Re: Endurance

The times we are in require endurance. People living in North America have now been suffering from the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic for over a year. We are showing signs of fatigue as we try to endure closures, lockdowns, lay-offs, long lines, crowded hospitals, enclosed spaces, domestic tension, business uncertainty, mental breakdown, unexpected shortages, restricted travel, etc. The list is long as we try to hang on or hang in.

Yet I have not tested positive for Covid-19 so I call myself lucky. There are numerous perspectives when it comes to pain and grief. I stop myself from complaining about my particular situation, knowing full well that someone else will be finding life much harder. Currently, I’m only suffering from the repercussions of our society’s response. Nevertheless I wonder how much longer I can endure fundamental changes to my existence.

I’m awed when I hear tales of lost miners or people who have been abducted or imprisoned for lengthy periods. There are many compelling stories of individuals who have managed to prevail while entrapped. Anne Frank & Henri Charriére for example, lived through unendurable experiences. In a modern context, two Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, have now been detained by Chinese authorities for more than two years. Situations may differ but people who have endured must find a similar inner strength to stick it out.

Those who undertake endurance runs capture my enduring attention. I marvel at their willpower. The desire to be first must not be their only motivating force. I recall back in the seventies watching people hang on to the side of a boat, parked on the street. A local sports store offered the vessel in a questionable contest to promote the grand opening. Several entered, despite the hardships of the strict rules (ex. one hand must always be on the boat, only six ten minute bathroom breaks per day allowed). The winner, literally the last one holding on, endured for eight days in all types of weather.

The popular television series ‘Survivor’ and ‘Alone’ have sometimes captured this phenomenal human quality of persistence. We watch and judge as contestants muster calm, a focus, a belief: ‘this too shall pass’. With many contests, prize money is the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. In real life situations however, I believe incentive comes from seeing the light that is already there.

What makes things endurable for me is a sense that what I am doing has value. I thrive on a voice telling me to hang in there, to keep calm and carry on, to persevere. I don’t need a thrill that speaks to outlasting others in a virtual race. In my most adverse times I haven’t even imagined a finish line. Sometimes you just don’t have a choice but to hang in there. We must have conviction that we are durable. Like other generations who have faced down forces that have made life difficult, giving up is not a satisfying alternative. Soon we will say with pride, we did endure.

Re: Kind

I’ve heard many authors at signing events respond to someone’s gushing praise of their work with a rote rendition of, “You are very kind.” The use of the word kind, in this context, devalues it. We are not being kind when we show someone how much they are appreciated, we are being grateful. I wish we could see acts of kindness more often. It is not something that is regularly practised, yet when we see someone helping another who has stumbled we recognize a kind heart. I believe in kindness as a form of love. If more readily applied in our behaviour it can improve life on earth. 

In University I studied Life Sciences, particularly wildlife biology. I became familiar with the work of Carl Linnaeus, a scientist who developed a system of classification of living things based on precise particulars of biological design. I had fun sorting specimens into well defined categories by kind, using observable physical characteristics. These days it is much easier and more conclusive to use DNA to sort living things. Consequently we have discovered that some species are closer kin than we could ever have imagined.

Some people say they have a kindred spirit, someone so close to their kind of thinking/feeling that they form a bond. The fictional character Anne Shirley, of Green Gables fame, talked a lot about this kind of friendship. While she gathered kindling for the wood stove she had thoughts of becoming less isolated as an orphan and more kin to the kindhearted community that would become her home. Author Lucy Maude Montgomery writes beautifully of a time where manners and kindness abound yet her stories are not all sweetness. She doesn’t shy away from issues found in a closed society. For example, she exposes Avonlea villagers who could be quick to tell outsiders to “Go home to your own kind!” Since the first printing of Ms. Montgomery’s widely popular stories, there has been numerous interpretations. The latest in Canada is ‘Anne with an E’. This television series is so charmingly sweet it could kill you with its kindness.

Babies, like birds, quickly show they prefer to flock together. Kiley Hamelin has done research work at the University of British Columbia showing that even young babies can sort puppet identifiers according to whether they are helpful or not. They can determine the kindness in others at a very early age, suggesting that figuring out who is kind among us may be a matter of survival and integral to forming bonds of friendship and family.

