Re: Change

“Be the change you wish to see in the world.” is a quote attributed to Mahatma Gandhi. When I think of the word Change the most available quote that comes to my mind is one my mother used to say often; “A change is as good as a rest.” She was referring to getting yourself out of a routine. Being in a rut is not a helpful place to be when you are on the road of life. I believe my mom was right; choosing a different path can bring refreshment, even enlightenment.

Not all change is welcome. In these changing times brought on by COVD-19 we can feel that change to our very livelihood has been inflicted upon us. Change is easier to handle when you are the creator of it or even if you have a stake in it. When someone else brings change there is a tendency to grumble. In our community we have a Grumpy Taxpayers Association who regularly criticize any change that our elected municipal officials legislate. Specifically they are concerned about the cost of things. In that regard I can relate. I often find myself gazing at the loose change in my hand and wondering how quickly it loses its worth.

Like cities throughout time, our downtown has its share of panhandlers. One fellow in particular gained some notoriety by the manner of his shout to passersby. “Spare a little change.” was his plea. You could hear the long drawn out word ‘Cha-i-n-ge’ a block before nearing him and for blocks further along. He was a veritable institution on one corner and when he relocated it caused a buzz in the community until word got out that he was working a corner closer to his new home. Throughout his time collecting coin he saw an abundance of pennies and nickels, then dimes and quarters. Regardless of the amount his cadence was never changeable.

Our change has changed. Inflation is ever changing the value of change in everyone’s pockets and purses. Where I used to keep a jar for quarters, I now have a plastic tub for loonies and toonies. I haven’t changed how I process my change even though the worth of it has declined. I still feel a childlike thrill when I save enough change to roll into a special paper sleeve designed for its respective denomination. A cylinder of nickels will total two whole dollars, a roll of quarters will create the equivalent of ten bucks and, hold your breath, a single tube of toonies amounts to $50! I’m old enough to remember my excitement as I walked to my corner candy store with a roll of pennies quickly growing warm in the grip of my tight little fist. A large bag of jujubes, caramels, liquorice and jawbreakers would soon be mine.

Change in the 21st century happens faster than it takes for a soft caramel to melt in your mouth. As always, there will be things we can change and things out of our control. Peace will come from knowing the difference.

Re: Life

The virus COVID-19, like others of its kind, is not a living thing. It can’t respire. It can’t metabolize nor can it make other viruses. One of several key elements to life is being able to replicate. Since a virus has limited genetic material it requires a host to reproduce. Humans can be that host. Our cells take what is lifeless, replicating new specimens that can be transmitted to other living things through our mucus: A case of deadly biological complicity. Yuck!

In these days of pandemic we are searching for a lifeline. It’s frustrating to think that the best an average citizen can do is to stay home, thereby avoiding the infection and the consequences of spreading the contagion. Our lifestyles have drastically changed, even as we count ourselves lucky if we haven’t contracted the virus. Worldwide, medical professionals labour to bring life giving care to those who are stricken. We see the lifeless bodies of those mortals who have succumbed to the infection being taken from the chaos of underfunded, understaffed and underprepared hospital emergency spaces in increasing numbers and we wonder if there will be life after this Coronavirus. We wonder if life can ever be liveable again.

My parents used to subscribe to Life magazine. Pictorially and textually I learned much from leafing through those pages. As a teen I started collecting Time/Life books; thin well bound volumes on a multitude of subjects in history, science and nature. I used the books for research and for wonder. Like all who are youthful I believed that there were keys to bringing justice and harmony to the world. Just as the periodic table of chemical elements has order, I figured once humankind came up with a plan that worked for all then we would experience heaven on earth. I have always felt lucky that I haven’t had to personally experience the effects of war. In my lifetime I haven’t had to adapt to massive change; until now.

