Re: Visit

I just had a visit from my son, his wife and our grandchild. With Covid concerns and all that going on it’s been a while since we have seen each other. Their stay reminded me of the twice yearly visits to grand folks that my first wife and I undertook. And it was always an undertaking; packing the right toys, snacks for the trip, clothing for outdoor activities, allowing time to visit the loo. Road trips to family always gave me mixed feelings. Regardless of how much I might have enjoyed the company, expectations always hitched a ride along with the luggage. 

“Come on in, welcome, how long can you stay, what brings you this way, make yourself at home, what can I get you, it’s been too long, how was your trip, remember the time when…” Phrases spill out during the first moments of greeting of the visitor, often in a tumble of words and feelings. The excitement makes me breathless. Perhaps that’s why the first question to a visitor will often be, “Can I get you a drink?”

Next to visits to the zoo my mom’s favourite activity on Sundays was popping by to see friends of the family. As a kid I felt the awkwardness of tagging along as many of these visits were unannounced and without invitation. Much later in her life, I saw my mom squirm when she had to accommodate well meaning drop-in visitations at her nursing home residence. She once shooed out a ‘man of the cloth’ with the shouted words, “What makes you think I need saving?” 

One sided visits can end badly. I have been on the receiving end of a final visit that put an end to our relationship. She just dropped in to say goodbye. The outcome, in hindsight, was appropriate. Yet those visitor’s words still sting. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rETA22Z_a9g

Some visitations, like death-bed rites, are formal. Hospitals recognize the limits of a visit by posting visiting hours. Visitors bring joy and assist in healing yet they can overstay their welcome. The phrase ‘pay someone a visit’ suggests a transaction of sorts. Your mere presence can be a gift and therefore requires a ‘thank you’ at least. Many cultures have an unwritten rule that guests cannot be turned away without offering food, drink or lodging. Countries value dignitaries who come to meet and greet; photo-ops are important to diplomacy. Ask any waiter how thin the line is between hospitality and wanting the table cleared for the next customer. 

Currently I am on an extended visit. I am sharing a palliative care mission with my wife. We have endeavoured to create for each other an environment that provides some comforts of home while recognizing the temporary nature of the stay. My son’s visit did a lot to make a bad situation seem more normal. Another son has planned a weekend with us to bring us some laughter. In the big picture, Life itself can be described as a visit. And we only have one.

Re: Normal

I’m challenged by this word right now. I’m looking for anchors as I am being swept into the whirlpool of opinion regarding the New Normal. My previous definitions are lacking the clarity they once had for me. I feel like my brain might be labelled Abby Normal as interpreted by Igor in the film Young Frankenstein. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C9Pw0xX4DXI

Sometimes I surrender to the unknown cauldron of noxious bubbling stew that can be life, by placing it in a corner where I can keep an eye on it. On these days I’ll settle into a favourite chair with a book and a heating pad. As I reflect on written works presented by an array of authors, I lose my anxiety while a multitude of characters play out theirs. One magazine article recently suggested that PTSD sufferers most often complained that their life no longer had any semblance of normality. In all seriousness, I can relate.

Normally we go about our lives with a routine. Even if it’s an unhealthy routine it can have some satisfaction because the elements don’t stray far from the norm that we expect. That’s one of the reasons that change can be so frightening: Because it goes against the norm.

The question of what is normal can be as perplexing and profound as asking what is the meaning of life itself. These questions become more overwhelming when everyone is experiencing war, famine or pestilence. Under normal circumstances I’ve built my days around my comforts and my knowns. The current and inconvenient truth is that now I feel less comfortable and I find I know less than I thought I did. Searching for a state of normalcy is exhausting. It is not in my nature to go with the flow or leave things to others. I’m not one to fly by the seat of my pants. I resist the possibility that I might find out something later. I’m normally known by my loved ones as being the man with the plan. I don’t want to wait and see what might happen without considering all possibilities and probabilities, thereby establishing a normative approach to life. This makes me feel more confident when it comes time to take that next step, even if it is a baby one.

Maybe the so called ‘new normal’ is really a version of the paranormal. Funny how there is a resurgence of interest in UFOs and aliens. Real XFiles are being released from security vaults distracting us from the real horrors of our present; ie, Climate Crisis! The highest grossing films have fictional characters that are definitely super normal. These comic book super heroes are depicted as saviours. They may be bringing us more comfort than we like to admit. Establishing a feeling of normality can come after data collection. I like my experience being placed on a spectrum or a Bell Curve. I’m mathematically challenged so a graph brings me perspective on what is normal or what is fringe. My life, graphically, feels like that kind of wave.

