A Life Well Lived

I went to the ballet today. At the time it felt crazy to go in the middle of papers, assignments and presentations, but I turned the computer off anyway and headed to the Betty Oliphant Theatre to watch Ballet Jorgen Canada’s beautiful adaptation of Cinderella. And despite a few hiccups getting there, once I arrived I was delighted to discover I had the perfect seat: right in the middle of the front row. I couldn’t have asked for a better place to soak up each expression, the details of the costumes and the perfection of each movement.

And as I watched the acts unfold, I couldn’t help thinking that the production was an incredible example of dedication made visible. It was a reminder that excellence cannot be created instantly; it is not a product of procrastination and shortcuts. It’s only through hours and hours of daily practice and emotional, physical and mental commitment to a craft that such performances, such beauty is possible.

Aside from the beauty of the performance though, it was a special afternoon because it was a celebration of Clea Iveson, who after 19 years and 2,000 performance is retiring from active dancing with Ballet Jorgen Canada. (Which is a shame. Even for a infrequent ballet attendee like myself, her performance was powerful and hilarious and hard to ignore.) And when the dancers came out on stage after the show, bouquets of flowers appeared from the audience, little girls slipped handwritten cards on stage, everyone was on their feet and you could feel the emotion of everyone in the room: from audience members, to the dancers, to the Artistic Director to Clea (first names sound so very informal!) herself. Even the people beside me were crying. What I found most moving though, was that when the audience finally quietened, the Artistic Director shared some beautiful words about her strength, her intelligence, her commitment and dedication and her contributions that have made the company what it is today.

And hearing those words and witnessing the emotion of everyone in the room made me think about work and what it means to have a calling. Deep contributions are possible not by flitting from one activity to another, or giving up quickly, but only when you pour all of yourself in a particular sphere of activity and continually strive to refine your abilities and expertise.

The same lesson came to mind when I was returning to Vancouver from London a few months ago and the pilot announced about half an hour before landing that after forty years of service that flight was his last journey in the cockpit. He thanked his wife who was onboard for her constant support, told us that flying was a challenging life path, and shared moments with us that he’ll always cherish: from seeing the sunrise in the cockpit when many of the passengers were asleep, to hearing the quietness of the world, to seeing how different people live across the world. There were many moments, and he was glad for the journey he had taken through life.

By the end of it, I had a lump in my throat from the gifts of his reflections, and the whole plane applauded when he landed the plane smoothly in the Vancouver International Airport.

And so whether I think of the ballet today, or that pilot earlier this summer, or any other remarkable example, the reflection is the same: it is extraordinary and beautiful to see your work as a calling and as a source of wonder and passion. And yet how challenging a thing to keep yourself steadfast to your chosen path as you develop!  (But necessary, if deep meaningful contribution to the world is the aim.) All things to tuck away as I return back to paper writing, and try to put into perspective some of the more stress inducing parts of studying and doing the masters. It’s just meant to be one step of a much larger journey.

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