualities will be active more and more in all our lives, until, like the Dutch Holocaust martyr and writer Etty Hillesum, we are brought afresh to “just one single word: God.”

© 2007 Warren Harbeck

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