Re: Location

Location, location, location is a classic real estate slogan designed, I think, to make you feel lucky about the prospect of buying an over priced house that still need lots of remediation. I can’t complain since each time I have relocated in my life I have been fortunate to have initiated the move and I’ve found the resources to be satisfied with the result. I ache for those who are forced from their homes due to poverty, war or other threats. Globally we are seeing a rise in mass migrations. Some of our cities are having difficulty finding positive solutions for a homeless crisis. Choosing one’s own location, geographically or metaphorically is healthier for all concerned if you can have options available to you.

As a child I was fascinated with stories of wandering animals: Mammals that magically find their way to feeding grounds. Butterflies that spend months flying to seasonal homes. Birds that navigate huge distances to locate their nesting sites. The life cycles of eels and salmon over generations that necessitate unimaginable journeys to sometimes secret locations. Dolphins and other whales that use echo-location to maintain their position within their pods and their bearings on where they are headed.

My eldest son brought me news about a day trip that had him slightly flustered. Finding himself located at the end of a rural road, he admitted he wished he had a map: The paper foldable kind that was always in the glove compartment of a car. (I can hear someone asking, “What’s a glove compartment?”). Anyway, number one son was temporarily lost, without a GPS signal and no way of locating his position on this remote country road. He eventually got some bars showing on his phone, downloaded a map and figured out his way. As he told me his story I thought of learning how to use a compass as a Boy Scout. The leader advised us earnestly that with this device in our pocket we would never, ever, be lost.

Philosophically speaking, knowing one’s place in time and space brings confidence and comfort. That’s how we get the feeling of Home. As life ticks along, that original location where we were born, where we grew up, where we had our first experiences provide a mark on the map of our life. Many conversations start with, “So, where are you from?”, for good reason. Those we meet feel less lost when they hear the answer to that question. It helps to know where we are in relation to others we meet. Societal relationships depend on this orientation of its citizens as needfully as some animals need the stars to navigate home.

I feel discomfort when I can’t locate my needful things. As I age my memory helps me recall where I’ve been so I can make sense of my present circumstances. I can be less concerned with the future when I know where I am in the present. Life is a constant journey of finding yourself in relation to your surroundings and yes, sometimes a map helps.

Re: Wild

Most people my age can describe stories of their wild childhood. Children of the late fifties were told to get outside and play, totally unstructured. Urban kids, like me, would find creeks to splash in, grassy fields under towering hydro power lines or small preserved woodlots. I remember Saturdays leaving home after breakfast, scrounged some food from neighbours or restaurants for lunch. Getting up to no good, some would say. “Come home before dark.” was the only direction our parents gave, otherwise,“Have fun!” Along the way I learned how to fend for myself, who to trust and how to manage time and space. There has been a recent social movement to allow more freedom for young folk, to be raised in this ‘free range’ style without a lot of parental supervision. The whole idea of what wildness can do for our personal growth needs more examination.

Since our cave dwelling days, humankind has feared the wild even though we are part of it. We’ve been given biblical directives to tame the earth, thus separating us from nature. I enjoyed the characterization given to wild things in the television series Game of Thrones. For example there is the conundrum of the Wildlings; those far northern people beyond The Wall, who are feared and sneered at by those from the southern regions. They are clothed in primitive furs, exhibit a fierce determination and have awesome survival skills. They remind us where we came from so we get to feel superior. I found it so fitting that Jon Snow finds kinship with these prehistoric folk. At the end of the series, without giving too much away, this beloved character gets to start over by going back to the wilderness. To me, he goes home.

My formative years were spent near the Warden Woods in Scarborough, Ontario. In that area of the world there were few places, then as now, where one can find any sense of wilderness. In my mind’s eye I created deep jungles, vast oceans and towering mountains. I recreated the adventures of my explorer heroes, setting off to wild foreign landscapes with the wish to discover what others already knew. Charles Darwin was my earliest pretend mentor; brave scientist sailing in the Beagle to catalogue the wonders of the natural world. He went where the wild things dwelt.

Sir David Attenborough has made an impassioned plea for humans to ‘rewild’ the planet. This suggestion to go wildly off tangent from our consumptive trajectory is in response to the facts of global warming, deforestation and species decline which are elements of the Anthropocene. His latest effort is a call to action. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Puv0Pss33M

Space travel does not answer the question of our ultimate survival. We already live on a spaceship. A former U.N. ambassador Adlai Stevenson said, “We travel together, passengers on a little space ship… preserved from annihilation only by the care, the work, and…the love we give our fragile craft…on (our) resolution, depends the survival of us all.”

