Focus is Everything by C.C. Bye

iceburgOne summer, when I was working at the top of  the Arctic Archipelago in an eight-person settlement known as Eureka, an iceberg ran aground in the strait between Ellesmere and Axel-Heiberg Islands. I enjoyed the novelty of having a mountain of ice parked outside my window, but I must admit it soon became just another part of the scenery. The same thing happened with the wolves who hunted us every time we left the confines of our buildings, and with the rabbits who achieved such tremendous speeds when racing our enclosed snow cruiser that they were able to bound along upright, front legs never touching the ground. Such strange and beautiful sights become mundane when they occur too often.

Then came a cold January day when our cook, an axe in one hand and a cardboard box in the other, asked me to go out to the berg and get him some ice. I already thought he was an eccentric, so I bit my tongue and went for a stroll.

“Make sure you get  ice from the centre of the face,” he hollered to me as I trudged out  into  the  – 40°C air.

I did what he asked. Even though the face of the berg was in shadow, and the air that pooled there seemed to be inordinately cold, and I was convinced the 30-foot wall of ice was poised to fall on my head.

When I got back, Cookie thanked me, indicated that I should put the box in the walk-in freezer, then  went on preparing dinner. No big deal. No explanations given.

Later that evening, a few of us gathered in the common room to watch a canned hockey game which had been flown in from Winnipeg. This was before the advent of satellite TV, so it was something of an event for us. Cookie came in and surprised me with one of my favourite drinks—good Canadian rye, a small amount of ginger ale and lots of ice. In fact, the tumbler was filled with so much chipped ice that rivulets of condensation had begun to run down its sides. The odd little fellow chuckled, winked at me and said, “There’s something about million-year-old ice that just makes a drink taste better.” He was right.

Many years have passed since that memorable day. Cookie’s most likely in his grave. I’ve begun to feel the sear of age myself. But every now and then, when I have a spare moment, I think about ancient ice in my drink, and the company of wolves, and I smile.

Life has helped me to understand that whether it’s a certain piece of art catching the morning light in a way that  delights, or  a walk along a leaf-strewn country road, or icebergs that run aground outside your bedroom window, the trick to having an interesting life that’s filled with beauty, is to make these things your centre of activity or interest. You must make them your focus. Because of this, I do my utter best to spend my days purposely drinking the juice of life. Yet the iceberg story is proof that beauty can also be found in memories and that it’s important to make time for revisiting them.

You can take this idea a step further by accepting those ugly, disheartening events that life seems to present with unnerving regularity. Accept them, but don’t let them affect you. Understand that they’ll eventually pass, and that you’ve the choice to refocus on better things. There’s also no rule that says you ever have to think about them again. You choose what you remember and how you remember.

A death can become a reason to celebrate someone’s life. A lost job is an opportunity to try the career you’ve always dreamt of. A failed romance has the potential to teach you about man’s incredible capacity for love. And a struggle with disease can renew your zest for life. You have the power to recall and reshape your experiences so that they work for you.

This is a simple concept with the power to transform our lives, but it’s worthless unless applied. I challenge you to spend today on the conscious enjoyment of beauty, allowing all else to be diminished or ignored. Choose to build beautiful memories while forgetting everything else. The exercise represents an important step in creating a truly enjoyable life. It can also help you to understand that focus is everything.

If you enjoyed this essay, then you’ll enjoy the countless other stories in The Contrary Canadian, available on Amazon or at my own store at

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14 thoughts on “Focus is Everything by C.C. Bye

  1. Marion Lovato

    Well done, Clayton. Attitude has everything to do with what happens in your life and the choices that you make. It’s too easy to have a pity party which doesn’t accomplish anything. But, if your attitude is right, then life can be interesting, challenging, AND fun!

    1. Clayton Bye

      Thanks Marion. I have had many occasions in my life to go back to this little story. It always seems to bolster that attitude you speak of. And yes, attitude–the choices we make each day as to how we are going to feel and think and act–is the most important success tool we have.