In British Columbia, Canada, residents have been lucky to have a Provincial Health Officer named Dr. Bonnie Henry. She is held in high regard for the work she is doing to control the spread of the COVID19 virus. At news briefings she is not afraid to show her humanity, often crying over grim news,. Her advisories and updates on the pandemic usually end with a familiar mantra, “Be Kind, Be Calm, Be Safe.” Indeed: Kindness comes first.

Re: Dignity

One of my Twitter friends, who uses the handle Black Mamba, posted a query about ‘Quiet dignity’ recently. That got me thinking about my dad. He was a fellow with a dignified bearing and when he went out wearing his heavy black camel hair coat he cut an impressive figure. Yet he was working class all the way, earning less annual salary when he retired than what I received in my first year of teaching. He valued honesty, harmony and quiet. He showed it in his behaviour. He did not aspire to dignity, but from my observations, he personified it. 

Some see the characteristics of dignity in a negative way equating it with arrogance, pomposity, prudery, and indifference to others. My father was often quick to make himself secondary in a gathering at his home in an effort to let his guests shine. Never hoity-toity and also never afraid to be the clown, I once saw him dress in an outlandish costume for a municipal function. It puzzled me that he would put himself out there in such a manner when it wasn’t even Halloween. One of my few regrets is feeling embarrassed by my father at that moment.

I think dignity is one of those things we are taught. Early on I was told to stand up straight and speak only when spoken to. The outfit I chose to wear was judged before I left for school. I was asked if I had clean underwear lest I be involved in an accident and had to be undressed in hospital. I recall hearing folks indicate that some behaviours or occupations were beneath their dignity. Others have told me that they would never dignify certain remarks with a comment of their own.

Some, like my dad, taught me the importance of giving others dignity by showing respect. I once sang in a choir with an elderly gentleman who had an air about him that I came to believe was a state of grace. Some church people called him refined. When he interacted socially I never saw him belittle anyone for a point of view, even if he disagreed with their perspective. Donald Trump is the antithesis of men such as these. His indignations abound and are public record. Heads of state can be faulted for false displays of dignity; that’s where pomposity is found. Yet The Donald seems to flaunt his indignity, even as he struts royally with tissues stuck to the heel of his shoe. My grandmother would have been mortified.

Dignity is not confined to nobility, though it is often equated to it. All humans deserve to be treated with dignity. All life is worthy. Animal activists claim that we must look harder at the way we treat other living things since they suffer huge indignities under our watch, as permitted by biblical edict,”…they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

We must do better.

Re: Face

One of my very first memories was of me, chattering nonsense at the dinner table, then being told by my mother to “Shut your face!” I would come to face the truth that that was her way of joking. Growing into an adult I have had to face the facts about my parents, as all children must do, if any sort of relationship is to be maintained.

I have another memory of my mother when she was a municipal politician, where doing an about face was a match for her personality. Getting ready for a meeting, she would always get her face on. She rarely wore makeup but used cosmetics to make herself ‘public’ as she would put it. I’ve often wondered about the sincerity of the cosmetic industry for this reason. As a heterosexual male I have always been most attracted to women who eschew adorning themselves. Natural faces are so beautiful; freckles, blemishes, scars and all.

Let’s face it, many people create a facade for their true selves. Some can’t accept their reality as they face the mirror, so they invent someone who is more in line with who they wish to be. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ytZsndEc830 .

It must be hard to use dating apps for that reason. As you scroll through the choices all you have to go on are the manufactured bios and carefully posed selfies. When it comes time for the risky face to face meeting, it is like the old notion of a blind date; cross your fingers and hope you haven’t made a mistake.

I’m that way with the celebrities I have chanced to meet. I usually get all flustered, heart racing in an OMG moment. I lose my sense of normality as I overthink what I must say or do when faced with the fact that they are right there in front of me. I’ll always regret a brief encounter with Neil Sedaka. He looked lost without an entourage at an airport in North Bay, Ontario and I didn’t offer to help, rudely acting like a VIP myself, off to catch my flight.