Re: Hospitality

Some words fall out of favour in the English language. I was talking to an inn keeper recently and commented on his facility being so hospitable. He was flattered and said that he and his wife had made it a point, when they bought the place, to make hospitality their number one responsibility. And it showed; not only was the location of the lodge immaculately maintained but the gift of personal service could be felt from the first greeting. I’m in the habit of using the internet travel site Trip Advisor so I gave the hotel a glowing review.

I’ve never travelled extensively in the lower United States, yet I’ve always heard talk of their ‘southern hospitality’. Perhaps the phrase is a boast from the days of rich, White plantation owners. It must have been easier to look after guests due to the prevalence of slave labour. Also ironically, the word Hospitality comes up in several obscenity laced rap songs performed by Black artists. Check out Ludacris: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2QWQVm9J5DM

As an act of service, hospitality is not restricted to hotels and restaurants. I would say our village grocery store provides the highest standard of hospitality from produce managers, butchers through to check-out workers. It’s not an easy job to maintain customer satisfaction, especially when shoppers themselves can be less than hospitable. When coronavirus restrictions were first implemented in our region, I was surprised to see ‘essential workers’, like grocery clerks,  being applauded with banging pots during the evening yet later criticized in newspaper ‘letters to the editor’ for insisting on a fair wage. Some hotel workers in our district actually went on a hunger strike to keep the focus on their plight of being poorly compensated. Many wondered why the cheerleading of these essential workers had receded like the tide. I imagined someone inhospitably suggesting, “OK. Crisis is over. Now get back to work.”

No doubt, the hospitality industry has been hit hard economically with the realities of the Coronavirus Pandemic. Some governments and corporations have recognized the need for financial relief for the workers who have been laid off as a result of closures and health care compliance. I have applauded initiatives where the most needed members of our work force have been provided financial as well as moral encouragement. I believe a guaranteed income for all is a way that governments can show that hospitality works both ways. 

It would be inhospitable of me not to mention hospital workers. When we have the need to go to a hospital we expect a level of care above what even the best parent could provide. Only once have I experienced disappointment at the hands of a medical professional. Every hospital worker throughout the world has faced pressures beyond anything I would normally complain about, pre or post COVID19.  Our society venerates hospital staff but doesn’t always provide the resources necessary for optimal care. This pandemic has reminded us of the importance of caring for others, of being hospitable, as a first response to our neighbours.

Re: Move

A fellow my age moved into our complex last weekend. He had a small rental moving van, his daughter and another young fellow were helping. I introduced myself and welcomed him to the neighbourhood. He puffed, “ I’m getting too old for this moving business. Next time I’ll pay someone.” Like me, he had concluded that he was coming to the end of his moving on, moving in, moving out options. I figure my next move will be my last. I’m no longer as young as Billy Joel when he recorded this ode to movement; then again neither is he.

Many of us can describe multiple moves within our lifetime; some comical, some hair-raising, some ill advised, some work related, some to upgraded digs and others for practical reasons only. We move because we can and we move when we have no choice. In our youth we can relish the feeling of being on the move; people to see, places to go. Couch surfing is a great descriptor of an adolescent’s freedom of movement. A backpack and a place to lay your head are all the requirements needed for adventure. When we get older our joints are less moveable, we’ve accumulated things and we’re settled into our routines. The movement that becomes most important is that of our bowels, preferably on a regular basis.

I’m emotionally moved more frequently these days. A song might move me to tears. A conversation might move me to action. I can be moved by a single line in a film. I find moving pictures, or movies, to be aptly named. Who doesn’t laugh at the movements of Charlie Chaplin, the physical humour of Dick Van Dyke or Melissa McCarthy. I found Earnest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast yawn inducing yet his poignantly perfect The Old Man and the Sea continues to feed my emotions and my thoughts.

“Move it!” would be something my mom would shout when she was exasperated with my sister and me as we lollygagged before a trip. Getting in the car usually meant a long uncomfortable drive in hot muggy weather to visit someone we didn’t like. We had several household moves during my childhood, always to find a dwelling my folks could afford to rent. My favourite move was to a falling apart farmhouse which had a chicken coop where my job was to collect the eggs every morning. Later we moved up, status-wise, to actually owning a small semidetached house in suburbia, which unfortunately took me away from all my high school friends. I’ve only cried harder twice more in my life. In my case it’s probably not coincidental that emotion contains the word motion, i.e. movement.

My latest move came after retirement, to a land of milder climate. I’m no longer moved by the sight of gently falling snow, nor angered by the need to shovel the driveway. I’ve removed all reference to winter. This home finds me moved by the plaintive call of the gull and the beauty of the seashore.