We say that we make or earn a living when we refer to going to work. It’s a financial context that doesn’t include other aspects of life. I prefer the rarely used word, Livelihood, to describe all of the things we do as we build our unique existence. In the presence of the economic shutdown that is one result of the pandemic, survival is paramount. After the crisis I hope our society takes a hard look at what matters most in life. We must eat. We must be housed. Our planet must be clean. We must have equity. We must know joy. We must feel peace and purpose. We’ve been taught that life is what you make it. It’s up to us to create a life worth living. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WBNChSa-rkA

Confronting death can make you hyper aware of life. Those who climb mountains often site that as a reason for the risks they take on the edge of things. Perhaps now, humans throughout the world will unite in a common definition of what constitutes a life well lived.

Re: Olympics

Coronavirus disruption has meant cancelling the summer Olympics. To some it was inevitable, though the International Olympic Committee held back their decision until the situation became impossible to ignore. Canadian athletes were first to boldly state that they would not participate. Officially the 2020 event has been postponed yet will still keep the brand of this year as a message of hope.

The Olympics captures the value of sport in our lives. As a part of worldwide culture it is equal to artistic pursuits. Humans become more complete when they compete, using their bodies to go higher, get stronger and go faster. This reality of humanity is expressed so well in the symbols of the Olympics, for example the rings of the five colours found in the flags of the nations of the world. We speak of gold medal performances. We give tribute to those in other areas of life who make olympian contributions. We encourage children to have olympic-sized dreams.

I had dreams of attending the Olympic Games in Munich in 1972 with a German born friend. A short four years later I was employed and married, with my first child on the way when the Olympics came to Montreal in 1976. I remember some company producing a series of small guidebooks which I bound and kept for a while as a keepsake. They contained records of all the Olympic games and some cool individual profiles of several remarkable athletes. It was handy on my bookshelf to use when I watched subsequent games on television with my three young boys. I love how art and sport can mingle at these events. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CAFhNobJABU. Devotion, obsession, desire, compulsion, commitment; these are some words that might be used to express the sense of calling one must have to rise to Olympian stature. I admire that quest to the extent that I can tear up while watching a record breaking performance during summer or winter Olympic telecasts.

Controversies attached to the Olympic system due to the imbalance of power, the IOC structure, financial inequities or political manipulations can result in games being criticized. I grew up learning of the ideals of ancient Greece and Mount Olympus where the first athletes were awarded laurel wreaths in honour of their victories. I love the spiritual intent to support friendship, respect and excellence and the motto Citius, Altius, Fortius, proposed by Pierre de Coubertin upon the creation of the IOC and the modern games in 1894. A strong message of peace can be found in the doctrines of Olympism. So it is more than sport. It is a way of thinking and acting. I choose to follow that dream.

The Olympics will be missed in the summer of 2020. Athletes will continue to work toward personal goals. Qualifying events will be staged. Once the threat of Corvid19 has passed we will again congregate in stadiums and arenas to cheer for our favourite heroes. We will share in the realization of impossible dreams. We humans will continue to strive to be the best we can be.

Re: Herd

A pandemic is declared. The behaviour of humans is now a matter of life and death. The human herd is working hard to protect itself from the Coronovirus. Details change daily, sometimes hourly, in terms of government directives and casualty figures. “Have you heard the latest?” is the question posed by neighbours, family and friends even as they practise social distancing and spacial awareness lest the virus reach out its infectious properties. Since we are affected as a group in these situations, we necessarily respond as a group. We can help or hinder each other’s health by how we look after ourselves and our herd.

I have found it curious to be a witness as countries and their governments decide how best to take on the issues presented by this pandemic. At the outset of risk to their country, the United Kingdom chose to pursue a controversial policy endorsing the concept of Herd Immunity.
https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/03/herd-immunity-slow-coronavirus-pandemic-200320092928984.html. They soon reversed their position when infected numbers grew alarmingly. There is some logic to letting things work themselves out, but as a society where do we draw the line on numbers of dead people? Stranger still is how we tolerate lifestyle illness, suicide and traffic deaths more readily than succumbing en masse to viral infection.

