Re: Usual

I’ve often thought it would be cool to have a place in the community where you could walk in and say, “I’ll have my usual.” Someplace where everyone knows your name. A casual place where things usually just flow, where you can expect to drink from the cup of kindness.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7KtAgAMzaeg

Usual is a cousin of Normal. There is a calm we get from familiar situations. My middle son and his lovely wife are building a beautiful life with my grandson. Before they were married, their relationship was stressed by long distance realities. Both had busy lives in two different countries. An ocean separated them! There were Skype calls and flight arrangements to be made. Even a language barrier to overcome. Their love grew despite all the challenges. When talk turned to choosing Canada as their place to live together, I remember asking them what they were looking forward to about their decision. They answered simultaneously, “Just to feel normal!”

A usual existence isn’t necessarily boring. The regular parts of your life can be anticipated with excitement, especially when you get to choose what those parts contain. Some couples thrive on weekly date nights for instance. Any routine that you can look forward to will add spice to your life. Several teachers I worked with in my career in education actually looked forward to September when they could ‘get back to normal’. I didn’t share that perspective but as a planner, I could appreciate the need for a structured lifestyle after the randomness of the summer months.

My sister often lived on the edge of chaos. Her unpredictable nature often made me nervous, but even her active personality needed times of surety. Like her mother before her, my sister counted on holidays to be just perfect. Perfection in this case meant that Christmas, for example, had to be exactly the same as last year. Variation would ruin the expectation and the expectation became the reason for the season. After my sister’s death, her only child made a wonderful decision on the following Christmas. My niece went on a trip to Thailand. From my viewpoint it was a reset: A very unusual and courageous way to declare her independence.

We all need our touch points of normalcy. My mother-in-law, at 94, cannot envision a week ending without her Fish Friday meal. She hasn’t worked for decades, and she is not a devout Catholic yet a dinner without fish as the main course on a Friday would throw her equilibrium out of whack. Likewise, James Bond must have his martini shaken, not stirred.

Thankfully, I don’t need a bar to go to at the end of a hectic day. I’ve enjoyed the regularity of family life despite those times when I would have liked to get away. When my existence gets too ‘same old, same old’ I count on my wife to suggest something that might mix it up a bit. I have found that contentment lies in the natural rhythms of being. Cheers!

Re: Cage

One of my first memories of childhood was my dad taking me to the Riverdale Zoo, near the Don Valley in Toronto. It was an old style animal park built in 1894. I remember there were lots of cages and barred enclosures. Another time we went to a private zoo in Maine and I fed peanuts to a curiously charming caged chimpanzee. Much later, as an adult, I was shocked to see the very same primate; fingers grasping rusty bars, woefully swinging back and forth. Penning animals is controversial these days. Back when I was a kid humans had to be protected from the ferocious beasts. Nowadays it would be more appropriate if we kept the flora and fauna sheltered from our influences.

Oh we can be a barbarous species! How terrible is man who imagines two people fighting it out; last man standing. One on one sports like Boxing and UFC are signs of man’s depravity, packaged as entertainment. Being a peace loving fellow, I don’t see getting enjoyment from watching humans bloody one another while literally confined in a cage or ring. Crowds shout encouragement. We bet on a winner. We get trapped in a form of collective mass hysteria. We all lose.

Even the meekest among us can build our own personal enclosures. At their best these are places where we find comfort or security.  If we are lucky we can decorate our homes to our choosing. We can make our private spaces reflect our personality while containing the things we need to survive or flourish. For those with less means, life itself can be confining. Through circumstance or plain bad luck some exist only in a place to escape from. We can sometimes feel trapped in the cages of our own minds. Temple Grandin famously built a hug machine contraption to find reassurance in a confounding world. What others saw as confinement, she found that the device gave her control within her unique autistic world.

It may be a zoo out there and we must learn to share it. There are occasions when misbehaving children are given a time out to think about their transgressions. My sons got used to the limits of a set of stairs until they realized the error of their ways. Older mis-deeders in our society go to prison, often for the wrong reasons and usually without positive outcomes. We can’t hope to correct the penal system until prisons become creative way-stations to a better life rather than models of going nowhere fast.

Having suffered from episodes of depression and anxiety, I can relate to those who find themselves in cages not of their own design. The experience of mental illness is a tiny world where the smallest things need to be protected, where others are to be feared. I admire those who find ways to free themselves of the constraints of conventional life. Folks who climb mountains, both real and metaphorical, have pushed against their personal boundaries. These adventurers have found space to breathe, to create and to live large.