Re: Hate

I actually hate Hate: It scares me. Hate is normally directed towards others on our human evolutionary tree who we don’t believe belong, neither on our branch, our tree, nor even roaming around our savannah. Hatred springs from intolerance. This strong feeling can produce behaviours that damage relationships, families, communities and nations.

Love is often considered to be the opposite of hate. I prefer to think of these two feelings as residing on different spectrums. Apathy, Indifference or Ambivalence would likely be found on the other end of the Love scale. On a second spectrum, Hate on one side might be opposed by Peace. Mahatma Gandhi well demonstrated that the compassionate promotion of peace could resolve hatred. His practises in a time of change in a divided India during the first half of the twentieth century persuaded millions of people to reject hatred.

Hate has always been with us. It is sustained by each generation. As a human feeling it resists corrosion. The language for its expression sometimes changes yet the result is similarly dangerous. Currently countries are struggling with a resurgence of nationalism, racism and tribalistic reactions to local or national problems. Hate crimes have been defined, and legislation written as a response to outrages committed by the intolerant few.

The internet has been a wonderful invention that I can fortunately embrace in my lifetime. I enjoy the way its structure permits a free exchange and expression of ideas. Yet hate is found here. On various social networking platforms it is easy to find hateful comments that are passed off as reasonable or comedic opinions. Hate mail has become illegal in several countries as a result of suicide claiming the victims of this horrid form of harassment.

I have felt hatred. I once called a nasty Principal ‘Raisin Head’ in front of my young sons. I hate the current President of the United States. I have hated human behaviours, like arrogance, hypocrisy and bullying. I’m not very tolerant of people who have great wealth. I ranted over billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates ‘controlling the agenda’ of health response and I said I hated him. My friend was shocked, “I never saw this side of you.” I was angry. That’s not always my response to hateful feelings, usually I retreat and ignore out of fear of this strong emotion.

Passionate feelings can get mixed up with other stuff going on in one’s head, so it can be hard to sort everything out. Recent protests due to government requirements to quarantine over COVID19 realties have shown that some people just hate being told what to do. https://www.cbc.ca/news/world/protesters-michigan-whitmer-coronavirus-covid-19-1.5551373

I hate being in crowds. The unpredictability of human nature makes me nervous. Shouting from a group can cause an alarm response in my heart. I can be timid yet I will speak out if I feel the cause is just. I would and have rallied against Hate. I try to keep a close watch over my prejudices so I may steer around them when they produce hateful notions.

Re: Character

Actors who play supportive roles in movies or plays are sometimes referred to as character actors. Even though Robin Williams has played the lead in films, I like the way he brings out the personality of the characters he plays. Mr. Williams is also adept at caricature. His imitation of cultural icons by vocal and physical impersonations is hilariously accurate. People who mime others surely must have great skill in observing a person’s characteristics, beyond the obvious ticks, accents and mannerisms.

I often wonder how we get our particular character traits. Some must come to us genetically, while others are likely crafted over time from our connection and responses to mentors, neighbours, coaches, teachers or friends. I have a quiet character. I am quite patient, faithful, persistent and optimistic. Those are some self-perceived personality traits of a positive nature that I hope others recognize in me. I don’t know if I’d be brave enough to ask someone how they might characterize me. I might not like an honest answer.

As an elementary school teacher, I have asked my students to choose an animal that has characteristics that might best match their personalities. I have also asked them to tell me their favourite comic book superhero. One autistic fellow refused to play this game of self identification unless he could choose a dinosaur that best represented him. This matchmaking with a safe non human character lead to some great lists of characteristics and of important values like courage, fairness, cooperation, kindness, honesty and determination.

Sometimes we recognize our character in another and rejoice in the knowing. I remember a conversation I had with a complete stranger that entered into this realm of soul connection. It struck both of us as profound and later he brought me a book called The Aquarian Conspiracy saying mystically, “You are one of us.” Much later I watched the film Avatar and relived this moment from my past when one of the animated characters said, “I see you.”

Sometimes I’ve wished that another person’s character would change so that I would find them more agreeable. With maturity I realized that I would have to change my ways or find a path of acceptance when it comes to individual differences. I still love stories where the central character sees the light and vows to behave in a more positive manner. I wish that this would happen with President Trump most days, but I’ve had to conclude that some characters are immutable.

The content of one’s character is an important matter in any historical age. Men and women of virtue, from all walks of life, have provided us examples of how to live productive and compassionate lives. Who hasn’t heard Martin Luther King Jr. speak these words on the significance of character. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wxc6iqRC-n8

We look to influencers who can show us the way to our best selves. Hopefully each of us can then model an example of exemplary character that ripples ever outward.