Herding humans is an art form at Disney resorts around the world. Here, park goers are herded efficiently through endless lineups to get to their tickets, get them to their ride or help them get fed. I’ve always been anxious in a herd, part of it has to do with being an introvert. Amusement parks, arenas and packed airports are places that make me hyper alert. As an individualist, I’m not myself when others surrounding me have the potential to exhibit random behaviour, so my tendency is to resist the pull of the mob. Herd behaviour was seen recently as shoppers struggled to stock up on social isolation supplies. Survival is the imperative to the point of scoring the last rolls of toilet paper, canned SPAM or, more menacing still, ammunition. Herd mentality clicks in during crisis.

Once, as a young father I had to quickly gather my young sons at their grandparent’s trailer park location. There was a commotion over a car, seen racing through the park grounds. The driver was cornered near us by bat and crowbar carrying residents who smashed his windshield. Further violence seemed imminent. Fortunately the police arrived in the nick of time and took the cowering driver into custody as park citizens continued to taunt and shout their anger. My children saw a herd of humans at its worst.

There are other formal names given to animals that gather. I’d like another word than Herd to describe humans. We could Band like gorillas, Parade like elephants or even Convocate like eagles. Being Shrewd like apes might be helpful to emulate. In Canada we humans gather to make decisions like owls in a Parliament. My favourite collective noun is a Zeal of zebras.
I could join that fun sounding herd.

Re: Anniversary

This is my 100th blog posting. That’s a lot of words! As far as anniversaries go, anything marking one hundred is pretty big news. I remember the 100th anniversary of Canada’s formation as a nation. 1967 seems like forever ago, now that I think of it. When my country was 100 I was only 15. Our high school centennial project was a rock cairn memorial built with the very capable hands of our two year Diploma students. Those of us flowing through academic streams created art to be placed in a time capsule at the base of the monument. We were all caught up in the euphoria of Canada’s 100th birthday. We were young and hopeful.

A few years after this event, and far more important to my mom, was my parent’s 25th anniversary. They had a party where a gift table was loaded with a pirate’s treasure of silver. Plated silver trays, silver spoons, silver artwork, silver picture frames, and assorted silver goblets were displayed pridefully throughout our house for a while. After my folks moved, the items stayed in boxes in closets and attics until both my parents had died. My wife donated the trays to a local jeweller who then made some cool items for my sister and her daughter.
Alas, my sister is now dead.

I’m not person who dwells on the past. An idea will fascinate me more than a memory. I don’t choose to celebrate milestones in a grand way. Low key is me. Yet there is something almost magical about one hundred. The number 100 looks interesting to me in a digital way. 1,000 is not nearly as aesthetically pleasing. There is the comma.

Birthdays are really annual anniversaries. 0 and 100 are yippee moments in life. Marvellous bookends to our existence. So similar in many ways; the fresh outward wonder of a newborn, the inner wonder a centenarian must feel for having lasted. My eldest grandchild has had three personal anniversaries. She’s discovered holidays. Having enjoyed celebrating Valentine’s Day with her parents and younger brother this year, she asked with excitement, “When’s the next one?”.
I can learn from that joy.

Every time I see a bright full moon in the sky I think of my wedding day on a beach. A specific date, like a wedding anniversary, is often important. Forgetting it can be dangerous. My wife and I celebrate moon anniversaries. Technically this is a monthly thing but then it seems more enjoyable to be reminded of such a special event more often. Rather than wait a whole year until the next anniversary (and hypothetically overlooking it), we have the full moon to remind us of our enduring love. Thanks celestial orb.

When it comes down to it, celebrating an anniversary can be arbitrary. Sometimes the marking of time can conjure unhappy memories. I’ve often wondered why some famous people’s deaths are noted with more fanfare than their births. To me the beginning of a bright light is more significant. A new journey has begun.

