Crossing the border

After a short hiatus Stoic Sundays is back! This week I challenged myself to a feat of national proportions – applying for a work visa at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport.

I’ve alluded to traffic as being a great place to practice Stoic reflection, and crossing the border struck me as another excellent venue to practice having realistic expectations.

Now going through US customs is always somewhat of a feat to begin with, but when applying for a work permit one gets to brave the secret secondary screening back room.

This is a place where people often reach the brink of frustration. Waiting times can be well over two hours before being interviewed (mine was 2.5), many people don’t know why they’re back there, and there is an atmosphere of an impatient, unhelpful customs officer who presumes you are trying to cheat the system.

In a former life I would have felt frantic that I was getting close to missing my flight, upset that the line was moving so slowly and that people who came in after me were getting served first, and generally cursing the staff for having it out for honest Canadians who are trying to do legitimate work with their biggest trading partner.

But hey – this stuff really works! I found myself stepping back from my instinct to feel hard-done by, and felt fairly tranquil amidst of a sea of frustrated-looking people. I was prepared for any number of outcomes from not being allowed entry to missing my flight. Understanding these all to be realistic, plausible outcomes, and not being too attached to the outcome knowing that it was now out of my control allowed me to get through with minimal headache. As a bonus, it made the whole experience of getting to the gate in the nick of time surprisingly fun, and feeling fortunate to make the flight I didn’t mind giving up my aisle seat so that a mom and her daughter could sit together.

These practices are becoming more embedded and subconscious through our weekly rituals and the effects have been overwhelmingly positive. This was particularly true when dealing with the death of my stepdad over the past few weeks which was the cause of the blog’s hiatus. Min and I were both able to appreciate the time we were given with someone that really inspired us, and to come to terms with what otherwise seemed to be an unfair, aggressive illness.

Min put it well:
Death is one of the most difficult and complex emotional duress one can go through – and is a fear for most. But to a stoic, it’s a different experience that’s acknowledged as part of the circle of life. Following logic and order, death follows life as a natural process.

But, we’re human. Sadness and loss overwhelms us when we suffer such a big loss. There were moments when it hit us by surprise to spontaneously be overwhelmed with sadness. But, remembering that all emotions come from within, and to accept the loss helped us during the time. This also allowed the family to choose a different way to remember the person we knew. We chose to experience them as joy for a life well lived. Instead of a sombre affair, we chose to celebrate our loved one’s life with beer, wine and food with everyone close to us.

Life and death reminds us when confronted that material possessions and trivial matters really don’t matter. What’s most important is what’s experienced and learned.

With that in mind, we’re picking up the Stoic Sundays again. Now that we’ve got the basics worked into our daily routines we’re hoping to up the ante and start really stepping out of our comfort zones. We hope to share some bolder, fun challenges in the coming Sundays!

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