Re: Sick

“I’m sick and tired of this mess.” My mom used to moan before collapsing into our chromed kitchen dinette set. She was referring to her very existence, I came to learn, as she asked me to sit beside her while she smoked cigarettes and figured things out. From a very young age I got the idea that sickness has an emotional component.

Sick seems worse than ill; it’s more violent at least. There’s often vomit involved. We remember, vividly, all the times when we have been really sick. On a return flight from Europe my wife and I were served a rice dish that seemed a bit off. Within an hour of eating, my tummy was a gyro of gurgles. Then I got seriously nauseous, taking several runs to the tiny airplane bathroom, then retching in my home airport after disembarking, only to continue vomiting after the long taxi ride to my house. Somewhere in that mix diarrhea was involved. For a long time after that I was sickened by the thought of rice. The slightest inkling of a sickening feeling sent me running for an antacid.

Cleaning up after another person who spews is the highest calling. Contents of one’s stomach should never be seen. Puke is disgusting. Bile is worse. I watched a film recently where a character was breaking off their relationship to their friend saying, “You sicken me.” She acted as though she was throwing up as she was delivering her line. I got the point and so did the boyfriend. 

One of the quickest ways to stop feeling sorry for yourself is to consider the spectrum of health. We’re not always able to label our illness but we sure can tell a story of someone who was sicker. We judge sickness. Perhaps that’s why it’s hard to call into the office saying we can’t come in because we don’t want someone else second guessing our self diagnosis. There may be whispers of shirking one’s duty to the company. Long Term Covid may change attitudes regarding the sincerity and necessity of health care needs.

My first experience with health trauma occurred when I was fourteen. My sister was riding a bicycle and was struck by a car. She was rushed to Sick Children’s Hospital where she was treated for multiple injuries. She was in a cast for a long time and she had some long term issues that affected life for the whole family. Watching her recovery from the accident gave me a new perspective on priorities. I think the incident made me less likely to complain about the little aches and pains of life. It stiffened my resolve to see the other person’s situation clearly before forming an opinion.

My mom would regularly declare that she was sick to death of a situation or a person. Time after time she pulled herself out of her funk: Not really a complainer, yet always a bitch. I wonder if repetitive negative emotion does us in eventually. Let’s call it ‘Death by Crankiness’. What a way to go!

Re: Eight

I think the number 8 is great. It has awesome rhyming potential. I love its shape. There are no loose ends with eight, nothing sticks out. Just like the number 0 there is a beautiful continuity to its design; where you start is where you finish. I have a two digit number that I have called my lucky number since I was a kid but now that I am in my 80th decade I think I’m due for an update so I pick 8. It’s never too late to change your fate.

Apparently I’m not alone in liking this numeral. It is called the luckiest of numbers by the Chinese. This Canadian feels in good company since 1.4 billion souls can’t be wrong eh? I was born on the eighth so I don’t know why I didn’t choose it as my lucky number sooner, but I shall have no regrets. More significantly, when 8 is tipped over it assumes a horizontal position. The symbol for infinity, which in death I believe I am bound for: To the endlessness of time and space with infinite possibilities go I.

When I am lying on my back in my bed I find comfort in assuming a figure eight posture. I place my hands above my head and link my fingers. My knees come up, spreading my hips and I place the soles of my feet together. It’s the closest kind of yoga pose I can manage and it feels great to open my chest and pelvis at the same time. When I taught Brain Gym to my elementary school students one of the exercises was using chalk to make giant flowing infinity symbols on the chalkboard, smoothly arcing and connecting then arcing again, opening up cross cranial connectivity, joining left brain to right.

The reason we call Figure Skating what we do is because of the Figure 8, which was part of the compulsory program in competitive skating until 1990. I miss the almost scientific precision demonstrated by that practise, skate edges switching while curves were carved on the slippery ice surface. Nowadays you can create heat while learning to do a Figure Eight Workout to strengthen core muscles. Very watchable. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fJgBYvGZeN4

Choosing the number eight as my next life stage talisman bodes well. According to Angel Numbers, 8 signifies a sign of things to come, which is awesome because I’ve always been future oriented. It is also a potent source of energy, which I could really use in my declining years. When it comes to Numerology I’m not an eight, but that’s ok since my name adds to number 1 which comes with a very accurate description of my personality type: pioneering, leading, independent, attaining and individualist. This is a terrific offset to my introverted nature, so I can remain humble whilst in a crowd. I took an Enneagram Personality test and it matches perfectly: I’m 5&8 dominant so being born May 8th is a match made in heaven.