Everyday I want to wake celebrating the now.

Re: Protest

I live in a community where people come out to protest on a regular basis. I join in because I naively see it as a sign of democratic action. Based on the signs people carry to support their outrage/concern, there may be other motivations for their presence in the crowd. For example, at a recent climate change rally, I saw one overweight man sporting a T-shirt that read ‘I love CO2’ while waving another ‘I love fossil fuels’. Was he after sales or just being contrary?

Being somewhat afraid of large crowds and a functional introvert to boot, you can often find me at rallies like this leaning against a tree where I can appreciate the shade or gain some shelter from the drizzle. An activist I’m not. Rather a cheerleader/witness. My sign would probably read; ‘I see what you mean’ or ‘I’m here for you.’ Some protest signs written by a more anarchistic sort can seem like manifestos: small print on corrugated cardboard, begging to be read, to acknowledge the effort that it took to pour out such passionate thoughts. Short form declaration: ‘Pay attention! I mean it!’

Protests I’ve attended clearly allow folk to vent. Quiet self expression is as evident as a collective shout of alarm. At a recent Fridays For Future congregation I was impressed how Greta Thunberg’s leadership had encouraged a diversity of ages, backgrounds and emotions to come together in a harmonious demonstration of concern over the climate crisis. Amidst the speeches, music and cheering a small hole opened in a part of the crowd as a lone middle-aged male removed his clothes and poured a bottle of motor oil over his body, miming his anguish over pipeline leaks. He wasn’t arrested. People gave him space.

In our city protests tend to be peaceful. Marches and rallies offer up chants, poems, speeches and slogans. Some who line the streets join in if they find a friend or are moved by the cause. Sometimes it seems counterproductive to see smiles on the protesters’ faces while they’re shouting to end war. It makes me wonder about the line between protest and carnival. But in Canada it’s true we are polite and, for better or worse, we work hard at trying not to offend others, even those with whom we disagree.

Art lives and thrives in protest settings. Feelings pour out in creative ways. I always feel grateful for the civility expressed at protest gatherings I’ve been to in Canada. I’ve heard bystanders thank the calm looking police officers for just being there. My sons, in contrast, have been witness to protests that have started out civil but have turned violent, often as a result of police being instructed to clamp down on demonstrators.

There is much injustice in our current world. Perhaps there always has been, yet now it’s easier to see. It’s easier to name the wrongs. It’s easier to find something or someone specific to blame. At the same time it seems harder to find someone who will listen. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aHN6AViJAvI

Re: Circumstance

“Circumstances don’t make the man, they only reveal him to himself.” so sayeth Epictetus. He was a famous Stoic, among those Romans of the stiff upper lip. Much of Stoicism I can agree with, yet I think we are all to some degree a victim of our circumstances.

Yes, we have choice. We can go high when others go low. We can keep our wits about us while others are losing theirs. I’d like to be easy with it all, as Keith Carradine sang it in Nashville.

However, it ain’t easy to be noble when the leaders of our world do things that create uncomfortable or dangerous circumstances. Currently, in the U.S. of A., it is a wonder to me that there is not chaos. Some days I feel like freaking out with the lack of kindness and civility that streams at me from the White House. It wasn’t always this way. Circumstances have changed.

Sometimes it’s only circumstantial evidence that leads to a conviction in a courtroom. Circumstances can point a finger and if one doesn’t have an air tight alibi, then one can find themselves in a whole new set of circumstances. Being free to be is certainly the objective but some circumstances can lead you away from positive choice. Poverty, despite what the one percenters say, is not a choice. It’s a circumstance that is difficult to find relief from, let alone propose a cure for. My sister once found herself having to register at a food bank. The company where she had worked for almost two decades folded and she struggled to find herself after that shock. She died trying. In my opinion poverty prevention must be discussed at every election event until not a single person finds themselves in such unforgiving circumstances.

