Last summer, I had an unusual visitor. A lady I didn’t recognize came to my front door and rang the doorbell. I’d never seen her before, but she was clearly from the neighbourhood, as she had come on foot.
She said she had come to apologize to me.
I was mystified. This lady was a total stranger: why would she need to apologize to me?
The Taj Mahal, in Agra, India, is considered to be one of the world’s most beautiful buildings, and rightly so. Built from white marble, it was commissioned in 1631 by Shah Jahan as a memorial to his favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died that year giving birth to their fourteenth child.
For many in India and around the world, the Taj Mahal is an iconic symbol of love. Every stone and jewel used in its construction speaks of the tremendous affection the Shah had for his wife, and his grief at her passing. To many people, the Taj Mahal is the embodiment of love.
Do you enjoy collecting things? Many of us do. Perhaps you collect stamps, vintage baseball cards, Barbie dolls, movie memorabilia, autographs or folk art.
Or maybe your hoard is a little more esoteric. You might specialize in collecting Cracker Jack prizes, Coca-Cola ads, thimbles, snow globes, or vintage fountain pens. These interests may be a bit more off the beaten path, but still within the realms of normal.
But it’s possible that your collection veers into the truly strange and oddball, like the following:
If you live in a cold climate, have you ever woken up to discover that there had been an ice storm overnight? You look outside to find the bare branches of the trees are encased in a thick layer of ice.
The effect can be absolutely stunning. The branches glisten and sparkle in the sunlight. People rush outside to take photos of the ice-covered trees.
But the beauty masks a danger: those bare branches are at risk. They were never meant to carry the weight of so much ice. The branches may break off, and the tree can be left devastated.
Do you ever feel like you’re carrying too much “weight”?
What’s your astrological sign? Are you a Libra or a Leo? Do you read your horoscope daily and make life decisions based on that advice?
Or maybe you follow Chinese astrology, which is based on the year in which you were born rather than the month. The Chinese are about to celebrate the Lunar New Year, heralding the beginning of the Year of the Rat.
Both of these systems teach that the time cycle in which you were born determines your personality, and to some extent the course of your life. But this might leave you with a sense of being powerless, at the mercy of impersonal forces beyond your control.
Isn’t there something better to help you navigate your way through life?
Sometimes there’s something we want to express, but we can’t seem to find the right term for it. There’s a feeling or situation that we just can’t put into words. Or maybe the precise word doesn’t even exist in English.
On occasion we have to turn to words and phrases in other languages to describe exactly what we’re trying to say. For instance, in English we often borrow the German word “schadenfreude,” which means “pleasure at the misfortune of others”.
Maybe we should consider borrowing a few more foreign words that have no English equivalent. I suggest the following:
If you live in eastern North America, you might be lucky enough to have seen a gorgeous bird called the northern cardinal. The male is especially distinctive, with his breathtaking red plumage and black “mask” on his face.
Up here in Canada, the cardinal is at the northernmost part of its range. We’re especially fortunate that, unlike many songbirds, cardinals don’t migrate south for the winter. We get to enjoy their presence year-round.
But what on earth do the cardinals eat here, when parts of Canada might be covered in several feet of snow?
Did you know that some people make a hobby out of “reading” the forest in winter? By that I mean identifying trees despite their being bare of leaves this time of year.
This can be quite challenging, because frankly, many species of trees look almost identical to each other without their leaves. How do these nature lovers do it? How do they “fill in the blanks” and distinguish one species of tree from another in winter?
Last week, the Scots celebrated “Hogmanay,” or New Year’s Eve. A particularly delicious treat often consumed there on this holiday is shortbread, which is a Scottish invention. It’s not really a bread, but rather a buttery, rich, crumbly type of cookie (recipe below).
But why is it called “short” bread? Is it vertically challenged? Well, yes, it’s quite a flat cookie, but in this case the word “short” means something different.