What do I do when my love is away?
(Does it worry you to be alone?)
How do I feel by the end of the day?
(Are you sad because you’re on your own?)
No I get by with a little help from my friends
Mm I get high with a little help from my friends
Mm gonna try with a little help from my friends

-The Beatles

Our friend Irek was a teenager when he first applied to leave Poland in the late 1980s. It wasn’t a matter of just buying an airline ticket and applying for residency in another country. The government didn’t make it easy and it took years to navigate a difficult and paranoid system. He had to face serious difficulties and the cost in sacrifices was high.

Leaving Poland in 1989 was painful. It meant leaving behind not just friends and the life he grew up with for a strange country with an unfamiliar culture. He also had to give up the person he loved very much. Ania and Irek had been together for some years already when they had to separate. They were true high school sweethearts. It was a devastating decision. Saying goodbye to Irek, Ania thought she’d never see him again.

 High school sweethearts….this *photo was taken in 1988 before Irek left for Canada.

 

In Canada, Irek moved to Hamilton, Ontario. It seemed a little dreary and industrial. His hometown in Poland, Szczecin, was a green and pretty place. Hamilton’s landscape was marked by denuded hills dominated by steel plants and heavy industry. He was an artist by training, and had studied to be a commercial illustrator and graphic designer in high school. In Canada Irek took a job as an assembly welder at a plant that built railcar chassis. Life in Canada wasn’t easy and he missed Ania.

Shortly after he arrived in Canada, the Berlin Wall began to crumble, kicking off a cataclysmic political earthquake across Eastern Europe. Irek went back to Poland long enough to marry Ania and they returned to Canada to start a new life together.

Ania and Irek’s *wedding day

 

Ania and Irek painted on their *honeymoon…According to Ania, Irek was trying to steal her ideas.

 

Irek and Ania were among the very first people we met when we moved to Toronto from Vancouver ten years ago. There is a Vipassana Centre near Barrie, Ontario, and back in the fall of 2007 Karen looked it up and noticed they were having their annual Open House. Since it would be the closest centre where we could sit our meditation courses, we decided to go and check it out. Irek was volunteering that day as a tour guide and it was he that ended up showing us around. We immediately liked him. Afterward he introduced us to his wife Ania. They had their own successful web and graphic design business and they volunteered their professional skills to the Vipassana centre. Asked if we would be interested in helping the two of them with some of the communications tasks for the Centre, we agreed. That started a warm and rewarding friendship that has lasted a decade now.

We spent our first New Year’s Eve in Toronto with Irek and Ania. They even took us for a walk downtown to Nathan Phillips Square for New Year’s festivities. We regularly met for coffee and breakfast at St. Lawrence Market, and took turns hosting each other for dinners. We worked together to run one-day Vipassana courses in Toronto. We served on the Board of Trustees together. A year after we met, they helped us out by acting as our witnesses when we made our own marriage official in Canada. We have shared car accidents together. They have helped us move in to apartments. They have helped us move out of apartments. They have helped us move back in to apartments. Now a physical therapist, Irek even treated Scott’s dad when his back went out while visiting us one year. They are both smart and a lot of fun to be around. They make us laugh, sometimes uproariously.

Though we have very different backgrounds and interests, we share some important things in common with Irek and Ania. They love great footwear, chocolate, and Patagonia clothing, “Patagucci” as we like to call it. Like Karen and I, they are dedicated meditators. And also like us, they are not just husband and wife. They are also the best of friends.

It was a wonderful surprise when we learned the two of them would also be attending the 45-day meditation retreat we just finished in Hereford, England. It would be almost exactly ten years to the day that we first met them at the Open House.

One of the residential buildings – sunrise on the day we left the centre at the end of our 45day course

 

Meditating silently for 45 days brings some truths clearly into view. I eat too much, for one. And I have a disturbing amount of grey hair. But more importantly, you understand that life really is very short. It’s over in the blink of an eye. Our relationships matter much more than you think. And at the end of your life, you will reflect on the details of this short time on earth. What will bubble up to the surface of your mind will be the things that you wished you’d done differently. The things you regret. It won’t be wishing you’d tried harder for that promotion at that office you worked at. It won’t be wishing you’d made more money. Instead, you’ll regret the time you didn’t spend with family and friends, the unkind things you said or did to others. Just when it’s too late, you’ll wish you had loved your friends more, that you’d spent much, much more time with family, and the friends that are really your family. You’ll wish you’d been kinder and more helpful to people you didn’t even know.

Life is short. So be generous. Spend more time being kind and less time trying to get ahead, you’re already further ahead than you think. Be a great friend.

Now that we’ve finished our long retreat, we have returned to Canada to reconnect with our family at Christmas before we fly to Toronto to facilitate a couple of meditation courses there in January. After that? Stay tuned. We have big plans for 2018.

Christmas is a natural time to reflect on the year that’s gone. We have a lot to be grateful for. To all of you who keep reading our blog and commenting along the way, thank you. It means the world to us.

We wish everyone a very happy Christmas.

 

*Photo source: Ania’s facebook page

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