Fate, fortune and randomness all have a part to play yet sometimes you have to assert, “Under no circumstance will I permit this!” I hear a struggle for a path through difficult circumstances in the voice of Billy Joel. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h3JFEfdK_Ls

We can be victims of circumstance. We like to think that we are in charge of our happiness. The truth is others impact our lives. Undoubtedly we have a role to play in making things better, but so do members of society have a responsibility to build a better village. Viktor Frankl, a psychologist and survivor of the Holocaust, reflects on our personal agency under trying circumstances when he states, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing; The last of the human freedoms-to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances.” I don’t want to believe that a circumstance like being taken to a death camp would be regarded as something within someone’s personal control.

I enjoy love stories where a couple has to be separated by circumstance yet they make a vow to find each other when things change. Sometimes we must trust in Time: It may be the only agent that can bring the change we long for.

Re: Strike

One hundred years ago, in a Canadian city once referred to as ‘the Chicago of the North’, the working class had had enough. A general strike was called in Winnipeg with switchboard operators, called ‘Hello Girls’, being the first to refuse their labour. This work stoppage was the biggest and longest of similar strikes throughout North America. While the original intention was to seek redress for poor working conditions through collective bargaining, this strike soon included non-unionized workers, returning WWI soldiers and thousands of other people who felt disenfranchised. Much like today, those living in 1919 experienced a disgusting disparity between rich and poor: The few had much. The many had very little.

Strike is a word that conjures up decisive action. One of the first movie musicals I enjoyed as a child was ‘Strike Up the Band’ starring Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney cast as two young folks with enough energy to change the world, perhaps even take it over with their enthusiasm.

Striking can be subtle but still forceful. When someone in the fashion industry strikes a pose they are trying to capture a moment of body posture to maximize drama. In one of Madonna’s masterful music videos, ‘Vogue’ she works her image to maximum effect. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GuJQSAiODqI

Strikes can be lucky if they connote finding gold, or unfortunate if they come in threes. My mom and dad were two pack a day cigarette smokers (to my knowledge they never indulged in Lucky Strikes). One summer afternoon, my father took me to a baseball game (this was a rare treat for me as my parents were part of the lower class). What I remember most was the abundance of cigarette butts that piled up around his feet. We stood and sang ‘Take me out to the ball game’ at the seventh inning stretch, yelling this line amidst Dad’s coughs, ‘and it’s ONE, TWO, THREE Strikes you’re OUT!’

I grew strong in spirit during my brief time as a Boy Scout. My favourite activity was camping. It was where I first learned to build my own fire. We were taught how to keep our matches dry so we could get the kindling going on the first strike. What I learned in my scout troop I applied with happiness to camping trips with my parents, and later as a young father of three boys. When it came time to strike camp there was always a sadness. Packing up the shelter that was our tent seemed too sudden a thing after we had spent such quality time under its protective embrace.

In the nineteen fifties, I learned about the hazards of a nuclear strike. In the event that missiles were launched in our direction we were taught to hunker under our school desks. What naivety! My nine year old self wanted to trust that my teacher knew how that bit of metal and wood would protect her students. My almost seventy year old self shakes his head when thinking how ignorant people can be.

Re: Resistance

Tales of the resistance movement during WWII continue to fascinate me. Such bravery from those Partisans I can only imagine. They chose to move in the space between compliance and defiance. They were examples of people devoted to helping themselves and others overcome tyranny. Throughout the world in modern times there continue to be regimes/policies/governments/corporations that challenge us to choose between acceptance or rejection.

Resistance may be underground, subtle or go unnoticed, yet it is not a form of giving up. To resist is to take purposeful action. In human behaviour I see a Resister as someone who chooses to actively refuse something that doesn’t hold true to their value system. In electrical circuitry, a Resistor is a device that controls the flow. I find it curious how those two words, for only the difference of a vowel, can be similar in concept.