Re: Home

I am a person who loves his home so much that he calls it his sanctuary. I’ve been called a homebody. Perhaps being a white guy I can’t call myself a homeboy but I wouldn’t mind if someone called me a homie. Settling into a comfortable homey space, with a book and beverage at hand, is a sigh inducing event. The cliché ‘home is where the heart is’ could be my bumper sticker, needlepoint pillow, memorial bench plaque or business card accent. When Dorothy awakens from her trip to Oz stating, “There’s no place like home.” I can affirm it.

After my retirement from a teaching career, my wife and I thought we could roam about in a home on wheels, being of no fixed address. I got uncomfortable with that romantic ideal pretty quickly. Our next adventure was managing a condo as live-in janitors. I soon found out that my definition of a home was different from other folks. I got frustrated when the owners didn’t take care of their property with the same enthusiasm or respect that I always had for my own home. It seemed like an injustice to clean up after these people misusing their common space in the building whilst outside on the city street homeless wanderers were hunting for any corner that offered warmth.

An enduring memory I have of my childhood is floating in an army surplus dinghy off the coast of Maine. Fishing there with a friend would come to a close as dusk made the sky a deep royal blue along the shoreline. The lights of the beachside cottages would click on bringing a warm orange glow to spaces within. That thought never fails to bring on a yearning to get inside, safe and away from the approaching darkness. It’s the vision that comes to mind whenever I read the idiom ‘home and hearth’.

I recently had a conversation with a young fellow who had moved frequently within a short span of time. I asked him what home meant to him. He described the physical structure of a house or apartment was not the same as the feeling of home. The conversation had many silent moments where I wondered if he was homing in on the quintessential thing that made a home, a home. He went on to tell me that he had a future wish that his perfect home would include a loving family, a place for a BBQ and a big screen television set. He was describing some things that brought him comfort and security, things that he felt he needed to complete the picture of his home. At least in his head, at least for now.

Ravens take the role of homing pigeons in the television series, Game of Thrones. They carried messages and were rewarded with food and safe haven. A homing pigeon knows what a home is. When he finds it I can imagine he feels just as I do when I take in the peace I recognize in my abode.

Re: Context

Conversations can turn into debates. It can be frustrating when points of view are expressed before the context and intent of the dialogue are established. I recently waded into a party chat by saying that one view expressed was faulty and “ignorant”. I tried to provide a definition of the offending word by saying, “I often feel ignorant and I am comfortable with the fact I can’t know everything.” Phewff! The offence was then not taken, a definition had been provided and the conversation continued on safer ground within that context.

I once wished that my parents could have seen me, as an adult, in a different context other than SON. It wasn’t that I wanted to be their friend. I doubt that I ever could have been, but as I got older I yearned to be seen differently. After all: I was not longer living under their roof. I was an established teacher. I was married. I had children of my own.

These facts might have contributed to a new context. The film On Golden Pond explores nicely what I am trying to say. Sometimes it’s hard to change our own views of ourselves, let alone allow others to occupy a different space in our lives. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MIjkFrmSCYU

Politicians and opinion leaders often have their comments taken out of context. This can lead to confusion and even anger unless the elected member’s intentions can be made clear. In our community, for example, there is a debate about the use of horse drawn carriages on our city streets. One city counsellor has proposed that the use of horses on roads should be banned. He argued that animals no longer had a place in a modern city. Others pointed out that the practice was not unsafe or harmful and it added character to the place we call home. This elected official refused to contextualize the presence of this admittedly ‘old fashioned’ practise and thus could not conceptualize its value.

Context refers to the complexity of time, culture and setting. Some have said that “Context is Everything”. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alvin_Ward_Gouldner
Recently a controversial fellow named Andrew Breitbart has used this phrase to suggest that any behaviour is acceptable based on context, which pushes his right-wing agenda. Perhaps, here is a case of ‘Intent being Everything’.

Another example of context and controversy from our city is the removal of a statue of our country’s first Prime Minister, John A. MacDonald. During his term as nation builder he used his considerable power to assimilate (putting it mildly) Canada’s First Nations. Considering this intent towards an entire culture, Sir John A.’s statue had to go. We live in an era of Reconciliation. The concept of the statue’s presence at city hall was no longer meaningful because a new context could not be found.

I’ve sometimes struggled with my personal context. I’m not static. I’m constantly reviewing my perspective. Others have helped me redefine my context so I can feel harmony.