  2. John B. Rosenman

    Ancient ice in your drink. You choose what you remember and how you remember. I don’t want to go overboard, but this is a wise and wonderful essay. I suppose it’s been said before many times but rarely so effectively and movingly. I wonder how many of us are caught in self-destructive patterns that drain our lives of beauty and meaning. We do have the power to liberate ourselves from those patterns; otherwise, what’s the point?

    My father often quoted a short poem that seems relevant here. “As you ramble on through life, brother. Whatever be your goal. Keep your eye upon the doughnut. And not upon the hole.” You’re talking about the doughnut and not the hole.

    1. Clayton Bye

      And just think, John, it took a strange little man to whom I paid very little attention to teach me that lesson. One must always search for that beauty, no matter what might surround you.

    1. Clayton Bye

      If I didn’t drink the juice of life the it would be miserable indeed, because I have been dealt some pretty lousy cards. But by seeking beauty every single day, I am taken away from those things and put on a path where I can see more clearly. It has meant the world to me.

  3. Micki Peluso

    Clayton, what an extraordinary essay, said many times before but never in such memorable style and content. I needed this particularly on this day, one in which I’d just like to give up and go back to bed. No, not from depression, just a bad Lyme outbreak. I’ll be reading this again. It’s even more special since I know that your life has had turmoil that you’ve managed to rise above, setting a good example for us all.

    John, I liked your father’s quote and will remember it.

  4. Clayton Bye

    Dear Micki,

    I’m sorry to hear you are struggling so. When I was in the depths of an uncontrollable depression, I had to find a way to ride it out. With the help of a wise doctor, I came up with the idea of always looking to the light and refusing to look at the darkness. Just envisioning it helps, but my daily search for beauty, especially things I can see that are rich and vibrant, really are my daily doses of “light.” The joy I get from the search is also helpful. I don’t always have million year-old ice but I have a mighty fine scotch collection and I truly do live in God’s country. Then there’s the internet. I have brought so much beauty into my life from things I’ve found on the net, that I have a file just for the memories. Here’s hoping you can do the same!

  5. Delinda

    Thanks for the reminder and permission to focus on the little bits of beauty and light in our lives. Too often we become mesmerized by the drama of global events and forget that it is the details that give life its richness and meaning.

    1. Clayton Bye

      Life is the great teacher, isn’t it? We often rail at it, fighting to make our way. But I find in almost all experiences there is a take away as well, something that can make our lives better. We only have to look.

  6. Diane Piron-Gelman

    I loved this piece, Clayton. We’ve had a rocky time or two in my family recently, and it’s only in the past few months that I’ve begun to feel like we’re climbing out of it. I’m now trying to teach our boys–especially my 16-year-old–the concept of the “five-minute pity party”. When something difficult happens, you get a short while to wallow if you really need it–human nature being what it is, most of us do–but then you have to start turning your focus elsewhere. To what’s good in your life despite everything, to what you can do about the hard stuff (if anything), to some moment of random beauty or comfort that reminds us life is more than the tough time we may be going through.

    I’m going to show him this essay. You’ve put the essentials so very well.

    1. Clayton Bye

      First of all, Thank you.

      Secondly, I hope the essay helps. The ice cube moment was certainly transformational for me. To understand there is beauty and joy to be found in the strangest of places has helped me bring light into my life on the darkest of days.

      Here’s another example. Even though I don’t drink (I’m only allowed a sip here and there, because of my health problems), whenever I’m heading to my home town I usually stop off at the cemetery where my Grandfather is buried. I stand and talk with him, then I take a sip of his favourite drinking whiskey, pouring a good shot on the grave, as well.

      You see my grandfather was most happy when he could sit down in his workshop and share some good whiskey and a bunch of stories with anyone who cared to visit. Well, the shop is gone and so is Gramps, but I still visit that grave and tell him stories. You know, whether he can hear me or not, it never fails to brighten my day!


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