Other times in my life I have been able to put on a brave face. During sick leave for depression, several of my grade eight students sent me get well cards asking if I would attend their graduation ceremonies. I didn’t know whether I could face the music, so to speak, of returning to the environment that had been partially responsible for my nervous breakdown. Thankfully, with a friend to accompany me, I could face up to the hard therapy of getting on with life. Facing reality is damned hard work. That event was the first step of many I took to recover and rebuild my identity.

Using Facetime is a wonderful way to show your two dimensional self during COVID19. I live far from my grandkids, so I love to see their grinning, curious faces. While I long for a good old fashioned three dimensional hug, at least having screen time with them is better than any television show.

Re: Guilt

“I don’t do guilt.” John, a teacher colleague of mine, said long ago. I can still picture his face as we discussed heaven knows what. I remember wishing that I could be so cavalier. The way the word ‘guilt’ came out of his mouth made me want to shed the strong feelings of responsibility that weighed on me at the time. I wondered how someone could honour their responsibilities to others and not feel guilty when they inevitably let another down. While I envied John for his stance I also felt such a position could only be held by someone selfish. After all, guilt came easily and could not be ignored by a stalwart individual such as myself. I still wish that I might find an easy way to let myself off the hook.

Feeling guilty is not a disease but unless it’s resolved it can make you feel sick. I have had periods where I have been rendered guilt-ridden. At the other end of this spectrum we have a label for people who don’t express remorse: Sociopath. Perhaps these individuals never resolved early feelings of guilt and so chose to tuck them away in the recesses of their mind.

These days, others named John may use a different word or phrase to easily absolve themselves of remorse: They might stand straight and utter, “Guilty as charged.” They may choose to feign humour, “Ooops! My bad.” Some may intellectualize their dilemma with the words, “Mea Culpa.” Saying sorry is difficult. Courts provide an opportunity to get things off your chest. An admission of guilt is often a precursor to a more lenient sentence after a verdict is passed. Witness impact statements can move those involved in a criminal act to feel remorse. In a perfect world, offenders and those offended can find ways of reconciliation beyond guilty/not-guilty definitions in order to create justice that lingers.

I always thought going to a Catholic confessional was an easy way out of dealing with the reality of guilty feelings. A few Hail Marys strikes me as not getting to the heart of why bad thoughts remain after committing an offence. Guilt thrives in the absence of forgiveness yet telling ourselves that it’s all right can be a hard thing to do. When my children made a mistake they were encouraged to apologize with an explanation of why they were sorry. The resulting dialogue helped everyone feel better because the act itself was acknowledged, feelings shared and understood, forgiveness provided. An emotional drive-thru experience: A happy meal.

I feel guilt just like I feel regret. There are times I say things that are unwarranted or do things I don’t really feel comfortable doing. I can’t blithely state that guilt doesn’t affect me. I’ve known some people who have responded to guilty feelings by seeking revenge on the very person who made them feel remorse. Deep feelings can be frightening. When I hurt someone else I feel the hurt too. Stopping the cycle of hurt is not easy, like most things in life, it starts with patient understanding.

Re: Adamant

I went down a rabbit hole of ideas recently after working on a Jumble Word puzzle: ‘a mad ant’ translated to a surprisingly apt anagram for adamant. Ad-a-mant is a catchy word for a repetitive melody. For days I hummed a one word song using a made up tune. From there, my word search journey took me from early punk rock through to memories of a difficult work colleague.

This word reminded me of Stuart Leslie Goddard, aka Adam Ant! I have no idea if Mr. Goddard created his band Adam and the Ants (and later his solo name) because he was adamant about his musical role in the world. His videos https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o41A91X5pns seem to scream adamancy, so he must have considered that Adam Ant might be an appropriate label. I thought his chosen name sounded a bit like a Marvel superhero, so I did more research and found Mr. Ant was indeed written up as a comic book character.

Adamancy sounds like something that must be in Latin as part of a heraldic crest. It suggests to my ear, a level of religious zeal. I hear someone say, “This is where I draw a line in the proverbial sand.” Indeed to be adamant is to express serious concern about a topic, principle  or behaviour. I asked my partner to describe some things she was adamant about; cleanliness came to her mind first. I wondered what I felt adamant about. I do have a stubborn nature: You can’t tell me what to do! Yet I don’t want to come across as being unbending. I remember a story in my youth that had something to do with how it is better to be a reed in a storm rather than a mighty oak. The latter plant will often crack, be uprooted or break under the relentless force of the wind. 