I think they’re going to like me up there.

Re: Myth

Sometimes when I’m starting a blog idea I can’t decide which word I’ll use as a guide. This one started as Re: Wheel then it morphed to Re: Significance before finally settling on Re: Myth. Read with me while I try to spin these all together.

The Greeks, Romans, Norse had gods, goddesses and fringe idols. All aboriginal cultures have creation stories to aid in understanding how we got here on this solitary planet. We need to feel that gods/goddesses/saints and other mythical creatures in whatever pantheon have our backs in times of trouble. Ancient peoples used the language of their time to elicit a response from their mythological buddy and voila, prayers/wishes were answered. Advice was sometimes given by earthy middlemen. Modern books have suggested we have these archetypes within us, empowering us to define ourselves as creators of our own destiny. I like the notion that I can be sailing my own ship, using the wheel to steer clear of hazards, avoiding the trap that I am open to the whims of the gods. I don’t want to feel as though someone is spinning the wheel of fortune for me, especially if I come up short. Yet myths are sometimes like maps giving us direction signs, even on the straight or narrow highways.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kK62tfoCmuQ

Millions of television viewers wrapped themselves up in the mythology of The Game of Thrones, beautifully produced by D.B. Weiss and David Benioff. Inspired by fantasy writer George R.R. Martin and elements of British history, this enthralling series reinvented mythic characters. To paraphrase Daenerys, sometimes  the wheel of tradition has to be broken. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J-rxmk6zPxA

Some generations grew up with Aesop fables or Grimm’s fairy tales, now with the  sagas of Harry Potter, Star Wars, Star Trek and Game of Thrones we have recycled legends of old and new. These imaginative mythological characters may very well be the stories we tell to bring significance to a future beyond anything we can currently believe possible. Watch how these young minds revel in the telling of legendary Luke Skywalker meeting his father.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NCBA1wii70o

Current ticket sales for Marvel or DC ‘comic book’ films are likely inversely proportional to the number of bodies sitting in church pews every Sunday. Intellectually I’m convinced that all religions are myths. Every individual and every society tells tales in order to make sense of the unknowns in life. We seek order to overcome our feelings of randomness. We want the intangible to feel tangible. Our religions help us to feel significant amidst the spinning wheels of space and time. And significance is what we are after. As the wheel of our life spins its way to the inevitable end. I am a central figure in my own play. I may not be the hero, and yet, I want to be able to conclude that my life story had substance, was not a myth of my own creation.

Re: Intent

Intention is not everything, but it’s a start. It has been said that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. I don’t believe in an afterlife so I prefer to do what I can while I have breath in me. Heaven can be found by following through. There are shelves filled with self help books that show examples of how we can move from the idea to execution. The best advise I’ve read is pick a method to accomplish your goals then stick with it until you fail. Then try again.

I remember a clever comic strip that showed a boy scout helping an elder across a busy street. When he got her to the other side she said, “Thanks sonny but I didn’t want to cross”. I’ve been that scout, trying to do the right thing but unintentionally screwing up. Having good intent will not mitigate a misguided decision. Sometimes all it takes is asking first, acting next. Resolving to do the right thing by others takes practise. As a parent I bought all of the books by Barbara Coloroso, a well known child behaviour expert. She came to visit our community on a promotional tour for her work, my wife and I sat in the audience taking notes. I am still guided in everyday life by her quote; “Say what you mean, Mean what you say, and Do what you say you will do.”

I can relate to finding the right mood/moment/headspace to start or complete a task. Certain inexplicable things sometimes have to be just right before I can proceed with an intention. It is hard to create a balance between the aphorisms, ‘He who hesitates is lost’ and ‘Look before you leap’. Sometimes I relish a day spent procrastinating. Other days I will rejoice that I have tackled those things that have nagged at me. I often start the day with intention, in the form of a list on paper or in my head. If I don’t always accomplish what I set out to do, I forgive myself.

A child may react to being caught in a misdeed by saying that they didn’t mean it or they didn’t know any harm would come. Parents may allow some wiggle room in the name of learning. However, intention in a courtroom setting must be critically judged. Murders are classified as to the level of intentionality. If the accused is found to have malicious intent then judgement will be harsh.

Jean Talon is a character in early French Canadian history who may hold a key to viewing intent in a positive light. His title was as the first Intendant of New France; a CAO of the colonies. The translation of Intendant to English is Steward. I love the thought that an intention can be something we have a responsibility to see to fruition. If our intent is worthwhile it must not be squandered but put on the first available To Do list. A hopeful idea has little meaning without practical application. We must do what we intend.