Consider for a moment that a Resistor’s unit of measure is an Ohm. Another Om is considered by Buddhists to be the first sound. I have often used that sound to control my anxiety. When I chant using that word I feel grounded and my thoughts cease to speed in whirlwinds about my head. In that moment of meditation I am a Resister and a Resistor, holding thoughts at arm’s length so that I can interpret them more clearly.

I met a Resister the other day at the grocery store where I shop. We were both in a line to have our purchases scanned by a clerk. We chatted about voluntarily waiting when we could have checked out faster by stepping one aisle over to scan our items via a robot cashier. We agreed that AI was taking over the world and we were determined to resist.

Cliches are worthy of resistance. I appreciate that a commonly used term may be easier to say while engaging in small talk, however a serious discussion deserves a more careful choice of words. For example, a well known celebrity recently announced his terminal cancer and was quoted as saying, “I’ll fight this.” Cancer talk is often filled with warlike terms. I find it upsetting that if the patient doesn’t want to fight the disease they are somehow deemed to be giving up on life. My late wife chose to resist the pull of death after her diagnosis by filling each day with amusements. June Callwood, a noted Canadian author, who died of cancer in 2007, resisted the common call to ‘fight on’ by refusing treatment for her disease. Her wonderfully watchable interview on CBC television aired mere weeks before her death is a testament to the term ‘dying with dignity’. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Duif0tGZ4pc

When it comes to death, to quote from The Borg in the Star Trek universe, “Resistance is futile” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rtEaR1JU-ps . The irony, perhaps, is that resistance can sometimes empower us to be an active participant of change. To rebel or to acquiesce may not be options. Resistance may be the middle ground where we can assert our unique individuality.

Re: Resilience

If I am resilient I can survive change. I may not completely bounce back from the trauma nor will I necessarily become stronger simply by dodging a proverbial bullet. My experiences may make me better able to cope the next time a challenge arises. Trouble is, there may be enough difference in the new situation as to make my response difficult. I must rely on my belief that, given time and adequate support, things will get better.

One of the best things teachers, parents and coaches help us discover is our personal resilience. I can credit my years as a Boy Scout with teaching me a lot about resilience. I was instructed to hope for the best and prepare for the worst, to seek shelter when confronted with a storm, and to try one more time. I remember one portage in particular during a canoe trip through Algonquin Provincial Park. I had felt a head cold starting the morning of the third day into the trip. The paddling part was a blessing as the breeze cooled the fever my body was developing. Once out on the land and weighed down by packsack and canoe the going got tough. Biting insects could not be swatted and our path was through boot sucking mud. Each step was agony. I was young and wanted to cry. I faltered briefly and looked up as my Akela now stood near me. Quietly he asked, “Can you go to the next tree?” I repositioned my load and said yes I could. He walked beside me until the tree and said, “Can you make it to the next hill?” Somehow I could and just past the hill was the location of our camp for the night.

I recall having my meal that night in one metal bowl; a ground beef mixture, cookies and chocolate pudding. I tagged out of the next activity to get some rest in my tent, quickly falling asleep. Much to my surprise, my Sixer came to wake me for Mug-Up. My body still aching, I was persuaded by this familiar before-bedtime tradition of a warming tin mug of hot chocolate, so I rallied myself. The next morning I felt like I could canoe forever, no matter what might lay ahead on the trail. I was a modern day voyageur. I was invincible!

A resilient attitude is elastic. It bends like the marsh reed to the wind’s insistence. Rigidity can cause us to snap under pressure. Sometimes we can only respond to the change that blows our way. Other times we can make a change that will bring us closer to who we want to be. We can build resilience in mind, body and spirit by being watchful for opportunities that test us to be better.

What Akela had taught me that day was that I had more resilience than I ever imagined. By shrinking my goal I could continue. By sometimes taking baby steps I wasn’t diminishing myself. By trying one-more-time I found I could discover something new about the person I was becoming.