When I am in a heated discussion I will fight for those principles I feel adamantly about. Some of my beliefs are sacrosanct: Autonomy, Optimism, Preparation, Husbandry, Honesty, Forgiveness, Redemption. Hopefully I can make my point without making the other person or group feel threatened. It is a balancing act to be authentic whilst maintaining an open mind to suggestion or persuasion. Listening to a different point of view doesn’t have to make you feel manipulated. Changing my mind doesn’t mean I’ve lost my way.

I once had a conversation with a principal where I worked as a teacher. He was adamant that all his staff pursue a consistent approach in their professional practise. He was a ‘My way or the highway’ kind of guy. I suggested that individually we could reach for consistency in our methodology but what he was really expecting was uniformity. Many people, like this school principal, want others see the world as they do in order to maintain control. This can lead to intolerance, prejudice, bigotry and racism. In any relationship the worst thing you can do is try to change the other.

Re: Compass

There is a compass rose on the sidewalk at the busiest corner of our downtown. I found it helpful when I first moved here to orient myself on the street grid. It provided a sense of place for the wayward way I was feeling while I settled into my new home. A compass rose is normally a feature on a map and as a kid I loved planning imaginary adventures while tracing the outlines on maps. I got hold of maps of ancient mariners like Vasco da Gama or Francis Drake so I could follow their routes around the world. Most youngsters enjoyed comics yet I also found pleasure leafing through an atlas, which gave me an all encompassing view of what might be possible, at least in my imagination.

The compass is one of the four great inventions that came from the dynasties of China. The device was modified through the ages from a simple lodestone beginning. Navigation over great distances became possible. It helped fulfill our innate urge to go somewhere; to boldly go where no one had been before. I was given my first compass in Boy Scouts. I learned how to use it on rambles through the woods and while canoe tripping. Having one in my pocket gave me confidence that I would not lose my way. Later I would teach the use of the compass during a fun outdoor activity called orienteering. Using a topographical map and compass bearings, students in teams could find the quickest or most efficient way to a fixed point. Somewhat like this sport is a newer craze called geocaching; this international activity uses a GPS device to discover treasure drops left by others, uniting geography with community.

I love the way the word Compass is part of the word Compassion. This was surely by the coincidence of matching letters, yet compellingly accurate since the act of compassion can show us the way to meet others in life. Being compassionate is akin to being kind and is promoted by all religions and creeds. I was once given a translation of the Bible called ‘The Way’.

Merely holding a compass in your palm can be philosophically profound. As the needle naturally settles to magnetic north, you become aware of the 360 degrees which encompasses your position. This suggests a moment of unlimited potential as you choose which direction to face, then take your first step. You are the centre of the world, have a unique vantage point and fundamental choice regarding which way to go. The cliché of ‘the way forward’ becomes a shallow expression since your options, by degrees, are in the hundreds. You can go back from where you started, veer to the northeast, or, in Peter Pan speak, “Second star to the right and straight on ’til morning. ”

Technology continues apace with digital devices like the commonly used GPS, which has become invaluable for modern day adventurers.  It does position you globally in a very precise way, however, perhaps paradoxically, it only shows you where you are, it doesn’t tell you where to go. That is up to you.

Re: Spy

When is a spy different from a whistle blower? Or an investigative journalist for that matter. When we think of spies we think of deviousness, subterfuge, plotting and secrets to be discovered. There’s irony here: A spy is asked to uncover things whilst doing undercover work. A spy has to keep a secret in order to unearth one. The side that has the spy network is happy when results are obtained, the other side shows disgust that their privacy has been invaded. Spying rarely produces the win-win scenario much sought after in modern international politics.