Re: Compromise

I can look at the word Compromise from a negative or a positive perspective. When I’m feeling personally compromised I can feel defensive. I’m backed into a corner. My values, principles, even my character is being tested. Someone, (maybe me) has drawn a line in the sand and won’t back down from their position. Chances are this will end badly, unless a middle ground can be found.

Compromise is sometimes making the best of a bad situation. But the work must continue: One must not be resigned to one’s fate. Plans can be made to rectify hurt feelings and reconcile past wrongs. This is true on a personal scale as well as in the public arena. Leanne B. Simpson writes in her book ‘As We Have Always Done’ that relationships (of any kind) are based on consent, reciprocity, respect, and empathy. To my way of thinking reciprocity contains opportunities for finding a non-compromising solution.

It seems quite clear that our planet has been dominated, harvested, polluted and abused to the point where compromising is futile. Leaders gather at multi country conferences like COP26, held in Glasgow, Scotland last year, to attempt a negotiated consensus. It is maddening that while the intent to address climate change seems honest, financial interests time and time  again trump the agenda. The health of all humanity seems beyond our collective will. There is no room for compromise if it means our planet will continue to die. There is no middle ground here, not when that very ground is drying up, flooding and burning. It is really a time for action, not words.

In my life I’ve had to let go of notions that no longer served a purpose. For example, when I was twenty I wanted to be a husband and father within a strong family dynamic. I also wanted to sail the seven seas with Jacques Cousteau. Surprisingly, that great ocean explorer managed both and had two separate, secret concurrent families. I can only imagine the concessions involved for Papa Jacques. My choice was a compromise in the best way possible; I had a successful career, teaching many elementary students the wonders of life, along with abundant time to fill my cup with warm, expansive family memories.

I’ve learned that sometimes it’s ok to let others lead, while I provide a response as a supporting partner. It’s also ok to test out newness, owning the change that comes, making it less about compromising your character and more about celebrating your evolution. My growth as an individual has not been perfect, yet I’ve tried to find something close to perfection in all that I have done. Even my mediocrity has had its moments of splendour. In short, I don’t believe you have to lower your standards to make the concessions that are necessary in life. Maybe you adjust your expectations a bit. Marvel at the way others have found success, rather than feeling gypped about your existence. It’s more about finding the best way forward, seeking the best possible answer to the present question.

Re: Enough

“Enough!” Is a cry of exasperation. I’ve shouted ‘Stop’ using the same emotion. There is so much discord, trauma and catastrophe in the world right now that I’m surprised someone hasn’t used Enough as a label for a social activist, environmental justice or political reform movement. I picture vast numbers of people all wearing red Enough! T-shirts, faces boiling mad, voices yelling through loud speakers. That will fix things.

Enough is a word with a selfish root. We say it when things aren’t going our way. We say it to make bad things go away. We ask it when we are questioning our worthiness or competence: “Am I doing enough?” Or “Have I done enough?” Or “Am I enough for you?” In discussions we have with ourselves or with others we hopefully can reach a point to acknowledge our understanding by saying, “Fair Enough.”

I’ve rarely felt ambitious. A peaceful life of satisfying activity shared with others feels enough for me. I’ll admit there has been a few times when I have hung on tenaciously to a goal. The grasp of that brass ring might have been the only thing sufficient to get me off the scent. And yet I rarely have found myself so fixated that I refused to listen to another person’s counsel. I’ve met people who are always wondering if they will ever have enough material things, enough space or time or even enough peace of mind. The accumulation of things, medals, memories has never been an aim of mine. The journey is what counts. But some must continue to strive, to master, even to conquer, while missing out on what’s right in front of them. 

I usually feel uncomfortable in times when abundance is the focus: Decadence diminishes delight. Christmas particularly is a conflict of interest, especially being part of a collective family scene where wrapping paper is strewn about the floor as participants tear into their gifts with wild abandon. There is stress related to the value of the gift in the context of the giver. Thoughts of fairness, have I spent enough, or will the recipient feel the presents were adequate to the occasion, all do a balancing act in my mind. It’s a display of consumption that messes with the joy of giving and receiving for me and each time I hope that I can muster enough patience and grace to be present.

We do many things hoping they will be enough. On retirement, many wonder if they have left a legacy, if they accomplished what they had set out to do. My wife feels this everyday as she cares for her aging parents. I feel her actions are a reminder of the importance of sacrifice; ‘a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done before’. Charles Dickens often described his characters, young or old, as being in a state of grace when they put another’s needs ahead of their own. Oliver was clearly needy, while Scrooge was greedy.