The Cold War, begun in 1947 and not really over until the dissolution of the U.S.S.R., was originally about maintaining a balance of power between potentially warring nations. In order to achieve that, everyone had to be on an equal footing so espionage was an accepted practise. Some spies were imprisoned, if caught. Some disappeared. Many, like Sir Anthony Blunt, despite being considered a traitor by his countrymen, was not prosecuted due to the sensitivity of his proximity to the British Royal Family. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HFl7NdzOOZg&list=PLkmRedTjok3Sfpkq9AhhCXHr675gI9RJd&index=52

As a young fellow I loved reading the short graphic tales in MAD Magazine called Spy vs Spy. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=onR7PD3Grc0. The cute characters, one white and one black, would basically chase after each other, laying traps, throwing cherry bombs while neither came out the clear winner. When I was older, my dad introduced me to Ian Fleming’s pulp fiction tales of James Bond. When the film franchise began I knew from the start I would be a life long fan. My mother relished being a sort of spy. She enjoyed ferreting out weaknesses in people and then holding the information, ‘over their heads’. She was once a personal assistant to a private investigator and went on stake-outs that my father frowned upon, until he was needed to pose as an ‘Englishman’; a role he played during a tense weekend in Hell’s Kitchen, a sketchy part of New York City.

We live in a time where security cameras are common. Privacy is hard to find, yet we expect transparency in government and business. Corporations might lose their new product’s edge if a design secret or release date becomes common knowledge. A brave few who work in industry, the military or in politics feel it is socially responsible to reveal insider information. Jeffrey Wigand may have singlehandedly changed the way North Americans thought of cigarettes. Journalists Woodward & Bernstein told Mark Felt’s Watergate story, which brought down a U.S. President. Daniel Ellsberg, Karen Silkwood, Juliann Assuage, Bradley(Chelsea)Manning, Edward Snowden are familiar names of people who have revealed truth to the public.

Whistleblowers, like spies, are frequently vilified yet they report they are acting according to their conscience. Even though the ‘top secrets’ exposed are shocking/dangerous/controversial, the informers feel they are acting in the public interest and fulfilling a personal directive that supersedes conventional authority. History may reveal the rightness of their tales, but at the very least we can be grateful for their courage.

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: Pause

Thankfully I haven’t had to suffer physically from the COVID19 pandemic: Thus far, at least. Like many, I have found myself with lots of time to reflect. Looking back from some future time I may coin the quintessential phrase for this period of human time. Perhaps something descriptive like; Culture Paused.

Long before the remote control device was invented I was hitting my own personal Pause button. An Adam Sandler movie called Click explores this attempt at managing your life. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zZNC5emNyEQ . Time travel is suggested in the film yet for me, the Pause button was most creative. Going into Pause mode in my life is about zoning out. During moments of inner exploration I’ve come up with some astounding notions, however one button on a remote is boring, so I’ll add two others to better represent my experience: Yes, No and Pause.

Yes: Is full speed ahead and don’t turn back! Embrace life and fulfill your wishes. No: Is life as negative, a dull pit where even thinking is viewed suspiciously. Pause: Let’s digest, regurgitate, forecast while chewing on some serious cud! These three settings on my remote control are an internal function, not a response to others. Importantly, “No!” is an appropriate answer to an outside directive. I can say no readily even when I am in my Yes internal setting because I don’t want someone or something to stand in my way.

My Yes moments generally come when my partner can share my curiosities. These are mildly manic times when I felt supported to try new things, experiment with new opportunities. I have jumped into marriages, leapt into fatherhood, changed dreams to accommodate unexpected passions, embraced new places and methods. I was not thrill seeking yet I surfed on high levels of confidence that opened pathways to new adventures.

My No periods have been awful times when I denied my own personality. Time would march on for others while I made excuses to get out of stuff. I lied with a “Maybe” or “Let me get back to you.” I retreated to places that kept me from decisions. I preferred to reside in my hollow. The No button, on my device, represented guilt, failure and insignificance. I can recognize myself in stories of people who admit they have given up on life. They are in a No time. I too have once said No to life. I’m forever grateful to those who stood by me as I found my way back to Yes.

Young or old, there are times in our lives when hitting the Pause button is meaningful. Fascinated by my own hands and how they fit together palm to palm, I once confounded my grade six teacher when I asked (during the middle of an unrelated lesson) if I could exert enough pressure to expel all the air from my hands so that they would remain locked together. Perhaps forever glued, without adhesive! He asked me to continue my experiment while sitting in the hall.

I like to think that perhaps my question gave him pause.