Re: Hope

Hope is one of those words we hear all the time and never get tired of hearing. Hope is like the word Love: It’s easy to insert it into a conversation but difficult to explain. Hope is everywhere, except when it’s not. Hope, it’s been said, is the only thing that can’t be taken away from you. 

I’ve felt hopeless. I have hoped someone would die even though I never wished them dead. I try to live hopefully, especially when cynicism comes a calling. Living in a temporary, wait and see environment is difficult for me. It’s not about remaining positive; I can do sunshine and lollipops. Currently, Hope has become the catchword of my days. It is something I hang onto when I’m down and something I use as a planning tool when my mood shifts to building a better day. According to suggestions from environmental activist Greta Thunberg, hope must be equated with action. We can’t just hope that things will turn out all right, we must all be involved in the journey to find solutions.

It’s a good thing that Pandora, of Greek myth, closed the box before Hope escaped. Alexander Pope suggested that, “Hope springs eternal in the human breast.” Elton John contended that, “When all hope is gone/Sad songs say so much.” Paul the Apostle summarized a letter to the Corinthians, “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love.” There are many references to hope in art and culture. This song has always been an ‘in the shower solo’ favourite of mine.

Hope, Honor, Grace, Charity and Prudence are five human qualities that are sometimes used as names for girls. My mother’s name was Joy. If my mom was any example, I suspect it is very hard to perform in life if a virtue is your name. To hear Mom tell it she was always hoping to please her father. Her dad expressed disappointment that she wasn’t a boy. Joy never brought her own mom any happiness either because of her willfulness. Perhaps Wilhelmina would have been a better moniker for this feisty, self absorbed lady. 

We try to define hope by matching it with something we can see, even though it is something we only feel. Hope and light are often referred to in the same sentence. Rainbows signify hope as they come after the darkness of a storm. Hope can be the light at the end of the tunnel. Conversely, hopelessness feels like darkness or a void, a pit where despair and bitterness can grow. We can wallow, but not for long. We must hope that the sun will come out tomorrow. 

My niece thoughtfully created a symbol of hopefulness which is hanging in our apartment. It is a painting of a lighthouse, casting a beam into the unknown. It reminds me to be patient as my wife assists her parents over hurdles of declining health. Hope will see us through.

Re: Promise

“I’ll keep you posted.” A familiar promise heard as two people part ways. Like other promises that may or may not be kept, this one signals an intention. Politicians’ promises are really statements of policy. These promises are intentional too, at least to the extent that candidates want people to know where they stand on the issues. And then hopefully you will vote for them.

When I was a parent of young children my wife and I tried hard not to make promises to them. Any politician will tell you that situations change and decisions must be made with the currently available data. Tell that to a six year old who has been looking forward to going to the beach on Saturday. “But you promised!” Their tears matching the rain that started falling that same morning. Sometimes factors align in such a way that promises can’t be answered in the fashion we would have liked. Yet a promise spoken can also be a signal for hope, showing a direction we would like to go.

“Now that is a promising development.” Might be something said after countries align in their commitment to combat Global Warming. The climate crisis demands that we don’t settle for what looks promising. We must put words into measurable action. My cake making grandmother would comment that the proof will be in the pudding and if there is a failure to act then someone is going back on their promise: The time for ‘half-baked’ ideas is over.

When a promise isn’t kept I feel let down. At every meeting of my Boy Scout pack we promised to ‘do our best’ and I took that seriously. Repeated disappointments, causing erosion of trust, can lead to cynicism, anger or worse; apathy. Every election cycle I get excited (there’s the Charlie Brown in me). I hold out hope that policy & action will be seen. I’m careful to match the incumbent’s rhetoric with his/her record. I try to interpret the validity behind a candidate’s promises. My vote is a response to those promises, but it can’t end there. As a citizen I also promise that I will do what I can to support the programs designed to fulfill those promises.

Financially, a promise can be called an IOU. A contract has been made based on the funds being returned on a given schedule. Depending on who you borrowed the money from, there could be very severe penalties if you default. When it comes to money, I’ve tried hard to stick to the advice of Polonius, ‘Neither a borrower nor a lender be.’, with varying degrees of success.

On my wedding day I made one of the grandest of all promises. A promise so big it is called a vow. It’s a good thing that I wasn’t the only one making a solemn vow that day. With two lovers working to keep their promises, ideally each partner is committed to making the promise a continuous reality. Here is a true example of actions speaking louder than words.